The International Writers Magazine
:Dreamscapes Fiction
Regrets - I have a few...

Martin Green

Once a year Paul Lerner, a retired state administrator, and his wife Sally, who had lived in Sacramento almost 40 years, visited San Francisco, where they'd met in the 1960's.  This year they drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, once a quiet little town where artists lived on houseboats, now a place full of gift stores and restaurants and, even on this weekday, crowded with tourists.

Paul found a parking spot on Sausalito's main street, Bridgeway, grumbling as he always did that he'd never forgive whomever had decided to clean up on the tourists by putting meters all over the place.  Not only that but they charged 25 cents for a lousy 15 minutes, then on top of that had meter maids constantly ride up and down to give out tickets as soon as the "time expired" sign popped up.
  "Then let's stop coming here," said his wife sensibly.
   "It's a family tradition," replied Paul, putting in enough quarters, which he'd saved up ahead of time, to last them three hours.  "Besides, you know you like to look in the shops.  Go ahead and enjoy yourself."
  "Are you sure you don't want to come with me?"
   "I'm sure.  I'll wander around, then go to the usual bench and read and look at the city." 
The chief reason for Sausalito's popularity, and its soaring real estate prices, was that when you looked across the Bay you had a magnificent view of San Francisco.
As his wife went into the nearest store, Paul thought that even at 60 and with graying hair Sally was still an attractive woman.  But she was also the kind of woman who, if looking for even a simple birthday card, would minutely examine every one in the shop before making a choice.  One of the reasons for their long marriage, he thought, was that he never went shopping with her if he could help it.
Paul walked slowly along Bridgeway.  The sun had burnt off the usual early morning fog and it was getting warm.  He took off his jacket and thought that pretty soon he'd wish he'd worn shorts instead of his slacks.  He had to thread his way through all the people who, like himself, walked along alternately looking into shop windows and then over at The View.
He noted the large number of foreign tourists, the usual Japanese of course, some Germans, but mostly large groups of French.  There must be some travel agent in Paris who'd told all of his clients to be sure to see Sausalito.
He went into a small art gallery, more to get out of the sun and away from the crowd than for any other reason.  The place was empty except for a woman seated behind a counter, making entries into a ledger.  Paul looked around.  Some oil paintings of local scenes, including one of the Golden Gate Bridge, on the amateurish side.  But a few nice watercolors of flowers.
  "How are you today?" asked the woman, looking up.  Paul saw that she was young, in her twenties, blondish hair pulled into a braid, green eyes behind round glasses, a fine nose and wide mouth.  A tight black sweater outlined firm breasts.
 "Pretty good," said Paul.  "How are things in Sausalito?"
 She shrugged.  "There are always tourists.  Sometimes I wonder how all the cars get over the bridge."
 Paul told her his theory about the French tourists.
 "You may be right," she said.  "Where are you from?"
"All the way from Sacramento.  We like to come down in the summer to get away from the heat.  Believe it or not, in another life, I used to live in Sausalito.  It's changed a little in the last 40 years.  The only things downtown then were a book store, the Wells Fargo bank, the drug store and a library."
  "I bet it was nice."
  "It was, in a way.  And you could afford to live here.  I paid $120 a week for a one-bedroom apartment, with a view of the city no less."
 She laughed.  "That's hard to believe."
"I know.  Sometimes I can't believe it myself."
  "Are you retired?"
  "About 90 percent.  I spend a few hours a week writing short stories, and every now and then one gets published, in a little magazine, the kind that doesn't pay anything."
  "Oh, what kind of stories?"
  "What kind.  I don't know, you might say fanciful.  The last one I had printed was called Two Lives.  It was about a college professor, a normal family man, from Sacramento, who goes to New York.  He gets mugged, hit on the head, and starts having these vivid memories of a beautiful woman, his mistress.  The memories are so vivid that after a while he's not sure which of his lives is the real one.  He's telling all this to an older woman he's met on the plane going back to Sacramento."
  "It does sound fanciful.  Do you write anything else?"
  "Yeah, I do pieces for the local newspaper.  Actually, I've written quite a few stories about artists and galleries.  It's surprising how many there are in Sacramento."
"Oh, we have some from there, from Fair Oaks.  Can I ask you, how do you get a story about yourself in the newspaper?"
  "Are you asking about the gallery or just you?"
  "Are you an artist?"
  "I'm trying to be."
 Paul wondered if she'd done the amateurish Golden Gate paintings, or maybe the nice watercolors.  He decided not to ask.     "Well, usually my editor assigns me a story.  I'd say, contact an editor.  Or, if you know a writer, you can contact him directly.  Actually, I did a couple of stories on Fair Oaks' artists last year and one of them wrote, in care of the paper, why didn't I do one on her?  I asked my editor and she said to go ahead and do it."
The young woman looked thoughtful, considering this.  "Do you think I should write or call?"
 With your looks, Paul thought, you should go to the newspaper office in person.  "You can call," he said.  "Of course, you're in a much more sophisticated area than Sacramento.  But give it a try."
 At this point, several tourists came in and started to look around.  Paul decided it was time to leave.   "It's been nice talking to you," he said to the girl, " but I'd better let you get to work.  Call an editor."
Paul found the bench he and Sally usually sat on and which fortunately was empty, although two nearby benches were full of people who'd gone to the sandwich shop across the way and were now having their lunches.  He opened the book he'd been carrying, one of those long courtroom sagas designed for summer reading, and glanced at a few pages.  Then he looked at The View and wondered what the people he'd known in San Francisco and Sausalito were doing now.  He wondered how many of them were still alive to be doing anything.
He reflected that saying when he'd lived in Sausalito it had been in another life was pretty much the truth.  Probably nobody he knew in Sacramento would have believed that he was once a resident of Sausalito.  To everyone, he was a career State employee, a suburbanite homeowner, a family man.  Even Sally knew only that he'd lived in Sausalito for a short time while he worked in San Francisco, which was the reason they made their annual pilgrimage there. 
The idea of people having two lives, usually one of them imaginary, which he'd written about in his story was certainly not original.  In fact, someone in the book he was now reading had brought it up as a possible subject to the hero, a writer of course, who'd dismissed it.  But he was sure the impulse to write his story must have come, not from anything he'd read, but from his own feeling that he'd had two lives.  There was the one he'd led in Sacramento for the past 40 years.  But there was also the one before that.
At the time, he'd been working for an ad agency and not liking it.  He'd moved to the one-bedroom apartment with the view because his girl friend had found out about it and liked it.  He'd also liked the idea of getting away from the City and all of its rituals, which meant mostly drinking and partying, when he left his office each night.  Then he'd lost his job because his agency did what in the nineties was called downsizing.  Shortly after that, for a variety of reasons, he'd broken up with his girl.
Somehow the idea of hunting for another job in an industry he'd come to dislike was repellent to him.  He'd lived very economically in Sausalito, cooking all of his own meals, using recipes his girl friend had given him, just getting by on his savings, not much, and unemployment insurance.  In the mornings, after breakfast, he'd walk along Bridgeway from his place to the other end of town and back.  Jogging hadn't been invented back then.  In the afternoons, he wrote short stories and started on a longer work.  He took to dropping into the bookstore, which was the center of literary and artistic activity in Sausalito.  He found out he wasn't the only would-be writer or, like the girl in the gallery, artist, subsisting on unemployment insurance.
Of course he had it in the back of his mind that he might become a successful writer and be able to forget about returning to an office.  His efforts to sell his stories were totally unsuccessful.  Once he'd shown some of his work to a writer, a published writer, he'd met.  The published writer had said they weren't bad but they weren't commercial.  And not really that good.  When his unemployment insurance ran out after six months, someone told him about a job with the State in San Francisco.  He'd applied and that was the start of his second life.
"You look deep in thought."  Sally had sat down beside him.
"Just thinking of the good old days.  What did you buy?"
 She opened the bag she was carrying and unwrapped two colorful ceramic cats.  "What do you think?" she asked.  "They were on sale."
"Very nice." 
They'd had two cats for years in Sacramento and had taken to buying cat things on their trips.
"Do you miss the good old days?"
Paul thought.  Not really.  It had been fun, but there had been the little matter of putting food on the table and paying the rent.  A writer was theoretically free but he still had to write stuff that sold.  Now he wrote when he wanted, how much he wanted and what he wanted.  A state pension was a nice thing to have.  "No, I like the good new days.  I don't think I have any regrets."   But he realized that this wasn't completely true.  In the old days, he would have asked the beautiful girl in the art gallery when she was getting off work and invited her for a drink.  He regretted that he could no longer do that.
© Martin Green September 2005

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