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  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home

Circumstances - 11. Me Worry?

A long-married man is thinking about leaving his husband.

Josh was thinking about leaving his husband. They were relatively happy, in fact they were probably very happy. And though Glen had a strong national reputation as a minor contemporary Impressionist, there was no denying he was increasingly a wack case. Wack job? Wacko? Pick a number.

Maybe that had always been there, and Josh had only more recently started to notice. When they met in school, years ago, they’d been part of a fairly large group of creative people – artists, actors, musicians, writers. You name it; they’d been there. And they’d each been “differently focused,” some with far less hold on reality than Glen. And Josh? Who knew? Even in college, he’d realized there was limited money in art, and he’d backed himself with business courses. After school, he headed straight into investments, sometimes in creative fields but not as an agent or lawyer. Luckily, he could have retired at thirty-five, but, instead, they’d moved their family out of New York, he ran his career almost entirely online and by phone, Glen had a studio bigger than their last apartment, and their kids eight acres of Connecticut countryside to play on. It wasn’t exactly rural, but it wasn’t suburban, though at heart, Josh was a suburban guy.

So why was he even thinking about leaving this paradise – their friends, routines, and regular trips to more perhaps as pretty but definitely challenging places? Well, he’d met someone.

Ah, yes: Hit fifty. Have an affair.

No, this wasn’t an affair. Not in the usual sense – sexual. He and the guy had never been joined that way.

They’d met in a parking lot. Not really. Josh had seen him first in a parking lot. A supermarket. Ordinary. Hardly upscale. Just what you’d expect near the center of a small, long-established town, several hours north of New York City. The first thing Josh had thought was, “Now that’s the kind of guy I’d expected to marry.”

But that was wrong, too. He’d married exactly the kind of man he’d expected to. And to live with, love, and share a family with. The guy in the parking lot only looked the way Josh had expected his husband to look.

Stylish. Casual. Urban. Greys and black. A bit of cream. Some sort of uniform/clergy mid-thigh coat, open over dark pants and a business shirt. With a long, looped scarf dangling from his neck. And black boots.

Not that Glen dressed badly. He was equally stylish but normally not upscale. Dark jeans. Tailored shirts. Loafers. Both Glen and the guy wore their hair short, though Glen’s hair was lighter and a bit wavy.

The guy had been headed out of the lot that day so was just a passing thought. A smile. An acknowledgment of what didn’t exist. But the next day, they met in the supermarket.

Well, passed each other in an aisle. Josh had wanted to smile, but the guy didn’t know who he was. The first day, Josh had been in his car, nosing for a parking space, and the guy had been walking, perhaps to his own car. Josh didn’t know. He’d never seen where the guy was going. He wasn’t carrying anything, but there was a bank in the supermarket. And a coffee shop. A pharmacy.

In the aisle, the guy had been equally well-dressed – again, greys, creams, and black. But no scarf, a shorter jacket, and maybe the same boots.

He wasn’t pushing a cart. Instead, he was carrying one of those plastic baskets, the kind, in the old days, you’d take on a picnic. Though those were made of... What? Not wicker. Josh could recognize wicker. Thin slats. Simply wood?

In any case, Josh didn’t turn to look after the guy. It was just a second, pleasant sighting, and he moved on, pushing his basket.

The third time, a day later, was again in an aisle. This time, the guy looked at him, smiled, and said, “Deja vu.”

So he had noticed Josh before. And seen what? A typical, predictable, suburban dad? Fit enough. Trim beard. Still with his hair. Plus the required checked shirt, jeans, and work boots.

Josh had simply smiled and said, “Yeah.” Adding, “Have a good day.”

That made him sound like a supermarket clerk. Though, lately, they’d changed to asking, “Did you find everything you wanted?” What could you answer but “Yes.” Who wants to have a conversation with an eighteen-year-old who’s not one of your kids or one of their friends?

But there was only one check-out lane open – it was midweek, mid-morning – so Josh ended up right behind the guy in line. The man emptied his basket – muffins, yogurt, apple juice – then smiled and handed it to Josh. Josh automatically backed up his cart and popped the basket in its spot under the counter. Then he moved forward and started unloading his cart. The guy had already placed a rubber divider between their orders.

And they might not have talked at all, might just have busied themselves on their phones. But an old man ahead of the guy had something that needed a price check, and the clerk was having trouble getting any other clerk to respond. She’d even made an announcement – a plea to open another lane. Meanwhile, all the customers were backed up.

Well, the three of them. They may have other shoppers in the store, but they were the only ones trying to leave. Maybe that’s why no other clerks were coming to their rescue. As their clerk repeated her announcement, the old man smiled at them in apology, then shrugged. But what could he do?

Josh glanced at the item that was holding the old guy up. A head of lettuce, ordinary – well, organic – and the price tag had evidently slipped off. He had a matching head of lettuce, tagged, in his cart, and he took it out and handed it to the clerk. She smiled, the old man said, “Well, that’s serendipitous,” and the guy laughed. As the clerk rang the old man out, the guy turned to Josh and said, “In the city, we just would’ve waited.”

“The city’s not that bad,” Josh said, smiling. “At least, not the people.”

“You go there?”

“It’s not far.”

The guy laughed. “You don’t look like a city boy.”

Josh grinned. “We lived there for fifteen years. I still have a suit somewhere – a couple – that occasionally get use.”

The guy looked at him again, as if reevaluating.

“Where did you live?” he asked.

“Upper West Side. 83rd and Riverside.”

“East Side. 75th and Second.”

“Not even neighbors.”

They laughed.

“At least, we were in the same borough,” the guy went on.

“But maybe not at the same time. As I said, it’s been fifteen years.”

“You said you lived there fifteen years,” the guy gently pointed out.

“Did I?” He’d been mindlessly chatting and honestly couldn’t remember. “Anyway, it’s been fifteen years, and we lived there fifteen years... almost,” he added, smiling. “Rounding off.”

“I was there fifteen years ago.”

“Working? You don’t look old enough.”

And there, he accidentally trapped the guy. Josh hadn’t meant to offer a compliment. But to him, the guy really didn’t look more than forty. Josh was ten years past that.

The guy flattered him back. “You don’t look old enough to have lived in the city thirty years ago,”

“As I said, ‘almost.’ A bit over thirteen, actually. We came right after college.”

“And left when you had kids?”

Josh smiled at that. “We moved when we had money.” Then he quickly clarified. “I mean, we had it before – enough to live comfortably in the city. And we just keep making more – I did at first. But neither of us wanted to live in New York.”

“Where are you from?”

Are not were.

“Long Island – both of us... not even far out. Were you expecting somewhere with farms?”

“Nah, you don’t look like a farmer. Not even farm stock.”

“I wouldn’t know what to do with a cow.”

“Run!”

“You’ve met one?”

“One of my old boyfriends had a farm. His family did. More of a ranch – Utah.”

Josh considered, quietly absorbing the fact the man was gay and wondering if he knew Josh was. Not that it mattered, since he wasn’t available.

“I know the film festival,” Josh quickly went on, to cover his silence. “And the Salt Lake and the cathedral. Though I’ve never been to any of them.”

“Me, neither.”

By that point, they were both checked out and were standing by the windows near the exit doors. Their conversation had continued naturally as the clerk did her job, and Josh had packed his reusable bags and reloaded them into his cart. The guy had taken a paper bag.

“Well, good talking with you,” Josh finally said. “Maybe another time.”

“I’ll be here a few more days. Maybe.”

Josh wasn’t sure if that was “Maybe a few more days” or “Maybe another time.” Either way, the guy went out of the doors before Josh did, then through the second set, while Josh returned his cart to the line and lifted his three bags out of it. By the time he was in the lot, the guy was in his own car, a dark green SUV, and was pulling out. After loading his bags into the back seat, Josh got into his own SUV, which wasn’t nearly as well-maintained. The back end had art and camping equipment he always meant to clear out but which had found permanent storage there.

The last time they met – at least the last time at the beginning – was at a gallery in town, a few evenings later. Glen had his usual couple of paintings in a group show, more as a favor to the gallery owners than anything. The paintings never would have sold there. Well, not “never” – there were always travelers with money. But it was the wrong season, and Glen’s reasonably large landscapes – sometimes three foot by four – mainly filled wall space and raised the quality of the show. The artists were all professionals, but Glen was the only one who could make a living. And he only needed to sell two or three paintings a year, which was fine considering how long he took putting them out.

“No sense flooding the market,” he’d told Josh.

Josh had laughed. “How many have you done – overall? Maybe a hundred?”

“The ones I’ll let people see – ones I’d sell.”

“The ones you don’t are sometimes just as good.”

“Maybe to you – who peddles pigs for a living.”

It was an old family joke and as overworked as that particular investment had been unsuccessful. Fortunately, not many of his dealings were in livestock.

“I think there were a hundred and two paintings in your book,” Josh had gone on. “And that was three years ago.”

“You know how carefully we curated that.”

“We” wasn’t “Josh” and “Glen.” It was Glen and his editor.

“And how many have you done since?” Josh had asked. “That you’ve shown?”

Glen had considered. “Probably a dozen. That’s about right for three years.”

“And how many are in the racks?”

That was the storage area in Glen’s studio. Josh rarely looked there but knew it was full of paintings he’d seen in progress then never again.

“The kids can sell them after we’re gone,” Glen had said, amused. “Or their kids can. That’s two generations away from my persnicketyness.”

“Is that what we’re calling it?”

“‘Taste’ sounds judgmental.”

Since their kids didn’t have kids yet, the matter wasn’t in play. But Josh thought it nice that the two of them would still be well thought of, generations into the future. Or great, or great-great, or great-great-great Grandpa Glen would be, when Josh was barely remembered as one of the name donors.

Still, that’s not what he and Glen were talking about when the guy from the supermarket came up to Josh and asked if he knew anything about a painting he was standing by. It wasn’t one of Glen’s, and – just then – Josh’s husband was somewhere across the brightly lit room, blocked from Josh’s sight by several partitions.

“No, I really don’t,” he told the guy, after smiling in recognition. “Now, if you’d asked about that painting...”– he pointed to one of Glen’s – “...I could help you.”

The guy glanced at that painting and then at the price tag. “Out of my range,” he admitted.

“I could show you some, just as good, that once ended up in a dumpster.”

The guy looked at him, not understanding, and Josh was sorry he’d now have to explain.

“My husband – Josh nodded at the painting, and the guy instantly understood their relationship – once trashed a couple of paintings he didn’t like. Fortunately, they weren’t signed. But someone pulled them out of the garbage, and they accidently ended up on the market.”

“Accidently?”

“Yeah. The woman who pulled them out of the trash knew what they were and only wanted them for herself. She never could’ve afforded to buy even one. And we kind of knew what had happened – it’s a small town and an even smaller art community – and we let it be. Then the woman died – she wasn’t young, which was partly why we let it happen – and her kids, knowing what the painting were worth, tried to sell them. That took a couple of lawyers to unsnarl.”

The guy smiled. “I’m sure the fees just raised your husband’s prices.”

Josh smiled back. “Fortunately, we have lawyers in the family – who can be paid in paintings – small ones.”

The guy laughed, so Josh guessed it made a better story than he’d expected. Then the guy looked more closely at the two paintings Glen had in the show.

“I don’t need to tell you how good he is,” the guy finally acknowledged.

“You can tell him. He’s always up for compliments.”

“Really?”

“Yep. He never believes anything’s as good as other people say. He knows how hard he works and how careful he is. But he thinks he’s the original huckster.”

By that point the guy had picked up a copy of Glen’s book and was slowly paging through it.

“I see some are smaller.”

“Yep, but not small enough to hide under your jacket. However, there are some reasonably priced giclee prints in that bin.”

The guy glanced the way Josh pointed, then said, “I think I’ll buy the book.”

“It’s cheaper on Amazon,” Josh whispered. “But don’t tell anyone I said that. And it’s not a lot cheaper, but at least, you won’t have to carry it home.”

“I take it you don’t get a cut.”

“I don’t.... and my husband makes almost nothing from it, compared to even his smallest paintings. So the only people you’d be shorting are the gallery owners.”

“Does they need the money?”

“They always need money. That’s one of one of the guys’ paintings over there.”

It was a perfectly nice painting – and amazingly cheap compared to Glen’s. But any normal person might be hard put to find a place to hang it. It belonged in a big city gallery or museum.

“I’ll give them the money,” the guy decided and then took the book toward the front desk. It was good he knew where to head, since there was nothing as crass as a counter or cash register. Not even a visible computer. When a sale discreetly needed to be made, an iPad materialized.

After the guy bought the book, he came back and introduced himself. “I feel like I know you by now.”

Josh introduced himself, though he knew, if he guy had looked at one of the early pages of the book, he’d have found Josh’s name in the dedication. Along with those of their kids.

After Josh’s introduction, the guy handed Josh his card.

“If you and your husband are in the city and ever have free time, I’d love to have lunch with you. Or dinner. Or breakfast, if it’s a weekend.”

“Sounds pretty flexible,” Josh said, grinning.

“I’d really like to meet your husband – now that I know I admire his work.”

And they left it at that. Josh wasn’t even sure if the guy had spoken with Glen that evening. But eventually, they did all get together in New York.

And maybe it was planning that meal, or in the follow-up thank you notes, that Josh and the guy – Tyler – began their conversations. They called them that, but they were all by e-mail. Rarely even text – they weren’t urgent. They were just lazy, and at first very occasional e-mails that slowly became a nightly thing. And they got longer.

“Who were you talking to?” Glen had asked, later that first evening. He’d evidently seen them.

“A fan of yours,” Josh had answered. “He bought your book.” He’d handed Glen Tyler’s card and added, “He’d like to have lunch with us, next time we’re free in the city.”

“He’s not from around here?”

“No.” But Josh couldn’t explain why the guy was visiting. That had never been mentioned.

“We never have time in the city,” Glen had gone on.

“We do sometimes – when we’re there for a couple of days.”

“Well, don’t commit me to anything – us. You know I don’t like that.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And don’t do that. You know I don’t like that, either.”

“I’m sorry.”

And maybe right there was the reason Josh and Tyler so easily began their conversations. Tyler was willing.

Once the serious discussions started – after the preliminaries, the meal, and the thank yous – they just got more personal. Josh learned everything about Tyler that the man was ready to reveal, and Josh matched him with information about himself. Was that a good idea? Did either of them know what they were getting into? Who knew? Josh did it pretty much without thinking, and Tyler seemed to be, too.

Still, at no point did it ever get sexual. It was like having a really close friend. Josh had had friends like that before. He and Glen had been that way and probably still were – without bothering to put anything in words. And everything Josh was telling Tyler, Glen and probably their best friends knew.

There just weren’t a lot of secrets in their family. Josh wasn’t that kind of guy. Glen had more facets than Josh did, more interesting layers. Josh was pretty much the shallow good guy he seemed. Though his friendship – relationship? – with Tyler was becoming his largest secret.

It’s not like Glen didn’t know who Josh was writing. “Say ‘hello’ for me,” Glen would occasionally say. Sometimes, he’d stand for a moment and read over Josh’s shoulder as he typed.

“I’d forgotten that time,” Glen would sometimes say, laughing. Or “I can’t believe you’re dragging up that again. There’s just noone interested.”

Though when Tyler responded, it was clear he enjoyed what Josh wrote.

So Josh decided to go to New York one weekend, alone and overnight. Though he could easily drive there and back in a day, staying in between for a dozen-or-so hours. And he wasn’t sneaking out, wasn’t lying about anything. If Glen had said he wanted to come, Josh would have been as happy. But Josh knew Glen was painting. Knew he had deadlines for a show. And since the kids no longer lived with them most of the year, Glen was happy to have the house alone.

Tyler met Josh for lunch at a fish place near Grand Central. The restaurant was almost empty by the time Josh arrived – he’d driven to New Haven and had taken the train, having no use for his car in the city. Later, they walked to the Frick and the Guggenheim then crossed the park and strolled to the theater district, picking up tickets and a snack. They planned on dinner afterwards, since Josh was staying at a hotel nearby.

He could have stayed with friends but both didn’t want to impose and didn’t want to explain who he was seeing. “A friend,” sounded mysterious, and most of their friends and relatives knew their other friends and relatives by name. No one had really heard of Tyler. If Josh or Glen had mentioned him, it was so casually, no one might have remembered. After dinner, which was as generic though as pleasurable as the play, he saw Tyler to a taxi – which he’d found faster than Josh ever would have – confirmed their breakfast meeting, and walked through Times Square.

It was almost one AM, but it was practically daylight to the second or third floors. Then it dropped off to night. There were things Josh liked better about New York when they were neon and sleazier, though he certainly felt safer walking now. And he walked for maybe an hour. Thinking about leaving Glen.

Could he even do that after thirty years? Almost thirty. Twenty-nine since he and Glen had met in college and slept together. Less than half that since they were legally married. What could be gained by losing that? Everyone they knew would think Josh was crazy – including Josh. And he’d never mentioned it to Tyler. Tyler had never said anything to him. Josh wondered if Tyler had ever been thinking the same.

He’d never married and said he’d never wanted to. That there had always been interesting guys around, he’d always had a boyfriend, and he didn’t expect that would end.

“Though it gets tough calling them that when they haven’t been boys for twenty years. More.”

“There’s no other word,” Josh admitted. We’ve probably all talked about that.”

“We should invent one.”

“Everything sounds dumb. ‘My guy.’ ‘The man I’m seeing.’ ‘My fella.’”

“My great-aunt used to call them “my beaus.’”

“Yours or hers?”

“Definitely not hers.”

“Sounds almost Victorian. When was she born?”

“Not that long ago. Early 30s. She probably picked it up from some 40s movie. Which she saw when it was new.”

“Black-and-white. Huge theaters. I kinda miss that. Have you ever seen the Beacon?”

“For concerts – a couple. I can’t even remember who.”

“It’s not the last of the big theaters. There’s Radio City and that one in Brooklyn. But this was our neighborhood. That was for holidays.”

“Neighborhood?”

“My grandparents lived nearby. That’s why Glen and I homed in on there when we moved. It was familiar.”

“You started on Riverside Drive? Did you always have money?”

My grandparents didn’t live that far. They were near Columbus, between that and Amsterdam. Not on Central Park. And not the noise of Broadway or the class of West End.”

“But you started on Riverside?”

“Yeah, I came to the city with a good job. Headhunters found me.”

“That must’ve been nice. I can’t remember how many interviews I did. Then I changed jobs regularly for years, to moving.”

“And changed guys, too. For the same reason?”

“You just don’t know how much fun you can have in the city, when you’re young, intelligent, and reasonably good-looking.”

“ And if you work it right, you never have to pay.”

“Not even psychically. I was always careful.”

“So much for equality.”

“Hey – the guys had money before me. What would you have done if you’d come to New York single?”

“That was never a question.”

“And there you have it.”

After breakfast, they continued their walking. Back up Broadway but not turning on Central Park South. Continuing on to the Beacon – which was, of course, closed. But they could stand in front of it.

Then they wandered up Broadway to 83rd. Cut left to Riverside and stood in front of the building Josh and Glen hadn’t lived in for fifteen years. They probably hadn’t even seen it, except driving past.

It was tall, but only relative to what was built before the World War I. Fairly nondescript, and as they stood there, a realtor was going in. They overheard her conversation and tagged her into the lobby. It wasn’t that doormen were getting sloppy. There was an open house, and they were letting anyone in. Anyone who looked like they could pay.

They could, so they went up to the 12th floor. Josh and Glen had lived on the 8th.

The condo for sale was empty. They thought that odd because they were usually staged, at least in the magazine ads. They made pleasant talk with the realtor, but there were already several couples there, so noone was ever really alone.

“Nice apartment,” Tyler told Josh.

“Bigger than ours. And with better views.”

Actually, he and Glen had lived in two apartments. The first was a one bedroom, then they grabbed a two when their second child was born. The kids were two years apart, and Josh and Glen weren’t even thirty. The pleasure of making money certainly gave people confidence. Though Glen didn’t start making his big sales till he was past forty, and despite Josh’s income, when they were first in the building, friends and relatives got Glen’s paintings as gifts.

“Do they know what they’re worth now?” Josh had asked Glen.

“No more than two or three grand – they’re early paintings.”

“But we gave them for weddings.”

It seemed much longer ago than it was, and now, Josh asked Tyler, “Could you live here?” He withheld the “With me,” though, actually, he wouldn’t have been dumb enough to live in the same building.

“I prefer the East Side,” Tyler said.

“Wanna go look there? Compare the river views?”

Tyler just stared at him, and it seemed Josh had unintentionally dropped the “With me.”

“We should get out of here,” Josh quickly suggested. “There are people actually interested in buying.”

Tyler nodded but said nothing, and in the elevator, Josh had to ask, “Where should we go for lunch?”

“I don’t know the area.”

“All these years, and you never had friends on the West Side?” Josh joked.

“Of course.” Tyler was smiling again. “But we didn’t come north much of Lincoln Center – not to eat.”

That made sense. Many of the newer, more interesting places were being developed towards the tip of the island. Areas that hadn’t seemed habitable for almost a century were suddenly filled with college kids. Or so they looked.

They found a small, local restaurant on Broadway. Josh ate comfortably, and though Tyler was pleasant, he also seemed distant. A little stiff. Somewhat formal. When he raised his cup, Josh realized how tense Tyler’s wrist was.

“I can’t imagine giving up my life,” Tyler told Josh at one point. It wasn’t in answer to anything Josh had asked or what they’d been talking about. “Can’t imagine changing a thing.”

There was a reason Tyler lived alone, Josh realized. He liked it.

“I need to catch a train,” Josh told him soon after.

“I’ll go with you to Grand Central.”

“Nah, I can find it. Really.” Josh grinned. “This has been great. Thanks for making the time.”

“My pleasure.”

Tyler didn’t object to being walked to another cab, and he seemed to pull them out of the air.

“Not even Uber?” Josh kidded.

“I don’t like their politics.”

After Josh grinned, he promised, “I’ll write you tonight.”

“I look forward to it.” Then Tyler hesitated. “And...

Josh grinned again. “Don’t even think about it.”

Tyler smiled directly at him, and Josh waved as the cab drove off. He knew, once they were writing again, they’d be comfortable. But he was already forming other plans.

He walked towards where his grandparents had lived. Except the first time, he missed it by a block, and he couldn’t remember if that had happen before.

“Know where I am?” he soon asked Glen on the phone.

“New York.”

“Yeah. No kidding. But where?”

“Don’t turn this into a guessing game.”

“My grandparents’ building.”

“On 79th?”

“Almost across from the museum.”

“Say ‘hello’ to the dinosaur.”

It was their kids’ old favorite.

“We’re not going in.”

“How’s Tyler?”

“Fine. I left him twenty minutes ago.”

“You said ‘we.’”

“‘I.’ Sorry. I’m not going in.”

“He tired of your stories?” Glen asked, laughing.

Josh laughed right back. “Won’t know till I tell him some more.”

There was quick silence on the phone.

“Then I’ll see you tonight?” Glen said.

“Probably. I’m going to Heather and Morgan’s first.”

“We haven’t seen them for years.”

“I know. I thought it was time.”

Josh had called their old friends as he’d walked towards his grandparents’. The couples talked often enough, so an unplanned visit didn’t seem strange. Though as Glen remembered, they really hadn’t seen each other for some time.

In the call, Josh had eased past Glen’s not being with him, over the “Is anything wrong?” and into “OK if I stop by for a couple of hours?”

“Sure,” Heather said. “Anytime. You know that. Wanna stay?”

“Depends how soon we start drinking.”

When they’d both stopped laughing over that, Heather ordered, “Just get your butt over here.”

They lived in Flushing, and Josh could never remember if that was Brooklyn or Queens. He always mixed Flushing up with Flatbush. But subway maps were clear.

No taxis for him, and it obviously wasn’t a question of money. He didn’t trust city drivers.

Heather and Morgan’s apartment was as small as they were, especially compared to where he and Glen lived or even the condo he’d just seen. There was no view except Rear Window from the front – across-the-street neighbors with closed shutters and blinds. But the apartment was beautifully furnished..

Heather worked in production design, on various levels of films and TV. Morgan had come to the city to do the same but had soured on the business early and veered into social work. “It’s where I’m needed most.”

He worked for private organizations. Heather caught jobs as she could but preferred short projects. “Matches my attention span.”

“Matches the business,” Morgan joked.

“You never had the patience.”

They didn’t have kids, either. They has reptiles – in tanks.

When Josh arrived, Heather was working out schedules on their dining table, her usual desk. She wore jeans and a floppy top. Morgan – wearing jeans and a T – was stretched on the couch, fiddling on a laptop with a video game. Neither wore shoes. Josh had been buzzed upstairs, their apartment door had been open, and he felt overdressed. He immediately took off his jacket, opened his shirt a few buttons over his T, and rolled his sleeves.

“What do you want to drink?” Morgan asked.

Josh told him, and Morgan came close enough. Heather started to explain the talent show she was working on, but it went past Josh, as he knew, or had seen, none of her references.

“No loss,” Morgan assured him.

As Heather refocused on work, Morgan drifted back to his game, but both still chatted with Josh, alternately and overlapping, catching up. Then someone came in. No knock. “The door’s rarely locked,” Heather explained. “We know everyone in the building.”

Josh believed it.

“They’re all people in the industry,” she went on. “We’ve worked with or for each other over the years. Word got around that this building was great, and as old folks died, we moved friends in.”

“We’d pass along obits.”

“Sounds gruesome,” Josh said.

“It’s New York.”

“And it’s still all rentals,” Morgan added. “Can you believe that? We’d all buy if we could.”

The guy who’d come in was a director. “Well, second assistant,” he explained. “That’s a stage manager, if you do theater.”

When Heather could tell the distinction was lost, she simplified, “He tracks people the way I track things.”

Josh nodded at that then asked, “Do you want to direct eventually?” The assumption was that everyone did.

“Nah,” the guy replied. “Too much pressure – both finding jobs and doing ‘em. And every kid wants to direct. You’d think that’s all they teach. Plus, I make good money and can always get work.”

He looked to be in his early 30s. Long hair, pulled up in a knot. Visible arm tats. The rest could be imagined. Morgan and Heather were more conservative – older than the guy, but ten years younger than Josh and Glen. The two couples met in Viet Nam, on a trip.

“I can’t believe you’re going there voluntarily,” Josh’s father had said. It was part of a personal history his generation had aimed to avoid.

Before Josh tried to talk further with the non-director, the front door opened and a couple came in. A man and woman, cleaner cut, maybe in their late twenties. They nodded at Morgan, grinned at the non-director, glanced quizzically at the suburban dad, and went straight to Heather to talk. Actually, they were already talking as they neared her, clearly about business.

“You’re sure you don’t want to see the set?” Heather soon cut through their chatter, calling to Josh. “No one’s shooting today, but we gotta do some clean-up.’

“It’s not far. Twenty minutes,” the younger guy said. “We can fit in my truck.”

“There’s only four of us,” said the girl.

“Really... no,” Josh told them.

He and Glen had once been curious about studios and actors, until they spent a day tailing Heather around. “I couldn’t be more bored,” Glen had whispered after a half-dozen hours, and they still had to stay for several more. Heather worked long days.

“You don’t have to make up your mind now,” Heather insisted. “We still have an hour’s work.”

“I’ll think about it,” Josh told her. But he knew he wouldn’t.

So Heather and her friends went back to her laptop and spread sheets, Morgan continued thumbing his video game, and the non-director had turned on the wall-sized TV – though it was a small wall – and was watching golf, but not really. To offset that, he’d pulled out a square of glass, maybe 6 by 6, backed with pebbled silver foil. Or maybe the back of the glass was pebbled while the front was flat and clear. Either way, he was carving something with an odd-looking tool. Not a blade. Something with a diamond or fake diamond tip. Looking over the guy’s shoulder, Josh could see the unworked outline of a man’s face, full on. The guy was deepening an ear.

“Alfred E. Neuman?” Josh asked.

“Yeah!” The guy grinned. “How could you tell? There’s almost nothing there.”

“Some things you don’t forget.”

The guy laughed and went back to his work – “etching,” Josh thought it was called. Music suddenly came from somewhere, and Josh traced it to Morgan’s computer. Morgan had pulled out his ear buds, probably to be more comfortable. So the music came from his game. Or maybe it had been unheard, background, because the game was just visual noise. To counter the music, plus be heard over the golf commentary, Heather and her friends raised their babble as they shuffled paperwork, plans, and photos. It didn’t bother Josh. He leaned back in what was probably a knock-off Eames chair, possibly used in some TV show or film – Heather said she often cherry-picked cast-offs – and felt comfortable. He always relaxed around creative people. All he lacked was Glen.

2019 by Richard Eisbrouch
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