A Single Life
A Single Life
by Harry Buschman
The cleaning lady wasn’t able to come in so Leila Evans was doing her own vacuuming. She sang quietly in accompaniment to the full throated roar of her vacuum cleaner. It’s feeble headlight searched for dust under her new furniture.
It was Saturday. CNN didn’t need her until Monday afternoon and she had the whole weekend to herself.
It was a pity to start the weekend doing housework, but on the other hand it served to remind her how far she had come. After only five years in New York City she was on the brink of personal success in television. She had an agent, a personal make-up attendant and a lawyer, and no one could pull the wool over her eyes.
She was going to the beach later in the afternoon, and tomorrow she intended to gas up her ten year old sports car and head for Susan’s summer bungalow at Copake Lake. She mustn’t forget to bring something for the kids and some wine for her and Susan. They could drink to their single blessedness in the afternoon. She’d have a big head Monday on the drive back to the city, but that would be Monday, and that’s how Mondays are supposed to be for singles in the television business. The make-up people could fix anything.
Three years ago her weekends were simpler. She and Vinnie would spend Saturday and Sunday together. They would either do something wonderful or nothing at all, it didn’t matter – just being together was all that mattered then.
Her mind wandered and she turned the vacuum cleaner off and thought about Vinnie for a minute – it was strange, she did more now, she was never idle, always busy... like a hamster in a cage. Forever running. “because everybody else runs,” she said under her breath as she rolled the cord up and put the vacuum away. Thinking of Vinnie made her sit down in the club chair and look out the window.
Vinnie... was it only three years ago? It seemed much longer. She shut her eyes and saw him plainly ... always in need of a haircut, always badly shaven, always hungry. That’s how she usually saw him, just the backside of him with his head in her refrigerator. Vinnie ... So much talent wasted up there in Rye, at IBM ... and then how scared he was when he got the offer from Apple out on the west coast.
“I can’t survive out there without you, Leila.” He looked like a helpless little boy. “Why don’t we go out there together ... what do you say, Leila?”
“Well, why didn’t you, girl?”
You were a blossoming news bunny in those days, the most important job you ever had. Three to five in the afternoon––you thought you were the most important woman in the world. You couldn’t chuck it all and move to the west coast. God, you were beautiful after the make-up staff got done with you! You would stare into the camera (making believe it was the face of a guest), and ask him the prepared questions that rolled up on the prompter. The people watching at home would marvel at you – “God Almighty!” they said. “This broad’s got brains and beauty both ... some people have all the luck.” You know for a fact that’s what started it off between you and Vinnie. He loved being seen with you and you didn’t want the hassle of being alone in restaurants and bars.
Swearing softly to herself, Leila slammed the closet door on the vacuum cleaner just as the telephone rang. She was sure it was Susan to talk about tomorrow and what she planned to do with the kids. While walking into the kitchen to pick up the phone she pulled the earring from her left ear. It would be a long conversation. It always was with Susan.
She recognized his voice immediately. Just the way he said her name – “Hello, Leila?” Spoken as a question, just as he always had.
“Vinnie! Where are you?”
“I’m back, Leila. Here in New York.”
“It’s been ... it’s...”
“Almost three years, Leila.”
“How are you, Vinnie?” She couldn’t help asking him, even though she was mad enough to spit. Imagine ... calling her up like that after almost three years in California! Yet she couldn’t help asking him how he was.
“Have you had lunch? I’ll tell you all about it.”
“I was going to the beach, Vinnie.”
“Go to the beach tomorrow. I’d go with you but Leslie will be back this afternoon.”
“How about Giovanni’s. Is he still in business.” Vinnie seemed to know, instinctively, that she’d give in. He didn’t even have to beg her. “Two o’clock, okay? It’ll be great to see you again, Leila.”
“Okay, two o’clock.”
She didn’t want to be sitting there waiting when he walked in, that would put her on the defensive. She was, after all, who she was. Somebody – recognizable. Two o’clock. Well – she wouldn’t leave the apartment until two. If she walked, she wouldn’t get to Giovanni’s until two thirty. A slow walk, looking in windows along the way – she didn’t want to show up breathless. But, she did take a long time putting herself together, she wanted to look as much like Leila Evans as possible.
She was going to be standoffish; she had every right to be stand-offish, after all she was stood up for almost three years! Imagine Leila Evans, prime time news bunny. She checked herself carefully from all angles before leaving the apartment. Not a fleck of dandruff. Not a speck of lint. Not a hair out of place – she was as perfect as nature and make-up would permit and she had to admit to herself that she was as ready as she would ever be.
The doorman gave her a close once over in the lobby, his eyes felt like two hot pokers in the small of her back. His voice cracked when he said, “Can I get you a cab, Miss Evans?” No, she didn’t want a cab, she wanted a slow leisurely walk to Giovanni’s – just as slow as she could possibly make it. She fought back the impulse to hurry, to keep the click of her heels a second apart.
She was aware of people looking at her. It was something she was used to in her job as news bunny (or news person as she preferred), but it seemed to be more obvious today. Perhaps she did too good a job with the make-up. It didn’t normally bother her and there were times when she was secretly pleased, but it irritated her today. Who was this Leslie anyway – some baby faced, sun-tanned bitch from the coast. “She better not be there when I get there!” Her step accelerated and she had to pull up at McCulloch’s upscale leather store to stare at two shoulder purses that were out of this world. Suppose this Leslie creature was there? Suppose she was sitting at his side, timid and frightened – her first time in New York, and all that garbage? Or suppose she was sitting there with her slutty little eyes half shut and those gorgeous legs crossed all the way up to ...?
She was walking in place now, like a recruit on the drill field and all the while staring at the two leather shoulder purses. She decided the only way to keep from running to Giovanni’s was to go in and buy a shoulder purse. Normally it would have taken her all day to make her mind up, but it was a quarter past two and ... well ... she found one very quickly. She told the clerk not to wrap it, pulled off all the tags and dropped the purse she had been carrying in the new one. It felt good on her shoulder and made her look very professional. A news-woman. Not a news-bunny. A news-woman.
She approached the door of Giovanni’s and pulled up short. She didn’t feel professional now. Nervous and vulnerable, like her first day at CNN. She opened the door and stood in the sudden darkness, aware of the head waiter approaching her.
“Madam?” ... then he recognized her. “Miss Evans, your party is waiting, please follow me.” Suddenly there he was, looking a little thinner, beautifully tanned – in a sports jacket that seemed a size too big for him. He stood quickly and came around to her side of the banquette table to kiss her as she sat. They touched cheeks. His was cool and she thought her cheek was burning, and she wondered if he noticed it.
“Jesus, you’re beautiful, Leila,” he said as he sat down. “Once in a while your program shows up on the coast, and it doesn’t do you justice. Everybody out there was jealous of me.”
“For knowing you. They’re pretty unsophisticated out there in spite of what you may have heard. When I said I know Leila Evans I got respect.”
“Why are we here, Vinnie?”
He looked haunted for a moment. “To have lunch first of all. Then I’ve got something to tell you.”
“I’d rather you told me first if it’s what I think it is.”
“Well, just so you wouldn’t hear it from somebody else ... I’m back again, Leila ... we’re over in the village, and, well ... somebody’s bound to see us together, and you’d hear about it ... “
“What went wrong at Apple? It was a very good offer. That’s why you went, wasn’t it, Vinnie?”
He looked away, shrugged his shoulders. “Things changed, Leila. I think I’ll have the antipasto, how about you?”
“I don’t think so.” She stood up quickly and slipped her arm through her new shoulder bag. “You said her name is Leslie. What’s she like? Why did you come back with her?”
“Please sit down, Leila. It isn’t that simple.” He raised his eyes to her, the whites showed. His mouth formed the word “please.”
She sat stiffly, her mouth set in a straight line. She wore a blank expression that she sometimes used when she was on the set but off camera.
“Leslie’s a man I met out at Apple. He was very kind, breaking me in, you know. I was lonely after you, Leila.”
“Leslie’s a man?”
Susan yawned and topped up their wine glasses. “... and what did he say to that?”
“He didn’t have to say anything, and it sounded like a dumb question to me, right after I asked him.” Leila put her feet up on the railing of the porch and tilted back on the two rear legs of the chair. They were on the back porch of Susan’s cabin in Copake Lake. The wine was half gone, Susan’s two kids were flying the Japanese dragon kite she brought with her from the city. It was at that magic hour when something must be done about supper, everybody was hungry after a perfect day at the lake but no one wanted to break the spell.
The cicadas were deafening, panicky in their realization that the end of summer was just around the corner. The grass was tall – the seed pods nodding. Any moment now the children would turn cranky and want their supper, the dragon kite would be forgotten and it would sink to the ground unnoticed. “He was all ready to have lunch.” Leila said. “Can you imagine that? How could I eat?”
Susan stood up and stretched awkwardly. “Life’s a bitch, Leila. What did we ever do to deserve men ... well, one man in particular?” She stood up and walked to the porch railing and looked at her children struggling to keep their kite in the air. “When I look at the kids I don’t think of Vinnie any more – they were all he was good for. Now he’s gone, and it’s like taking a picture off the wall you didn’t really like anyway. All that’s left is a little stain on the wallpaper where he used to be.”
“What’s for supper?” Leila asked.
“I thought we’d finish the chicken. Want to shuck some corn?”
Suddenly the dragon grew limp and fell out of the sky. The air turned heavy and still, dark gray clouds moved in over the far end of the lake. Birds skittered by and for a moment the cicadas were still. A roll of thunder sounded somewhere off in the mountains. Susan cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted to the children, “We’re gonna have us a storm, kids. A whopper it looks like. Get inside here – bring your dragon with you.” She turned to Leila who was still tilted back in her chair. “You’re going to spend the night here, Leila. You’re not driving back in the kind of weather we’re going to have. These roads are treacherous in the rain.”
“I’m working tomorrow.”
“I know, three to five in the afternoon. You can drive back in the morning. Besides ...” she smiled, “whatever the weather, no woman should have to sleep alone in a king size bed.”