Distressing as it was for Mr. O’Toole, Tucson turned out to be an answer to a wordless prayer. Tucson offered him respite. After an unpleasant divorce, it offered him a new beginning, a second chance. It gave him a chance to breathe.
Mr. O’Toole never talked about himself. He never talked about himself except with Charlie. He wanted to put Houston behind him and people wouldn’t have known he came from Houston had Charlie not said something. After an unpleasant divorce, he needed space. He needed time and space to heal. He found solace in Tucson, and it helped that he didn’t need to work.
Mr. O’Toole seemed very modest when the opposite was true. Mr. O’Toole came across as a modest man and relied on adopted mannerisms that served him well. Everyone recognized him by these mannerisms. Everyone recognized him, but no one really knew him. And so Mr. O’Toole went to Charlie for advice; and each time Charlie talked about his relationship with Shelly and said too much. Charlie and Mr. O’Toole became close. They were best friends. They trusted each other. They trusted each other with their secrets, so Charlie agreed to help him work on Maria. Maria had to be convinced that he was right for Anna. She had to be shown what he could offer her daughter, things that were in no way free, such as a chinchilla coat.
And yet when Mr. O’Toole laid it out on the table and when he proposed it felt awkward. It felt awkward because of their ages. It felt awkward because he had been through this before. So he stammered. Drooled. Felt his age. He felt like an old man. Filled with despair when he should’ve been happy he stammered and told Anna what he would do for her. Mr. O’Toole told her what he would give her. He may have been twenty years older than she was, but with age, he said, came maturity. To convince her, he also said that she didn’t need to love him and rested his case.
Then she turned up pregnant. And Mr. O’Toole cried foul. Okay but she still wouldn’t cough up the name of the father of her baby. And because of it … because Anna wouldn’t name the father of her baby, Charlie told Mr. O’Toole that he shouldn’t waste his time on her. And because of it, Mr. O’Toole didn’t know what to do.
From after the storm until about sundown they sat on the veranda steps talking because in Tucson Maria Martinez recognized more in O’Toole than anyone else did. The storm cooled Tucson off, so they could sit there and feel refreshed. They could sit there because an afternoon monsoon blew heat away, and for a short while Maria was a girl he once knew in his hometown who believed in him. A cypress tree in the front yard came apart during the storm. Wind blew a cypress tree down. And roses on a wooden trellis along the north side of the veranda lost most of their petals in the wind. Mr. O’Toole commented on wind and rain and told Maria that rain made him feel alive. It made him feel young again. After stifling heat, it refreshed him and made him feel young. Then he said, “I wish that I could say I’ve never hurt anyone. I wish I believed in God and mercy, and I wish that it hadn’t stopped raining.”
“Don’t pull that on me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Now come on, you’re smarter than that. And we’ve both gone through our share of troubles. I know you’re after my daughter. Mr. O’Toole, I don’t care what you’ve done. The important thing to me is that you don’t mistreat her. I’m gonna be a grandmother soon, and my grandson needs a father. Note my preference: a grandson. But why are you asking me when you don’t need my permission.”
Mr. O’Toole sighed and explained how as a boy he ran away from home. (He didn’t explain how as a man he ran away from Houston.) So he ran away. As a boy he ran away. He ran away at age sixteen. And he rejected his family, which of them … his father or his mother … which one? And he kept trying. And for ten years he tried to prove himself. He needed to prove himself to his parents, but he waited too long. He thought maybe he’d go home and show his folks what he achieved, but he waited too long. He became a successful businessman. Maybe his mother knew that he wouldn’t fail and that what his father feared most wouldn’t materialize. His parents didn’t live to see his success.
Mrs. Martinez wondered what any of this had to do with Mr. O’Toole’s proposal. Why was he telling her this?
Mr. O’Toole knew that Marie understood though she didn’t say much. She only interrupted him once or twice and that was with a nod. Except for Charlie, he hadn’t revealed as much about himself to anyone else in Tucson.
Mr. O’Toole seemed like he was born of rage and hence born in a bag that he had to kick and punch his way out of … and then to watch his face and see desperation and fear … then … then….
And it was about then that one of them, or both them, first noticed George. George? George? George? How long was George standing there in the yard, listening and waiting, wondering when Mr. O’Toole would stop talking? Only child. Twenty years ago ran away. Could’ve shot his father. No, never. Not strong enough. They didn’t know how much George heard.
Mr. O’Toole ran away from the one place on earth that according to his parents was set aside for them, Eden, and he screwed it up and because of it he got shit beat out of him.
Anna was very angry.
Angry? With whom? About what?
“For heavens sake girl, calm down!”
So angry that she tore out the front door without looking and almost tripped over Mr. O’Toole and her mother. “Out of my way! I’m never coming back!” she yelled, pushing between the two. And while trying to navigate steps she tripped in front of George. Or had she set a trap for him, as George supposed. But it didn’t matter because the poor fool fell for her right then
Later that evening Mr. O’Toole said nothing when he handed Anna an expensive set of ruby earrings.
“I find it rather shocking,” said Charlie, when he heard about it, “and also that Mr. O’Toole would go to Maria.”
And Anna didn’t like it … that Mr. O’Toole went to her mother. How old fashion! How disgusting! And that her mother urged her to accept his proposal. “Mother! Mother! Nonsense! No!” yelled Anna.
When she opened the box and saw the earrings, Anna giggled. She had no idea what to say. Maybe Mr. O’Toole could buy women.
And as for George, he listened to Shelly’s assessment of it. To him Mrs. Martinez was an angel. To him Anna looked like an angel.