[img_assist|nid=681|title=Breakfast by Jayne Surrena. Fall 2007|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=150|height=206]
His new wife is nothing like his old wife. His old wife, Doris, had an affair with his Rabbi, more for her amusement than anything else. This was a man whose teeth were dark and uneven, a man whose suits and fingers smelled of cigarette smoke. When Doris took her husband’s goodwill and religion with a single pelvic thrust, she was a blonde with great calves and decent enough looks if you could ignore her oily skin and psoriasis.
Besides the affair with Rabbi Potzner, Doris liked to put an empty Skippy peanut butter jar to the bedroom wall and listen to the couple in the next apartment as they had sex. Doris also couldn’t decide if she loved her husband or wanted to run off with the skinny black guy at the 7-11.
His new wife, Jo Lynn, is glad Doris was a crazy bitch. Jo Lynn says she can do no wrong. She has grayish black hair, green eyes and a calming smile, and she’s actually in love with Gerald Junior. You’re the best, she says. You do it for me, baby.
Gerald Junior divorced Doris when he was forty-three and married Jo Lynn at fifty-eight. In between Doris and Jo Lynn was a life of ducking and dodging. That’s what his father called it, may he rest in peace.
Doris took nothing from you, his father liked to say. Grow up, Butchy Boy. Then Gerald Senior would say, Not every person deserves our trust, okay? And one A-hole Rabbi isn’t a religion. Who knows why these morons do what they do. Believe me, I could tell you stories.
I can’t hear your stories right this minute, Gerald Junior would think. He felt rusted out from Doris. Hollow. Didn’t his father get it? The woman took things he didn’t know he could lose. He couldn’t feel anything anymore. He couldn’t taste his food. One day, he cut his leg to see if she had taken his blood. I could tell you stories, too, Gerald Junior would think. When he cut his leg, he sat on the bathroom floor and watched himself bleed and felt relieved.
October 13th, 1975
Gerald Senior is driving Butchy Boy down South Street in a shiny new Buick Riviera. Gerald Junior tunes the radio to WIBG and lowers the volume. He stares out the tinted passenger window. Today they are picking up his divorce papers at the court house.
You know I love your mother, Gerald Senior tells his son and clicks off the radio. Gerald Senior and Gerald Junior have their best talks in cars. The old man says, But your mother is like you to the T. You two aren’t altogether normal.
Gerald Senior does security for the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market on South Galloway and has his own nickname. The produce guys call him Duckman. His body is slim on top but expands downward to a full, round bottom. He has a waddle, too, like Chaplin as the Little Tramp. Back and forth, back and forth. Quack, quack, quack. The son loves the old man but has cringed more than once. The son is tall and thin and eats only veggies and broiled fish. Besides the duck thing, his father doesn’t have much of a fashion sense: the thready comb-over, the Montecristo cigar, the diamond pinky ring, the white belt and white shoes. But a heart of gold, Butchy Boy would say, ask anybody.
Edna and I went to the Big Apple a few months ago, Gerald Senior says, Edna being Gerald Junior’s mom. That was the week you were in Toronto. She wanted to go on this NBC tour. Personally, I’m not one for TV, but I don’t have to tell you how your mother loves her shows. Edna lives inside the television.
There are worse things, Gerald Junior says.
[img_assist|nid=682|title=Allegiance: War or Peace by Corey Armpriester© 2007|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=150|height=222]
Hey, absolutely, Gerald Senior tells his son. So we’re in this tiny theater, and the tour guide says to us, When you think of NBC, what comes to mind? This kid’s a total knockout, by the way—red hair, perfect teeth, nice tits. So some people say the Today show, and other people say Johnny Carson, but your mother waves her hand like a schoolgirl and when the tour guide calls on her, Edna says friends. All my best friends in the world, she says, are right here at NBC. Can you imagine?
What’s wrong with that? Gerald Junior says.
Friends are supposed to know you, Gerald Senior says, but Gerald Junior doesn’t get it. Why does his mother need friends who know her? What’s wrong with watching your friends on TV and turning them off before you go to bed? He knows it’s a crazy thought, but it’s comforting: a switch to click everybody off.
A month after the divorce, Gerald Junior begins dating a thirty-six year old Italian dwarf named Beatrice. She has shoulder-length brown hair and Bambi eyes and a mole on her upper lip. She’s almost four feet tall and drives an old silver Volkswagen Beetle with wooden blocks attached to the gas, break, and clutch pedals. She sits on a phone book to see over the dashboard.
What are you doing with your life? his father wants to know.
Gerald Senior and Gerald Junior are in the ’75 Riviera. They are on an errand for Edna who has to stay home and finish watching The Price is Right. Though he seems to be asking about Gerald Junior’s life in general, Gerald Senior is referring specifically to Beatrice, the dwarf.
It’s like you’re dating a child with underarm hair, Gerald Senior says. Is that what you want?
I don’t see her that much, Gerald Junior says, aware of his defensiveness. Gerald Junior sells dental supplies. Teeth, waxes, that sort of thing. He is on the road more than he is home.
It’s not like we’re whatever, Gerald Junior says. Getting married or anything.
Butchy Boy likes that Beatrice is small. Pretty little hands, pretty little feet, he thinks and smiles. But just when he feels she is small enough, he gets smaller, or it feels that way. He once said to her, Are there women smaller than you? You know, tiny ones? Ones you can put in your pocket?
Gerald Junior knew Beatrice understood him. I’m suspicious of tall people, Beatrice said when Gerald Junior had asked her out. They met at Marcuso’s, a dental lab on 20th and Locust. She was a receptionist. Gerald pictures her as a beautiful cartoon. Big breasts. Big butt. Teeny-tiny waist. Italian.
Tall men will leave you, Beatrice told Gerald Junior. The novelty wears off. Or his tall friends find the whole thing too entertaining for words. Or they end up beating the shit out of you, that’s the best. How ’bout it, honey, you like kicking the shit out of little people? I’ve had a broken collarbone and three chipped teeth, all from tall guys.
I don’t get your whole dwarf thing, Gerald Senior says to Gerald Junior. They’re parked in front of a grocery store, and Gerald Senior is trying to decipher Edna’s grocery list.
Little people, Gerald Junior says. That’s what they want you to call them. They don’t like dwarf or midget. Gerald Junior tries explaining to Gerald Senior how little people have their own culture and how most of them go through a lot of painful surgeries and die at an early age.
You and your mother, Gerald Senior says and snorts. He says, Your mother has make-believe friends, too. This midget, this Beatrice person, she isn’t real, Butchy Boy.
Now don’t get me wrong. To her and her friends she’s real enough. But to guys like you, she’s strictly a fantasy, okay? Something cute, something you can cuddle. More like a what-do-you-call-it? A stuffed animal.
June 12th, 1985
Edna has new morning and new evening friends. Her morning friends are Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel, and she wonders whether Bryant is really black. Her new evening friends are Michael J. Fox and Bill Cosby. She also adores the GoldenGirls and Don Johnson on MiamiVice. But thank God for Johnny Carson, she sighs.
Old friends are the best.
Gerald Junior sits next to his mother on the purple and white floral sofa in the living room. They are holding hands and watching the Today show. Jane is interviewing a man who climbed the Woolworth Building and got arrested.
Maybe you should give Jane Pauley a call, Edna says to Gerald Junior. She’s such a lovely girl. Don’t you think? Not Jewish, of course. But what your father doesn’t know
won’t hurt him.
I think she’s married, Gerald Junior says.
His mother turned sixty-four last month. Since reaching her sixties, Edna’s waist and ankles have started to thicken. Her face also seems fuller, particularly the cheeks and around the jaw line. What can a person expect, really? She loves her fatty foods, and she won’t go anywhere or do anything. Edna does have a pretty face, though—the fleshy lips, the Ava Gardner dimpled chin, those intense brown eyes with the gold flecks.
Whatever happened to your little Beatrice? his mother says. She is staring at the television. Jane Pauley and the man who climbed the Woolworth Building are laughing. Edna says, I always wanted to sit little Beatrice on my lap and tell her a story. Did you ever feel that way?
I’m dating someone else now, Gerald Junior says and pats his mother’s soft, freckled hand. He guesses there have been at least thirteen or fourteen relationships since Beatrice. Gerald Junior isn’t sure, exactly. He begins to think that he dates the way piranhas eat. A non-stop frenzy. It’s eat or be eaten. It’s leave or be left. A relationship is anyone who sticks around for more than a month.
Is she Jewish? Edna says, meaning the new one.
Filipino, Gerald Junior says.
Don’t tell your father, Edna says.
The old man has a new Caddy, a silver DeVille. He and Gerald Junior are taking a ride along the Schuylkill. It’s early evening, and the river sparkles with the fading sun. Trees cut the light into yellow strips and long shadows that crisscross the road.
Gerald Junior throws caution to the wind and tells Gerald Senior about Lynda the Filipino. She sculpts artificial teeth for dental implants at a South Philly lab. Lynda is a short woman with beefy legs and thin arms and shiny black hair that ends just above her butt. She believes in sending money to her mother and grandparents back in the Philippines. Once in awhile she buys too much jewelry on QVC and doesn’t send them money until the following month.
I was just getting used to the midget, his father says. He’s sixty-six now and looks more like a duck than he did in his fifties.
That was a while ago, Gerald Junior says.
It’s hard keeping up, Gerald Senior says. The old man wants to know what his son has against Jewish women, but he doesn’t say Jewish. He says normal. But if you know Gerald Senior, the leap from normal to Jewish isn’t rocket science.
Gerald Junior gazes out the passenger window at the Schuylkill river. A two man scull glides over the water. Oars dip in unison without a splash. He doesn’t know any normal women, Jewish or not. He has been divorced and available for ten years and hasn’t met a normal woman. Conceivably, women are not normal. Or maybe the crazy women are the normal women. Or maybe he is more like his mother than he can admit and lives inside his own fantasy world. He has met women who drink too much and vomit in his car or on his suit or in his bed. He has met women who get angry if you don’t know what they are thinking. He has met women who tell you all their rules before you even know there’s a game. He has met women who believe you are their ex-husband or ex-boyfriend and become angry at you for things you have never done and wouldn’t do in a million years. He has even met a woman with a penis and thought it was a good idea. She could date herself and save him money and aggravation.
You and Doris ought to get back together, Gerald Senior says. An unlit Montecristo is hooked in the corner of his mouth. His father thinks that if he chews a cigar and doesn’t smoke it he won’t get cancer. The theory is almost as bizarre as to Gerald Junior as the idea of getting back with his ex-wife, and Gerald Senior says, With Doris, at least you know what to expect. Nobody’s perfect, Butchy Boy.
Gerald Junior doesn’t answer. What sort of an answer could he give? I don’t want to reunite with the only Shiite Jew in Philadelphia? Ten years have passed since Gerald Junior’s divorce, and the nightmares about his ex haven’t stopped. Each nightmare is different but they keep the same theme. The last one began with Gerald Junior opening the bedroom door. Doris was in bed with the Skinny black guy from the 7-11 and the couple in the next apartment who are always having sex. Gerald Junior couldn’t see where one person left off and the other person began. They were like a ball of snakes. Shiny bodies, groaning. Gerald Junior says to some indefinable part of Doris, Honey, I’m home. And Doris says, Your dinner is in the microwave. Then the skinny black guy from the 7-11 says, Who’s the honky? Doris says, It’s my husband Gerald. And the black guy from the 7-11 says, Hey, Gerald. And the neighbors say, Nice meeting you, Gerald. Your wife’s the best.
Gerald Junior feels humiliated. It’s hot and mysterious, his humiliation. It’s a thief. Gerald Junior knows it’s a thief but doesn’t know why he knows it. He doesn’t know what the thief is stealing, either. What he does know is that he feels less of a person after the thief does what it has come to do. Like less of a man.
March 3rd, 1998
Gerald Senior died two months back from cancer that started at his jaw and spread to his esophagus and stomach. Gerald Junior isn’t sure if Edna has noticed. He drove her to the viewing and the grave site, but she spent most of the time talking about Tom Brokaw and how safe she feels when he does the evening news. You just know things will be okay, Edna said. She’s seventy-seven now, and her braided white hair is long enough to reach her waist.
Your mother is like you to the T, his father used to say.
Oh, you’re right, daddy, Gerald Jr. thinks. Just two scared peas in a pod.
Gerald Junior hadn’t looked at his father’s casket. He was afraid that if he started crying he’d never stop. He pictured the moisture leaving his body in a river of tears and the wind taking his dust. Now his mother sits next to him on the purple and white floral sofa in the living room, her head resting against his shoulder. They are watching the Today show and Edna’s two new friends, Katie and Matt.
I bet they’re married, Edna says. Do you think they’re married?
Not to each other, Gerald Junior says.
Too bad, Edna says. They would’ve had such beautiful children. Katie’s smile and Matt’s disposition, those kids would’ve been absolute angels. Then Edna glances up at Gerald Junior and places her fingertips to his cheek. She says, Of course, if Katie wasn’t married she’d be perfect for you.
I’m not dating, Gerald Junior says.
Since when? Edna asks, but her attention shifts to Matt interviewing a woman who is telling him how to cook for a family of five on a tight budget.
Gerald Junior hasn’t dated anyone in three years. He’s told Edna about this decision more than once, not that he expects his mother to remember and not that he thinks it’s worth remembering. Being alone isn’t a bad deal. His job consumes much of his time, what with all the dental labs and his presentations at professional get-togethers. He has a routine that includes a two mile morning jog, gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, then ballroom or line dancing on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He also has a pet dog named Mr. Rascals who greets him when he gets home and likes to sleep at the foot of his bed.
And, okay, so maybe he is seeing someone. But he has only seen her three times and they don’t call it dating. He doesn’t know what to call it. Her name is Jo Lynn and she doesn’t know what to call it, either. Mainly, they watch HBO and drink coffee.
Gerald Junior is driving Gerald Senior’s old Deville. The Caddy will always get regular maintenance, he promises himself. Oil changes, tune-ups, whatever it needs. An afternoon sun is following the car. It drifts between the leaves and branches of the trees and paints the road with light and shadow. He misses the Duckman, may he rest in peace. Quack, quack, Gerald Junior says to himself and feels his throat tighten. He misses their talks.
How’s life treating you, Butchy Boy?
Gerald Junior imagines his father sitting in the passenger seat with his brown terry cloth robe loose at the top and exposing a hairless bony chest. He also imagines the thready comb-over, the Montecristo cigar, the diamond pinky ring. But a heart of gold, Butchy Boy thinks, ask anybody.
I’m seeing someone, Gerald Junior says.
What does that mean? Gerald Senior says and glances out the passenger window at the sunlit river and a man rowing his scull with graceful, steady strokes.
I don’t know, Gerald Junior says.
Yes you do, his father says.
And he does. At that moment, Gerald Junior knows.
I’m afraid to talk about it, Gerald Junior says.
His eyes start to burn and his chest swells with too much of everything.
I don’t even want to breathe funny, he says. That’s the feeling.
Last night, Jo Lynn had cupped her slender fingers over his hand. They were next to each other on her green and white striped sofa, watching HBO. She whispered, Being with you is better than being alone. Gerald Junior didn’t get it right off. He felt hurt and wanted to tell her, That’s not much, that’s nothing. Then he thought about how his life had settled down and the sane comfort of his routines. And then he got it.
It came like an unobtrusive tap on the shoulder.
Ron Savage worked as a psychologist at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia, before retiring to write full time. Some of his recent publications include (or will include) Glimmer Train, G.W. Review, Film Comment, and Southern Humanities Review.