The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction
Paul Lerner was alone in his house, which was in a retirement community near Sacramento, California. It was mid-afternoon. The house was quiet. His wife Sally was off visiting her sister. The cats were sleeping. He himself had been leafing through a magazine and was ready to fall asleep.
The phone rang. Probably one of those computer calls, Paul told himself. No, it was a neighbor, Lila Silverman. She knew Sally was away and was inviting him to a little party they were having on Sunday. The Silvermans were great party givers. Sunday? That was pro football day and Paul remembered the 49ers were having an important game. Besides, there was Lila’s husband Conrad, the golf bore. Paul knew that if he came Conrad would immediately latch onto him and describe his latest round of golf, hole by hole. He said the first thing that came into his mind. “I’d like to but I have, uh, a cold, a bad cold.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. You better stay home and take care of yourself.”
“Yes, I will.” Paul breathed a sigh of relief. Later, he would think that if he hadn’t been half-asleep he’d have come up with a better excuse, like just saying he had a previous engagement, that wouldn’t have led to such complications.
Paul spent a happy Sunday afternoon watching an exciting game, won by the 49ers on a last-minute field goal. On Monday, his doorbell rang. It was Lila Silverman, bringing him a big bowl of chicken noodle soup. “I knew Sally wouldn’t be home yet,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
“Uh, better, yes, better.” He gave a cough, which he hoped sounded convincing. He took the soup Lila stayed for a while, then left, telling him to take care and to call her if he needed anything. Paul felt guilty but not too guilty. He would have hated to have missed that game.
Later that day Paul’s phone rang. It was his sister Eunice, who lived in Sacramento. “I heard you weren’t feeling too good,” she said.
“Where did you hear that?"
“Lila Silverman called me. I can’t make it today but I’ll drive over tomorrow and stay until Sally gets back. I know you can’t take care of yourself.”
“I can manage perfectly well.”
“Ha!” Eunice was Paul’s younger sister, but she’d always regarded Paul as being helpless. She was recently divorced and had two teen-aged children, a boy and a girl. She’d gotten a nice divorce settlement and had quit her job. Maybe she had time on her hands, thought Paul.
“Look, you don’t have to come. It’s only a cold. I’ll be fine.” Wait, he didn’t even have a cold.
“That’s not what Lila told me. She said you looked terrible. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Paul put down the phone. Looked terrible? What had he started? That night Paul’s sister told her two teen-agers that she’d be visiting their Uncle Paul for a few days. She was trusting them to behave while she was gone. No parties in the house. The kids assured her they’d be as good as gold.
* * *
“This is delicious,” said Tom Baldwin. Tom was Paul’s best friend and his tennis partner. He’d come to visit Paul in the late afternoon and Eunice had of course invited him to stay for dinner.
“Thank you,” said Eunice.
“Not only pretty but a good cook. Paul is lucky to have you so close by.”
Paulo saw Eunice blush. She was still an attractive woman. Tom was a widower and lived by himself. He had long ago told Paul he had no intention of ever marrying again. Was this resolve weakening?
“Paul is lucky to have such a good friend,” said Eunice.
Oh, no, thought Paul. What was going on here?
“So you’re feeling better?” Tom asked Paul.
“I feel fine.” He’d always felt fine.
“So you can play in the tournament this weekend?”
Paul had forgotten about the tournament. The retirement community had an active tennis club. “Yes, I suppose so.”
“You don’t want to over-exert yourself,” said Eunice.
Again, Paul felt guilty. All this concern and he’d never really been sick. “I’ll be okay,” he said.
Tom lingered after dinner. He and Eunice discussed movies, television, politics, travel. They seemed to share the same taste in everything. Was a senior citizen romance blooming? The last thing he needed, thought Paul, was to have his bossy younger sister move here and tell him what to do all the time.
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, Mary’s two teenagers were busy texting their friends that their mother would be away and they had the house to themselves. They’d promised their mother no parties but what was the harm in having a few friends come over Of course their friends texted their friends who in turn texted their friends.
Sally returned that Friday and Eunice left. She understood that Sally would take over the care of Paul. Her work was done. Paul confessed to Sally that he’d told a little fib to get out of going to the Silvermans the Sunday before. She said he should be ashamed of himself. He also told her of the sparks he thought had been struck between Tom and Eunice. Sally said it would be wonderful if the two, one widowed and the other divorced, could get together.
Paul and Tom finished runner-ups in the tournament. The Silvermans were there as spectators. Afterward, Lila came up to him and said he seemed to have recovered very quickly.
“Yes, I was lucky.” Again, Paul felt a little stab of guilt. Lila gave him a skeptical look.
“I’m glad Sally is back. I’ll give her a call.”
“Yes, good.” He saw Conrad Silverman coming over. “Uh, I have to be going,” he said, moving quickly away.
Eunice returned home. Her kids had tried to straighten things out but the house was still in a mess. She yelled at them and they tried to make excuses, eventually retreating to their rooms. Eunice sat down. She really needed a man in the house, she thought. Although she’d just come back, she wanted to get away. She called Tom Baldwin, who was happy to hear from her.
Sally told Paul that Lila had called and they were going over for a little party the next Sunday. The 49ers were having another important game but he’d have to miss it. Later that week Eunice called and said she’d be visiting Tom that weekend and that she’d see them at the Silvermans’ party, to which they’d been invited. She told Paul she really liked Tom. Paul’s heart sank. His throat felt scratchy and his nose was stopping up. He was coming down with a cold. It was no use. He couldn’t give the same excuse again. He’d have to go to the party.
© Martin Green May 2012
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