Carte Blanche


Jerome cherished one memory from his otherwise disastrous marriage, the simple act of walking his wife's eight-year-old daughter, Amanda, to her ballet class each Saturday morning. The sight of spindly-legged Amanda skipping and prancing over the worn, uneven brick sidewalks of Beacon Hill was enough to offset every aspect of a marriage that had gone sour, as well as a job that meant so little to him that he refused to discuss it, except in the most general terms.


Jerome's walk was regular and measured (and maybe, on those Saturdays when he was hungover, a bit tentative), but Amanda went on ahead, combining spontaneous leaps and pirouettes while managing somehow to sidestep passersby. The best part of the walk for Jerome came when they reached the Public Garden, particularly in the spring and fall, when the beauty of that park was at its peak. He and Amanda would leave home early so that he had enough time to sit on a bench, basking in the sun. Then, Amanda, with more space to express herself, would stage a full-scale performance, reviewing her steps and routines while providing him with a running account of what she was doing and why, complete with her pitch-perfect mimicry of her ballet teacher's deep Russian accent.


Jerome's sense of contentment continued through the hour and a half he spent in a diner across from the ballet school waiting for Amanda while drinking coffee and skimming through the Boston Globe and then more carefully reading the New York Times. A few minutes after noon, when Amanda finished her class, she would arrive at the diner, and standing on her tiptoes, knock on a window to get Jerome's attention. Then, he would fold up his newspapers and the two of them would go off for lunch at a grungy sandwich shop nearby that just happened to serve the fluffiest omelets in Boston.


Even after his wife had run off, leaving a good-bye note—“Had to run. Don't intend to see you later—or ever again. Thanks for nothing.”—Jerome continued to walk each Saturday morning from his apartment on Beacon Hill to that diner in the South End. Just as before, he would read his newspapers and drink coffee, looking up now and then, as if he truly expected Amanda to materialize outside the diner's window. That never happened, of course, since his wife and Amanda, as he had learned in an equally cryptic note, were now living in Los Angeles, but by sticking to his Saturday morning ritual, Jerome put himself in a position to meet Prudy, who was herself coping with a marriage that, if not broken, had suffered serious damage.


Prudy was married to a man who adored her, or at least he said he did, but she knew that her husband's real love was the ever expanding portfolio of apartment houses he owned or managed throughout Boston's student ghetto. Prudy's husband tried, in his own clumsy way, to make up for his inattention by bestowing on her an endless bounty of baubles and jewels, each more lavish than the last. She enjoyed the gifts to some degree, but her greatest satisfaction came from her two children and their accomplishments. Her son had gone to Yale and then Columbia Law School and was now an attorney with a large real estate development firm in Chicago. Her daughter had graduated from Stanford and also got her MBA there. She was living in Seattle, where she was rising rapidly within the management of a firm developing software.


After her children left home, Prudy tried to occupy herself with volunteer positions, none of which she found at all rewarding. For a time she also began taking college courses, but that failed to engage her. She finally found a sense of purpose when, with a hard hat on her head (and often in work clothes), she personally supervised the renovation from the ground up of the house she and her husband owned in the suburb of Weston. That project, which took almost two years to complete, came to include both indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a pool house, along with a physical fitness center. The landscaping improvements alone were so extensive that the contractor had to bring in earth-moving equipment.


In the final stages of her home improvement project, Prudy was in the middle of reinstalling furniture in the master bedroom when she took a moment to neaten the drawers in her husband's bureau, and there, in the bottom drawer, under a jumbled mess of undershirts, she found an 8 by 10 manila envelope. Inside there were six photos of her husband and two young Asian woman. Each photo showed one or the other of the Asian women and her husband, all of them nude, and in each shot, the young women were best positioned to show off their large breasts while her husband, standing by, expressed his admiration with a goofy grin on his face.


The photos only confirmed what Prudy had long suspected, that her husband had sought out companionship from the kind of women who could satisfy his yearning for sexual hijinks. What disturbed her more about the photos than their content was the thought of her husband squirreling the photos away, as if they were some cherished keepsake. She wondered if he ever took them out for viewing, and if so—no, that wasn't a thought she wanted to pursue.


Prudy's confrontation with her husband was a brief one. When she told him about finding the photos, he admitted that, yes, he had been involved lately in what he referred to as “extracurricular activities.” Her reply, not issued as a threat or in anger, was that maybe it was time she, too, began to take part in extracurricular activities.


“I realize you're pissed,” he said. “You have every right to be. But I hope you don't end up doing anything that might be embarrassing to me or to you.”


“Oh, you ballsy son of a bitch,” she said. “At this point I don't think you can dictate the conditions about what I can or cannot do. But I promise you this—whatever I do, I'm not going to be taking my clothes off to pose for pictures.”


“Point made. And yeah, I realize that I don't have any right to interfere with anything you do.”


“Okay, now that you've stated the obvious, what else can you say?”


“I'm sorry, of course, and I'm not sure how I can make this up to you.”


“Don't try. For now, I'm holding on to these photos. I've also made sure they are stored in a secure location. They could stay there, forever unseen, or maybe not. It all depends on whether you keep your promise not to interfere with my life in any way.”


Only three weeks later, on a rainy Saturday morning, Prudy walked into the diner in the South End where Jerome was halfway through the New York Times. She had been visiting a nearby art gallery and if it hadn't been raining so hard, she might have walked the four blocks back to where she had parked her car, but she decided instead to have a cup of coffee until the rain let up. When she entered the diner, the only seat available at the counter was the one next to Jerome. He, without looking up, rotated his seat just a bit to the right and pulled his newspaper closer to himself so that Prudy would have sufficient room to sit down.


It was a small gesture on Jerome's part, but it was enough to make Prudy take notice of him. What she saw was a middle-aged man, with reading glasses perched on the end of his nose, who qualified as handsome on most counts. He had a slender build and sharply etched features, but because his neatly trimmed mustache drooped down at the corners of his mouth, it emphasized the frown lines on his very thin face. She first thought he was in his forties, but looking more closely, she wondered, from the pouches under his eyes and the excess skin on his eye lids, if he was a few years older than she originally thought.


Jerome, in repositioning his paper, had also lowered it enough so that he could get a better look at the woman who was now sitting next to him. He first assumed that the woman, tall and thin and quite attractive, was connected in some way with the Boston Ballet Company, which had its rehearsal hall nearby. But he wasn't so sure of that once he took into account Prudy's expensive looking raincoat, and the scarf around her neck, also expensive looking, as well as her jewel-encrusted wedding band and a large, monumentally large, diamond ring. Even her hair, cut short, but stylishly so, indicated to him she was more likely a well-heeled patron of the ballet company than someone who was, or had been, a dancer.


Later, Jerome liked to chide Prudy by saying he was sitting in a diner in the South End, minding his own business, when this woman from a distant suburb came along and picked him up. Prudy just as routinely rebutted him by noting that Jerome's surreptitious glance over his newspaper hadn't been all that surreptitious. To her, that constituted a first move on his part. She had no choice, then, she said, since she was naturally friendly and well-mannered, but to respond to his overture. Thus, her opening gambit, which was to comment on a headline in the Times: “Bush Cites Iraq Invasion As ‘A Victory For Democracy.'”


“Victory for democracy?” Prudy said. “Good God, does he think we're all as dumb as he is?”


That caused Jerome to turn the paper around so he could see the headline she was referring to, which also helped him to get a better view of Prudy.


“Oh, that's just it,” he said. “His whole Iraq adventure presupposed that we, too, were stupid, and therefore prone to believe those wild tales about Sadaam's stockpile of WMDs.”


That was the last comment either one of them made about George Bush or the war in Iraq. Prudy was the one who then introduced herself using her first name only. She then added that she had come in from Weston to visit an art gallery across the street that was featuring the paintings of an artist who was once a boyhood friend of her son.


“I went mostly out of curiosity,” Prudy said. “I knew him as a crazy, undisciplined kid when he was growing up, and from what I've seen of his paintings, he's just as wacky now.”


Jerome said he hadn't seen the exhibit, nor had he any intention of doing so because he didn't care for the painting displayed in the gallery's window. It depicted a meticulously rendered fist smashing through a pane of glass. That kind of art, he said, belonged in comic books, not art galleries.


Then, putting his paper aside, and reaching out to shake Prudy's hand, he said, “By the way, my name's Jerome and I'm from Beacon Hill.”


“And why,” Prudy said, “would anyone who lives on Beacon Hill come all the way over to the South End for breakfast, particularly on such a nasty day?” Much to Jerome's surprise, that simple question prompted him to begin talking freely about how much he missed the weekly ritual of walking little Amanda to her weekly ballet lessons.


“This may strike you as weird,” he said, “but that walk meant so much to me that I still come here every Saturday morning, even though her mother left me, taking Amanda with her.”


“Don't you have visitation rights?” Prudy asked.


Jerome replied by telling her about the contents of the farewell note his wife had written him.


“Oh dear, that doesn't sound like someone who's likely to let you see your daughter,” Prudy said.


“The girl isn't mine,” Jerome said. “There was an earlier marriage.”


It apparently struck both of them at the same time that they had drifted into the kind of conversation that required a less busy venue than the counter of a diner.


“What do you say to having lunch elsewhere?” Prudy said, “Maybe in a place that's a bit more private.”


“I was thinking the same thing,” Jerome said. “May I suggest Hartigan's, which happens to be my neighborhood bistro?”


A few minutes later, they were in Prudy's car heading to Hartigan's, which lay at the bottom of Beacon Hill. Along the way, they began to tell each other a bit more about themselves, but even then they seemed to be feeling each other out.


Prudy talked first of how she had recently completed the wholesale renovation of her house. She then mentioned her two children and how well they were doing. Her only complaint, she added, was that both her son and daughter were so caught up in their jobs that neither of them were close to getting married and having children.


Then, quickly shifting topics, she asked Jerome what he did for work.


“I'm thinking you're with a law firm,” she said. “You have the look of someone who could make a convincing case before a jury.”


Jerome, dismissing Prudy's guess with a wave of his hand, said, “No, you're not even close. My job is something I try not to take too seriously.”


Seconds later, he said, “Okay, I'm not going to leave you hanging. You're looking at the complete editorial staff of a medical journal for orthopedic surgeons, which means that I'm essentially a proofreader who also handles all the busy work of making sure drafts of articles get circulated and that everything else is in order, down to the last footnote and citation, before an issue goes off to the printer. It's a job. I make enough to live on. Someday, they tell me, I'll receive a pension.”


“Well, that's a neat summation,” Prudy said. “As for me, my job, which I did rather well, was caring for my children. The other part of my life, my marriage—that hasn't turned out so well, although I'm not wholly responsible for that. It's an old story. The kids grow up and leave home and two people who've been living together for a long time realize they don't have that much in common any longer.”


Jerome, uncertain about whether he should press her to say more about her marriage, offered the view that many marriages survive more out of habit than true, undying love.


“And there's always the kids to take into account, too,” Prudy said. “But then comes the day when one partner or the other, or sometimes both, realize that they're only playacting.”


When Jerome didn't answer, Prudy backed up the point she was trying to make with more detailed information.


“When we got married, my husband was an up-and-coming real estate guy. But then, one day, I woke up to find that I was living with a slumlord. To make matters worse, it's something he's proud of.”


“That's quite different from my experience,” Jerome said. “I was suckered into helping this woman, who had a lovely little girl but was in dire straits financially because the girl's father didn't always send child support payments. The kid cinched it. I couldn't help but fall in love with her. Too bad the mother was a bitch. To top it off, when she ran off, she helped herself to a good amount of money from our joint savings account. Christ, if she had let me know beforehand, I would have given her everything in the account, provided she left the girl behind and promised never to come back.”


“So how do you bounce back from something like that?” Prudy asked.


“You don't, but I was in the Navy, damage control. The Navy taught us how to keep a ship afloat even if it's badly damaged. That's how I think of what I've been through these past two years.”


“Well, I know nothing about saving a navel vessel from sinking,” Prudy said. “But I can tell you how difficult it is for a couple to stay together once they begin to drift apart.”


Prudy seemed to be on the verge of wanting to say much more, but first she had to find a parking space, never a small matter on Beacon Hill. Then, after some deft maneuvering allowed her to squeeze the car into a very tight space, both of them, huddled under Jerome's umbrella, practically ran the three blocks to Hartigan's. It wasn't until they entered the restaurant, which was dimly lit and practically empty, that Prudy could finish what she had started to say in the car. So anxious was she to continue that when they were seated, and a waitress handed her a menu, she waved it away.


“I'll have a salad,” she told the waitress. “Just the standard stuff, along with a glass of white wine. Chardonnay or anything like it will do just fine.”


The waitress didn't even hand Jerome a menu. He was such a regular at Hartigan's that she turned to him and said, “The usual?” He nodded, indicating that she should bring him a roast beef sandwich on dark rye, light mustard, along with a pint of Guinness.


As soon as the waitress had left, Prudy said, “You know, you invest so much in your kids—which is something I don't regret, of course—but you're left with a big hole once they leave home.”


That allowed her to mention briefly once more the work she had put into the extensive makeover of her house, which brought her to the discovery of the photos of her husband and his buxom companions.


“I'll say one thing for my husband,” she said, a grin coming over her face. “He understood immediately the trouble I could cause with those photos. Since he couldn't deny what he had been up to, and since he's scared to death of what a divorce settlement would cost him, I imagine that he's probably behaving himself these days. One thing's for certain, even if he's up to his old tricks, I don't think he's posing for pictures. Not that I care, not any more. As it is, we've arrived at a truce of sorts. We're friendly enough when the kids are around, on the holidays, for instance. Other than that, I say nothing about what he's doing, and he knows enough, likewise, to keep his nose out of my business.”


Jerome wasn't sure how he was supposed to react to the news about Prudy's “truce” with her husband. It appeared as if she was advertising her availability, and while that struck him as a welcome development, he didn't want to make the mistake of appearing too eager. Better, he thought, to return to a safer subject, his own failed marriage.


“This is where I met my ex,” he said. “You'd think that would cause me to avoid this place forever, but it's convenient, and besides, I can't blame a restaurant for my own mistake, which was becoming too attached to the little girl. I was, in essence, that kid's real father, not that I got any thanks for it.”


“Oh, I know all about gratitude,” Prudy said. “Both my husband and my kids can make me feel as if I'm an afterthought.”


“Well, most things considered, and putting the Amanda issue aside, I'm better off now that Glenda—that's her name—ran off,” he said. “I go to work, I stop in here every night to have a pint or two, or maybe more, while working on the Times crossword puzzle. I usually have a good-sized lunch early in the afternoon, so after a sandwich or something here, I go back to my apartment where I listen to some music, read a little and then to bed. I have a TV set that's ten years old or so, but I rarely watch it. I'm like your grandfather's clock, tick tock, tick tock, every day quite similar to the one before, down to the minute. To tell you the truth, I'm quite content to live as I want, with a minimum of interference from anyone else.”


“That's the way I'm beginning to feel, too,” Prudy said. “It's quite liberating when you don't have to answer to anyone but yourself.”


“I'll drink to that,” said Jerome, raising his almost emptied glass of Guinness. Prudy did likewise, clinking her glass against his. She was the one who then said, “Let's get out of here.”


“Great idea,” Jerome answered. “My place is just up the hill from here.”


And thus, moments later, when they left the restaurant, the two of them, once again huddled under Jerome's umbrella, began climbing the steep hill that led to Jerome's apartment. On the way, Prudy said the street they were on was unfamiliar to her. Was it really part of Beacon Hill, she asked.


“Yes, it's called the north slope,” he said. “Some people also refer to it as the back of the Hill. Either way, it's the low-rent district, but we're well on our way to being gentrified. My block's one of the last holdouts, but sooner or later we'll be so spiffed up that they'll probably include us in the annual Beacon Hill House and Garden tour. That's the Sunday, once a year, when the rest of the world has a chance to get a close-up look at the Beacon Hill you see in coffee table books depicting the charm and beauty of Boston.”


Prudy saw quickly what the non-gentrified part of Beacon Hill looked like when they reached Jerome's apartment building with its battered front door and a piece of plywood covering the broken window pane of a ground floor apartment. After they climbed the flight of stairs leading to Jerome's apartment and entered, she could barely hide her sense of relief at finding it to be neat and clean, though sparsely furnished.


“No nonsense,” she said, when she peeked into the living room while Jerome was hanging her coat in the front hall closet. Both of them then entered into the living room itself. In one corner, next to a window, there was an easy chair, a table next to it containing a small pile of books and magazines and a reading lamp. Along the facing wall there was a sofa and a coffee table, and next to the sofa another floor lamp. But the dominant feature of the room was a state-of-the-art sound system. The components were the centerpiece of the wall at the end of the room, along with a shelving system that held Jerome's extensive collection of jazz recordings. Neat hand-lettered labels indicated the albums to be found on each shelf.


“That's what I spend my money on,” Jerome said, pointing to his record collection.


He then ducked into the kitchen to open a bottle of wine while Prudy was looking more closely at the record collection. When he returned, carrying the wine and two glasses, she complimented him on both the scope of his collection and how well organized it was.


“You're obviously someone who likes everything in its proper place,” she said.


“That's an easy thing to do when you live alone. When Glenda was here, the place was a mess.”


Then, after filling the glasses, Jerome indicated that he had an announcement to make.


“Welcome to the side of Beacon Hill that's new to you,” he said, raising his glass in a toast. “Now, let me begin by announcing ground rule number one, which we will both try to observe from now on: No more dwelling on events in our recent past.”


Prudy, who had also raised her glass, made a zipping motion across her mouth before taking a quick sip of wine.


Jerome, in reply, stepped forward, and putting his arm around her waist, he said, “Let me show you around the place.”


She, smiling, said, “Oh, what is this, a miniature version of the Beacon Hill house and garden tour?”


They stopped briefly in a bedroom next to the living room, which still had taped on one wall a collection of drawings bearing Amanda's signature. Besides a child-sized bed, the room contained a television set and two chairs, both facing the set, that looked as if they were companion pieces to the living room sofa. On one wall, there was a dart board, with a photo of Richard Nixon on its surface.


The next stop on the house tour, the kitchen, provided Jerome with the opportunity to point out a framed copy of the farewell note from his wife that was hanging on the wall next to the kitchen table.


“I purposefully put that note in a place where I see it each morning when I sit down to have breakfast,” he said. “It reminds me all over again not to fall for anyone with a hard-luck story.”


“It's quite a trophy,” Prudy said, as they turned and headed out of the kitchen. That brought them to the threshold of the bedroom across from the hall from the one they had already visited. Prudy, completely at ease, and with a grin on her face, said, “So that's how you do it—you make your bedroom the last stop on the house tour.”


Jerome answered Prudy with an ardent embrace, which she seemed to welcome. A moment later, without either one of them saying anything, they moved into the room and simultaneously placed their wine glasses on a bureau. Jerome also leaned over to turn on the lamp next to his bed. Then, after a long and even more ardent embrace, they began helping each other to undress.


Both did so with the ease of two old lovers, and neither appeared to be at all self-conscious about their naked bodies. It was as though, at their age, they knew instinctively the value, in certain settings, of an averted gaze. Prudy seemed not to notice that Jerome, though he had a slim build, had developed a slight paunch, and he, in turn, appeared to look right past the slightly puckered flesh around Prudy's upper thighs and rear end. Jerome then brought some levity to their methodical disrobing process by reaching over to pull back the covers of his bed with a ceremonial flourish. In the same vein, he invited Prudy into his bed with an exaggerated sweep of his hand.


“Oh, aren't you the gracious host,” Prudy replied, mimicking Jerome's mock gallantry. But only seconds after she sat on the bed and curled her feet under the blankets, she brought the proceedings to a sudden halt with a quiet, but firm, “Excuse me.”


Jerome, who was about to get into the bed, drew back. At the same time, he leaned over to turn the bedside lamp off, thinking that Prudy might have been bothered by the light shining into her eyes.


“No, it's not that,” she said, as she climbed from the bed and took three quick steps across the room. There, she took off both her wedding band and diamond ring and noisily placed them on the bureau where she and Jerome had left their glasses of wine.


Returning to bed, she said, “You can bet lover boy doesn't bother taking off his wedding ring when he's with his little Asian chickies.”


Their love making, like their disrobing, was the work of seasoned lovers. Indeed, there was something a bit too businesslike in the way they went about the attendant touching, caressing and kissing, seeming with each gesture as if they were checking off items on a to-do list. That held true, too, for the sounds they emitted, which approximated those that might have accompanied a massage for sore muscles. It was almost as though neither wanted to go beyond limits that were, as yet, unknown to each other. In the end, however, Jerome, applying himself with decidedly more vigor, let out with a gasp similar to that of someone who had just succeeded in lifting a heavy weight. Prudy, at the same time, took a deep breath and then held it, while closing her eyes so tightly that her eyebrows seemed joined together. Seconds later, with a polite sort of oomph, she thrust her hips upward with enough force so that she almost dislodged Jerome from his position on top of her.


The silence that followed suggested some hesitation on the part of both not to deliver an immediate verdict on what had just taken place. The quiet held even as Prudy covered Jerome's face and neck and shoulders with a series of kisses just before they disengaged and rearranged themselves. They still said nothing while they were settling into a post-coital embrace, he, lying on his back, with his legs stretched out, she, curled up, and with her head resting on his chest. After a moment, Jerome was the first to speak.


“It's a miracle,” he said.


“What is?” Prudy asked.


“In such a shitty world, that there's something as wonderful as sex.”


Then, sensing that Jerome might amplify on his remarks, Prudy reached up and placed a hand over his mouth;


Jerome's head drew back, but almost as quickly, Prudy offered an explanation for what she meant by her gesture.


“Ground rule number two,” she said, mimicking the tone with which Jerome had made his earlier announcement. “Let's go easy on any commentary about sexual performance, either from your point of view or mine. I've spent too many years with someone who liked to top off every sexual encounter by letting me know how much he enjoyed himself. He expected me to do likewise, but personally, I've always felt that when it comes to sex, the evidence speaks for itself.”


“Okay, let's move on to something more safe and sensible. Perhaps we can now can get around to telling each other our last names.”


“Shh,” she said. Then, by way of explanation, she added, “Let's just listen for a minute.”


Prudy was referring to the sound of the rain, gurgling through a drain pipe right outside the bedroom window.


“Is there anything better in the whole world than being in a warm bed when it's raining outside and the wind's blowing?” she said.


“Well, not to be too crass about it, but I'd say it also depends on who you happen to be in bed with.”


“Isn't that the truth?” Prudy said, a smile coming over her face. “As it is, this seems like a fantasy come true. You meet someone you're attracted to and then you have sex that's free of any complications. Who needs last names or anything else?”


“Yeah,” Jerome said, “anonymous sex. It can add a charge to the whole thing.”


“What gives me a charge,” Prudy said, “is the idea of going off and having sex if that's what I feel like doing. It's putting myself first that I'm learning to like. The French have a term, carte blanche—no restrictions, no obligations, no orders from above. That best describes my situation these days.”


Jerome began to laugh, and Prudy, twisting her head upwards towards him, looked puzzled.


“I didn't mean that as a joke,” she said.


“No, no,” he said, “I was just thinking that we should make carte blanche into another ground rule.”


“No,” she said, “no more ground rules, not for today at least.”


Gradually, in the next hour or so, as they lay in the darkened bedroom, listening to the rain, they began slowly, somewhat languorously, to tell each other more about themselves. Jerome swept across his early years by saying he grew up poor in Chicago and then after his time in the Navy during the Vietnam era (but nowhere near Vietnam), he used the GI bill to attend college in Ohio. He and a college friend, both English majors, were so taken with reading Jack Kerouac and his circle that they spent the summer after graduation hitchhiking around the country, taking odd jobs here and there. They ended up in Boston, both broke, and while his friend wired home for money, and then returned to Chicago, Jerome stayed. He soon found a job in the shipping department of a company that published medical text books and that put him on the path of the job he now held.


“I never had any reason to return to Chicago,” he said. “My mother died when I was in high school. I never got on with my father, who died just about the time I got out of college. I have an older brother and sister, but none of us has made any effort to stay in touch.”


Prudy talked of how she grew up in a suburb south of Boston and began, while in high school, to date the man who would become her husband. During her second year of college, she was so sure he had made her pregnant that even when she turned out not to be, she decided at the end of the school year to drop out and get married.


“Jack has always had this idea that sex should be spontaneous,” she said. “It's as if the whole thing would have been ruined if we had to take birth control into account. I smartened up eventually, but it tells you something about me back then that I went along with him. I knew, however, that sooner or later we were going to get caught, so, as my name indicates, I did the prudent thing, which was to get married. Thank God for that since it led to one of the happiest moments of my life, giving birth to my son ten months to the day after I got married. Oh, I loved the baby, nothing equalled that of course. But I got an added kick out of knowing that I squelched the gossiping of the ladies in my mother's bridge club. They were one hundred percent certain that I had rushed into marriage because I was pregnant.”


“Any regrets?” Jerome asked.


“What, about having a beautiful baby?”


“No, about this afternoon?”


That caused Prudy to lift her head off Jerome's chest. Now, propped up on one arm, looking at Jerome, she said, “What the hell kind of question is that?”


“You're right,” Jerome said. “That was uncalled for and I take it back.”


“Thanks,” she said, lowering herself so that she once again placed her head on his chest. Then, with a quick change of mind, she answered the question Jerome had posed.


“As it happens, I have one big regret,” she said. “I should have gone out on my own long before I had evidence that my husband was so fond of being fawned over by bimbos with silicone-filled boobs.”


Seconds later, Prudy, after checking her watch, said that the “witching hour” had come.


“What's your hurry,” Jerome said. “I thought you didn't care what your husband might say.”


“I don't,” she said, “but I'm new at this, virginal you might say, so I'd rather ease into it.”


“And how long will that take?”


“Oh, I don't think you'll have to wait that long,” she said, as she got out of bed. Jerome followed her, and as both of them were dressing, he asked her how he could stay in touch with her.


“No, no phone calls, no planning. Let it just happen the way it did today,” she said.


She then took a moment to use the bathroom, but after she came out of the bathroom and was putting her coat on, she said, “Don't fret. You're definitely worth a return engagement. Oh, before I leave, we never did get around to last names.”


“Becker,” he said.


“Mine's Hayward,” she replied.


Prudy's request that Jerome not call her left him with a nagging sense that this may have been a one-time adventure for her, but three days later, he received a note from her. She enjoyed very much their lunch, she said, and was particularly appreciative of his “hospitality,” as she put it.


“L'apres midi was especially noteworthy,” she wrote. “How about an encore? Friday night? Your place?”


In a postscript, she included her phone number, but asked that he call her only if he had some reason to cancel their meeting.


While excited at the prospect of seeing Prudy again, Jerome wasn't sure why she placed a condition on whether he could call her. Did that mean she hadn't really declared her independence from her husband? And if she hadn't, could he even be sure that she would show up on Friday night? Nevertheless, on Thursday night he vacuumed and dusted and cleaned his apartment, and on Friday morning he put fresh linens on his bed. Then, on Friday afternoon, when he left his office, he also stopped to buy a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of champagne.


He was relieved as he approached his apartment house to spot Prudy's car parked in front of his building. As he drew closer, Prudy saw him in time to get out of her car and greet him with a quick embrace. Both shared a hearty laugh when they saw that Prudy, too, had brought a bottle of champagne, which was in a bag that contained a variety of foodstuffs. She also had with her a large leather tote bag that held toiletries and clothing.


Entering the apartment, Prudy and Jerome dropped the bags they were carrying, and even before taking off their coats, they were in each other's arms. Then, when Jerome said he had been worried about whether she would show up, Prudy drew back and let out with a mocking, “Worried? About what?”


With that, she grabbed Jerome's arm and pulled him towards the bedroom, proclaiming at the same time, “First things first.” This time they were more like young, eager lovers as they shed their clothes. Also, this time Prudy wasn't wearing the rings she would have to take off before getting into bed.


That first weekend they spent together established the routine they would follow each time they met. Always, as soon as she arrived, they made love. Right after that they would have a leisurely dinner that Prudy put together from the food she had brought with her. They otherwise spent much of the weekend in Jerome's apartment or in places nearby. On Saturdays they slept late and then in mid-afternoon went to Hartigan's for a combination breakfast and lunch. On Saturday evenings, they went either to Jerome's favorite Italian restaurant in the North End or took the subway over to one of the restaurants in Harvard Square. If they went to Cambridge, they first stopped in the Harvard Coop record department so that Jerome could add an album or two to his collection.


On Sundays, Jerome went out early to get the New York Times and fresh bagels. Then, after breakfast and making love again, they might fit in, depending on the weather, a walk along the Charles River or a movie. Now and then, they might attend a concert, usually at some church or music school, because, though Prudy never said so outright, they seemed to avoid places like Symphony Hall, where she was likely to run into someone she knew from Weston.


Other than that they amused themselves by whooping and hollering when accusing each other of cheating while playing spirited games of Scrabble or throwing darts. There was always a good-humored tussle, too, along with exaggerated claims, over which of them had done the most to complete the Times crossword puzzle. On Sunday evenings, after a dinner of Chinese take-out or pizza, they would sit and read or listen to some of Jerome's records. On Monday mornings, soon after Jerome left for work, Prudy would drive back to Weston. After their first weekend together, Jerome gave her two keys, one to his building, and the other to his apartment, so that she wouldn't have to wait in her car for him to return home on Friday evenings. Attached to the keys by a tiny red ribbon was a little plastic decal containing a four leaf clover. This set of keys, Jerome told Prudy, had once belonged to Amanda.



section break



On their third weekend together, in a post-coital comment, Jerome said that he felt as though he was living in a dream.


“I tell myself it has to be a dream because nothing this good ever happens in real life,” he said. A moment later, sounding like someone who was worried that he might awaken from his dream, he said, “Are you sure your husband doesn't know what you're up to?”


“And so what if he does?”


“Well, he might want to do something about it. To be specific, I'd hate like hell if he trailed you to see where you spend your weekends. The last thing I need is some irate husband knocking on my door.”


“Don't be silly,” she said. “Do you really think something like that might happen? That's the kind of thing only a man would think of.”


“Oh, I don't doubt that you and your husband have some kind of arrangement, but I'm reasonably certain that in this, the worst of all possible worlds, something's bound to come along that will screw up these glorious weekends.”


“Fear not my friend. Remember, I still have those photos. The prospect of a pricey divorce settlement isn't the only thing that gives me the upper hand. Jackie boy also knows that if he upsets me in any way, I could let my son and daughter know what their father does for relaxation. I'm not sure about my son. He's so much like his father he might not be that upset. But my daughter? If she knew about those pictures, she'd never speak to him again.”


The only interruption in their weekends together came on holidays when Prudy's children were visiting, or those family events, weddings and funerals mostly, that she and her husband couldn't miss. Once when Prudy said she couldn't see Jerome the next weekend because her son was going to be visiting, he asked her if her children had any idea where she spent her weekends.


“My God,” she said, “you have no idea what grown children are like, do you? My son and daughter, like all young people, are too caught up in their own lives to spend any time worrying about what old folks might be up to.”


Another time, when Prudy missed a weekend because she and her husband had to attend a memorial service, Jerome asked the next time they met whether her husband wasn't the least bit curious about where she went from Friday afternoon to Monday morning.


“You mean to tell me he never says anything to you about it?


“I'm not so sure that's any of your business,” she said, “but since you're so interested in knowing, the simple answer is that he may be curious, but he's in no position to question my whereabouts. And by the way, I'm not sure what he does on his weekends, either. He's always been a guy who put in a few hours at his office on most Saturdays, but for all I know, he could be in some crummy motel, engaged in another one of his menage a trois adventures. So, he and I have our own system of don't ask, don't tell. It works just fine—provided you live in a house with so many rooms that you don't have to run into each other.”


A few weeks later, on a Sunday night, Prudy, perhaps because she had had an extra glass of wine with her pizza, suddenly announced to Jerome that she was thinking of leaving her husband. Jerome, who had just opened a second bottle of wine, sat back in his chair, looking as though he was in no hurry to respond to what Prudy had said.


That didn't seem to faze Prudy because she was already explaining why she felt that a divorce was the most sensible step a couple could take when they no longer cared about each other.


“It could be messy,” she said, “but I just think it's time for Jack and me to be more honest with each other. It's such a farce the way we have to cover all this up when we're with our kids. Oh, we're good at it, good enough at least so that most people think of us as Mr. and Mrs. Old Married Couple.”


Finally, without any emotion in his voice, Jerome told Prudy she should think carefully about the possibility of leaving her husband.


“What if he balks?” he said. “What if he decides to fight you? Then, things could turn very ugly very fast. There are lawyers out there, expensive ones, of course, who could argue that you deserted him, that you're an adulterer. So then you counter with the pictures. Nobody wins that kind of fight.”


“Oh, so now you're a legal expert on divorce. But putting that aside for a moment, let me ask you this: Is there any reason why I should remain married to someone I don't particularly care for any longer?”


“I'm not sure I can answer that for you, but I'd say that what we have now is so good because we're not irrevocably tied to each other.”


“Say that again,” Prudy said, a distinct edge to her voice.


“It's a peculiar thing with me, but I've come to think that marriage, as such, is obsolete. I much prefer what we have, two people, independent of each other, but who enjoy being together. Or as George Gershwin so nicely put it, who could ask for anything more?” He actually half-sang that last phrase.


“If that's your idea of a joke, you have a twisted sense of humor.”


“What did I say that struck you as being so funny?” he said.


Prudy, picking up the plates they had eaten from and carrying them into the kitchen, didn't answer just then. But just as she reached the kitchen in fact, Jerome heard her say, almost as if she was speaking mainly to herself, “Yeah, two ships passing in the night.”


When she returned to the living room, Jerome asked, “Did you say something?”


Rather than answer him, she refilled her wine glass and drank it down in one swallow. Then, placing the wine glass on the table with some force, she said, quite clearly and quite explicitly, “You really get a kick out of screwing someone else's wife, don't you?”


“You don't sound as if you're going to believe me if I say no.”


That caused Prudy to storm out of the living room, heading in the direction of the bedroom. Moments later, when she returned, she was carrying the leather tote bag she brought with her each weekend. She said nothing as she walked through the room, heading towards the closet where she had hung her coat. But before she ever got there, Jerome bolted from his chair and wrapped his arms around her. Then, holding her tight, he pushed her up against the wall near the closet.


“Come on,” he said, “calm down.” At the same time, he leaned over and kissed her while moving his hands up and down her back in a slow, caressing motion. She tried to turn aside from him at first, but it was more a gesture than a real effort and soon enough she was returning, with as much ardor, his kisses. She had also let go by then of the leather tote bag she was holding.


“Answer one question,” she said, pulling her head back. “Isn't this all about how great it is to have some horny suburban matron showing up on Friday nights for her weekly dose of sex? And please don't lie to me. That only makes it worse.”


“I don't like responding to people who've already decided what my answer's going to be,” Jerome said, still holding Prudy close and beginning to move her towards the bedroom.


“So, that's your answer,” she said, bracing herself in a way that stalled momentarily the move towards the bedroom. “Another roll in the hay and the lady will shut up.”


Jerome said nothing, but managed, without applying too much force, to move Prudy a few steps closer to the bedroom. When he did so, he said, “All I'm saying is that you think twice before doing anything crazy.”


“And what, if I may ask, is your idea of what's crazy?”


“Crazy is something you'll regret once you and your husband start slinging mud at each other,” he said, just as they crossed the threshold into the bedroom. Then, holding her firmly around her waist with one hand, he began with the other hand to unbutton her blouse.


“You miserable scheming bastard,” Prudy said.


The bout of sex that followed, which left both of them panting and covered with sweat, might have caused one or both of them to violate the ground rule about post-sex commentary, except that neither could find words to express what they had just experienced. Jerome, after he rolled off Prudy and lay next to her, was the one who broke the silence.


“As a good friend of mine once noted,” he said. “quote, when it comes to sex, the evidence speaks for itself, unquote.”


Prudy laughed quietly when she said, “And sometimes it speaks so loudly and so clearly that it leaves your ears ringing.”


“Yeah, and everything else, from head to toe,” Jerome replied.


“Let's not get too graphic,” Prudy said, adjusting herself so that she settled down low enough in the bed to rest her head against Jerome's chest.


The next weekend, a tranquil Sunday evening was once again shattered by a shouting match. This time the issue was Prudy's suggestion that Jerome paint the walls of his living room a lighter color. Until then, Prudy had shied away from criticizing Jerome's apartment because she didn't want him to think that she was drawing a contrast between his place and her luxurious home. But she didn't feel as if she was being too intrusive when she suggested that he do something to brighten up the room that seemed always to be enveloped in darkness.


“Why not switch from this dull grey to something cream colored, maybe close to yellow?” she said. “And you could use new drapes, too, because the ones you have block out so much light. Then, if you wanted to really brighten up the place, you might think of getting the floor refinished.”


“And while I'm at it,” said Jerome, “maybe I could have skylights installed and central air conditioning and make the bathroom over so that it has a sunken marble bathtub and anything else that brings it up to your hoity-toity standards.”


“You're putting words in my mouth,” she said.


“I should have known you were a gentrifier at heart,” he said. “Excuse me lady, but I still think of an apartment as something to live in, not a statement about my lifestyle, and frankly, I'd much rather have neighbors who are nurses or school teachers than hedge fund managers.”


“Christ sakes, I only said the walls didn't have to be grey and that you should have curtains that let some light into the room.”


“Stop right there,” he said. “In case you haven't noticed, this isn't Weston.”


“Oh, I get it,” she said. “Welcome to my apartment, lady. Now, shut your mouth and spread your legs.”


“And what happens after you're done redecorating the place? Do you begin upgrading my wardrobe? And what comes after that? Improving my table manners. Please, don't start treating me like I'm some reclamation project.”


“You're so full of crap. You know something? Sometimes I wonder if there really was an ungrateful wife who walked out on you, or if that was a story you used to lure a sympathetic soul into your bed?”


“If it was, it worked like a charm as long as the sympathetic soul was looking for some way to get back at the husband who cheated on her.”


When Prudy began cursing, Jerome wrapped his arms around her. She put up more of a struggle than she had the week before, but again she wasn't able to squirm out of his embrace. At the same time, he tried to calm her by whispering something into her ear that sounded vaguely apologetic. With that small gesture, Prudy's resistance became much less so. Both of them, in fact, took no time in shedding their clothes and falling into bed.


This was sex that went beyond their post-argument coupling the previous weekend. Halfway through, Jerome, his face scarlet and veins bulging on his neck, was convinced that his heart was about to burst, while Prudy, still angry, began taunting him. Flushed and sweating and gasping for breath, she kept asking him if that was the best he could do, which only caused him—consequences be damned— to apply himself with even greater vigor.


When, at last, they climaxed—she with a loud and robust shout and he with a string of obscenities—they remained entwined, panting for breath and too exhausted to move. Finally, Prudy reached up and with both her hands, brushed back her hair, and Jerome, with one last groan, rolled off her and lay on the bed, his eyes closed and his hands across his midriff with his fingers locked together, looking as though he was a corpse laid out in a coffin. Prudy, too, lay still, but a moment later, she found the strength to rise up, and placing her knees on either side of Jerome, she settled herself on top of him.


“That was some trip,” she said, still breathing hard and once again brushing her hair back.


“For a moment there, I thought it might be my final trip,” Jerome said.


“Well if it had been, you would have gone out in a blaze of glory.”


“And with my life's goal achieved, a death certificate that listed cause of death as wild and wooly sex.”


Prudy smiled, and then added, “I want you to know something. I don't take back anything I've said—and that goes both for this weekend and last,” she said.


“Me neither. That's the great thing about a slam-bang argument, it clears everything away and brings us to the very essence of things.”


“Which just happens to be slam-bang sex,” Prudy said, emitting a small laugh.


From that time on, at some point in the weekend, but most often on Sunday nights, some minor disagreement between them would lead to a ritualistic exchange of curses and obscenities. Quickly, this volley of insults would escalate into a kind of verbal hand-to-hand combat, with a biting comment from one party prompting a reply that was even more biting from the other. These arguments ended, inevitably, in sex that seemed each week to become more explosive and more intense.


At times, if a Sunday night was passing too peacefully, Prudy could always suggest to Jerome that he try to cut back on his drinking. In the argument that followed Jerome could make it made it sound as if the Constitution contained a clause that prohibited criticism of anyone for drinking too much. Other times Prudy had this way of repeating something Jerome had just said, but doing so in a mocking tone that would make him so angry it seemed as if he might actually strike her. But just when they reached a point where she threatened to leave and never to spend another weekend with him—and he, in turn, dared her to leave right then—they would find themselves wrapped in each other's arms. Then, once again, they seemed as intent in testing the limits of their physical stamina and strength as they were in exploring the bounds of what they could say to each other in the form of disparaging remarks.


They had spent weekends together for about five months when Jerome, one Sunday evening, told a light-hearted story—or at least, he thought of it as light-hearted—about two waitresses at Hartigan's, one with huge breasts and the other who was flat-chested. Each had gone through breast reconstruction surgery, he said. But the one with large breasts had not reduced her's enough so that she looked much different while the other had failed to augment the size of her breasts enough to result in any significant change to her figure. Then came his punch line: “Talk about a zero sum game,” he said, with a hearty laugh.


Jerome had told Prudy about the waitresses at Hartigan's just as they were preparing for bed. At the end of the story, Prudy, who hadn't yet undressed—and who had already said she didn't think his story about the waitresses was that funny—left the bedroom, seemingly on her way in to the bathroom. But a moment later, Jerome heard the door to his apartment slam shut. It took Jerome a moment to realize what had happened, but as soon as he did, he threw on the shirt he had just taken off, and dashed out the door of his apartment.


Prudy, with her head start, was already in her car and pulling away from the curb, when Jerome reached the street, which left him no choice but to chase after the car as she drove off. It didn't appear as if he had any chance of catching up to Prudy, but one block away she was forced to stop for some pedestrians who were slowly walking past. That allowed Jerome to reach Prudy's car and plant himself in front of it. With one hand on the hood of the car, and with the other hand held up, as if he was a traffic cop signaling her to stop, he literally dared her to run over him.


However angry Prudy was with Jerome, she wasn't about to run him down. That allowed him to move, slowly and cautiously, from the front of the car to the passenger's side, but when he tried the open the car door, he found that it was locked. While still holding onto the door handle with one hand, he slapped his other hand against the window and yelled at Prudy to unlock the door. Just then, the driver of a car in back of Prudy sounded his horn, urging her to move. That may have been the only reason why Prudy relented and unlocked the car door.


In the argument that followed, neither of them raised their voices. Prudy simply said that she wasn't interested in what passed for humor between him and his male friends at Hartigan's, while Jerome could only express disbelief that she found anything objectionable about what he had said. Neither of them had the chance to advance the argument beyond that because the driver behind Prudy was now leaning on his horn. That caused Prudy to move forward, but only far enough to turn at the next intersection. She then made another quick turn, which brought her back, only a few moments later, to the front of Jerome's apartment building. Then, turning to him, she said, “Get out.”


“Fuck no,” Jerome said. “I'm not getting out unless you come back upstairs with me.”


“Well, that's not going to happen, so I'll sit here until you leave.”


Neither of them made a move for at least a minute or so, except that Prudy reached over and turned on the car radio. It was tuned to a station that played folk music.


“Besides, you can't leave yet,” Jerome said. “Your bag's still upstairs, along with your clothes.”


When Prudy didn't answer, Jerome said. “You're going to make me do something that I swore never to do.”


“And what's that,” she said, “admit that at times you're the world's biggest asshole?”


“No, beg. Now, would you please come back upstairs?”


“You know, that sounded so good I'd like to hear you say it again. Only this time, really beg.”


“You really are a ball buster, aren't you?


“Yeah, and I'm enjoying it more than I ever imagined.”


“So, tell me, what is it you're really pissed about? And don't say it's my little story about the waitresses at Hartigan's.”


“This might disappoint you, but it isn't anything more than that.”


“Okay, I promise never to say anything like that again if that's what it takes to change your mind.”


“Promise? Are you sure?”


“It's a full-scale promise, all out, one hundred percent. Christ sakes, I'll swear on my mother's grave if that's what you want.”


Prudy then backed her car into the space she had left. When they got out of the car and climbed the stairs to Jerome's apartment, neither gave any indication that they had just engaged in a tense stand-off. But when Prudy took off her coat and was about to hang it up, Jerome stood in front of the closet door.


“Don't ever pull anything like that again,” he said. With his legs spread, and his hands on waist, he had made it difficult for her to get around him.


Prudy, rather than wrestle him, let her coat fall to the floor and raised her right hand, as if to deliver a blow. Jerome was quick enough to fend her off by grabbing her wrist. Then, moving closer, he pinned her other arm to her side.


“Let go of me,” Prudy said, “you fucking bully.”


Jerome, as if to disprove her, released his hold on both her wrist and arm, and now freed from his grasp, she raised her right hand and delivered a stinging slap across his face.


Quickly, Jerome reached out and grabbed Prudy's right hand. This time he not only tightened his grip on her, but spun her around so that she was now facing away from him. Then, still holding onto her hand, but taking care not to twist it too hard, he began shoving her towards the bedroom.


“Oh my, what a big powerful brute you are,” she said. “Go ahead, twist my arm, break it off if you want to.


In the bedroom, Jerome, though he still kept hold of her, managed to turn her around and began kissing her. She at first tried to fend him off, but a moment later she was unbuckling the belt of his trousers and he was pulling her dress up over her hips. Neither of them had shed their clothes when they fell on the bed, but that wasn't a hindrance to a session of lovemaking that brought them, as both attested, in bold, unfettered language, right to death's door.


Both were so exhausted by this act of love itself that a full minute or more passed before their silence was broken by a half-mumbled apology from Jerome. He was sorry, he said, for being so rough, and Prudy, as if she, too, was asking for forgiveness, patted his face with her hand, almost as though her caresses could make up for her vicious slap.


Then, after Prudy had rearranged herself so that she was resting her head against his chest, she said, “Jesus, this is getting pretty scary.”


“You mean, we might go too far someday?


“No, I'm only speaking for myself, but it scares me just how far I'm willing to go.”



section break



The next weekend, both seemed to back away from wading into the kind of argument that was usually capped off with sexual fireworks. One attempt fizzled late Sunday afternoon when Prudy, after washing some glasses they had used, told Jerome that he should join the rest of the modern world by purchasing an automatic dishwasher. It was noteworthy that Jerome didn't greet Prudy's comment with the obscenity he used whenever she suggested other improvements to his apartment. He didn't even seem to acknowledge Prudy's flippant remark about how adding a modern kitchen appliance to his apartment was unlikely to hasten gentrification on the north slope of Beacon Hill.


Instead, he agreed that, yes, dishwashers served a useful purpose, but he didn't think it was necessary for him to have one since, weekends aside, it took him only minutes to wash the few dishes, glasses and cups he used in any given week.


That weekend, like so many others, Prudy spent an inordinate amount of time complaining about her daughter and son's lackadaisical attitudes towards marriage. Jerome had stopped counting the number of times Prudy talked of wanting to have grandchildren—now, as she always emphasized—when she was still young enough to enjoy them.


She worried constantly that her daughter was attracted to men too much like her father, that is, big and burly and bursting with energy and testosterone. She was as concerned about her son, but seemed to have accepted that he intended, as she put it, to “screw every ditzy, long-legged blonde in Chicago before he even thinks about getting married.” Her son, she said, was never going to pick a wife who was mature and confident enough to stand up to him.


The absence of any real squabble dampened the fervor of their lovemaking that particular weekend, but the drop-off was not so dramatic that it aroused the concern of either party.


The next weekend seemed as if it might become more contentious, primarily because Jerome drank more than usual. He began with vodka screwdrivers when they had Sunday brunch at Hartigan's, then switched to beer in the afternoon when he intermittently watched a football game on television (the sound, as always, muted) while half-heartedly assisting Prudy with the New York Times crossword puzzle. At some point, frustrated by a lack of progress on the puzzle, he also soured on the football game. That led to an outburst in which he chastised himself for being stupid enough to watch professional football since he detested the symbiotic relationship between television networks and the National Football League. That unholy alliance—his words—had turned pro football into a secular religion with its own high holiday, Super Bowl Sunday.


Once Jerome embarked on that train of thought (and once he and Prudy were drinking wine with the pizza they had after the football game), Jerome was well into his denunciation of organized religion itself—across the board, as he liked to put it. This particular week, his rant concerned the property tax exemption granted to churches, synagogues and mosques. That amounted, he claimed, to a public subsidy of religion, which, in his view, was blatantly unconstitutional.


“Okay, give the religious buildings a tax exemption” he said, “but the rectories, the parsonages or whatever they call the houses that clergy live in, all that property should be seized by the government and turned into homeless shelters. Let the fucking priests and ministers and rabbis pay for their own housing like the rest of us.”


Prudy, raised as a Catholic, but now loosely affiliated with a Unitarian congregation, didn't usually object to Jerome's disdain for organized religion. But in this instance, she differed with him, quietly pointing out that there were sure to be legal challenges to the government's seizure of private property. That, along with the logistics of converting these properties into housing for the homeless, she told Jerome, probably made his idea unworkable.


Rather than argue back, Jerome switched to another of his favorite grievances, one more directly aimed at Prudy and her husband: the accumulation of even greater wealth by people who were already wealthy, the “undeserving rich,” in his words.


“How about this, as a way to achieve universal justice and world peace?” he said. “We pass a new law, a Constitutional amendment. From now on, we place a cap of $5 million on individual assets, domiciles and yachts and other playthings excluded. If you can't get by with that much money, too bad, because once you hit that $5 million limit, that's it. Accumulate a penny more than that and it goes into a fund that provides monthly cash allowances for everyone living under the poverty line. Boom, overnight, poverty is erased.”


When Prudy didn't answer right away, he said, “What's the problem, would you and your neighbors in Weston find that a bit too restrictive?”


“Sorry, but your soak-the-rich campaign is going to happen just about the same time homeless people move into the housing owned by religious organizations.”


“Yeah, and that's because the wretched poor of Weston, and all the other wealthy people in this country, will use their influence to make sure it never happens.”


Prudy chose not to reply and not long after that, fatigue and too much drink, led to an early night and an attempt at lovemaking that petered out when Jerome fell asleep.


In the morning, in an unprecedented development, Jerome altered his routine, actually getting to his office fifteen minutes late, because he and Prudy took time for a coupling that, while quicker than usual, was deemed by both to be quite satisfactory.


Two days later, just as Jerome entered his office, he received a phone call from Prudy. She was at Massachusetts General Hospital, where her husband had just been taken after he suffered a heart attack.


“I was in my kitchen, drinking coffee and reading the Globe, when I heard Jack yell out for me,” she said. “I knew that he had been taking a shower, but when I found him, he was sitting on his bed, half dressed and doubled over, trying to massage the pain in his chest”


When Jerome asked about her husband's condition, she said, “That's just it. I have no idea. It's as if hospitals have this rule that, at times like this, families are supposed to sit and mind their manners until doctors decide to talk with them. I just finished calling my kids. My son's on his way, and my daughter's getting ready to fly home, but it doesn't look as if she can get a connecting flight to Boston until later today.”


“Well, don't expect the human touch from doctors who are in the middle of saving someone's life, I just wish there was something I could do, but—


“Just stay on the phone,” she said. “That's all I want right now, someone to talk with.”


Jerome, uncertain about what he should say, then asked Prudy about her husband's health habits. He had once been a heavy smoker, she said, but had stopped ten years ago. There was another exchange about his diet, which Prudy described as “horrible,” giving examples of his appetite for red meat, lots of it. But she was encouraged, she said, two years ago, when he finally began regularly using the physical fitness facility she had included in her home renovation project. She had barely finished saying that when she had to hang up because a doctor and nurse were heading her way.


Jerome didn't hear from Prudy again until later that night, when she called to say that her husband had died shortly after noon. He blurted out something about being sorry to hear that news—at the same time, telling himself that he wasn't that sorry at all—and then asked how she was doing. He also felt that he should apologize to Prudy for asking such a stupid question, but she, in answering him, said that she was too preoccupied just then to know exactly how she felt.


“Right now my house is filled with people,” she said. “There's family and some of Jack's closest colleagues. My son's here and my daughter's on her way, but I felt, since I hung up on you this morning, that I owed you a call. I'll be in touch, but it's going to be a few days.”


Again, without knowing why, he said that he was sorry to hear the news about her husband, and Prudy, with a quick thank you and goodbye, hung up. Ten days passed before Jerome heard from her again. It was late in the evening when she called so she apologized for disturbing him when he was probably getting ready for bed.


“I just got back from taking my son to the airport,” she said, “which makes this the first night I've been alone in my house since Jack died. Let me emphasize the word alone. You can't imagine how wonderful it feels to have some privacy at last.”


Since last hearing from Prudy, Jerome had been trying to decide what rules of etiquette applied when extending sympathy to one's mistress upon the death of her husband. But he was so pleased to hear from her that he seemed to forget all the possibilities he had considered and simply expressed his condolences, just as he would have done for anyone who was newly widowed. After thanking him, Prudy repeatedly used the word numb to describe how she was feeling.


“I'm not in a daze or anything like that,” she said. “If anything, I'm so keyed up I have trouble getting to sleep. But I feel at times as though my feet aren't touching the ground. Look, you well know that Jack and I had grown apart, but every now and then I get this little jolt when I remember the good times—in the early days, right after the kids were born for instance. Unfortunately, memories of the recent past tend to intrude on my reveries about how wonderful everything was when we were young parents.


“In the meantime, I've been busy, first planning Jack's memorial service and then with a dozen other things. They say that's supposed to help you get through something like this, and while I agree, I've found that however preoccupied you are, it's still strange. You're talking with the caterer about finger sandwiches for the lunch after the service and suddenly it hits you—call it what you will, but this is a funeral you're planning. It's not someone's birthday or graduation party. And when that happens, you get a little weak in the knees.”


Prudy then described in detail the service for her husband, mentioning how she could tell at a glance which mourners were there out of a sense of duty and which were truly grieving. Only when she began to tell him about the eulogy delivered by her son did her voice crack. That caused her to pause, which gave Jerome a chance to ask how her children were dealing with their father's death.


A few seconds passed before she answered, and he could hear the deep breath she took before she did. “Oh, they're devastated, of course. In many ways he was their hero. To them, he was this bigger-than-life guy who had a gift for putting together real estate deals that were extremely lucrative. But they're young, so they should be able to weather this. And though they're heartbroken, it certainly helped to have them around these past few days.


“As for me, I say enough is enough. Right now, I yearn for peace and quiet and the luxury of being alone. I need time to absorb what happened and to think about where I go from here. Not that I intend to sit and brood. I can't, even if I wanted to. First of all, there's Jack's business. I know very little about it, and I care even less. Lucky for me, my son is going to handle that end of things. I'm just hoping he can do that without any help or input from me.”


It struck Jerome that Prudy was too concerned about her own situation to care very much about what he might say to her. He also wondered, since she had twice talked about how much she valued her privacy, whether she was trying, ever so politely, to distance herself from him. But then, as if she was reading his thoughts, she put him at ease by saying she looked forward to getting together soon. She couldn't see him this weekend, she said, and she wasn't even sure, with so many things she needed to tend to, whether she could see him the weekend after that. But, yes, definitely yes, right after that, she wanted to see him again.


Another week went by before he heard from her again, and when she called, she began by saying, “Bad news. My son tells me he's going to be here for the next month or so. He claims it's going to take that long to get rid of my husband's less attractive properties and to work out various partnership agreements he had. Worse news, he insists that I go to meetings with him and my husband's associates, even if I just sit there. I've told him, look, as far as I'm concerned, sell everything, right now, as soon as possible. No, no, we can't do that, he tells me. Then he starts to give me all the reasons, taxes and other legal questions, why we can't, and my eyes glaze over.”


Only a few days later, Prudy called again, this time from Seattle, where she was visiting with her daughter, who was not, in her words, doing well.


“She just isn't bouncing back from this thing,” she said, “so it looks like I'll be here for a few weeks.”


Twice, in the three weeks Prudy was in Seattle, she called Jerome. Each time she apologized for not calling more often, but she wasn't having an easy time of it with her daughter.


“I never realized that my little take-charge business executive could be so fragile,” she said. “She was very young when Jack's parents passed away within a year of each other, and she wasn't even in her teens by the time I lost my parents, so this has been her first experience as an adult with losing someone close to her. My son, I'm discovering, once again, is like his father. Nothing—death, disaster, the end of the world—gets in the way of business.”


Then, with a small laugh, she said, “Dare I ask what's new with you? Or is it safe to assume that the man with the most predictable daily routine in Boston has not deviated from his accustomed path.”


“Tried and true,” he said, “that's me. Like grandfather's clock, tick tock, tick tock, day in, day out.”


“So, what do you say about a minor adjustment, perhaps a weekend in Weston when I get back? I'd love to show you my house. Aside from my children, it's my proudest creation.”


When Jerome didn't answer right away, she said, “I didn't think that was an outlandish proposal.”


“No, it wasn't” he said. “but I guess it wasn't what I expected to hear from you.”


“Oh, maybe you're right,” she said. “It might be better for us to take up where we left off rather than try something new and different. I suppose I should also watch myself. Some people—I'm thinking of Jack's family—might think it's a little bit too soon for a widow to begin kicking up her heels.”


“No, no, it's not as if I'm turning you down—


“Oh, I understand,” she said. “So, next Friday night, as usual, I'll be there when you get home. We have a lot of catching up to do.”


On Thursday, she called Jerome's office and left a message on his voicemail, saying she couldn't make it on Friday night. She gave no reason only saying that she would come on Saturday. She was going to try to make it by noon. When Jerome called her back that day and the next, he was directed to her voicemail.


At noon, on Saturday, Jerome was surprised when Prudy, usually so prompt, didn't arrive on time. He was annoyed when she didn't get to his apartment by one o'clock, but he began to get angry after another hour passed without any word from her. By then, he was fairly certain that she had decided not to come. Perhaps it was too soon, he told himself, for Prudy to have resumed spending her weekends with him. He considered phoning her and telling her just that, but he refused to be the one to cancel their reunion. If she wasn't ready to see him again, she would be the one who had to call it off.


At three o'clock, he once again thought about calling her, feeling that some unforeseen problem, a sudden illness, or even worse, an automobile accident, might have delayed her. Or could it be that her son had unexpectedly returned to Boston and dragged her off to one of those meetings she so disliked? No, not on a Saturday afternoon. That was an unlikely time to deal with the sale of one more rundown apartment house. In the end, he chose not to call her because he wasn't sure he could conceal how upset he was.


Then, it struck him. There was one big reason why she hadn't yet arrived. This was her way of letting him know that she wouldn't any longer be spending weekends with him. He assumed that when, or if, she finally did get to his apartment, she would make a formal announcement of that fact.


He also began to wonder whether, during her period of mourning, she had found a new companion, one of her husband's business associates perhaps, maybe even someone who was himself a widower. He even scolded himself for not thinking of that before. Why, of course, she'd prefer to spend time with someone who had also experienced the loss of a spouse.


That she might have been lured away by a new companion who had more in common with her—that he could accept. He, after all, was of use to her only when she was trying to get back at a husband who had cheated on her, but now that he was gone, did she still have any reason to spend weekends with him?


He well understood how helpful it might be for her to take up with someone who had experienced grief, but he was resolute about one thing: If she wanted to break up with him, he wanted her to do it quickly and without any explanation or kind words. Most of all, he didn't want to hear that she had come to regret cheating on her husband or that his death made her want to go off in a new direction. She could save that claptrap for some grief counselor. One word from her about regret, and he would remind her, forcefully if need be, that she had been a willing participant in their weekends. More than that, she had lusted for them. There was no other word for it, and he was not going to let her forget that.


That brought him to the scenario he had been toying with all afternoon. As soon as Prudy arrived, as soon as she walked through that door, he was going to let her know that their relationship was over, effective immediately. Maybe her husband didn't mind that she came and went as she pleased, but he wasn't the kind of person who would tolerate that sort of thing. He might even tell her—he wasn't sure—that he doubted how truly grief-stricken she was at her husband's death.


But just as he was asking himself whether such a comment might be too harsh, his phone rang. It was Prudy, and before he could say anything she apologized for not calling him sooner. First, her daughter had called, she said, and calls from her were never short. Then, right after that, she heard from her son, who insisted on giving her a long and complex explanation of why he was going to put off for another month the sale of some property that was supposed to take place in a matter of days. She was leaving Weston right now, she said, promising him she would arrive at his apartment shortly.


Jerome was about to ask her why she hadn't told her children that she was too busy to talk, that she was, in fact, on her way out just then to visit a friend. But before he could say anything, she thanked him for being so understanding and then hung up.


When she did arrive—it was almost five o'clock—his anger seemed to dissipate the moment she came through the door, when she wrapped her arms around him, and rocking from side to side, told him over and over again how much she had missed him. Then came a moment when she began sniffling, which caused her to break away for a few seconds so she could wipe tears from her eyes.


“You'll have to excuse me,” she said. “The slightest thing these days can set me off. Right now, I can't tell you how happy I am to see you again. But it's almost as if I have to recalibrate my emotions, to draw a line between what I've gone through these past few weeks and where I am now. I have to excuse myself also. I was so rushed after those phone calls that I didn't have time to pick up anything for supper. Not all is lost, however, since I did bring a couple of bottles of wine.”


“Not to worry,” Jerome said. “Let's just take a moment to pull ourselves together and have a glass of wine.”


“Yes, yes,” she said, as they moved, their arms around each other's waists, towards the living room. Moments later, after another long embrace, and after saying once again how wonderful it was to see him again, she sat down on the sofa. Jerome then hurried into the kitchen where he opened a bottle of wine and returned with the bottle and two glasses.


“So first a toast” he said, as he raised his glass. “Here's to us and to being back together again.”


“Yes,” Prudy said, “and to weekends filled with delight and joy and—“


Here, she began to sniffle again, but after shaking her head from side and side and taking a deep breath, she managed to take a quick sip of wine. Jerome, who had been standing, then pulled his easy chair over from its usual place near the window so that he was now sitting directly across from her. From that vantage point, he could see that Prudy seemed to have lost a bit of weight. Her chin seem more pointed, the wrinkled skin on her neck was more visible, and though her make-up was expertly applied, it didn't quite conceal the shaded circles beneath her eyes. Her voice, too, sounded softer, almost wistful.


“You know,” Jerome said, “it's been so long, that I think we deserve another toast.” That gave him a chance to lean forward and refill the glass of wine he had almost finished in one swallow.


“So, here's to a new start,” he said, raising his glass once again. “Or is it just a matter of taking up where we last left off?”


Prudy, after taking a sip from her glass, said, “God, I can't believe that it's only been a few weeks since I last saw you. It feels as if it's been months.”


“To me, it's been more like years,” he said.


“I swear, I seemed to have lost my sense of time. Either that, or I'm not sure most days if I'm coming or going. I keep telling myself that I'm going to put the past behind me and look to the future, but I'll be damned if I know how to do that. First of all, there's such a lot of the past to deal with, and secondly, the future is like one big question mark.”


“Maybe you should do something drastic. Sell your house. Move to the city. Meet new people. Develop new interests.”


“Oh, you're into grief counseling now?”


“No, but I have an instant cure in mind,” Jerome said. There was a grin on his face as he reached out with his hand towards Prudy and began to get up from the chair he was sitting on.


“Yeah,” she said, “there's that, which I've missed very much.” But even as she, too, rose from the sofa and put her arms around him, her movements were hardly that of the woman who used to begin their weekends by boldly proclaiming, “First things first.” There was a coquettish quality, however, to the way she said, “Before anything else, tell me again how much you missed me.”


“It'll take more than words for me to express myself,” Jerome said, as he turned, his arm still around her, and began leading her towards the bedroom.


“Ah, the good old days,” she said, but after taking a few steps, she excused herself, saying that she needed to use the bathroom.


Jerome continued into the bedroom and had taken his sweater off and was beginning to unbutton his shirt when she returned.


“You look like a man in a hurry,” she said.


“Any reason why I shouldn't be?”


“No, no,” she replied, drawing close to him and placing her arms around him.


After apologizing again for being so late, she planted a series of quick kisses all over his face. They then began, between longer, more passionate kisses, to help each other undress. But once they were in bed, Prudy scooted down the way she usually did after they had had sex, when she liked to lie there, resting her head on Jerome's chest.


“I hope you don't mind,” she said. “but I think I need a few moments to adjust. I guess it's something like jet lag.”


Jerome then saw that she had closed her eyes and looked as if she might drift off to sleep. He could understand that she might need some period of adjustment, but he wasn't particularly pleased, after his long afternoon of waiting, to find himself in bed with someone who looked as if she was about to take a nap.


“Hey, you falling asleep on me?” he said.


“No, silly. But after so much tumult—


“I don't want to force you into something you're not ready to do,” he said.


“No, no, not at all,” she said. With that, she twisted away from him and rearranged herself so that she had moved up to a position where she was now, lying sideways, facing him.


Another moment passed, when it seemed as if neither of them knew what to say or do. She was the one, then, who, without a word, boosted herself up so that she put herself on top of him. What followed was lovemaking mechanically perfect in every respect but lacking in fire and spirit. It was not unlike, in fact, the polite ministrations that had characterized their sexual encounters when they had first met and were still unsure about the depth of their feelings towards each other, back before they began treating sex as if it were a competitive sport, with each intent on gaining the upper hand over the other. At the conclusion, when she rolled off him, she actually twisted away and lay there on her side of the bed, facing away from him and saying nothing.


Jerome lay beside her, not moving either and not certain about what he should say. Finally, turning back towards him, she had a grin on her face when she said, “Well, it seems that what I've heard about sex is true. It is just like riding a bicycle. Once you've learned how, you never forget.”


“Yeah,” he said. “It's also a great way to work up an appetite.”


“Oh, I just can't believe that I arrived here empty handed,” she said. “What do you say we go to Hartigan's for a reunion dinner? My treat.”


No, Jerome said, he had already stocked up on a variety of appetizers that by themselves would serve as a meal. When he got out of bed and began putting his clothes on, Prudy, sitting up by then, asked him to hand her the terry cloth bathrobe hanging on the back of the bedroom door.


Jerome had already laid out the three cheeses and two spreads, along with a large plate of cut up vegetables and a variety of olives and crackers when Prudy, having taken a moment to freshen up, arrived in the kitchen. In expressing her gratitude to him, she agreed that the “spread” he had pulled together was more enticing than anything available at Hartigan's. Then, after toasting each other again, they sat down to eat. That gave Prudy a chance to resume her detailed account of how her son, without blinking an eye, as she put it, had so deftly pared down her husband's real estate empire.


“I always thought my husband was the ultimate bottom line guy,” she said, “but he was a namby-pamby compared to my son. Much to my surprise, I raised someone with a computer for a brain—and heart too, I think. With him, if something—or someone—helps boost the bottom line, good. If not, goodbye, no regrets, no looking back, no second thoughts.”


Jerome, having heard enough about her son's astute business sense, decided to change the subject. By then, they had finished one bottle of wine and had begun on another.


“So, you're really going to stay in that big house?”


Prudy answered by telling him there was a rule of thumb for the surviving spouse to wait at least a year, and maybe more than that, before deciding to move, whether to a new house or a new locale. Her own feeling was that nothing would ever cause her to move from her house.


“I don't think you realize how much that house means to me. It also represents something of what Jack accomplished. He was still in college when he began, as a fledgling broker, to rent apartments to other students. Years later, he took over the company he had once worked for. He may have exaggerated a bit, but he claimed that the buildings he owned or managed housed half the college students in Boston. That took some doing.”


“You seem to have tempered slightly your feelings about Jack,” he said.


“Yes and no,” she said. “I keep trying to put things in perspective. The day he died, the first thing I did when I got back from the hospital was to destroy those photos I had found. They were of no use to me any longer and I wanted to eliminate the possibility that someday they might be discovered.”


“Well, sooner or later, you might change your mind,” he said. “I don't mean about Jack and the pictures, but about staying out there in that big house. You might even decide to move closer to your kids. A lot of people seem to do that.”


“No,” she said with some emphasis. “My kids live where they live. I live where I live. That's a given. I'm not going to be the grandma who's looking over their shoulders once they have kids. But hey, are we going to spend the night in idle chitchat. I thought we'd be making up for lost time.”


That prompted him, with Prudy's help, to begin putting the food back in the refrigerator. He also poured himself a last glass of wine, finishing off the second of the two bottles of wine they had drunk since Prudy had arrived. Then, with their arms around each other, they went back to the bedroom.


Jerome was a bit taken aback when Prudy, once they were in bed, again put herself in that position where she placed her head on his chest. This time, she also gave a little wiggle of her shoulders and made a sound that approximated purring, which indicated to Jerome that she might be content to spend the night cuddling.


It rankled him that he suddenly found himself feeling as if he were back in his teenage years, treading the fine line between persuading his girl friend into having sex and making a move that might cause her to reject his advances. But now, any decision regarding his next step with Prudy was made for him when she said, “Please excuse me, but I'm tired. These past few weeks have drained me of my usual energy. I keep thinking I'm going to bounce back, but either age, or grief, has made me less resilient.”


He was well aware that Prudy might need time to readjust, but he wasn't at all pleased that his reunion with Prudy did not come close to meeting his expectations. Unable to mask his irritation, he said, “Look, I'm going to be honest with you—


Before he could continue, Prudy broke in. “By all means,” she said, “honesty is always the best policy. But what about? I'm going to make a wild guess. You're not that sorry Jack passed away, are you?”


“Okay, here goes,” Jerome said. “Maybe in some ways this—oh, I don't know how to put it exactly—but maybe what happened has turned out for the best.”


That seemed to startle Prudy, or at least it caused her to lift her head off Jerome's chest. “I get what you're trying to say,” she said, looking up at him. “But I never thought the best solution would be for Jack to die. In fact, you know what? Sometimes I wish I hadn't found those photos.”


“Don't say that,” he said, a note of alarm in his voice. “Without the photos, we might never have had a reason to get together.”


“Oh, I know that—and that would have been a crying shame. But sometimes it's better to hang on to illusions rather than have reality hit you like a sharp slap across the face. Yes, it was a strain on Jack and me, trying to maintain that farce of a marriage. But when he was alive, my children had a father they loved and admired and now they don't. And that's a loss and they're hurting. And when they hurt, I hurt.”


“So why don't we put aside that kind of talk for now,” he said. “Look, a loss is a loss is a loss. But that's life—it's a long series of losses and then we die. Anyone above the age of 12 should know that.”


“When it comes to grief counseling, you have a lot to learn,” she said. Then, a second later, she added, “All I'm trying to tell you is that I can't help missing him. If I told you otherwise, I'd be lying.”


“So you cared for him more than you let on.”


“Yeah, Jack was far from perfect. But we all have our quirks. Look at you and your love for routine and your, well, let's just say your intriguing, but grumpy personality. Oh shit, let's remember ground rule number one, you know, the one about not wasting our time dredging up things from the past.”


“One last thing,” he said. “I still think that as long as he was around, you enjoyed taking revenge on him.”


“You may have hit on something,” she said. And then, in a voice just barely above a whisper, she added, “There—does that make you feel better?”


Jerome was disappointed with Prudy's reply. He expected that there would have been a flash of anger from her at what he had said and maybe even a threat to walk out the door. He would then apply whatever force was needed to restrain her, and she, predictably enough, would battle back, raining down curses on him. That would lead to the inevitable grappling between them—oh, the very thought sent a shiver of excitement through him—that culminated in raw, untrammeled sex.


But, he, too, taking Prudy's lead, let their exchange peter out. Doing so, he hoped, might lead her to reward him for his restraint by inviting him to mount her. Thus, his surprise—and annoyance—when she pulled the blankets up around her shoulders and turned away from him.


Since he didn't want to believe that she had indeed fallen asleep, he lay there, motionless, continuing to think that at any minute she might change her mind. But after five minutes, with no sign of life from Prudy, he realized that she had called a timeout on their reunion. That caused him, slowly and carefully, to roll out of bed. With one quick move, he then gathered up his clothes and left the bedroom.


Uncertain about what he should do next, he went first to the kitchen, where he opened another bottle of wine. After pouring himself a glass—and trying to convince himself that Prudy was as fatigued as she claimed to be—he went into the living room. There, he picked up several issues of The New Yorker from the stack of magazines on his coffee table. With The New Yorkers in hand, he went into the second bedroom, where he lay down on the bed that once belonged to Amanda. He still expected that Prudy before long would wake up and summon him back to the bedroom.


Until then, however, he was about to violate a strict rule he had with regard to The New Yorker, which was to complete reading each issue before he moved on to the next one. Since he was never able to finish one week's issue before a new one arrived, he would place his copy of the most recent issue at the bottom of the New Yorkers he had yet to read. His goal, which he kept to religiously, was never to fall behind in his New Yorker reading by more than one month. And never, under any circumstances, would he even peek at any of the more recent issues he had received before he finished the one he was reading.


But that night, he put aside the issue, already a month old, in which he had been reading a long and tedious article about a group of investors who used inside trading to manipulate the stock market. He then began going through three New Yorkers, in chronological order, of course, that he had never looked at before, turning the pages slowly enough to peek at the first few paragraphs of stories he looked forward to reading once he returned to the schedule he always followed.


He had no sooner finished his glass of wine—and his cursory reading of two New Yorkers—than he began to nod off. He woke once during the night and thought about getting out of his clothes and going in to brush his teeth, but not wanting to wake Prudy, he went back to sleep. Then in the morning, when he checked his watch and saw that it was a bit after seven o'clock, he decided to go out and get the Sunday New York Times and fresh bagels before Prudy woke up. First, though, he went to the bathroom and showered and shaved.


It surprised him that his preparations in the bathroom didn't wake Prudy, but that was fine with him since he wanted her to be fully rested when he got back with the paper and bagels. At the all-night drug store where he bought the Times each Sunday, he was the first customer at the news stand, arriving so early that the clerk was still unwrapping the bundles of newspapers that had just been delivered. With his newspaper tucked under his arm, he went to the nearby bakery where he got his bagels and then returned to his apartment.


Any other Sunday Prudy would have been in the kitchen by then, making coffee, or maybe in the bathroom taking a shower, but when he entered and didn't find her in the kitchen, he assumed she was still sleeping. He was on his way into the bedroom, thinking he would give her a nudge and then flood her with kisses (and maybe, if she was receptive, even crawl into bed with her), but he stopped first to put the newspaper and bagels on the kitchen table.


That's when he saw lying on the table the two keys, with the red ribbon holding the decal of the four-leaf clover, that he had given to Prudy after she spent her first weekend at his apartment. In that moment, he froze. Then, clenching his fists, he pounded on the table and cursed himself for not going into the bedroom to awaken Prudy before he had gone out to get the newspaper and bagels. The emotions—shock and anger and regret all melded together—that suddenly swept over him were not unlike those on the day he came home to find that Glenda had fled, taking Amanda with her. Only this time, there wasn't even a farewell note that could serve as a souvenir of his weekends with Prudy.  End of Story