Marty had already had his success, and now he was bored. He stood that day, in the back of the pharmacy, waiting in the decaying ring of the countertop service bell. A fluorescent light bathed down on him, illuminating the industrial shelves filled with pill bottles, medical supplies. He was sweating.
A bald man in a white apron stepped forward. “I’m sorry, Mr. Donovon. There’s nothing I can do.”
“Can’t you make an exception? I just won’t have time to come back this weekend.”
“We can’t fill it before the date given on your prescription. People abuse these medicines, you know.” The bald man’s eyes lit up, as Marty turned to leave. “Wait.”
“You gonna let this one slide?”
The bald man looked him over. “Marty Donovon? The Marty Donovon?”
“It’s on my prescription, isn’t it?”
“Cleveland Indians, Marty Donovon?”
“Yeah, but keep it down. Don’t make a scene.”
The bald man leaned in across the counter. “I’m from Ohio,” he whispered. “I was at the Jake, in ‘94 when you pitched that perfect game against the Red Sox.”
“Yeah? Well so were 40,000 others. Can you fill this thing or not?” Marty leaned back from the counter, holding the location of his pain – his shoulder – for sympathy.
The pharmacist, lowered his head. “I heard about your injury, Mr. Donovon. It’s such a shame. You were one of the greats. But I can’t, sir. I could lose my job.”
“But would it be out of line to ask you for your autograph?”
Marty pointed down to the prescription on the counter. “It’s on there. Keep it.”
He drove back home with the top down on his convertible. It was a hot and muggy day. Sports radio was on and his Polynesian patterned shirt flapped in the wind.
“Nice day ain’t it Mr. Donovon?” said the friendly face of the gate attendant as he pulled up. “Got a call from your sister last night. Said they’re coming for the holiday after all.”
“Thanks Domingo,” he said, as he was waved through.
He drove past the manicured shrubs, the beautiful homes – the community offered three different variations – past old flabby waving arms from the pool-house, the driving range, rows of palm trees, the buzzing golf-carts. Having had financial success so early on in his life, Marty had made a lot of regrettable decisions, but none of them was as regrettable as believing that an early-retirement housing community, just south of Tampa, was the right place for him to move.
** Add a crude local TV commercial that exploits his “perfect game” to sell cars.
That night Marty tried to sleep, but couldn’t. It was the first night in four months he’d gone without Vicodin. He’d sat at his computer, playing solitaire online, until, at one point, he yawned, split the blinds with his fingers, like an opening scissor, and looked out as the sky was turning a peach-like color. When he turned back toward his screen, he was startled by a scantily clad dancing woman, shaking her hips, pouting her face.
“Find Your Soulmate! Mail Order Brides!” flashed at the top.
He closed the pop-up, shut down the computer, and went back to bed. Finally, he was able to sleep.
“Who are these people? How do I fit in here? I have so much of my life still to live?” thought Marty that night, as a smiling, white haired, skin-speckled man, leaned in with a twelve-inch ruler along his protruding mustache. A line of bearded and mustached middle-aged men stood anxiously in line.
“I think we may have a winner!” announced the man proudly.
Marty looked out over the handful of old people seated in folding metal chairs, like the ones from NA meetings. He was the youngest person in the room, by at least ten years.
It was a special night for the community; the “Northern Sarasota Pre-Retirement Community Facial Hair Awards” were nothing to be scoffed at. Especially since Marty knew he could turn this around, if he played it right, to bag some recently widowed silver-haired-fox by the end of the night. It had been two years now since Brooke, and he wanted nothing more than to spend the night with someone.
Marty walked out of the conference room, with his free sea-doo rental coupon.
In the bathroom, he saw a squat older man leaning forward with his mouth on the faucet. Marty had already spotted the bottle on the counter before he said hello. The squat man straightened up, as Marty calmed him. He explained they were for his back and Marty nodded.
He left with several pills and was back in the rec-center, drink in hand, and had already joined the conga line snaking around the linoleum floor. He felt as good as he had in months.
And the night passed in a flash.
He woke up the next morning with a gasp. He tried to shower, but had to yank the curtain aside, and vomit into the toilet. He slid back on the floor the shower for an hour, while his head throbbed, before he finally had the strength to move to the couch.
He spent the next few days recovering, playing golf in the sun and reading mystery novels by the pool. By the time he made it to the weekend, he was finally feeling good again. Plus, he could finally cash in his prescription.
Two weeks later, his Ohio family was due to arrive. Marty spent the morning calling catering services, and cleaning the house, when he received the call.
“See if you can stall them, the place isn’t quite ready yet.”
“I’m sorry sir, there’s a woman here with a stack of suitcases. She doesn’t really speak English, but she’s saying –”
“What’s she saying?”
“You really should come down here.”
“Domingo, what’s she saying?”
“Well, she says she’s your wife.”
Marty’s face went numb. “I don’t want anything to do with her,” he said.
“It’s not who you’re thinking.”
“What do you mean?”
“No, this woman says her name is Vera.”
“Who? What is this?”
“She is holding all the papers, and everything sir.”
“I’ll be down in a minute,” he said.
Marty took the golf cart and skidded up to the gatehouse. Domingo pointed around to the front.
“Let me know if you need security,” he said.
Marty turned the corner. A gorgeous woman, dressed in a short skirt and a fur shawl – which looked silly, and entirely unnecessary in the Florida heat – was seated, patient and barefoot, on the bench. She twirled one of her high heels in her hand by the strap.
“What’s going on here,” said Marty. “What are you trying to pull?” He felt as if a hidden camera crew was going to jump out at any moment. He even looked, but they never did.
“My name is Vera. I’m from Kiev. I am the bride,” she recited.
“What are you talking about?” he said. Domingo peered out through the gatehouse window holding a phone, and Marty waved him away. He was sweating through his florally patterned shirt. Vera held up a packet, pushed a series of papers at him. He flipped through them, looking them over. “This a joke?”
Marty’s mind shot back to that night, the night of the rec-center party. He couldn’t tell if he actually remembered, or was filling in the gaps with his imagination, but he saw himself barely functioning, swaying at his computer. He saw his credit card, license, information, spread out on the desk.
“I’m your wife. You contacted my profile online that night, and you filled out the paperwork. Your spelling was terrible though. I thought you might be – how do you say – illiterate?”
“Fucking hell.” Marty sat next to her on the bench. He put his hands on his face. Vera began massaging his shoulders. He shook her off.
“I’m sorry if this is weird,” she said.
Marty remained silent, he didn’t know what to do.
“Yeah this is weird,” he said.
“I have more being shipped. It should be here by the end of the week.”
“Suitcases. My belongings.”
A golf-cart drove-by slowly. An older couple eyed them. The woman, wearing a white visor, lowered her wrap-around sunglasses, craning her neck to get a look at them. They drove on.
Marty motioned her into his golf-cart. Vera hobbled up, and dragged her suitcases, one after the other, into the back. He cranked the ignition, and she threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek.
“Do you love your pretty little wife?” Marty ignored her and drove off, his face emotionless, hiding the panic that jolted through him.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” he said as they pulled up into the driveway.
Vera stood out of the cart, straightening her skirt. “I’m going to call the agency and have this whole thing righted. This is a mistake. You understand? You hear me? A mistake! I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”
“I love steak!” she said with a smile. “I show you recipe from Ukraine to cook potatoes. Your house is beautiful. I love it. Florida is the best.”
“You’re messing with me aren’t you?”
“Yes. Sorry. I don’t mean to joke. My English is actually pretty good. I took classes in Kiev.”
Marty ushered her in, shooting glances around at the neighboring houses to see the two round elderly faces peaking out through the blinds across the street, before the blinds snapped back into place.
Vera drifted around the place, dropping her shawl onto the couch. She danced along the rug, taking in the framed pictures of Marty in his Cleveland uniform, on the mound.
“What does it mean, perfect game?” called Vera.
From off in the kitchen, Marty ignored her. He punched the countertop, and turned his reddened knuckles back around to inspect them. He punched it again.
“What’s the racket?” said Vera, popping into the kitchen.
“Nothing,” said Marty. He grabbed a hand-towel, and held it over his knuckles. Tiny splotches of red seeped into it. He started toward the the bathroom as the phone had rung again. Marty froze. He already knew who it was.
Vera retrieved the phone from the wall, and handed it to him.
“Send them through,” he said into the receiver. And he and Vera stood, silent, and unsure, waiting for whatever was next.
(To be continued…)
Postcard: Found at Bright’s Antique World in Franklin, KY in October 2011.