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Winning Tessie


Harry Buschman

A sudden flicker of sunlight on the ceiling of the living room made Tessie O'Shea look up. Someone was pulling in her driveway. She walked quickly to the window and looked out without moving the lace curtains. Then, she shook her head. It was Ollie! -- Ollie, in his red convertible. Well, it had to be faced.

She quickly pulled her hair back and tied it. She got out the vacuum, plugged it in and turned it on just before he rang .... Ding, ding, did ding, ding, DING DING! Ollie all right, the salesman's ring. A bottle of wine and a box of candy ring. Well, he was in for a surprise.

She left the vacuum running and opened the door. "Tess, my dear, Ollie's here -- you ready for a day of fun and frolic? My God, woman, what are you up to, cleaning? Nobody cleans on a Sunday."

"Nice of you to call ahead, Ollie."

"Well yeah -- sorry, I was gonna do that, but I figured why waste time on the  phone. We've only got today my dear -- one day 'til Monday. One day to live a  lifetime in, love." He put the presents on the coffee table and extended his arms. "Come into my lovin' arms, Tessie my dear -- here where the fat lies a'bubblin"

"Hands off, Ollie."

"What's the matter old girl, did I catch my Tessie at a bad time?"

"First of all I'm not your Tessie, and if you think you can drop by once every two months without even having the decency to call, you can just turn yourself around again, get back in your fancy red convertible and drive on -- and get that junk off my end table, I'm cleaning in here." She ran the vacuum into his highly polished shoes and he shuffled away from her awkwardly.

"You know how long I waited for this Sunday Tessie?"

"No! How could I? And look at you! You've still got your hat on. Come walking in here without calling after two months, think you own the place and don't have the decency to take your hat off!"

Ollie took his hat off, and as though it was a switch, Tessie shut off the vacuum cleaner. In the sudden quiet they looked each other up and down tentatively, for the first time. "Y'see Ollie, it ain't like you and me is man and wife. God almighty knows what yer up to when you're on the road."

"I couldn't wait to see you, Tessie."

"I know, I couldn't wait either. So what! Both of us couldn't wait, that's the sad part about it. It ain't enough, Ollie. Just plain ain't good enough, what we do. Look at us! I'm thirty-seven years old -- you gotta be, what, forty-five?"

"I'm a young forty-three, Tess."

"Forty three years old and still a pharmaceuticals sales rep, a girl in every doctor's office all the way from Yonkers to Buffalo. Got it all worked out right? You still sellin' prescription drugs on the side, huh, Ollie?"

"What's gotten into you, Tessie?"

"My last damn birthday, that's what! Came on a Wednesday. You were God knows  where, the guys down at the Highway Department were busy. I got stinkin' drunk here all by myself -- right here in this ratty condo. What were you doing on that Wednesday Ollie -- huh? Tell me what you were doing?"

Ollie hung his head. He didn't dare answer because he wasn't exactly certain which Wednesday Tessie's birthday was.

"What it comes down to, Ollie, is -- well, I went on retreat right after my birthday, that's what."

"Retreat? You mean like a nun?"

"No, not like a nun. It's a retreat house. You meditate and contemplate and read the Bible. There was a Director there -- Father Andrew. He'd come in my room every afternoon and we'd talk over where I'm goin' with the rest of my life."

"Kinda like re-hab, sounds like."

"I dunno, I never been to re-hab. But it done me a world of good, I can tell you. I quit my job at the Highway Department -- that was one of the problems. I was the only woman in an office of twenty seven men. I'm workin' for the Gazette now -- 'Goldie's Homemakers Page.'"

Ollie experienced a wave of dizziness. "Y'mind if I sit down, Tessie?"

Tessie untied her hair and unplugged the vacuum cleaner. "Go ahead, sit Ollie. Comes as a surprise, huh?"

"Somehow I can't see you in a retreat, or in a newspaper either for all that. What do you know about homemakin' anyways?"

"Goldie Pfeiffer writes the page. I help her. We're in three newspapers, Goldie thinks we could syndicate soon."

The sight of Ollie sitting on the sofa with his candy and wine in one hand and his hat in the other was more than Tessie could bear.

"Can I get'cha somethin' Ollie?"

"Wanna open the champagne?"

"No, liquor's out -- that's another one of the problems. Tell'ya what though, I'll make you a nice cup of tea."

Ollie looked up at her helplessly. "Okay, thanks, I'll have a tea."

"I got jasmine, orange and lemon and sassafras."

"I thought you had tea."

"It is tea, it's herbal tea. Don't look like that, it's very good for you."

"Skip the tea, Tessie .... er .... this retreat business .... does it mean  like .... well you and me used to .... you know."


"I didn't get a room Tess."

"Tell you what, Ollie, I'll get dressed, we'll take a walk in the park. It's a beautiful afternoon. You can get a room at the Bigelow. No problem in this town, nobody comes here. Then we can have a long talk."


Ollie still sat there holding the candy and the wine. Normally he would have followed Tessie in the bedroom and fooled around while she dressed, but not today -- he didn't dare today.

"Well, maybe she'd loosen up later -- no she wouldn't. Maybe I can talk her out of it -- no I can't. This never happened before. Must'a been that Father Andrew. Imagine Tessie talkin' to a Priest! When was the last time I talked to a Priest? When Mom died, right? I tell ya, there's no standin' up against the church, once they get their claws in you. I didn't get to tell her my news either. My last trip as a drummer -- I wanted it to be special. Well, she's a class woman, right? Y'can't just drop in like she was a .... no! .... course not. Is it worth it? Well, sure it is, you know how you feel about Tessie -- she's more than special, right? Yes .... but .... it was nice the
way it was, too -- comin' and goin' -- no strings. Why spoil a good thing?"

"Ready, Ollie?"

Ollie had almost dozed off on the sofa. He caressed the arm of it and recalled the afternoon he and Tessie had gone out to get this particular sofa -- when was it, five or six years ago. Had some great times on it too. Scoring while the football games were on and watchin' the weather report on Monday mornin' before he had to leave.

He rose from the sofa and put the candy and the wine back on the end table. "Okay if I leave these here, Tessie? Gee, y'look great old girl -- it's Okay for me to say that, ain't it?"

They stepped out into a fine spring day. A high blue sky with a flock of shepherd's sheep clouds herded their way across the western sky.

"We can take my car, Tessie."

"Forget it. It's too nice a day to ride. It's a walkin' kind of day Ollie. Walkin' and talkin' kind of day. Y'can come back and get'cha car after y'get a room."

Even Ollie had to agree it was a great day for walking. They wandered into the Highland Zoo just as the seals had roused themselves from their after lunch siesta. With their raucous barks and flipper flapping they had drawn a crowd of children.

"Look at them," Ollie remarked. "They don't ask for much, do they? A little love, a chance to show off and someone to watch over them."

"Come over here on this bench, Ollie. Sit down. Do you realize what you just said?"

Ollie sat down and took off his hat. He looked up at Tessie plaintively. "Jeez, Tessie -- now what'd I do?"

"You just described yourself to a "T," that's what! That's what I been tellin' you. You got the brains and about as much responsibility in you as one of them seals over there. Well, maybe that's okay with you but I'm not like that anymore -- I've changed Ollie. I don't know what I changed into exactly, but I'm somebody now. I'm not your fancy lady anymore Ollie, and nobody else's neither."

"Aw Tessie, I never thought you was a fancy lady. I never said that neither. You were my high spot, you were the reason I stopped off in this crummy town."

"Then off to Syracuse and Binghamton! 'See'ya Tess -- you were great Tess old girl.' There came a time Ollie, when I hated to see you at the door."

Tessie O'Shea glanced quickly at Ollie. "Poor Ollie," she thought, "Would he ever be anything more than a traveling man? We've had such good times together. Maybe I was too pushy. Look at him, poor soul. He ain't the best lover -- not by half he ain't, but he's the guy I wished it was every time. I never told that to Father Andrew. Never told it to Ollie neither -- but I told it to God, and I told it to myself a thousand times. .... Oh, Ollie, Ollie! We ain't gettin' any younger, it's time."

They sat quietly, side by side on the bench by the seals, leaving a little space between themselves -- not touching, each somewhat fearful of the other. Ollie loved Tessie but the lure of being free and easy on the road had been, (up until now at least) compelling. He thought about the news he kept to himself -- a steady job at the home office in Yonkers. It was tempting, but the call of the road, even the excitement of seeing Tessie every couple of weeks or so had kept him from considering it. The idea of Tessie full time -- Tessie as a wife! Someone to care for, to come home to every night! He turned to look at her sitting beside him. "Look at her," he thought, "Sittin' straight and proud! Is she the woman you'd build a house around? Raise kids with? KIDS!! -- c'mon, be sensible Ollie, what kinda father would I be?"

"Y'know, Tess," he began, "this was gonna be the last swing."

"What are you tryin' to say, Ollie?"

"Anderson says I should come in from the road. That's what we call it, 'the road,' like we was entertainers or something. Anderson's the head sales rep in Yonkers. They're lookin' for youth Tessie."

"You're a young 43 you said."

"There's no such thing as a young 43 on the road. I gotta lotta miles on me Tess. I stood a million rounds a drinks, payin' off whoever I owed and never a thought for tomorrow. You're right Tess, you're right, I am like them seals over there. But this was gonna be the last swing. On the way back I was gonna stop here."

He paused and moved a little closer to Tessie and fished a paper from his inside pocket. He opened it carefully and gave it to Tessie.

"What's this, Ollie," she asked.

"My birth certificate, you got one? Y'need a birth certificate to get married."

She made a mental calculation. "Says here you're 46."

"Well, I'm a young 46, what difference does it make anyways? The thing is when Anderson gave me the news, the first thing I thought about was you. Bein' on the road meant I could stop off and see you. I couldn't stop seein' you Tessie." He took a deep breath. "It's hard for a man in his middle forties t'say he loves somebody -- 'specially a road man. But to put it plain and blunt like I always been with you Tess, I love you enough to wanna marry you. I'm awful set in my ways and I got some habits I don't know if I can break out of or not, but I'll work damn hard to make you love me."

It was a left-handed proposal but it was good enough for Tessie O'Shea. Ollie was not the catch she would have settled for when she was younger, but as she grew older she saw her own faults too, and she was wise enough to know that marriages are not held together by perfection. There were pluses and minuses -- just so long as the imperfections work together.

"You sayin' you want to marry me, Ollie?"

"I dunno, I never asked nobody before, but I guess that's what I'm doin' Tess .... what do you say?"

"Well, if you're sure .... " she turned her face away, "I been around the block a few times myself, Ollie. On top of that I been so long alone I'm a little set in my ways too. Maybe we both have a lot to learn about each other. Be a good idea if we get started."

"Whaddya mean, Tess?"

"I mean -- no sense in your gettin' a room, there's a lot we gotta talk over -- let's stop off at the Chinese take-out. I know you like Chinese food."

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