Her mother was a small woman with plump lips. Shelly’s own eyes drooped. Her skin had brown blotches on it. What happened to her? She could see that she was shriveling up to almost nothing.
“Do you have any idea why my mama never liked you?” Shelly asked, glaring at Charlie who sat at the table.
“Why bring that up?” Charlie asked.
Her mother rarely tolerated nonsense and considered her daughter’s infatuation with Charlie ridiculous. They belonged to a country club; yet Shelly’s mother hated golf, had no use for tennis, never played squash or swam. She rarely exercised. Yet she wouldn’t talk to people who didn’t belong to the country club. ”Never forget who you are. Hold onto that.” As a girl Shelly had that drummed into her head. She hated it.
“Enough crying,” Shelly said to herself. “You better sit down with Charlie and give him a chance. He prefers men, homeless men. I pity a man who’s staked his whole life on the draw of a card. Not to mention that he’s throwing our money away. Maybe I should remind him that this is a community property state. That means that I should have some say. His heart’s in the right place, and he’s far from stupid. He’s willing to help anyone; as everyone knows he’s always doing something for the homeless. It’s crime to despise him. We can’t have children. Maybe having children would’ve made a difference.”
“Shelly, you’re always crying,” Charlie said.
“We’ve never even had a decent fight. To see us sit in silence is a pitiful sight. As if to complete the picture, whenever we stopped you’d get out and I’d just sit there like a sphinx.”
“I find you sexy.”
“Sexy? Thanks. God knows I want to be sexy. To say I’m sexy is a compliment. I’m glad I haven’t frightened you off. I like to wear neat cotton dresses. Do you find them sexy? And when I’m overcome with confusion, is that sexy? How about the blotches on my face? Or when I’m pouting? When I’m scared? Ashamed? I’m glad you find me sexy.”
“I like the way you wiggle when you walk.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
“My feelings? My feelings weren’t hurt.”
“Why wouldn’t you get out of the car?”
It seemed as if she had never loved him.
On the day Charlie first came to her home Shelly and her mother had a big argument. It seemed their argument influenced Shelly. Well, perhaps. Precisely….
“I was trying to avoid a headache.” She laughed and continued talking. ”You know Mama has forgiven you by degrees. ‘He isn’t all that bad,’ she said. ‘But if only he’d get a haircut.’ ‘Mama!’” Laughing, she continued, “Do you remember coming to dinner and how nervous you were about meeting my parents?”
“I vaguely remember that and that you were in pigtails.”
“You were very polite.”
“Rudeness fit me better.”
“Why you were the perfect gentleman. They didn’t expect it.”
“You bring this up all the time, as if you wanted something different.”
“I hate you,” observed Shelly, as she placed the peanut butter back in the fridge. “Are we missing something?”
“No, not that I know of.”
“Our genes are good. Of course they are.”
“That’s nonsense, mama.”
Yes, and without saying anything Shelly’s mother acted superior.
The whole family received Charlie in a brightly lit dinning room, but Shelly’s mother found no confront in what she saw (seeing her daughter hold hands with a long-haired hippie disturbed her the most), and she smiled until it drove her husband batty. What was hidden in that tortured soul? God only knew because she always smiled around Charlie.
Their house offered a perfect view of the lake and because of trees offered privacy. The magnificent house couldn’t be seen from the boulevard. Over the years the house didn’t changed, only the foliage around it grew thicker. Her father’s business kept them supplied with new cars.
Was Shelly desperate?
“Do you think she was?” her mother asked.
“Honey, tell me again where you were born and where you grew up.” Shelly’s demand startled Charlie. To learn that she then shared some of her mother’s feelings about him would’ve startled him more. “There has to be something about you that I don’t know.”
While eating Charlie began telling her things about himself that she obviously knew. They compared facts about each other.
“Remember our house?” she asked. The house with the curved drive.
“My mother’s hot chocolate? Mother’s sewing? Bridge night? Piano and songs? Twin painted pictures of ships…never finished any of them. A television-dominated room. No conversation, only the television. A large two-story lakefront home, in the wintertime, by the fire, watching television. Playing cards, or playing the piano, or singing. Couldn’t stand it.”
“You know that it impressed me: the crystal chandelier and all. “
“You didn’t talk much.”
“Anyhow I was impressed,” replied Charlie. “But that was a long time ago.”
“And I’m Methuselah’s wife.”
“Traveling across the country, passing through Cleveland, dirty and hungry, almost anything would’ve looked good. A series of breakdowns…painful separations… itchy feet…jumped in my Volkswagen bus and lost myself in my driving…you know the story.”
“Three or four nights in a row spent trying to stay warm in a goose down sleeping bag that had lost its loft.”
“Looking for warmth and went into a Laundromat to find it. Unbearable loneliness, bewilderment and uncomfortable. I would’ve talked to anyone. Cleveland seemed the same as a foreign country to me. Then I saw you. I mean I didn’t really see you.”
“We didn’t meet in a Laundromat.”
“I’ve a fondness for Laundromats. People talk more freely there.
“And I smelled you coming,” declared Shelly. The two began to laugh. Charlie laughed the loudest.
“My folks and I always fought. They were stupid, stingy, and miserable.”
“Why o’ why have I always believed that crap?” laughed Charlie. “Still I prefer Laundromats, the smell of Cheer.”
“And are you useful, Charlie? Are you worth the trouble?” quizzed Shelly. They both laughed again.
“Loneliness revisited again,” he exclaimed.
And he went on laughing.
“But I seized a good thing,” said Shelly with renewed vigor. ”I seized it and squeezed it. And squeezed it. That’s how I’ve survived. Sometimes, Charlie, you frighten me. Thank you, Charlie. Laundromats, that’s where your heart was.”
“It was a passion.”
Shelley then said, “George saw my sadness.”
“Travel always depressed me.”
“You didn’t know how to hold a conversation,” said Shelly. “Why don’t we travel anymore?”
“You know the reasons.”
“I thought I knew how to stay true to myself. Live in a special place with a special man. Opportunity. A long, long ways out there, barely visible, there was a buoy to hang onto. And all around me a sense of nothing, a void, emptiness, stillness. You were my lifeboat. I couldn’t imagine a land without grass.”
“I couldn’t either,” said Charlie.