published in Volume 3, Issue 3 on July 8th, 1996
Upon opening my eyes, I saw in shades of black and gray a room entirely unfamiliar. Thinking it might yet be my room, I strained in the dim light, not understanding what could be causing my disorientation. Deciding it was not my room, I tried to remember who I might be visiting, what friend, what relative, what hotel.
In bed beside me my wife slept, the sheet and blanket pulled above her head. Then I became uneasy because the hair that extended out from beneath the cover was not my wife's. Cords of light colored hair curled over the pillow and back beneath the sheet. Simone's hair was black and she wears it in a pageboy cut. For a moment I continued to stare in disbelief, not able to make sense of it. I felt for my glasses on the night stand and they were there, as they were supposed to be. I put them on and focused on the stranger in bed next to me, only her hair being visible. Certain that it was not Simone, it gave me a jolt and my heart raced. This was a terrible dilemma and, for the life of me, I couldn't imagine how it came about.
Quickly I climbed out of bed, but carefully, so as not to wake the stranger. I was relieved to find I was wearing pajamas, as this preserved a scrap of dignity, for usually I sleep in the nude. Carefully, from my distant side of the bed, I lifted the covers to gain a glimpse of the stranger. It was a young woman, curled and with her back to me, very beautiful and wearing only panties. I gently laid the covers down and stepped back from the bed.
It seemed to me that I was the victim of a terrible practical joke, which I did not appreciate, or that while I was in some debilitated state of consciousness I must have made a most embarrassing error. Although I considered waking the stranger, the quickest way of resolving the situation, I held some hope of extricating myself from this possible mistake without waking her.
I wasn't able to make sense of it. I felt neither drunk nor hung over. I didn't feel sickly. I have never, and would never, cheat on my wife, yet I had it in my mind that this strange young woman must be a prostitute.
A night light on her side of the bed, and a dull glow coming through the curtained windows, was all that lit the room. I went to the window and drew back the curtain. The lawn and house were aglow in the protection of floodlights, but this wasn't my home. Hoping I would find my clothes, I went to the wardrobe that stood facing the foot of the bed, but when I opened it, I found it to be an entertainment center, tape deck, radio, and a large television set, but no turntable. At this point I reconsidered waking the woman, but what if she screamed? I found the door out of the bedroom and quietly removed myself.
A carpeted hallway, gold fixtures, a balustrade, a wide staircase descending in a swirl to a parqueted foyer that was lit by an outside lamp through the fanlight above large double doors, all belabored the evident wealth of my host. Was I a guest in this house? Did I have a stroke that caused me to lose my memory, did I then wander in a stupor into my host's bed? I couldn't go out the front door, not while I was in my pajamas. Still not feeling right about things, I descended the staircase hoping to discover something that would spark my memory.
I fought to contain this terrible panic that I was somewhere I ought not to be. Finding my way into a large kitchen, I flipped the light switch and searched for a telephone. I would call Simone. I would tell her as much as I could about what was happening to me and maybe she would know where I was and why this was happening to me. There was the ubiquitous telephone on the kitchen wall. My hand tapped automatically at the keypad and my ear was greeted with a busy signal. Repeating the formula, this time slowly so as not to fat-finger the keys, again I heard the busy. A wall clock indicated that it was after three in the morning, how could Simone be on the telephone? Or was she calling friends because I was missing? I wanted to yell out for help, but managed to contain myself, and began thinking of friends I might call. Then I was aware of the number listed on my host's telephone. It was my telephone number.
I heard the footsteps just before the door opened, and there stood a beautiful young lady, disheveled blonde hair, rubbing her eyes, dressed in a floor-length robe, whom I presumed to be my host, the person whose bed I just abandoned.
"Sugar," she sweetly drawled, "why are you up so late?" Although I didn't know her, she evidently knew me. She shuffled right passed me, unalarmed, and went directly to the refrigerator to examine the contents for something to eat. With her head in the refrigerator, she mumbled something.
"Who are you calling at this hour?" she asked more clearly. I was still holding the telephone. I put the handset back on the receiver. I was thoroughly confused and nervous, my stomach burning. She brought out of the refrigerator a carton of juice, took a glass from the cabinet, and as she was about to walk past me again to make her way to a small table, she stopped and stared at me, cocking her head. "What's wrong, Sugar, you look ill?" She knitted her brow and it was an expression of genuine concern. In that moment I froze. I didn't know what to say to this woman. Her voice was a gentle inquiry, "Sugar?" Why did she call me Sugar? "Solly, what's wrong?" She knew my name.
Trying to talk, I stammered, "who - who - who - are -" but I couldn't get the words out, and said, instead, "I don't know who you are!" She just stood there, a glass in one hand and carton in the other, trying to sort out my meaning. "I'm sorry, I don't know who you are, or what I'm doing here."
"Solly, what do you mean?" Anger flashed across her face, and I suppose she thought I was playing a cruel trick, but she must have seen in my face how sincerely scared I felt. The anger evaporated and was replaced first with shock, then fear, and finally worry. "What do you mean?" she asked again, more slowly.
"I don't know who you are. I get the feeling I'm supposed to know, but I don't. And I don't know where I am." I swept my hand about to indicate the immediate vicinity. I felt ashamed, and I think she could tell. "I don't know what's wrong with me and I don't know what I'm doing here."
"Oh, Solly." She rapidly put the glass and carton on the counter and embraced me. She led me to the table and sat me in a chair. She felt my forehead, as a mother might to check a child's temperature. She gave me a few hugs. "So you feel all right?"
"I feel fine, except I don't where I am." She was kneeling next to the chair and stroking me like one might a pet.
"Do you know who you are?"
"Of course I do, I'm Solomon Schneider." My memories were clearly intact. I knew who I was and where I was the day before, I just didn't know where I was now.
"I think I'd best call Reggie," she said. This was a familiar name, Reginald Prior was a friend. He was also a physician who might be able to help me, even though he wasn't my doctor. Most importantly, he was Simone's younger brother, if this was the same Reggie.
"No, wait, I think I should first call my wife." This woman relaxed her hold and looked up at me, deep into me, her brown eyes moist.
"I am your wife," she said. I think I knew she was going to say that, although it didn't make any sense. It was as if I had fallen into another dimension and was now occupying an alternative life that could have also been mine.
"You are not my wife," I told the woman kneeling next to my chair.
"Who is your wife, Solly?" She squinted.
She recoiled from him. She rose from her knees and went to the telephone. "I'm calling Reggie." And although I couldn't see them, I knew there were tears on her cheeks. I felt disgraceful, for whoever this woman was, I knew it was someone I didn't want to hurt. My burning stomach began to boil and I grew nauseous.
In that hard, blaring white kitchen, I sat numb and waited for clues. I listened to my host's half of the conversation with Reggie.
"... I don't know what's wrong ... he's lost his memory ... he doesn't know who I am," and I could tell that she was sobbing, trying hard to restrain herself. I could hear the gasps and see her shoulders heaving. She was trying not to face me. "The hospital! Can't you come here?" As she listened, she gave a quick peek at me over her shoulder, then her head snapped back to the telephone, bowed, cradling the handset in both hands. "Okay ... okay ... it will take us about forty-five minutes ... yes ... yes, I will." She turned forcefully and gave me a good stare, the telephone still against her head. "No, he doesn't ... a little pale ... upset ... we won't need it. I can drive him."
She came to me with the smile one makes to set a child at ease. She took me by the hand and I allowed her to lead me back upstairs and to her bedroom. "You're going to be all right, Sugar," she cooed. Her condescending irritated me, but I didn't want to hurt her further than I already had, and I didn't have a clue where I was or what was up, so I didn't know how to proceed. Once we were back in the bedroom, lights on, the closets were revealed as my host slid opened panels in the wall. There appeared a row of men's suits, shelves of shirts. She showed me draws that slide opened to reveal underwear and socks. She left me there to ponder the bounty of men's clothes. Of course I knew what was expected of me, I was to get dressed. She went to a door, opened it up, and I could see an immense walk-in closet that was evidently stocked with her clothing. And then she undressed - in front of me. Why did she think she was my wife? "Do you need help, Sugar?"
The woman had a beautiful figure that I supposed she was a model. Knowing what was expected of me, I told her no, and stripped off my pajamas. I selected clothing from the closet and underwear, shirt, and pants fit me perfectly. Was this my closet? Behind the suits were blazers and sportcoats and I spotted my old Harris tweed with its leather patches on the elbow. "Hey, this is my jacket!"
"Of course it is, Sugar." She had stepped from her closet in tight fitting jeans and trying to hook the back of the bra. "So, you remember that."
"Of course I do." I took it from its hanger. On the one inside pocket was the Harris Tweed label, but on the opposite inside pocket was a line of perforations, the maker's label having been removed.
She turned her back to me and waited for me to hook her bra, so I did. Then she went back into her closet.
I was finished dressing, wearing that sportcoat, my only friend in this strange place, and asked my host as to the whereabouts of the bathroom. She came out of her closet buttoning a blouse with floral pattern, the edges of her faced dragged down with disappointment at my question. She pointed to yet another door. I went in and searched for the light switch, not wanting to pain her with another question for something that evidently should have been obvious. Finding it, I closed and locked the door. The few steps to the toilet were interrupted by the mirror over the sink. I looked, and when I realized the strange face in the mirror was really me, I must have cried out.
I didn't hear my host right away. She was banging away at the door and yelling. "SOLLY, SOLLY, ARE YOU ALL RIGHT!" I turned the knob, which unlocked the door, and she rushed in. She examined me for injuries, but I could not take my eyes off the man's face in the mirror. It looked just like me, only he was older. "Oh, Solly, Sugar, what's wrong, what's wrong my poor darling." Her arms were wrapped about me and she was crying hardily into my chest. Then she looked up at me, tears sliding from her eyes. It distracted me from the image in the mirror. "Are you hurting?" I gently stroked the back of her head to soothe her. Then I gently, but firmly, pushed her by the shoulders and held her away from me.
I didn't know what to say to her. I looked at the mirror again. She also looked into the mirror, curious to see what it was that I saw. She evidently didn't see what disturbed me. For her it was a familiar face in the mirror. It was my face, but it was as if I had aged a dozen years.
I forced myself to be strong, to keep sane. I convinced my host it was safe to leave me alone in the bathroom to urinate, that I'd only be a moment. When I came out, she had on a thick acrylic sweater of many bright colors.
"You still don't know who I am," she said, but the tone was rhetorical.
"I know you think you're my wife."
"I AM your wife! Look!" She grabbed off the dresser a framed photograph and pushed it toward my face. There I was in a tuxedo, more the way I remembered myself, and there she was beside me in a white gown.
"I'm sorry, I'm at a loss. I don't know what is going on."
She grit her teeth, spun, and threw the picture back towards the dresser, where it crashed into pieces. She dropped to the bed and was sobbing, her face buried in the mattress. I didn't know what to do and I was grateful it didn't last long.
"I'm sorry," she said as she lifted herself from the bed. I tried to help, but she pulled her arm away. Then, apologetically, she took my arm in both of hers. "I'm sorry, Sugar. It must be very hard for you. I know you're sick and I need to take good care of you." At the dresser, she handed me a wallet that was resting there, apparently mine. I put it in my coat pocket without examining it. She took me back downstairs. "I didn't mean to lose my temper. I'm so sorry, Sugar. I'm sure it didn't help, and that's all that concerns me right now, is helping you. You'll just have to forgive your little teddy bear. It's just that I'm a little scared."
"So am I." What I didn't say was 'where is Simone?'
"Oh, my poor pooch. Of course you must be terrified, but I'm gonna take good care of you and you're going to be just fine. I know it in my bones, you're just gonna plain get better." Under the staircase was a closet with overcoats and raincoats, and she helped me on with a long cashmere greatcoat that also fit me, but this no longer surprised me. What did surprise me is the need for it. In my mind it would be summer, but as we traveled between the house and the garage, it was a night of bitter cold.
A large Mercedes, a medium sized car called a Lexus, and a car I certainly would have thought a Ferrari, but was some company called Acura, were parked in a four car garage, leaving room for one more. She announced that we would take the Mercedes and that she would drive.
"These cars, are they mine?" I asked.
"You paid for them, Sugar, but the Lexus is in my name."
"I must be a very rich man."
"You do all right."
She drove fast.
"Am I still New York Manager for the Z & W Bottling Company?" I asked this because I knew I couldn't easily afford to keep a second wife and three fancy cars on my income. She looked at me sideways. She was smiling.
"You were New York Manager when I met you, Sugar, but you are now Mr. Solomon D. Schneider, Regional Manager for New England, and later this week they are going to announce your Vice Presidency at Z & W."
"I certainly seem to have done well for myself."
"And I'm the woman behind the man."
"And I thought I hated the job. I was going to get out early." The remark bothered her. It banished the smile from her face.
We turned on to a main thoroughfare that I recognized. "At least I'm still in Long Island," I said, but she seemed to ignore the remark. "This isn't the way to Reggie's house."
"I'm taking you to the hospital."
"The hospital?" I had heard her mention it earlier on the telephone, but felt a need for talk.
"Don't worry, Sugar, Reggie is gonna meet us there."
We drove along Sunrise, which was deserted at that hour, the car's interior not yet warm. My mind was like that street. The few things around me that I understood were focused beneath streetlights, and an entire world of memories that should be mine were in the darkness just beyond, very close and only needing more light. Things felt vaguely familiar, but when I tried to remember, it only became harder. This beautiful woman who said she was my wife, this car, the house I had just been in, all mine. I could accept them as reality and admit that the problem was inside my head. Inside my head I could see me and Simone snowed in to a summer cottage on Cape Cod. That house just couldn't generate enough heat. That house didn't have a snow shovel.
"You haven't heard a word I've said," she said to me, the remark came crashing into my head. She kept giving me short glances so as not to have her eyes too long off the road.
"I'm sorry," I acknowledged.
"Oh, no, Sugar, don't be sorry. I guess I'm just blabbering. It all must be very hard for you. I don't have to talk."
"No, please, go on. Even if I don't listen, it seems to help. It comforts me." My telling her this pleased her. She smiled and she went on talking. It didn't really comfort me, but I knew it would comfort her. Without really knowing who she was, I knew I didn't want her agonizing over my problem.
At the hospital I gave myself over to the emergency room staff. They probed and tested me, but found nothing wrong. A nurse, or maybe it was a woman doctor, read off a list of questions to check my mental competence. She was good at restraining her surprise, but I could tell that she was startled. She asked me who was president, and I must have answered wrong. She asked me the year, and again I had it wrong. It didn't upset me, having by this time realized that somehow a number of recent years had escaped my notice. I was taken in a wheelchair to x-ray and for a CAT scan, which was entirely unnecessary as I could walk, and was being rolled back into the waiting room when I saw Reggie sitting beside my alleged wife, holding her hand reassuringly and discussing, probably me.
I didn't wait for the wheelchair to stop, but leaped from it and greeted him with astonishment.
"You shaved off your mustache!"
"At least a dozen years ago," he responded and he rose to return my greeting. I also noticed he had put on weight, but I didn't mention it. His hair was still dark, just like Simone's hair, thick and almost black. Their mother was Portuguese.
"I am so damn pleased to see someone I recognize." I wanted to grab him, but limited myself to a hardy handshake.
While he was shaking my hand, he turned back and asked that woman, "then he understands that he's got something wrong with him?"
"He knows, Reggie," she said objectively. Then she burst, folding over in her chair and sobbing. "Oh, Reggie," she mumbled into her sleeves, "he doesn't even remember that I'm his wife." Reggie, looked back and forth between us, not sure who needed his attention the most. I gave him a knowing nod and he went to her. I watched him console her with reassurances that I would be all right, that he was certain that I would get better, that I would returned to being my old self. I was happy that he could help her and glad that I didn't have to be bothered with this gorgeous but grating woman.
While they spoke, I was working out what my questions would be. To my best figuring, it appeared that I had somehow lost ten or twenty years of memory, although everything in the earlier part of my life was crystal clear.
In an alcove connected to the waiting room was a collection of vending machines and I felt terribly thirsty. I checked my pockets, but I wasn't carrying any change. The soda machine took bills. Then I realized that my coat was missing, the wallet in its pocket. I had left it in the emergency room stall. I walked back, found it neatly folded over the back of a chair, retrieved it, and made my way back to the waiting room. As I approached, I saw my new wife enfolded in Reggie's arms, crying into his chest. There was a surge in my chest, and something nudged my memory, but was quickly gone before I could clearly recognize it. I continued past them and into the vending machine alcove.
Taking my wallet out, I saw a folded piece of fabric hanging from it, having been caught in the wallet's fold. It felt like a swatch of silk. I unfolded it. It was the label for my Harris Tweed, or more exactly, the personal label with which my wife, that is Simone, had replaced the manufacturer's label. I remembered it. We bought the coat during our honeymoon to Britain. We were in Scotland. In beautiful calligraphy she had penned, 'Although I am nameless, I am nevertheless precious to my Master. I am devoted to his protection and will serve no other. Should I become separated from him, please see to it that I am returned. His dear sweet name is Solomon and he resides at ...' and here she included our address, which was not where I woke that night. The label went on to read, 'Great shall be the spiritual rewards for my return and the gods shall count you among the heroes and smile on your future, maybe.' I replaced it, folded, into my jacket pocket.
I called out to Reggie. He looked up from his embrace. "Reggie, can I talk to you?" He stuttered, unable to break from that other wife, but clearly concerned for me as well. She lifted her head and gently pushed Reggie away, telling him that she would be all right, and that I probably needed his attention far more. He told her he'd check back soon, stood and walked over to me. "I would like to speak to you alone."
"Sure, Sol, but where?"
We looked around and simply stepped into an adjacent corridor that was empty at that early hour. We stood face to face, within arm's reach, and I permitted a few seconds to pass just examining his eyes. He appeared slightly frightened as to what I might say. What did I want to say. I began, "Uh, uhm, eh," but the words were getting stuck trying to climb up my throat. I had to close my eyes so that they could escape. "Where is Simone?" To my own ears it sounded like a pitiful plea. I opened my eyes and the expression on my friend's face had changed to sympathy.
"I know." And I did know. I knew as soon as I had asked the question. And I knew that Nikki, whose name I only remembered in that moment, my second wife, had been married to me for almost eighteen years, longer than my marriage to my first wife. Many memories seemed to come back in that moment. I had to focus on a thing, and it was clear to me, but I sensed that there were still gaps. An hour before I was thinking I was still forty, but I'm fifty-eight. And Nikki would be thirty-nine. She was twenty-one when I married her.
"My memory is coming back to me. I think I'm going to be all right."
"That's wonderful!" He made half a move to hug me, but left it with putting a hand on each of my shoulders. "That's wonderful. That's wonderful. Let's go tell Nikki."
"No." This surprised him. He now peered at me sternly and removed his hands.
But I didn't have to answer. Nikki was calling for me. The examining doctor was standing in the waiting room beside Nikki. I explained to the doctor that my memory had begun returning. This evidently please Nikki, but I ignored her enthusiasm. The doctor spoke to me, and Reggie, and Nikki.
"Clearly something is wrong, but there is nothing indicated by the test of anything being physiologically wrong," she explained in matter-of-fact voice. "The condition that caused this might have past without leaving a trace. Still, I understand your memory is already beginning to return in parts, so what I don't understand is why, if your memory is still partially impaired, we cannot find any evidence of its physical cause in the examination." The doctor was younger than the three of us, seemed almost a child in her smooth appearance. It did not instill confidence in me.
"So, does this mean you don't know if I will recover or not?" I asked.
"I don't see why not, that is, why you shouldn't recover completely. But we still don't have a clear picture of what is causing this trouble. I have seen similar affects resulting from the loss of oxygen to the brain, as sometimes happens with severe asthmatic attacks, yet you don't have this condition. Of course we most often see this type of symptom with stroke, but, again, you show no indication of having had a stroke. Your blood sample indicates you are in fine health, and you're taking no drugs, right?"
"The truth is, Mr. Schneider," she went on to say, "an assessment of your memory disorder, determining your memory deficits, which are curiously restricted to a specific period in time and does not appear to affect your cognitive processing abilities, and now the apparent spontaneous recovery that is occurring, I suspect this is not a form of organic amnesia, but more likely psychogenic amnesia."
"Are you saying there is something mentally wrong with me?" I asked.
"What we see here is unconscious forgetting, what is referred to as hysterical amnesia. I must tell you, Mr. Schneider, I'm not really familiar with hysterical amnesia, if that's what it is. It really isn't my field."
"But what would have caused it?"
"Well, from what I understand about the phenomenon of hysterical amnesia it can be emotionally provoked. It isn't my field, but as to causes, it is a form of aversively motivated isolation of memory. I'm not a psychologist, Mr. Schneider, but your loss of memory could be due to emotional stress, depression, anxiety, and brought on, perhaps, by a traumatic event," she looked closely at me, "an event which of course, you probably don't remember."
"Well, if you can't help me, except to tell me I need a psychiatrist, then I guess I'm free to go," I told the doctor.
"Actually no," she said. "We haven't completely ruled out an organic cause for your memory loss. Mr. Schneider. I would like to admit you to the hospital so that we can monitor you overnight."
I argued with the doctor, and with Nikki, and with Reggie. They had no choice. I knew my legal rights and signed a waiver freeing the hospital of responsibility for my decision. Then I took Reggie aside into a small alcove of telephones.
"I want you to send Nikki home," I told Reggie.
"I can't do that. She's sick and upset for you. She's not going to want to be separated from you."
"Look, Reggie," and now I held his shoulders, "I haven't thought it all out yet, I can't explain myself. I am asking you to just send her home. I've gotta think and she'll only be in the way."
"That's not fair, she loves you."
"Reggie, do this for me."
"What am I going to tell her?"
"To start, you can tell her how being with you has helped my memory return. That will make her happy. Tell her you think our being alone together might do me some good, that with your help I could be coming around quickly."
"But why do you want to hurt her?"
"Oh, Reggie, I don't want to hurt her." I leaned against the wall and stared into the fluorescent ceiling light. "It's exactly because I don't want to hurt her that I'm asking you to send her home." He waited for me to say something more. "If only you and I can talk, I think I can clear my head and get back to normal. But it has to be just you and me. I don't want anyone else there. I need your help." I looked into his eyes so that he could see he could trust me. "Just send her home. It will be better for both of us; for her and for me."
He agreed to do what I asked, that he would support the idea, but that I would still have to speak to her. So I did.
"But Sugar, don't you think I can be of help. We've been together so many years. I'm sure I can remind you of the things you've forgotten." Here Reggie argued that her presence may only impede the recovery, and he threw behind the suggestion the weight of his authority as a doctor, and the tone of sincerity of a dear friend. She reluctantly agreed. She insisted on a good-bye kiss from me, which I found warm, affectionate, and lush. But my kiss was remote and she could tell. Without taking her eyes off of me she said to Reggie, "you take good care of him, Reggie. And you bring him back to me whole." Reggie promised.
She left and Reggie asked me, "where am I taking you, Sol?"
"Simone is buried in Connecticut, isn't she?"
"Yes." He looked at me astonished. I had never gone to the funeral. I had never visited the grave. He knew this. And now I wanted to visit.
We climbed into his black Corvette and drove.
"This car is no longer new, is it?" I was trying to remember.
"I've had it six years now, and it's been giving me trouble," he replied. "I can't afford an Acura NSX like yours."
"You never know. Someday that car could be yours."
He gave me a questioning glance. Seeing that I was already distracted with other thoughts, he left me alone with my memories. I didn't speak until we entered the State of Connecticut.
"How long have you and Nikki been an item?" Like me, his eyes held the road directly in front of him. He was probably studying me in his peripheral vision as I was studying him. Showing no change of expression, I knew by his containment that I was right.
"How long have you known?" he said with forced calm.
"I don't know. I knew it tonight. I knew it when I saw the two of you together in the waiting room. Perhaps I've always known, inside, but only tonight did I become aware of it."
"It's not what you think."
"It's not?" We caught each other glancing sideways.
"We haven't done anything."
"I'm not angry," I reassured him.
"No, really Sol, she knows my feelings for her, but its all unrequited, you know?" He looked at me a couple of times, wanting my next remark. When I didn't offer it, he went on. "Its really not what you think. She loves you Sol. She would never leave you. And I have never stepped out of line. You're both my friends. I wouldn't do anything to hurt you - either of you."
"Well, Jesus!, what are we talking about?" I didn't know what to answer. He sounded a little angry. The subject was sensitive to him. "Besides, she doesn't love me."
"I'm not so sure about that."
"What's this all about, Sol? What are you getting at?"
"I don't know." I showed him my sincerest smile. "Don't be so alarmed."
"Well, what is it. Do you think she and I concocted some conspiracy that caused you to lose you memory."
"Not at all," I reassured him. "I think this memory loss is all my own doing."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not sure, yet. But it's all becoming clear to me. And as it does, I'll share it with you." Then, to change the subject, "I don't remember; do I smoke?"
"You used to. You used to smoke an occasional cigar with my sister to celebrate special events. Those big fat ones. They use to looked strange in her face, but she genuinely enjoyed them. Of course Nikki can't stand cigars."
"So I gave them up."
"You didn't seem to have any trouble giving them up."
"I feel like having one now."
The horizon was turning light in front of us and soon the whole sky was a pale blue. We talked of little things, of pleasant memories that we shared, of humorous incidences. But then I asked, "How did Simone die?" I didn't know the question was going to come out of me.
"You don't remember?"
"It was a plane crash." I remembered vaguely.
"She was on a business trip to California. She missed her flight in Chicago. She took another and it crashed leaving Chicago."
"And everybody died."
"Everybody, but I think there was a newborn child. The plane fell on a house in the suburbs, and inside was a baby that survived, I think."
I squeezed my eyes tight against the vision. I could imagine her inside the hull of that plane, the hysteria of the passengers, her terror, as it twisted out of the sky. I began crying and wedged my head against the buzzing window. Reggie didn't say anything, but let me cry. After a long while, he placed his hand on my shoulder and began a massage.
"You know," he said. I could hear his voice cracked and knew he was crying, too, even though I didn't look at him. "You know, I don't think you ever cried at my sister's death. I don't remember you ever crying."
We had arrived at New Haven, came off Interstate Ninety-five, headed north, briefly, then dropped off the highway on an exit ramp into the rural suburbs northeast of the city. It must have been a Saturday, or a Sunday, as there was little traffic despite the hour.
"When she died," he continued, "you - - you - well, you acted so strange. And then you married Nikki, so soon after Simone's death."
"You were angry with me, for many years. I remember."
"Well, yeah, I suppose I was. Can you blame me? You turned to stone. I had to identify the body. You didn't even attend the funeral."
"Did you think I didn't love your sister?"
"No, nothing like that. We all knew you loved her. I've never known anybody so openly affectionate as you and Sim. Heck, it used to embarrass us. But, my god, how you changed after that. You became hard. What was that all about? And then, why did you marry Nikki? She is so, so - -"
"- - different than Sim."
"Let me hear it from your point of view."
"She was just a bauble for you. You dressed her up and wore her like a jeweled tie tack." He watched me to see if his comments were disturbing, or making me angry. "She wasn't the companion Sim was."
"No, she wasn't."
"It was a very different relationship."
"I don't get it."
"I think you do." He looked at me, astonished. "Well, what's your best guess."
"Well, of course you were hurt. I guess Nikki kept you from suffering the loss. Maybe she helped distract you. After all, she's pretty sexy." He kept glancing at me.
"I think you're about right."
"Did you love her?"
"Of course Nikki."
"I really thought I did."
"But did you?" We conveniently came to a stop at an intersection. It afforded us an opportunity to examine each others eyes.
"I really thought I did. I wanted to believe I did. I tried very hard to and kept telling myself I was in love with her. But in answer to your question, no." He waited for me to say more. "No, I never loved her. But you've got to believe me, I didn't know that until today - - until now." He didn't criticize me. I think we both understood that it was merely a mistake that had some kind of justification for it. He couldn't blame me, just as I couldn't blame myself. Oh, but what a terrible mistake, what a painfully awkward mistake. Not that Nikki wasn't somewhat to blame. She was very seductive. I hadn't chased her. Despite our age difference, she's never put me off. We married and she was always loyal and good to me. She had nurtured my confidence. She had supported me in my decision to seek promotion. In fact, now that I think of it, she even gave me a little push. If I am a rich man today, I have her to thank for it. With Simone I had no drive, I had no ambition. With Simone - -
"With Simone I couldn't wait to get home, to get away from that job," I told Reggie.
"I've never known two people who enjoyed each others company so much. You've never been like that ...."
"I've never been like that with Nikki."
"What are you going to do, Solly?"
"I haven't made up my mind." That's when I closed my eyes and had visions of Portugal. A plan was formulating, and as it gelled, I decided to speak it aloud to give it life and likelihood. "I can't go back. I can't face Nikki; at least not yet."
"Are you leaving her?"
"She won't let you go that easily."
"I will make it easier for her. I will give her the house and the bulk of the money."
"And what about the children?" His question shocked me. I didn't have children. Simone couldn't, and with Nikki I never wanted them, went so far as to have a vasectomy.
"I don't have children," I asserted. And then, thinking of my earlier condition, "do I?"
"Nope. Just testing your memory, Solly. But really, if you're giving up everything, even the house, where will you live?"
"I'm quitting my job, Reggie. I'm going to quit my job and move to Portugal. I can live in Portugal, even with a little money."
"Portugal! What the hell are you talking about?" He didn't give me a chance to answer the question. "You're crazy. This is crazy.
"Look, Solly, I know what you're doing, but this isn't realistic. You can't throw your life away. You can't live in the past. Look, I know this is all about my sister, but she's dead - - dead and buried. You have to get on with your life and put this behind you. You have plenty of life in front of you and the best is yet to come." He could see that his words had no influence. "Damn it, Solly, you can't live in the past."
I said nothing. Reggie was then quiet. Perhaps he was evaluating the advantage I was giving him.
We arrived at the graveyard. I didn't know which stone was hers. I had paid for it, but I had had nothing else to do with it. Her parents, devout Catholics, decided everything. They selected and composed the stone I had never seen. According to Reggie, we were parked as close as we could be, at the base of a small hill dotted with carved marble tablets. It was not a very old cemetery, enclosed by a very low wrought iron railing painted a glistening black. The stones were few.
I explained to Reggie that I wanted to sit in the car a bit. I had thought we might talk and that in talking I would find courage. Why did I need courage? Reggie said okay, that he, meanwhile, would visit his sister's grave, not realizing that I wanted to talk. "Go ahead," I said, not knowing how to tell him. He shut off the engine. When he opened the door, it sucked the warm air out of the car.
I buttoned my overcoat while watching him slowly step up the hill. Near the top he stopped at a small stone, perhaps the smallest there, and stood before it with his head bent. The car grew rapidly colder. No thoughts came to mind. My mind was empty of ideas. I pulled up the collar of my coat and stuffed my hands in the pockets and watched Reggie's back. It was too cold. I climbed out of the car and climbed the hill, crunching the dry, colorless grass, and arrived at Reggie's side.
We stood close enough to the top of the small hill, merely a mound, to see over and all around. The air was as clear as lead crystal. The light of day was painfully sharp and bleached everything in my vision. The sun was an undefined smudge, but so bright, it couldn't be looked at. Maybe I just needed sleep. I looked everywhere but at her monument. And when finally I looked at her monument, I fell apart.
With some scheme of his own in mind, perhaps thinking I was wanting to be alone, Reggie left me there and went back down to the car. At her grave, unaware of the freezing cold, I cried as I have never before in my fifty-eight years of life. Not when my father died; I was only five. Not when my mother died; I was eighteen. I understood more clearly. The last eighteen years had been spent sleepwalking into a life others regarded as successful.
Portugal. Simone. Why not? Why should it matter to anybody if I choose to live in the past? It is a short life and we all come to the same end. Why should I plod on doing as others expect when happiness would be leading a simpler life and remembering Simone? I stood there forever.