Fall 2023, Volume 35

Fiction by Bill Carr


We’re standing in a cul-de-sac gazing toward our old house. With Marilyn and me is Mitchell Freeman, my erstwhile lawyer and tennis partner, now retired from both and dabbling in real estate. The house still retains some of its former attractiveness. A huge front lawn slopes upward toward the house. The house itself is a large raised ranch, white with black shutters, two white columns in front, and sitting on about an acre of land.  There’s a long, still partially-paved driveway that winds up the side towards a two-car-plus garage. There are now six houses in the development, seven if you count the Dunwood house on Route 375. When we first bought the house, it was the only one there.

The house is still both charming and imposing, but viewing it is our first negative experience of this trip.

“Okay,” I say, “here’s your real estate test. What’s wrong with this house?”

Marilyn peers around the driveway side of the house. “Our nine-acre back yard is gone,” she says.

This is true. Thirty years ago, when we first looked at the house, our realtor said, “You’ll have all the privacy you can handle. Those nine acres in back are in receivership, and ownership will probably be contested forever.” Forever, at least, lasted as long as we lived there. There wasn’t anything we could do with nine acres of brush, brambles, and poison ivy, but we did regard it as our spacious back yard.

“What’s that white stuff on the roof?” I ask.

Mitchell shrugs his shoulders. The front part of the roof, the very area that I repaired to stop a leak in the entrance hallway, looks like it’s been attacked by vultures with indigestion.

“It does look pretty bad,” Marilyn says.

I’m on a roll now.  “And where’s the vineyard.”

“Vineyard?” Mitchell asks, raising his eyebrows.

“He once found two clusters of grapes growing above the stone wall,” Marilyn explains.

“It was amazing. I was mowing the front lawn, and suddenly I look up and see all these grapes.”

“And, by the way,” Marilyn says, “if you look closely, you’ll see the stone wall is gone, too.”

We have to laugh. Even Mitchell cracks a smile. We can afford to be jocular about this house. Whatever mayhem is done to it by the subsequent owner, it will always be our all-time favorite house.

It’s the only home that Marilyn and I have owned that we’ve totally agreed was our favorite. Nothing even came close – for this one, rather than the usual househunting ordeal, there were no lists, no lengthy harangues, no compromises. There was even something magical about the way we bought it. With the birth of our third kid, we knew we needed a bigger house. When we saw this one, Marilyn and I both fell in love with it. The builder was living in the house with his family. His asking price was more than double what we paid for our first home. We made an offer well below the asking price, but not low enough to be insulting. The guy stood firm, saying his price was the lowest he could go.  So we did nothing – except drive by periodically to see if the house was still unsold.  Three months later the builder calls and asks what we can afford for his house. It’s like we’re playing real-estate roulette. I repeat my initial offer. He says, “Ok.  We’ve got a deal.” Great. Now the problem is we have our present house for sale, and we haven’t received even a nibble. And we have zero cash available for a down payment on the new house.

One rainy evening our realtor calls and says there are people coming though our neighborhood looking at houses and they want to see ours. Soaking wet, this couple traipses through our house, announces that of all the homes they’ve looked at ours has the only dry basement, and makes us an offer. Maybe the key is not location, but weather. The price we agree on minus our mortgage balance is just enough for the down payment on the new house.

The present shortcomings of “our house” cannot detract from my memory of it.  But the situation with Mitchell is far more disturbing.

Mitchell and I first met when we were both starting out in our careers – he as a lawyer, I as a tech writer. His family had always lived in Kingston, New York; I was from New York City. We both joined the group of tennis enthusiasts who played regularly at Forsyth Park. Mitchell was the best example of my belief that the most important element for success in anything is motivation.

He steadily built up both his legal practice and his tennis game. I remember when he moved from downtown Kingston to a huge house in Old Hurley with a fenced-in tennis court.

One-on-one, Mitchell is an engaging guy with a good sense of humor. Other than that, he’s serious, and taciturn to the point of being morose. As a tennis player, he was known for both his skill and his stamina. He could play two singles matches in one day and still have enough energy for a game of doubles. He once told me his resting heart rate was 56.

It therefore came as a total surprise when he told me he now had a pacemaker and didn’t play tennis anymore – not even doubles. “Heart rate got too low,” he explained.

Hearing this news is a lose-lose situation. First, you don’t want to learn about something like this happening to an old friend. It’s also a reminder that sooner or later, something like this is going to take a whack at all of us.

Now Mitchell, Marilyn, and I stand silently gazing at the house at the top of the large front lawn. 

“Want to go inside?” Mitchell asks.

Marilyn looks at me expectantly, as if to say she’s willing if I am. I’m not, and I don’t know exactly why.

“I don’t think so,” I say. “I’m still mad at that guy we sold it to for not taking care of my roof.”

Mitchell looks me in the eye. “Are you aware,” he says slowly and expansively for him, “that this house has turned over six times since you guys left?”

Marilyn and I have dinner at Christie’s, a restaurant recommended by the Hampton Inn. We’re on the second floor. There are only two other couples dining in this section.  The restaurant is a good one – both the food and the service are excellent. It’s in a residential area overlooking Neighborhood Road.

“Six times!” I reflect. “We lived there 12 years, and there were six different owners during the next 18 years. Each owner lived there an average of only three years.”

Neither the math nor the discrepancy in time of ownership impresses Marilyn.

“What’s wrong with those people?” I continue.  “How could anyone not like ‘our house’?”

“Well, why did we move?” Marilyn asks. Like a good prosecuting attorney, Marilyn has a habit of asking questions she already knows the answer to.

“The new location had a better job, better schools, and much less efficient snow removal service.”

Marilyn starts to smile. “You know,” I explain, “it was uncanny the way the snow removal trucks for the town of Hurley would pile a mountain of snow at the bottom of our driveway just as soon as I finished shoveling it.

“Maybe,” she says, “the subsequent owners hated shoveling snow more than you did.”

Our table is next to a large picture window that overlooks a truly pleasant vista:  grassy fields; large, verdant trees; and a narrow, two-lane road that in the distance extends  unswervingly between two huge buildings. A ghost plant. The remnants, at least in Kingston, of my erstwhile employer. IBM’s manufacturing plant on the left, and its development laboratory on the right. Now there are no more than a dozen cars total in the two vast parking lots. Not a complete ghost town – I hear there some state offices are located somewhere in the complex. This facility used to employ up to 6,000 workers.

As I look out on this scene, I get the uneasy feeling that maybe this picture epitomizes the paradox of this vacation. Maybe it’s a contest between a sentimental journey back to a time and a once-vibrant area that certainly represents one of the happiest periods of our lives, and a voyage to a now-depressed community with depressing situations for old friends. On the one hand you have the beautiful countryside still pretty much the way we left it, a very good restaurant, a spiffy new Hampton Inn, and a new Walmart – well, the benefits of the new Walmart are subject to debate. On the other hand, you have Mitchell with a pacemaker, our favorite house in disrepair with a succession of unappreciative owners, and a ghost facility where I and thousands of others used to work.


Marilyn is, and has always been, the social director for our family. But if this vacation is some sort of contest, there is no reason why I should remain a spectator.

“Why don’t we have dessert at the Jolly Cow?” I suggest.

She looks surprised. “Do you think it still exists?”

“Not only does it exist, but it’s open for business.”

“How do you know?”

“I saw it on 9W on the way over from the Hampton Inn. Cars out in front, and customers queued up at the windows for ice cream.”

“Good idea,” Marilyn says. 

“Should I ask Mitchell and Myrna to meet us there?” We had asked the Freemans to join us for dinner, but Mitch had to pick up his daughter at the bus station.

“Sure,” Marilyn says.  “Give them a call.”

It’s dusk now.  The Jolly Cow is just as I remember it. There’s a huge plastic replica of a mother cow in front, with a baby cow beside her. There are kids sitting on the baby cow, eating their ice cream cones. The Jolly Cow is doing a brisk business. Adults are milling around, enjoying the cooling evening. Kids run around the parking lot with a surprising minimum of dropped cones.

We meet Mitchell and Myrna and get our ice cream. A discussion of the merits of the new Walmart immediately threatens the serenity of the evening. Marilyn hates Walmart with a passion, I hate it without a passion, Myrna is undecided, and Mitchell thinks it’s good for the area. But the discussion remains cordial. The positions remain unchanged. The undecided remains undecided. It’s definitely too nice an evening to get in an argument.

“Have any grandkids?”

I’ve been watching the kids chase each other around the parking lot, and don’t  realize the woman to my right is talking to me. She looks around 65, maybe younger, trim figure, short hair. She’s wearing green shorts and a sleeveless, satiny-white blouse. She’s pleasant-looking, but the smile doesn’t mask a hardened expression.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “That was presumptuous of me.”

“No problem. It’s been a long time since anyone at all has challenged my status as a senior citizen.”

She’s keeping an eye on a boy of about seven and a girl of five. “Those yours?” I ask.

“My son’s little darlings. I’m trying to get them tired out so they’ll go right to sleep tonight.”

“I have two about the same age – not here, but in California.  Only the girl is the older one.”

“What brings you here?” she asks.

“Sentimental journey. Used to work here 18 years ago.”

She nods in approval. “Good planning,” she says. “You got out just in time.”

I never looked at it that way. “Why do you say that?” I ask. “I mean, it seems like things are turning around here. New Hampton Inn, new Walmart.”

“In the vernacular of my grandkids,” she says, “Walmart sucks. The Hampton Inn’s ok. But they provide only low-paying jobs. Meanwhile, Ulster County keeps raising taxes, and the cost of services keeps going up.”

We talk for a while. She has a right to be bitter. Her husband left her when their kids were 8, 10, and 12. She took a job as a secretary in the programming lab, and then got into software development. She was a director when she retired.

“That’s impressive,” I say. “You must get a pretty good pension.”

“Not really. When IBM started getting in financial trouble, they also started monkeying around with the pension plan. I didn’t have 30 years in, but I figured it was time to get out.

“People around here like me feel trapped,” she adds. “We can’t get away. The housing prices here have gone up, but not nearly as much as in other areas. We’re stuck here.”

She turns toward the five-year-old, who is crying because she dropped her cone.

“Can I buy her another one?” I offer.

“That’s all right. We have to be going. Good luck to you.”

“Same to you. I hope things get better.”

I rejoin Marilyn, Mitch, and Myrna. “Who was that woman you were talking to?” Marilyn asks.

“Nice woman, sad story. Not a fan of Walmart.”

Mitchell shrugs his shoulders. The Jolly Cow wasn’t nearly as jolly as I had hoped.

The next day we’re off to see the Meyersons in Woodstock. We’re supposed to be at their house at noon. We were undecided as to whether to have breakfast at the hotel or in Woodstock. Oversleeping makes the decision for us. We’re too late for the continental breakfast at the Hampton Inn, so it’s on to see what Woodstock has to offer.

The town seems to be doing well. Even at this early hour, it’s crawling with tourists.   The Joyous Lake has met its demise, but Joshua’s Café is still going strong. We decide to have breakfast there.

Foremost in my memory of Woodstock is the sign at entrance to 375 from Route 28:  “The Woodstock Festival is not in Woodstock.” The town is an historic arts colony. You might not know it from all the out-of-towners milling around the streets. However, the real artists are in the woods doing their painting, sculpting, writing, and composing.  When we lived there, the population consisted of some very diverse segments:  hippies, IBMers, artists/craftsmen, and the local townspeople. The townspeople tended to be very conservative. What amazed me was that all these diverse groups seemed to get along surprisingly well. Maybe they united against the common enemy:  the tourists.

The tourists were a necessary evil – essential for the economy of the area. Still, they were arrogant, materialistic, sloppy, and temporary. I shouldn’t be too hard on the tourists, I tell myself.  I’m one of them now.

At noon it’s off to see the Malcolm and Betty Meyerson at their home in Maverick Park. Betty is a strong woman. A convert to Judaism, she was always one of the most active congregants at Temple Emanuel in Kingston. Malcolm was principal
of the West Hurley Elementary School before he retired. This is the school where Marilyn taught second grade.

The Meyerson’s home has a small entrance hall that leads directly to the living room.  Betty greets us at the door, motions us to sit down on the couch, and then stands behind Malcolm’s wheelchair.

Malcolm’s illness went undiagnosed for a long time. Now they think it’s muscular dystrophy. Ironically, Betty’s face looks drawn, but although Mal’s hair is now completely gray, his face is unlined and he looks as youthful as when I last saw him.

I can’t say we were really close friends with them. We would get together for dinner at Passover or Rosh Hashanah, or all meet at the temple or Rabbi Bernstein’s home. But we never did things like eating out with them, or attending plays or movies together. Maybe there was this distance because Malcolm was essentially Marilyn’s boss. 

Malcolm seems just as cogent as he was 25 years ago. Inexplicably, as I see him in his wheelchair, I start thinking not about physical problems but about mental disabilities.  Marilyn and I have vowed to never put each other in a nursing home. Yet we are close friends with two couples to whom that situation has already occurred. Had they made similar vows, but were just unable to keep them? In one case, the wife would get up in the middle of the night and go walking through the neighborhood in her nightgown. The husband worried she might get hit by a car.

With Betty and Mal we cover the gamut of the usual topics: what we’ve been doing, what our kids are doing, what the grandkids are up to. Scrupulously avoided is the most popular topic of senior conversations: our respective medical ailments.

Marilyn and I say our goodbyes, and head down the walkway on the front lawn toward our car.

“That was tough,” Marilyn says. “Seeing Malcolm that way, and Betty looking so tired.”

“Yeah, I know. But she’s a strong woman, and he definitely still has all his marbles.”

In reality I’m overwhelmed by this massive sense of sadness. You want to know the truth, but what if the present-day truth overwhelms a pleasant memory of the past. Maybe this whole trip was a huge mistake. Look, one more visit to make, and then we can start home.

“The home team is getting pretty well beat  up,” I mutter.

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing important. Maybe the Dunwoods can spark a comeback.”

Bob Dunwood greets us at the front door to his home. The house is the only one in the development where we lived that faces Route 375. The Dunwoods bought the house six months before we moved away.

Bob has gained a little weight, but he was always on the heavy side. I can see why he was so successful in business. He’s upbeat and outgoing in a very thoughtful way. One problem: I’ve completely forgotten his wife’s name. I meant to ask Marilyn on the way over here, but I forgot to do that, too.

The living room is long rather than wide. It overlooks Route 375 and the four acres across the street where Len and Celia Horowitz lived. Our kids’ surrogate grandparents.
The Horowitz property had a house and three outbuildings. Len put in a full work day every day maintaining those four buildings. Celia occasionally sold antiques from the gray barn, but that business had pretty much dried up before we moved. She was the gentlest person I’ve ever met. Len must have been at least 80 when he died. I remember Celia moved him into the downstairs den so he wouldn’t have to climb the stairs to their bedroom. He never went into the hospital. She tried to care for him at home.

Bob, Marilyn, and I cover the status of the kids. “And Celia?” I ask hesitantly.  “Is she okay?”

“Oh, she’s fine,” Bob says. “Just saw her last month. She’s living in Yorktown Heights with her daughter.”

I did expect that. Celia had told us how her younger daughter wanted her to move down there. Even after Len died, I just didn’t think Celia would leave this area. She did stay for two years. Bob, I’d heard, was really good to her, taking her shopping in Kingston, and doing a lot of the things around her four acres that Len used to do.

An hour has passed, and no Mrs. Dunwood. “Is your wife away?” I ask.

“Fairly permanently,” Bob says. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. We separated right after you moved away.”

Marilyn looks shocked. “I’m sorry to hear that,” I say.

“Oh, don’t be,” Bob says. “It was a very amicable divorce. Marjorie never liked living here. She referred to it being ‘out in the sticks.’ If that were the only problem, though, we could have resolved things. I would have moved back to Philadelphia.”

“And are you fully retired now?” Marilyn asks.

“Oh, yes.  I did consulting work for a while, but then cut the cord completely from my business. I’m still working, though.”

“Doing what?” I ask.

“I’m the ombudsman for all of Ulster County hospitals.”

“Wow,” I exclaim. Bob’s stature in my view has gone up even a few more notches.  An official position as an advocate for hospital patients. Every person going into a hospital should have an advocate, and an official position might be better than a family member.

“And your primary function is to act as a patient advocate?” I ask.

“Well, that’s part of it,” Bob says. “Actually, a small part. What I mainly do is implement an idea I had:  going around to the elderly male patients and have them write an essay entitled, ‘The Day I Met My Wife.’”

I feel let down. Maybe I didn’t hear correctly. “The Day I Met My Wife?”


“I mean, is the purpose of that to energize them, or get them more depressed? Ouch.”

Marilyn gives me a kick. Bob plays it straight. “Definitely to make them feel better,” he says. “It really works.”

What’s the use? Why not graciously accept defeat and head on home right now. Since we’re in West Hurley, we could start our trip home by driving past the Ashokan Reservoir. That would be relaxing. Maybe hospitals should let their patients spend a few hours on a lake as part of a relaxation therapy. New York really has terrific lakes. Connecticut is no slouch either. This lake has very little going for it. It’s about one-twentieth the size of the lake in Connecticut. I spent ten summers at camps on that lake. I had the feeling I hadn’t even begun to penetrate the mysteries there: the inlet, the outlet, the strip of sandy beach that no one ever seemed to use, and the rocky island right off the coast of the parents’ camp.   Jenny’s Island. During my first year at camp, when I was 11 years old, the cook was named Jenny. I thought she actually owned the island, and just came ashore each day to do the cooking for us.

I’m lying back in this rowboat at two o’clock in the afternoon, drifting on this nondescript lake, feeling very relaxed. Maybe too relaxed. Maybe I’m so relaxed I don’t even know I’m depressed. There is no one else either on the lake or at the dock. The pain in the back of my right thigh is bearable as long as I don’t move.

It’s a hot mid-August afternoon. I’m at this resort with two of my friends, Ken and Roy. They’re both grade-school teachers. And handball players. Handball is probably the only sport this place does not accommodate. Ken is the smartest guy I know. He has his doctorate, and is trying to get a position at a university. Roy is a poet, in the Walt Whitman style. We’ve been here for three days, but our paths haven’t crossed too often.  They’re not into my sports. We meet at the dining hall, and back at the cabin after dark.  They seem to be having a good time.

This place specializes in tennis. There’s a tournament each week starting on Thursdays. The winners of each weekly tournament receive a free Labor Day weekend for a finals event. 

It’s Tuesday, and I haven’t cancelled out of the tournament yet. But the outlook is bleak. Hamstring pulls take at least a week to heal. Maybe more, when you reach 27.  Closing in on 30. I hurt it in a pickup softball game. Maybe it was dumb to even be playing. In my first at bat, I line a double into right center. The next batter hits a bloop single to left. I run right through the third-base coach’s holdup sign. My only decision is whether to slide into home or knock the catcher on his ass. It all becomes academic.  Midway between third and home I feel this searing pain in the back of my right thigh.  The throw comes in wide as I limp across the plate.  No one seems to notice.

“Got to quit,” I call to our captain. “Pulled a hamstring.”

I grab my glove a start limping back to our cabin. “Hope your leg feels better,” he calls back.

There is one unusual feature of this lake: huge boulders that rise up from the lake floor. So far I’ve regarded them only as a danger to lake-drifting. Depending on how deep the lake is, these rocks may be even more immense than I imagined.

I have to wonder why I’ve even remained on the East Coast. There’s nothing holding me here. My father has this really bad case of arthritis. He went to Arizona and felt better. He wrote that he was walking without a cane, but couldn’t stay because he ran out of money. I tried to get a job with General Electric there, but it fell through.

Wait a minute. We are not alone. In the distance, on the shore, there are two young women looking out across the lake.

Maria. The perfect name for her. French Canadian, from Montreal. Slender, soulful, inscrutable, and unpredictable. Every relationship seems to have its problems. For one, she was 19 – eight years younger than I. We were a couple, but we never really talked.  There had to be a boyfriend back in Montreal and a problematic relationship. She left this morning without saying goodbye.

I mean, the point is you can’t just sit around waiting for things to happen. You should have gone down there with him and taken any job – then pester GE until they gave you the job you wanted.

“You look relaxed.”

I’m kind of in a stupor, but I try to focus. A rowboat has pulled up next to mine. It’s the two women I saw on the dock. They’re wearing their bathing suits. They look young, maybe in their early twenties. The one sitting in the bow is blonde; her friend, doing the rowing, blows a wisp of dark brown hair from her forehead.

“Beg pardon?”

“We saw you out here,” the blonde says, “and couldn’t help noticing how relaxed you looked.”

“Oh, yes. Relaxed. Or trying to be.”

The blonde looks to the right by the shoreline.

“Do you know how all those boulders got in the lake?”

“Probably debris from the ice age.”


“Well, we’ll leave you to your relaxation,” the blonde says. They row off.

There was always this athletic competition between us, but it all ended when I was 15 and he was 50. The games, and even the conversations about games, were over. I think I’m beginning to understand what happens. If I let this little kid beat me, I’m really going downhill.

I sit up in the boat. Wait a minute. Those were two pretty good-looking women that were just here.

They’ve stopped at the side of the lake to examine a boulder. I pull up alongside their boat.

“I don’t think I gave a very good answer to your question.”

The woman with the dark hair smiles. She’s definitely glamorous, but working very hard to keep her boat from banging into the rocks. “It’s all right,” she says. “We’re schoolteachers. We gave you an incomplete, but you can make it up.”

“The rocks probably came from the last ice age,” I explain. “You see, there’s another clump of them on that far shore. There’s probably more on the lake floor. But I’ve been around the lake, and I don’t think you have to worry about any scraping your boat.”

The blonde nods to indicate that the ice-age explanation makes sense.

It’s time to wheel out the one fact that I remember from my brief stint as a geology major. “The glaciers swept down bringing all sorts of rocks and rubble,” I go on. “The fascinating thing for me is that they stopped right in the middle of Long Island. That’s why the north shore is so rocky, and the southern part is so fertile with those beautiful beaches.”

Their names are Terry and Marilyn. They’re grade-school teachers from New York.

Terry is the blonde. “Were you a geology major?” she asks.

“Briefly. But it was boring. You’ve just seen the sum of my knowledge after a year of geology.”

“It was the same with education courses,” Terry says. “But you had to take them if you wanted to become a teacher.”

“Terry is such a good teacher,” Marilyn says. “She’s so compassionate and dedicated.” She goes on to extol many more of Terry’s virtues.

I wonder why. This woman definitely does not need an agent.

“What did you major in after you abandoned geology?” Terry asks.

“English and Design.” So much for any illusions about my future earning power.

“I was an English major,” Marilyn says. “I loved those courses.  They were the complete opposite of all those education courses we had to take.”

Then a strange thing happens. Marilyn starts talking more about herself, not in an egotistical way, but enough to show that in addition to remaining glamorous under rowing stress, she is smart and sensitive as well.

I ask them if they’re interested in sitting at our table for dinner. The people in our group are very congenial. One woman has just left, and we can easily fit another chair at the table.

Marilyn and Terry agree. I tell them I’ll stop by their cabin at a quarter to six.

I go back to our cabin and take a shower. Ken and Roy haven’t gotten back yet from their volleyball game. It’s 5:30 already. I get dressed and walk towards the women’s lodge.

Marilyn is waiting on the porch. “Terry is still unpacking,” she tells me. “She says she’ll meet us at the dining hall.

There’s a circuitous path that leads to the dining hall, but at the halfway point you can take a shortcut through the woods. We start walking along the path.

“How long are you and Terry staying here?”

“Till Sunday.”

“And then you head back to the city?”

“Actually,” Marilyn says, “we’re going up to Canada on Sunday. We didn’t have reservations here. We stopped here on a whim.”

“I’m glad you did.”

“Terry just had a devastating breakup with her boyfriend. They’d been going together for five years – ever since high school. We decided to take a trip to Canada to get away from the city and all that emotional baggage.”

“I suppose it was one of those on-again, off-again relationships – replete with multiple breakups and reconciliations.”

“Yes,” Marilyn says. “She really tried to make it work. How did you know?”

“Just a wild guess.”

“Sounds like you’ve had some experience in that area.”

“Too much experience. How about you?”

“Not really. For me, when it’s over, it’s over. But usually, I have a couple of guys in the wings, waiting to take me out. That helps.”

“That’s a good situation to be in.”

Marilyn looks down. “I’m not too sure.”

We’re still on the asphalt path. “Actually,” Marilyn says, “our coming here was a little more than a whim. This place has a tradition of attracting eligible men. My mother met my father here. When I saw the sign, I said to Terry, ‘Let’s see if the tradition is still in effect.’”

“There are plenty of single men here. In fact, unless someone is lying about his marital status, they’re all single.”

“Single doesn’t mean eligible,” Marilyn says.

“We can go through here,” I say, pointing to a path through the woods. I can feel the dampness of the ground.

   Suddenly, Ken and Roy are on the path, coming right toward us. These guys are something. Aside from their both being teachers, in almost all ways they’re the exact opposite of each other. They seem to complement each other perfectly. Ken is tall and thin, with a thick mop of brown hair. He’s a stickler for academic integrity. Roy is short and stocky, with close-cut blond hair. He’s the warm, fuzzy type – very easy-going.

I make the introductions. It seems Ken and Marilyn already know each other from the New York City teachers’ union. They both participated in the recent teachers’ strike.

I tell Ken and Roy to hurry up and get showered. We’d meet them at the dining hall.

Marilyn and I come out of the woods and onto a grassy slope.

We can now see the dining hall up on the hill. “In these tempestuous relationships you had,” Marilyn asks, “who pushed for the reconciliations?”

“In the first one, I did. Completely.  In the second, it was she. Both ended badly.”

“That can be painful.”

“Very. The second was worse because it involved other people.”

“I’m in a relationship now,” Marilyn says, looking down. “It’s completely the opposite. No arguments, no breakups, no reconciliations.”

This is not good news. “So no problems.”

“One big problem. I don’t love him.”

Other than in novels dealing with arranged marriages, I’ve never encountered this situation before. “But you still go out with him?”

“It’s very serious,” she says. “He wants to marry me.”

“That is definitely serious. How long have you been seeing each other?

“Over a year now. I met him through one of my other friends. He’s a buddy of her fiancé. He was head and shoulders above all the guys I was going out with.”

“So he vanquished all the suitors.”

“Easily. He’s a good, decent man. He’ll be a good provider. He’ll make a fine husband. But I’m not sure I’m the Penelope type.”

“And no other problems?”

“This is really stupid,” she says. “Sometimes he makes these jokes that he thinks re hilarious. I just don’t think they’re funny.”

“Have you talked to him? About not being in love?”

“Lately, when we go out, that’s all we talk about. He’s given me books to read – books that demonstrate that you don’t really have to be in love with someone at the start of a relationship. Love grows, and often turns out to be stronger than the ‘head-over-heels’ initial type love.”

“And you’re not convinced?”

“I’m almost convinced. But I hate to bet my whole future on something that might not be true.”

I know what’s coming next. I dread what’s coming next.

“What do you think?” she asks.

I’m placed in the uncomfortable position of being both advisor and competitor, in an area in which competition doesn’t make any sense. It’s all about compatibility. Since I might not even be a competitor, I might as well be objective.

“The question is,” I tell Marilyn, “Is gaga necessary?”

“Beg pardon?”

“It’s the gaga theory.”

She starts to smile, but then looks annoyed. “You’re laughing at me,” she says.

“Believe me, I’m not. I think your situation can work. I think all you need at the start are the same basic values.”

She looks very serious, almost somber. “On the other hand,” I say, a little too pedantically, “with the divorce rate skyrocketing, you need all the help you can get. My married friends tell me the first year, despite the honeymoon façade, can be pretty tough.  Gaga helps you through the rough spots. But maybe more importantly, it helps to be in love, it helps to have parental approval, and it helps to really find your spouse’s jokes amusing.”

Marilyn says nothing. I’m convinced that although I’ve answered honestly, I’ve once again acted like the complete chump. We continue walking uphill. At the approach to the dining hall, the slope gets a little steeper. I clasp Marilyn’s hand. Very gently, she grasps my hand in return.

 Hand in hand, we walk down the Dunwood driveway to our car. From the front steps of his home, Bob waves goodbye. We wave back and get in the car. 

“You doing okay?” Marilyn asks.

“Sure.  Why?”

“You looked a little down and out in there.”

“I was.  But I feel better now.”

“Do you want to start back?”

“Maybe not,” I say.”

Marilyn looks surprised. “Why?  You want to get going?” I ask.

“Not really. I just thought you’d be all fired up to start back and beat the traffic.”

“Any victory against the traffic is going to be temporary at best. I just thought it would be better to just relax and stay overnight at that hotel we like – you know, the Claremont, outside of White Plains – and then head for home after breakfast.”

 “What a great idea,” Marilyn says. “But are you sure you don’t want to leave right now?”

 “Positive,” I reply.  “Maybe Bob Dunwood had the really great idea...”




BIO: Bill Carr’s short story “Exquisite Hoax” was published in the Scholars & Rogues online literary journal. His short story collection Defensive Indifference and other Stories won Prize Americana’s 2022 contest for Prose. His work has also appeared in Central American Literary Review, Evening Street Review, The Furious Gazelle, Good Works Review, The Ham Free Press, Menda City Review, Oracle Fine Arts Review, The Penmen Review, Pennsylvania English, Projected Letters, Rockford Review, Riggwelter, Scarlet Leaf Review, Sweet Tree Review, and Teleport Magazine. Bill has had several articles published relative to online education and the computer industry. He has taken various courses with internationally known Shakespeare scholar Professor Bernard Grebanier, as well as Professors Marion Starling and Seymour Reiter.

Many of his stories, including “Transcendental Tours,” published in Menda City Review, and “Exquisite Hoax,” are satiric; others contain athletic themes. Bill has been ranked statewide (North Carolina) and sectionally (Southern) in senior divisions of the United States Tennis Association. He played industrial-league basketball for thirty years, including three overseas.

Bill received his master’s degree in English from Brooklyn College, and he currently serves as chairperson of the North Carolina B’nai B’rith Institute of Judaism.