4th Miracle: Closure
She dressed up nicely and went downtown to have dinner with her ex-husband.
“You look healthy,” Harry Ashley said.
“Yes, I am healthy.” Eleanor sat down. A large pepper steak kept her busy while Harry told her about the progress he had made concerning various negotiations.
“You are listening?” he asked after awhile.
Harry continued talking, slower and less well structured. “I had a grim nightmare last night.”
Now you, too? Eleanor Ashley was thinking.
“I was lying in a little, bare room,” Harry was sounding uncertain, “equipped with chalky walls and a concrete floor. I had fallen for some reason, and now I was being attacked.”
“Poor you!” Eleanor said cryptically, not knowing whether it was her intention to sound compassionate or sarcastic. Harry did in any event stare at her with irritation.
“It was quite nasty, actually,” he said. “They kicked me in the side, I got a boot in my face. Some big, blond guys they were, with grins on their mouths and plenty of time to spare. I realized that they would never draw the line, they would simply kick me to pieces.” He paused. “But the worst part was that I had absolutely no will to defend myself. I couldn't help but speculate about that as I woke up this morning. I know how banal my dream may sound.”
“So you are a masochist, Harry?” she said teasingly. “How interesting. Maybe that’s why things didn’t quite work out between us. Why didn’t you just tell me your desire to be kicked in the groin before we split? That shouldn't have separated us.” She laughed, then she smoothed out. “I do not understand what you mean, please try to explain it to me.”
Harry apparently had forgotten all about the food in front of him. “The more money I make, the worse my conscience. Anxiety lingers underneath my skin, although I never encounter anything unpleasant at all. You know, I get in my car inside a private garage, right? I have air-condition, so that I can close the windows when passing through a bad district. I live in a safe suburb. If I get a flat, I speed-dial using my car phone, and AAA comes to fix the tire without even asking me to step outside! I never get to New York City anymore, because I hear it’s unsafe. Need I continue?”
“Being scared isn't like you,” Eleanor said.
“I’m not afraid,” he replied. “I have just become so attentive, so selective, carefully choosing the things I feel are going to benefit me, that is how far my world goes.”
“I see nothing wrong with that,” she said. “In my opinion, you're doing the right thing by working hard, by spending your means to benefit the people who really mean something to you. Am I completely wrong? Quite out in the woods?" She felt sure of herself as she continued. “There are no alternatives. You may take a dive, but there’s no one to receive you down there. Do like your neighbors, Harry, donate a bit of money here and there, empty the coin box of your wallet into a beggar’s pocket; either that or into one of those big aquariums with stacks of tokens at the bottom –you would have seen them at 7-Eleven, but you never come there, of course.” Patronizing Harry filled her with joy.
“I do donate $7000 per year for different types of things, actually,” he said.
“I never knew,” she replied, sounding genuinely positive.
“So what?” he continued. “I have more than enough to cover my needs. Shouldn’t I rather give $14,000, $20,000? How much do I actually need for myself? Enough to function. I do function very well, that I can assure you. We’ve always done so in my family, it is simply a natural gene. I also functioned splendidly when I was a poor student living in a small apartment, always working two or three jobs simultaneously. But these days, to function I need my house, first and foremost, then the car without which getting to work is completely impossible. Then the boat, the entertainment system, the tailor, the occasional limousine and helicopter lift, then what comes next and next and next. Liberty to move around is a costly privilege. If I can’t travel wherever and whenever I feel the need, it drives me nuts. Don’t you see how perverted it has become?”
“Your life is your own, Harry. Deal with it.”
Eleanor leaned back, certain that the pendulum would soon swing over, the barometer return to fair. Harry, the eternal optimist, could not be negative for long. Harry had expanded his business, flooded her with articles and books she had to read, always wanting to discuss, tirelessly dragged her to exhibitions and into the theater. Harry could not stay negative.
She felt an inner sweetness. She had taken care of the wine, which had done her good. She felt so comfortable, well aware of how splendid she looked. She had a tan, her weight was perfect, quite well-trained. Her face was steady but receptive, and her feeling of being in control appeared to be growing.
Then she discovered that Harry had stopped talking. He was just sitting there, staring out in the air, and she had plenty of time to closely follow her own reaction to his unusual behavior. She looked at him, not yet having decided what to tell him. Definitely, it had better be something encouraging and generous, because sadness had attached itself to his handsome face. The mouth was a straight line, which promised no sarcasm, because it could not thaw. Only his eyes, these black diamond eyes that had dragged her towards him once, appeared unaffected.
Eleanor could not stand looking at him like this. She once had a lover who told her: “Your expression is so sad that it makes me insecure.” Now she understood what the boy had meant. She got up, left the table, and when to the ladies room, where she stood in front of the mirror for a long time while refreshing her makeup. Then she returned to find Harry relaxed the way she always knew him. He had ordered dessert for them.
“So how do you spend your time?” he asked, as he licked his spoon, observing it with keen interest.
“I have been reading the Bible thoroughly.”
“You must be joking!”
“I’m not. I spent a few nights at hotel in New Hampshire, there was a Bible underneath my pillow, which insulted me to such an extent that I decided to steal it. I have looked carefully at the 10 commandments, some evenings I read one or two, then turn off the lights, and I am lying there speculating about their contents.”
“Thou shall not steal?”
“That one I have violated already. But some of them do make sense, I just think that they express a warning against things that tend to make people unhappy.”
“So why don't you believe?” Harry asked, then made sure to eat the rest of his ice-cream before it melted.
“One has the right to do one’s own thinking, then adjust the Bible to fit one's own psyche. I would commit adultery, but not to the degree that I would lose my ability to fall in love. I’ll even make an effort to remember that each time I throw myself in someone’s arms, I’ll take a piece of that person with me. Love is not just for fun.”
“Does that go for gigolos, too?” Harry asked, as he fetched his wallet from his inner pocket.
“Not at all. It would be terrible to think that you can emotionally tear up a gigolo.”
“So it’s OK to be a gigolo and OK to sleep with them?”
“It is probably too dangerous now, with all these new diseases flying around,” she said. “When they wrote the Bible, prostitution was doubtlessly safe, but the establishment hated prostitution, creating the unhappiness effect I’ve been talking about. The prohibition against adultery became a self-fulfilling prophecy, so to speak.”
“You sound like you’ve got solid ground underneath your feet, Eleanor. And welcome back with a new set of opinions.”
They went to his place afterwards, listening to old records and drinking aged brandy, speaking like two who had lots to talk about. But Eleanor glanced at her watch at midnight, then again at 1:00, and the second time around she understood that the desire to spend the night would not present itself.
Some petty, childish competition had been played out during dinner: A contest for control. Now she ended it. Harry was mid-sentence, when she thought about how abruptly he had asked for the check. That was just so typical of the man, who always knew when the time had come, when to finish things off. Like their relationship, for example.
“Well, I'd better be getting back,” she said. “Oh sorry, weren’t you just in the middle of telling me something?”