Excerpt from my novel Confessions of an Aging American Playboy for "Sample Sunday"
I landed in Rockport again shortly before 9/11. After eighteen years in Hawaii, I’d had my fill of isolation, surfers, Japanese greed, and native hostility. I returned to Massachusetts with a woman I’d lived with for five years but didn’t love to take a job I hated. Shortly after we arrived, she dumped me––for a woman. Just goes to show I’ll never understand chicks.
It didn’t take me long to locate Dee Dee. One evening after work I climbed three flights of narrow steps to her garret studio with its paint-splattered floors, exposed beams, and precious north-facing view of the ocean. Frames of all sizes and paintings in various stages of completion cluttered the small room. An old baker’s rack held pads of paper, canvases, baskets overflowing with tubes of paint, and jars stuffed with brushes. Even though it was still a couple hours until sunset, a spotlight illuminated a small platform in one corner of the studio.
Dee Dee was cleaning brushes in the sink with her back to me when I entered. Without turning around she ordered, “Strip and take the stand.”
I chuckled. “I’m afraid my modeling days are over.”
She spun around and stared at me a while before she spoke. “Well, it’s about time. I’ve been waiting twenty-nine years for you.”
Her short blonde hair stuck up in spikes, like a sunburst around her head. Her blue eyes were still too big for her face. She wore a man’s white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows and a pair of ragged jeans, both of them so covered with paint it looked like she’d had a run-in with Jackson Pollock. Yellow and orange splotches dappled her left cheek. Her fingernails were green. She looked adorable.
“You don’t seem glad to see me,” I said. “You’re not still mad at me after all this time, are you?”
Dee Dee sighed and wiped her hands on her jeans. She opened a cabinet above the sink, took out a bottle of cheap Chianti and two glasses, and handed them to me. While she cleared a place for us to sit, I poured the wine.
“I’d hoped when you came back you’d be fat and bald,” she said uncharitably.
“Yeah, well, I’ve put on a few pounds and my golden locks have gone completely white, as you can see.”
“Damn it, Max, you’re still the handsomest man I’ve ever known.” She didn’t make it sound like a compliment.
I flashed her one of my best smiles. “You turned out pretty cute yourself, Squirt.”
“Oh please. I’m forty years old, for chrissake. Don’t call me Squirt.”
“Whoops. Sorry. I guess you are all grown up at that.” I winked and she blushed.
She gulped her wine and held out her glass for a refill. “What brings you to our fair isle again after all this time?”
“Work. I got transferred to the New England office.”
“Still keeping the skies safe?”
I nodded. “I’m not in the tower anymore, though, I’m the boss man now. Between you and me, it sucks. I’d rather be back on the radar scope directing planes––at least I’d feel I was doing something constructive.”
“So fill me in on your life.”
“You want the complete version or the abridged one?”
“High-concept it for me,” she said. “Otherwise we’ll be here for another twenty-nine years.”
“San Francisco, Honolulu. No wife, no kids.”
“And your brother?”
“He died. Fourteen years ago.”
“I’m sorry. He lived a lot longer than you expected, though.”
“Yeah.” I shrugged. Even after all this time, I still hadn’t come to grips with his death. “How ’bout you?”
“Three marriages, three divorces. No kids either––at least I got that part right.”
“This part looks pretty good too.” I gestured at the artwork on the walls of the studio. “You’ve got talent.”
“I guess. It keeps me alive anyway.”
I thought she meant she earned a living painting. Later I came to understand that she meant it literally. Art was her solace and her salvation, the only reason she hadn’t killed herself a dozen times in the past dozen years.