Post Road Magazine #10

Holiday From Women

by Barry Gifford

Bobby Newby had three women in his life, each of whom provided ingredients important if not essential to his existence. He was no longer a young man, having already passed what almost certainly had been the majority of his reasonably expected lifetime.

His ex-wife and he had raised three children, now grown to adulthood, and, following a couple of difficult years before and after the divorce, had resumed to some degree the friendship that had been the basis of their twenty-four-year marriage. This friendship, Bobby knew, he would have terrible difficulty doing without, seeing as how his ex-wife was the one person in the world he trusted above all others. His devotion to her remained undiminished; nobody could ever replace her in his affections.

Bobby's former companion, the woman he had taken up with after the collapse of his marriage, still held a romantic fascination for him. She was equally irreplaceable, simply because never before meeting and living with her—for four years—had he felt so completely engaged emotionally. The problem with both of these women, Bobby had discovered, was that for various reasons he could not live happily with them, reasons that did not, he concluded after considerable contemplation, connote fault on either of their parts.

His current girlfriend, who was much younger than he, was—for the time being—more accepting of his desire to maintain separate residences, though she had recently, after dating Bobby for a year, been suggesting that, being childless, she would soon need to make a decision regarding her biological clock, a situation that Bobby knew would clearly necessitate a further commitment by him if the relationship were to continue.

Bobby was at something of an impasse. He was aware that all three of these women, each desirable in their ways, were waiting for him to make a decision regarding them so that they could get on with their lives. Not that he had been holding out promises to any of them; but he knew, nevertheless, the choice was, for the moment, his.

Bobby decided that what he needed to do was take a holiday. He had some good friends in the South who had been inviting him to visit for years to go fishing, and he called them, asking if now was a good time for them to have him. They told Bobby to come ahead. “I want to get away from everything,” he told his friend Ned. Ned laughed and replied, “All any of us can do is go from something to something else. But come on down anyway.”

Once he was with Ned and Larry at Larry’s house on the river, Bobby Newby felt more alone than ever. Despite his old pals’ conviviality and genuine enthusiasm at seeing him, Bobby began to think that Kafka had been correct in his assessment of the human condition. There were no more satisfactory answers in life than there would be in death. Regarding his—and, perhaps, Kafka’s dilemma with women, Bobby understood that he would never be able to satisfy what they perceived as their needs, that nobody could. Suddenly, Bobby felt better, and he started to relax. Even Kafka, he thought, must have now and again taken a moment of comfort in the realization that one was at both the beginning and the end of consciousness responsible only for one’s own life. At least there could be a painless interlude or two before the horror, as Conrad identified it, returned to spoil things for everybody.

The fishing was good. Each day aboard Larry’s boat in the Gulf of Mexico Bobby caught several redfish, many in the thirty-pound range. At night he went to bed tired and happy and slept well.

The evening of the day before he was scheduled to leave, Bobby accompanied Ned and Larry to a bar downriver. It was a large, lively place named Billy’s Bad Boy. Larry introduced Ned and Bobby to several patrons, all locals, one of whom was an attractive woman who looked to be about thirty-five. She had white-blonde hair cut short and perfect teeth. Her name was Verna Lee. Bobby found Verna Lee very easy to talk to; she seemed intelligent, was not too obviously flirtatious, and had a ready sense of humor.

As the evening wore on, Verna Lee and Bobby found themselves deep in conversation, seated at a table apart from the others. “So what’s your story, Bobby?” Verna Lee asked him. “This being our third drink together,” she said, “I figure the timing’s about right for you to tell it and me to hear it.”

Bobby laughed, gave her a short version of his predicament, and told her how the fishing was proving salutary.

“You come to a decision?” she asked. “Only that I won't be making any sudden moves,” Bobby answered. “I think it's best for me right now to take it easy on myself, let people be responsible for themselves. The situation will sort itself out even if I do nothing.”

“Doing nothing is doing something,” said Verna Lee. “Don’t fret, Bobby, some woman's gonna come along who’ll take precedence over the others. Have patience.”

Verna Lee reached over and squeezed Bobby’s free hand, the one that was not holding a glass, then let go.

“My turn,” she said. “Shoot.”

“My marriage ended after seven years. I got hitched at eighteen, Art was twenty. I started working as a flight attendant right after the divorce. That was eleven years ago.”

“You haven’t remarried.” “No. I like flying and I like my independence.” “No children?” “Not yet. It’s looking doubtful.” “You’re still young.” Verna Lee smiled and gave a little laugh. “Thanks, but I don’t really know if I want any. My boyfriend has two daughters. They live with him and when I stay there we spend time together. Their mother’s dead.”

“How old are they?” “Ten and twelve. Frank, my boyfriend, was piloting a small plane with his wife and daughters aboard. The plane crash-landed in bad weather and his wife was killed. Both girls had injuries: one broke both legs, the other lost an eye. Frank busted his hip, fractured his pelvis. His wife’s neck snapped on impact.”

Verna Lee got up and walked over to the bar. She returned five minutes later with two drinks, one of which she handed to Bobby. She sat down and they touched glasses and drank.

“Frank still pilots,” said Verna Lee. “Bought a new Beechcraft two months ago.”

“You didn't know his wife?” “Shareen. No, I met Frank a couple of years after the accident.” “Where did you meet him?” "On an airplane, where else?"

They both laughed. “It’s a strange life, huh?” asked Verna Lee. “If Frank hadn’t had that wreck, I probably never would have met him.”

“You could say that about everybody,” said Bobby. “If so-and-so hadn’t gone into that drugstore to buy toothpaste, he wouldn’t have met that pretty cashier.”

“Or the handsome pharmacist.” Bobby took a sip of his drink. “Where’s your boyfriend tonight?” “In Chicago, on business.” Verna Lee finished off most of her fourth rum and orange juice. “I guess I’m spoiling your holiday,” she said. “What do you mean?”

“Your holiday from women.” Bobby smiled. “I like talking to you.” Verna Lee looked straight into Bobby’s eyes. “Actually, Frank and I haven’t been getting along so well lately.”

Bobby nodded and said, “Holidays don't last forever, Verna Lee."

Barry Gifford ’s novels have been translated into twenty-five languages. Mr. Gifford’s most recent books include The Phantom Father, named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Wyoming, named a Los Angeles Times Novel of the Year, and which has been adapted for the stage and film; American Falls: The Collected Short Stories, The Rooster Trapped in the Reptile Room: A Barry Gifford Reader, Brando Rides Alone, Do the Blind Dream?, Back in America, and Read ‘Em and Weep: My Favorite Novels. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information please visit www.BarryGifford.com.

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