I was typing away, answering the usual morning emails, trying to politely turn down unsolicited plot ideas that I "do not believe I can do justice to." You know the kind: "dear mr vargas I want u to rite me a story about me and my mama, like we r both left handed and ..."
I was about to do the same with a rather nice request from the Edgewaters when I read closer. The happy couple were about to celebrate 25 years of married bliss. George wanted an erotic story to give his wife as the beginning of a night of hot anniversary sex. Well, I thought if they get excited enough, they might have a little "accident." How could a writer like me turn down such an opportunity?
And thus we have:
I didn't like Fred at first and the feeling was mutual. He thought I was too "prissy" for Ralph, too much a party girl. He should have heard what my family said about him. I was Jersey Shore money, thought few dared ask Papa where it came from. Ralph was working class scholarship at Georgetown where we met. Martha, on the other hand, could see immediately that I wanted to put my wild past behind me and commit myself to Ralph, truly wanting to settle down as a good wife and mother. I loved her from the beginning.
My opinions of Fred changed when Martha became ill. They were living in Florida by that time. NYC firefighters don't get paid enough for risking their lives, but if they survive, they can sell their Brooklyn row houses and retire early with a nice pension. Fred took care of Martha in their Florida condo as long as he could. When she went into the nursing home he visited her every day, spending almost all his time at her side. It must have been hard for him seeing her go downhill so rapidly, her body becoming frail and contorted. We were there when she died. While Ralph mourned the passing of his mother, I cried with Fred, "Dad," for the loss of his wife.
Now we were coming for our first visit in over a year since Martha's death. Both Ralph's career at a Manhattan law firm, my teaching Spanish in the local high school, a house in Bergen county, and a teenage boy, Kevin, kept us busy. In the last year I had grown close to Dad. Often he called me just to talk or to ask my advice -- Ralph was always far too busy. Dad was very much impressed by my college degree, as he had been of Martha's. From his calls and letters, Dad appeared to be doing well. Not long ago he told us he was dating a Cecilia Corsillo, a medical technician, originally from El Salvador, he had met at the nursing home where Martha had resided. She was divorced and had two boys, but sounded very nice.
Ralph was contemptuous, almost angry. "How can Fred be making a fool of himself over a woman young enough to be his daughter!" he fumed. I defended Dad, thinking it a tribute to Martha that he still loved women, although I did feel strange thinking about Dad with a woman younger than I.
Maybe I was also a little envious of Dad's new girlfriend. Ralph had not been "making a fool of himself" over me for some time. I guess we had been passionate enough when we were first married, but he seemed to change when I became pregnant with Kevin. Always having wanted lots of children, I was overjoyed that it had happened less than a month after our marriage.
I made a ritual of informing him: a candle-light dinner and my EPT tied up in a little box like a gift from me to him. I expected my young husband to want to celebrate by re-enacting the exact circumstances of the conception. Instead he was cautious, only wanting to talk about the problems this would create -- loss of my time from work, a new house, day care. He did not seem to appreciate that *I* had chosen *him* to be the father of one of my few chances to pass my genes on to the next generation.
The pregnancy was a nightmare. Oh I didn't suffer more than my share of the normal physical inconveniences, nausea, aversions to food and odors, swollen ankles, backache, just not being able to move freely. But I suffered them pretty much alone. Ralph never said it, but his attitude seemed to be, "You fucked up in your bed, now sleep in it." Other men, especially older men, told me I was beautiful, but Ralph did not. The other difficult thing was that my libido went through the roof. I wanted Ralph, I needed Ralph to make love to me. Or if he didn't want to make love, just to fuck my brains out. He wouldn't even cuddle.
Kevin was the end of our romance. Ralph and I still made love, but it was predictable and he was always cautious about the "danger" of my becoming pregnant again. I could not take the pill, but he was careful always to use a condom and usually restricted our lovemaking to days near the tail end of my cycle when I was feeling less amorous. There were no intimate dinners, we never went dancing, nothing that might start something he did not want to finish. Once burned, twice shy.
When the man you love, or did love, is indifferent to your sex appeal, it's hard for you care. Over the years I put on a lot of weight. But when a 5 foot 3 inch woman hits size 16, she knows something has to change. I guess Martha's death was a catalyst. By a combination of rigorous dieting and working out with a personal trainer, I had in the last year settled in at a curvy size 10, not that Ralph seemed to care anymore. Still, my remaining pounds seemed to be in the right places; I was getting hungry looks from men again and I liked the feeling.
It was about that time that I noticed a change in the letters from Dad. They became taciturn and, very significantly no longer mentioned Cecilia. Ralph would have been pleased, if he had noticed. So it was I who then decided that we really needed to go down to Florida to visit Dad. By pointing out that Disney World was in Orlando, only a couple of hours from where his grandfather lived, I enlisted Kevin in my campaign. Ralph agreed without enthusiasm.
Dad's condo was a small two bedroom apartment nowhere near a beach, although there was a pool. Kevin groused a bit about having to sleep on the couch in the living room, but then he realized that Grandpa had some cable channels that Ralph did not allow at home (and that Dad my not have known he had). Dad had moved himself into the second bedroom, not wanting to sleep in the bed that he and Martha had shared before she became ill. That left Ralph and me with the master bedroom, which was only a little larger than the other one. The bed was queen size, however, which gave Ralph room to curl up on his side away from me. It had been years since I had tried to sleep in his arms. I remembered bitterly how joyously we had snared a single bed when we were dating, our movements choreographed all night to keep us coiled together.
Men have their ways of bonding. Ralph and Dad talked business, managing some of Dad's small investments. They went over the advantage and disadvantages of buying a house or another condo vs. continuing to own this one. I piped up that the apartment needed to have someone come weekly to clean it, something Dad could not afford, but Ralph and I could help with. They got into arguments over politics of course. Dad, after a dalliance with the Republicans in the Reagan years, had returned to his family and ethnic trust in the Democrats. Ralph had never wavered in the allegiance to the Republicans that he adopted when he went to work for big law firm. I bided my time, letting them talk.
Two days about exhausted these topics and I could see that Ralph was growing bored. Kevin was climbing the walls, there being only so much a fourteen year old boy can do in a 12' pool when the youngest female resident in the complex is 55. I supported Kevin's plea to be taken to Disney World. Ralph was happy to get out of the apartment and a Friday-to-Monday excursion was mapped out. Ralph assumed that Dad would come along, but he really had no interest in standing in line to see Pirates of the Caribbean. I begged off as well, saying I would stay with Dad.
As soon as Ralph and Kevin had left I clapped my hands and twirled, making the hem of my short yellow sundress billow out and up. "OK, Dad! *We* are going shopping!"
Shopping wasn't much further up Dad's list of preferences than standing in line for Pirates of the Caribbean, but he had the company of me, his vivacious daughter-in-law. And I knew that men like to shop, too, just for different things. Because Ralph and Kevin taken our rental car, Dad and I got in his Taurus and headed toward an obscenely large home improvement store. I happily followed Dad up and down the aisles as he planned projects that would never happen -- new tile for the bathroom, a redwood banister for the balcony, tools to make easy, jobs that would never be undertaken. In the end Dad bought a new tool box and enough replacement light bulbs to last years.
Dad was beaming and I could tell I had now accumulated enough credit to drag him to a mall. Besides, given what I was going to be shopping for, this would not be at all painful for Dad. Although he had not said anything, I could tell by the way he looked at me, Dad had noticed the change in my measurements. Dad wouldn't know dress sizes, but a deep instinctual part of his brain registered a woman who once again had the proportions males were hard wired to appreciate, my husband being a possible exception.
"You've got to help me, Dad. I want to get some new clothes, but you know Ralph doesn't like anything too risqué. I need you to keep me under control." This was a task that Dad was not sure he either could or wanted to do, but it must have sounded like fun to try. My first few stops were for skirts and tops -- garments that hardly exist in size 16 petite. In 10 there is a lot more choice. "Do you think this skirt is too short?" I asked about a cocktail dress, coming out of a fitting room and pirouetting. The grin on Dad's face gave me his answer. "Do you think it might be too tight?" I inquired about a fire engine red mini skirt?" Dad could see that there was a lot of girl in that miniskirt, but his response was the same embarrassed grin. Some of the tops I bought were pretty sheer and would definitely require new brassieres but Dad approved. He even thought I looked good in one off those tank tops that show off your navel. He was right!
Of course it's pointless to have fashionably short skirts and dresses if you don't have good shoes. It had been years since it had been safe for me to wear high heels. Now I made up for lost time: black patent pumps, lime green stilettos, and several strappy sandals with 3, 4 or 5 inch heels. Dad was enjoying this a lot more that looking at shop vacs.
I think he was a little nervous when we walked into a Victoria's Secret. Just to raise the ante I took his arm. I know we looked like Sugar Daddy buying toys for his latest trophy, but if people wanted to think I was a trophy, that was alright with me. It was such a relief to be able to buy bras and panties from an ordinary store instead of a specialty shop and to chose among colors, and silks and laces, push ups and half cups, thongs or French cut. I made my choices of new lingerie without Dad's input, of course, but I did model my selections of stockings, some with a garter belts and some thigh highs, having sworn never to wear pantyhose again. Dad really liked the seamed ones.
Now if this next part were a in a story, you'd pan the writer for coming up with anything so clichéd. But so help me, it happened, just as we were heading out of the mall. I was wearing one of my cute new outfits and I had slipped my arm in Dad's again, giggling at the stares we were getting. Dad may not have understood what people were thinking, but as a red-blooded male he enjoyed having a woman at his side.
Suddenly behind us, we heard screams. Dad tore loose from my grip and sprinted back toward the commotion. I arrived just in time to see smoke coming from a toy store. Everyone was shouting and pointing toward the entrance. Dad was standing, listening, trying to capture what was going on. Someone else pointed and Dad disappeared into the store. The crowd grew silent as long seconds dragged past. Then a shout as Dad came out coughing and leading two terrified little black girls. A paramedic from the mall had arrived and tried to get the two girls and Dad to lie down on stretchers, though, thankfully, they looked unharmed. Then one of the girls seemed to recover from her daze and began screaming, "Mommy! Juanita! Mommy! Juanita!" The girls' mother and another sister were still inside the burning store!
"You can't go in there, sir," one of the paramedics said but Dad was already up from the stretcher and bounding back into the acrid, billowing smoke that poured from the establishment. The whole assemblage gasped as Dad once more disappeared into the smoke, darker and thicker than before. Several people were sobbing, none more than I, convinced I would never see Dad alive again.
The sound of fire engines was approaching, but I knew it would be too late for Dad. Almost a minute had passed and I could feel the heat from the blaze on my face. Even here the stench of burning plastic was overpowering. He couldn't survive in there; no one could. I broke down completely, not believing he could be taken from me like this, a victim of his fearlessness and noble instincts.
I didn't see it, but the roar of the crowd made me jerk my head around. There was Dad! Staggering, he was carrying a black infant in one arm and leading a bedraggled and very pregnant white woman with the other. "Mommy! Mommy!" the little girls whooped as a whole crew of paramedics swooped in to take the woman, baby, and Dad in hand. Police, too, were now on the scene and were pushing back the crowd. I was being pushed back with all the others when someone said, "She's his girlfriend," and I was allowed access.
When I got to his side they had an oxygen mask over Dad's face and several people were taking his pulse and looking at instruments, all concerned frowns and whispers. I didn't dare to ask how he was. Finally, one of the technicians stood up and shook his head. "Shit!" he exclaimed, "I wish I had this old geezer's constitution!"
It was almost nightfall when we got back to the apartment. By the time it was clear that both Dad and the young family were unharmed, reporters from the local TV station were on the scene, recounting the dramatic events for "Live at Five." Dad tried to explain there was nothing out of the ordinary in what he did, that any trained person could hold their breath for minutes if they knew how to move deliberately. More important, from an earlier fire inspection of that store (some kind of volunteer program) he knew of a parallel passage used for stocking which had proved free of smoke, allowing him to go deep into the store before facing the flames. The reporters didn't care about details. The story had everything cameras love: a scene of destruction, a grateful mother and child, adorable kids, and a heroic retired NYC fireman with a pretty, adoring woman clinging to his arm -- Moi.
In the excitement neither of us had eaten. I offered to fix something but Dad wouldn't hear of it. He called a buddy, also ex-NYFD, who had opened a pizza place nearby and soon the stereotypical teen age boy was collecting money for the pizza and staring at me. Then I remembered. I was still wearing that miniskirt with the sexy stockings. Only two of four buttons held the front of my blouse together. Feeling lightheaded from all the excitement and appreciative of his awkward admiration, I kissed him on the cheek and sent him away. I giggled, thinking that he would masturbate tonight with the image of what those other two buttons concealed.
Never had cheese and mushrooms and black olives, pepperoni and onions tasted so good. We had a couple of Buds in the long-neck bottle that Dad likes. I put the remainder of the six pack on the table in the loving room. He didn't have much to say about the rescue. One floor, a small shop, nothing to a guy who had brought people down five floors on a ladder.
For a while we just watched the Devil Rays who had an at home series against the Red Sox. I was hoping Tampa would push Boston a few games farther behind the Yankees, but more important, I had my eyes out for Tino Martinez
By the third bottle, plus the one with the pizza, I got up my courage. "What's gong on, Dad? For a while your letters were so cheerful. Then you practically stopped writing."
"Nothing, Ellen, honey. Not much happening in the life of an old guy like me."
"That's not true Dad, starting with the part about you being old. It wasn't an 'old guy' that saved four people's lives this afternoon."
He looked back at the TV and didn't say anything.
I reached over to the remote and pushed the power button. "It's about you and Cecilia, isn't it?"
Over the next half hour, with denials and silences from Dad and slightly inebriated prodding from me, the whole story came out. Apparently Cecilia had been as moved by Dad's devotion to Martha as I was. When they ran into each other at a supermarket a few months after Martha's death, they fell into conversation and she invited him home for dinner. They had dated for several months, but always on her days off or early evenings. Her two boys didn't allow much intimacy, although she usually sent him home with soggy shorts after a session on her couch when the boys were in bed. In fact, he frequently babysat the boys for her, telling them stories about the NYFD, which they loved. "They are too young to be firemen, Fred," Cecilia had joked. "Stop trying to recruit them."
Dad didn't say so, but I could tell he was far past infatuation with the young woman and she seemed genuinely to return his affection. "Do you have a picture of her?"
Dad protested that everything was over between him and Cecilia but I pressed. Reluctantly he went over to a bookcase and drew a frame from behind the books as if hidden. Silently he placed the picture in my hands. I was stunned. Cecilia looked very much like me! She was a little younger and thinner and not quite as busty as I, but had the same nose and high cheek line, dark hair and eyes like mine and a similar golden brown complexion that I got from my Italian grandparents Then I thought about her last name, Corsillo. Apparently Sicilians had migrated to El Salvador as well as to the United States.
"She's very ... pretty." I ventured.
"Yeah, prettiest woman I've met in a long time ... almost."
"So, you are dating a beautiful woman who's got enough on the ball to be a sonogram technician plus raise two boys and who seems to be in love with you. What went wrong?"
This was a question that Dad clearly did not want to answer, but I looked at him squarely and waited.
"I messed it up! I can never see her again," he muttered as much to himself as to me.
"Dad, arguments and misunderstandings happen between couples all the time. Call her; talk to her about whatever it is."
"There is nothing to talk about, after what happened."
Finally I cajoled the rest of the story out of him. Early one night Cecilia showed up at his apartment unexpectedly. She'd gotten a sitter and didn't have to pick up the boys until 10PM. She had on the kind of clothes that were made for taking off. After some kissing and groping, Dad excused himself and quickly took a Viagra. Even three years ago, before Marta became sick, it was a good insurance policy. When he came out of the bathroom Cecilia was no longer in the sitting area. "In here," she purred from Dad's bedroom. Already naked, Cecilia quickly helped Dad out of his clothes and within minutes they were pawing at each other like teenagers.
"I wanted to, you know, pleasure her the way I always did ...." Dad's voice caught, "But she was in a hurry. 'Fred, we don't have much time and I've been waiting for this for so long,' she urged me."