Be sure to check out my latest short story, Jack's Plan, appearing in:
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The Sands of Time
from Moments of Love
published by Bantam Books
I don’t know when I fell in love with him.
Fifteen months is a long time when you’re with someone day in and day out. I can’t remember what day it happened or even the season of the year. I don’t think I ever woke up one morning and said, My God, girl, you love this man.
I think the feelings came in layers, small and unaccountable, one upon the other, like grains of sand blown by the wind that build and build until you realize there’s a city buried beneath them. I think my feelings were like that silent city waiting to reveal itself. Excavation is costly. It takes time. You have to be careful not to damage anything in the uncovering.
I met him on Broadway. Not the glamorous, exciting Broadway that movies depict or newspapers tell about, but the Broadway that sees a dirty backstage, dimly lighted even in the daytime.
Two-thirty in the afternoon. How odd that I remember that time and day so clearly when so many other important things meld together.
It was March. Unseasonably warm and vibrant. A day that made me feel a slight hesitation before stepping out of the real world and into a dark and musty theatre.
I had never met him before, only seen his image on television and in the movies. He was to take over a leading Broadway role, and I was to work backstage as his dresser, jobs that neither of us had done before.
A Broadway dresser is someone who is a combination mother, confidante, liaison, psychiatrist, friend and general helpmate. The job consists of making tear, listening tp problems, protecting the actor from intrusion, and seeing to it that he gets onstage in the clothes the designer intended him to wear for each particular scene. Not an unpleasant job, though certainly unheralded.
I remember how I tried to show more confidence that day than I was feeling. I wanted the job and I needed the money. I was trying to get my own career going, also in show business, and this three-hour-a-night job was just what I needed to pull me through a bad time.
Did I say a “bad time?” I was desperately unhappy, although I couldn’t acknowledge it, even to myself. There were telltale signs, I’m sure. For one thing, I was thirty-five pounds overweight. I had no idea who I was, why I was, or what difference my existence made to anybody.
I was searching for myself, a person who had successfully eluded me for years. How singularly curious that when I stepped over the threshold into that artificial world, the one person I would find there would be me.
He hadn’t acted for three years, a self-imposed span of time. He was feeling vulnerable. His whole body radiated it. This was his first Broadway play, and Broadway can be intimidating at the best of times. I remember when he spoke. I could hear the scared in his voice. I could also hear the gentleness and compassion. When I looked into his eyes, something told me there was much more than an acting job on the line for him. This was a turning point in his life, and he didn’t try to hide it from me.
I think that’s what impressed me the most. Unlike me, his walls of protection were down. Whatever he was going through, he was going to share it with me, and I was going to let him. In some instantaneous decision, without words or gestures, we both knew the timing was perfect for us to meet.
As I look back, I see how fortunate I was to have him in my life at that time. For six nights a week, month after month, he and I slowly constructed a world together. A fragile, protected world that existed only in the evening but carried over into the remaining hours of the day. A world of many layers and explorations, untouched by the conventional passage of time.
He was the first man I ever allowed into those unguarded places where on the shadows of emotions dwell. He was the first man who protected me from others yet made me strip away a harsh veneer and expose my vulnerable side of my caustic enemy -- myself.
While all of this was happening on the inside, the outside was reaping rewards. I lost nearly forty pounds, changed my hairdo, and began to wear more contemporary and flattering clothes. In a couple of months I had gone from frumpy to pretty, so astonishingly so, that my friends didn’t recognize me on the street until I called out to them. All because a wonderful, caring man was my friend. As simple as that – so I thought.
The day I realized he felt something for me happened quite by accident. One evening I was chatting away, as usual, and I dropped a sentence or two about “going over to the Brasserie after the show, just the two of us.” I meant my mother and me but before I could clarify the conversation, he stopped me mid-sentence by knocking over a cup of tea and spilling his pressed powder all over the floor.
He then proceeded to go into a hilarious routine about my cheating on him during off-hours. I remember laughing so hard I never got an opportunity to say, Hey wait a minute, this is my mom we’re talking about! To be honest, I was flattered that he was even pretending to be jealous.
The entire half hour – that’s the time allotted to the cast and crew to set up the play each evening – was spent cleaning up debris. While I wiped the pwer off the floor, I watched him knock over a vase of flowers and squeeze his toothpaste all over the sink, all the while giving a running commentary on the obligations we had toward one another.
It wasn’t until the stage manager called “places” that I discovered he was serious. It was one thing to behave like a buffoon in the dressing room; that was between him and me. But he had just carried this over into his professional life, which was very unlike him. As he hurriedly dressed to go onstage, he put his pants on backwards, muttering to himself. Then I knew.
He went on, the curtain went up, and he promptly forgot his opening line. The next thing he did was drop the prop cake all over the stage floor and then try to mop it up with a scarf that sat on a piano upstage. To the bafflement of his fellow actors, he ad-libbed an entire monologue as he blithely scrubbed sugar icing into the wooden slates of the stage floor.
At this point, the stage manager came over to me and asked if I knew what was going on. If anyone should know, it would be me. There’s an old saying in the theatre: You have no secrets from your doctor or your dresser.
Well, this dresser knew but pretended not to. For one thing, I was having rouble sorting everything out. It took two of his scenes onstage for it to him homeL I was as important to him as he was to me.
When he came offstage for intermission, he forgot to return his props to the prop table and he tripped coming u0p the stairs to his dressing room. I was waiting for him. I had hidden myself in his shower, and I leaped out scaring at least ten years off his life. Exactly what he needed.
He was absolutely furious with me. “What the hell are you still doing?” he demanded.
“I was fooling around,” I said. “I thought you needed it.” I remember smiling and trying to touch him but he would have none of it.
He was angry, mostly at himself for behaving like a foot, but also at me, the cause of his asinine behavior. “You want to just leave me alone?” He turned his back on me and I could feel the coldness of his words spinning around the room. I knew that if I left, everything would be bad between us for a long time.
“Don’t do this,” I whispered, as I walked around to face him. I didn’t say any more. I kissed him and then stood for a moment staring into his eyes. They were wide with amazement and anger but they softened as it dawned on him what was happening. This time he kissed me, and it was sweet and stirring.
“My god, you’re soft,” he said huskily. I didn’t reply but nestled myself into his large, lanky body. We fell back on the sofa, lost in the sensation, the release of feeling.
The thought of the unlocked dressing room door, of his rumpled costume on the floor, flitted across my mind; then I didn’t care. His mouth and hands explored me with tender apprehension and the with the age-old savagery of love.
The Normal intermission time in the theatre is twenty minutes. When the stage manager knocked to announced “places” for the second act, we were still intertwined softly moaning together. My new lover shouted to a baffled co-worker that he would be down when he was good and ready, and we listened for his fading footsteps before we spent ourselves, emotionally and physically.
During those fifteen months we were many things to each other, as all lovers should be, parent, child, friend, philosopher, guardian, and playmate but, when things are right, you are you. And what I was, was good enough for him. Wonder of wonders, he didn’t want the pretenses, the games, the role playing or any of the things I had filtered out to the world while buying the real me. Like a buried city, sleeping within the hills of Rome, day by day he uncovered the hidden, secret streets of me, and at some turn in some road I fell in love with him.
He left my life as he came into it, swiftly. I don’t think he ever fully understood why I loved him and I don’t think his understanding would have changed the outcome. You see, while he was helping me to find myself, he was on his own search and found paths that led him in other directions. Not that he didn’t care, but the timing was wrong and he had long ago been to where I was just arriving.
I don’t know when I fell in love with him.
Winner of the Long Short Stories Contest
Mr. Lipschitz slammed his sock drawer closed. The resulting bang caused him to examine the antique silver and onyx inlay dresser in dismay. Once again he’d become cross with one of his treasures, something that happened in the past only with the recently vanished Mrs. Lipschitz. He’d denied his wife money and now she was gone.
“Apologies, old friend, for losing my temper,” said the middle-aged man, bowing stiffly. He reopened the dresser drawer, counted seven missing socks and slipped a nitroglycerin tablet between yellowing teeth to quell an erratic heart.
“This will not do,” Mr. Lipschitz muttered, scurrying into the laundry room. He stood in front of the washing machine. “No, it’s not you,” he decided, stroking the top of the washer before turning to the dryer. “You are the troublemaker. What have you done with my socks?” He kicked the dryer squarely in the center of the door. “Well? What have you done with them?”
“I ate them,” the dryer boomed back.
“Who said that?” Mr. Lipschitz recoiled, looking around.
“I did, Prissy Pants. You asked and I told you. Now go away.”
Mr. Lipschitz stared at the dryer. “What…What did you say?”
“I said go away! What are you, deaf? Get lost! And send in more socks.”
“Who’s there?’ the man demanded. “Show yourself.”
“You’re such a loser,” chortled the dryer.
“All right, that’s enough,” Mr. Lipschitz said with a bravado he was not feeling. “Whoever you are, come out from behind the clothes dryer. This isn’t funny.”
“You think someone is hiding in the six inches between me and the wall? What an asshole.”
“How dare you talk to me like that? You’re just a dryer. Shut up.”
“Up yours, buddy. By the way, the best tasting socks are blue,” it said, making a smacking sound. “Yummy!”
“Why, you miserable piece of tin…” Mr. Lipschitz said, looking inside the dryer.
“Want a ride, Dickhead? It’ll cost you your jockey shorts.”
Mr. Lipschitz joggled the appliance, shouting, “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
“Oooooo! You’re scaring me now,” the dryer taunted, as Mr. Lipschitz began to wobble it back and forth. “Forget it, jackass. You don’t have the balls.”
“Oh, no?” answered the red-faced man, muscles strained and quivering. The rocking increased until the machine shuddered off its frame with a harsh, metallic sound. But Mr. Lipschitz was beyond hearing it. He was too busy feeling the searing pain in his chest right before the dryer fell on top of him.
The next morning a short, squat woman unlocked the back door and touched the stiff hand protruding from beneath the dryer. Stowing the hidden microphone, speakers and wires inside a bag, she tottered on platform heels to a window and signaled her young and randy lover in a waiting car. He sped away.
She removed a raw onion, hanky, and cell phone from her handbag, sat down and dialed 911. As she waited, Mrs. Lipschitz looked around her and thought, “Ka-ching, Ka-ching.”
How to Potty Train Your Cat
Potty training your cat is done all over the world. It just takes patience, firmness and steel-reinforced leather gloves. Why should you suffer the waste of space given over to a litter pan? Why should you endure the smell of soiled kitty litter? No, I say! Have that poop go right down the john and out to the Bay where it belongs. Your cat may initially balk but will come around to your way of thinking, I promise. Remember, it is essential to take the upper hand when laying down the law to your spouse or child and, in particular, your cat. Despite the fact that cats do seem to become hard of hearing or recalcitrant when issued an order, do not be put off. You can achieve your goal if your commands are clear and concise. You will be rewarded by an animal who loves you even more for your discipline. Below are some steps that I’ve employed in the training of T-Bone, a large, orange stray that adopted us thirteen years ago:
1 – Discuss overall goal with family. Everyone must be in agreement on objective and how to achieve it. Keep cat out of room during this discussion. There is no sense in alerting cat ahead of time. They have their ways.
2 – Relay overall goal to cat moments before you begin training process. You will find that sitting the cat down in a quiet place, void of distractions, and outlining the problem is a good way to go. They will usually pay rapt attention to you, especially if you are waving catnip about at the time. They may not remember all that you’ve said but it is a bonding experience. A martini, on your part, goes a long way toward this bonding.
3 – Using the aforementioned gloves, when you see cat doing its business in litter pan, carefully lift animal out of pan and carry to the toilet. Be sure lid is up. Firmly but gently, place back legs of said animal on either side of seat, smiling and chatting casually. Casualness is essential for success.
4 – Apply Neosporin to scratches on upper arms and face and clean up urine and fecal droppings that landed on new rug while carrying cat from laundry room to bathroom.
5 – Transfer litter pan from laundry room to bathroom, so it will be closer to ultimate goal and then go find cat.
6 – Using ladder, get wet cat off neighbor’s garage roof and towel dry. Put more Neosporin on new bites and scratches, bearing in mind that you have to break an egg to make an omelet, although, at this moment, you have no time to cook.
7 – Introduce cat to new location of litter pan while enduring family’s protests over smell in the one and only bathroom of the house.
8 – Clean up mess in laundry room done by a now confused cat that went behind the dryer on your new, washable silk blouse that fell there earlier in the day and you forgot to retrieve. Rewash blouse, hoping claw marks will not show.
9 – Return to bathroom and take child’s rubber ducky and bottle of Obsession perfume that fell into litter pan out and wash them thoroughly.
10 – Stand guard over litter pan waiting for opportunity to catch cat using it again, so you can continue training process. Sleep in bathtub over night.
11 – Wash foot that stepped into litter pan as you were trying to get out of tub when your husband turned on shower to get ready for work, without looking to see if you were still in tub behind the shower curtain. Curse all men. Curse all cats. Bandage big toe that got stuck in the faucet during the night, while you’re at it.
12 – Hobbling, track down cat with meat cleaver and spy it curled up in bed next to your three-year old, both sound asleep and looking like the innocents that you know they’re not but you love them, anyway.
13 – Stagger back to bathroom and remove litter pan. Return to laundry room, praying cat will forget entire 24-hour experience and resume its usage. While you’re at it, pray that husband will not continue to stare at you with same wide-eyed look of horror when he returns from work.
14 – On your knees, scrub down bathroom and use seventy-five dollar an ounce perfume to help mask odor of litter pan. Take shower to remove excess litter from hair and body. Put hydrochloride ointment on chaffed knees, rebandage toe and reapply Neosporin to bites and scratches.
15 – Crawl into bed next to sleeping cat and kid and thank God they have short memories. Your husband does not and you will never live this down.