“No way!” Even though Morty was my best friend, I told him I wasn’t going to his annual shindig.
Sherri and Dr. Morty Adler threw one of the best parties of the Hamptons’ season. The booze was Chivas, Kettle One and Bombay, and the food was supplied by a caterer called Bringing in the Sheaves, who produced pots of beluga, bushels of plump oysters, and a dessert so drenched in chocolate sauce and strawberries that people waited in line for it like the British queuing for a bus.
“No way am I going,” I said.
“Asshole,” Morty said. “You can’t hide from her. You might as well come and have a good time. It’s better than moping around the way you’ve been the last couple of weeks.”
The “asshole” Morty referred to was, of course, me. The “her,” Morty referred to was Rosalind, my wife of twenty-five years, who had walked out on me those same few weeks ago.
I’d only let a best friend talk to me like that, especially since I thought he might be right. I had to admit, I felt like an asshole because I hadn’t had a clue that Rosalind was going to do what she did. Worse, I felt pain. Real, gut-wrenching pain.
Morty had been my best friend since about half way through second grade. He’d been just another kid who walked home from school in the same direction I did, when one afternoon he stopped at my house and we began horsing around in the front yard. He picked up a stone and said, “Watch how far I can throw this.” His aim wasn’t as good as his arm and the stone sailed through a neighbor’s window. The neighbor was the kind of person who seemed to have nothing better to do than to yell at any kid who came near her property.
The glass shattered and we froze. Then I said, “Come on.” We ran as fast as scared kids could into my house where I hid Morty in a closet. In a short while there were loud knocks on the door.
I knew I had to do something. Luckily, I was blessed with a mother whose love for me had no limits. I blurted out the story, then added, “It was an accident, Mom. We didn’t mean to do it.”
“I know.” My mother smiled her beautiful smile at me. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
And she did. While I hid behind her, she defused the neighbor’s anger by offering to pay for the repair of the window. I waited until the door closed, then let Morty out of the closet and introduced him. My mother gave us milk and cookies, and from that day on Morty and I were buddies.
Two years later it was discovered my mother had breast cancer and nothing could be done to save her.
I followed Morty’s advice. I put on my Ralph Lauren blazer, 44 regular, and checked myself in the mirror. Even though I did my share of ingesting calories both liquid and solid, my weight was okay because I worked out at the gym, played tennis and did a lot of biking. I still had all my hair, although it was obvious the gray was doing a blitzkrieg into the brown. Rosalind used to say I was handsome but I never thought so. I went closer to the mirror and looked at my eyes. There were plenty of red streaks. I was sure a lot of that was due to my fast approaching sixty. Sixty. Hard to believe since most of the time I still thought of myself as twenty-five. Not then. Not with the devastating amount of hurt I felt deep inside me.
“Never mind,” I said to the guy in the mirror. “You’re going to that party and you’re going to have a good time.”
Mostly, I hung around the bar and drank a lot of Kettle One. I also couldn’t help being on the lookout for Rosalind. I thought she might be there with the friend she’d gone to stay with when she left me. This friend was the rather famous Toby Welch, the one with the TV show who instructed an audience of millions how to decorate a house with walnut shells and a few dabs of Elmer’s Glue, or how to turn five dollars worth of dinner napkins into slipcovers for a sofa. In the past few years, Rosie had put in a lot of time doing charity work. It seemed Toby did quite a bit of the same thing herself. The two of them had hit it off and become good friends.
I called there a dozen times. At first I tried to get Rosie to come back but she wouldn’t consider it. Then I tried to get her to tell me why she’d left. Because I honestly don’t know, I said. Then you’d better give it a lot of thought, she said.
On my way back to the bar for about the fifth or sixth time, I bumped into Morty’s wife, Sherri. Sherri was a beautiful woman but it was a hard beauty, as if she’d been sprayed with Glo-Coat. She gave me one of her looks. Sherri had a variety of looks that she directed at people. Depending on where you stood on the social (read monetary) scale, her looks could go from simple disdain to disapproval to contempt, or all the way in the other direction, to admiration, or even, if she were regarding someone famous such as Toby Welch, adoration. In my case, when Morty began going out with her and first introduced us, he was already on his way to being a successful surgeon and I was just a high school English teacher. So the first look I got from her was disdain. When she learned we were best friends, her look turned to disapproval. I was pretty sure she thought Rosalind had done a wise thing in leaving me.
“Hi there, Madame Hostess,” I said. “Have you seen my wife, by any chance?”
“No,” Sherri said, giving me her disapproval-contempt look. “And if you’re lucky, she won’t see you.”
I continued on to the bar vaguely wondering what she meant by that remark when a knockout of a dish, dressed in white and adorned with gold jewelry, took hold of my arm.
“Are you Jake Wanderman?” she asked.
“I am, unless you're from the IRS.”
“Could I talk to you?”
She pulled me into a corner. “Morty Adler said you would help me.”
“To do what?”
“He didn't tell you?”
“Oh,” she said. She had blonde hair and eyes the color
of dollar bills. She sucked in her carmine lips. “He said he would explain everything.”
“I guess he didn't have a chance,” I said. “So why don't you tell me?”
She looked around as if someone might be listening.
“Not here. Come to my house. We can talk there.”
I tried to grasp the concept of what she meant by “vital”, but couldn’t. Abruptly, my brain signaled that it wasn’t working too well because I’d had a tankful of vodka. It also told me I had just about enough energy to get home and crawl into bed. “Why don't we make it tomorrow? I'm sure whatever it is can wait a day.”
She shot me a green eyed look that was like a jolt of electricity. She took hold of my hand and in a minute we were outside. The night air was fresh and sweet. I gulped it in. “My car’s just over here,” she said, tugging at me. I stumbled after her. We came to a Jaguar. She got behind the wheel. “Hop in,” she said.
I hopped as well as I could...