New York in Winter

New York in Winter

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Love at 70

LOVE AT SEVENTY
By Terence Hughes

Carl Storti sipped on a glass of cheap red wine as he sat on his terrace. He could see parking lots, more Queens-style highrises and a glimpse of the Atlantic if he craned his neck around a corner. He focused on the palm trees that were planted here and there in the lot and along the seafront. He’d been in Florida two years and still hadn’t become jaded by tropical greenery and warm sunny winters. Whenever he had doubts about living there all he had to do was recollect his life in the New York walkup and the grit and loneliness and the knowledge that he had been washed up and unneeded by sixty, and then he’d look outside, thinking he was in a much better situation at 70 than he had been at 60.
In no small part it was because he was working again. He had arrived almost penniless from Manhattan and lived in some run-down apartment complex by the Everglades. He didn’t know a soul since the one person he did know, a former lover, had died of a heart attack while Carl was nervously driving down I-95. Then one thing led to another – he met this one who introduced him to that one, and pretty soon he had a well-paying job as a database designer for an online retailer. He moved to the beach, bought a decent car and ate out three nights a week. All that and he got to the beach year round.
The chorus of thanksgiving ended abruptly when he considered his personal life, of which there was none. There hadn’t been a personal life (aka sex life) for a while – six or seven years at least. He had blamed its absence on New York – he pinned everything bad on New York – but after two years in paradise he had to consider the likelihood that he was the problem. There had been a few dates, mostly through online dating sites, and nothing had worked. Carl nitpicked every visible aspect of each man, and imagined negatively what wasn’t visible. They were too young, too old, too queeny, too needy, too redneck, too New York – he was impossible, he acknowledged it.
The phone rang and Carl tore himself away from the sensuous breeze, which brought the smell and sound of the sea with it. He ran inside.
“Carl, where were you? I was about to hang up.” His boss, Barbara Cauthon. Her soft Virginia accent muffled her annoyance.
“Hi, Barbara. I was taking in the view of the parking lot.”
She laughed. “I won’t be long then. I’m inviting you to buffet dinner for a big crowd Sunday.” She heard Carl’s groan – he was too shy for such things. “Now, dear heart, my brother Barry is coming down from Washington. I’ve told him about you. He’s interested in meeting you.”
             “Oh God no, Barb.”
She laughed as if to say, Oh come on. “He’s a real Southern gentleman. With lovely manners. And he really turns on the charm. I may be prejudiced but I think he’s quite handsome. Now be here at five sharp.”
“What! Is this early bird time?”
“No, smawtih, we’re going to have sundowner drinks. Don’t be mad at me if it’s November. And after drinks and snacks, you’re on your own for dinner,” she added winkingly.
A fix-up. Fix-up! Still, he realized, he looked forward to it.

Dressed in what he thought was the best Floridian style -- his finest silk Hawaiian shirt, linen shorts he pressed himself and his all-leather dress flipflops -- Carl started out at 4:30, thanks to a lifetime of New York training to compensate for subway breakdowns and buses mired in 57th Street congestion. Even with the heavier traffic the early snowbirds brought with them, he made it to Barbara’s by 4:45 -- it was only four miles south of his place on A1A. Now Carl kicked himself and realized he should have left home at 5:00. He killed a few minutes getting a bottle of white wine at Walgreens. When he arrived at Barb’s apartment it was still just 4:55. He hit the buzzer and pasted a glad smile on his face.
The door flew open. A bulky man with a mop of white hair and a C. Everett Koop beard glowered at him. He was stark naked and still wet from the shower. “You’re early.” He took the wine from Carl and squinted at the label. “Oh, I see you went all ewt.” He stood aside and let Carl in, then went off to get dressed. His ass sagged.
Carl was turning to leave when Barbara turned the corner, “Oh, hello there, dear heart!” She hugged him. “I was so busy in the kitchen – did Barry let you in? I don’t know where Ed is. What did you think of Barry – first impressions don’t lie! Why, Carl, you’re all red and flustered. Oh, that Barry.” She glanced uneasily at Barry’s door and led him to her large terrace. It faced the Atlantic, and on the 20th floor they had a panoramic view of the coast. She sat Carl down and was oversolicitous. “What can I get you, honey? How about a vodka and tonic?” He nodded and she gave him the drink very quickly. “Excuse me while I see what’s detaining my dear brother.” She kissed his head.
Carl sat primly sipping his drink, hoping not to be noticed as he mulled. If that Barry person was as good as anyone could come up with, he’d be content to live out his seventies in solitude. While Carl did notice a rather important endowment, the man was too fat and needed to shave off twenty pounds of hair. Then his abrupt, rude manner…
People were starting to arrive and Ed came in with 20 pounds of ice, while Barbara was saying, “Damn it, Barry, try being a little [muffled] for once!”
“Such a [muffled with more newcomers] little man. And that comb-over!”
Carl was indignant. He didn’t have a comb-over. He merely combed his hair to the side. Granted, it wasn’t as thick as it once was, but…
“He’s a dear friend and valued employee, Barry, so can’t {muffled]?”
Barry stomped off. More arrivals. The terrace was no longer his territory alone. Carl got up and offered a woman his seat. She bleated her thanks in a Long Island accent. Carl thought about sneaking out in the general hubbub. He made himself another drink and nibbled at the shrimp until he felt better. Then he thought he’d better pee before the 15-minute drive home. He went to the master bath, where he figured no one would yet have ventured.
Barry was sitting on the toilet, with the lid down, pants up, ferociously slugging down the bottle of wine Carl brought. “Thanks to you, I’m in the doghouse with Bawb. And this wahne you brought is the worst mess I evuh drank,” he drawled in his Virginia accent. He took another big swig.
Carl usually maintained an impassive demeanor for the purpose of appearing butch, but sometimes the Bronx in him got sprung. “Who told you you were so fucking wonderful, you obnoxious fat fuck?” Carl got closer and grabbed the wine just as Barry was raising the bottle to his lips. “Buy your own wine, ya lush.”
Carl turned and left Barry sitting with his mouth hanging open. He dropped the bottle into the first wastebasket he found, not caring that he’d splattered wine on the floor and baseboard. Serves Barb right! He slid out the door amid a wave of newcomers. He laughed out loud as he walked to his car. Still, it unsettled him to think how easily captivated he was by the mere sight of Fat Boy’s dick.
“Well, Carlo, that’s out of the question now,” he said as he got in the car. The sun was going down. He sighed deeply. Back to work tomorrow; he’d turn in early and undisturbed. He hoped that by morning he would feel much less embarrassed by his behavior.

Carl liked to get up extra early and walk the beach before he went to work. This was a great luxury to a native New Yorker, who associated going to the beach with long, multi-stage journeys by subway, train and bus. The sun hadn’t risen but he watched the colors change at the horizon and expand, the rising pink day booting out the stars and the night clouds. As the spume at the end of the waves tickled his feet, he realized that it would be good to have someone to share this with and that it was good to have it all to himself. In other words, he was open to … someone … but wasn’t going to force the issue.
Just as the sun had started to peep over the horizon, an email came in from Barbara. She’d gotten the whole story from Barry, and she was truly sorry. More to the point, so was he. He was nervous. He wasn’t used to fix-ups. He wanted another chance. Carl seemed nice and was good-looking. Could they meet for coffee after work in Wilton Manors?
Carl watched the sun clamber wholly above the horizon. Java Boys @ 5:15. It would be another disaster, he thought, but at least now he was calling the shots. He put the phone in his pocket, smiling as he faced the day.

“Almost 71?” Barry asked.
“Next week. You?”
“Can we change the subject?” Barry gave a rueful little chuckle. He leaned back in his seat, and Carl was afraid he’d topple over. Dressed in a baggy shirt, he seemed even heavier.
They were sitting at one of the coffee shop’s outdoor tables, javas untouched. Barry was regarding him appreciatively and said, “I was horrible the other night. I’ll be frank -- I was nervous. I thought you were…cute.”
Carl groaned. Cute? “I thought you were a big dick.”
Barry smiled expectantly. “Had or were?”
Carl conceded that with a nod. “It’s kind of amazing we still talk about things in those terms – at our age.”
Barry shifted about. “Even if we can’t…”
Carl shrugged. “Sure.” They both relaxed a little more.
They got up at the same time and Barry said, “I’m more in the mood for a drink. Rosie’s?”
Carl nodded and they walked slowly, mutually appraising, across the street and down the block to the gay watering hole. Carl ordered a beer and Barry a vodka gimlet. They sat outside and Carl observed the couples drinking and having an early dinner. He saw men who were ninety if a day, and the rest all the way down to the cusp of drinking age. With few exceptions they were paired off by age, and there were plenty who were his and Barry’s age. The sight of them depressed him – they looked like hell, doddering, shrunken in clothes that had been bought in more robust days, repulsive with infirmity – but they had that air about them, an air of solidity that being part of a couple can impart.
He caught Barry looking at him. Barry said, “I know. To have some of that – “ he stuck his hand in the direction of some old couples.
Carl made a face. “Like them? God forbid.” Barry peered at Carl over his glass.
In a different tone he asked, “Do you still miss New York?”
“I never did. I lived there all my life, but I was ready to leave.” Carl struggled to articulate something. “I was never one of those people who proclaimed their New Yorkness all over the place. I just happened to have been born there and lived there all my life.”
Barry nodded. “Just as you happen to live in Pompano now. The accidental tourist in your own life, I guess.” Carl recoiled just visibly. Barry used a lighter tone of voice. “Big adjustment, I suppose.”
It took Carl a moment to recover. “Especially the driving. I never drove up there.”
“You don’t have to.”
“You don’t have to.” At length, as Barry gulped his second drink, Carl asked, “Washington, DC proper or the suburbs?”
“Virginia side. Reston.”
“Oh,” Carl said as if he knew all about Reston. “Do you like it?”
“I hate it.”
“Why do you live there?”
“Why did you live in New York for so long?”
Carl shrugged. This was like pulling teeth, no doubt for Barry too, and he just wanted it to be over. He took a valedictory sip of beer and stood up. “Well, it’s been…”
Barry jumped up and threw a twenty on the table. He grabbed Carl and kissed him in a firm embrace. Carl was stunned with embarrassment and broke away.

Next day at the office Barbara fished about, eager for details about the date. Carl smiled and was evasive. “It’s a work in progress, Barb. That’s all I can say.”
She made a face. “Oh, you two. You must have agreed on your script just to keep me from butting in.”
Carl laughed, “He said the same thing?” Barb nodded and went to yell at the receptionist.
What had happened was nothing much. After the climactic embarrassment of the kiss and embrace, they parted at Rosie’s without a word. Then, as Carl was walking back up the street to his car, he got a text from Barry: FORGIVE. M LONELY. UR V NICE MAN.
He stood there for a minute and texted back: THINK I LIKE U. TRY AGAIN?
Y!
MY PLACE FRI NITE.
Carl got in the car. He felt a little thrill of happiness as he drove home.

By nine o’clock they were lying naked, side by side, on Carl’s bed. They had exhausted the social possibilities of the terrace (5:30-6:30), the living room (6:30-7:00), dining area (7:00-8:30), and the kitchen (8:30-9:00), where Barry proved a valuable cleaner of baked-on pasta. They had exhausted early the usual conversational gambits that gay men use to break the ice (opera? No go – Barry loved, Carl hated, “Yes, even though I’m Italian”; the theatre? – ditto; TV? – Carl loved Showtime and “Big Bang Theory”, Barry only watched PBS; neither was a reader – Barry: “Oh I read Danielle Steele once…My Beleaguered Pussy, quite the tale”). The only open choice was to end the evening or hit the sack.
They touched and kissed, neither able to get it up very much, enjoying the exploration of each other’s body. They talked about old boyfriends and, in Barry’s case, partners, one of whom had died of AIDS in the 80s. Carl confessed that he’d never had a partner, an “LTR,” as it used to be called and perhaps still was. He told Barry about Avram, the gigantic younger man who had followed him around New York for two years before he moved to Florida.
“Oh God, he used to look at me with those big cow eyes. I felt like a shit, but there was no way I could go with him. A sweet guy, but so physically repulsive.”
Barry, beside him, looked at the ceiling fan. “Did he try to contact you once you came down here?”
“A lot. The first year. But the calls and emails tapered off.”
Barry nodded sagely. “He’s still got a thing for you.”
“How would you know that?” Carl scoffed.
“Otherwise he’d have told you to fuck off and moved on, just like that.”
It was a thought Carl didn’t welcome. He shivered with distaste.
“Avram was in love with you. Were you ever in love?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then you’ve never been in love. You know these things.”
Carl propped himself up on one elbow and asked, “What if it’s love and not ‘being in love’”? Barry gave him a quizzical look. Carl said, “It’s just an idea of mine.”
Barry took him in his arms and whispered, “Let me spoon you.” When Carl was in position he said dreamily, “Nice. Isn’t it?”
             “Have you thought about going to the barber?”
Barry laughed. Carl didn’t bring it up again.
They had a nightcap of aged Puerto Rican rum as they sat wrapped in robes, straining to see the ocean from the terrace. In the middle of the night Carl awoke to find Barry’s arms tightly wrapped around him. It had been so long that he almost wept from the pleasure of it. When he extricated himself from the bearish man, he saw that Barry had a half-hardon. It was a pleasure just to see it, even if his own equipment was off warrantee.
They lay in bed late the next morning. They walked the beach together and got wet as the turbulent ocean threw big, erratic waves onto the shore. Barry grabbed him and kissed him. Carl took Barry’s head in both hands and kissed him long and wet. The spume of the waves played at their ankles.

Barbara was bursting with news on Wednesday. She asked Carl to go into her office, where she locked the door. She stood like a sentry with her back to it, and she beamed at Carl. “You won’t believe it!”
Carl opened his hands as if to say What?
“Barry’s put his condo in Virginia on the market. He’s out looking for a place of his own in Oakland Park!”
Carl felt somehow culpable. “Oh, Barb, I’m so sorry – “
“What are you talking about? I’m ecstatic! My big brother here in town! And I owe it all to you.” She advanced to where he was sitting and gave him a breasty hug from behind. “And, yes, he is crazy about you. He said last weekend was the best of his life.” She gave him another squeeze and cried in his ear, “Welcome to the Cauthon family, honey!”

Naturally, he told Jeff nothing of his sudden plans to relocate. He was tempted to tell him about the nice-looking shy man he’d met in Lauderdale. Someone who unnerved him so much that he had acted like a complete fucking boor. His face reddened as he thought of it, and as he spoke with Jeff he struggled to keep a neutral tone. “I’m staying down here a while longer,” Barry told him. “Barb’s new place is gorgeous, the weather’s perfect, and the people are nicer than I would have imagined.” Barry coughed and took a leap. “I’m thinking of getting a place down here – snowbird retreat. These NOVA winters are getting to me.”
Jeff was silent for a while. He cleared his throat, speaking with extra-careful enunciation. There goes another case of Chardonnay tonight, Barry thought. “I am beginning to feel a bit left out, Barry. I think that there is something that you are not telling me.”
Barry put on exasperation. “Jeff, you’ve got to stop this paranoid thinking!”
Jeff drank deeply of his glass. “We’re married, damn it, Barry, and I’m not letting you go. You do un-der-stand?”
He wasn’t about to let this drunk dictate conditions. “All right, you fucking moron, I’ve–“
Jeff let out a cry and ended the call.
Barry looked up and saw Barbara in the doorway, arms folded, looking superior. “I told you not to marry that creep, Barry.”
Barry looked at the floor. “He wasn’t so bad back then. Maybe I’ve done it to him.”
“Bullshit. He’s done it to himself. He was an alcoholic before he met you. The sooner you break it off with him, the better.”
Barry thought of the adorable, loving Carl, with his open heart and loving spirit, and his own heart opened up. Even at their best, he’d never felt anything like this with Jeff, who, he learned the next day, was booking a flight to Fort Lauderdale.

Carl retreated into himself for a few days. These Cauthon people moved far too fast for a stick in the mud like himself. He called Barbara and told her he was under the weather and working from home for a couple of days. Of course she offered to bring him a gallon of chicken soup and half a dozen homeopathic remedies. Coyly offered to send Barry over with the stuff. Carl put her off curtly: “That won’t be necessary.” There was a frosty pause and she hung up.
He sat on his terrace, sipping wine, reflecting on his own recent actions, and he squirmed with discomfort. For, to be honest, his terror of “foreign entanglements” was balanced by the great joy of his sexless night with Barry. He had been so…impetuous! Tossed off his clothes and jumped into bed with C. Everett Koop! Jesus, it was insane! He wasn’t even sure he liked the man – not at all. But hadn’t he given him some kind of, what, solace for being alone, lonely, solitary? And, he gathered, it had worked both ways. Barry seemed happy when they kissed on the beach, and had caressed him, Carl, tenderly all night. Touch told the tale.
Carl tossed and turned all that night and wasn’t productive the next day. He ignored all of Barbara’s emails and phone calls. This probably wasn’t smart from the point of view of job security, but he needed time just to think.
Which often means “just to feel.”
In granting himself permission just to feel, Carl of course fell asleep immediately. When he woke up two hours later he was ravenous. He decided to drive into Wilton Manors for lunch on the off chance that he’d see Barry. Not that he’d force the issue – he wasn’t going to text or call him. No. But if Fate threw him in his path, somehow it would set them back to step one. A clean start and open hearts. He would go into one or another of the many Thai restaurants there, scanning the diners for Barry’s big mop of white hair.
Twenty minutes later Carl was strolling from his car to a restaurant when he saw an attractive, husky man with close-cropped white hair. He was walking toward another restaurant with a skinny man of about forty. The white-haired man stopped and turned, and Carl was shocked by Barry’s altered appearance. The hair was short and the beard was gone. He really was handsome. Carl thought reflexively, He’ll never go for me now.
Barry stood for a minute, staring at Carl, while the skinny man shifted his stick limbs about awkwardly. Barry and his lunch date went on in to the restaurant. Carl sat on a bench nearby and put his head in his hands. He would have cried, but he had a horror of scenes.
That evening a text came in. U SUGGESTED A BARBER
Carl’s chest swelled with anxious pleasure. LOOK V HANDSOME. A STAR.
He waited in vain for a response. Sighing, he turned off the TV and took his cholesterol and depression pills when the door buzzer sounded. Perplexed, he pressed the intercom. “Yes?”
“It’s Handsome Staw.”

Barbara gave Jeff a frosty reception. She put him in the second guest room, which looked into the windows of the next building. When Barry came home from Carl’s, he was flummoxed by Jeff’s hopeful smile and his light hug. “I had only one drink on the plane and none tonight,” he said proudly. “I’m really trying, honey.”
Barry nodded. “I know you are.” He turned away and stopped. “Did you eat?”
“I’m not hungry. Too keyed up.”
“You’re too skinny, Jeff,” Barry told him brusquely. “Eat more, drink less.”
“Uh-huh, like you?” Jeff said playfully. He went to him and patted his belly, then slid his hand to his crotch. Barry pushed it away and went to his room, locking the door.

Barry explained that the skinny man was a real estate broker. The man had found him a house on a leafy street in Oakland Park that was move-in ready. He’d put an offer in and it was accepted immediately; he’d offered asking price, so eager was he to leave Reston behind. And, he added with a bashful smile, there was another motivation. To which he added that Barbara was wild to throw a big party for him and invite scads of other single men.
Carl’s face clouded over. Barry roared with laughter and grabbed him and gave him a bear hug. “I still think you’re moving too fast,” Carl told him.
I’m moving too fast?”
“You’re moving all the way down here—“
“You moved down here to escape Avram.”
“Come on,” Carl said indignantly. “I was a real estate exile. You know my story. It’s not uncommon these days.”
“Impetuosity is a wonderful thing at our age.”
“And meshugana at any.”
Barry laughed and pulled Carl closer. “I love it. New Yorkers all talk like Jews.” He handled Carl’s limp noodle and asked, “Have you ever used Viagra?”
“Have you?”
“There you go, answering a question with a question, like a good old rabbi. Let’s go to our doctors tomorrow. By the way, it’s not like I expect you to move in with me. If you want, we can even have an open relationship.” In the low light Carl thought he saw a glint of maliciousness in Barry’s eye.
Carl grunted with frustration, got up and pulled on some shorts. He went out to sit on the terrace. As usual he was contending with a sea of clashing feelings and impulses which, while they remained unspoken, paralyzed him. It occurred to him that one of the great services a partner could provide was the ability to listen, if not always comment.
The breeze had shifted and was blowing stiffly out of the northeast. Carl was beginning to shiver when Barry came outside, wearing a robe and holding one out for Carl. It was the heavier robe, Carl noticed. He thanked Barry and finally said, “I’ve never been in love. Not really. I don’t think it’s in me. I don’t think I can be in love with you.”
Barry smiled at his folded hands. They were covered with age spots. Carl hadn’t seen them before. “You know there’s a world of difference between loving and ‘being in love.’ I believe I heard that from you.”
“I’m – what I’m most afraid of is being alone at the end.”
“Ah, yes, here in our pre-death life.” Barry laughed. “Oh, Carl, come on. Don’t look so…”
Carl felt something well up in him. He began quaking with silent sobs. “Oh God,” he said after a while, “I don’t know how long since I felt alive. Loneliness is killing me. Feeling dead for years. Christ. Years.”
Barry watched him for a few minutes. He got up and went to where Carl sat, where he knelt and cradled him in his arms. He crooned, “Let it out, baby. I knew this was gnawing at you. I’m so glad…” He kissed Carl’s wet face.
Barry led him by the hand into the bedroom. They stripped and spent a lot of time kissing and hugging. Barry got it up for a minute but it couldn’t stay hard. Carl felt a frustrating urgency in his balls that didn’t get transmitted to his penis. He felt Barry’s cozy bulk gave him more comfort and pleasure than he’d felt with a man in many years.
Next day, Carl was at the office programming some database changes, every so often marveling at the changes in himself. Crying in the arms of another person. Jumping at the phone when it rang instead of letting the calls go to voicemail. Breaking into a grin every time he saw Barry. Hearing old songs that had a new significance and a new set of delights: I’m putting all my eggs in one basket. Waking up bright and happy. He warned himself: This won’t last. It can’t.
Barbara walked past and squeezed him on the shoulder. She looked over her shoulder, grinning. “That’s for nothin’.”
He blushed. He was grinning too.

Barry told Carl he was going back to DC to dispose of the condo. He said it was sold.  He was turning it over to Jeff. Jeff couldn’t afford to buy it, so Barry asked him to cover closing costs, and he’d be free and clear. They didn’t speak of divorce.
The lawyer looked at Jeff with alarm. He inquired with his eyes, What went on? Barry shrugged: it was really none of his affair. Jeff was moving stiffly. His face was swollen and deeply bruised, and there were lacerations on his skin. Several bandages concealed stitches. These were fresh wounds. The night before Barry had told him that he was moving to Florida, that he was turning the Reston condo over to him, and that they were through.
Jeff had started hurt and ended angry. “You’ve sucked the life out of me. You didn’t want me to have friends, so I got rid of them. You cut me off from my family.”
“They didn’t want a fairy in their midst anyway, so cut the shit.”
“Barry, you fucking prick, I loved you. I still do! I want to go to Florida with you!”
“Don’t you touch me. I don’t love you. I never did. I felt sorry for you – sorry for this pathetic, skinny little queen –“
“You fat old fuck, who the fuck would ever want to touch you now!”
When Barry struck the first blow, shouting, “I’ll kill you for interfering in Florida!” Jeff was ready for it, but not for its force. He fell back against the kitchen counter, raising his arms to shield himself while Barry struck him again and again in the gut and all about the face. Barry kneed him and sent him sprawling. He beat him until the blood flowed and Jeff was panting, “Don’t, don’t, you’ll kill me!”
Barry’s knuckles were bleeding and swollen too. That was what made him stop. His erection was full and he rubbed his pants against Jeff’s bleeding face, panting and sweating with the effort and excitement.
He took Jeff to the ER. Silence in the car. One of the nurses greeted Jeff by name and gave Barry a dark look. Jeff said it was a domestic dispute and he wasn’t going to press charges. In a weary singsong voice the nurse bent to her paperwork and said, “Okay.”
When they were driving home Jeff remarked, hardly able to open his mouth, “Quite an ending. Ten years. Grand finale.” Barry grunted. When they got home, Barry went inside. The painkiller hadn’t kicked in; it took Jeff a while to get himself out of the car and up the stairs, pausing at every one. The first thing he did was get a fresh bottle of white wine out of the fridge and drink a third of it straight from the bottle. He offered the bottle to Barry, who snorted, “I never drink that shit.” Jeff smirked and took another pull.
They were watching TV when Jeff turned to Barry and said, “Get your clothes together and go. I don’t ever want to see you again. I hated it down there anyway. I hated that house you picked out. I hope you regret it.”
“Regret what?”
Jeff looked at him, surprised. “Everything.”
“I’m giving you the condo. No more.”
“Fuck off.” He flinched when he said it. Barry grinned and leaned toward him, back of hand primed.
In the morning Barry and his clothes were on a flight to Fort Lauderdale. He had made Jeff wrap his hand in gauze just like a nurse.

Barry explained that he had hurt his hand trying to untangle the chain that powered the garage door opener. Carl’s face was all concern. Would it heal all right? Yes, of course. It just got a little lacerated and bruised. The condo sale had gone through and his lawyer in Virginia would take care of the closing. My, wasn’t this weather superb! It had turned chilly and raw in DC. Well, sure, it was almost Thanksgiving. They’d spend it together – unless Carl had other plans?
Carl shook his head. “I’m open.” He smiled. “Although I have to say I’m already kind of Thanksgiving-y inside.”
Barry put his arm around him and hugged him close. “Me too,” he whispered.
They stood on the shore, watching the gentle sea’s green waves pussyfoot up the slope. It was a warm Saturday and the beach was crowded with snowbirds and vacationers. Carl asked if he wanted to go into the water. Barry said no, let’s go upstairs.
Carl grinned and led him to his building by Barry’s good hand.

For the first time in his life, he believed, Carl’s heart quickened when he heard another’s voice. For the first time he idled hours away wondering what his beloved was doing, wondering if he was missed too. They shopped for furniture, a mix of midcentury modern – it was south Florida after all – and “Nana’s furniture” which they found at Encore, an upscale consignment store. Barry asked him his opinion on changes he was making to the Oakland Park house, coyly hinting that he had as great a stake in them as Barry himself. Carl thrilled at that, even though he had no desire to give up his apartment at the beach. It was the thought that counted, he told himself complacently.
They lay on Carl’s bed, sprawled over the covers, as the sea breeze made the curtains billow into the room. Even though neither of them seemed able to act on their sexual urges, Carl found it satisfying to lie together and touch each other’s body, and kiss. “Love at 70 … 71, I mean.”
“Sixty-five here,” Barry offered. He poked Carl hard in the ribs, “Old man.” He got up and closed the door to the balcony. He got back on the bed and spooned Carl. “I never thought I’d live so long.”
“I didn’t think about it. I didn’t much care one way or another.”
“And now?” Barry wheedled, tickling him.
Carl struggled against the tickling. He laughed, “I still don’t care!”
Barry got on top of him and kissed him. “My poor little Carlo, no one’s cared enough for you. That’s all over now, though.”
Carl thought, This is the happiest night of my life.

Barbara listened to Jeff, at first with a sneer on her face, finally with shocked acquiescence to his story. “Why didn’t you say something before, Jeff? That’s what I don’t understand.”
“I loved him. I thought that’s what love was. No one ever loved me before. I didn’t know.”
“Then why speak up now? You’re getting a divorce.”
“No. We are not. Is that what he told you? He’s such a liar.” Jeff gave a snort of laughter. “I still love him. I’m telling you this so he’ll drop whoever he’s got on the line and come back to me.”
“That’s sick, Jeff.”
She didn’t offer to help. Help how? Carl had to know about Jeff but she doubted he’s believe a tale of Barry’s violent streak. She ended the call by saying, “I’m truly sorry, Jeff. I thought it was your fault.”
The next day she called Carl into her office and had him close the door. Before he’d sat down she asked, “How’s Barry been lately?”
Carl seemed bewildered. “He lives with you!”
“Been with you, Carl. With you.” Barb wore an anxious expression and peered so intently that he blushed and shifted his gaze.
“Great. Really great. We’re getting along as well as – as possible when you’re seventy.”
“Are you okay about Jeff and him not getting a divorce and everything?”
Carl slid over that with, “Oh, we’ll work that out eventually.” A few moments later the shock registered. He hid it from her.
Barb began to ask another question but said she’d butted in too much already.
Carl went to his cubicle like a sleepwalker. He left soon after to walk the beach and think.
He acknowledged to himself that it was the coward’s way out, but he couldn’t bear to face the lying son of a bitch. He wrote him an email.
Barry, I understand there is someone named Jeff in your life. I believe he is your husband. You didn’t tell me about him or what you intended to do with him when you moved down here permanently. The happiness you have brought me has been destroyed. You are a reprehensible man. I am sorry you were introduced into my life.
Carl
PS – Don’t contact me or attempt to see me again.
He spent the weekend in bed watching Turner Classic Movies. Better the heroes and villains of the ‘30s and ‘40s than the egotistical monsters of the present.
On Monday he went to the office to tender his resignation. Barb, flushed and unhappy, refused to accept it. “I’m so sorry, Carl. My brother…” She made a gesture of hopelessness. She wouldn’t meet his eye. She was withholding something big, though he had no idea what it was.
He carried on and, faster than he would have believed, the wounds began to heal. The very lack of pain pained him: How shallow were my feelings, he asked himself, that it’s like nothing has touched me? He had forgotten his satisfied craving for a warm body beside him at night, the pleasure of someone whispering “I love you, baby” in his ear in unexpected moments and places.
Carl now concluded that being in love was beyond his meager powers. He admitted that he wasn’t keen on love’s ups and downs, or on all the tiny battles within a marriage that each party had to wage to retain their selfhood. “You can pay,” he thought cynically, “for someone to whisper ‘I love you, baby’ in your ear.“ But he wasn’t a cynical person, and the pain of it kept him awake at night and magnified his loneliness.

The day after Christmas he was at Rosie’s for brunch with some work friends when Barry walked in, alone. Carl noted this but felt no thrill of fear or anger. What he felt was desire and a renewed sense of his own loneliness. Barry saw him and nodded, and was shown to a small table outside. Carl found he couldn’t keep up the chirpy conversation with the boys from the office, so he got up and went out to Barry’s table. He sat opposite Barry, who said, “I’m in the house now.”
“That’s good. Was there much to do?”
“No.” Barry smiled. “I paid top dollar for a renovated place. It’s gorgeous. You should come see it sometime. If you want.” He’d started out confident, ended up hesitant. “How are you?”
Carl gave him a broad smile. “Can’t complain. How’s Jeff?”
Barry winced. “Cut to the chase, huh? He’s out of my life. We are getting a divorce.”
“Believe it or not, I miss you.” Carl got up. Barry grabbed his hand. Carl shook him off. He told himself, You are a fool, but he felt triumphant nevertheless.
Not too triumphant. As soon as he got home, Carl started thinking about Barry, remembering everything about him – his comfortable feel in bed, his smell, his sonorous voice, the sound of his snoring, the feel of his cock – as if they’d just got out of bed. And there were the times Barry had whispered in his ear, “Baby, I love you.”
Never in his 71 years had Carl heard that sentence spoken with such passion and conviction. Such ardor. Or as much ardor as men their age could still muster. As he lay down on the living room couch, facing the warm afternoon sun, Carl reasoned that the ardor was real, whether there was a Jeff in the picture or not. He decided that he wouldn’t ask any more questions about Jeff or the divorce. Let that take care of itself, he thought, as if it were an impersonal process like photosynthesis.
Then Carl examined it personally, that is to say critically. It was the thrill of the new. That’s all it was. Then, hiding under the stage of his inner declarations, the prompter announced: I don’t want to be alone.
He got up twenty minutes later: he was going to Barry’s house. He’d see what was going on. Maybe they could patch something together. Maybe this Jeff person really was out of the picture. Maybe Barry wasn’t such a liar after all.
Barbara hemmed and hawed but finally gave him Barry’s new address. “I wouldn’t go over there today – he’s out until evening. Went to Miami Beach for a concert.”
Carl felt one of her lies. He thanked her and drove directly over there. He wanted to see the house.
The street had an unbroken green canopy of mature trees; the effect of the deep shade today was to give the place a chilly, rejecting feel. Barry’s house was built of brick, painted white, colonial or vaguely Federal; it could have been transported from a Virginia suburb. Carl chuckled at that until he noticed two cars in the short driveway. He recognized Barry’s BMW but not the other. A Chevy Cruze – a rental. There was a tightening in his gut.
He parked down the street, shaking, and kept glancing at the rearview mirror. No one left or came. After an hour he told himself he would drive by in an hour or two to see if the rental car had been driven back to the airport and its driver returning to Reston.
He knew the Cruze would still be there in a couple of hours, and the next morning. He drove home with the knowledge entering his system like an antibody. In his assigned space he sat in the car for a time, staring at a car facing him with New Brunswick plates. He wondered how one city in New Jersey was able to get away with that. He sighed and got out of the car, went up to his apartment and dropped his clothes in a heap and pulled on his swim trunks.
Carl walked the beach until the apartment towers cast long shadows across the sand and into the blue-green water. The beach worked its usual magic – with each step he felt more content, less burdened, less interested in the intrigues of a player like Barry Cauthon. At a sunny place between two towers he dove into the water and swam in wide circles. He dove under the water and made like the man from Atlantis. He felt small fish bump against him and nibble at his toes. He ran up on the beach laughing. He had never felt so well in his life. The setting sun and the breeze dried him off as he stood facing the sun, arms stretched out. His eyes were closed and what came into his mind’s eye was a little white-haired dog, eyes beseeching, tail thrumming nervously. He smiled, suddenly ecstatic – beatific – oblivious of all else. It was the answer to everything:
A schnoodle.