Secrets of the Lottery Winner
CHAPTER 23: THE REALIZATION
“Heathens,” Emily said.
Nine a.m. at the IHOP on Arroyo in Pasadena and she was on a rant. For Christ’s sake, if she needed heathens they were in front of her in the form of Teddy and Sammy who each at the moment were attacking his respective chocolate face pancakes like, well, pigmy heathens. Gari defended himself from this double assault on his sanity, averting his eyes, resting them on the long tanned legs of a blond in strap heels two tables down with a fellow in an improbable leather jacket. Not that the jacket wasn’t of the finest quality and elegantly designed; but it was already in the eighties, and thus wholly inappropriate for a man who had nothing to hide. All flash, just like L.A. was all flash. Even the priest at their church was tan and muscular, a Venice Beach stereotype, except he wore a Roman collar, most of the time. Father Roger was his name. It galled Gari not knowing the priest’s last name and constantly addressing him childishly and as a familiar on those occasions Emily managed to drag him to church. Father Roger exuded the impression he was due on the set immediately after he finished coaching the congregation to go forth and help their fellows. But, really, this was pure cattiness, and in spite of it all, he actually loved L.A.
Emily was of a different attitude, as evidenced by her next utterance: “Hottentots.”
These boys, they were tiny Hottentots if Gari had ever seen Hottentots. He hadn’t, but he’d been imagining them since grammar school when a nun—her name eluded him—had declared everybody who was not a Catholic a Hottentot and a heathen. In appearance at least, these boys must have been what the woman had had in mind. They had readily acclimated to California. Over the weeks, their hair had lightened and their skin had browned and their attitudes had drifted to insouciance, a pleasant change from their Illinois intensity. He rather liked the effect. Emily, however, yet again was of a different opinion about these developments.
“You’re enjoying L.A.,” he said, the sarcasm intentionally syrupy.
“Pasadena’s fine,” she answered as she helped Sammy slash the happy face into bite-size pieces. “But this, these people aren’t for real. I mean you don’t think anybody here is for real, Gari? Please tell me you don’t.” With the happy face properly butchered, she leaned against the back of the vinyl banquette and attempted the feat of keeping an eye on Sammy while pretending not to watch him.
“It’s the movies,” he said.
She liked hearing the reason. It reaffirmed she wasn’t in Midwestern reality, and she would be returning to the real world of middle America, where people parked their own cars and shopped at the Jewel for ordinary food at prices vaguely like those of the CPI; where there were gray days; maybe too many gray days, but she discovered she required some to slow down, to sit back and reflect on her life; she couldn’t contemplate much of anything in the glare of the sun, not even the L.A. sepia variety.
“Speaking of the movies, Larry’s coming in today. This afternoon in fact. I’ve got to pick him up at LAX.”
“I thought we were spending today together. You know, Gari, Family Sunday. Church, breakfast, something in the afternoon, home, bed,” she reminded him with an accusatory tone.
No, he couldn’t deny he had promised her Family Sundays as a condition of moving to L.A. And they’d had one: church, breakfast, Disneyland; and he liked being with the boys and Emily somewhere other than home. Then work had intervened. Gyl and Kennie were the culprits. The bungling duo churned out a campaign Gari would not present to a one-eyed Tijuana whore. What he’d lied about months ago was now his real world: He actually was working on weekends with an incompetent creative staff. And from his perspective, this Sunday represented lots of work. He emitted a small groan at what was to come.
Watching the creases lining his forehead deepen, indicating the revolution of his brain wheels, she asked sympathetically, “Is it worth it?”
“What?” She’d caught him off guard.
“These hours you’ve been putting in. The lunches with clients. Have you looked at yourself lately, Gari? Is it worth it?”
Sure he’d looked at himself and he’d promised himself he would attend to his gut. Hell, he was in California, in Dreamweaverville, U.S.A. He was living the dream. And, yes, pretty soon when things lightened up, he would take care of himself. But not right now. Now he had work to do.
This was a flash of defensiveness. But what he lingered on, what frosted him, was the irony. Oh, he was no dumbbell. He knew irony when somebody smacked him in the face with it. Why was he putting in the time indeed? Why was he bulging here and there? Why were they living in L.A.? Because this is what she wanted. She expected a successful husband. He could give her the money she seemed to like without the work. But for the satisfaction of having made a good marriage, that is a marriage to a man with his flag firmly planted on the top of the mountain, for that he had to put in the long hours. You didn’t climb Everest part time. He knew she enjoyed marriage to a president, a managing director, much more than she had to a lackey. She demonstrated it by the way she’d resurrected herself, the improved manner of her dress, and by the voracious sexual demands she placed on him. Not that he was complaining. He loved it all himself, and he loved the change in her. Still, this attitude she was developing. This ironic twist she was nurturing. Sometimes it was just too, too much for him.
Is it worth it? “Definitely, Emily, it’s worth it.”
His answer was firm, perhaps a bit off-putting, as she allowed it to hang between them before she said, resigned, “I guess the boys and I will find something to do this afternoon.”
And there in his gut just below his heart was the pang again. “I’m sorry. Next Sunday will be different, I guarantee it.” He believed he meant it.
“Of course you do,” she said, leaving no doubt she understood otherwise; something would come up next Sunday.
They finished breakfast in near silence, breaking it only to scold the boys.
As they left the IHOP, Gari felt compelled to come up with an activity as a way to placate Emily. Guilt was now a leaden knot in him, as it had been on other occasions, always engendered by the secret life he led. The panging had begun with the hidden lottery winnings. His binges with Catherine added weight. His affair and near fatal scare with Loretta had nearly pushed him to admitting his deviousness to Emily. Added to this was the guilt he’d carried about deserting Loretta after she’d confronted him with his impending fatherhood.
And now he contended with a new layer of guilt. He was working too damn much, and if Larry Lefton had his way, Gari would be working longer and harder, signing on new accounts, adding personnel, and generally performing every task he’d faked to portray his mercurial rising. Compounding the affliction was the renewal of his marriage, rediscovering he really did love Emily and she loved him—though, of course, he continued to speculate how much of his renewed attraction was him and how much was his sudden success. This welling collected in his gut where it mingled with the IHOP pancakes, coalescing into a big hard ball, resulting in a nasty case of indigestion and impelling him to make the following suggestion as assuagement:
“You know, Emily, we haven’t taken one of those star home tours the entire time we’ve lived here. Why don’t you and the boys do it this afternoon? It’ll be fun. The boys will like it.”
She stared at him. “Sure, Gari, they’ll like sitting in a bus for two hours looking at houses. Absolutely riveting for children.”
“Wouldn’t you like it?” he countered. “Why not do something you like? You deserve it.” He embraced her to reinforce he loved her and had her interests at heart. “I mean, come on, Emily, you’re with Teddy and Sammy every day, morning to night. You’ve done your duty.”
She interrupted him curtly. “I don’t consider what I do for the boys duty.”
Okay, that was an unfortunate word choice and it worried him Gyl and Kennie’s obtuseness might be rubbing off. “Please, Emily, you know me. You know what I mean. You’re a great mother, a great wife. You go overboard for the boys and me. You’ve earned a little time for yourself.” He spied a small smile. “Don’t you think the boys could get on with a sitter for a couple of hours? Isn’t there a girl on the block who could baby sit?”
“Jenny Ryder. She’s thirteen. No, fourteen. She turned fourteen last week. I remember because I ran into her and her mother, Joan, at Ralph’s …”
“Why not see if she can watch the boys for a bit this afternoon while you treat yourself. Take a tour. Maybe shop a bit. Stop and have a bite. I bet you can’t remember the last time you ate in peace and quiet.” Her eyes rolled as if she was searching for the last instance and it was nowhere to be found. He produced his cell phone. “I’ll get her number from information and we can call.”
He stared at her as he listened to the automated assistant, tried keeping the number in his mind as he punched it into his phone, as he waited for a Ryder to answer. She was corralling the boys and herding them to the car. She was in a light blue sundress. When she bent to grab a rascal, he glimpsed her breasts. He considered calling Loretta and canceling and using Jenny Ryder, if a Ryder ever answered the phone, to give Emily and him a quiet afternoon alone. Maybe it would be fun to take a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, to make love, to lounge at the pool, to take her to the party. But, no, he couldn’t. Catherine would be at the party. Emily and Catherine together, now that held potential for an explosive disaster. But it would be nice to be alone with Emily. Next weekend, he promised himself, as a Ryder came on the line and he relinquished the phone to Emily, who was settling the boys in the car.
During the ride home, Emily was warm toward him. Teddy and Sammy talked excitedly in the back, seemingly pleased at the idea of spending the afternoon with Jenny, who Emily had painted as loads of fun. He introduced the idea of a Sunday to themselves and she responded by sliding her hand across the seat and gently touching his arm. He wished, fervently, he could have made it this Sunday. But it was impossible. He was on his personal racetrack.