Three Gentlemen Callers
Bella Tovah sat down at a small round table in the dining room with three men, positioning her walker a discreet distance away. She nodded approvingly at the large placard to her right which depicted two senior men playing badminton on a lush green lawn one sunny day and insets of white-haired women chatting, doing jigsaw puzzles together or knitting quietly while listening to a pianist commanded to play their favorites. “Your Last Resting Place” read the lettering at the top. “Never a Worry at Happy Hills in Geronimo, TX.”
She leaned forward over her bowl of oatmeal and prunes, eyeing each of her breakfast buddies in turn, to announce, “You should have seen me then. I was quite a dish.”
“Here we go,” murmured Jake. Shaking his head vigorously up and down so she registered his agreement, he had to stop to check he hadn’t dislodged the tubes that ran from his nose to the oxygen tank at his side. He managed to croak out, “You still are.”
Bella leaned back in her chair. “Really?” The queen of all she surveyed, she glanced around the room to make sure everyone had gotten the message. Her overbright smile threatened to crack her face into many small mosaic pieces. Facing her boys again, she demurred, “You’re just saying that.”
She had to wait a beat or two longer but Burt, after a kick in the ankle administered by Elliot, chimed in, “Magnificent, my dear” and “Always and forever.” Burt enjoyed affecting a slight British accent though he came from Newark. He pantomimed kissing Bella’s hand.
Bella felt her color redden but she sat up straighter and nodded. Who were the other women to dare to treat her like a hussy? She could hardly help it if she’d aged so wonderfully. And now she had a reputation to uphold. She reached into her purse to pull out a brush and powder so she could renew her face. She patted down her curls and took a long look at the rhinestone encrusted ring adorning her hand and at her freshly painted red nails.
Feeling eyes upon her, she put away her makeup just in time for Elliot to take her hand and squeeze it while announcing, “Darling One, no one even comes close. You’re stunning and especially at your age—”
She withdrew her hand and snapped, “Don’t bring up my age all the time! Why must you people do that?”
“Quite right. I’d swear not a day over 68.”
Smartypants! He knows damn well my daughter is that age.
Elliot continued, “You’re as young as you feel. And as young as you make us feel.” He glanced down at his pants in mock terror.
“Oh, you boy, you!” Bella exclaimed, one hand over her mouth, as she and Elliot engaged in a chuckle together.
Burt and Jake poked at their microwaved eggs and exchanged a somewhat embarrassed look. Elliot was the youngster in the group after all, somewhere in his 80’s.
“El, you’re a scandal!” Bella piped up.
“I only wish,” he whispered half to himself.
Don’t I know it? “That’s it. I’m going to have to go trolling for a man who’s . . .viable. Two husbands dead and gone. Surely more recruits are to be found if one knows where to go?”
Elliot patted her hand. “You do that, darling.”
She giggled. “Oh dear, did I say that out loud?”
The waitress, a rather nice goth high school senior despite a disturbing stud in her tongue, stopped at their table to top off their decaf and O.J. Watching Bella daintily sip her coffee, she remembered something. “Bella, honey, don’t you have a hair appointment now with Carla upstairs? You’d better head up there. We don’t want to have her in a pissy mood all day.”
Bella nodded and put the coffee down. On cue Burt jumped up and fetched her walker and she made haste slowly, propelling herself out of the dining room.
While Carla set her hair and brushed it out into a giant bouffant cotton candy ball, Bella leafed through copies of Cosmopolitan and got a quick education in the dating and hook-up internet sites frequented by her children and no doubt their children by now. Why not me? I can be clever with words. I have a lot to offer a man. I just want to cuddle with someone again.
Up in her room later, after a short nap, Bella grabbed some fresh typing paper and scrawled out possible ads for herself.
Maybe not, too bold.
This woman comes fully loaded with looks and brains and wit galore! Seeking a gentleman caller 75-85, college educated, with sufficient funds to . . .simply adore me!
Not bad. She realized she could read it to her daughter, but then hesitated. Who knew how that farbisneh
would take it. She’d probably be jealous. Her boyfriend was never going to propose, Bella knew, not after all these years of free milk!
Finally she settled on a simple message:
Woman, a real looker, wants to talk dirty to you. Dirty politics that is.
Bella was computer literate enough to post the ad and within a few weeks, had three propositions to consider. She’d read about how these things went and so arranged to meet the first man for a nosh at the local Dunkin’ Donuts which was just across the street from Happy Hills.
Itzak made quite an entrance. A tall somewhat regal woman in a rusted green Chevy dropped him off right in front. Bella figured the woman must be his aide; she had the air of someone from the Islands. As Bella watched, Itzak made his way up the ramp. From her angle of vision, he appeared rather short, but nicely dressed in a poorly ironed white shirt and khaki Bermuda shorts. When he finally made his way into the shop, she saw he would have been of average height had he straightened out. But first his twisted back would require many bouts with a medieval torture rack. Poor man.
He stood there near the counter. Bella sashayed over to him and bending down, said “Howdy, stranger.”
He nodded, shook her hand, and they sat together at a small corner table. They motioned and a young boy behind the counter came over to them and took their order even though table service was not usually offered. Sitting over their drinks and chocolate glazed donuts, Bella and Itzak struggled for conversation. Finally Itzak mumbled something so Bella bent closer to listen again. “Why don’t we finish here and then beat a retreat to your room?”
She surveyed the donut shop. Where are my boys when I need them? What gives him the right?
“What do you take me for?” she asked him, her voice a little too loud and too harsh.
Silence. A couple of guys at the next table were listening, laughing at them. She was sure of it.
“Itzy, you got the wrong dame!” Bella deposited the donut she’d been nibbling on her plate, lifted herself up with as much dignity as she could muster, and signaled to the young boy to hurry up and fetch her walker which she’d parked against the wall. She slowly made her way out the door without a backward glance.
“Well,” grumbled Itzak when he noticed the boy studying him in a curious way, “she said, ‘talk dirty.’ Naturally I assumed she was hot to trot.” Ignoring the kid’s quizzical look, he took out his cell phone to call his daughter Norah to pick him up. A few minutes later the rusted green car pulled up to the curb.
Seeing his expression Norah climbed out and gave her dad a hug. “Are you okay?”
Itzak shrugged. “Win some; lose some.”
She helped him into the car. “Let’s go then. Not to worry—I have a whole day planned out for us: we can sit by the pool—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he muttered.
Undeterred, Bella decided to meet her second beau at a more upscale restaurant, Sizzler. She spotted Ivan as soon as he walked in. He was dressed like a man who’d been a widower for quite a while, with no woman around to tell him to throw things out: navy blue suit, stained tie, cheap sneakers. But he was tall, at least five foot six or seven, on the slim side, and his posture was acceptable. They found a booth in a corner not far from the salad bar with ample room to park her walker.
Ivan started right in by telling her a string of jokes. “A rabbi, a priest and an imam walked into a bar. . .”
Geez these jokes weren’t funny in my father’s day
, she mused, but was determined to like him. The waiter brought them coffee and dessert she had arranged over the phone, and they eagerly dug in.
“Great lemon meringue, don’t you think?” Bella asked.
Ivan just grunted his approval. He kept his head lowered and his arms on the table. After a few minutes of awkward silence, Bella spoke. “Tell me Ivan about your life. What type of work did you do?”
“I was a schlepper
. You know, the schmatte
business in the garment district in Manhattan? I pushed and pulled wagons full of fabric up and down the West 40s.
OK, not as high on the food chain as hubby number one, the bookkeeper, nor number two, the meat carver.
“Then I came to Texas for my Suzy’s wedding and she settled me in at an Oak Tree condo.”
“May I ask when you lost your wife?”
“Lost? My wife? What wife?” He craned his neck upwards and Bella noticed something was very wrong with his face. She pointed. “Are you all right?”
Ivan poked himself in the eye. “Oy!” He jumped up and crawled under the booth. She tried to see what he was doing down there.
I wonder if he’s checking out my legs.
A waiter approached and inquired about their meal. He leaned over to ask whether he could help Ivan with anything. Ivan reemerged, with a ketchup stain on his lapel, and said, “My eye fell out on the floor.” He took his eye out of his jacket pocket, gave it a wipe and bent over to pop it back in. “It’s nothing. Go away. Can’t you see I’m having a date?”
The room had gotten very quiet. Everyone in the place was staring at Bella and Ivan. Well, I was yearning for male attention and this is what I get!
Bella grabbed her walker and stood up. “Ivan, I have to get back now for my card game. I want to thank you—”
“Wait. I’ll come with you. I can play pinochle, you know. What do you want to do for dinner? Can I sleep over? I hardly snore, I swear.”
“I’ll get back to you.” She reluctantly extended her hand but Ivan moved in and deposited a sloppy wet kiss on her mouth.
“Bye, doll-face,” he yelled to the amusement of the onlookers.
As Bella made her way out of the restaurant, a woman her age gestured at her hair and face. Bella ducked into the women’s room and put herself back together, washing her face and adding a layer of fresh makeup.
I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry.
The third and final tryst was to be with Lee, a gentleman a bit younger than herself and one in full possession of his parts (she hoped). They met in the lobby of Happy Hills. Bella was in no mood to traipse around the neighborhood. Into the lobby walked a slight man with startling blue eyes. His hair was thick and white and needed cutting; his clothes appeared clean and even smelled of laundry detergent.
Bella gestured to a little area where they could sit and talk, and they each took a position on a couch.
“I’m a bit nervous,” explained Lee in a whispery voice. “This is my first date as—”
Bella cut him off. “No need to explain, dearie. It’s difficult to date at our age.” Oops, why did I bring that up?
“. . .a man.”
Bella decided she had misheard. She wanted so much to like Lee and have him like her. She needed someone to hold her as she fell asleep at night, comfort her, be with her as she traversed these last lonely steps. “Lee, do you think I’m attractive?”
“What a question! Why Bella, you are truly beautiful. Classy. The Cat’s Pajamas.”
“Why, thank you.” Bella glowed. She glanced around the lobby to see who was looking. No one. Just her luck. “Excuse me for a minute.” Bella went to the main desk to use the phone. She managed to reach Elliot who she asked to come down and give her his opinion of her date.
She rejoined Lee and they talked about this and that. Elliot strolled past them once and winked at Bella. Good enough!
Later that night, Bella went to bed with Lee or LeAnn as he once was called.
“Sorry Bella , but I can’t really do much—”
“You ain’t got the equipment. Not your fault. Well those that got it can’t do anything with it anyways.” They laughed, happy as clams, two conspirators.
“Why don’t you scoot over here and spoon with me. That’s it. That feels just right.”
At breakfast the next morning, Bella walked in with her handsome man in tow. “I want you all to meet Lee, my new boyfriend.”
Lee shyly shook hands with each one of the boys and stood awkwardly by.
Jake gaped at them open-mouthed, but Burt managed to rise to the occasion, bowing slightly and saying, “Enchanté.”
“Elliot, pull up another chair, would you? Bella asked.
Elliot winked at Burt, and as always, he obliged. He turned to Lee, patted his hand, and said, “Don’t worry. You’ll fit right in.”
Bella gazed lovingly at them all. Even though she knew their shtick and they knew hers, the familiar felt good this morning. “Oh dear, what a night that was!” she started in, just loud enough for all to hear, as she scooped up her first mouthful of oatmeal.
“Bella, I gotta hand it to you. You never cease to amaze,” said Jake and the heads of Elliot and Burt and Lee bobbed up and down in agreement.
“So I’ve been told. So I’ve been told.”