FEATURE

Seven Years: A Short Story

What happens when the girl next door decides to move away?

by Herbert Gold ’46CC, ’49GSAS Published Spring 2010
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“The Iranian?”

“His father was Commander of the Air Force under the Shah, and he has an MBA from Pepperdine, down south.”

“What did you expect? His MBA is so he can manage the money his family stole.”

“His daddy does that. You’re right, I should have known he was a . . .” Lost for words.

“So?”

She smiled heartbreakingly, her eyes misty. Even red-rimmed eyes suited her.

“So?” he insisted.

“The chemistry was right,” she said.

It made him feel better. He didn’t trust chemistry anymore, preferring biology, philosophy, and beating his head against stone walls. They walked down the hill to the Savoy Tivoli on upper Grant — actually, this time it turned into a light supper — and at the end of the evening she took his hand (my, she did have long, strong California fingers) and said: “I feel so much better. You say just the right things.”

He shrugged and shuffled. “Hardly talked. Just listened.”

“You’re not too old to learn,” she said.

So he waited, and their friendship was clean and nice, but definitely not deep. She bounced back. She had more dinner parties without him. She continued biking with a series of tall, lean, broad-shouldered lads. She went sailing with one. With that one, who worked in biotech start-ups, she went away on ski weekends. Once or twice, when they met Dan in the hall, she introduced him to the boater/skier/start-up expert, but somehow he could never remember his name. Something like Russell or Harrison, something very MBA.

He tried to look on the bright side. A lot of men never made love with Jenny. But then he couldn’t help noticing there were a few who did, so that wasn’t such a bright side.

When the Russell or Harrison deal ended, Jenny didn’t come crying for comfort. She shrugged and said, “I’m getting older.”

“In a hundred years we’ll all be the same age.”

“Is this going to go on that long?” she said. “Back to the Holy City Zoo.”

She was bumping her bicycle down the stairs. She was snapping it into the bolts on her rack. She smelled of fresh soap and, just a little, of lovely light sweat. She was heading into Marin for some serious roadwork and she wasn’t inviting him to get his own bike. Chemistry, oh!

“As long as it takes,” he finally said. “If love gets you down — ”

She shrugged. True love comes and goes, but a good workout is forever. She was wearing sky blue spandex. Her face was tan and her nose freckled. Despite his advice, she got too much sun.

“If love gets you down, remember that not being in love is the alternative.”

“When I get back,” she said, “if I’m not too tired, oh wise Baba Danawanda, maybe I’ll knock — I’ll telephone — and if you’re not too tired, maybe we could go out for coffee.”

She really liked him. But she wasn’t going to knock on his door; she would telephone. And she wasn’t going to stay in for a glass of wine. She understood exactly the friendly distance she wanted. Chemistry and computer literacy were both beyond him. Maybe a woman this smart, with this high energy, was beyond him.

She got back too late that night to telephone, knock, or drink coffee. Never mind. He had cancelled dinner with a friend, another divorced guy of his age, but what they had to say to each other could wait ’til next time, since it was what they had said last time. He got a little work done, organized his tax receipts for the year so far, read a piece of a book about the demographic shifts in California since World War II. Wished he could remember what it said. Jenny would use colored highlighters and remember.

A few days later she remembered to give him her answer to his self-serving remark that she should look for a man who was interesting. He was trying to use a neutral word. “I’m not into guys that stick up the 7-Eleven to feed their habits, Dan.”

“That’s not what I mean by interesting. Say, oh, mature, a history in the world, what someone called twice-born —”

“Well, there’s got to be something in between the Iranian Air Force commander’s son and the biotech start-up kid, but I’m still calibrating. In some ways I’m just slow, I guess. Hey, twice-born, is that like a memory of another life?”

“Exactly. A sense of other possibilities beyond —”

“Good, great, lend me the book, will you? ’Cause I’ll bet” —laughing at Dan and shaking her head — “’cause I’ll bet it hasn’t made it to the movies yet.”

Jenny was still in the learning mode. If he gave it to her, she’d even read William James and tell him he was a really neat American philosopher. She had lots of friends, lots to do, activities and routines, but in secret, between the activities, she would take the book and sit in a corner with her cell phone off and put on the glasses she seldom wore.

But some nights during those seven years, in the natural course of things, the thought of mortality would come to Jenny, too. A childhood nightmare would awaken her — in that form the thought came. She had broken up with her lover and she was lonely. She called to say, “Dan? Lonely. I’m lonely.”

“Wha-wha?” Because he was asleep.

“It’s Jenny. I’m lonely.”

“I’ll be right over.” Because he was instantly awake.

That was the way it was supposed to happen and that was the way it did not happen. The years of her twenties were going by, she was getting too much sun, the dewiness of her skin was passing and he would say, “Don’t tan. Tan is out, Jenny.”

“Hey! I know! But it feels so good, so can’t I just ration myself to once in a while?”

“Do you want to walk down to the Puccini?”

“Love to, love it. But I’ve this friend from Santa Barbara driving in . . . ”

Dan learned not to feel rejected through these years of rejection. She wouldn’t look and smile straight into his eyes like that if she didn’t really like him. He tried not to notice if she looked into the eyes of other neighbors, passing them with her bike or her racket or her overnight bag. He offered her books and she took them and brought them back, usually stopping at his door, along with a casserole or something in a container which needed to be returned. The contact was maintained. “I’m the steadiest boyfriend of your twenties,” he said, “the one who’s lasted the longest.”

She laughed cheerily. “Because we never.”

“We practically live together.”

She made a thumbs-up gesture.

“Jenny, you’re great.”

“Dan, that’s what I was going to say about you. You use up all my words.”

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