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Today's Story by Wayne Scheer

I miss intimacy.

Call Me Marty

I miss intimacy. No, I’m not talking about sex, although, yes, I miss sex, too. I miss intimate conversation and contact, the simple sharing of a life.

My name is Martin Alderman. My friends, my colleagues, my neighbors, always called me Marty. But now almost everyone calls me Mr. Alderman. That’s because I’m old.

I’m eighty-seven years old and since my stroke, I’m deformed. The left side of my face feels like it’s a foot lower than the right side. Drool drips from my bottom lip and I walk with a limp. Quite the looker, eh? Would you believe I used to be considered handsome, especially when I matured and gray streaked my dark hair. I was something of an athlete, too. I jogged three miles every other day, swam laps in the pool at the Y and played handball twice a week–exercise was like a religion to me.

Now the walk from my bed to the bathroom is my exercise. Of course I make that trek so often, perhaps I still put in my three miles a day.

I joke. What else can I do? I cried enough when Grace died four years ago. We were married sixty-three years. It’s not true that time heals. I miss her more than ever. I even find myself talking to her now and then, but it scares me to hear my voice in this empty apartment. When we married, the Second World War had just ended and Harry Truman was president. Back then, I used to smoke Herbert Tareyton cigarettes, “with the cork tip.” We saved and bought our first television set in 1948. I can still remember Grace and me sitting on those hard-backed chairs watching Kraft Television Theater. It’s funny. I remember that. But I couldn’t tell you what I watched on TV last night.

I remember how upset I was when we bought that big, overstuffed couch and stuck the television on the wall opposite it. I told Grace, “That’s it. Conversation in America is dead.” I was right, too.

Now the television is my only companion.

No, that’s not true. Why do I say things like that? I have friends, although most have passed away. I still have lunch now and then with some of my former colleagues from NYU where I taught American History. The revolutionary era was my specialty — four books and numerous articles to my credit. Of course, now I am American history.

Our son, Alan, calls me all the time. Too often, as a matter of fact. I wish he wouldn’t call from that car phone. I keep telling him, “It’s dangerous talking to me when you’re driving. How can you pay attention to me and drive at the same time?”

“Who pays attention to you?” he asks.

I can’t be mad. He learned his sense of humor from me.

He’s a good kid. He just turned fifty-five and I think of him as a good kid. I’m proud of him. He’s a reporter with the Boston Globe. He wanted to be a journalist since he was a child. He and Katy have raised two fine children. They both went to college and are on their own now. Rebecca, has three children, my great grandchildren. She and her husband own a bookstore in Rhode Island. My grandson, Marc? He likes the ladies too much to think of marriage. He’s doing well, though. He does something with thermoplastic and he works in Washington, D.C. I have no idea what thermoplastic is — never yet what he does — but it has to do with aerodynamics, he tells me. We don’t talk about his job much because he works for the Department of Defense and he knows my politics well enough not to get me started.

I don’t see any of them as much as I’d like. They have their own lives. I’d like to see my great grandchildren more often, but the way I look, it’s better we just talk on the phone. I see children pointing at me in the supermarket. Even the adults who should know better can’t help but stare.

Of course, even talking on the phone is strained. Since the stroke, my speech sounds like I had one last drink after the barkeep made his final call. But they all tell me how much better I sound and Alan jokes how he’ll come to visit and we’ll go hiking in the Adirondacks like the old days. “Yeah. And gasoline will again cost twenty-eight cents a gallon,” I tell him. You want to know the truth? I could do without the family camping trips. I never liked them.

But he tells me how good I sound and how sharp my mind remains. If he only knew. I don’t tell him how difficult it is to read lately. My mind wanders or I fall asleep. I can hardly even read a newspaper because my hands shake. I’ve learned to place the paper or book on a table and turn the pages. Do you know how uncomfortable it is to read that way? I always liked to sit back and put up my feet. But I manage.

A few days ago I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of the president. I had to search the newspaper to find his name. A few minutes later, I couldn’t remember it again.

It’s from living alone, I think. I spend too much time lost in my own thoughts. But I wouldn’t want to live with Alan, although he and Katy have invited me. They have an extra room, they keep saying.

“You could just come for a visit. See if you like it.”

“You can visit me here,” I say. “I have a spare bedroom, too.” I notice when they do come to see me, they stay at a hotel.

The fact is I’d be in their way and they’d be in mine. I have my routine. I’ve gotten used to living alone.

After the stroke, Alan and Katy moved me to a nursing home to recuperate. A terrible place, full of people waiting to die. Thank God, I can still take care of myself. This little apartment is fine for me. I have a cleaning woman come in twice a week and I make my own meals or I go to the deli down the street. I have what I need.

But I miss the companionship, the conversation, the intimacy. I miss Grace. In truth, Grace and I didn’t have a perfect marriage. Who does? I was never very good at sharing my emotions with her. Ideas, yes. I could go on for hours. Sex, sure, although I doubt I could ever go on for hours. But when it came to saying, “I love you,” suddenly I had no words.

I even walked out on her once. Took an apartment in the Village. But by the time I paid my first month’s rent, I was home again.

I’m sure Alan knew there was something wrong, but in those days we didn’t talk about it.

What I wouldn’t do now for a real conversation. Now my main companions are doctors and nurses and therapists. They all seem younger than my grandchildren and they speak a language designed, I’m convinced, to exclude me. The other day, there was a new doctor. He looked at my chart without ever looking at me, and said, “Mr. Alderman, I see you had a CVA with left hemi paresis of the lower extremity.” I felt like an idiot until I finally figured out that meant I had a stroke and my left leg doesn’t work so well.

I’ll admit, though, I look forward to the little blond physical therapist who gets into the whirlpool with me and helps me do my exercises. You can’t imagine how much I miss a woman touching my bare skin. I love the way the red and white bathing suit she sometimes wears cuts across her rear end and shows just enough of the bottom of her bottom to remind me that not all behinds are as wrinkled as mine.

But, like all of them, she goes and ruins my little fantasy by calling me, “Mr. Alderman.”

Would it hurt her to call me Marty?


Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He’s published stories, poems and essays in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories published by Thumbscrews Press, (http://issuu.com/pearnoir/docs/revealing_moments.) Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife and can be contacted at wvscheer@aol.com.


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