He was familiar.
In the wake of fake widowers, oil magnates, and satellite engineers, he was just the guy who’d cut her hair. Her father had also cut her hair; he’d cut hair, every day, for a living. They were both barbers.
And, like her father, he was Italian.
In a sea of fluid sexuality, snakes, and white supremacists, he shared the blood of her heritage. Like most of the rest of the traditional Italian American men, he liked women, and he remembered her.
She thought being remembered, after two haircuts and a perm, was meaningful. He recognized her. And, he didn’t forget.
Thirty years had passed, but he remembered.
And, she remembered him.
From this one, momentary flash of commonality she took her first step.
1st Mvt: Andante “Courtship.”
It was his face.
Appearing online, with a short greeting, his photo.
She’d always recalled a certain boyish beauty, but this was an expression. She wanted to call it apologetic, yet resigned; he seemed to be telling the camera to take or leave him.
They began by writing to each other.
Though he only lived twenty three minutes south, she had a major performance two weeks from the day he surfaced and knew, in her gut, that if they met up her focus would significantly shift. So, they messaged each other.
Long paragraphs. Outpourings. Every day, for two weeks, earnest exchanges between them. The face she’d seen in the mirror, as he stood behind the barber chair emanating it’s subdued chatter now replaced by the poetic revelations of a philosopher. The man had depth. This she had managed to miss, entirely, during that first impression.
And now, he promised to wait for her.
Thirty years had passed between that first meeting and this encounter, yet he was still able to wait for her.
Though this aspect had a tremendous effect on her attraction to him she would not, ultimately, learn to appreciate it.
She invited him to her recital.
The date of the performance came. Looking out into the dark of the hall, she was able to spy the outline of a man’s head which looked like his. Whenever there was a break in the program’s music, she fixed on that man. Surely, he had made the drive over the state line to hear her performance.
When the concert ended, and applause rose, the lights came up as well and she was finally able to see the man upon whom her gaze had settled.
That man walked forward.
It was her old friend Steve, a college classmate – and, his praise came freely. But, she was already in her head; the morning wouldn’t come soon enough, their planned meet up to take his dogs for a peninsula walk kicking her heart rate.
Perhaps she should have taken the sign.
2nd Mvt: Largo “Coupling.”
The dogs appeared on the landing, first. They were so big. She loved how they wriggled, and pressed in. She laughed, out loud.
It was his face.
He looked ten years older than his photo. Of course, this is because he was, at least, maybe more.
But, beyond that, he seemed tired, maybe dehydrated. And, then, something in her said: “Forgive; accept.” And, she rubbed the top of his head, over his thinning hair.
The rest wrote history.
They talked and walked the dogs, embraced, then reconvened that evening at her house. She played her cello for him; he stood, a bit tense, unmoved. She played the piano. When the song ended, he kissed her. He was quietly eager. He made overtures. He persuaded more.
Now, it was difficult to go back to the beginning. Images of him, arriving at the back door; a gift of food, or a small vase from home. Earnest kisses. And, the attic loft.
She wasn’t completely clear when the first doubts crept.
He worked long hours, at the hospital. The claim was that he had to get home and feed the dogs. She would not know the extent of that which impelled him; she knew only that he had to be encouraged to spend more than a couple hours at a time with her.
Dinners out. Plays; shows. The attic loft. And, stories. Stories, of his ex wife of so many decades ago. Then, stories of the woman who had died the winter before, about whom he’d spoken in his letters. He had so much to reveal, explaining the demise of all his previous entanglements, and she heard him. She remembered being made to feel transcendent in his company, silently pre-eminent in the wake of the remarkably ungrateful women who had preceded her. In her heart, she began to promise him love and acceptance.
Weeks passed. The pattern was set. Then, one day, he arrived with photos of his house and gardens, and an urgent disclosure.
He’d had a deeper past.
Seated across from her on the living room sofa, he began this new story. Tears rolled from his eyes. Decades earlier, he’d committed a felony, and had been incarcerated for five years.
He was utterly contrite. He looked like a sad boy, sitting with his wet face. Her heart surged in her. Commitment to loving him gelled. He had her.
Two weeks of numbness, the euphoric effect of shock.
Then, a visit to the reference library. He’d provided the year, the month, the day. She found the local newspaper microfiche, and scrolled to the bottom of page one.
A New Year’s Eve drama unfolded. This was the kind of story nobody alive at the time could forget. Her eyes stopped blinking.
Silently, she removed the film from the manual device, rolled it up, set it back in its box, placed it into the small drawer and pushed the drawer back into the cabinet.
Life went on.
3rd Mvt: Scherzo “Land of Diminishing Returns.”
It took two years, but she would call them little slips.
What became notable was how deftly he retrieved the ones she managed to catch.
Early on, the short blonde following them back to the green room, curiously smiling at her then him, called his “cousin” when queried. Except that he had no known relatives.
The fleeting reference, to a woman by name, a call he needed to make. Not mutually known. The gaslight: hadn’t she just talked of someone named the same?
The casual recall of their having recently been together. Except that, fact be told, they hadn’t. Some vague excuse about his relative time frame for remembering.
Sidelong eye contact, with his coworker who preceded her into the room, an arresting control. Cool dismissal of the girl upon query as a student shadow, without even the value of a first name. And, no formal introduction.
Eye contact, with women passing in the grocery and department store aisles. Their startled recognition. His reference to them knowing he needed/abrupt modulation to the recipe books at the check out.
Eye contact, with young women in restaurants, out on dates, in doctor’s offices. Their blank stares of deliberate anonymity.
Eye contact, twinkling, with the B&B hostess. Curious attention paid to the sliding lock on the adjoining door, calling to mind a time he’d gone out in the night visiting Italy while his woman companion deeply slept. A jarring juxtaposition.
Dirty dishes, in the sink. Two plates, two bowls, two spoons. One meal. One lone chicken leg, left in the skillet. A bottle of new wine, and a single wine glass never before seen.
The consistently odd nights of spaghetti and fried chicken, from an otherwise experienced self taught gourmet.
The presence of cash, on her bureau, when he stayed over. Not placed there by her. His never having cash, otherwise.
Her toiletry bottle, alone on his kitchen counter. Her toothbrush, always precisely replaced, once on a different cabinet shelf and again out, on the bathroom sink. Then, a new brand of toothpaste, appearing on the sink, the old one still in use.
An alarm clock, going off at an odd hour, found in a drawer, never before seen.
And, always, always, the sudden flame of anger at mentions made, escalating to verbal derision, then shut down.
4th Mvt: Funerale/Coda.
She’d given up all honor, including that to love by example he who had never been. By the end, denial was not an option. The music had stopped. The story was over.
Familiarity had inbred with contempt; miscarried, still born. She had forsaken her soul for one who had long since lost his own.
© 9/18/19 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights solely those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in part/whole/jot/or, tittle permitted, for any reason at any time. Thank you for respecting original material.