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