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SHOULD OLD ACQUAINTANCE BE FORGOT
by STEVE LEWIS
"Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, will you please get out of the damn house? I mean, for Christ's sake, get some fresh air!"
Charlie was in his studio, on a metal stool, bent over a large unmatted photograph, jeweler's magnifier in one eye. "I don't want to." He looked up and the device fell from his eye. He picked it up. "It's damn cold outside and I got work to do here." He felt for the Luckys in his breast pocket with his free hand. "And where the hell would I go anyway?"
Sarah was standing in the double doorway, facing out at the bank of windows onto the snowy yard, hand in the massive tote feeling around for keys. She was still fumbling around when she said finally, "Well, you'll feel better, you old goat ... and you'll stop being so damn grumpy. I mean, make some friends." She looked up and smiled.
Charlie wasn't sure whether she found her keys or she was playing with him ... or, after all these years, whether she was really truly honestly as perky as she seemed to be most of the time. Not that she didn't have her dark moments, he was quick to tell all those pain-in-the-ass friends who would tell him how lucky he was to be married to such a beautiful happy woman who didn't seem to age (like he had, they knew enough not to add).
"You are gorgeous," he said and smiled his boyishly disarming Charming Charlie smile.
She rolled her eyes. "Thank you very much, Charlie. But that doesn't change anything, you know. You've been moping around for months." She might have said years, decades, their entire 42 year marriage. But after all this time together, she knew to keep things close at hand. "Kinda like training a dog," she once told her daughter Amanda.
He glared at her. "What moping? I'm working. I'm doing some of the best work of my life." He put the magnifying glass down on the table and held up a large scale black and white photograph of a young boy on a bike, dunes in the background.
"Very nice. Do us all a favor and go find a friend. Someone your own age." She smiled again and pulled out the ring of keys, half a dozen plastic store bar codes, a tiny Swiss Army knife. "Why don't you call up Mason and go visit. I'm sure he'd love to see you."
Mason, a retired Music prof at Brown and itinerant drummer for various orchestras, cruise ship and otherwise, was Charlie's roommate at Williams. "Mason doesn't want to see me. I've tried. He's got his own stuff going, not the least of which is a wasted life bedding widows on cruise ships."
She raised her eyebrows and shook her head. Forced a smile. "Well, I gotta go, Charlie-book group." She shook the keys, smiled again, and turned to go. Then turned back, Lauren Bacall fashion, "Why don't you give Mason a whistle-maybe you two can find a way to be friends again. You know how to whistle, don't you, Charlie?"
Now he was really glaring, that ridge between his eyes, jaws clenched. "If I knew why the sonofabitch suddenly hates me so goddamn much, that might be a good start."
She shook her head in mock disgust. "I don't know. Go make some new friends, Charlie. Stop moping." And with nothing more to say, she turned and walked out of the weathered cape backing up on a salt marsh.
"I'm not your damn son!" he called out after her, but she didn't take the bait. He heard the kitchen door slam shut. Then to no one, his palms turned up, "Sounds like she's talking to Eddie 30 years ago." ------------------------------------------------------
Then he was thinking about Eddie, who he hadn't heard from in six months. Then, as always, Amanda, the light of his life, at least until the light went out. Now the photograph was blurry.
He dropped the jewelers' glass on the work table, groaned as he pushed himself up and went into the kitchen. Wiped his eyes with his sleeve. There was coffee still in the pot but the automatic shut-off that Sarah demanded after her sister's kitchen caught on fire, had turned off two hours ago. He felt the pot-cool. Poured a cup. Eyed the microwave, decided he wasn't willing to wait, and took a big swig.
Now he was looking at the wall phone, but before he could think to recite Mason's numbers, walked out of the house and plucked a Lucky from his pocket, dug deep in his khakis for some matches, lit it and inhaled deeply. Waved dismissively to Maureen Rogers who drove by and honked.
Five minutes later, he flicked the lit butt in a snow bank, turned, stamped his shoes on the welcome mat, headed back into the kitchen and went directly to the wall phone.
"Hello, it's me, the asshole you love to hate. My wife says I need some fresh air."
Charlie held his breath through the silence. "First of all, jackass, I don't love to hate you-I hate you pure and simple, and I only hate you when you act like an asshole. " Another silence. Some fumbling with the phone. "So don't act like an asshole. And if you're asking if I'd like to get some fresh air with you, I'll give you a qualified yes. I'll pick you up in, say, 15 minutes."
Charlie grimaced. "I'll pick you up. I already got the keys in my hand." He didn't.
"No. I'm not driving around Newport in that drafty piece of shit Jeep you call a car."
Now it was Charlie's turn be silent. "Then I'm gonna smoke."
"Not in my car, you're not. There might be some people still alive who cower at your bullshit, but not me. I had the misfortune of once living with you. I'll pick you up in 15 minutes." A moment later Charlie heard the click, pulled the receiver from his ear and just stood there looking at the phone with utter disdain.
And 15 minutes later a red Fiat Cabrio pulled up in front of 17 Ledge Road. Charlie already had his coat on and was holding a knit hat in his gloved hand, but sneered and decided to wait until Mason tooted that fruity horn.
He counted "One one thousand, two one thousand ..." and just as he reached his goal of "thirty one thousand," the phone rang and Charlie walked back into the kitchen. "I'm out front," the familiar voice grumbled even before Charlie had a chance to say hello.
Charlie hung up without a word and, counting up to ten one thousand, walked out the door.
The Fiat was warm and still had the new car smell when he slid in. He put on his seat belt. Mason smiled and patted him on the knee. "Sorta good to see you, old pal."
"That's not what you said last time I saw you," Charlie grumbled.
Mason sneered, slid the shifter into first, slowly let out the clutch and they were off, second, third, braking at the stop sign. "That's because you were being an asshole, if I remember correctly." He patted Charlie's knee again. "Some things never change, hah?"
"I don't remember, but it was probably because you were being a bigger asshole, asshole."
Now they were turning on to Memorial Boulevard. Mason did something with the steering wheel and Dvorak was suddenly in surround sound. "So ... like my new wheels?"
Charlie looked all around. "It looks like a bumper car-or one of those motorized toy things rich people buy for their five year olds to ride around the lawn." He smirked at his own joke and reached into his breast pocket for the pack of Luckys.
"Put those damn things away, Chuck-you are not smoking in my sweet new ride."
"It's a girls' car." He had the pack out now.
"Better than the dumb ass Ronald Reagan faux cowboy piece of shit you use to hold on to your long long long long gone virility." He smirked, clearly proud of his composition.
"Let me outahere," Charlie grumbled and knocked a cigarette loose. He slipped it onto his lower lip. Dropped the pack in his pocket.
"Don't you fuckin' dare. Charlie." Now they were speeding along Purgatory Road.
"Pull over you sonofabitch."
"I'll pull over when you put that cancer stick back in your pocket."
Charlie glared at him like he glared at Sarah. He slid the cigarette back into into his pocket. "Now, pull this beauty parlor golf car over and I'll get the hell out.
Mason spotted a free parking space, yanked at the wheel and braked hard right in front of Perro Salado, a Mexican joint. "Fajitas?
Charlie shrugged and looked at his watch. "Yeah, I guess." He plucked the cigarette out of his pocket and held it up. "I'll meet you inside."