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Winter/Spring 2019

Missing Persons

 

by Barbara Bottner

 

I fish around in my jewelry box to find the imitation Bulgari pin I wear to make me feel that I fit in with the gussied up members of my father’s country club. Tonight is the annual dinner he throws to honor my late mother France’s birthday. It’s a grotesque occasion; he was bitterly divorced from her long before she died.

His gesture is all form, no content, natch.

Then I think, Hilly, it’s once a fucking year, stop complaining! I powder my face. Early wrinkles, but sacred ones. I’m a producer. I battle for quality TV from Florida, a deluded idea at its core. A few hours ago, driving home, I experienced a sense of powerlessness that reminded me of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. He was turning into an insect when the experiment went awry. He screamed and screamed but nobody heard him.

“You ready yet?” I call to Fitz as I emerge from the bathroom.

Fitz, brown-eyed and broad-shouldered, lounges on the bed, staring at the hi-def TV. He’s wearing a blue silk shirt and white linen jacket, looking rather handsome. I tell him so.

“I’m going bald,” he says.

“You’re not going bald. You have a nice head of hair.”

“I do?”

Oh God. “Yes!”

These moments make me demented with happiness. Fitz is the only person I’ve ever met whose worries are a can opener to my heart.

““Damn! That’s another blown call. The Bears will lose!” Fitz screams. ESPN is his Prozac. He’s the real umpire. Then, predictably, “Do we have to go?”

I loathe this evening where no one will mention my mother by name.  When Frances died alone in Ft. Lauderdale, Fitz and I were in Alaska. There is no perspective there; it’s white and icy cold everywhere you look.  Frances was my glacier.

“But she was your mother,” said my father, Seymour, two weeks ago when he called to remind me to reserve the date.

“Fuck,” says Fitz. “Is this the day she died? Or the day she was born? Why don’t we celebrate the day she mercifully croaked? That makes some kind of sense after the way she treated you. I’m not going!”

“Fitz, think leg of lamb, or osso bucco,  cappuccinos with the chocolate flakes.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You’re always hungry.”

“I never even knew her.”

“You know me. And I knew her.”

Fitz is at the edge of the bed. “The Bears are in the red zone!”

“How much did you bet?” I ask.

Fitz snorts. This could mean he just threw a few bucks into the pot. Or he could have wagered the equivalent of a few days at Canyon Ranch. But I’m not ready to confront him.

“I’m ready! When can you be ready?” I try a lower octave. “The lamb is cooked with rosemary, remember? The vegetables are grilled to perfection.”

“True,” says Fitz. “Whereas, you burn everything.”

“Fitz,” I say. “Seymour loves you.”

“He does?”  Fitz’s always incredulous, acts as if it’s breaking headlines when he’s reminded that Seymour cares for him. Or that anyone loves him, for that matter.

“Jeez! Sacked. Again!” His face is crimson. Fitz’ bets have been getting bigger, his mood-swings swingier.

I’ve made peace with the fact that I love a man who often occupies a parallel universe in another galaxy. Over these last eleven years, I’ve become a cosmologist of marriage.  I’ve learned how to predict where in the skies Fitz would appear, how bright his light would shine.

I jangle my keys to announce that I’m at the front door and finally we exit our home  near Hollywood Beach. I glide onto I-95. Fitz turns the game on but has also brought his portable radio with earphones in case I balk when he commandeers the airwaves.

“Left lane,” says Fitz. “Pass the Subaru!” It’s the endless driving lesson. “Pass the Jeep. Get into the left lane! Overtake the rat-bastard Buick.” He thinks I’m a Nascar driver.

“So Fitz, talk to me. Talk to me about anything. Anything that’s on your mind. Not the game!”

Fitz puts on a James Taylor CD and closes his eyes.

I hum along to “You’ve Got a Friend.” James and Carly couldn’t keep it together. I understand this, and also how hard it was for Carly to get over him. Love isn’t sufficient even if you get lucky and find it. Fitz loves, but it isn’t often enough, said enough, palpable enough for me. (He says I just want what’s impossible). “When you’re down in trouble and you need loving care—- “ I sing with James, belting the song full out, louder than Carly. “And nothing is going right. You just call out my name….” Whose name? Who’d come running? Frances never did. I ran from her. Seymour ran the other way. Who is my friend? Really, I wonder. Who?

Fitz has dropped his seat way back, using his earphones. He’s off duty. All’s quiet on the Western Front.

I never counted on living near Seymour; I’d always resided far, far away from his fancy New York penthouse. South Florida had been a Seymour-free zone for us. Yet, after he retired two years ago, he called me.  “Your father wants to be closer to his daughter.” Seymour rarely spoke to me while he was CEO of a perfume company.  “I snarfed up a condo in Boca Raton!” he bragged. “Right on the golf course!”

I’d made sure there’d been the entire East Coast between us. The way it worked in my family, which includes my stepmother, Greta, her son Joey, and Joey’s girlfriend Tammy, was that we met only occasionally for a few hours and pretended to be interested in each other.

Seymour’s condo was on the 9th hole, but Boca Raton lacked the angst that my father, who’d grown up in the bowels of the Bronx, thrived on. And he certainly wasn’t about to start kicking back after raising hell in business for five decades. So he and Greta moved half an hour away from me. My star-struck stepmother planned on flirting her way into private rehearsals at the Broward Performing Arts Center. Seymour re-wrote his resume. When nothing materialized in business, as if to cement some myth he seemed to need more than ever, Seymour created this yearly memorial dinner.

“Frances was my wife,” he announced from his speakerphone last year around this time. “We were a family.”

“We were never a family.”

“Well, we can be a family now.”

“At eighty-five, you’re starting a family? Not to mention, Frances is dead.”

“You and I, who knows how much time’s left? We owe her.”

“Goddamn son-of-a-bitch!” Fitz has his earphones on. He drowns out Sweet Baby James’ crooning.

“Hey, keep it down. James and I are singing,” I say.

Fitz rolls his eyes. “If that’s what you call it.”

“I sing fine!” Fitz will never cede this point. “I sang for Sting once, doing that promo about world hunger. And he said I was good.”

Fitz reaches out and taps my shoulder as in ‘can I touch you,’ which he knows drives me crazy; can I touch you because you knew Sting?

“Dad,” I’d said when he first began talking of putting the East End Avenue apartment on the market, “Manhattan is soooo exciting! You have a perfect view from the twelfth floor. You can see directly into the Mayor’s living room. Let’s walk in Carl Schurz Park.”

We did. We watched moms carrying infants on their chests or pushing toddlers on three wheel bicycles, young boys gliding on their skateboards wearing headphones, or older couples sitting and reading together: a perfect urban scene. “Look, there’s a tug boat! It’s classic, this spot! You were genius to buy here. You can glance up at the Triboro and see all the way to the Bronx.”

Apparently, he disagreed. He said: “I’ve seen enough of the East River Drive, heard enough honking, given out enough coins to dirty beggars for the rest of my life.” He put his place on the market that afternoon.

Nonetheless, I continued to inundate my father with the awful S. Florida crime facts, the corruption, and the actuarial tables, which, at his age, I figured would feel mighty threatening; God’s waiting room was running out of seating. I re-recited the frequent freeway fatalities that happened because too many octogenarians were still driving.

He waved me away as if I was a mosquito.

If only once, when I was ministering to chemo-ridden Frances, he’d taken me out for dinner when I was in the city, I’d quit this campaign to keep him out of range.

The apartment on 88th Street sold quickly. Seymour and Greta left their black and navy outfits, fur coats, and limo driver to move into a predominantly Jewish community with a swimming pool the size of the Red Sea.

When I realized they were now twenty puny miles from our house, I yelped to Fitz: “They’re stalking me!”

Mercifully, Seymour discovered Temple Beth Am. He and Greta soon had many invitations–often for funerals. Naturally, they felt obliged to buy new clothes, exploring the way certain pastels flatter and add skin tone to ancient faces devoid of natural color. Attending funerals in expensive suits seemed to make them happy.

Seymour hadn’t made it to my mother’s funeral, hadn’t even sent a note.  However, during a phone conversation after she passed, he’d tried to be reassuring.

“I bought you a plot,” he said. “Next to mine.”

“So you want to be with me eternally? Just not in this life when I could have used a father.”

Why didn’t Seymour see the rage in Frances’s eyes? The velocity of her arms when she swung at me? I wish I could tell Seymour to see more.

“Drive a little faster!” yells Fitz. “I want to get there in time for the replays.”

I find myself in a race with a black BMW, and I swerve.

“You’re trying to kill me! When I’m about to make a pile!” He curses under his breath. “It’s an expression. I’m talking chump change, really,” he tries to self-correct.

I settle into the middle lane and close in on Coconut Creek.

I’m thinking how Fitz makes bets when his checking account diminishes. Then, he’s forced to spend extra time working to increase his cash flow. ‘Sitting alone in the dark,’ is how he explains his profession as a radiologist. He has to diagnose poisonous lumps, speak gently and rationally to people who are going to be dead soon. I could never hold it together if I were a doctor.

And maybe he isn’t holding up, either. A few years ago, we’d be talking as we drove. We’d wander into the working-class neighborhoods off A-1-A, curious to discover an ethnic restaurant. Once, after papas rellenas at El Floridita’s, we found our tires slashed. We realized we could have ended up on the missing persons list.

I often dream that I’m a missing person.

James Taylor doesn’t seem as if he’d vanish into Sunday football marathons. He sings “Handy Man.” Handy Man. Does that mean “useful?” “Available?” I want James to tell me all about how available he is. Available is a big word. Not just for directors or cameramen. For husbands and fathers. And, mothers, too.

We’re passing the exit for Lauderhill. What used to be strictly farmland has yielded to miles and miles of outlet malls. Once, when I was 13, Frances took me to a mall and bought me a beautiful golden orange sweater set. For the first and last time ever, I remember thinking, “She loves me.”

Seymour and Greta’s retooled octogenarian cronies will have been out buying, too, this week. They’ve kept busy: their arteries have been chelated, their hearts bypassed, their eyes LASIKed.  Borrowed organs, lifted breasts, liposuction; this is what they’ve done with their money. They wear their wigs and demand you squeeze their biceps.

My mother had a wig but only because of the chemo.

My step-mother, Greta, has a definitive collection of human hair add-ons. How she looks is her career, her hobby, and her personal art form. Her talent is her face, her body. Not to mention she speaks fluent diamond. Seymour never complains, though, because those trinkets the size of California figs buy him peace of mind. He’s had a mistress for thirteen years. I wish I didn’t know about Amelia, but I do. My father felt oddly comfortable confiding in me about his sexual prowess.

The exit to Seymour and Greta’s enclosed sector of Jewish arrivé comes up suddenly, and I fly off the freeway. I’m driving past several gated communities with names like Oaks Del Rio, The Haven, Glacier Estates, until we get to Turnberry Manor. Seymour’s already on the Board of Directors here, fighting the good fight; maintaining the golf course, mulch three times a year. Seymour claims he wants to keep up the value of the clubhouse, but the truth is he enjoys making new enemies, which infuses him with purpose.

I glance at myself in the rearview mirror. I look whipped. I’ve begun to smile when I’m not happy. I want to believe that these new rivulets on my once perfect skin are laugh lines. They’re actually from too many instances of wanting nothing more than to puncture the thigh of some entertainment jerk with a fork.

I want a different career, a different father, a different husband. James Taylor! But Taylor has those thin, ungenerous lips. Is that why Carly didn’t stick around? More likely it was that he was addicted to heroin. Funny, though, how he stopped using once he divorced her.  If I ever split from Fitz, would he hit bottom and quit gambling?

“What idiotic predictions will Joey make tonight?” Fitz asks, the game barely audible now I assume because his team isn’t doing well. My stepbrother is a would-be astrologer to minions of starlets and easily duped celebrities.

“He still brags he read for O.J. Simpson,” Fitz remembers.

The gatehouse is landscaped with wild grasses and brilliant scarlet bougainvillea, but the guard stares at me as if I’m smuggling AK-47s in the trunk.

“Name, please?” The guard knows me but is into a power play.

“Is he pretending you’re a stranger again?” Fitz barks, so the gate is lifted.

The handsome valet, Serge, is another matter. Serge smiles at me, revealing a mouthful of crooked, yellow teeth and huge, soulful eyes. He can love, I think. I have a craving to explain to him in his native Russian that I believe he was undoubtedly a neurosurgeon in Moscow, and I’m sorry if I appear to be a spoiled-brat capitalist princess. I do not believe in valets, I want to say. I’m a self-parker. A revolutionary at heart, is who I am. I marched for Civil Rights. I can still remember the crowds at the Washington Memorial, the endless leaflets that blew away as the last people filtered off in the dusk.

“Eveninck.” He bows majestically.

“Evening to you,” I say and hand him the ignition key. He winks at me ever so slyly.

The club lobby has thick, decorative carpets, faux Italian furniture and high ceilings graced with Sistine Chapel copycat art. The dining room is at capacity. No amount of cynicism can mask the delicious aromas of roast beef, wine, pate, coffee.

My barrel-chested, bowlegged father, a gentleman of the old order, waves us over. I wend my way to his table where Greta, a bonbon of an aging femme fatale, is dressed in a matching lime suit, blouse, heels, purse, and eye shadow. She hardly turns her head.

I dutifully peck her cheek.

“My makeup!” She shoos me away.

Every seat is filled from a casting call that might read: “retreaded golden-agers in full makeup and expensive evening wear and jewelry, communicating as if the last members of an arcane cult.”

I round the table toward pot-bellied Joey and Tammy, who’s 20 years his junior. Peck, peck. I sit down.

Fitz is near the appetizers. He’s filling a plate and heading straight for the comfy couch facing the T.V.

Seymour shakes his head in Fitz’s direction, those disapproving Austrian genes kicking in. “Nobody else here would act as if they were in their own living room!”

“He’ll be over in a minute,” I say protectively.

“I could never live with a man like that,” says Greta, as if her opinion was the important part.

The table is eerily silent. “So,” I say, “it’s October twelfth again.”

“Great time of year,” says Seymour. “How’s your career?”

I’m about to respond, but he continues. “Oy!  What a terrible business, the movies.”  Then he reaches for the bread, and ends the would-be conversation by slapping a rye slice with too much butter.  “It’s rough, rough! So tell me, is your husband still complaining that he works too hard? Doctors work hard. This is news to him?”

“Fitz’s working as much as ever.” My father has dropped interest in me handily.

“Good. He has to support you.”

work! As I was just trying to mention.  So, Hilly,” I pick up his end of the conversation, “what scripts are you developing? I’m fascinated! And how do you manage to sell them in such a competitive fucking environment?” I pause, preparing for Seymour to take offense.

Not to worry; Greta grabs the moment. “We’re going on a cruise,” she says. “To the Topkapi.”

Shut up, Greta.

“That sounds so nice,” Tammy purrs.

See, I could be like Tammy if I weren’t like me.

Tammy brings up the ongoing debate about her possible breast reduction. She shows us the permanent red marks on her shoulders because her chest is an R. Crumb cartoon gone wild; 40 double Ds. I stare at them. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have so much in front of you, separating you from the world.

“I’ve always wanted smaller breasts,” says Tammy.

Greta segues into a monologue about jewelry. And how much weight she’s lost. As a family, we have better conversation during a world crisis. Hurricanes leaving towns devastated. The reefs dying in the ocean. Other than that, if nobody dies, we have zilch to say; we’re in the dead zone.

“Hey,” an inspired Joey announces, “my birthday, June seventeenth, 1958, and Tammy’s, September twenty-third, 1967, add up to the winning lottery ticket!” Non sequiturs are Joey’s poetry. “Is that amazing, man, or what?”

My father and I stare. “Did you buy the ticket?” Seymour asks.

Joey rolls his eyes at Seymour as if he were an imbecile. “That’s not the point!”

“What is the point of the lottery if it’s not winning?” Seymour barks.

“What I’m saying, man, is that it’s so cool, how the universe works. Tammy and me, we’re winners, see?”

Seymour claps his fists together and squeezes them hard as if to avoid strangling Joey.  “Hilly, get your husband over here,” he demands. “Now!”

I want to say, ‘while Frances was dying, why didn’t you ask even once how I was doing?  I was the one to sign for the DNR. I sold her townhouse and I had to plan the funeral.

But all I do is shrug.

I’m remembering how deliriously I hoped for some last-minute bonding with my mother; fat chance. The last time I saw Frances lying in the ICU with almost transparent skin, she flipped open her eyes, lifted up her head, and said, “I must have done something wrong.”  I gasped. Surely this was going to be the long, near-death apology. But her eyes snapped shut and then she was dead.

“Fitz!” I call now.  This is the moment Greta, Joey, and Tammy decide to peruse the array of food, which is laid out in a stunning buffet. Seymour mutters about rude fucking Fitz, then compulsively grabs a bunch of verboten rolls.

“Fitz,” I call out, “Seymour wants you at the table.”

“It’s almost over. We’re doing great now!” His face is glowing.

I march over and grab his arm, pull hard, feel as if I’m hauling Einstein away from the moment he was discovering E=MC2. Fitz slowly rises, eyes still glued to the T.V. When he spots Seymour, however, he beams. Seymour steps in front of me and puts his arm around Fitz’ shoulder. They stroll to the carving area, pals.

We all walk around with empty plates, considering the offerings; several kinds of delicately sliced roasts, three kinds of ribs, the mythic rack of lamb. Then over to complicated veal and chicken dishes, grilled vegetables, made-to-order fish, squashes, sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, French fried potatoes, pizzas, Italian sausages and pastas. I make it back to the table. Without much to say, the family has gotten into the habit of spying on each other’s plates. Tonight the conversation is about what everyone isn’teating.

“I wanted the roast beef,” says Greta, “but I stuck with the fish.”

“I wanted the steak,” says Joey, “but I went with the pasta.” He looks at Tammy’s plate. All salad.

I’m equally guilty, eating free range chicken instead of  the steak I’d prefer because of all the damn nutrition magazines I read. Fitz has nailed the ribs, avoided my eyes since he knows I disapprove.

Then it begins. Greta doesn’t want Seymour eating fries. Tammy doesn’t want Joey eating starches. I certainly don’t want Fitz eating the sauce with all that sugar. It’s the women against the big bellies and the early heart attacks.

“A person could become obese if they came here every Monday and ate until they felt like puking,” I say.

Seymour gives me an icy stare. I return it.

How are you doing, Hilly? He had all those years to come up with that question or any version of it.

Seymour puts down his fork, glares at Fitz with an even more vehement look: “So, Fitz, are you still pissing money away?”

Fitz winks at me, then taps his step-brother’s arm. “Joey, who’s gonna win the game, do you think?”

“The Bears will lose,” says cocksure Joey.  “Oh, and this is cool: today is Obama’s half-birthday.”

I wish I could drown his head in the potatoes, the stupid fuck.

“Maybe you want to take a break from France’s death watch?” Seymour might have said. “Come over to the house?”

“The Bears will cream the Rams,” says Fitz, cutting Joey off.

“Who the hell cares about Obama’s half-birthday?” says Seymour.

“That’s right! We’re here for my late mother, Frances!” I say.

“Shut up, Hilly,” says my father. “All of you are nuts! Fitz and his goddamn betting….”

He shouldn’t snap at me. Doesn’t he realize, I might snap? I feel quite close to snapping, actually. And producers snap big!  It’s included in our job description.

“Obama’s half birthday has a trine and a square during this year,” says Joey, proud he’s shed real light on the real politic.

Bored, Fitz cantors over to the strudels, poached pears, grabs a rugelach, rushes back to his seat at the TV.

Seymour regards him as if he were on a day leave from an institution. “Schmuck! Hilly, who the hell does he think he is?”

“He’s been working all week. Hard. It’s a lot of pressure! Let him be.”

“Did you just raise your voice to me?” asks Seymour. Before I can answer, though, Greta’s pal, Faye, appears. Faye wants to discuss spas. “So! I hear Canyon Ranch doesn’t really monitor your meals.”

“I didn’t lose a pound!” Greta says. “Neither did Seymour.” Greta points to his gut. He knocks her hand away.

“I wish you hadn’t told me that,” says Faye, a Harry Winston regatta on high heels. She leans into Greta. “I don’t know where to go for this.” She pats her puffy stomach as if it belongs to both of them.

“Try Sierra Leone,” I say. “People are starving there.”

“I never heard of it! Is it new?” Faye squeaks.

“Africa!” I say. “Try Africa. I promise you can drop twenty-five kilos.”

Faye lets out a tentative twitter and trips away on her impossible shoes.

“Seymour, did you hear your daughter?” demands Greta.

“Hilly, I don’t understand a goddamn thing about you or your husband, who acts like he’s ten years old!”

“Funny, because I don’t understand a goddamn thing about you! Like when you missed my eleventh birthday party. You remember the black eye Frances gave me? Oh, no, you wouldn’t remember! You were getting busy with our own Miss Monroe over there.”

Greta gasps, not sure if she should feel complimented or insulted.

“Shut up!” screams Seymour.

“When you left in the middle of the night is when I stopped sleeping, when I began to run away from home. Home! Who are we kidding?”

Greta’s yogurt plops off her spoon. “Your mother was the bitch!”

“Exactly! Yet the two of you left me alone with her.”

“Get Fitz over here!” Seymour pummels the table so hard that several plates lift off, a quirky ballet of food suspended in the air.

“Stop focusing on Fitz. Try to listen to what I’m saying, dammit. You left me with a crazy person who even you couldn’t deal with. You should have protected me. Why the hell didn’t you?”

“Your dad did nothing wrong,” seethes Greta.

“He did nothing! That’s what’s wrong!”

“How unfortunate that you’re still mental,” Seymour says.

“Seymour, tell me: these dinners we have every October—please explain what the purpose is?”

“Your father rented War of the Roses last night as per your request,” says the local film critic, retouching her mascara. “You have him upset, thinking he’s like the Michael Douglas character.”

“Only that character at least was around!” I say.

“I was around,” says Seymour.

“Sure, like last year, when the first movie I produced had a screening down here, but you were in New York with Amelia.”

“Who the fuck is Amelia?” asks Greta.

“His tailor. Only she’s not measuring his suits,” I say.

Greta moves fast: she tosses her hot coffee on Seymour and streaks out of the dining room.

My father is struggling for control, but unsuccessfully. His arm swings at my face. I duck.

“We’re never doing this ridiculous dinner again!” I shout, unnecessarily.

He wants to strangle me, but he redirects. “I’m going over to that fucking TV, and I’m going to wring Fitz’ neck.”

Unsuspecting Fitz sees Seymour coming over, pats the couch invitingly. I fly after him.

“Sit down, Dad,” says Fitz affably. “The Bears win, I make five grand!”

I arrive on my father’s heels and pinch Fitz’s arm.

“That’s a penalty!” Fitz shrieks to the TV. Seymour stands in front of him.

“Move over, dad! We hold ‘em here,”  Fitz sings out. “We run out the clock!”

Seymour’s quivering. He can’t find words.

“Fitz, we’re leaving,” I say. “Now. This minute!”

“There are only fifty-two seconds left!”

“Fitz, I swear,” I say, wondering exactly what to swear.

“You’re leaving?” says Seymour. “You were never here as far as I’m concerned!” He charges at Fitz like a mad elephant.

“Darn it! They got a first down.” Fitz’s arm moves Seymour to his side, Seymour, whose fists are in the air.

“Get out!” screams Seymour, purple-faced, pounding the back of the couch, a Jewish leprechaun who has lost his mind. It could be a Robert Altman movie. Perhaps Tarantino? No, darker: the Coen brothers.

“I have the car keys,” I hiss at Fitz which always gets him moving.

Joey’s on Seymour’s tail. “They arrived at seven thirty-one. Seven and thirty and one equals thirty-eight, which gives you a two. Two is a powerful number.”

“Shut up, Joey,” says Tammy.

But Fitz has already jumped up, grabbed my hand; for once the game’s taken second place. Together we gallop through the heavy glass doors and thrust our parking stub at Serge. Tammy and Joey run interference, keeping murderous Seymour at bay.

“Eveninck!” says Serge cheerfully, until he sees the burning bush coming at him, at which point he bolts into the parking lot.

“Don’t come back you, you …you…kuppe dreks!” Seymour howls. Tammy and Joey restrain him.

Serge miraculously delivers the car.

Fitz jumps into the driver’s seat. “What are kuppe drek?” he asks, pulling out.

“Pieces of shit!” Am I going to laugh or cry? “What I’m going to miss is those cappuccinos!”

“Five grand!” he hoots. “If I win, I’ll buy you kegs of cappuccinos. I’ll buy you anything you want.”

“Maybe a divorce lawyer?”

Fitz’s face turns white. Mine heats up, bright red, I imagine. “Dammit, Fitz, All I’m saying is why can’t you tear yourself away from the TV?”

“I wish you liked football,” he says.

“I’ll never like football.”

“Well, I love you anyway, Hilly.”

“That’s kind of you, Fitz.”

“I’m just saying, maybe you should have found someone else. You knew how I was when you married me.”

“Is that what you’re saying?”

“Of course.”

Seymour’s furious face flashes. Maybe he and Fitz are cut from the same man-cloth, but Fitz is made of soft material. Fitz is loyal to the bone.

“Christ, your family,” says Fitz. “My people are so different.”

“Well, keep in mind, Tammy’s a Baptist from Texas,” I say, just to say something.

“Tammy?” asks Fitz. “Why mention her?”

I breathe, close my eyes, knead the muscles in my neck. It’s too old a story to cry about now.  Maybe I sniffle.

Fitz grabs my shoulder and tucks me under his free arm. “You okay?”

“Of course.” But a whimper escapes.

“Well, your dad’s probably right,” he says. “I shouldn’t be making bets. I get too worked up.”

Finally, someone is accountable.

“By the way, why was your father so worked up?” He circles onto the freeway. “Was it about me?”

“Actually… I mentioned that he has a lover called Amelia.”

I expect a lecture; Fitz would never lose control like that.

“No shit, Hilly!” He pounds the steering wheel with delight.

“I’m done with them,” I say and then I know it’s true; I really am.

“Wow!” He has one arm on the wheel, one arm around me. I lean into him. His body is still the safest place I’ve ever known.

So, I do have a friend. I have Fitz.

 

[Check out Barbara Bottner’s back porch advice]