His dog greets me first, one of those leaping, tail wagging, friendly animals, golden retriever, I think. Oscar is his name. Happy as can be, wants everyone to like him. What is it they say about dogs and their owners, they’re a lot alike? Couldn’t be truer in this case.
His owner stands at some distance, by the river bank, phone to his ear. Doesn’t smile, doesn’t wave, doesn’t acknowledge me at all. “This isn’t a good start. Not like him at all,” I think as Oscar and I while away an uncomfortably long time
The phone finally goes into his pocket as he heads in my direction. He stops further away from me than normal social convention dictates. No welcoming hug or kiss on the cheek or even a hand shake. Totally out of keeping with the way I’ve seen him greet other women, the safe ones; the beaming smile, the warm embrace. But this has been the unspoken rule between us, no physical contact. (Read Toying and In the Circle of His Arms.)
He stands there, self-contained, with his beautiful erect posture and says, “Sorry, Georgia. Business,” then sets off walking at a clip, Oscar at his heels.
I walk beside him, stealing glances from the corner of my eye, as we crunch through last fall’s dead leaves. We speak of matters of no consequence and I think, “Do I really want to have this conversation with him? Do I even care? Why am I bothering with this?”
His reason for being here? I suppose it’s an easy way to spend two hours with a woman whose company energizes him. No explanations necessary to his wife. No lies told. He’s just out walking Oscar.
My reason? Our last evening together bothers me. He drank more than usual, changed the tone of our discourse, raised surprising issues and caught me off guard and speechless. I want to clarify what it all meant. Maybe it meant nothing.
His phone rang near the end of that last evening. He picked it up, looked at the caller ID, hit the “talk” button and spoke.
“Yes,” A brief silence. I couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation.
He looked at his watch and said, “11.” Silence.
“Smitty’s, having a beer with Georgia.” Silence.
“I’ll be leaving in 15 minutes.” He turned off his phone, put it in his pocket, turned to me and said, “My wife. Checking that I’m okay.”
Well, I’d be checking, too. I had no idea we’d spent four hours sequestered in a far corner of this darkened bar. Another 20 minutes went by before I insisted we leave. He had to get home, we both had work the next day; all those reasons for being good.
Back at the river, on this lovely summer evening, I stop walking for a moment, pick up a stick to throw for Oscar, who barrels off. Then I say, “You surprised me last time. I’ve never seen you like that. Even lighter, more playful than usual. Are you ever like that without alcohol?”
He’s fun sober, but that evening he exuded more charm than ever before. We talk about him, booze, his marriage, life.
Then I say, “You surprised me with what you talked about that night.”
He says, “Yea? What?”
I say, “You raised a subject I wouldn’t have the courage to.”
The level of the river is low and we’ve drifted off the path onto sand. Our pace has slowed. Oscar races behind me with a hefty branch clamped in his mouth, hanging out far beyond both sides of his body.
“You asked if we’re going to be lovers.”
He halts on a mound of sand, a bit above me. I stop. Oscar, surprised by this sudden change of pace, rams right into me, whacking my rear with the branch.
“I said what?”
I look up at him. “You asked if we were going to be lovers.”
“Oh my God. Exactly what did I say?”
“I don’t remember your exact words. Something like, ‘Georgia, are you and I going to be lovers?’”
“I am so sorry. I can’t believe I said that. Please accept my apologies. What did you say? I’m so embarrassed I said that.”
“Don’t be embarrassed. I’m embarrassed by my response, which was nothing. I was unprepared, never expected anything like that to come from your mouth. I probably looked like a stunned gibbon.”
“Please forgive me. I should never have said that.
I say, “Actually, I’m the one who should apologize. You were smart and honest to ask that we talk about this undercurrent between us like adults. I was a coward. I’m sorry.”
Then I add, “I assume you asked the question because you’ve been thinking about the possibility.”
He looks out at the river. “Yea. That would be a safe assumption.”
“What do you think about the possibility?” I ask.
He starts walking again, back on the path. He’s slightly ahead of me, with his longer legs. Oscar is close by his side, between us. The two boys have shut out the nuisance girl.
“I can’t do it. I can’t lie. I’m too transparent. I’d feel guilty.” He’s not looking me in the eye. He’s awkward, as ill prepared to deal with this topic sober as I was when he raised it in tipsy euphoria a few weeks ago.
I soothe him. I say, “Oh, here’s another irony for us.”
This is a concept he likes. He’s in a long-time marriage that he describes as distant and hollow for the last ten years. Yet he stays.
I describe my marriage as full of adventure, intimacy and tenderness. Yet my husband left.
The irony of this fascinates him.
He perks up. Actually looks at me. “What’s that?” he asks.
“It’s not as if no one’s knocked on my door. I’ve had applicants for the job of ending this streak of chastity. They haven’t touched me. The only man who’s stirred anything in me is you, you old married guy.”
He’s flattered, of course. What man wouldn’t be. “You and me, Georgia, in other circumstances, at another time…..” His voice trails off.
We’re back at our cars. He unlocks his, bends down to pat Oscar. This gives me a last chance to admire him, with his shirt tucked into the waist of his khaki trousers. Neat and tidy, so unlike the current fashion for sloppiness. Slim waist, flat stomach, so rare in men my age.
I say, “At another time, what?”
“You know. You and I could have had quite the ride together.”
The last words I hear as I close my car door are, “Catch you later.”
I don’t think I’m suited to the role of vixen divorcee. What should I have done? What would you do?