Memories of Alice

Gary parked across from the condominium building and tried to summon up the good sense that he would need. He remembered many evenings there, talking sensibly with Alice and humoring Andrew, one of those prodigal children who grow up too quickly for your, or their own, good. Andrew was more than able to have an intelligent conversation with his mother — more so, even, than Gary or the average Joe she would bring home, even if, at the same time, he had no context for his opinions. There would be a long pause whenever he expressed one of his adult opinions, seemingly out of nowhere among his childish preoccupations. That is where the prejudices and mental shortcuts that we espouse come in handy: you know, almost immediately, where someone is coming from and you react accordingly. An agile mind with no strong affiliations is unsettling by comparison.

Andrew was both the easy and the difficult part of their arrangement. He was a computer-fascinated, avoid-the-sunlight kind of kid, and his fascination with video games gave Gary an instant rapport, at least until Andrew recognized ACD (adult coordination disease) in him, which prevented Gary’s fingers from executing a triple-double attack jump at just the right moment. Of course, charming an 11 year-old boy was never part of Gary’s calculation. You might think that on top of every other action in this grand campaign, Gary would consider this action the most trivial. But in fact this was substantively different from the rest of his campaign, because there was no fantasy in it — it was an interaction that could not be deeply and covertly sexualized. Still, on a therapeutic level — pleasurable in its own way — he enjoyed the interaction, and felt how his years of experience could provide some guidance for a boy who otherwise generally refused tutelage.

Laughter can be the first thing that binds, and the first element of a relationship that disappears. When he discovered Alice’s sense of humor, Gary was surprised, because it is a broad sense of humor, trailing into a slapstick, lose- your-composure, snorting guffaw. She said it’s a black thing — not to exclude him but, he thought, to explain something to him that he didn’t seem to understand. He had developed a little private kind of laugh of his own, and it wasn’t until they’ve relaxed over a few dinners and at a few parks that he found himself laughing in unison with her over Andrew’s attempts to look the grown- up, as he wiped the orange soda from his face at a self-serve soda machine.

One night the humor in their short-lived relationship expired. He could remember it only through the shimmer of therapies of a different kind — six packs, scotch, an occasional baggie of grass, a prostitute or two, night clubs, gambling, pornography. Whenever that night came through his cleverly laid fog, he still felt the confusion and anger that accompanied him out the door and down the hall.

Alice was a woman who was slow to anger and quick to dismiss. When he said one night, in an irritated and exasperated moment, though half humorously he thought, that she should feel lucky that he was there — she comprehended in an instant the subtext and the implication, and she told him that it was time he got going, matter-of-factly and without any gloss, but with enough emphasis that he equally understood that this was the end and he ought not call again. He couldn’t resist calling and leaving a series of messages, none answered, and finally he drew the consequence necessary for a shred of self-respect.

He had felt for those few weeks to be above the fray regarding race politics in America; he looked at his comment up and down and thought it barely “inappropriate,” and thought she was reacting all out of bounds. Okay, she chafed at the notion that she should feel grateful. It wasn’t like he treated her like his property or less than an equal. Nothing could have been further from his mind, he told himself. It was all a giant mistake, and she couldn’t get past that. She was the racist, not him. That was a hard conclusion that he finally found himself comforted with, and he generally did his best not to dwell on it for the sake of the memory of their relationship, though it was now a relationship in negative relief, a contrapositive image of itself.