Yes, When the Mood Takes Me, I Write Fiction, Too

Posted: July 1, 2011 in Literature, Uncategorized

Every once in a while I have a reason to bring this story out of mothballs, so I figured I’d just put it on the blog for posterity in case those who haven’t seen it want to take a look. I don’t write a lot of fiction, as we all know, mostly because I don’t really have the kind of imagination it takes to be a full-time novelist. But this is a short story I wrote back in ’05 that I think is pretty good, and it took second prize in a literary competition a few years ago. It’s loosely based on someone I knew very briefly for a time, but most of it was my own invention. Enjoy.

LETTY

Her name was Letty. Not short for Letitia. Not short for anything, actually. When she was born, her parents decided to name her Letty. And she was perfect. Not just in the eyes of her family, but she simply was. She was blonde and blue-eyed, the most beautiful child on the entire block in Brooklyn. Her parents and grandparents had a lot of money, and in those days of the very late 1940s, all she knew was a life filled with the best toys on the block. The best bike for miles around. And the best clothes. Oh, how she loved her clothes. Her other inherent gift was her smile, which was probably more perfect than she was. It was a smile that could launch thousands of ships.

When she was nine, she and her folks and baby brother moved to Long Island. On their very first day moved in as a family, a Saturday afternoon, Letty confidently put on her pretty pink dress in her equally-pretty pink bedroom, and walked out to the front lawn to scope out the neighborhood for potential friends. The very first person to happen by was Sharon. On a bike that was nicer than Letty’s. Sharon was the most beautiful child Letty had ever seen. Her raven hair hung down in ringlets past her shoulders, and her sea-green eyes seemed to sparkle in the suburban April sunlight. “Hi!” Sharon called out, waving. “I heard there was new girl my age moving in! I’m Sharon! Wanna grab your bike and ride down to the candy store with me? We could get a Dixie cup.”

“Ummm…sure,” Letty replied. “I’m Letty. Let me just go in and ask my mom. Just give me a minute, ‘cause she’s putting our kitchen together.” Sharon obliged with a smile and an enthusiastic nod.

Letty strolled slowly back into the house, gave a quick look back at Sharon with her always-dazzling smile, then walked into the kitchen where her mother was trying to arrange the silverware drawer with a frustrated look, as baby brother Barry sat back in a highchair and gurgling. “Mommy?” she asked. “Can I get a new bike? One of those new ones, from Schwinn?”

Her mother gave her a strange look. “A new bike? Letty, your birthday isn’t for two months yet. And what’s wrong with your bike?”

“I know,” Letty replied, “but I was outside with some of the new kids just now and my bike is just so dingy,” she said. “It doesn’t measure up and it won’t look nice. Couldn’t I please get a new one?” Just then Barry started to cry, and as her mother went to pick up the infant to be rocked, she hastily said, “Well, I suppose. We’ll ask your father when he comes home from the store.”

“Oh, thank you, Mommy,” Letty replied. “I love you. And can I walk down to the candy store and get a Dixie cup? This nice girl outside just asked me.”

“Of COURSE!” her mother said. “Don’t keep the girl waiting! Take fifteen cents out of my pocketbook. And don’t spoil your dinner.”

“Thank you, Mommy,” she said again and flashed her killer smile. She helped herself to a dime and a nickel from her mother’s purse and walked out to where Sharon was still waiting.

“Gonna get your bike?” Sharon asked, her face lighting up with an eager grin.

Letty sighed sadly and shook her head. “The thing is, it hasn’t been delivered yet,” she replied. “My grandparents just bought me a new one as an early birthday present, but they’re waiting for it to come from FAO Schwarz. In the city, and all. So would it be OK if we walk down there instead?”

“Sure!” Sharon said, still beaming. “Let me just drop my bike off back home, up the block. I’ll be back in two minutes and we’ll walk down there. I’ll show you the neighborhood. We’ll meet all the other kids on the way.”

“Thanks! You’re a real pal!” Letty told her, smiling again as only she could.

Within minutes the two girls were at the candy store enjoying their ice cream, and Letty knew she would fit right in here. And that having this girl as a friend could only give her leverage. It was within two weeks that she and Sharon would be racing their bikes up and down the sidewalks after school, with Letty as proud as she could be that her parents had given her a top of the line model.

She became friends with many other boys and girls in the neighborhood over the years. However, Letty’s quest for perfection became a lifelong vocation as she and Sharon became better and better, and ultimately best, friends. It was never anything she had to work for previously in the eyes of anyone besides herself, but deep inside she couldn’t contain her jealousy over the fact that Sharon always seemed to get it right without any effort. And Letty always seemed to need to top her and make it look as though she had just sailed through the process. When Sharon had an A average in school, Letty’s had to be A-plus. She helped Sharon with her project for the Junior High Science Fair every night, making sure it wasn’t quite as good as her own, which took first prize. When Sharon received a white MG for her seventeenth birthday, Letty asked for and got a pink Corvette, with “LETTY” spelled out on the plates.

Then came high school graduation in 1965 and teary goodbyes between the two young women, with promises to be best friends forever and always stay in touch. Sharon would be flying off to California to attend UC-Berkeley, and Letty opted to remain at home and go to nearby Hofstra. She accompanied Sharon and her parents to the airport for a final goodbye, and flashed her effervescent smile the whole time as she watched Sharon get on the plane. Deep inside, she felt like it was the first time in eight years she’d been able to breathe.

For the next four years, she immersed herself in college life and continued her quest for perfection, always spurred on by the notion of how much more Sharon might be achieving out West. But their sporadic conversations by phone always sounded as though she didn’t have much to worry about. Sharon seemed to have gotten very interested in the free-love movement that was pervading Northern California, continuing to commit to classes but also experimenting with marijuana and sexual liberation. Not that it stopped her from graduating Cum Laude with her Political Science degree, but Letty always figured that her own ability to walk the straight and narrow is what got her that Magna Cum Laude degree in Speech Pathology. Plus all those departmental honors.

Though Letty had dated several boys in college, she wasn’t as serious about anyone as she was about her studies, and she took to her first job with aplomb, working in a leading speech pathology lab in Nassau County. She loved the fact that she was placed in a mid-level management position right off the bat, as opposed to Sharon, who was interning for some minor California state senator and would have to really start from the ground up. And she was popular as always, making friends with the other few women who worked there, taking lunch with them and going out on Friday nights to movies or the occasional nightclub.

Eight months into her work, one of her work friends, Marie, stopped by her desk on a Tuesday. Marie had just gotten engaged to a young gentleman named Frank, who was about to start his own business. “I want to ask you something,” she said.

“Sure,” Letty answered.

“How would you like to go on a double date on Friday night, with me and Frank and his old roommate from senior year?” she asked. “I’ve met him a few times and I think you guys would be great together. If nothing else, you’d look terrific as a couple.”

“Really?” Letty replied. “Tell me more.”

Marie smiled. “Well, his name is Ron. Nice, nice man, and very well-brought-up. Parents are from Spain, but he was brought up in Florida and moved here to go to Columbia, which is how he met Frank. Tall, dark and handsome. He just got a Master’s in Business Administration, and Frank thinks he’s a real go-getter.”

Letty thought for a minute. “Hmmm,” she finally said, and smiled her customary smile. “He DOES sound nice. Can I think about it and let you know tomorrow?”

“Sure you can,” Marie smiled back. “But I think you’ll say yes.”

“Well, I’ll let you know. Thanks, Marie.”

That night after dinner, she placed a call to California and reached Sharon at her office. After making some polite small talk with Sharon about their jobs and their parents, Letty asked if she had any romantic prospects. “No, not really,” Sharon replied. “I mean I work such long hours, so there’s really not much time for dating. How about you?”

“Oh,” Letty said evasively, “you know how it goes. One of the women at work wants to set me up with her fiancee’s friend, but I don’t know. I work a lot of hours, too. Not nearly as many as you, you poor thing, but plenty. He does sound nice, though.”

“Well, one date couldn’t hurt, you know,” Sharon answered. “I think you should. Come on; have I ever steered you wrong?”

Letty smiled. “No, Sharon. You have never, ever steered me wrong. OK, I’ll do it if you say so.”

“Good. Let me know. I’d better run; there’s a big meeting here in a few minutes.” The two said their goodbyes and hung up, and Letty knew what her answer to Marie would be.

On Friday night, the four went to a French restaurant in the city, and Ron was everything Marie had promised and more. He was gorgeous, as she knew he would be; nearly six-foot-four and utterly strapping, but at the same time with a grace and chivalrous quality to which she was unaccustomed. For the next several weeks, as she and Ron saw more and more of each other, she knew she was falling in love, and she had the sense that he was feeling likewise. And best of all, she knew she was partaking in a side of life that was leaving Sharon way in the dust.

She would never forget the night he proposed, four months after their meeting. He took her to an elegant Spanish restaurant on Long Island, where he impressed her by ordering the entire meal in the native language of his parents, and the food was impeccable. Most of the time was spent talking about a business he was planning to open, which would contract paper products to businesses, and as he illustrated his plans for the future, Letty was dazzled. After dinner had been cleared away, the waiter brought two cups of coffee and two dishes of flan, which Ron urged her to taste. She dipped her spoon into the creamy custard and her eyes widened as she bit down on something hard; spitting it into her napkin, she discovered the most perfect three-carat diamond engagement ring. It was all Letty could do not to let out a squeal of delight as Ron got down on one knee and officially asked her to share the rest of his life, to which she joyfully agreed. Sharing a big kiss, the entire restaurant broke out into applause and shouts of congratulations in Spanish.

The next six months were a whirlwind of plans. Letty would continue to work at the lab until a few days before the wedding, during which time Ron was extremely busy organizing the paper business. Her mother and grandmother, naturally, had their own hands full making sure that the day would be absolute perfection. Though they’d settled on a local country club for the reception, it would be a mix of Long Island luxury interlaced with Spanish wedding traditions. The one hitch was that Sharon wouldn’t be able to attend; she was being called to testify for the prosecution in an indictment hearing regarding local politics, and was forbidden to leave the state of California. Still, Letty took the fact that she was getting married, when Sharon didn’t even have a boyfriend, to be fitting consolation. And Marie was a fine choice for maid of honor.

A virgin when she married Ron, she had absolutely no concept of how fierce their passion would be on their honeymoon, or that she would find herself wanting to repeat the experience as often as possible. They spent two of the most romantic weeks in Mexico she could ever have hoped for, and their lives became wedded bliss when they returned home to the apartment they’d decided to rent in Little Neck. Ron went off to his small office in Jericho daily, and Letty soon discovered how much she loved being a housewife. She was thrilled to decorate the apartment and make a perfect home for them, and kept as socially busy as she could by occasionally meeting a girl-friend for lunch. She rarely cooked, because she just didn’t like to, and Ron was thrilled to spend the majority of their dinnertime in restaurants. But when she did cook he praised her dishes to the skies, and when she threw dinner parties for his business associates or potential clients, no detail was ever out of place.

Five weeks after the wedding, thrilled to learn that she was pregnant, she immediately called Sharon after first calling Ron at the office, then notifying her parents and brother of the blessed event. Needless to say, Ron was dancing with joy and told her he was coming home immediately, and her family was utterly thrilled. Sharon picked up the phone on the first ring, and as soon as Letty identified herself, she got very excited. “I was just gonna pick up the phone and call you,” she said. “I have big news.”

“So do I,” Letty smiled, “but you go first.”

“I’m getting married.”

“No!!” Letty shouted. “You are? That’s so great! Who? When?” (I’ve already done that, she thought to herself).

“Well, let me tell you what happened,” she said. “You remember that court case I was involved with? There was this television news reporter who was at the trial every day. Gorgeous redheaded man, and so nice. He noticed that I was single, so when I was all through with my testimony, he approached me one day outside the courthouse and invited me to dinner. So we went out a few times and we really hit it off. Then a couple of weeks ago, I decided to go back to his apartment with him. My mother would die if she knew that, but I figure what the hell, it’s 1971, right? She doesn’t know about my college escapades, either. Anyway, it happened. Kid on the way.”

Letty nearly dropped the phone receiver. “You’re getting married AND you’re pregnant?” she said. “Oh, my God. Well, what are you…how are you…I mean, how’s this all gonna happen at once?”

“Oh, we’re just going to get married by a city judge in a few days. My boss has all kinds of connections, and we just want to get it over with. Bobby makes great money at the TV studio, and I’ll just take a short maternity leave.” She sighed. “He loves me, Letty. He really, really loves me and wants to take care of me. Take care of us.”

“That’s so great!” Letty said, secretly delighted by the fact that Sharon wouldn’t be having a big wedding. “That is just so, so great. I’m so happy for you and I can’t wait for us to meet him.”

“Yes,” Sharon said, “we HAVE to do that as soon as we can. Maybe after I have the baby we’ll fly out for a visit. It’s been way too long since you and I have seen each other. Now, what was your news?”

Letty shifted uncomfortably. “Oh,” she began, “it’s nothing. I mean it seems so silly now, what with your news.”

“Now, come on,” Sharon pressed. “What’s up?”

“Well…” Letty smiled, “you won’t believe this, but I’m pregnant.”

“NO!!!!” Sharon shouted into the phone. “This is so GREAT!! Oh, my God, we’re both gonna be MOMMIES!! At the same TIME!!”

“Yeah,” Letty said, smiling her big smile but feeling utterly deflated. “Isn’t that great? Listen, I’d better run. Ron got so excited when I gave him the news and he’s on his way home.”

“OK,” Sharon replied. “Listen, keep me posted. I want to know everything. Talk to you soon.”

“You bet,” Letty answered through her smile. “Bye, Sharon!”

They hung up and Letty cried for the next fifteen minutes, putting her brave face back on as soon as Ron walked in the door.

True to form, she had a perfect pregnancy, even though she hated every minute of it. No morning sickness, no neuralgia, nary even a hemorrhoid. And she was entranced every time Sharon would call with stories of how sick she felt all the time, or how she had gone to a fancy political luncheon and droplets of milk ruined her best silk blouse. They had the babies within a day of each other, Letty going through a very easy labor and delivering her son Glenn after a mere two hours, and Sharon being forced through twenty-three hours of grueling agony before her daughter Adrienne entered the world. Letty didn’t know whether to be happier about the children’s genders or that Sharon had gone through so much.

Although they exchanged photographs of the kids through the mail, they only spoke to each other by phone every few years after that for nearly the next two decades, and usually only when one had important news for the other. Letty delighted in being able to call Sharon and tell her that they were moving out of the apartment in Little Neck and into a big beautiful house in Dix Hills with a pool, or that Ron’s paper business had just gotten a worldwide contract with Hilton, or that Glenn had gotten accepted to Harvard and was class valedictorian. Sharon was always so thrilled to hear from her. And equally thrilled to be able to call and tell her that they were moving to Santa Monica because Bobby had become the 6 PM anchor at a Los Angeles station, or that she had just finished her first book about the political process and had signed a contract for five more, or that Adrienne would be attending Stanford after competing with the Olympic gymnastics team. And through it all, Letty wore her most dazzling smile and seethed with private rage.

Then one Thursday in April, Letty’s phone rang, and it was Sharon. “Guess what?” she said. “I’m in New York.”

“Really?” Letty asked. “How come?”

“My tour for the third book,” Sharon replied. “I would have called you but it all happened so fast. They told me about it two days ago and flew me out yesterday, and the city was the first stop. You wouldn’t believe this room they’ve got me in at the Ritz-Carlton; it’s to die for.”

“That’s great,” Letty said, smiling.

“So I was thinking,” Sharon continued, “that since Bobby can’t get here until the weekend and I have some time in between interviews, maybe you and I could have lunch tomorrow. Would that work out for you?”

Letty hesitated. The last thing she wanted was to see Sharon. She just didn’t think she could bear the thought of having to keep her smile glued on while Sharon prattled on about how wonderful her life was. But as usual, her need for perfection wouldn’t let her say no.

“Sure,” she said, still smiling. “I haven’t been to the city in forever. Should I meet you at the hotel?”

“Well, my publisher recommended an Italian restaurant a few doors down, called Sandomenico,” Sharon said. “It’s supposed to be a celebrity hangout, and really highly recommended. Hey, they’re footing the bill, so I guess we should give it a try. Want to meet there at about one? I’ll call them and set it up.”

“You bet,” Letty replied, smiling. “Yummy. And I’ll have so much fun deciding what to wear. See you then, pal.”

Sharon giggled. “That’s so funny. I don’t think you’ve called me pal for forty years.”

Letty forced a chuckle. “Isn’t that something? Well, bye.” And hung up.

The whole idea of this was churning her stomach as she drove westward on the Long Island Expressway towards the city, but she figured she could always just have a salad. If nothing else, she knew she looked like a million bucks in her teal velvet suit. She walked through the doors of the opulent restaurant at a practiced moment, as she’d always done, exactly three minutes after the appointed time. After checking her coat, she recognized Sharon instantly. The black hair was the same (although probably tinted by now, she thought), and those damnable green eyes still lit up the entire room from wherever they were located. But she made it a point to squint about the assembled patrons as though she was seeking her out, until Sharon waved her over. With her huge trademark smile, the smile that had gotten her through nearly fifty years, she swept through the dining room, wordlessly giving her old friend a seemingly-warm albeit stiff hug, and then a kiss on both cheeks. And with the same fixed smile, she descended upon the seat.

Sharon grinned. “They’re sending over a bottle of Cristal,” she said. “I know you don’t want to drink much, because you’ve got to drive back, but I thought it would be nice to have a long old-fashioned gab session. We can always go up to the room and you can lie down if you need to.”

“No, I’ll be fine,” Letty replied. They stared at each other across the table for nearly a minute, smiling, until Sharon felt the tension between them and broke the silence. “So,” she began, “how’s everything?” The waiter came over with the champagne and started pouring.

“Oh, things are wonderful,” she said, accepting a glass of Cristal from the waiter. “Ron’s going to sell the company next year to a major conglomerate. I can’t even begin to imagine the money we’ll get.”

“That’s great, Letty!” Sharon said, taking her own glass. “We’ll wait on seeing the menus,” she told the waiter. “Right now we’re just catching up.” He acknowledged that and left.

Sharon clinked her glass with Letty’s and they each took a sip. “So he’s retiring, then?”

“I honestly couldn’t tell you,” Letty replied. “We’ve talked about it, and we’re probably going to take a year-long cruise around the world once the sale is final, but I can’t imagine he’ll remain completely inactive. You know how he is.”

“Yeah, you’ve told me,” Sharon said. “And how’s Glenn?”

“Glenn is great!” she replied emphatically. “He was in Tokyo working with the financial market all last year, but now he’s settled in at Goldman Sachs and they seem to love him there. His Christmas bonus in December was a hundred sixty thousand.”

“Isn’t that wonderful?” Sharon said.

“It’s wonderful,” Letty echoed, smiling.

They stared at each other for another minute, the tension once again palpable. “Uh, well…” Sharon said, “things are good with me, too. Busy, you know. This tour is gonna be grueling. They’ve got me doing sixty cities in four months. It’s just insane. I’m only glad Bobby can fly out tonight after the broadcast. You know, next week he starts doing the eleven o’clock news, not just the six o’clock. God, what would we do without our husbands?”

“Sure,” Letty said, still staring and smiling. Another minute went by.

“Adrienne’s doing well, too,” she started, beginning to feel unsure about Letty’s attitude. “You know, she majored in Communications at Stanford with a concentration in broadcasting, and they’ve had her doing some sportscasting on the morning news. Bobby and I are so proud of her. I still don’t know how either of us got through those Olympics. Every time she got up on that balance beam I couldn’t bear to look. The other day when I was looking at her bronze medal in her old room, it just brought it all back.”

“Sure,” Letty said again, still eying her and smiling.

Sharon picked up the bottle and topped her glass. “Letty,” she asked, “is everything OK? I was hoping we could have a nice talk, and you’re sitting there staring at me and smiling like a Stepford Wife. Is something wrong?”

“Everything’s fine,” Letty answered, still smiling and pouring more champagne into her own glass and taking a big sip. She chuckled suddenly. “Stepford Wife? That’s funny. Like, because I became a housewife and you didn’t, you’re somehow better than me?”

The question caught Sharon off guard and she emitted a little choking noise. “What?” she asked, truly puzzled. “Better than you? Letty, what on earth are you talking about?”

“You know what I’m talking about,” Letty said, forty-one years of jealousy suddenly rising inexplicably to the surface. “You’ve lorded it over me since Day One. That very first day, when you rode your bike to my house. ‘Oh, look at my pretty black hair and my pretty green eyes. Oh, look at my pretty bike. My life is more perfect than anybody’s.’ Well, guess what, Sharon. I’m sick of it and I’m sick of you.”

Sharon stared at her as though she had just descended from a spaceship. “You…I…what??? I LORD things over you? What are you SAYING?”

“I’m just saying I’ve had it,” Letty replied. “I’m tired of the competition and I’m tired of the fact that I can’t win it. I’m not happy.”

Sharon slugged her champagne in a fluid movement and stared at her childhood friend, the one she had always considered a sister until this very moment in time. “Let’s put a few things in perspective, lady,” she said evenly. “You were, and still are, the most beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed princess any of us had ever seen. You had it all and you still have it all. My house wasn’t nearly as nice as yours, my clothes weren’t as nice, my family wasn’t as nice. As for my bike, which apparently you envied, that was ALL that I had. You always got better grades, you took that prize at the science fair, you had that gorgeous Corvette that all us girls were drooling over. You graduated Magna from Hofstra and got a major job right out of school. You married that beautiful man and had the wedding of the century. And then gave birth to a baby boy, of course, who turned out to be as perfect as you. And now you’re telling me that all this time you were jealous of ME?” Sharon topped her drink again and took a sip. “Boy, oh boy, Letty. We all knew you’d grow up to be anything you wanted, but I never imagined that what you wanted was to be really bitter.”

“I think this luncheon is concluded,” Letty said. Smiling again.

“Yes, I think it is, too,” Sharon replied. “Don’t call me.”

Letty rose and retrieved her coat, then swept grandly back to the garage where she’d parked her car. Her head was held high. As far as she was concerned, she’d finally put Sharon in her place, and it felt fantastic. She was positively jubilant as she drove home to Dix Hills.

When she got there, Ron was already home, watching a basketball game. He’d been working reduced hours lately in anticipation of the sale. She hung up her coat and he gave her a big hug. “So how was your lunch?” he asked, as he resettled himself on the couch.

“Oh, it was great,” she replied, seating herself next to him and flashing her smile. “Just great. Exactly what I wanted.”

“Perfect,” he said. And continued to watch the game.

“Yes,” she said, after a minute. “Perfect. And as long as it’s perfect, that’s all that matters.”

THE END

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