“So how was your date?”
“What date, Aussie?”
“The one you had a few weeks ago. The one where you actually went out and met somebody. Had dinner. Talked. Remember dates?”
“Tell you the truth, Auss, I forget what they look like. It was very nice.”
“That doesn’t sound so good.”
“Nice is nice, Aussie. Only it’s not enough.”
“Hey, you had dinner, right? I mean, you had food!”
“True. Italian food.”
“Were you able to go out to pee?”
“I don’t usually go out to pee, Aussie, I can pee indoors.”
“Outdoors is much nicer. So, what’s the problem? You had food, you could pee. What else do you need?”
“Good question, Aussie. I need some kind of hook. A kind of thoughtful intelligence. Humor. Sex appeal.”
“Sex appeal? At your age?”
“Yes, Aussie, even at my age.”
“You’re a roshi. Doesn’t that mean old teacher? Old teachers don’t need sex appeal. And they certainly don’t have it.”
“That’s the trouble with you humans, you’re always looking for something you don’t got. He gave you so much—good food, good peeing conditions—that’s a lot to build on. Did Bernie give you food and good peeing conditions?”
“Indeed, he did. But Aussie, I don’t compare people I meet with Bernie. I try to encounter them on their own terms. The trouble is, it’s hard to build a bridge between two lives when you’ve already lived most of them separately, see?”
“You and I didn’t have trouble doing that, and I met you when you were so old!”
“I wasn’t even 69 when we took you from the pound, Aussie. Speaking of which, Saturday will mark three years since you’ve come here.”
“There you were, an over-the-hill, used up has-been, and me a young hottie. But did I mind? I shook my cute butt, gave you a lick or two, went right over that bridge you’re talking about. You were the older woman and I was the young chick, and we made it together. You know why?”
“Because I gave you food and good peeing conditions?”
“Voila. And don’t forget the steak on Saturday. You always buy me steak on my homecoming day. Try to make it a rib steak this time—with the bone, please.”
“Should I get some for Henry, too?”
Yesterday a big truck came down the driveway early morning to pump out our septic tank. The tank is under the forsythia tree in back and it took me ages to find it. But Lori dug it out and uncovered it, so all Calvin (not his real name) had to do was heave the thick, wide hose through the open gate and insert it deep into the tank, then return to his truck and turn on the mechanism that sucks the stuff out of the septic tank.
Calvin has done this every other year at our house for a long time, I know him and he knows me. He’s always liked to hang around and talk. Yesterday I noticed how he’d aged, his hair gray rather than blonde even as he looked fit in the usual overalls with the company logo. He told me I looked good though I was still wearing pajamas under a bathrobe (it was 7:15 in the morning). I made my excuses and left him to his work.
As soon as he turned the drain mechanism on the most awful smell surrounded the house. “We should have shut the windows the minute he came,” Lori would say later. It was the smell of rotten eggs, rotten everything, and though I knew it would go way down once the drainage ended, enough of it would stick around for several hours. And as I thought that while getting dressed, I realized that that was one of the reasons I’d left him quickly. Because it smelled. Not him, the work. It was our septic tank that smelled, and it was hard for me to be with the man who was cleaning it all out.
For a moment, I felt ashamed. It’s our shit, I told myself. It’s our good peeing conditions. And he’s just making sure we continue to have good peeing conditions in this house.
I hurried out. “Do you want some coffee?” I yelled because otherwise we couldn’t hear each other.
He grinned. “No, I had all that before I came here.”
I stuck around till he finished, and sure enough, the smell went down when the drainage ended. He asked me about the Kwan-yin in the back (“It’s Buddhist, right?”) and about the statue of the golfer that stands out front (it was left here by the house’s previous owners and was heartily disliked by Bernie). I guessed from our interaction over the years that he liked talking to me, maybe even found me attractive.
That used to alarm me a little when Bernie was down with his stroke and after his death, when I was alone, but this time I felt no apprehension.
He retracted the enormous hose from under the forsythia.
“The top of the tank shouldn’t be so deep in the ground,” he remarked as we both looked down at it. “Must be hard for you to dig it out and uncover.”
“Used to be hard,” I tell him. “This time my housemate did the work.”
We said goodbye. He walked to the door of the truck cabin and opened it. By then I was back by the front door. “See you again soon,” I said to him, knowing it would probably not be less than two years. Two years felt like a long time.
“I love you,” he said to me from a distance. I looked up, not sure I heard right. “I love you,” he repeated.
Then he climbed up into the truck, cranked up the engine, and drove away.
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