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Relationship Interview #9

This is the sequel to Relationship Interview #8.

For their fifth official date since meeting through Find The One, a relationship web site, Bernice comes for breakfast at Mark’s house on a sunny morning in early March and brings her friends Marlene and Angela, both of whom also attended Date #4.

Bernice is fifty-seven and manages a theatre company. Mark is sixty-four and edits how-to books and murder mysteries. Marlene is sixty, French, an artist and actor, and Angela is sixty-three, an accountant originally from New Jersey.

They gather on Mark’s backyard terrace, and because the pandemic is still raging, the women, who are in a bubble together, sit at one table and Mark sits at another. They keep their masks on until Mark serves the pancakes and coffee, and when everyone is seated, they remove their masks.

Mark: Here we are together again.

Angela: I’m so happy we are. Things ended too abruptly yesterday.

Marlene: I’m happy, too. You make very good coffee, Mark. Many people don’t, you know. They think they do, but they don’t.

Mark: I try to buy the freshest beans. Maybe that’s the trick.

Bernice: I love these pancakes. Old family recipe?

Mark: No that’s a recent acquisition from my friend Denise. She’s gluten free and these use millet and sorghum and tapioca flour.

Marlene: So delicate. Are you gluten free? I could not do without my French bread.

Mark: I’m experimenting. Less wheat seems to suit me. Less lots of things seem to suit me these days as I ramble through my sixties.

Angela: I know what you mean.

They chat a while more about dietary matters before Mark steers the conversation in another direction.

Mark: So last night when Bernice came by, we spoke of friendship and she mentioned the rules of friendship. And I wonder what those are.

Bernice: I meant how friends treat each other differently than people in relationships often treat each other.

Mark: I sense what you mean, but I’m unclear about how friendship rules differ from relationship rules.

Angela: They shouldn’t. That’s what ruins most relationships. They don’t treat each other like friends.

Marlene: The two times in my life I married, I chose men I assumed were my friends. But once we were married, they seemed to forget we were separate people. They began to take offense at things I liked and what I said and what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go, and they could not see how they were trying to make me into some kind of female echo of them. So I got out of those marriages and have not been tempted to marry again.

Bernice: I would never tell Marlene or Angela what they should do with their lives or how they should dress or what they should or shouldn’t like. But that’s what people in relationships do to each other all the time.

Mark: So would one rule be: Never Criticize Each Other?

Marlene: Yes, because we must accept our friends for who they are. We like them as they are. That’s why we chose them to be our friend and they chose us, not because we want to change them into someone else.

Bernice: Something happens to people when they identify as a couple instead of as two individuals, as if they believe they own the other person now. Doesn’t happen to everybody, but it happens to lots of people.

Angela: It happened to my ex-husband. After we got married, he absolutely thought he owned me and he was constantly trying to make me adhere to his idea of how things should be. And I put up with that for nineteen years until our daughter graduated from high school, and then it was divorce him or die. And I’m not exaggerating.

Mark: So… No Owning Each Other would be another rule of friendship.

Bernice: No owning each other and no being cruel to each other and no hiding things from each other.

Mark: And no being afraid of each other.

Marlene: Why would you be friends with someone you feared? You could never be yourself.

Mark: Why would you marry someone you feared, as so many people do?

Bernice: Because the rules governing marriage and the rules governing friendships aren’t the same rules. They should be, but they aren’t.

Mark: Even now? In the so-called advanced societies?

Marlene: Did your marriages follow the rules of friendship?

Mark: No. My marriages followed the rules of addict and enabler, I the enabler.

Angela: Mine, too.

Marlene: Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who was also your friend?

Mark: No, but I’m only sixty-four. Surely there’s still time.

Bernice: Theoretically, but maybe not. Maybe just the fact that you’re still actively pursuing a relationship means you’re not looking for a friend. You’re looking for a mate.

Mark: I can’t look for both in the same person?

Bernice: You can. You are. I’m just saying you might not find them because you’re looking for both.

Mark: Are you suggesting I stop looking?

Bernice: No. I’m suggesting I stop looking. That’s why I said I wanted to be your friend with the rules of friendship. That’s the gift you gave me, Mark. You let me play out my usual neurotic bullshit in relation to a man who also happens to be a fine human being, with both of us constrained by the pandemic, so I could finally understand that until I can be totally comfortable with you as my friend, there’s no point in trying to have a relationship with you. I’ll just revert to my old patterns, and the pretense of a healthy relationship will vanish.

Mark: Oh but not this time, Bernice. This time will be different. I’m not like those other guys. I’m something special. I’m your knight in shining armor. I’ll be your best friend and your dream lover and your muse, and while I’m at it I’ll give you the secret to eternal life and the five sure ways to make a million dollars with no up-front investment.

The women laugh.

Angela: You’re a good cook, too.

Marlene: Friends don’t want anything from their friends except to be appreciated for who they are. If a person wants more than this from you… beware.

Angela: Friends help each other. They don’t hinder.

Mark: Do they judge each other?

Marlene: Of course. We’re human. But then we stop judging because this is our friend.

Bernice: Unless we think they’re going terribly wrong or doing something self-destructive. Then we’ll say something. We’ll intervene as lovingly as we can.

Mark: What about sex?

Bernice: What about sex?

Mark: Well… it seems to me if we eliminate sex or sexual desire from the equation, a relationship would be indistinguishable from friendship. I, for instance, could join your bubble and be one of four people, not one man with three women. We could be four friends. But if you and I became lovers, we would be a relationship and two women. Yes?

Marlene: Yes, that’s true.

Mark: Even if I was a friend of your troika for years and years, the minute I became lovers with one of you, or for that matter the minute two of you became lovers, then the equation would change, because in this society relationships outweigh friendships.

Bernice: Maybe so.

Marlene: Not maybe. Yes, they do.

Angela: They shouldn’t, but they do.

Mark: So then applying the rules of friendship to a relationship will make the relationship better, but it will alter all pre-existing friendships. And that, it seems to me, is tragic.

Marlene: Not necessarily. If you and one of my friends are happy in a relationship, my friendship may be altered but not degraded, and I would gain you as a friend.

Angela: Friends want their friends to be happy.

Bernice: Amen.

Marlene: The truth is, close friends, friends like the three of us, are in a relationship, only without sex. We didn’t ask anyone else to be in our bubble, though we all have other friends. So the difference is not as distinct as you imply.

Mark: I’m not implying anything. I’m trying to understand how I might be in a relationship with someone in an intimate trio such as yours while abiding by the rules of friendship. How would that work?

Bernice: We can’t know until we become friends.

Mark: You and I? Or all four of us?

Bernice: You and I in the context of all four of us.

Mark: So now I’m dating the three of you?

Angela: Friends don’t so much date as do things together.

Marlene: Friends spend time together, but we don’t call it dating.

Mark: So are you inviting me to become a friend of your bubble?

Bernice: I am inviting you to be my friend. I won’t speak for Marlene or Angela.

Angela: Based on this breakfast alone, I’d love to be your friend.

Marlene: I like you very much, Mark, and I would be happy to be your friend, though at the moment you are more Bernice’s friend than my friend, but I’m enjoying getting to know you.

Mark: (looks at Bernice) So are you and I done dating?

Bernice: I guess so. But not done being friends. If you want to keep being friends.

Mark: I do. Though this isn’t how I imagined things evolving between us, but I much prefer it to never seeing you again. (looks at Angela) And I really like you, Angela. (looks at Marlene) And I really like you, Marlene. So…(raises coffee cup) here’s to our nascent friendships. May they mature into something wonderful.

They all raise their cups and drink.

Marlene: I love that you used the word nascent.

Angela: So do I.

Bernice: He’s such a poet.

Mark: (to Bernice) It may take me a while to stop focusing on you as the woman I desire.

Marlene: Why stop? She’s a lovely woman.

Mark: Well so are you? Shall I focus my desire on you, too?

Marlene: I don’t know. I might like it. But I might not. I suppose it would depend on the quality of your focus.

Angela: She would like it.

Bernice: How could you not focus your desire on her? She’s gorgeous.

Marlene: (to Bernice) You’re sweet to say so, darling.

Mark: I’m confused.

Bernice: (laughs) Welcome to my world.

Marlene: Shall we have lunch on Saturday at my house? It’s supposed to be sunny and warm. Are you free, Mark?

Mark: Free as a bird. What can I bring?

Bernice: He makes a fabulous guacamole.

Angela: Oh bring that. I love guacamole.

Marlene: Yes, and I will make chicken enchiladas.

Bernice: And I’ll bring a salad and chips for the guacamole.

Angela: And I’ll bring the tomato rice and refried beans.

Mark: (gazes at Bernice) You want to come here first and we’ll walk over together?

Bernice: I’d love to.

Marlene: Shall we say noon?

Mark: Noon is perfect.

Angela: You know I have to tell you something, Mark. I don’t know if you realize what an unusual man you are, but you are. I keep thinking you’re gonna just throw up your hands and say, ‘Enough already. I can’t handle this. It didn’t work. I’ll go back to the web site and hunt for somebody else.’ But you don’t. You’re open to what’s happening, which is, of course, a testament to how much you like Bernice, but it’s also a testament to your resiliency and your curiosity and your openness and your goodness. You’re really a good person, and that’s why I said I would love to be your friend.

Mark: (puts a hand on his heart) Thank you Angela. Imagine me hugging you.

Angela: (laughs) I do. And it’s nice. You’re a good hugger. I knew you would be.

fin

Just Love

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Relationship Interview #8

This is the sequel to Relationship Interview #7.

Mark and Bernice have gotten together in-person four times since they met through Find The One, a relationship-starting web site. Bernice is fifty-seven and the manager of a theatre company. Mark is sixty-four and an editor of how-to books and murder mysteries.

Their fourth meeting took place in the backyard of the home of Bernice’s close friend Marlene, with Marlene and Angela, another of Bernice’s closest friends, joining them. Everyone had a good time, the gathering was cut short by rain, and because of the pandemic Mark couldn’t enter Marlene’s house and had to walk home in the downpour.

*

On his homeward trek, his umbrella inadequate in the deluge, Mark is perplexed by how angry he feels. He doesn’t mind the rain, he very much enjoyed meeting Bernice’s friends, and he loved seeing Bernice again. Yet he is angry and grows angrier by the minute when it dawns on him that for the last month he has shared the most intimate details of his life with Bernice, yet only today found out she is in a bubble with Marlene and Angela; and he only knows that because Marlene told him.

He recalls several times when he commiserated with Bernice about the emotional stress of living alone during the pandemic, and he is baffled and hurt that she never mentioned her arrangement with Marlene and Angela, an omission that makes him doubt everything Bernice ever said to him.

*

Bernice is initially ecstatic about how things went with Mark in the company of Marlene and Angela, but when Marlene says Mark seemed startled when she mentioned their bubble, Bernice’s ecstasy vanishes.

Bernice: (in shock) Now he’ll think I lied to him and he won’t ever want to see me again.

Angela: Of course he will. He’s crazy about you.

Marlene: I don’t know. He might not want to see you again. You told us he was more hurt by dishonesty than infidelity.

Bernice: I’m an idiot. A fucking idiot.

Marlene: Why didn’t you tell him about our bubble?

Bernice: I don’t know. I must have been afraid to tell him.

Angela: Why would you be afraid?

Bernice: I must have thought he would disapprove.

Marlene: He doesn’t seem to be the kind of person who would disapprove of friends weathering a storm together.

Bernice: No he wouldn’t disapprove, but…

Angela: Your previous partners might?

Bernice: Yes, but not Mark.

Marlene: (embracing her) I’m so sorry, dear. He might forgive you if you explain to him.

Angela: Call him. Tell him what you just realized.

Marlene: Yes, and do so without apology. Just say this is what happened and ask him to start over with you.

*

Mark is drenched and cold and sad when he gets home. He takes a hot bath and decides not to have anything more to do with Bernice.

Luxuriating in his warm house, dressed in an old T-shirt and sweatpants, he makes a cup of coffee and settles down in his study to put in a few hours editing a murder mystery rife with confusing pronouns and the crazy-making overuse of the word it. Mark has completely rewritten all four of this particular author’s books, and they are all bestsellers and have made the author wealthy, though not a better writer.

When the inevitable headache takes hold after twenty minutes of clarifying who he and she and they and them are, Mark returns to the kitchen and makes another cup of coffee. While he waits for the coffee to brew, he picks up the latest New Yorker and thereby uncovers his answering machine with two messages awaiting him.

The first message is from his best friend Alex.

Alex: (British) Mark. Tis I. Denise and I are making our shopping list for tomorrow’s foray into the viral soup. We loved the bottle of white wine you gave us, and sadly I recycled the bottle without writing the name down. If you remember the make and serial number, please enlighten us. And in any case, call me.

The next message is from Bernice.

Bernice: Hi Mark. I hope you didn’t get too wet walking home. I’m calling because I regret not telling you I’m in a bubble with Marlene and Angela. I was afraid to share that with you and I don’t know why except I must have been afraid you would disapprove, though I know you wouldn’t. I’m just flailing around here trying not to drown. I imagine you’ve had enough of me, but if by some chance you want to keep trying I would like to start over with you. If you’d rather not, I understand. And just so you know, Angela thinks you’re a peach and Marlene thinks you’re delightful, and I think so, too.  

Mark listens to Bernice’s message two more times and calls Alex.

Alex: Ah Mark. Tell me you’ve remembered the vintage details of that lovely white you brought us. Denise loved it so much she had a third glass with supper, a previously unheard of event, and she became nostalgic and laughed and cried and rejoiced at being alive. Hence we are desperate to buy a case.

Mark: Crane Lake. Sauvignon Blanc. 2019.

Alex: Brilliant. What news of the fair Bernice and today’s soiree?

Mark: Do you have a minute?

Alex: I have dozens of minutes.

Mark: Well I got to Marlene’s house…

Alex: The French gal?

Mark: Yes, the French gal.

Alex: Continue.

Mark: So I got there before Bernice and Angela arrived, and Marlene informed me that she and Bernice and Angela are in a bubble together, something Bernice never mentioned to me. And when I was walking home after our short-but-sweet gathering, I realized that Bernice has always presented herself to me as someone not in a bubble with other people and therefore suffering in all the ways I suffer living alone during this pandemic. And it made me furious to realize that everything she’s ever said to me was couched in a lie, and possibly lots of lies, and I decided I didn’t want to have anything more to do with her.

Alex: Oh Mark, I’m so sorry. Though I doubt everything she said was a lie. It’s hard sometimes to let down our guard, especially for women in this dangerous world. Not that you aren’t right to end things with her, but to suggest this is consistent with her fear of revealing herself to you. A bubble is, after all, an intimate consortium.

Mark: Would you mind listening to the message she left on my answering machine just now?

Alex: No, wouldn’t mind at all. The voyeur in me thrills at the prospect of hearing her voice.

Mark plays Bernice’s message for Alex.

Alex: Could you run that again, please?

Mark plays the message again.

Alex: My God what a voice. She could soothe lions and resolve international disputes and melt the hardest of hearts. I hear no deceit in her voice, not a trace. Only honest love.

Mark: You hear love in her voice?

Alex: I do. Not old love, but new love full of promise. I have an image of a bridge being built across a chasm, the two sides meeting for the first time in the middle, the bridge nowhere near complete, but at least now there is a way across if one goes carefully.

Mark: I’ll listen again with that in mind. Thank you, Alex.

Alex: You’re welcome, dear friend. Keep me posted.

Mark: Will do.

*

 After supper, Mark calls Bernice.

Bernice: Oh Mark, I’m so glad you called. May I come over?

Mark: Now?

Bernice: Yes. I’ll stand on your front porch and you can stay inside and be warm and dry. I really want to see you.

Mark: Okay, but…

Bernice: I’ll be there in ten minutes.

Mark goes to change his clothes, but stops halfway to his bedroom.

Mark: Fuck it. She can see me in a T-shirt and sweatpants. The real me.

Mark makes cocoa while he waits for Bernice to arrive. When his doorbell sounds he puts on his mask and carries two mugs of piping hot cocoa to the front door. Bernice is wearing her long winter coat, a burgundy beret pulled down over her ears, and a black mask.

Bernice: (from ten feet away) Hi.

Mark: Hi. Cocoa?

Bernice: Thank you.

She takes the cocoa from him and returns to a safe distance away.

Mark: You can set the mug on the railing there if you want to let it cool down.

Bernice: (sets the cocoa on the railing) So… I really like you, Mark. Very much. Hugely. And I don’t want to be afraid of you. And I’m not really afraid of you, but sometimes when we’re together I’m afraid to say what I want to say and so I either don’t say it or I say something else that isn’t a lie, but isn’t truly what I want to say, and you honestly respond to these not-lies that aren’t really what I want to say and I never know how to get things back to saying what I want to say without first telling you I’ve been lying, which I haven’t been, except in a way I have. I don’t always do this with you, only sometimes. And I’m never this way around Marlene and Angela, which is why I wanted them to be with us today.

Mark: So what you’re saying is you’re a fucked up person. Well I’m a fucked up person, too. And we’re both trying to get unfucked up while trying to start a relationship, which we don’t seem to be very good at. So now we have to decide if we want to keep trying or not.

Bernice: Right.

Mark: We obviously like each other, but that may not be enough to overcome all the emotional shit we keep running into. In other words, it’s a gamble. A big gamble. Do you want to keep gambling with me? And do I want to keep gambling with you?

Bernice: I want to be friends with you. With the rules of friendship. I don’t ever want to lie to you again, though I’ll probably tell more not-lies that aren’t really what I want to say because that’s my neurotic tendency, but I’ll try not to and I invite you to sound the alarm whenever you think I might be doing that.

Mark: The alarm? Should I make a beeping noise?

Bernice: That would be fine, though it might be a little weird in front of other people.

Mark: I could sing my favorite lines from ‘Someone To Watch Over Me.’

Bernice: How do they go?

Mark: (sings) There’s a somebody I’m longin’ to see, I hope that she, turns out to be, someone who’ll watch over me.

Bernice: Wow. You have a beautiful voice. And you’re a tenor, not a baritone.

Mark: I’m told you have a beautiful voice, too. Want to sing something for me?

Bernice: (sings the opening lyrics to ‘I Thank You’) You didn’t have to love me like you did, but you did, but you did. And I thank you.

Mark: You know if we weren’t in a pandemic I would definitely try to kiss you now.

Bernice: And I would definitely let you kiss me. And then we’d go to bed and fuck our brains out.

Mark: God I hope this friendship thing works out.

Bernice: Me, too. Because it’s clearly way too early to fuck our brains out.

Mark: True, but not too early to invite our brains to shut the fuck up so our hearts can talk to each other.

Bernice: I think you’re wonderful. And that’s what I really wanted to say. So maybe we just needed to add a little profanity to the conversation.

Mark: Yeah and we need to stop worrying about what the other person thinks of us. You know what I mean? Fuck the other person.

Bernice: Exactly. (laughs) Fuck the other person.

Mark: (laughing) So when’s our next date?

Bernice: Tomorrow? Supposed to be sunny.

Mark: Well we know how that goes. But assuming it is sunny… breakfast on my terrazzo at ten?

Bernice: I’ll be here.

Mark: Great.

Bernice: What can I bring?

Mark: Fruit. Some kind of fruit to go with pancakes.

Bernice: Fruit it is. I’m so glad you didn’t say nothing.

Mark: You can bring Marlene and Angela if you want. Just let me know how many are coming so I’ll know how much batter to make.

Bernice: Really? I can invite Marlene and Angela?

Mark: Why not? You’re in a bubble with them. You can all sit at the same table, rubbing shoulders and snarfling on each other, and I’ll sit ten feet away reveling in my good fortune to have three delightful women visiting me.

Bernice: Probably won’t be three. Angela has a full-time job and works during the week.

Mark: What does she do, by the way?

Bernice: She’s an accountant and this is the height of tax season.

Mark: Invite her anyway. Even accountants need to eat.

Bernice: I’ll call you.

Mark: Good. Drive safely.

Bernice: I will. And…

Mark: Yes?

Bernice: You look good in a T-shirt. You have beautiful arms. And that’s really what I wanted to say. You have beautiful arms.

fin

 Beautiful

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Relationship Interview #5

(this is the sequel to Relationship Interview #4)

Mark and Bernice met through Find The One, a web site designed to assist people in their search for life partners. Their first date went well, and now, two days later, they meet again for a walk on the beach.

Bernice is fifty-seven, five-foot-eight, trim, with short brown hair going gray. Mark is sixty-four, not quite six-feet-tall, burly, with gray hair turning white.

The February day in northern California is sunny and cool. Bernice and Mark wear masks as required by the virus protocols, Mark’s mask gray, Bernice’s red. As they walk along the shore they try to keep roughly ten feet apart, though again and again they inch closer to each other, partly to hear the other more clearly, partly because they are drawn to each other.

Bernice: (stops walking) You have a son? We talked for an hour at the café and you never mentioned him. How old is he? What his name? 

Mark: His name is Dean. He’s thirty-five. I haven’t seen or heard from him in fifteen years. He lives in Salinas. I send him a card and money on his birthday and a card and money for Hanukkah. He cashes the checks, so I know he’s alive, but he doesn’t communicate with me.

Bernice: Do you know why?

Mark: I have an inkling.

Bernice: Which is?

Mark: His mother and I divorced when he was eight, and we had joint custody of him until he was eighteen, during which time neither my ex-wife nor I remarried. Then a few months after Dean turned eighteen, my ex-wife remarried and Dean refused to go to her wedding. He said he would never speak to her again, and thereafter lived with me full-time until he went off to college. When I remarried a year later, he said he would never speak to me again, though he allowed me to pay his college tuition and living expenses until he graduated with a degree in Computer Graphics. And my inkling is that so long as neither of his parents remarried, he felt we were still a family. But when we married others he felt betrayed.

Bernice: Sounds… infantile. Sorry.

Mark: No, no. It’s fine. Infantile is an appropriate word for Dean at nineteen. I have no idea what he’s like now at thirty-five, but the last time I saw him, he was still very childish in many ways, like a surly eight-year-old, which was one of the many reasons I divorced his mother. She did everything she could to keep him a baby, while I did what I could to help him grow up, though I am hardly objective about this.

(They walk on in silence.)

Bernice: I have a daughter.

Mark: (stops walking) You’re kidding.

Bernice: No. Her name is April. She’s thirty. And I do hear from her now and then when she calls to ask for money, but I haven’t seen her in seven years. And the reason I didn’t mention her at the café is that I didn’t want to ruin the wonderful time we were having.

(Bernice takes off her mask and gazes at Mark, so he removes his mask and gazes at her.)

Mark: I think that’s why I didn’t mention Dean.

Bernice: I like your face. You look very kind. Do you have a dog?

Mark: (laughs) No dog. Two cats. Ariel and Harpo. I love seeing your face. You’re by far the most beautiful woman I’ve ever gone on a walk with. Do you have a dog?

Bernice: No. Just one very large cat named Victoria, though if I ever live in a house instead of an apartment, I will get a dog. Victoria be damned.

(They put on their masks and continue walking.)

Mark: What does April do for a living?

Bernice: She says she’s an actress ever on the verge of a big break, but I think that’s highly unlikely. As far as I know she hasn’t been in a play or a film since she was a Drama major in college for a year. She’s very beautiful and very seductive, as was her father, so I imagine she finds men to take care of her. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what I imagine.

Mark: Where does she live?

Bernice: Los Angeles. Where else?

Mark: New York?

Bernice: Too cold for April. She likes warm weather and swimming pools. And the sad thing is she very well could be a successful actress if she’d ever tried. But she doesn’t know how to work at anything. She only knows how to seduce others into taking care of her.

Mark: Have you forgiven yourself regarding her?

Bernice: For the most part. Have you forgiven yourself regarding Dean?

Mark: Yes. When I finally understood he was the result of our disastrous parental equation resulting from our disastrous relational equation, and not from any conscious doing on my part, I was able to forgive myself.  

Bernice: I think most of us are born of disastrous parental equations, and then we seek those same equations in our relationships, knowing no other equations until we get well. If we’re so lucky.

Mark: Strange, isn’t it? These children we loved so much turning into people we don’t know anymore, when we thought we would know them and love them for the rest of our lives.

Bernice: Yes. Very strange and very sad. Whenever I see women my age happily engaged with their grownup daughters, I cry. Can’t help it.

Mark: I’m the same.

Bernice: Did your parents still love you after you became your own person?

Mark: My mother did, though she didn’t really know me, didn’t want to know me after I became something she didn’t want me to be.

Bernice: What did she want you to be?

Mark: A doctor. And failing there, a lawyer. And worst case scenario, a college professor. But definitely not a writer working at any old job to support my writing habit. How about your parents? Did they love you after you became you?

Bernice: If they ever loved me it was before I can remember. As I told you, my father was an abusive alcoholic, my mother his desperate slave. My brother and I were merely extra burdens for her to bear as she sacrificed herself to the monster.

Mark: Yet you turned out so sweet. Was there a loving grandmother in the mix?

Bernice: No, but we had a wonderful nanny, Nana Rose, who loved me from the day I was born until I was ten, and she loved my brother Robert even more. She was from Tennessee and I loved her more than anything.

Mark: A nanny. Your parents must have had money.

Bernice: My father was a doctor.

Mark: And are you close to your brother?

Bernice: Was. He died at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Darling man. I miss him still.

(They walk for a time without speaking.)

Mark: And here we are.

Bernice: Here we are.

Mark: Where the past need not impinge.

Bernice: Unless we let it.

Mark: How goes your present life? Dates with suitors aside.

Bernice: I love my job. Love the people I work with. Most of them. The theatre is shuttered until the virus is conquered. We’re guessing it will be another year at least before we can safely put on plays inside again. We’re looking into outdoor venues for the summer. But right now is all about staying afloat until the blessed day, begging patrons for money to pay the bills and the salaries of our skeleton crew. How about your present life?

Mark: Books are thriving in the pandemic, but I’ve had my fill of editing. Hope to retire in a few years and do more of my own writing again. Maybe move to a smaller town. Simplify. Maybe get a dog. A medium-sized mutt.

Bernice: What do you write?

Mark: Stories. Plays.

Bernice: I’d love to read something of yours.

Mark: Oh I’ll have to get up my courage first.

Bernice: Yes. Courage. I write, too. Poetry mostly, though I’ve read so many plays, the form is in me now, and my poems often morph into scenes with dialogue.

Mark: (stops walking) By the way… I think you’re marvelous. I could talk to you forever.

Bernice: The feeling is mutual.

Mark: Oh good. Shall we have another date after this one?

Bernice: Yes. And this time you call me.

Mark: Yes. This time I will call you.

fin

You Me