Two months ago Brenda gave Bruce his walking papers.
“At least tell me why you’re breaking up with me,” Bruce asked.
She handed him this list:
- You scratch yourself in front of me
- You put your feet up on my coffee table without permission
- You take my picture while I’m eating
- You heat up my car seat when you KNOW I like to stay cool
- You slam my front door when you leave… no matter how many times I tell you not to wake up the neighbor
- You pile blankets on the bed when I’m having a hot flash
- You keep forgetting to shut the light in the stairwell – now it’s burned out
- Because you’re a little hard of hearing, you turn up the volume on the radio in your car and I have to SHOUT to be heard
- You pick me up off the floor just because you can
Bruce examined the list. Every once in a while he nodded his head. Then he looked at Brenda and said, “I can change all of this.”
Still, Brenda wanted to see what was out there; she was sure she could do better. So she said, “People don’t change all that easily. Practice at home and then we’ll see.”
In the meantime, she got a date with Hugh on one of the online dating sites. They had agreed to meet at the subway station at Place des Arts then go to the Mardi Gras parade which was part of the Montreal Jazz Festival activities.
“How will I know you?” she asked.
“I’ll have two cameras.”
Brenda recognized him immediately. A large camera hung from each of his shoulders.
“Why do you have two cameras?” she asked.
“One is set for portraits, the other for scenery.”
He was not bad-looking. He had his hair and a good chin.
At the parade Hugh kept clicking his camera. Click. Click. Click. He hardly noticed that Brenda was there, he was so involved in his photography.
“You hungry?” he asked after the parade was over.
“Not much,” she said. First dates, especially blind ones, always upset her stomach.
He took her to a Chinese restaurant. She ordered a plate of peanut butter dumplings; him a filet of sole with veggies.
“That’s not very Chinese,” she said about his order.
“I used to be a vegan,” he said. “I’m still trying to wean off it.”
At this point the conversation between them was still alright. He talked about a heart attack he’d had a few years back and how he had to sell some of his buildings. “I can’t take any stress,” he said. He also talked about his wife and his girlfriend who had both left him.
“Why did they leave you?” Brenda asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “They didn’t say.”
When the bill came Brenda offered him five dollars, which he took. He then drove her to the subway.
Five days later he called and asked her if she wanted to go to the Old Port. She said yes. She believed in giving people a second chance.
She suggested he take the metro rather than his car. “The parking is terrible there,” she said.
“No,” he said, “With my cameras I’m afraid I’ll get mugged in the subway.”
When she saw him he was wearing a pair of baggy pants and said to her, “These are my fat clothes. I used to weigh a lot more than I do now. “
“So why are you wearing them?” she asked him.
“I’ve got to wear them out,” he said, “I don’t believe in wasting clothes. They’re still good.”
They spotted an empty bench facing the seaway. “I can’t get over how much the bill was at the Chinese restaurant,” Hugh said.
“It’s been five days,” Brenda said, “And you’re still thinking about that.”
“Twenty-one dollars is a lot for what we had.”
He started to make a movement with his arm as if he wanted to put it around her but didn’t seem to know how to go about doing that. So she placed her hand on her lap closer to him. He took it but it was obvious he didn’t know what to do with it either. He got up and started taking pictures. Click. Click. Click. He took pictures of everything except her. He never looked at Brenda once. She was beginning to miss Bruce even if he took pictures of her with food in her mouth.
It was getting dark and Hugh asked her again if she was hungry. This time she said yes.
He took her to a food court, where he ordered himself a platter of sushi and said to her, “You can eat some of mine.”
She did and then after there was nothing left on the plate Hugh said, “I’m still hungry. I’ll get myself a chicken sandwich. You can have a bite of it.”
While they were eating he told her about an RV camp ground he’s been going to since he was forty-six.
“How old are you now?” she asked.
“Sixty-two,” he said. “The camp ground is filled with old people. They’re all in their eighties. I like living with them because they’re never in a rush. They can take an entire day just to buy a tube of toothpaste. That’s the kind of life I want to lead.”
She started to tell him about her writing but he didn’t even pretend that he was interested.
“Listen,” he said, “if I give you a lift home can I stay at your place.” He lived an hour away and didn’t feel like driving in the dark.
No guy had ever been so forthcoming with her and she was so taken aback that she muttered yes.
When they got into his car he said, “let me set up my GPS.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she said, “I know how to get home. It’s not very far.”
Still he insisted. He set his portable on her lap and she sat with wires going around her knees and the air conditioner blasting in her face. The GPS was directing them into heavy traffic.
“Why don’t you take this side street. All you have to do is go west.”
“There’s a reason why the GPS is taking us in the wrong direction,” he said.
When they finally got to her apartment he took out his two cameras and his laptop with some other stuff in a plastic bag. It made Brenda wonder if he was settling in.
“Why don’t you leave your equipment in your trunk,” she said.
“What if someone steals my car? Are you on a router?” he asked her.
Once in her apartment he opened the plastic bag he’d been carrying. She saw what was in there. Some ear plugs and lots of bottles of pills. He took the cap off one of the bottles and popped a pill into his mouth. Brenda hoped it wasn’t a Viagra.
When he took off his shirt she knew for sure she didn’t want to sleep with him. It would be like sleeping with a gorilla.
Hugh got a second wind and said he’d drive home; otherwise he’d wake her up too early. He always got up at four. A habit he’d acquired at the RV camp ground. She watched him go down her stairs. He held unto the railing like a drunk afraid to fall – except he hadn’t had a drop to drink.
The next morning Brenda called Bruce and said, “I’ve thrown out the list. Want to try again?”