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Relationship Interview #6

This is the sequel to Relationship Interview #5.

Bernice is fifty-seven with brown hair going gray. Mark is sixty-four with gray hair turning white. They met through Find The One, a relationship-starting web site. Their first date was at a café with outdoor seating and their second date was a walk on the beach. For their third date they meet at Mark’s house.

A sunny Saturday in northern California in mid-February, they sit twelve feet apart on Mark’s brick patio. Bernice is wearing a summery green dress and a matching green mask, Mark brown corduroy trousers and a Hawaiian shirt with red parrots and tropical foliage, his mask gray. They each have a little table next to them laden with bowls of Mark’s homemade guacamole, store-bought salsa, and tortilla chips. Bernice is having a Mexican beer, Mark mango kombucha.

After shifting their chairs slightly to do away with any glare from their views of each other, they remove their masks.

Mark: Please feel free to take off your shoes. I’m gonna take mine off.

Bernice: Good idea. (takes off her sandals) I’m always surprised at how warm these February days can be, though I’ve lived here for twenty years.

Mark: The illusion of an early spring. I used to get tricked by these summery winter days into planting my vegetable seeds in the ground instead of starting them in planters on my windowsills. But the soil is never warm enough for sprouting anything but kale until the end of March, so it’s always better to start the seeds indoors.

Bernice: Lovely garden. Look at your giant lemon tree. I’m jealous. You don’t own this house, do you?

Mark: I do. Bought it twenty-six years ago, the year after my divorce. The first one. They couldn’t give these houses away at the time. There were drug dealers on every corner, prostitutes, homeless people living in abandoned houses. I paid six thousand dollars for this place, and two months ago the house next door sold for two and a half million.

Bernice: How long after you bought this house did things start to change?

Mark: A year or so. I woke up one morning and realtors were swarming the neighborhood selling houses to the highest bidders.

Bernice: Incredible. What happened?

Mark: The dot com revolution exploded, everyone got on the internet, and the greedy overlords ended rent control. Two years after I bought this place I could have sold it for half a million.

Bernice: Lucky you.

Mark: Yeah, there I was barely surviving on my paltry salary, and now, barring economic collapse, I can retire in relative comfort.

Bernice: Where would you move to?

Mark: I might not move. I can get a reverse mortgage and stay right here, though I’d like to get out of the city, maybe find a place on the Oregon coast. I don’t know. I don’t think about it much. I’m more of a day-to-day person. I’ve never done much planning ahead. I’ve always just worked to pay the bills and looked for small pleasures along the way.

Bernice: Nice way to put it.

Mark: Oh I stole that from an obscure musical. Ben Franklin In Paris. Look for small pleasures that happen every day, and not for fortune or fame. Infinite treasures lie all along the way, as do candles waiting for flame.

Bernice: Candles waiting for flame. That’s a good line.

Mark: Speaking of which, did you bring one of your poems?

Bernice: I did. But I’ll need to finish my beer before there’s even a remote chance I’ll read it to you.

Mark: I wrote a poem after our walk on the beach. Profoundly schmaltzy. Needs work.

Bernice: (laughs) I wrote a poem after our walk, too. That’s the one I brought. Not so much schmaltzy as… flabbergasted.

Mark: That’s one of my favorite words. Flabbergasted. I especially love that no one knows the origin. Some unheralded genius spit it out one day and it will live forever.

Bernice: My friend Marlene is French and asked me to define flabbergasted. I said it means breathlessly amazed with a touch of confusion.

Mark: You really are a poet.

Bernice: Thank you. Excellent guacamole.

Mark: Not too salty? It’s a fine line.

Bernice: No. It’s perfect. Love that splash of lemon.

Mark: Oh good.

Bernice: (takes a long drink of her beer) So… have you told anyone about me?

Mark: Yes. (thinks) Three people. I waited until after our second date. Didn’t want to jinx things.

Bernice: I waited until then, too. Who did you tell about me? (wrinkles her nose) That sounds weird. Who did you mention me to?

Mark: I mentioned you in an email to my brother and I wrote about you in a letter to my friend Diana, and I spoke about you at length with my good friend Alex and told him I was smitten with you. My brother and Diana have yet to reply, and Alex congratulated me, warned me not to get my hopes up, and asked if you spoke French. And maybe you do since you have a French friend.

Bernice: Why did he want to know if I spoke French?

Mark: Alex’s wife Denise is French. Alex is British and believes that all truly cultured people should speak French and have a working knowledge of Latin. In other words, he’s a snob, but even so he’s a great guy. He also asked if you were a dancer when I mentioned how graceful you are, so I said I would ask you.

Bernice: You told him I was graceful?

Mark: Graceful and charming and smart and beautiful.

Bernice: No wonder you’re smitten with me.

Mark: How could I not be? Who did you tell about me? (frowns) You’re right. That sounds weird. Who did you rave about me to?

Bernice: (laughs) I told my two best friends about you. Marlene and Angela. Marlene wondered if you were a melancholic because she wonders that about everyone, and Angela wanted to know if you were keen on sex. That’s how she put it. Keen on sex.

Mark: So… how did you… what did you say?

Bernice: I said you didn’t seem to be a melancholic, and I didn’t know if you were keen on sex, but you might be.

Mark: Are they… do they have partners? Marlene and Angela?

Bernice: No. We are a troika of resolutely single women. Marlene is gorgeous and brilliant, but doesn’t like most men, and Angela is not so gorgeous but charming and funny and loves men but can’t seem to find anyone to be in a relationship with, though she’s a great person.

Mark: They sound delightful.

Bernice: They are. I can’t imagine life without them.

Mark: May I get you another beer?

Bernice: Thank you. I’d love one.

(Mark goes inside to fetch another beer. Bernice tries to relax and wishes she lived in a house and not an apartment. Mark returns masked and places a fresh bottle of beer on the little table next to Bernice.

Bernice: Merci.

Mark: De rien.

(Mark returns to his chair and takes off his mask.)

Bernice: So are you keen on sex?

Mark: Do I like sex? If it’s good, yes. Am I obsessed with sex? No, but certainly part of my wanting to be in a relationship is a desire to be sexually intimate with someone. I’ve had a few wonderful sexual experiences, but my marriages and two long-term relationships were not particularly satisfying sexually. Does that answer your question?

Bernice: Yes.

Mark: Are you keen on sex?

Bernice: Your answer could be mine. And to answer Alex’s questions, I do speak French, mostly with Marlene who is our set designer and a wonderful actor. And I am a dance class junky. Et toi?

Mark:I speak a little French, emphasis on little, and I’ve never taken a dance class, though I do occasionally put on music and dance wildly around the house.

Bernice: What music do you like to dance to?

Mark: Usually Ray Charles or Mark Knopfler, but sometimes Bonnie Raitt.

Bernice: I think if we weren’t in a pandemic and taking every precaution I’d probably try to kiss you now.

Mark: (startled) Oh. That’s nice to hear.

Bernice: Though it would be too soon, so I’m glad for the restrictions, though I hate them.

Mark: I know what you mean.

Bernice: Sexual attraction erases my better judgment. Which is why I’ve never found anyone truly suited to me because I don’t take the time to really get to know them before we go to bed.

Mark: Evolution designed us to procreate and die young.

Bernice: I actually like being attracted to you and not being able to act on it. My experience of you keeps deepening, and I love that.

Mark: Though at some point we could decide to get tested and quarantine and become a bubble of two.

Bernice: I have dreams about that, though you, specifically you, have yet to be in my dreams.

Mark: Same with me, though two nights ago my dream girl was very nearly you.

Bernice: Which is the perfect intro to my poem. Shall I read to you now that I’m sufficiently tipsy?

Mark: Please.

*

As I await you on the beach, a man approaches,

his mask concealing all but his smiling eyes,

his formidable strength obvious in his movements,

his glorious body imaginable despite his bulky coat.

His sureness dizzies me. Why now? I think.

Why now when I have finally met someone who

might love me in equal measure to my love for them,

why now would the universe send this hero, this rogue

who would love me into shambles?

“Sorry I’m late,” says the man, his voice a hero’s baritone.

“I saw you from afar and didn’t recognize you, and when

I didn’t see anyone else in this direction I went the other way.”

“It’s you?’ I say, flabbergasted. “When did you become Hercules?”

And now in the parallel dimension just next to this one,

your identical self takes my identical self in his arms

and seals her fate with a mighty kiss.

Fin

Wake Up Thinking About You

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Dexter and Melody Go Out

the next night

On a warm afternoon in May, Dexter Jones, forty-six, gets home at five from his job of delivering packages for UPS in Springfield, Oregon, undresses in his garage, drops his uniform into the washing machine, enters his kitchen naked as a jay bird, washes his hands with great thoroughness, feeds his hungry cats Frank and Ethel, and takes a hot shower during which he washes his longish brown hair.

Now he puts on his favorite tie-dyed T-shirt featuring lots of blue and green blobs, captures his hair in a stubby ponytail, slips into comfy old blue jeans, and saunters into his kitchen to make some guacamole to have with chips and lemonade for his first official date with Melody.

Melody lives in the house directly behind Dexter’s house, their backyards connected with a friendship gate Dexter and Melody’s brother Godfrey built a few weeks ago. Melody is sixty, trim and pretty with short brown hair. A high school Home Economics teacher, Melody does an hour of yoga and takes a brisk two-mile walk every morning before she conducts her online classes for five hours, and then she takes another brisk walk when she’s done with her teaching.

Neither Melody nor Dexter has been in a relationship in several years and they were both pleasantly surprised when they found themselves desiring to maybe get into one with each other. How to create a new relationship in the midst of a deadly epidemic is a mystery to both of them, but their desire to explore the possibility trumps their reluctance, and tonight is the beginning of their experiment in dating during a pandemic.

Dexter sets up a little table on the edge of his vegetable garden about ten feet from the friendship gate and covers the table top with a green paisley tablecloth upon which he arrays two bowls of guacamole, two bowls of chips, and two glasses of lemonade. Now he places a lawn chair on either side of the table and sits down to await Melody.

While he waits, Dexter closes his eyes and thinks back over his life, recalling several other first dates. And as he watches his memories, he notices that in every previous first encounter he was so anxious about wanting the woman to like him, he never allowed himself to be who he really was. Instead, he tried to say and do things he thought the woman would like. Thus he was never genuine with these women in the beginning, never the true Dexter, so no wonder the women were all confused a few dates along when he could no longer keep up the façade and they found out he was not the person he’d been pretending to be.

“But no more,” says Dexter, sighing in relief. “From now on I speak from my heart and tell the unvarnished truth.”

“Sounds good to me,” says Melody, standing in the friendship gateway.

Dexter opens his eyes and gazes in wonder at the lovely woman in a reddish short-sleeved summer dress, barefoot, with a red rose in her short brown hair, a plate of almond-butter cookies in one hand, a small glass decanter of red wine in the other.

“Wow,” he says, mesmerized. “You are so beautiful.”

She steps through the gateway and sets the wine and cookies on the table.

“Don’t hold back, Dexter,” she says quietly. “Say what you feel and I will, too.”

He gets up from his chair. “I’ll go get a couple wine glasses. Be right back.”

Melody moves her chair a little closer to Dexter’s chair, about seven-feet away, sits down, and exhales profoundly. “Just be yourself, Mel. You’ve got nothing to prove. If he likes you, he likes you. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. Better to find out sooner than later.”

Dexter returns with two small and delicate crystal wine glasses and sets them on the table next to the decanter of wine. “Got those in Venice. The one time I went to Europe. Nine years ago. Never used them until now.”

“They’re exquisite,” says Melody, her eyes filling with tears. “I never did get to Europe. Always wanted to, but never made it.”

“You might go some day,” says Dexter, his eyes filling with tears, too. “We might go together.”

“It doesn’t matter,” says Melody, smiling through her tears. “The only thing that matters is being here with you right now. Everything else is a memory or an idea. This is what’s real. And I want to tell you, need to tell you, that ever since you called two days ago and asked if I’d like to meet you here today, just the two of us, I’ve been happier than I’ve been in years and years. Just knowing you wanted to be my special friend is a great gift, Dexter. No matter what happens.”

“You have the most appealing voice I’ve ever heard,” says Dexter, feeling deeply happy. “You want to pour the wine or should I?”

“I’ll pour,” she says, removing the crystal stopper and pouring the wine into the delicate glasses. “I almost never drink alcohol, but I thought it would be fun to toast our new…” She half-frowns and half-smiles. “What are we calling this? Friendship or…”

“I like relationship,” says Dexter, reddening. “Everything it conjures up.”

“You mean sex?” she says, arching an eyebrow and raising her glass.

“Among other things,” says Dexter, raising his glass, too.

“Like what other things?”

“Like sharing time. Holding each other. Laughing together. Watching the cats goofing around. Gardening. Going on walks. Making food together. Telling each other things we don’t tell anybody else.”

“Here’s to all that,” she says, gently clinking his glass with hers. “Though I think we’ll have to wait a while before we hold each other. Until we’re ready to take the chance.”

“To all the possibilities,” he says, clinking her glass with his. “Whatever they turn out to be.”

They drink the wine and gaze at each other for a long time without speaking.

“You’re wonderful,” says Melody, the first to speak. “I’ve never wanted to kiss anybody as much as I want to kiss you.”

“I feel the same way,” says Dexter, grinning. “But in lieu of a kiss, try my guacamole.”

Melody dips one of her chips into her bowl of guacamole, and at the taste of the good green goo her eyes grow wide with delight.