The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
The Lady from San Diego
The phone rang. I was having my morning coffee. My wife Eleanor was off shopping with some of the “girls” so she couldn’t get it. The phone kept ringing. I picked it up and growled a hello. “My, my, Arnold, you sound so grouchy. I bet you haven’t had your coffee yet.”
The voice was husky, teasing, seductive, sexy. I hadn’t heard it in a long time. “I was having it when you interrupted. Where are you? London? Paris? San Francisco?”
“Right here in Sacramento. I have some business to take care of. Can you come down and have lunch?”
“Yes, today. I’m leaving tomorrow.”
I’d met Ruth Simmons at a meeting in San Francisco when we both worked for the State. She’d been a Division Chief in San Diego. We’d become, how shall I put it, involved. Then she’d married a State Senator. The Senator had died last year so now she must have become a wealthy widow. I’d seen a newspaper article saying that she’d gone to Europe. I wondered if the business she had to take care of in Sacramento had to do with her late husband’s estate.
“Why lunch?” I asked.
“To catch up on things. Aren’t you curious to see what I look like now.”
“Old and fat, I imagine.”
“Come and see. And I’d like to see what you look like.”
I had a committee meeting later in the morning. Our retirement community had dozens of committees and I’d been dragged into a couple of them. “I don’t look too great, but let’s meet. What time?” She was right. I did want to see what she looked like. We arranged to meet at the venerable Golden Dragon, long a hangout for State politicians and lobbyists, at one o’clock. The only times I’d been to the Golden Dragon while I was still working were with my Division Chief, who took me along in case he needed some statistical back-up. The restaurant owner, David Chang, always looked at me as if surprised I was allowed into his illustrious den of thieves. Well, I’d see what it looked like now. I left a note for Eleanor saying I was having lunch downtown with a friend.
At almost half past one I was sitting at a table in the Golden Dragon, pretending to be studying the menu while all around me the restaurant buzzed with conversations about how to best bilk the voters this time around. This hadn’t changed, nor had Ruth’s habit of always being late. I was reviewing all the times she’d been late in the past when there was a pause in the buzz; I looked up and she was coming through the door. No, she was definitely not old and fat. She was still an attractive woman, tall with auburn hair, a great figure, nice legs. The eyes of the middle-aged men at the other tables followed her as she made her way through, following the owner, David Chang, who looked exactly the same as I remembered. Ruth stopped several times to say hello to someone she knew; evidently she’d kept up her capital connections. When they reached my table I’m sure the pols were disappointed and the look that David gave me indicated disapproval about her having lunch with such a nobody.
I stood up, nearly knocking over a glass of water and said, “Hello, Ruth.” She kissed me on the cheek, a little more than just the usual friendly peck and looked around to make sure everyone had seen it. We sat down. “I hope you haven’t been waiting long, Arnold,” she said. “The meeting went longer than I thought it would.”
“Oh, just some boring financial stuff. You wouldn’t be interested. Let’s order. I’m famished.” Ruth was probably the only person I knew who’d use the word “famished.”
“I read that you’d gone to Europe.”
“Yes. Things were pretty hectic for a while, after Stan’s death. I felt I had to get away.”
“You’re looking good,; in fact, very good.” I said.
“Thank you. It takes a little more effort nowadays. Three days at the gym when I can make it.” She put down her menu and studied me. “Hmmm, not too bad. Hair thinner and a little heavier. Are you still playing tennis?”
“Three times a week, just like your gym.”
She glanced around and a waiter immediately came over. We ordered; I had the cashew chicken and she had a salad. “How’s your wife?” she asked.
“Eleanor is fine.”
“And the kids?”
“Both boys are through college. One is unemployed right now. The recession hit his company.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” She reached over and put her hand on mine. Ruth had always been a great toucher. At one time I’d related all of my domestic problems to Ruth; she knew all about my family. She could be very sympathetic.
“What about working for the State?”
“No, he’s dead-set against that. Probably saw what it did to me.”
“It was your own fault. You were always a reprobate. You retired early, right?”
“As soon as I could.”
“So, how is retired life?”
“What do you do when you’re not playing tennis?”
“Well, our retirement community has lots of clubs and committees and I’m on a few. They wanted me to run for Board of Directors, but that’s too much like a full-time job so I declined. Oh, I’m doing some writing.”
“Yes, I saw one of your articles in the Bee local section, about some writer in Davis. You were rather taken with her, weren’t you?”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, you gave a pretty detailed description of her. She looked pretty in the photo.”
“I was only trying to point out the difference between the way she looks and the type of stuff she writes.”
“Hmmm.” I wondered if she was teasing. She liked to do that.
The waiter brought our orders and we began eating. “How are the women in that retirement community?” she said. “I bet that if you were single they’d be falling all over you.”
Teasing again. “Well, I’m married, and nobody would be falling all over me.”
She laughed. I was afraid for a minute she’d remind me that when I was seeing her I’d been married. Instead, she said, “My, my, I didn’t want to upset you.”
I didn’t believe that. Ruth always managed to upset me, in one way or the other. To change the subject I asked about her European trip. She gave me an account of her time in London, then Paris, then Rome. Somehow there was always some man involved. In London it was Bertie; in Paris it was Henri; in Rome it was Enrico. They were all darling and also a little foolish. I wondered if that was the way she’d talked about me.
Eventually, after she’d given me some news about her plans, she was going to stay in San Francisco for a week and then go to Hawaii to visit some friends, and I’d told her some more about my adventures as a free-lance writer, we finished our meal. I knew we’d have an argument about paying the check so as soon as the waiter came over I grabbed it and gave him my credit card. “You really should let me pay,” she said. “I was the one who invited you.”
“I’m retired but not destitute.”
“Well, thank you. I’m glad you came.”
“So am I.” I guessed that I was.
“My hotel is only a few blocks away. Why don’t you come over with me. I’ve nothing to do all afternoon.”
I couldn’t help but remember the meeting in San Francisco when she’d invited me into her room and what ensued after that. “What?”
She laughed. “All right. I was joking. I know you want to get back to Eleanor.”
No, I didn’t really. Damn this woman. Even now, she knew how to play me. I stood up, “It was good to see you again,” I said.
Ruth also stood up. “Yes,” she said. We exited the restaurant. As we stood outside she gave me a long look.
“No,” I said. She walked away, a tall, elegant figure, soon merging into the crowd. I went back to the garage where I’d left my car
When I returned home Eleanor was there. “So you had lunch with an old friend?” she said.
“It was that lady from San Diego, wasn’t it.” Eleanor always referred to Ruth as that lady from San Diego, sometimes just as “that lady” or “that woman.”
“As a matter of fact, it was. She was in town for the day. She’s going to San Francisco tomorrow, then to Hawaii. We had lunch at the Golden Dragon. That was all.”
“Good.” Eleanor stalked into the kitchen and began doing something with the dishes
The next morning I played tennis with my usual foursome but I didn’t play so well. “You seem off your game,” my partner said.
“Yeah, a little.”
The morning after that I had a committee meeting. I couldn’t pay much attention to what important matters were being discussed.
By the next week I thought I was pretty much back to normal and I hoped that when I played tennis I wouldn’t still be off my game.
© Martin Green March 2014
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