Roan and Rachel

 

By David LaRoche

 

Roan, now well past his half-century mark, had reached a point in his life where he favored his dreams over a rise to reality. It wasn’t so much that his life was dull, more that his bed was comfortable and his dreams captivating. He easily resisted his clock alarm, the call of his bladder, or the mocking birds outside his window when the dream engaged was an exciting or promising adventure, and always they were.

He dreamed mostly of his youth and the enjoyable if reckless way he had treated it—loose girls, fast cars, and raucous parties. But despite his early carelessness, he’d managed to avoid the most likely damage—skill or luck or both. He was blessed.

His dreams, quite vivid, were far from punishing, given his marginal behavior, but rather redemptive and verily entertaining. He might lie in bed until noon, savoring the gauzy adventures he believed he controlled.

Recently and through most of his life, Roan dreamed of a girl, Rachel. She was alluring in her innocence, fresh and adorable, a college freshman who had brought him to heel as a senior so many years ago.

# # #

While he’d been a ladies’ man then—a different girl every week or so, and successful with his seductions—Rachel demanded a better behavior. And soon if reluctantly, he abandoned his modus operandi and came to think of her as his only and true—his partner, confidant, and the girl he was likely to marry.

She was warm and responsive in his embraces, allowing a limited familiarity. He had tried for more, as it was his nature and earlier practiced, but with her soft language, coy smile, and graceful if certain resistance, she insisted he keep his hands in the safer zones, and he willingly complied.  “I have the deepest respect,” he had said and kissed her gently.

His attention, unwavering through their first semester together, led her to say she loved him. He echoed the same and gave up his fraternity pin. Their mutual commitment and perfect complement became the envy of all their friends. Everyone knew that Rachel and Roan would walk the path of life together.

But then he slipped—an exciting and convenient sexual opportunity to quell his long deprivation was simply too close at the time, and impossible to resist as a friend of Rachel’s came on to him one night.

Roan knew from the start he was violating a trust and he filled with regret the moment his wigglers began their upstream journey. And, by the time the news began seeping out; he could carry the guilt no longer and meekly with the greatest remorse he confessed.

Rachel abandoned their relationship immediately, and without so much as a word of his scurrilous-deed—would not take his calls, resisted completely his sorrowful apologies, many written in the most pleading poetic vernacular to her.

His friends turned away, siding completely with Rachel. Those who had applauded his earlier successes dismissed him as callous and worthless. Too late, he felt it all himself—beaten down and insignificant.

Desperately, he had tried to excuse his infidelity—at the time with her, and later himself.

“Couldn’t help it, just a lark—I swear it meant nothing.” That hadn’t worked and so: “It was her, she seduced me. I tried to resist, but, well, I’m a man and it’s in our nature.”

He didn’t blame Rachel for leaving him—she had no choice. So stupid, his act, he often thought, and for years berated himself with each glance at the recollection. “Meaningless,” he repeated—a diminishment that hadn’t flown with her, not then, and later not with himself. He considered the loss from most every direction and through the succeeding years.

# # #

As he wandered his dreams, Roan wondered in time if the wound might heal and hoped that it would. The calendar brings perspective, and if they met again she might understand his youth and abject carelessness. He tried and tried again to summon such a meeting but inevitably awoke absent success.

Dozing late and dreamy one morning, vague images of her he could do nothing with, he rose and brushed his teeth—yellowing some, he noted. His mirror reflected flab, his muscles stringy, loose, and sagging. Dismayed with a condition, unequal even to the thought of her, he assumed with some assuredness it was the reason for his dreamy failures.

He would exercise and diet, join a gym—be ready, should they meet again. He all but knew they wouldn’t, as they hadn’t, but just the same they might.

In short order, he flattened his paunch and redeployed his muscles. She was worth the cottage cheese and protein drinks that taste and felt like chalk. He would get as close as possible to the state when last together—a time before that trust of theirs he’d broken.

His cell phone rang, a fraternity friend from college days had called. The words spoke seemed eerily lost in the haze of recollection, but the message came in clear—Rachel and Roan would meet again, her husband passed had left room for him. The meeting established, curiosity entered and Roan plied his friend with a question—why in all this time of brotherhood had he kept the news of Rachel from him?

“A confidence,” his friend had said, his voice seeming to fade in a misty distance. “The act back then so entirely deplorable—no trouble at all with my oath of silence.”

Roan thought then of the meeting—a miracle of forgiveness, a fresh acceptance. He checked the mirror. The flab was gone, his body youthful. He dressed in chinos and Polo—the same as in their time at university. He’d washed his car, was it the day before, seen a stylist, cleaned and trimmed his nails.

As he drove, he saw her smile and felt her presence. He noted her delicate hands and the high school ring as she sipped a beer from his fraternity mug. He recalled the sheen of her auburn hair and the musky smell of a light shampoo. She didn’t use a scent.

He had taken a photo along on his drive, as he wanted easily to recognize her. He picked it up for another look and again he felt the joy, though the image seemed to fade. Was it the bright light from the sun through the passenger window?

He loved her, always had. They’d reignite what he had squelched so many years ago—he had changed, she ready to forgive. He pulled into the drive, Rose Petal Living for Seniors. Odd, he thought, but many women who’ve lost their spouse chose safer quarters.

The man at the reception desk directed him to suite 216. Suddenly there, he knocked. A voice bade enter, and anxious if full of hope, he opened the door and went in.

Back in his car, he sat—hands on the wheel, eyes unfocused. He couldn’t begin his trip back home, his mind full of the vision of her in a lounger.

Wrapped in a heavy dark shawl, her steel-rimmed bifocals low on her nose, her sunken eyes watering through a coating of rheum. Her skin, mottled and gray, hung on her frame like a toss of wet laundry. She held a glass of orange juice she sipped through a straw. As her hand trembled, she added the other.

She was deathly thin. As she attempted a smile, her lips once full, went flat and barely visible. The veins in her withered hands were pronounced—blue, black in knots at the turns. She was dying she said through shallow wheezing and wanted to see him once before she slid away.

He stared at the photo he’d brought, saw no resemblance to the person he’d met in the lounger. And when looking away, the vision he’d harbored, loved through those many years wasn’t there—replaced by a near skeleton of an old woman wrapped in a shawl, expiring in suite 216.

He stirred then quickly sat up. His pajamas were soaked, his heart beating loud, ca-thumpity thump. He glanced at his clock—ten past noon—though he felt he’d not slept a wink. He held his head. What a frightening and threatening dream.

He needed to resurface the deck before winter set in. Was he up to it? His sagging muscles said probably not, best hire it done. He thought about joining a tennis group or maybe golf. He’d have a light lunch, a salad, then reconsider the gym. He’d set his alarm for 8 AM, and when it went off each morning, he’d open his eyes and promptly, eagerly, get out of bed.

 


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