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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As the moving process started, the advance cartons going out, the closing down of her seven years in San Francisco, the questions about a good place to sell her Alfa Romeo — “to someone who likes a terrific little steed that needs a lot of service, Dan?” — he felt loss and gloom descending over him. She was a lightness, a sun-dappled shadow in his life, like the tree on the street outside his window, and he would miss her as he missed that tree when the stupid landlord cut it down because of alleged plumbing problems.

“Speaking of a terrific beauty that needs a lot of service — ”


“That’s what you said about your Alfa.”

“Oh, Dan! You’re too late. I found a buyer yesterday, you know the pro who runs the tennis shop?”

“That’s what you are. A terrific beauty who needs no service at all.”

“From you, Dan, from you. But I’m going to miss you a lot.”

In his middle-aged dreaminess, he thought they might cling and embrace, make love just once, maybe on the bare floor of her flat, because of her emotion at leaving her twenties, leaving San Francisco, leaving the nice neighbor who had watched over her for so many years. After all, when he broke up his marriage, that was what happened when Dan and his wife vacated their house. Regret can be a part of desire, can’t it? Even if she felt no desire for him, she might feel a bit of regret.

She gave him her address in New York.

“I only saw you here in passing,” he said, “so thirty-five hundred miles away, why should I see you?”

“It’s close to three thousand,” she said. “We fly shorter now. And you should, Dan, because — ”

“Because why?”

“Because don’t you think you’re important to me?”

“I don’t think so, Jenny.”

She considered. She wanted to be fair. She was honest and a truth teller as only a woman who knows her power can be. She put her arms around him. She was tall, but not too tall. Her mouth was at his ear. “Well, you’re important, dear man, but you know how it is? Important, but not vital.”

The hug was finished. He could still feel her breath on him.

“How do you feel about starting this new life?”

“I’m nearly thirty. I feel like it’s good-bye to my youth.”

“Same with me. When you go, it’s good-bye to my middle age.”

“Oh, no!”

“Well, let me ask you something else. Why —”

And her smile began to widen, that glaring smile of perfect health which he had come to consider a weapon. It was a weapon. She thought he was going to ask why, aside from his age (but wasn’t that enough?), she kept him in his role of kindly neighbor. “Why,” he said, “were all your friends, you know, jocks? Those big Stanford gentleman’s C types. It’s old-fashioned. You’re smarter than that.”

She was relieved. She lowered the decibels of her smile a little. “First thing, you’ve been here so many years and you still don’t understand they can look like that and still operate like lasers. Second thing, I guess you missed the psychiatrist, I guess you were in love that winter. He said he was a Jungian. He was into tarot, astrology, and playing his drum in the woods with a bunch of savage male bonders, but he was sensitive, Dan. He thought he could fly if he just wanted to enough. He dreamed about it every night — as if he were the only one!”

“Okay, go back to the gentlemen C’s.”

“Besides, Dan, you should know by now. I’m a jock too, only I got A’s.”

His heart was pounding. He had to say it. “And you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.”

She shrugged. It was wrong to annoy her like this when she had so many things to do. “Model or cocktail waitress wasn’t what I needed. And I’m nearly thirty now, lucky me. I didn’t become a victim of my, you know, genes. You’ve been a nice friend, Dan, but —”

He waited. She blushed. She didn’t want to hurt him.

“ — but you don’t have the least idea about me, either.”

She was right. As a boy, he had thought he could fly by just wanting it enough. Strange that, as bad as the Jungian, he still tried — to make the world into what he wanted it to be.

“New York, is that following your bliss?”

“Dan, don’t be sarcastic. I’m not a new-ager, I’m an upward by leaps and bounder, if that’s a word.”

“I don’t think so, but I doubt it.”

She looked at him with concern. “Are you still upset about something?”

He was upset about the tree in front of their building. He was upset about time passing. He was upset about Jenny.


Herbert Gold’s most recent book is Still Alive: A Temporary Condition. He lives in San Francisco.

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