Dinner at Rosie’s
Timothy came early on purpose. He didn’t want Stan to see him looking unfamiliar here, especially so close to Fellsway, so close to home.
He wanted a booth when he walked in, and he could see three vacant ones right against the left wall. The hostess took him to a small table for two near the bar, but Timothy didn’t say anything.
He ordered a Pete’s Wicked and watched the waitress stride back to the bar: tight jeans and black t-shirt. He looked around and noticed all of the staff were dressed the same way, except the hostess who wore a dress.
The restaurant was darker than he remembered, with stained wood panels on the walls and ceiling. Little pools of light spilled from recessed halogen bulbs above. Paintings, more like charcoal drawings, hung on the wall without frames. But the bar hadn’t changed. Still u-shaped, it sprawled in the middle of the restaurant with two anchored television sets like crossed eyes glaring down at angles from either end.
A few of the patrons glanced at him. Timothy turned his attention to the drink menu, a hand thoughtfully cast over his mouth, a habit which heightened the effect of hesitation and uncertainty about him.
The waitress came back with his beer and laid out two sets of cutlery with napkins. He glanced down at the menu as she bent over, so as not to seem rude. He did notice that her fingernails were polished a pale blue that almost matched the whiteness of her fingertips. He could smell a fine shampoo in her hair, something more fragrant than the bottle of Head & Shoulders standing in the corner of the moldy shower on the second floor bathroom of Fellsway. He’d sometimes seen more interesting shampoos in the CVS when he went out for errands, but Father Joe wouldn’t consider anything else, dandruff being one of the curses of wearing a cassock.
He opened the dinner menu as soon as she turned her back on him again, glancing briefly at the curve of her narrow hips. There was a time, back when he and Stan were both in grad school living at Fellsway and he had just become a numerary, that he would say a little prayer in response to any occasion of temptation. Father Joe’s favorite adage came to mind now as it always had then: Don’t say, “That person bothers me.” Think: “That person sanctifies me.” But he was older now. Appreciating beauty was not the same thing as being distracted by it, and Timothy knew how to avoid distraction without resorting to a prayer book.
He put the menu down suddenly, his eyes staring at nothing at all, wondering if he shouldn’t just get up and leave the restaurant before Stan arrived. He could go somewhere else, have a few beers at a quiet bar. There was a fish place down Mass Ave, called Christopher’s. A fifteen-minute walk, but he could do it, and then go back home to Fellsway.
But Timothy didn’t get up. This sudden uneasiness was surely irrational. No ideal becomes a reality without sacrifice.
He looked up at the TV over the bar and tried to recall the last time he actually saw Stan Morrissey. And what came to mind was the little room Stan occupied at the retreat house in Chestnut Hill before leaving The Work for good. Packing him off from Fellsway to Chestnut Hill had been a disciplinary move. He’d take the hint, Father Joe said at the time; he’d repent. Instead, Stan packed up and left The Work outright, leaving some financial obligations hanging in limbo. He didn’t show up for the Harvard graduation, but they later learned he had received his master’s diploma in the mail. He was eligible to teach and they’d heard that a college in Missouri — not Catholic — had offered him a post right out of the gate. They discussed hiring creditors to pursue him, but Father Joe quashed the idea. He didn’t want any controversies that might demoralize the rest of the community.
“Don’t force the issue,” Father Joe told Timothy just before he left Fellsway that evening. After all, Stan would probably bring it up himself, the matter of the debt, as he had in his email. He wanted to clear this matter up. And Timothy had been right, all these years, to be patient, letting the Spirit work its own way in the man’s heart. Patience was his best virtue, no pride in acknowledging that.
But that was not the only reason Timothy came out to see Stan, and perhaps that was why he’d felt the sudden uneasiness. In fact, he suspected — admitted to himself — that it was Tricia. It seemed Stan had kept somewhat in touch with her over the years. And Timothy, surprised, and a little envious, realized he wanted to know how she was…even if the news wasn’t exactly up to date. There was a patience worth having there as well.
He had not seen Tricia since the night she came to his apartment and they almost slept together.
An ad for men’s hair color was running now but he wasn’t paying attention. Her last letter to him, fifteen years before, came back, as it often did in moments of reverie.
Please don’t feel bad, Tim. I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t have called like that out of the blue. I know it put you on the spot. You were an angel that night, sitting up and talking into the dark hours, telling me my terrible mess of a life was still worth something, and not once telling me to get lost. You listened. You’re so patient.
He’d done some good that night, even though at the time he couldn’t grasp it. It was one of the reasons he realized he was called. You could work some good into people that way.
I want you do something for me now. Promise me you won’t write. I want you to stop. I’ve never believed in the ‘we can just be friends’ thing. We know it isn’t true. I want to remember you the way we were in school. Please respect this.
He’d honored that promise all these years. That was his gift to her, he’d always thought. Stan knew, of course, at the time that he’d been in love with her. But he’d never said a word to anyone. Stan had been too busy tying himself in knots over a Jewish girl, whose name Timothy couldn’t now recall, and that had caused friction in The Work.
Timothy had gone to Father Joe to talk about it when Tricia had first sent the news. It had all been a mistake. Tricia married the guy –a law school classmate she barely knew—because she was pregnant. Out of guilt. Surely this could be annulled.
The priest had listened sympathetically, but all the time he was gently shaking his head. “It was done in the Church. The presumption is, they’re married,” Fr. Joe told him. “There’s really nothing you can do.” And he was right of course.
Looking back you could see it. Of course Timothy did not confess he’d spent the night with her, that long night she sat in his apartment talking about what a mess she’d made of her life. Because nothing had really happened.
At first he was shocked. He’d always assumed Tricia would be there, waiting for him. Life was ordered. He’d get his degree first, get a job. Then, as he’d always secretly told himself and rehearsed so many times, he’d ask her to marry him.
She’d gone down to Princeton for her law degree. He thought she’d be back in the summer after that first year, as she always had been when they were undergrads, but she didn’t return or respond to his letters as the weeks went by.
The bartender changed the channel suddenly and Timothy sat back. Well, he thought. Stan might know how things had gone with her these years now.
It was Stan who’d contacted him. He’d been very successful according to his email, now working for a huge pharmaceutical company, translating documents for their German partners. Stan’s waiting all this time to get back in touch must certainly mean something. One always had to leave the door open for the prodigal son.
Timothy looked up as a woman entered the restaurant and sat at the bar. She was older, probably by herself for the evening. Her outfit looked rather cheap, he thought, showing too much of her neckline. Then he realized she was smiling at him as he stared. Timothy felt a flush in his cheeks and a shiver up his back, as though someone had just pushed him over a cliff. He opened the menu again.
He could see out of the corner of his eye her face still hovering. He heard the bartender putting a glass down for her, and when he looked up she raised it to him. She mouthed the words, “Can I buy you a drink?” He shook his head, holding up his glass of Pete’s Wicked, trying to smile an apology.
The woman seemed to think this was funny, although the bartender threw him a puzzled frown. The woman turned her attention to the television after that. Timothy did the same.
Tricia had driven all the way up from New Jersey that night she came to him, at the very end of that missing summer. She called from the payphone at the old Gulf Station now long gone from the middle of Harvard Square. She was always calling from roadside pay phones, as though she lived in that beat up old Chevy Impala. Stan had gone home to visit his parents for the weekend. So he had the apartment to himself, as though it were meant to be this way.
“I don’t want to be alone,” she said, standing in the doorway of his apartment building. Her long blonde hair was stringy, matted to the sides of her head. There were circles under her eyes, for she’d been driving all night and most of the day. “I don’t have much time,” she said. “I needed to get away. Just one last time. I know I can’t ever do it again.”
He prepared his bed for her, intending to use Stan’s or perhaps even retreat for the night to Fellsway to give her privacy. But she preferred to sleep on the floor. “I’ve been sleeping on floors a lot lately,” she said. He noticed the ring on her hand, but she was thin in spite of the pregnancy.
Did he regret that now, really? It was a chain of thought that gave him no little amount of pleasant distraction, so many years afterward, like rewinding a scene from a favorite movie and altering the dialogue or action to see how subtly things might have changed.
He closed the menu and let it fall flat on the table. Snap out of it, he told himself. He had to get the business with Stan out of the way. He looked at his watch and was just about to ask the waitress for an appetizer when Timothy noticed the entrance darken and a balding man in a dark coat fill the doorway. He was removing a scarf and some leather gloves.
“Professor Gorman!” he bellowed. Timothy stood up, and he noticed several heads turn to watch as they shook hands. Stan always displayed a gregariousness that Father Joe said was phony, but Timothy liked it. He liked being called ‘Professor’, too, a reference to the Ph.D. program both had started and dropped years before. Stan had always been more relaxed in social settings and seemed to know how to put him at ease.
Stan Morrissey pulled off his coat before sitting down. It was a camel’s hair, with the leather gloves and scarf already stuffed into the sleeve.
“Time for a smoke? Outside before we eat?”
“Gave it up,” said Timothy.
Stan ordered a Beck’s when the waitress came by, then scanned her figure after she turned away. “Well, I’m glad you came out for me. You didn’t have to do that.”
“Where are you staying?”
Stan seemed thicker, not really fatter. His eyes were red-rimmed, watery as he looked around. “Rosie’s, this was called, remember?
“I’m at the The Langham, downtown. One of the perks of shilling for big pharma — you get to stay in the best hotels. I barely had time to see the room and dump my bags before hauling out here.”
“Cool,” was all Timothy could think of saying, remembering the Best Western he and Father Joe stayed at in Silver Spring when they went to D.C. for the March for Life. It was a single, and Timothy had slept on the floor. It seemed odd now, sitting together in Cambridge, when it might have been easier to meet in the Langham’s Julien restaurant in downtown Boston. He could have stayed at the office late and met Stan in his own business suit, as an equal, rather than underdressed in his sport shirt, slacks and loafers.
“This is where I first brought Natalie,” Stan Morrissey said. “You remember Natalie Goldman?”
“Natalie? Yes, of course.”
Stan chuckled. “God, when I think about it now. Taking a girl on a so-called date to a place like this. I mean, a place like this used to be.”
Timothy frowned. Natalie was not the woman Stan married. But she was the woman who prompted Stan to reconsider his vocation at Fellsway.
“The old Rosie’s had the games on all night with the Lesley College crowd. It never occurred to me what a single-man’s place it was. And Trudi, remember her? The same old waitress all the time.” Stan laughed, a bronchial, raspy cough from the middle of his chest. “No wonder Natalie wouldn’t sleep with me. She liked to call Fellsway the home for unmarried men.”
Timothy’s memory of this relationship was of an immature grad student clinging to the older Stan in her emotional neediness. “Whatever happened to her?” he asked.
Stan tilted his chin up, exhaling. Even when he wasn’t smoking he acted as if he were, and Timothy thought he caught a whiff of scotch. Probably he’d had a few on the plane. “Not a clue,” he said. “I should look her up on Google or Facebook, but her name isn’t exactly uncommon.”
They ordered the steak tips with fries. “Wednesday nights,” Stan was saying now. “The gay guy would come in after nine and play Broadway tunes.”
“How do you know he was gay?”
Stan’s restless eyes paused in their roving. He looked directly into Timothy’s for the first time since he’d sat down. He looked as if he was going to say something dismissive, but instead he laughed under his breath.
“The wonder is, most people probably thought I was gay those years I was living like a hermit in hand-me-down polo shirts at Fellsway and pursuing my degree. Natalie even said so, first time we went out.”
Timothy knew where the conversation was going and he didn’t want to talk about the clergy abuse scandal. Not with Stan. “Your wife,” he said, realizing it sounded abrupt, ridiculous.
Stan looked at him languidly. “We’ll get to that. Let’s just say we‘re sleeping in separate beds.” He took a big gulp from his beer.
“We’ve heard…how well you’ve done at Merck.”
Stan laughed. “Just for the hell of it, last week while I was waiting for a flight to Zurich, I did a search using Merck and Goethe as my key words — just to see if there was some other over-educated ass out there with a useless Master’s Degree in German Lit, hustling for corporations. But no, you’re right. I’m unique and they compensate me well for it.” He grinned. “I assume you’re still at Fidelity after all these years?”
“I imagine in spite of the downturn your 401(k) is probably worth several times my salary by now. You could retire by age 50, I bet, huh? No entanglements to sap your productivity…”
Timothy blinked at this. “How …how is your family?” he said again.
Stan shrugged. “My mother’s back home. Still has the house, although it was a close thing in the court. Sure it’s just a while before dad tries to take it from her again.”
“I meant your family.” Timothy wondered how many drinks Stan put away before he got here. Maybe he’d stopped in the bar at Logan after he got off the plane. Or sat in the lounge at the Langham. Now that he had settled and the brusque air of the outdoors had faded from him, Stan looked sleepy and kept glancing toward the waitress at the bar.
“Not bad looking,” he said when she took his order for a Dewars on the rocks.
“Your wife, Susan. Your children?”
“One child. I doubt Susan could ever handle more than that, and it’s just as well.” Timothy waited for him to go on, but after draining what was left of his beer, Stan rose to go to the men’s room and tapped the rim of his glass to indicate he wanted another beer too.
It was cold in the apartment that night she arrived. He’d left the air conditioning on all day and the apartment felt like a refrigerator. He’d dug out a sweater from the closet for her. “It’s not going well,” she said, wrapping her arms about her stomach and sitting on the floor where he’d spread some blankets and a pillow. “I’ve been to my primary care doc twice. Some internal bleeding.” Her lips were trembling. “Can you believe I went through with all this bullshit…getting married to make my family happy, and his? Just to lose it in the end?”
He could no longer remember what he’d said to comfort her. She hadn’t been to church since the wedding, and anyway it all seemed like such a mockery now that she didn’t even know if she had any faith left. So he sat by her as she lay there, holding his hand as she rested. Once or twice he had thought she’d finally fallen asleep and he made to rise, but each time she lifted her head and said, “Please, Timothy. Don’t leave me.”
It jarred him when he woke later than night. He’d thrown an extra blanket over her and somehow dozed off himself. He’d been at an angle from her head on the pillow, but she had snuggled up next to him. She was stroking his hair and when he opened his eyes, she kissed him. He remembered the way her hair fell over his face and she rolled on top of him. And as they embraced he thought, there was a way to save her from all this still. It wasn’t too late.
But he froze as she wriggled out of the sweater and pulled off her t-shirt. She sat up over him so he could see her fully. She ran her hands over his chest and he took both her hands in his, worrying, trying to think. He pulled her down on top of him and held her. “Are you okay?” she said after a few moments. “Sure,” he said, still stroking her back.
“Sure.” He kept saying it softly. After a while she rolled off him, wordlessly and pulled the t-shirt back on. He started to give her the sweater, but she tossed it aside before crawling under the covers again.
In the morning, he fixed her some toast as she took a shower in the bathroom. He started to apologize about the night before, feeling, still puzzled and uncertain, that it was the best thing to do. She only smiled and gave him a hug before taking her bag and leaving.
“I’ll write to you.”
Timothy saw the waitress lingering at the bar and only occasionally throwing a glance his way. She brought the next round when Stan emerged from the men’s room. He looked irritated now and his hair was disheveled.
“Anyway, since you ask, my wife is fine. Working at a real estate agency. I’ll probably let her have custody when it comes to it.”
“You know something?” Stan downed the Dewars and rubbed the glass of beer between both palms. “When I first met Susan, I was happy I had never slept with other women. Really. I really bought into that whole idea, preserving yourself before marriage. Because I knew colleagues in the department…guys who confided to me their regrets about all the drinking and screwing they did before marriage...” Stan paused, frowning slowly. “Sorry, Timothy. I know the language doesn’t agree with you—“
“Yes, yes. But there’s nothing wrong with regret. Right? I mean, it plants the seed of—“
Stan laughed and shook his head. “That’s my whole point. Less than a year, I bet it was, less than twelve months of actually living with Susan, I found myself regretting all the experiences I missed — all the things I could’ve had, while I had my nose in a book at Fellsway.” He laughed. “How sick is that.”
“I don’t follow you.”
“It’s perverse, I know. But there it is: ever since I slept with my wife I can’t stop wondering now about what it would have been like...with all the other women.”
The waitress came by again, and before Timothy could protest she took Stan’s empty tumbler and went off to the bar for another.
Stan didn’t look up from his beer. “I should have slept with Natalie. For starters. It would have been good for me to sleep with her. Right out of the gate.”
“They’re different, you know. Jewish girls. They really are.”
“Now, wait a second.“
“And don’t you think it’s funny the way our prohibitions encourage women into perverse inclinations of their own? You know, no intercourse before marriage, but every other kind...friends with benefits.” Stan started to laugh out loud, his deep, raspy smoker’s laugh. “I’m sure that’s what little what’s-her-name meant that time in the library. Remember her? Rosemarie, with her cute little rosebud mouth. I told you about that when it happened, didn’t I? And I said no...?”
Timothy sat back slowly, sinking into a hot rage. “You mentioned in your email…” and the words came out just as he had rehearsed them, “you wanted to address your obligations to the Work.”
Stan was looking up at the television. “Yeah. Is there some form I need to fill out? I figured we could settle that anytime. I just want to talk right now.”
Timothy took a deep breath and muttered a small prayer to himself. “I was too abrupt. Don’t take it the wrong way. I mean…”
But Stan’s eyes dropped to the bar. “I did hear from Tricia every once in a while,” he said. “I think I mentioned that in my email. But last time was over five years ago.”
Timothy nodded, spreading his hands on his lap. “Oh. Yes?”
“She’s in D.C. Still working for the FDA. Still married to Jim. And he’s still teaching.”
“That’s nice,” said Tim. “They have kids?”
“No. That was understood when they got together. No kids.”
Timothy frowned. “But she was pregnant when I last saw her. I know she later lost it. She told me afterwards. I mean, in her last letter. But she said it just made her want to try again.”
Stan stared at him. The raspy laugh again. “I’m sorry, man. I can’t remember how much I told you or didn’t tell you in my email. Jim is her second. She divorced that guy from the law school, what’s his name. That was over long ago.”
“No kids after she lost the first one?”
“Lost is a euphemism,” said Stan. “She got rid of it. You know what’s sick? And I owe you an apology for this, Tim. I almost thought for the longest time, that you had told her to do it, as a way to help her get out of the marriage.”
Stunned, Timothy said nothing, just shook his head slowly.
“I mean, so you could both make a go of it,” Stan went on. “That night you said she came to you…”
Timothy stared at the door of the restaurant where two couples had just come in, laughing, taking their coats off. “She last wrote me that she lost it,” he said again. “Internal bleeding.” In his mind, he remembered her letter again. I want you to stop writing to me, she’d written afterwards. You were like an angel.
Stan looked down at his plate. “Yeah. But she would tell you that, wouldn’t she? To protect you. You would have never understood. She got rid of it. She told me years later. Told me never to tell you. But what the hell…that’s so many years ago, now, Tim, you know? We’d all gone our separate ways.”
Timothy said nothing. The rest of the meal Stan spent reminiscing about other women he’d flirted with since he got married — women he’d met at conferences and sales meetings.
He didn’t wait for Stan to feign a gesture when the check came. He handed the waitress his Citibank card. Stan barely acknowledged it.
“I need a smoke.”
Timothy ignored him. He was surprised in that moment as the waitress went back to the bar to see the other woman with the deep neck line, still alone as she slid off the stool, nodding at him with a little smile as she touched a forefinger to her temple in a delicate farewell. There was a familiar little edge around the corners of her eyes as she turned and went out the door. He used to think it was sympathy. But now, in the dim light of the half-filled restaurant, Timothy realized it looked like something else - pity.
After he paid the bill, he stood outside with Stan waiting for a cab. Stan swayed, attempting a lighthearted query about staying at Fellsway for the night, just for old time’s sake.
“I don’t think we could manage it,” said Timothy.
“Tell you the truth, I do miss paying my respects in the chapel every day. That I do miss...those little rituals.” Stan giggled. As if knowing he should change the subject, he began exhaling opinions on the difficulties of marketing pharmaceuticals to German regulators, and Timothy stared at the street, praying to the Virgin Mother for a cab —any cab — to arrive on wings if necessary. In the old days Stan and he had joked about doing new translations of Doctor Faust. Or Kant. Or Nietzsche. Now he was striving just to keep his stomach calm as the cab pulled up.
Without a word Stan suddenly turned and embraced Timothy, who felt the hot stench of Dewars and french fries moisten his ear. “Thanks, man. Good…see you. I’ll call you tomorrow and we’ll work out the details. Make Father Joe happy.”
Timothy held Stan’s arm as he clambered into the back seat and whispered now, whispered directions to the Holiday Inn. On Beacon Street in Brookline.
Timothy stood staring as the cab drove off down Massachusetts Avenue, Stan’s silhouette already slumping in the back window.
Timothy crossed the boulevard and followed the little gated path that led through the townhouses to the side door of Fellsway.
He paused to look up at the gables on the roof of the grand house, royally overshadowed by arching branches of the huge oak tree on the front lawn. The branches were almost still, their tips fluttering slightly in the gentle breeze. It was a fine house, and this was his home. It always had been.
He kicked his shoes off inside the door and made his way into the empty chapel. He genuflected before the small altar and whispered Holy Mary our Hope, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us. Then he sat for a while in one of the narrow benches, looking at the icon of mother and child above the altar, absently running a finger over the crease under his slacks where the cilice gripped his thigh. It had long since ceased to irritate his skin, and Timothy wondered now why he even bothered to wear it. He sat, struggling with a point of action before getting up and taking a chair in the living room. Everyone had retired for the night, but he heard Father Joe’s footsteps on the landing as he came down and made his way into the kitchen for a snack.
The old priest found him and prodded Timothy for a cigarette. Although Timothy didn’t smoke anymore, he always carried a pack. As he extended his hand he saw the question in Father Joe’s eyes. Timothy offered a brief smile.
“He’s going to call me. He…he remembers his obligations.” The words sounded muffled coming out of his mouth.
Father Joe nodded. He had just come back from his shift at the hospital. He had a gray pallor about his round, double-chinned face, but his eyes were always kind. He would probably die soon, exhausted from the crushing schedule he kept and the toll taken by cigarettes and snacks consumed on the run.
But right now Timothy couldn’t bear to look up at him.
“It was a good meeting? Stan was grateful to see you?”
Without taking his eyes from the bookcase in the far corner, Timothy nodded.
The priest finished his cigarette and then held up two fingers. Giving him another, Timothy got up and went to sit down in the chapel again by himself, in the same bench he had occupied just before leaving the house earlier that evening.
He took a deep breath. He was home after all, he told himself. The only place he ever wanted to be. But now the walls felt confining, the darkness a dread as he looked at the candles.
He’d done the right thing that night, simply closing his eyes and waiting in the dark. He knew that. He’d always known that. If he’d slept with her, would she have kept the child? Would they have made a better life together? He kept shaking his head. Would she have kept her faith?
Timothy was still staring at the wall when the priest came in to turn out the lights.