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A Single Life
The cleaning lady wasn’t able to come in today and Leila Evans sang quietly
in accompaniment to the full throated roar of her vacuum cleaner. It’s feeble
headlight searched for dust under her new furniture. It was Saturday. CNN
didn’t need her until Monday afternoon. She had the whole weekend to herself.
It was a pity to start the weekend doing housework, but on the other hand it
served to remind her how far she had come. After only five years in New York
she was on the brink of success in television. She had an agent now and a
lawyer and no one could pull the wool over her eyes.
She was going to the beach in the afternoon and tomorrow she intended to gas
up her ten year old sports car and head for Susan’s little bungalow at Copake
Lake. She mustn’t forget to bring something for the kids and some wine for her
and Susan. They could drink to their single blessedness in the afternoon.
She’d have a big head Monday on the drive back to the city, but that would be
Monday, and that’s how Monday’s are supposed to be for single people.
Three years ago her weekends were simpler. She and Vinnie would spend
Saturday and Sunday together. They would either do something or nothing at all,
didn’t matter - just being together was all that mattered then.
She turned the vacuum cleaner off and thought about Vinnie for a minute -- it
was strange, she did more now, never idle, always busy... like a hamster in a
cage. Forever running. “For the sake of running,” she said under her breath
as she rolled the cord up and put the vacuum away. Thinking of Vinnie made her
sit down in the club chair and look out the window.
Vinnie... was it really three years ago? It seemed much longer. She shut her
eyes and saw him plainly... always in need of a haircut, always badly shaven,
always hungry. That’s how she usually saw him, just the backside of him with
his head in her refrigerator. Vinnie. So much talent wasted up there in Rye, at
IBM... and then how scared he was when he got the offer from Apple out on the
“I can’t survive out there without you, Leila.” He looked like a helpless
little boy. “Why don’t we go out there together... what do you say, Leila?”
“Well, why didn’t you, girl?”
You were a blossoming news bunny, the most important job you ever had. Three
to five in the afternoon - you thought you were the most important woman in
the world. You couldn’t chuck it all and move to the west coast. God, you were
beautiful after the make-up staff finished with you! You would stare into the
camera (making believe it was the face of the guest), and ask him the prepared
questions that rolled up on the idiot screen. The people watching at home
would marvel at you - “God Almighty!” they’d say. “This broad’s got brains and
beauty both... some people have all the luck.” You know for a fact that’s what
started it off between you and Vinnie. He loved being seen with you and you
didn’t want the hassle of being alone in restaurants and bars.
Swearing softly to herself, Leila slammed the closet door on the vacuum just
as the telephone rang. She was sure it was Susan to talk about tomorrow and
what she planned to do with the kids. While walking into the kitchen to pick up
the phone she pulled the earring from her left ear. It would be a long
conversation, it always was with Susan.
She recognized his voice immediately. Just the way he said her name --
“Hello, Leila?” Spoken as a question, just as he always had.
“Vinnie! Where are you?”
“I’m back, Leila. Here in New York.”
“It’s been... it’s...”
“Almost three years, Leila.”
“How are you, Vinnie?” She couldn’t help asking him, even though she was mad
enough to spit. Imagine... calling her up like that after almost three years
in California! Yet she couldn’t help asking him how he was.
“Have you had lunch? I’ll tell you all about it.”
“I was going to the beach, Vinnie.”
“Go to the beach tomorrow. I’d go with you but Leslie will be back this
“How about Giovanni’s. Is he still in business.” Vinnie knew, instinctively,
that she’d give in. He didn’t even have to beg her. “Two o’clock, okay?
It’ll be great to see you again, Leila.”
She didn’t want to be sitting there waiting when he walked in, that would put
her on the defensive. She was, after all, who she was. Somebody --
recognizable. The date was for two o’clock. Well, she wouldn’t leave the
until two. If she walked, she wouldn’t get to Giovanni’s until two thirty. A
walk, looking in windows along the way - she didn’t want to show up
breathless. But, she did take a long time putting herself together, she wanted
as much like Leila Evans as possible.
She was going to be standoffish; she had every right to be stand-offish,
after all she was stood up for almost three years! Imagine Leila Evans, prime
news bunny. She checked herself carefully from all angles before leaving the
apartment. Not a fleck of dandruff. Not a speck of lint. Not a hair out of
place - she was as perfect as nature and make-up would permit and she had to
admit to herself that she was as ready as she would ever be.
The doorman gave her a close going over in the lobby, his eyes felt like two
hot pokers in the small of her back. His voice cracked when he said, “Can I
get you a cab, Miss Evans?” No, she didn’t want a cab, she wanted a slow
leisurely walk to Giovanni’s - just as slow as she could possibly make it. She
fought back the impulse to hurry, to keep the click of her heels a second apart.
She was aware of people looking at her. It was something she became used to
in her job as news bunny (or news person as she preferred), but it seemed to be
more obvious today. Perhaps she did too good a job with the make-up. It
didn’t normally bother her and there were times when she was secretly pleased,
it irritated her today. Who was this Leslie anyway -- some baby faced,
sun-tanned bitch from the coast. “She better not be there when I get there!” Her
step accelerated and she had to pull up at McCulloch’s upscale leather store to
stare at two shoulder purses that were out of this world. Suppose this Leslie
creature was there? Suppose she was sitting at his side, timid and frightened
-- her first time in New York, and all that garbage? Or suppose she was sitting
there with her slutty little eyes half shut and those gorgeous legs crossed
all the way up to...?
She was walking in place now, like a recruit on the drill field and all the
while staring at two leather shoulder purses. She decided the only way to keep
from running to Giovanni’s was to go in and buy a shoulder purse. Normally it
would have taken her all day to make her mind up, but it was a quarter past
two and... well... she found one very quickly. She told the clerk not to wrap
it, pulled off all the tags and dropped the purse she had been carrying in the
new one. It felt good on her shoulder and made her look very professional. A
news-woman. Not a news-bunny. A news-woman.
She approached the door of Giovanni’s and pulled up short. She didn’t feel
professional now. Nervous and vulnerable, like her first day at CNN. She opened
the door and stood in the sudden darkness, aware of the head waiter
“Madam?” ... then he recognized her. “Miss Evans, your party is waiting,
please follow me.” Suddenly there he was, looking a little thinner, beautifully
tanned - in a sports jacket that seemed a little large for him. He stood
quickly and came around to her side of the banquette table to kiss her as she
They touched cheeks. His was cool and she thought her cheek was burning, and
she wondered if he knew it.
“Jesus, you’re beautiful, Leila,” he said as he sat down. “Once in a while
your program shows up on the coast, and it doesn’t do you justice. Everybody
out there was jealous of me.”
“For knowing you. They’re pretty unsophisticated out there in spite of what
you may have heard. When I said I know Leila Evans I got respect.”
“Why are we here, Vinnie?”
He looked haunted for a moment. “To have lunch first of all. Then I’ve got
something to tell you.”
“I’d rather you told me first if it’s what I think it is.”
“Well, just so you wouldn’t hear it from somebody else... I’m back again,
Leila... we’re over in the village, and, well... somebody’s bound to see us
together, and you’d hear about it ... “
“What went wrong at Apple? It was a very good offer. That’s why you went,
wasn’t it, Vinnie?”
He looked away, shrugged his shoulders. “Things changed, Leila. I think I’ll
have the antipasto, how about you?”
“I don’t think so.” She stood up quickly and slipped her arm through her new
shoulder bag. “You said her name is Leslie. What’s she like? Why did you
come back with her?”
“Please sit down, Leila. It isn’t that simple.” He raised his eyes to her,
the whites showed. His mouth formed the word “please.”
She sat stiffly, her mouth set in a straight line. She wore a blank
expression that she sometimes used when she was on the set but off camera.
“Leslie’s a man I met out at Apple. He was very kind, breaking me in, you
know. I was lonely after you, Leila.”
“Leslie’s a man?”
Susan yawned and topped up their wine glasses. “...and what did he say to
“He didn’t have to say anything, and it sounded dumb to me, right after I
asked him.” Leila put her feet up on the railing of the porch and tilted back on
the two rear legs of the chair. Leila and Susan were on the back porch of
Susan’s cabin in Copake Lake. The wine was half gone, Susan’s two kids were
flying the Japanese dragon kite she brought with her from the city. It was at
magic hour when something must be done about supper, everybody was hungry
after a perfect day at the lake but no one wanted to break the spell. The
were deafening, panicky in their realization that the end of summer was just
around the corner. The grass was tall - the seed pods nodding. Any moment now
the children would turn cranky and want their supper, the dragon kite would be
forgotten and it would sink to the ground unnoticed. “He was all ready to
have lunch.” Leila said. “Can you imagine that? How could I eat?”
Susan stood up and stretched awkwardly. “Life’s a bitch, Leila. What did we
ever do to deserve men?” She looked at her children struggling to keep their
kite in the air. “When I look at the kids I don’t think of him any more - they
were all he was good for. He’s gone, and it’s like taking a picture off the
wall you didn’t really like anyway. All that’s left is a little light patch
on the wallpaper.”
“What’s for supper?” Leila asked.
“I thought we’d finished the chicken. Want to shuck some corn?”
Suddenly the dragon grew limp and fell out of the sky. The air turned heavy
and still, dark gray clouds moved in over the far end of the lake. Birds
skittered by and for a moment the cicadas were still. A roll of thunder sounded
somewhere off in the mountains. Susan cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted
the children, “We’re gonna have us a storm, kids. A whopper it looks like.
Get inside here - bring your dragon with you.” She turned to Leila who was
still tilted back in her chair. “You’re going to spend the night here, Leila.
You’re not driving back in the kind of weather we’re going to have. These roads
are treacherous in the rain.”
“I’m working tomorrow.”
“I know, three to five in the afternoon. You can drive back in the morning.
Besides...” she smiled, “whatever the weather, no woman should have to sleep
alone in a king size bed.”
©Harry Buschman 2005
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