Danny and Bets

He took her hand, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I would have hoped you’d understand.”

“What’s to understand? We’ve been together since, well since we shouldn’t have been together.” She was crying a little now, “But I know, I mean I should have known, I can’t compete with those fancy eastern girls you met at that stupid college.”

He’d tried to time this right; his train left in ten minutes. That would give him enough time to tell her, let it sink in and then hop on the train back east. An easy escape. But it wasn’t working out because wasn’t taking it easy. “It’s not that Bets, sometimes you just meet someone and it feels right.” The conductor was starting to shoo people onto the train.

“Pullman sleepers to the rear, coaches to the front. We’re running two minutes late, all aboard folks!” The conductor pulled a lantern out and lit it, the flame glowed red and green through the Fresnel lenses. He was getting ready to highball the engineer. There was the sound of steam escaping as the brakes released.

“Bets I gotta go.” I’ll write you, try to explain it better.

“Save your time and your 3 cents. I won’t read it”. She walked back to the parking lot.

From the train window he could see her car still sitting there, snow piling up on the windshield. Was she sitting there crying? He would write to her anyway. As the train pulled away, he pictured her in rolled up jeans, daring the boys to throw her off the monkey bars, or in her first dress when they went to that school dance.

As soon as the train cleared the station, he got out his writing pad and began a letter.

*****

January 3rd 1953

Dearest Bets:

I wish I could make you understand. People grow, they change. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you; of course I do. We grew up together, we were inseparable, we will always have a special bond. But Sophie and I have the same interests, her family are all lawyers and bankers…I don’t know how to describe it; we just fit together.

I wish you would write back, if you do, I can explain some more. I need you, you’re still my best friend.

Love Danny

*****

January 26th 1953

Dearest Bets:

It’s been three weeks and still no reply from you. Probably you are not wanting to answer, but you know me, stupid optimist (haha), I am thinking that maybe it got lost in the mail or something. Anyway, would love to talk to you more about the whole thing. Things going okay here, give your Mother and Father my love.

All My Love Danny

*****

February 21 1953

Dear Bets:

Come on now, this is silly. There are things going on here I really need to talk to you about. Please write back.

Love Danny

*****

March 2nd 1953

Bets:

I think you’re being very immature about the whole thing. School and things with Sophie going fine. She’d like to meet you.

Love Danny

*****

3/14/53

Dear Asshole,

“SOPHIE?”

Worst Regards

Betty

*****

March 20th 1953

Dear Bets:

I was hoping that when you finally did write back, it would be something a little nicer than that. Sophie is a warm, intelligent gal. She says she has heard a lot about you and certainly is interested in meeting “your little friend”…I guess she is a tad jealous. Why don’t you hop on a train and come visit. Sophie’s family has a wonderful mansion on the Mainline I am sure you would love staying there.

All My Love Danny

*****

4/2/53

Daniel,

I can’t, I am getting ready for second semester finals. A mainline mansion? Are you serious? I think I know everything I need to know about Sophie baby. I hope you can afford her.

Betty

*****

April 10th 1953

Dear Bets:

School? I didn’t know. Good for you! So you decided to go to Dodson State? That’s a good solid choice and very affordable. Are you getting that secretarial certificate? I am proud of you.

Love Danny

*****

4/15/53

Daniel,

I’m pre-med.

Betty

*****

April 19th 1953

Dear Bets:

Well you didn’t have to get snippy about it. How was I to know? You said you couldn’t afford to go to college with your brother and sister already going. They don’t have a medical school there so what are you going to do?

Love Danny

*****

5/5/53

Danny,

Maybe you would know if you took three minutes to ask one question about me. Over Christmas break you did nothing but brag about Old-Sock U or wherever the hell you’re going. I should have known there was some snooty-puss chick involved. Even my dad, who always loved you, said you sounded full of yourself.

As to Med School I am pre-accepted if I can ace my second semester. It’s a place called “Yale”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. I need to be studying but here I am writing to you.

Tell Sophie I’d like to meet her never.

Betty

*****

May 21st 1953

Betty:

I didn’t realize that. I’m sorry, of course I am interested in you. I might not write for awhile, we are going up to Maine to Sophie’s family summer place. It’s supposedly very remote. I do wish you had gotten to know her and her family…they are so smart and so connected. It’s a thrill being around them. Take care and have a good summer.

Love Danny

*****

5/30/53

Dan,

Yes I was accepted at Yale. Thanks for asking. I am glad you’ll be having such a “connected” “smart” summer. I hope “Sophie” doesn’t get eaten by a bear.

Betty

*****

7/2/52

Dan,

Your favorite Aunt died…three weeks ago. No one knows where Sophie is hiding you. If by some miracle you get this you should call your Mother.

Betty

*****

7/17/53

Dear Bets:

Well, I guess you’ll be happy. You were right. After about a month with that family I realized all they cared about was appearing clever and witty. They spent half the time making fun of people. When I mentioned it they started making fun of me. Sophie even said maybe I should go be with “Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farms”…that would be you. I’m a little heartbroken but not that bad.

I hope your first semester at Yale goes well.

Love Danny

*****

8/4/53

Dan,

Well, I am sorry you had your heart broken but I am not sure why you would think I’d be happy. By the way, I’ve been seeing someone. He is nice, reminds me of the way you used to be. Good luck to you as well.

Bets

*****

August 9th 1953

Dear Bets:

That stung. You have no idea how much. I hope it works out, but I have to admit I am feeling a little jealous.

Love Danny

*****

10/4/53

Danny,

I didn’t mean to be so harsh. Maybe I was a little happy. I am sorry for that. The guy didn’t work out, he found a cheerleader type to date. That’s okay. Wasn’t that smart anyway. Will you be home for the holidays?

Bets

*****

October 8th 1953

Dearest Bets:

I definitely will be home for the holidays and am looking forward to spending some time with you. I know I kind of screwed up. Can we talk about it then? School is going well, I guess I am going to rush a fraternity after all. Wish me luck. See you soon (hopefully).

Love Danny

*****

11/11/53

Daniel,

What the hell do you think you’re doing? You send your mother a letter that you met a prostitute and you “can’t wait for them to meet her?” Who does that to their mother? Never mind being with a whore. I don’t know you. Don’t come around, my father says he’ll hand you your head if you get near me.

Bye

*****

November 19th 1953

Bets:

I am so sorry!!!! It was a prank that backfired, I swear it. It was part of getting into the fraternity, It’s something they make the pledges do. Some other poor guy had to tell his mother that he’d fallen for a 14 year old but she was really mature for her age and they were getting married soon. Bobby across the street was supposed to check the mail every day and let me know when the letter got there so I could call her right after she read it. He missed a day. I tried to call her right away but the damned party line was clogged up for hours. I finally got through and explained it all. She is still mad about it…I had to quit the fraternity on her account she was so upset.

Pleading

Danny

*****

12/1/53

Danny,

You are a class A idiot. Lucky for you Carla’s cousin is in that same fraternity but over at Samuelson. He told her that’s the standard initiation they do. She told him he is an idiot just like you are. Your mother has calmed down and my father is saying now he will slap you on the head but won’t actually knock your block off. How come men (boys!) never think?

Hurry up and get home before you hurt yourself. I think our break starts sooner so call me from the station and I will pick you up.

Bets

PS: I can’t believe you trusted Bobby to do anything important. You’re as dumb as he is.

*****

January 5th 1954

Dearest Bets:

I am so sorry to be back here without you. The holiday was wonderful. I can’t wait until we are together again. Do you think I can come visit you? Yale is not far on the train.

Love Danny

*****

1/8/54

Dear Danny,

Of course you can come visit…I would love that. Try not to do anything stupid between now and then (kidding!) I really miss you. You better be living like a monk…you’re still on probation.

Love Bets

I Heard You Were Back

I have no idea what happened to her. She was beautiful, and if there is any doubt, I lost a friend over her. The older guys at the Texaco station where I worked thought I was out of my depth. “That’s your girlfriend college boy? You sure you can handle that?”

They had a point. I wasn’t handling anything…I was more or less along for the ride. If this had been noir, I would say something like “She was looking for a chump, and I was already putty in her hands.” But this wasn’t noir, and actually she was a sweetheart. Just a bit of a hot mess.

We dated and hung out and more or less cohabitated for a summer and then I needed to go back to New York to live with my parents while I worked two jobs to raise some more college money. There was a bit of a letter writing tragedy. I was in Baldwin, Long Island, New York. There is another Baldwin, New York and all the letters she wrote me went there. I had written her a few times but when she didn’t write back I just gave up.

Now you are going to ask “why didn’t one of you just pick up the phone?” Hell if I know. It was forty years ago, maybe she didn’t have a phone, maybe I didn’t give her my number but we lost touch and that was that. It was okay, it was a fun fling, but I wasn’t that hung up on it. Still, I did miss her.

But eventually I returned to college in Indiana and as far as she was concerned, I just wasn’t interested. I always knew there was no future there. She had other ideas.

“I heard you were back.” I finally got the call. It wasn’t so much an informative statement as an accusation. What she meant was…”I heard it, but not from you.”

“Well, I was in the hospital.” A true statement; all the work back in New York resulted in a bad case of pneumonia. “Besides, you never wrote back. I thought you weren’t interested.” Also true, as far as I knew.

“Don’t be silly. Of course I’m still interested.” She paused.

The best I could come up with was “oh…”

She changed tacks “I’ll make you dinner. You doing anything tomorrow night?”

Lets pause here for a minute. There was a time to lie, if I was going to lie, and this was it. Instead, I said “no.”

“Okay, I’ll see you then?” She said this with an air of finality.

I didn’t exactly lie; it wasn’t a lie because I really didn’t know what I was going to do. Now, having missed the opportunity to tell a white lie earlier, I was trapped into a bigger lie. I knew what would happen if I showed up: she was pretty without any effort, and she was sure to put in a effort. I didn’t show up and she got the message. I am sure I hurt her. But showing up, then waking up in her bed the next morning and blowing her off would have been much worse. And that is precisely what would have happened.

She tried again a few months later. “Why don’t you come over?”

This time I did her straight. “It’s just not a good idea.”

“Oh.” A more sincere “Oh” then mine. “I guess I’ll go home and live with my parents for awhile.” This was not manipulation. It was a statement of fact, she didn’t feel there was any reason to hang around. She was just letting me know it was the last chance to change my mind.

“Good bye Ali.” She didn’t say anything. She just put the receiver back in its cradle, so gently I barely heard the click.

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

Break-up Time Machine Prompt

He took her hand, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I would have hoped you’d understand.”

“What’s to understand? We’ve been together since, well since we shouldn’t have been together.” She was crying a little now, “But I know, I mean I should have known, I can’t compete with those fancy eastern girls you met at that stupid college.”

He’d tried to time this right, his train left in ten minutes. That would give him enough time to tell her, let it sink in and then hop on the train back east. An easy escape. But it wasn’t working out, she wasn’t taking it easy. “It’s not that Bets, sometimes you just meet someone and it feels right.” The conductor was starting to shoo people onto the train.

“Pullman sleepers to the rear, coaches to the front. We’re running two minutes late, all aboard folks!” The conductor pulled a lantern out and lit it, the flame glowed red and green through the Fresnel lenses. He was getting ready to highball the engineer. The sound of steam escaping as the brakes released.

“Bets I gotta go.” I’ll write you, try to explain it better.

“Save your time and your 3 cents. I won’t read it”. She walked back to the parking lot.

From the train window he could see her car still sitting there. Snow piled up on the windshield. Was she sitting there crying? He would write to her anyway. And as the train pulled away, he pictured her in rolled up jeans, daring the boys to throw her off the monkey bars, or in her first dress at the school dance. And he couldn’t help thinking he’d made a horrible mistake.

The Sound of The Setting Sun

The old man took a deep breath of the evening air. The sun had not quite set but the woods were beginning to come alive with night sounds. He sat near a small fire and looked out over the lake. He had driven up here, to the trailhead, and then hiked in 7 miles to this spot that he knew so well. He also knew it would be deserted; late October was not high tourist season in the North Woods. Not even hunters would hike in this far.

He was exhausted from the hike, but content and the only thing missing was Sam…he would have liked to have his dog here with him…especially now, but in the end he decided it would be best to leave him with Patti, she loved the dog and would know what to do. He was lucky to have Patti come into his life, at 23 years old it was strange that they got on so well, but she had taken a liking to him after he’d come in to pay his rent and made a point of checking on him almost every day. Even when she wasn’t working she would text him a funny picture or video the way young people like to do.

What really cinched it was the time he talked her into taking him skiing. It wasn’t that he couldn’t drive himself, he certainly could, but he knew if something happened his daughters would swoop in and take away his skis, his car, his freedom. For some reason, they thought he was hard of hearing…a misapprehension he used to his advantage. So he knew he needed to watch his step. They meant well, but their attempts to “protect” him meant losing his independence. Even Sam was a risk…he’d overheard one daughter saying something about a “rescue”. So what he needed was a wingman and Patti was up for the job. It took some talking, but after assuring her that he would stay on the green hills and throwing in gas money, lunch and dinner, and setting her up with a private ski lesson she agreed.

Everything went fine although he’d fibbed about the green hills, but as he explained some people can ski well into their 70s and even 80s. Once they arrived and Patti saw the large number of seniors on skis, she relaxed and went off for her lesson leaving him to do what he liked best; enjoying the peace and quiet of the snow covered trails and the occassional rush of doing something a little risky. Patti had refused to take any of his money even though her ski rentals and lesson had cost her a pretty penny. They had taken his car and he’d let her drive down but on the way home he drove…he wanted her to see he was fine driving alone, and in any event his daughters had insisted he upgrade his car to the lastest safety features which didn’t hurt any. During that three hour drive he’d come to regard her almost as a daughter…she had shared a lot with him and he began to understand that she was a special type of person. He loved his daughters beyond all measure but he understood that they had thier lives to live and so he felt fortunate to have someone like Patti in his life.

“Daddy, I don’t think you should be living alone”. That was Gracie, his youngest and the one he called Princess. She more than anyone knew that he would never be able to stand losing his own place. He kissed her on the cheek and promised her he would think about it. They both knew he was lying and Gracie wouldn’t push the issue but her older sister was another story. She had been checking out “nice places” and kept sending him brochures which he promised her he would read. “Would I get to keep my car?” “Now daddy…”. It all came to a head the day he fell, both girls freaked out a little and both came to town to take him to his doctor. He had to give permission but they came into the exam room with him. Finally, to get out of there, he’d agreed that he must have gotten a little light headed. They went home and the girls had the opinion from his own doctor that he should probably “be around people”. He explained about Patti looking in on him, but they objected saying “and what happens when she gets a new job?”

The irony of the situation was that he had actually tripped over Sam; no spring chicken himself, Sam was half blind and had taken to being underfoot all the time. If he had admitted that though, they may have taken Sam away. His sister called him; she never called with happy news. All she had to say was “how do you think your daughters would feel if they found you laying on the floor dead?” Thanks Phyllis. He said she was absolutely right and he would do something about it straight away. “Thank God I was able to talk some sense into you” she said before announcing that she had to go watch her favorite TV show.

Something his daughters did not know about was the followup call he’d gotten from his doctor’s office. His steadliy declining kidney function was reaching a critical stage. Telling his daughters would mean he had seen his last day of skiing, his last walk in the woods alone, his last drive to the ocean to watch the waves crash on the shore while he sipped beers from his cooler. He HAD confided in Patti, told her he wanted one last trip to the North Country, and she had given him a tent that she never used. His daughters wouldn’t like it and they would feel betrayed, well maybe Gracie would understand after awhile…she was her father’s daughter. Patti wouldn’t like it either, but she would immediately understand and that is why she was watching Sam.

He took the three notes, one for each daughter and one for Patti, put them in plastic bags and pinned them to the tent wall. They would find the car first so there was a note in the car pointing out his camping site. He told all three girls he loved them and asked Patti to take care of Sam, although he already knew she would. And then he thought about his late wife for a few minutes…would she understand? Of course she would; she knew who she married.

He watched as the sky turned orange, then red, then purple. He watched as the stars appeared and found Polaris, Orion and Ursa Major. There was no moon and that made him a little sad but he was able to make out Venus and Mars. He had carried in a can of beer and left it to chill in a nearby stream. He got up and grabbed the beer…it was perfect. He sat back down just outside the tent entrance, pulled the bottle from his pocket and without hesitation swallowed it’s contents, washing it down with the ice cold beer. Then he sat back and breathed the pine air and he could smell the Balsam and he could smell the Tamarack and he could smell the Jack Pine. He could hear a fish striking at a mosquito and his daughters crying in their cribs and he heard his wife saying she was waiting for him.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

Not This Time

I had been upgraded to 1st Class on a business trip to Memphis.  It was one of those last flight of the night deals when everyone is in a mellow state; passengers, crew, gate agents.  The plane was full save the one seat beside me.  No way it’s going to stay open.  I had a book to read, but was in that half-reading,  half-alert state that you are in while you are waiting to see who your seatmate is.  Once they settle in, I would do my usual courtesy greeting and go back to my reading.

No one else was boarding, but the door was still open,  you could hear the whine of the APUs and some chatter on the jet bridge.  The flight attendant moved back a step and waved in the last passenger,  and then directed her to the seat beside me.

She was dressed the way people used to dress to fly when it was not so common or to board a first class long distance train.   Expensive coat,  nice dress, pearls,  patent leather heels.  And she was attractive.  Actually,  she was beautiful,  with wavy brunette hair that made her blue eyes stand out.  We did the customary greeting, she ordered a drink and we both settled in,  me with my book.

When the flight attendant appeared to take up the glasses before takeoff,  she said something funny.  I can’t remember what it was but all three of us were laughing.  That broke the ice, we exchanged names, and for the next 90 minutes, we talked without pause, other than to have drinks refilled.

The cabin lights were off other than the spillover from the galley and we spoke in that semi-darkness with the sound of the engines that seemed to magnify the intimacy.   She had man troubles.  She was reassessing her life,  and I was right there for part of it.  She had just been badly used and she admitted she was stuck in a pattern.  Her problem was not quantity,  but as is so often the case,  it was quality.  We spoke very little about myself, only that I had a family with a daughter.  The conversation continued along the same lines right up until the time we heard the screech of the tires touching down.

We both sighed,  we could have talked a lot longer.  She looked at me “so what are you doing now?”.  She’d opened a door.  I walked around it.  I have some work to do tonight.  It was a lie, but one I judged was worth telling.  “oh”.

She got up first,  and I watched her get her things together.  When I got up,  she was ready to head out the door, but she stopped and turned around.  She put her hand on my upper arm, and she stood there looking at it for a second,  her hand on my arm.  Then she looked me in the eyes and said “You were exactly what I needed tonight.  Thank you.”  And then she turned and walked off the plane.

The Big Whiff

I saw it coming before he did. It was just too obvious…too many beers, too much PBR apparel. I saw the blonde heading to the table between us and it was like the script was already written.

She seemed nice, at least she was patient you’d have to say.  His radar went off like a sailor in port on payday. He said something to her, admittedly it was kind of funny, I thought so and she did too, at least she laughed. A brief moment of triumph before the inevitable crash and burn.

That the PBR shirt and her Bogner apres ski clothes weren’t gonna mix well was apparent to everyone in the bar…well almost everyone.  He was in that beer fueled optimistic state that all guys experience. Unfortunately, there’s a delicate equilibrium of alcohol and stupidity and when one gets out of balance high comedy ensues. But for some reason she wasn’t shooting him down. That reason soon became apparent when three girlfriends arrived…she wanted to keep the quarry alive until the big guns showed up.

Now the women are giggling and taking potshots at the guy…he doubles down and orders another beer. I wanna tell the guy to stop, to preserve his dignity, but he’s beyond helping. I scope the women in the group, all of them attractive…the redhead especially so.

I lose interest and go back to my book. The bar was clearing out, you could feel it as the bodies left and the temperature dropped imperceptibly. The women were gone except the redhead, I could see her out of the corner of my eye. Then she got up to leave and I turned for a last look…and then I noticed her hand was trailing behind her, it was attached to another hand…that hand belonged to PBR guy.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved