New York in Winter

New York in Winter

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A World of One by Terence Hughes

by Terence Hughes

He didn’t understand it. He didn’t want to understand it. What if understanding ruined it?
It was as if a switch was flipped, one minute Gino Calabro was his usual glum, pessimistic self and the next he was surging with energy and a special light seemed to shine on him alone and he laughed for the surprised joy of it.
When it happened Gino almost fell down. He was in the act of sitting down at the breakfast table. He spilled his mug of coffee. He had to grab the table with the other hand. It took him a quarter of an hour to get his bearings, as he sat dizzy and bemused, sipping coffee and nibbling on toast that suddenly had flavor. He got up from the table and cleared it swiftly, marveling at a dozen little things – the way the light glinted off the silverware, the pattern of toast crumbs, the lingering aroma of the expensive coffee he liked to serve himself. It all registered with him. It all managed to delight him. He pretended to be dismayed, because that was how he’d been raised. Nothing this good could be real.
When Gino showered that morning, he washed his body with delight and admired its trimness and tone – it was all relative at 65, this trimness and tone and general vitality – and dried it while mildly excited.
He bustled around the house, doing things he’d been putting off for months. In one supercharged day he fixed the back screen door; sanded and painted the front door; took down a hornet’s nest outside the living room; and finally installed the air conditioner in his bedroom, which he’d been intending to do since a hot spell in May. (It was mid July.)
During all of these operations Gino found himself chuckling and even giving himself instructions and pep talks: “That’s right, rough up that patch, then prime it. Hold on! Slow, slow…better good than fast. Oh, perfect!” He wasn’t conscious of doing this, but it quickly became a characteristic that set his friends’ teeth on edge.
One afternoon his old colleague Artie Sullivan stopped by to chew the fat, which was still what they called it in Lowell, New York. Gino asked him if he’d like to iced coffee to fight the heat. Artie said yes and soon was exclaiming, “Gino, where the hell did you learn to make ice coffee like this? It’s the best I ever had!”
Gino told him, “It’s cold-press!” He then showed Artie how to make it. Blow-by-blow descriptions of every action, chirpy as an infomercial. “One cup of coarse ground coffee in the basket. Use only coarse ground!” Then he did it. “Then three – no more no less – cups of cold water.” He counted out the cups and poured them in the French press carafe. “But don’t plunge it! Set it in the fridge for at least twelve hours. Then you plunge!”
Artie looked at him bemused. “When I ask you for the time, will you just give me the time?”
Only a bit put out, Gino took a pitcher from the fridge and poured a glass of coffee, quizzing himself, “Ice or no ice? Milk? I have 2% and skim. Sugar?”
Artie burst out laughing. “What the hell has gotten into you, Gino?”
Gino laughed too. “I don’t know! What do you call it when you feel good all the time?”
Artie frowned at him. “Stupid?”

Gino kept expecting the feeling of revelation, of rebirth or whatever it was (brought on by a sudden change in brain chemistry? a blow to the head he couldn’t recall? a tumor?) to end as abruptly as it had started. It persisted. He’d sit out on his back porch and watch the sun set with an after-supper glass of Aglianico on the railing, waiting for that old familiar sense of torpid depression to settle on him. He considered the subject of happiness. He had always thought of happiness as something that happened to other people, and as something intense and ephemeral, like an orgasm. For happiness as a condition, a state of being, his first thought was of spiritual ecstasy and the state of grace, although these took place in heaven, not anywhere on earth – but this thing had fallen upon him without any religious consciousness on his part; and he didn’t pray, had not since he was 10, when he prayed for skates and got chemistry books for Christmas. Still, “grace” and “God” were words people dragged in to explain what they didn’t understand. “God of the gaps” was what theologians called that. So. What if it was some change in brain chemistry? Some trigger in his environment? What if it could vanish as suddenly as it came?
After a few days he accepted it as normal: a divorced, short bald man stuck in a drafty house in a dilapidated industrial town in upstate New York, suddenly graced with a causeless happiness. His only regret was that this hadn’t happened when he was married to Bonnie. They might have lasted.
Gino wasn’t too hopeful about the patience of his friends, so he worked around the house conversing with Junior – that is, the spirit of Junior, his “son” who died at the considerable age of ten. Even now it gave him a lift to communicate with Junior, who seldom spoke but returned Gino’s thoughts with sympathetic looks and encouraging nods and grunts.
“You know, June, it’s been weird having this blanket of happiness come on me. It’s not like I’m ecstatic all the time. It’s just that things seem – bright. I don’t get out of bed saying, Oh shit anymore. I just get up. I don’t lay there either, I get right up. Did you ever know me to do that?”
Junior shook his head.
“I know,” Gino laughed. “This is much nicer. I feel grateful for every day I have – I never was before in my whole life. I don’t know how much time I have left…”Junior looked sad and shook his head. “Oh don’t worry, buddy, I’m not gonna get morbid. I’m – I’m cheerful.” Gino stopped to consider the designation of “cheerful person.” It was appalling; it lacked a certain gravitas. He felt a brief wistfulness and told Junior, “I’m glad you’re here.” The spirit of Junior didn’t leave him all day.

It seems that joy is easy to manage when you keep it to yourself. No one really wants to hear about your exalted states of being. Gino understood this implicitly, but he still went ahead and “shared.” He couldn’t stop himself. Joy is blinding. All-encompassing. He had the urge to tell the world about this astonishing thing. Still, as always happens in moments of high happiness, one’s friends disappoint. He saw Casimir outside the Wegman’s one day and told him about it. Casimir, a hypochondriac since grade school, told Gino, “Your body is erecting defenses against cancer, flooding your system with dopamines. I’d get to an oncologist ASAP.”
Gino bade him goodbye and urged him to have a nice day.
He fumed as he walked to the car. “That’s what I get for having a bunch of Upstate guineas for friends!” Junior reminded him that Casimir was a Polack. “Everybody’s a guinea around here,” Gino griped.
Still, he made an appointment to see a neurologist, a childhood friend of his and Casimir’s, Davey Calvino. “It’s been observed that you’re walking around town talking to yourself, Gene. Are you aware of doing that?” Gino shook his head, amazed to be told such a thing. Still, tests were negative for tumors and other anomalies.

One Saturday night he had a few people over for chicken and corn cooked on the grill in the back yard. He’d known these people for years and they were all comfortable with one another. Artie and Leah Sullivan were chattering and guffawing as usual – drinkers, life of the party. Seated primly on the sofa were Ray and Xavier, lifelong best friends who remained roommates in their 50s. Ray was the lively one, Xavier the one who was always muttering mannaggia and porco dio even though he’d never been closer to Italy than Provincetown. Myra Barese, the widow of Gino’s best junior-high friend Cosimo, nursed her glass of blush and studied him carefully.
Such is our merry band, Gino told Junior, who made a weird doggy, groaning sound.
At the start of the evening, Myra had walked into the hall and stopped in her tracks. Gino’s face had changed, everything had changed about him. He wasn’t the familiar, dear mope she’d known all her life. He was more the man she had always wanted him to be. She drank him in avidly, the glint of prospective ownership in her eyes. Myra’s heightened attentiveness made Gino uncomfortable. He was always vaguely aware that she seemed to brighten when he walked into a room, and he had been flattered. Myra Messina had always been one of the prettiest girls in school, and she had kept her figure. But now she was looking at him in an alarming new way. She kept getting up to pour him more wine, more tortilla chips, another napkin, and so on. She parked herself next to him and inquired sweetly, “What’s happened, Gino?”
“What do you mean?”
Myra took a dainty sip of wine. She smiled. “You know very well what I mean. Something very good’s happened to you. Or I think it has.” She dared to smile more invitingly.
Artie and Leah were silent and looking from Myra to Gino intently. Leah smiled triumphantly at her husband as if to say, “Didn’t I tell you?”
Gino sat down with them on the screened-in porch and told them about the suddenness and completeness of the draping of the mantle of happiness across his shoulders. He used those terms. He discussed what he supposed was permanent versus ephemeral happiness. He tended to think it was a matter of brain chemistry. He said he was still working out what this all meant for his life. It had nothing to do with what he or anyone else did – maybe it was God’s work after all. It had been just three weeks, and there were ramifications that only he could explore and live with. The Sullivans looked around as if seeking the punchline. Myra looked crestfallen and slugged the rest of her blush. Ray and Xavier shrugged I don’t know to each other. Gino was aware that no one got it. They thought he was spouting nonsense.
“You’re trying to tell us you feel happy all the time?” asked Artie.
Marone,” muttered Xavier.
Gino nodded and laughed. “It came for no reason. One second nothing, the next, there it was. Like grace from God, if I believed in such a thing.” Artie cheered and raised his glass to Gino.
Finally someone gets to experience this mystical grace of God,” Artie bellowed.
Myra flashed Artie a furious look. She stood up and said, “I’m not feeling too well. I think it was that cheap wine, Gino. You could afford to treat your guests better. If you’ll excuse me…” She staggered a bit.
“We brought that wine!” Ray exclaimed, while his friend muttered, “Merda.”
“What in the heck--?” Gino jumped up and was ready to follow her. Ray got up and whispered to him, “You better not,” and walked her home.
“She thought you were gonna tell us all how you love her, Gene.” Leah, the group’s diamond in the rough, said, “You, the source of her happiness, was gonna announce you loved her. That’s what that was about.” She cackled. “Gino, you are clueless!”
Gino felt horrible for the moment: poor Myra! Yet his happiness was in no way dependent on another person, and that other person had to come up with their own happiness. It was out of his hands. That was one bit of wisdom he’d been able to dredge up in three weeks.

Gino hadn’t been to Mass for years – decades – ever since his divorce from Bonnie. The Catholic Church didn’t want a divorced person in their midst: fine. He had done pretty well without them all this time – being theoretically cast out because of divorce supplied him with just the excuse he needed not to bother with it any more. Often he bumped into the priests of the St. Anthony of Padua parish while running errands around town or eating lunch at the diner. They were always hail-fellow-well-met; Gino suspected they regarded him as some sort of reclaimable asset.
A few days after the cookout Gino was at the diner tucking into a plate of corned beef hash and scrambled eggs when a chubby hand settled on his shoulder and a sardonic voice said, “Hey handsome, keep eating that slop and soon you’ll be joining all the saints in heaven.”
Gino laughed and motioned for Father Bruno to sit opposite him. Bruno was the pastor at St. Anthony’s, a short, stocky, nice-looking man of southern Italian descent – indeed he looked like Gino except that he had a full head of gray hair. After some it’s-been-so-long pleasantries, Gino launched into what was on his mind.
Father Bruno was keenly attentive. When Gino paused for air he said, “This sounds classic, Gene. God’s grace shed upon thee. It comes to you whether you want it or not. Whether you feel like you’ve merited it or not.”
Gino appeared unconvinced by the God’s grace angle. “Then I suppose it can go away, equally without warning.”
The priest said, “Yes!”
Gino had been an industrial chemist, and he tended to discount supernatural explanations. “What if it’s all about brain chemistry, Father? What if there’s nothing supernatural about it?”
Bruno spread his hands and indicated to the waitress he wasn’t having lunch. “You can’t wiggle out of it that easily, carissimo. Then we can say God is acting through the chemicals in the brain.”
“Turning a switch on and off? Well, that sounds about like the God we read about in that book He wrote. Sort of an arbitrary bastard.” The priest sighed at that; the Roman Catholic Church wasn’t about literalism but the interpretative dodges of allegory. In fact, Gino conceded to himself, he was open to the idea of God meddling with his brain chemistry. In his state of on-going bliss he was willing to entertain many notions, even if he regarded their probability as next to zero. He told Father Bruno as much.
The priest sighed. “You know there’s more to it. I stated the simplest explanation because most of my flock are seeking simplistic answers dressed as facts.”
“Thank you for the insult, padre.”
Father Bruno feigned dismay. “What? Me?” He sipped his coffee as Gino finished lunch. Casually he asked, “Have you kept in touch with your pretty ex-wife – Bonnie, I believe her name is?” Gino shook his head. “You might want to tell her of this development, whatever the cause. I think it would please her to hear about it. She was always such a lovely – loving -- person.”
Gino had the impression that the priest was choosing his words with extraordinary care. “Have you talked with her recently?”
Father Bruno got up and made the sign of blessing. “Pax vobiscum, Gino.”

As a retiree Gino had soon realized that without a work-imposed rhythm, the week dissolved into a hazy series of days. He had been forcibly retired for almost two years, and he still hadn’t figured a way of overcoming this, if he really wished to. With the constant inner glow of his new state, the long dull days became less unsettling. When the housework was done, when the yard chores were done, Gino sat in the sun of the waning summer and drifted without desire or suffering for hours at a time. The afternoon after he saw Father Bruno a little impatience tugged at him; it was Junior, who whispered wordlessly, “Call Mommy. Now.”
Gino went to the phone. He reconsidered. He hadn’t spoken to Bonnie in at least three years, when her louse of a second husband died. She’d cried and begged him to stay with her for a while. Fort Lauderdale had seemed like a good idea in December. There were lake effect snows blowing past the window when he was speaking with her. He almost said yes.
But one thing about this mantle of happiness stuff, there wasn’t much urgency in anything. He set down the receiver and mowed the lawn.

Still, he thought about Junior’s advice to call Bonnie. Even though they had divorced almost 30 years earlier, they stayed in touch sporadically, no thanks to Junior, whose death had driven them apart to begin with. The morning after Junior’s advice, he waited until 11 and called her. It took a while for her to answer. She had been crying. “Oh, Gino, my poor Wally’s dying!”
“Oh no!” He felt an ocean of tears welling up. “Oh Bon, I’m so sorry. Has he got long?”
Bonnie struggled to contain herself. Her voice failed her, and it took a moment to speak clearly. She sounded very weak and frightened. “How I wish we could bury him right next to Junior. I wish you hadn’t sold that house, Gino—I know it was full of painful memories but...”
Choked up himself, he took a moment to respond. “There were a lot of wonderful memories in that place, too, Bonnie. It was our first house. All those parties and dinners with our friends. Our first Christmas when Junior was a puppy.”
Bonnie started crying again. “Oh Gene, we fucked up, didn’t we?”
An effect of his new state was that he could see things clearly, truly, and not lash out. He refrained from pointing out that he did not fuck up. She was the one who ran off with someone else; he remained right there in Lowell, NY, and he had lived in that house for ten years after she left it with some vague idea that she would return. The late Richard Sobel, snake in the grass of the Lowellcrest Country Club, had left her all his money and disinherited his own kids, so that Bonnie could buy her way into any possible form of contentment, if not full-blown, mantled happiness.
It was odd. Gino could see Bonnie and himself together in the big house by the ocean, recapitulating if not reliving their youth. They would get another little “son.” They’d go to Mass together. They’d celebrate holidays again. They’d host an endless stream of Upstate friends, and even relatives, all winter long.
Bonnie took his ruminative silence as an assignation of blame. “Forgive me, forgive me, please, Gino.” As if it were her last chance for absolution.
Before he hung up he said softly, “It’s okay, Bon.”

The next morning he went to 8 o’clock Mass. It astonished him how easily it all came back to him. Father Bruno celebrated. He did a comical doubletake when he saw Gino. After the service he blew past a couple of the old ladies who showed up every day and made for Gino. “Welcome, Prodigal.”
Gino smiled and shook his hand. “I figured it would be the easiest way to ambush you. Can we talk?”
“Diner. Now. Need coffee.”
It took Gino too long to broach the subject, so Bruno said, “I can see you still are in that state of, dare I name it, grace.” Gino looked surprised. “You aren’t the Gino of old, I’ll tell you that. You haven’t got that beat-down look, that disenchanted look. That sepulchral voice. So—what’s going on?”
Gino digested sepulchral voice. “It’s very weird, Father. I can’t make decisions. I don’t even want to decide anything. It’s like everything’s equal, you know? ‘Whatever is, is right.’ There are things I need to make decisions about – or maybe lose them forever.”
Bruno was regarding Gino keenly. “You know, Gino, people pay thousands of dollars to go to ashrams in India to achieve what you’ve got here. A holy indifference, a sense of the whole of existence woven and bound together, and our own individual wishes and ‘needs’ don’t amount to anything. You’re very fortunate.”
“But,” said Gino, struck as by a revelation, “you can’t live that way.”
“The guidebooks to the soul aren’t very good on that, are they? They devolve into devotionalism. The Greek philosophers are another story, of course. And the Buddha.” Father Bruno read Gino carefully. “Gino, you’re a good man. You’ve never committed, I’ll guess, any grave sins mortal or otherwise. You are good about loving your neighbor as yourself. You are fair in your dealings with all men. So, therefore, please do something for yourself – and God – something I imagine you’ve never done before: follow your heart and be content that you have made the right decision. And I think Bonnie enters the picture right about now.”
“That isn’t what I thought you’d say.”
Father Bruno got up and smiled playfully. “Now go say ten Hail Marys or whatever you expected me to tell you.”
Gino smiled after the departing priest. He respected the man well enough to consider following his advice. But “following his heart” was frightening – he never had done anything like it in his life. He wanted to be a sculptor but his parents said, No, go into science. The world needs scientists. It is-a work that give-a you respect in the world. You always have a jobb-a. Poor old Camillo and Filomena never foresaw the voracious maw of the multinational and the destruction of everything that came between it and its immediate needs. Such needs could, for example, throw dedicated, talented employees out of their jobs after 30 years of patient ladder-climbing. Once that happens, and while you struggle to maintain a sense of identity in a hometown that’s lost its reason for existence, what sort of energy or scope can be left for following your heart?

Gino’s bonheur continued regardless of the priest’s difficult homework assignment. More and more it felt like a second skin and not a heavy mantle. More and more he took it for granted. He tried not to allude to it. He didn’t summon up the spirit of Junior for assistance in understanding it, or not so often. I’m a big boy; I’m on my own.
He began to avoid “the home-grown guineas,” as he put it, and spent more time on the phone with Bonnie. He wept with her just days later when Wally, her puggle, died. He talked her through her suicidal tendencies and advised her to get to a shrink for the right antidepressants. Bonnie begged him to come to Lighthouse Point and stay as long as he wanted. “No strings, Gene. I’m just terribly lonely. It would be so nice to see you and have another person around this big barn of a house. Maybe I should sell it and get a smaller place.”
“That sounds sensible, Bon.”
“Oh, God, the tax bite.”
Gino knew taxes ruled every consideration of people with money, to the point of absurdity, so he merely said, “Ah, well, enjoy your mansion by the sea, my dear.”
“I’d enjoy it better if you—“ she stopped herself. “Sorry, Gino. It’s a reflex.” They laughed, then made plans for Gino to spend January with her. Already it was late September.
“Maybe you’ll get another dog.”
Bonnie was silent. Then she smiled. “Maybe you’ll help me pick one out.”
He said he might. Then he took a breath, light-headed, and said, “Bonnie, you know—you know I’ve—“
Bonnie sounded pleased but extremely tired. “I know that, Gino. You don’t have to say it. I love you too. And I’m sorry.” Gino hung up the phone and said, “Happiness. Happiness. Happiness all around.” He did a goofy dance around the kitchen. Junior chased his tail.

October. Upstate was wild with vivid colors, orange, red, purple, and some tardy green for contrast. Everyone said how this fall’s colors were the most brilliant they’d been in years, and the colors lasted a long time under perfect weather conditions: warm days, chilly nights, almost no rain. Ray said to him as they stood on the sidewalk between their houses, “This is why I stay here and put up with this awful place. For two weeks a year!”
Gino nodded and laughed, “I was just thinking that this morning! Before you know it, it’ll be snowing.”
“You off to the islands or someplace this winter, Gino?”
He shrugged. “I had some plans but – I haven’t followed through with them.” Bonnie hadn’t phoned in a couple of weeks. He figured she had her reasons, and her left her alone.
“Well, we got a time share near Fort Lauderdale. It ain’t Costa Rica but it’s easy to get to.”
“My ex lives near Lauderdale too. Is that my phone?” Gino waved and ran inside. He was a bit breathless when he picked up the receiver. A man was on the other end, a serious sounding person. You are Gino L. Calabro? His name was Kenneth Abelman. He was the attorney for Mrs. Bonnie Armentano Sobel’s estate.
Gino asked him to repeat it. He did, then told Gino, “She passed away on Thursday morning -- ovarian cancer. She had hospice care at home.”
Gino fell down. He dropped the receiver and got it and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, sorry, I—“ He was lying on his side. He was barely conscious, gasping, struggling for air.
The lawyer was patient. “I know this is terrible news, Mr. Calabro, and I extend my condolences to you.” He went on to say that he was aware of his and Mrs. Sobel’s history, and his place in Mrs. Sobel’s heart. He asked Mr. Calabro to fly down to Fort Lauderdale as soon as possible. The estate would pay for all first-class travel arrangements.
He lay on the floor for an hour, head in his hands.
Gino had never been so shocked in his life. Or maybe it was the power of undisguised grief. Gino wept for Bonnie -- Bonnie who had wept only for her dog and not for herself. She hadn’t breathed a word of her own health or of the pain or the fear and pain that went with a killer like ovarian cancer. Gino had never been so disgusted with himself; Leah was right, he was clueless. In the extreme. Remorse and sorrow had once seemed like museum pieces, romantic emotions that existed only in old novels.
Two days later, as the first snow was breaking tree limbs all over Upstate, Gino was at sweltering Fort Lauderdale airport greeted by a thin man who appeared surprised by the radiance surrounding this short, bald man from nowhere. He introduced himself as Kenneth Abelman. He repeated his condolences. They drove in blinding sunlight to his office in some office park that could otherwise have been in Syracuse. The staff cast bright eyes on Gino and wished him a good afternoon.
“Before we get started, Mr. Calabro, perhaps you have some questions for us.” Abelman nodded at a chubby young black woman with waist-length extensions, Corinna, a paralegal who had developed a strong relationship with Mrs. Sobel. She was intimately familiar with all aspects of the will, and of Mrs. Sobel’s wishes.
“Let me express my heartfelt sorrow at your loss, Mr. Calabro,” Corinna said in a strong Boston accent. “She was a wonderful lady. She always spoke lo – very kindly of you.”
Gino caught the correction and blushed.
Abelman cleared his throat and looked squarely at Gino. “We won’t go into every detail of your former wife’s will right now, but we will reveal the broad outlines of it.” He nodded at Corinna, who handed Gino a sheet of paper.
“These are round numbers. Mrs. Sobel wished to right the wrong of her husband cutting his three children out of his will. She also made provision for you.”
The three once-disinherited offspring were to get about $15 million each. And a certain Gino L. Calabro was to get approximately $10 million, plus the oceanfront house and all contents appraised, after the recession, at $19.45 million. Special provisions had been made for the maintenance of the grave in a pet cemetery of Wally Puggle, aged 12 ½ years. Several servants received bequests, as did the local humane society.
Gino was able to speak after several minutes. The sums listed on the sheet were unreal, too large for the likes of Richard Sobel. Weren’t they? Richard Sobel originally of Lowell, NY? Whose father owned a corner grocery and drove ten-year-old cars? “This isn’t the actual reading of the will, is it?”
Mr. Abelman said the reading would be tomorrow at ten. But Mrs. Sobel had requested this elucidation for her first and still beloved husband, Gino L. Calabro. Corinna said, “She knew it would take you a while to process it. It’s a lot to process.”
Later, on a large terrace overlooking the ocean, which he could hear but not see at this hour, Gino thought about Bonnie and their ten years of married life and the foolish ease with which they dissolved it. He thought of Junior and their anger when he died suddenly, and the insane way they had thought of the little Maltese as a “son.” Gino cried hard for Bonnie.
Then he thought of the kind of man he had been then, and how he had treated everyone. Especially his wife. Not especially well, as was to be expected from a morose, unhappy man who had wanted to do other things with his talents, live other places, try on other lives. Poor Bonnie, Gino thought, I was a misery. I’m sorry, dear. I’m sorry. He went to bed. He felt Junior’s spirit snuggle up and lick away his tears of remorse.
“Good, Junior.”

The reading of the will wasn’t like on TV. There were no angry heirs threatening to contest, no recriminations and no tears. No drama at all. Only one of the Sobel children attended, Dov, the youngest sibling, a short nice-looking man about thirty. His sisters, Shoshana and Shani, had other affairs to attend to on their estates in Connecticut; they had married well. $15 million would make a nice trust fund for their only children.
Dov lived nearby. He gave Gino a lift to his hotel and suggested they take an early lunch. Gino wanted to be alone, but he said, “That’s a great idea.”
They sat at a table overlooking the beach. They treated themselves to midday alcohol. Gino knew Dov had an agenda but no idea what it was. And Dov surprised him.
“My sisters and me – we loved Bonnie. We hated the old man, but the girls loved Bonnie as much as Mother. Maybe more. When Dad cut us out – she argued and fought it, and then she decided not to depend on him to right the wrong. She thought he had dementia from the cancer that got him, and she took care of it right after he died. My sisters always begged her to stay with Dad even though she was tempted to split and…go back to Lowell. They said he’d die miserable and alone if it wasn’t for her. They sure didn’t want to get stuck with him. You have no idea what kind of a wonderful woman she was. A saint.
“And she always loved you, Gino. She told everybody that, even Dad. She’d say, ‘Me and Gino, we were fools. We were idiots. We broke up over foolishness. We didn’t know what we had.’” He paused and looked off at the lighthouse. “She said she was sorry for you, too. You never had anything you wanted.”
There were whitecaps on the green ocean. Gino watched the waves struggle in the wind. “I worry about you Sobel kids. Aren’t you furious that Bonnie stuck me into the will?”
He shook his head. “I didn’t have a problem with it when she first told me. My sisters got used to the idea. They hadn’t expected a dime so...”
“Nobody ever thinks they’re rich enough.”
“That’s not true, Gino. Before Abelman called you, you felt rich enough, didn’t you?” Gino smiled sheepishly. “Give me some credit for reading people.”
Gino looked at him carefully and a realization began to dawn. He kept it to himself and said yes when Dov suggested Gino see his new house.
They drove north on palm-lined A1A past several miles of highrises and strip shopping centers, into Lighthouse Point, an upper-income strip of sand by just north of Fort Lauderdale. Dov got them cleared at the security gate, which opened to reveal a large lawn shaded by mature coconut palms. A sprawling modern house lay in the sun overlooking the broad beach. “Are you going to leave Lowell now – at last?”
Gino smiled at him. He put his hand on Dov’s shoulder. “I expect so. Do you live close by?”
“Pretty close. I live in Wilton Manors.” Gino had never heard of the place and nodded agreeably.
They were climbing the stairs to the house, and Gino said casually, “I guess Bonnie was your mother.”
Dov’s eyes started with tears. “But she didn’t bring me up – Richard didn’t want kids around. Karen Sobel brought me up. So she was Mother – still is, of course. Let me show you around.”
A bit numb from all the revelations, Gino saw several rooms – the house had at least 15, including a wine room where blush wine would never be allowed – but he was wondering all the time how cold, horse-faced Richard Sobel had produced a son who was like this.
Dov showed him his own room, which still contained all sorts of boyish articles: a light saber, a Spiderman poster, a chemistry set, none of which appeared to have been used. “Bonnie got this stuff for me. I think I stayed here about four times. When Richard was away.”
In the hallway Dov spoke to a Haitian woman, then led Gino out to the main deck, which had a footprint bigger than his house in Lowell. “Cecile is bringing out some iced coffee.” They sat on very expensive and comfortable chairs. He soaked in the view of the lighthouse, the palmy beach, the glinting waves. Gino reached out and squeezed Dov’s forearm. He beamed at Dov, who was regarding him intently.
“You’re a very nice young man,” Gino told him. “Karen Sobel did a fine job.”
“She always told me I’d like you. Bonnie, I mean.”
Gino felt the heat on his face and wished they were sitting in the shade. “Did she?”
Dov nodded and thanked Cecile for the iced coffee. She smiled and said, “I hope you come to live here, Mr. Gino. Missus Bonnie tell me –“
Looking alarmed, Dov shook his head urgently. Cecile went indoors.
Gino looked at it all with curiosity and a genial spirit. The mantle of happiness had never felt so comfortable. He saw Dov bathed in Calabro light.
Goodbye, Junior.