Never Too Late for Love
Free Content Preview
See complete details about Never Too Late for Love including immediate purchase options.
Revel in these stories of joy, love, sex, and energy that give a deeper meaning to the aging process, especially in what the young might call “the twilight years.”
YOU’D BE SURPRISED HOW WE’RE RELATED
“Cousin Irma,” Sarah whispered, as she looked again at the signature below the message on the New Year’s card, tapping her finger on the edge of her coffee cup. “Who is Cousin Irma?”
She studied the card, the postmark, “New York City” in the center of the canceled imprint and the name “Mrs. Nathaniel Z. Shankowitz” with her Sunset Village address. She searched through the imaginary archives of the family tree, both on her and her ex-husband’s side, finally shaking her head in defeat.
“Do I have a Cousin Irma?” she asked herself. It was a mystery.
When her son called from Connecticut on the Jewish New Year, she quickly disposed of the amenities and asked him the question that was on the surface of her mind.
“Do I have a Cousin Irma?”
“That’s what I said. Your Uncle Eddie has Rebecca and Arthur and my father and mother, your grandmother, had no other relatives in this country. . .” She paused, shook her head and shrugged. She emitted a sigh of surrender.
“Maybe it’s the wrong address?”
“No.” She paused again. “Did your father ever have a Cousin Irma?” Even twenty-five years of divorce did not temper the unmistakable acid tone. After the divorce, Nat had always been “your father,” the tone heavy with sarcasm as if he were some terrible obscenity, which he was, of course, in her mind.
“Not that I remember,” the son said. He was used to such inferences and let it pass tactfully, a posture that always annoyed her, triggering old insecurities and suspicions.
“What would you know about him anyway?” she said, feeling her own crankiness emerge. Since the divorce, he had only seen him a few times and that was soon after he had left the house. She sensed his annoyance and knew that she had, as always, gone too far.
“Well, it’s not important” she said finally. “Look, I’m grateful you called, darling. Happy New Year and send my regards.” The implication was clear. His wife wanted no part of her, an old divorcée with an only son. Who could blame her? She understood and was happy to get his periodic calls.
Now that she got her son’s call, she would be able to report that fact to the yentas around the pool and the pity would pass on to some other poor woman whose ungrateful children hadn’t called on New Year’s.
“Your Barry didn’t call?”
“He called last week.”
“He didn’t call on New Year’s?”
“They had company. Her people came all the way from Chicago.”
“That’s an excuse?”
It was a form of torture she really did not like to hear. It was bad enough that she had been a divorcée. Even at sixty-eight, such status had its special distinctions in the pecking order of the Sunset Village yentas. A married woman was the highest order of female, with her credentials descending in the order of the condition of her husband’s health. A woman with a vigorous healthy husband was on the highest rung of yenta envy. At next to the last rung of the ladder, lower than the women with the most sickly and debilitated husbands, lower than the varying gradations of widowhood, was the divorcée, further graded by the chronology of the divorce. A woman divorced beyond twenty-five years, like Sarah Shankowitz, was just short of yenta purgatory. Purgatory, the lowest rung, was the old maid, although woman’s lib had provided some measure of late respectability to the condition.
If Sarah Shankowitz knew what was in store for her, she might never have precipitated the action that sealed her fate. She knew she had made a mistake in prompting the divorce from Nat, but she never confided that to anybody.
“You have your pride,” her best friend Mildred had advised. She lived in the apartment across the hall and every day, when the husbands and the children had gone off to work and school, they spent the morning over coffee, sharing the intimacies of their lives. Neither of them were what might be called “liberated” women. They lived their lives as their mothers did, housewives who manned the homefront while others in the family went out into the world.
“Maybe he’s getting senile early. He doesn’t seem interested anymore,” Sarah confided to Mildred one day. They had begun to share little secrets and, on the days when self-pity emerged in Sarah’s heart, Mildred would rise to the occasion with energy and investigative zeal. Encased in fat, her big unburdened breasts resting over a bloated belly, she had an air of superior wisdom and self-satisfaction. Perhaps it was the flesh itself that gave her the illusion of solidity, but the less assertive Sarah envied her confidence and what she supposed then, her worldliness. Mildred tapped two fat fingers into a dimpled palm.
“Show me bed trouble and I’ll show you marriage trouble.”
“I’m not exactly Marilyn Monroe.”
“How long has it been?”
“Maybe a month.” Actually, she remembered, she had lied by half. “But he works so hard,” Sarah had added quickly. “He comes home and sleeps in the chair.” Nat was a cutter in the garment district. “It’s not easy.”
“That’s no excuse.”
“Maybe he should see a doctor. He might have just lost his pep.”
“They don’t lose their pep so easily,” Mildred said cryptically.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t really care that much about it.”
“What has that got to do with the price of fish in Canarsie?”
“But you noticed?”
“Certainly I noticed.” Despite her confidences, she still maintained a delicacy when it came to sex. Perhaps, Sarah thought, she had confided too much, but now that the floodgates were open, Mildred persisted.
“I make sure my Sam is always interested.”
“How do you do that?”
Mildred smiled, her jowls tightening. Sarah found it difficult to think of her in that context, especially since Mildred was such a big woman and Sam so slight.
“I don’t give away trade secrets.”
But the matter became a constant inquiry and Sarah could not bring herself to lie about it.
“No.” She would twist and untwist her fingers. Seeking something to do, she would pour more coffee, which only made her more nervous than she was.
“You know it could be another woman?” Mildred said one day, lowering her voice as if the walls could eavesdrop. It was, of course, a seed planted. That had been the farthest thought from Sarah’s mind. Other women were not in the range of her experience. She had been married at eighteen, twenty years ago. Life was making a living, making ends meet, taking care of her son, cleaning the house, going shopping every day for food, talking to Mildred. And on Sundays, they would go to his mother’s, Friday nights to her parents’. Occasionally, they would go out to eat Chinese food or to the movies. Other women? That was only on the soap operas.
But despite her skepticism, the idea was loose in her mind, rattling around like clicking marbles, causing her to look at Nat in some new way. She watched him snoring in his chair and could not conceive of such a thing.
He wasn’t exactly Cary Grant himself, with his bald pate, pale skin and hawklike nose, although she once had thought him very attractive.
Besides, he was rarely out of her sight. Except for the twice-a-month meetings of his Veterans’ group, he was always home at the regular time, tired, a bit-forlorn, but home. Of course, there was the once-a-month union meetings but those, too, were part of the regular routine. Mildred was crazy she decided. My Nat, a philanderer? It was an absurdity. Yet the idea persisted.
Finally, one night in bed, she became mildly aggressive, moving toward his sleeping body and attempting a furtive caress. It was, of course, contrary to all the tenets of her upbringing. A woman waits. A woman submits. Nat merely gulped, shrugged her away and continued his snoring.
“He rejected me,” she told Mildred the next day, having been up the rest of the night, turning a bleak future over in her mind.
“I think you got trouble, Sarah,” Mildred responded, the hint of dire foreboding in her tone. She crossed her fat arms over her ample bosoms, clucked her tongue, and shook her head from side to side. Nothing more needed to be said. Sarah was an object of pity.
“So what should I do?” She felt the tears well in her eyes, and Mildred’s bulk swam in the mist.
“Talk. You got a tongue,” Mildred scolded, her disgust at Sarah’s passivity and helplessness unmistakable.
“And suppose it’s true?”
“You’ll cross that bridge when you come to it.”
That night after she had finished the dishes and her son sat down at the table to do his homework, she went into the living room and shook Nat awake. Startled, he opened his eyes and looked at her, first with annoyance.
She must have seemed compelling, because his attitude quickly changed to alertness.
“I want to talk to you, Nat,” she said, standing over him, rubbing her moist hands along the sides of her flowered housedress, stained with the recent soap suds.
“What’s going on?” She felt her courage leaving her as she assessed what she thought was guilt in his response. Maybe she should leave it alone, she thought, but the image of Mildred and her remembered sternness persisted. He didn’t answer and turned his eyes to the ceiling in an attitude of exasperation.
“I’m pooped. I worked hard all day. Goldstein was a son-of-a-bitch. The patterns were two inches off. I don’t need this aggravation.” It seemed an overreaction at first. After all, no accusations had, as yet, been made.
“Something’s going on,” Sarah probed, wishing Mildred could see her, feeling her strength gather.
“There’s nothing going on.” He had answered too swiftly, she thought. Then he paused, looked quizzical. “What should be going on?”
“You know.” She imagined her gaze was intimidating, the rebuke forbidding but clear.
“What do I know?”
“You think I’m stupid, huh Nat? Dumb stupid Sarah. That’s what you think.” Her hands were on her hips.”Well, I got eyes.” She pointed to her eyes. “I got ears.” She pointed to her ears. “I got instincts.” She pointed to her head. Then she drove her finger into his chest.
“You think you’re fooling me?”
The finger pressed hard into his chest and he winced. “Whaddymean fooling?” He was being defensive now, and she suspected now that he was hiding something. “A woman knows,” she said. It was Mildred’s line, almost Mildred’s voice.
He pushed her finger away and stood up, pacing the floor, moving his fingers through his hair. She recognized the gesture. My God, I think Mildred was right, she thought, her heart sinking. It had gone too far. She watched him pacing the floor.
“All right,” he said finally. “So it’s true.”
She could not reconcile his admission to her expectations. She was prepared for a denial. It wasn’t possible. She felt her knees grow weak and the blood drain from her head. It was one thing merely to suspect. But to know was hell. He looked at her and opened empty palms, a picture of abject surrender. “I hadn’t meant it to happen.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“You don’t think I’m ashamed?”
“It’s too late.”
“How can I live with it?”
“What can I say?”
Her strength was returning, but on waves of self-pity, white caps of anger. “I’ve been a good, a faithful wife. A good mother. I worked hard. I kept a clean house. I cooked. I saved.” Her voice rose. Nat put a finger over his lips, his eyes looking toward the kitchen. “You disgraced me. You disgraced your son,” she hissed.
Their son, hearing the raised voices, had come into the living room. Nat turned to him and pointed, in the direction of the kitchen.
“Go do your homework. We’re having a discussion.”
“You’re making too much noise.”
“Go ahead. Tell it in front of him. Sure. Talk in front of him. Why not? Let him know what kind of a man his father is.”
“Go back to your homework,” Nat pressed their son.
“No. Stay here,” Sarah shouted. “Listen to your wonderful father. Let him tell it in front of you about his escapades.”
“Would you please go back to your homework?”
“Don’t. Stay!” Sarah screamed.
It seemed to go on interminably with the son looking bemused, rotating his gaze from mother to father, like a wind-up toy, fixed in one spot, with only the head being able to pivot.
“If you don’t go, I’ll go,” Nat finally said. The boy stood rooted. Finally, Nat stalked off to the closet, got his hat and coat, and stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him, shaking some bric a brac off the shelves.
“See,” she said. “That’s the kind of man your father is.” Then she burst into tears and the confused boy went back to the kitchen.
She stayed up all night, listening for his footsteps in the hall. But they never came. Once, she put on her coat over her nightgown, went downstairs and stood in the vestibule watching for him. The streets were empty and soon the cold seeped into her bones and she went upstairs again.
“You have your pride,” Mildred said the next morning. Sarah’s hands shook as she lifted the coffee cup to her mouth. “Believe me, I know my onions when it comes to men.” Her round fat face seemed to glow with satisfaction.
“Now what?” Sarah asked. She was totally disoriented. It was the first time since her marriage that her morning had any break in its normal routine. Her ears were still turned to the hallway. She dared not think where he had spent the night.
“He’ll come crawling.”
“Then you let him crawl. But not right away. He’s got to suffer first.”
“Suppose he doesn’t.”
“He will.” She said the words with finality as she thickly buttered another piece of toast and stuffed it daintily into her puffed face.
After two days and no word, no crawling, Sarah called Nat at the shop.
“Well,” she said, anger rising as she heard his voice.
“What do you mean, ‘Well, what?’”
“You don’t know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t know what you mean.”
“What’s going to happen? That’s what I mean.”
The phone was silent. She felt him searching for words. But her anger would not contain itself. Why wasn’t he crawling?
“You can go to hell,” she said, slamming down the phone, running across the hall to Mildred. She was in the bathtub, a blob of gelatin stuffed into a white mold.
“I told him to go to hell,” she cried.
She stood there in the steaming bathroom, watching Mildred soap her huge belly, which looked like another whole person in the tub with her.
“Well, what happens now?” she asked, sitting on the toilet seat, clenching and unclenching her fingers.
“How should I know?” Mildred looked up at the ceiling, obviously annoyed at the violation of her privacy. Sarah started to say something, but no words came out.
“I think he’s gone for good,” she said after a long pause, the sense of defeat overwhelming.
“Good riddance,” Mildred said, flapping water over her flesh to remove the soap from her belly.
A week later, he came to the apartment and removed his clothes. He must have been watching the front of the apartment house waiting for her to leave on her daily shopping chore. He also left a brief note: “I’ll send you money every week.”
That was that. Later, there were lawyers. She got custody of the son, although he was already nearly eighteen. Nat sent her money until the boy was twenty-one. She went to work for a furniture store in downtown Brooklyn as a bookkeeper and no longer found time to schmooze with Mildred, who got fatter and fatter.
When the neighborhood began to change, Mildred and Sam moved away. But by then, she had made new friends, mostly widows, divorcées like herself, and old maids. Women alone. Occasionally, she went out with other men, but she could no longer trust them and her suspicions as to their motives made it impossible to develop any lasting relationship.
“You can’t just keep pushing them away,” her son remonstrated.
“I should trust them? After what your father did to me?”
“You should try, at least, to be pleasant.”
“I am pleasant.”
“Is it better to be lonely?”
“I’m not lonely.”
If she was lonely, she would never admit it to herself. Nor did she allow herself to have regrets, although she maintained a continuing high level of animosity toward Nathaniel Shankowitz, which did not soften with the passage of years.
He had remarried, her son told her, within a year after the divorce—to whom, she supposed, was the other woman. There were twinges of jealousy and anger at the time, but because it followed the pattern of Nat’s infamy in her mind, it only added fuel to the flames of her animosity.
She never saw him again, nor did her son ever broach the subject, although he saw his father very briefly on rare occasions. When he did mention him again, the son was, by then, a paunchy graying man with his own family responsibilities, reasonably prosperous, with a liquor store in Flushing.
“Pa died last week,” he said, shrugging, as he whittled at the fat on a slab of pot roast in his mother’s apartment during his weekly Friday night visit. His wife rarely came. Sarah did not even stop chewing, although she felt the beginnings of heartburn prompted by the sudden revelation.
“You were at the funeral?”
She tried to put the idea out of her mind, but she could not fully contain her own feeling of elation at his dying first. It wasn’t really nice to think such thoughts, she told herself, remembering, for the first time in years, their early years together. She wondered if she should have gone to the funeral.
By the time she became eligible for social security, the neighborhood had changed drastically. The apartment house was completely black and, although she found her neighbors hard-working and reasonably quiet, she felt decidedly alien in their midst. Her friends, many of whom had already moved out of the neighborhood to Flatbush or Queens, had already begun to leave for Florida and it wasn’t long before her son bought her a small condominium in Sunset Village.
“You like it there, Ma?” her son would ask whenever he called, which was increasingly rare.
“Better than Brooklyn.”
“You got a lotta friends?”
“Too many. They’re all a bunch of yentas.” It never occurred to her that she was a yenta as well.
Not long after she received the New Year’s card from Cousin Irma, she got a person-to-person call from Huntington, Long Island.
“I have a person-to-person call for Mrs. Nathaniel Shankowitz from Huntington, Long Island,” the impersonal voice of the operator announced.
“I’m Mrs. Nathaniel Shankowitz,” she said, a note of tempered hysteria in her voice, as she did not know anyone in Huntington, Long Island.
“Go ahead, please,” the operator said.
“Yetta?” It was a woman’s voice.
“This is Molly.”
“Your sister Molly, Yetta. You don’t know your sister, Molly? Are you all right?”
Sarah grimaced at the phone, then began to click the button on the receiver.
“What’s that noise?” the voice asked.
“I’m not Yetta.”
“But the operator said you were Mrs. Nathaniel Shankowitz.”
“And you’re not Yetta?”
The confusion was obvious. The woman mumbled something about a wrong number and the telephone connection was broken abruptly. Stupid operators, she thought. It was an accepted axiom that all of the operators in Poinsettia Beach were dumb.
The day after the phone call, she got a letter from the credit department of Macy’s in Brooklyn. It was one of those computerized letters, addressed to Mrs. Nathaniel Shankowitz, which carried the dire threat of credit cancellation unless the sum of $3.48 was paid immediately.
Coming so close on the heels of the telephone call from Molly something-or-other, the situation took on the air of a genuine, and most annoying, mystery. She hadn’t been into Macy’s in years. Besides, she lived in Florida for nearly five years by then.
“The computers are going crazy,” one of her friends told her. “They got you mixed up.”
But when she got a post card signed “Irving” from Barcelona, she decided to take some action. In Sunset Village, taking action meant going to the big main office near the clubhouse. She had never “taken action” before and had prepared herself for intimidation by the blue-haired lady with the big round glasses on a chain who presided over the office.
One knew immediately upon seeing her, with her imperious air and frown lines around the eyes, that she would be menacing behind her fixed false-tooth smile, the quintessential image of the jew-baiting shiksa. She was, rumor had it, the builder’s secret weapon, keeping all the complainers at bay.
“Somebody’s got me mixed up,” Sarah told the woman, mustering her courage. The blue-haired woman looked at her through the big round frames, her ice eyes expressionless, although the smile never wavered. She said nothing, demanding, Sarah knew, further explanation by her silence.
“I keep getting strange letters and phone calls for Mrs. Nathaniel Shankowitz.”
“Obviously some address problem,” the woman sneered. “Have you called the telephone company or the post office?”
“Well, don’t you think you should?” the woman asked, as if she were addressing a child.
“The problem is,” Sarah said, ignoring the admonishment, “I am Mrs. Nathaniel Shankowitz.” She detected a sudden brief movement of surprise in the blue-haired woman’s eyes.
“Mrs. Nathaniel Shankowitz.”
Surprise became puzzlement as her lip curled in contempt. It was well-known that the woman felt she was in an institution where the occupants were suffering from galloping senility.
“You’re not Mrs. Nathaniel Shankowitz,” the woman said haughtily.
Sarah felt her anger rise and her knees grow weak. She gripped the counter.
“You’re telling me what I am?” Sarah asked.
“Not what. Who.”
Sarah fumbled in her bag and brought out her wallet with the Sunset Village identification and, leaning over the counter, placed it in front of the woman’s eyes.
“In black and white.”
The woman hesitated, her lips wavering slightly over her tight smile, tiny evidence of her defeat. Still silent, with a lingering look at Mrs. Shankowitz she went to the resident card file and flicked through them, slowly, with disdain, as if such duties were meant for lesser souls. Then she returned with two cards in her hand.
“There are two of you,” she said, as if describing two different kinds of obscene germs. “One of you has just been here complaining about a missing social security check.”
But the idea of two had registered and Sarah stared at the card with the strange address under her name with disbelief. “Mrs. Nathaniel Z. Shankowitz and, in parenthesis, (Yetta).” Could it be? Could it really be?
She felt herself grow hot, her embarrassment intense. There should have been some ritual of victory now, some contemptuous gesture to the blue-haired woman who had been bested, but her strength was gone and she moved, speechless, out of the office.
Walking home, she contemplated the impending humiliation. The two Mrs. Shankowitzes. Number one and number two. They would snicker behind her back. “There goes number one.” She would be an object of ridicule, talked about, ridiculed, a yenta’s delight. “Shush, girls, number one is coming.”
People would laugh about it at the table. Briefly, she entertained the idea that her first assumption was wrong. But logic and old memories intruded. They had been the only Nathaniel Z. Shankowitz in the Brooklyn directory. It was too much of a coincidence. Besides, she knew that Nat had been living in Queens and, once, just once, she had looked up his name in the Queens directory.
There, too, it was the only Nathaniel Z. Shankowitz. She cursed her pride now, the insistence that she be listed by her married name with the man’s name intact. It seemed such a harmless little idea, but she felt some protection from it and in Sunset Village, especially Sunset Village. It had buttressed her pride. Her and her stupid pride. Where had it gotten her?
By the time she had returned to her apartment, she was in tears. The mail had come and she picked it up from the floor beneath the slot. She was too harassed to look over the envelopes and, instead, put them aside and sat on the couch, where she stared into space for the better part of the morning, contemplating her disastrous fate.
She had no alternative but to move now, she knew. To pick up and find some other place to live. But as the day wore on, self-pity turned to anger, humiliation to indignation. How dare she? She will not do it a second time. Without proof, she had firmly decided that the second Mrs. Shankowitz was “the other woman.” Who else? It was she who should move, Sarah decided, as her hatred took shape again and crowded out all self-pity.
It was with that sense of new-found strength that she finally got to the mail, sometime in the late afternoon, after she had done her household chores and checked in with her various friends. Actually, she had called them in rotation more to feel out their knowledge than for any other specific reason. Assured that the cat was still in the bag, she busied herself with the affairs of her household, which included looking at the mail.
It was check day, the third day of the month. In Sunset Village, that was more like a religious holiday with the mailman being followed around as if he were the Pied Piper. Her interest in it had been momentarily deflected but, remembering, had prompted her to seek out the spot where she had put the mail. The check was there, its bluish official-looking funny typescript peering at her from the little plastic window. But the envelope below it was exactly the same. Same name. But the address was quite different. The mailman had simply made a mistake.
She held up the second envelope to the light. Was the amount the same as hers? Or more? Surely more. That scheming woman surely had found a way to squeeze more out of the government. Sitting down, she put the envelope on the cocktail table in front of the couch and looked at it. What if she opened it? It had the same name. She knew there was a penalty for opening the wrong check. Hadn’t she warned others about it from time to time. She was not a fool, she thought, rejecting the idea.
But as she sat there watching the envelope, other thoughts began to fill her mind. Suppose she simply let it sit there. Just that. Put it under the candy dish and leave it there. Who would be the wiser? She reveled in this sudden sense of power over the second Mrs. Shankowitz. For a change, she, Sarah, would not be the victim. The woman deserved it. Look what she had done to break up her marriage.
A missing social security check was one of the major disasters, next to sickness and death, that could affect their world. It was, of course, replaceable. But that took time, and the aggravation it caused was more than simple inconvenience. For those who lived from day to day, it was the fuel of life. Without it came the humiliation of borrowing from friends, or, if pride meant more than hunger, foraging for scraps among the household leftovers.
She slipped the check under the candy dish. Wasn’t she entitled to inflict such punishment? she asked herself, knowing that the missing check was already causing the woman anxieties. But look what she had done to Sarah. Considering the crime, it was hardly the punishment for twenty-five years of loneliness and humiliation. She could be honest with herself now. It was lonely. It was humiliating.
She made herself dinner and went out for her usual Mah-Jongg game with her friends in the clubhouse cardroom. But she could not concentrate. Her mind dwelled on the envelope hidden under the candy dish.
“Whatsamatter Sarah?” Eve Shapiro asked. When it came to Mah-Jongg, Eve was all business.
“I got a headache.”
“You got worse than that, Sarah,” Eve Shapiro pressed as she exposed her winning combination.
“You let her win, dummy,” Ida Fine said, shaking her henna red curls.
“I’m not myself,” Sarah protested.
“Yourself is such a big deal?”
During the night, she could not sleep, declining to take a sleeping pill. Did the other Mrs. Shankowitz really deserve such punishment? But the envelope beneath the candy dish loomed bigger and bigger in her mind as the night wore on. She got up, made herself some tea, and sat sipping it while she watched the candy dish and prayed for the swift end to night. In the sunlight, she might find her courage again, she decided, knowing that remorse was beginning to afflict her now.
In a way, she was fortunate. She had worked for more than twenty years. There were a few dollars put aside in the bank and, of course, there was always her son, although she dreaded to ask him for anything beyond the fifty dollars a month he usually sent her. But she had heard enough horror stories over delayed or missing social security checks to blunt the edge of her malevolence as the night wore on. Think of what that woman did to you, she repeated to herself over and over again, charging her resolve. But by morning, she was contrite. It was a monstrous thing to do, even to your worst enemy, she concluded. And that was precisely the case.
That morning, she dressed with care, although she had no intentions, she assured herself, of doing anything more than putting the check in the mailslot of the other Mrs. Shankowitz’s apartment. That, and nothing more. Then why was she dressing with such care, running the comb repetitively through her hair, putting on faint patches of rouge, even powder. The mirror taunted her as it did every time she saw her ravaged image in it. A sixty-eight-year-old wreck of a woman. Where had her life gone? Secretly, she hoped that the other Mrs. Shankowitz was ravaged beyond her years.
The address on the check made it necessary for her to take the open air shuttle bus, and she waited patiently at the stop, checking to be sure that the check had been secured in her purse. She got on the shuttle bus and nodded politely to the familiar faces, wondering how they might react when they finally knew. She could imagine how they would suddenly drop their voices, watch her as they whispered the story among themselves. No. She could not bear that. She got off in the approximate vicinity of the address on the check and, with beating heart and a sense of dragging in her limbs, she walked down the path, following the sequence of the numbers.
When she arrived at the correct address, she stood in front of the door, rummaging in her purse, while, peripherally, she looked beyond the transparent curtains into the apartment’s interior. She saw the bluish glow of a television set and the brief movement of a shadowy figure. Instinctively, she knew she was being watched, which triggered a conscious desire to leave quickly, although she felt herself rooted to the spot. The door opened before she could slip the letter into the slot, and the check fell to the ground.
“Yes?” a woman’s voice said. She was a slight woman, very thin, in a seersucker house dress. She wore brown horn-rimmed glasses with very thick lenses, which made her eyes seem oddly magnified and distorted. Sarah watched her, embarrassed, unable to find any sensible words, transfixed, it seemed, by the magnified lenses. In the shock of confrontation, she had momentarily forgotten the fallen check.
“Mrs. Shankowitz?” Sarah finally managed to blurt out. In her mind, it seemed a contemptuous ejaculation.
“I’m Mrs. Shankowitz,” the woman said. Although her hair was dyed brunette, her face had a gray caste, testifying to the futility of the dye job. It was Sarah’s first logical observation, bringing the woman into perspective on a human scale.
“So am I,” Sarah said, nodding. She had felt a sense of diminished dignity at first, as if she had been caught peeking, being a yenta. But she was recovering fast now, remembering the check, which she bent to retrieve.
“I got your social security check,” she said, lifting it and handing it to the woman, whose face brightened, the lips trembling into a warm smile, although the teeth were devastated.
“Thank God,” the woman said. “I was going crazy.”
“We had a mix-up.”
“Please. Please come in,” the woman said, opening the door and stepping beside it in a gesture of hospitality. “I was going out of my mind.” Sarah hesitated. “Please. We’ll have a nice cup of coffee.”
Where had her animosity fled? Sarah wondered, although she could not shake her embarrassment. Was she about to be humiliated? Was this the wrong thing to do? I shouldn’t really, she prepared herself to say, but the words stuck in her throat as her legs carried her into the apartment. Like hers, it was the efficiency type, the smallest unit, still incomplete in furnishing.
“I’m here only two weeks. Forgive the mess.” Candace Bergen was on the television tube talking about telephones. The woman flicked off the set and went into the kitchen. Sarah heard the sound of coffee cups rattling.
“They tell me the first check is always a problem. The woman at the desk says the mailman first has to get to know you. That I can’t understand. . .”
Sarah listened, half-understanding, surveying the little apartment with an avid curiosity, knowing that something in the room was engaging her, tugging at her.
“. . .Frankly, she wasn’t very helpful. You can’t imagine how grateful I am.” There was a brief pause. “You say your name is Shankowitz. . .”
She had seen it briefly as she came into the apartment, but apparently something inside her would not let it register. Nat’s picture staring at her from a corner wall, the hawk eyes watching her, although the face was fuller, older. Her heart thumped, and she sat heavily on the couch. The woman came in with the steaming coffee cups on a little tray. Sarah continued to feel the hawk-like eyes watching her, looking inside of her.
“Shankowitz. I didn’t think it was such a common name.”
Sarah remained silent, reached for the coffee cup, but her hands shook and she quickly put it down again. She could tell by the woman’s sudden interest that she wanted to inquire about her health, but she was holding back. At Sunset Village, one did not make quick inquiries about what seemed like obvious afflictions.
“I’ve been a widow for three years, so a number of my friends live here now and I finally decided to come.” Sarah felt her eyes watching her.
“You got a husband Mrs. Shankowitz?”
“I had one,” Sarah mumbled. “He. . . He died.”
The woman shook her head.
“When was that?”
“A long, long time ago,” Sarah said, finding little courage, abruptly changing the subject, postponing it in her mind.
“How long does it take to adjust?”
“You know what I mean. To the point where it doesn’t hurt as much.”
Sarah’s instinct was to say “never,” or was it simply the automatic expectation, the desire to hurt. Hurt who?
“Your name is Yetta?”
The woman smiled.
“How did you know that?”
“You got a Cousin Irma?”
“My God! Yes. Cousin Irma from Philadelphia.”
“And a sister Molly.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“And an Irving in Barcelona.”
“My brother. He’s traveling in Spain. Maybe we’re related?”
“Maybe.” Sarah shrugged. “Actually, I’m getting your mail, your telephone calls. I expect in a little while that you’ll get mine.”
“The Shankowitz girls. I could see where that could be a problem.”
Yetta seemed thoughtful. She pointed a finger at Sarah. “You know, I’ll bet maybe we are related. Maybe our husbands were cousins. What was your husband’s name?”
Sarah continued to squirm now. She rubbed her finger joints as the pain shot through her hands.
“You’d be surprised how we’re related,” Sarah said. It was not easy, she thought. Thankfully, she could see the beginnings of confusion on Yetta’s face, the first flush of realization.
“You’re her?” Yetta whispered. Sarah nodded.
“Oh my God.” Yetta’s hands went, birdlike, to her hair, fussing with it. “I can’t believe it. I had no idea.” Sarah felt the edge of indignation and stood up.
“If you think this was easy. . .” Sarah began, but her voice trailed off. Yetta was visibly agitated. Her face had become grayer, suddenly more drawn.
“You said he was dead a long time.”
“I lied. But not completely. To me, he was dead.”
“I can’t believe it. We both land here in this place.”
“What was I supposed to do? Tear up the check?”
Yetta was having a difficult time recovering. She nodded and continued to fuss with her hair. It was obvious that she wanted Sarah to leave.
“It’s all right,” Sarah said quietly, letting herself out of the door and walking quickly toward the bus stop. She regretted the confrontation. I could have given the check back to the mailman. I could have merely called her on the telephone. You’re a dumb yenta, she told herself. Besides, what was so special about her, she thought. A raving beauty, she wasn’t. And those glasses, a regular cockeyed Jennie. And a skinny merink on top of it. By the time she reached her own place, Sarah had convinced herself that she had been the better of the two bargains. But who needed her in Sunset Village?
Late that afternoon, the telephone rang.
“This is Sarah?” the voice asked. It was Yetta.
“I want to apologize. It was rude. You did a wonderful thing. But it was such a shock. I was stupid.”
“I figured you needed the check,” Sarah said, feeling an odd sense of superiority. Yetta paused.
“Look, he was a nice man. But he wasn’t such a good provider. There was no insurance. No nothing. Perfect he wasn’t.”
“You’re telling me.” There were questions to be raised, Sarah thought. Old curiosities resurrected. Apparently such thoughts were in Yetta’s mind.
“We’ll see each other again?”
“It’s a small world here,” Sarah said.
“And how is your son?”
“He’s fine. He called me New Year’s.”
“He’s a nice boy. I haven’t seen him since Nat died.”
“A very nice boy. He calls me often.” She paused. “He’s very busy.”
“Give him regards.”
That night, the old life with Nat came to her again with full recall. But her image of him was suddenly different. She could not summon the same degree of enmity; the old hate had cooled. What was the real story? In the morning, she called Yetta.
“I’m going shopping this morning. Would you like to come?”
“I could use some things,” Yetta said. They met on the bus and got off at the stop near the Safeway, walking together through the aisles sharing a shopping cart.
“Nat liked All-Bran,” Yetta said, reaching for a box of Rice Crispies.
“I remember. He was always constipated.”
“That was always his main problem.”
“That and snoring.”
“He always snored?”
“From the beginning.”
Later, putting the purchases in Yetta’s refrigerator while Yetta made coffee, Sarah said, “You had the problem with the salt?”
“My God, the salt.”
“There was always too much salt. I used to say, ‘I never cook with salt. Not even a pinch.’ But there was always too much salt. In the pot roast. In the hamburger. In the vegetables.”
“He drove me crazy.”
“I couldn’t understand how, if he hated salt, he liked potato chips.”
“And they always gave him heartburn.”
“Always.” They laughed, drank coffee, made tuna-fish sandwiches.
Sarah filled her in on various aspects of Sunset Village life. When she got home, she got a call from Eve Shapiro.
“The game. You forgot the game.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“We were worried. We called. There was no answer. Where were you?”
“I had a problem.” Sarah said, thinking quickly. There was no need to tell her the story. The Yentas would ferret it out soon enough. “Someone who just moved in from New York. They had a problem.”
“Oh?” It was a signal for more information.
“They needed help with the shopping. You know. Details.”
“Enough to forget the game? Who was it?”
“Someone from New York.”
“No. Not a cousin.”
“A what?” Eve Shapiro demanded.
“I didn’t know you had one.”
“Yes. We weren’t very close.”
“You’re husband had a brother?”
“Yes. But he lived in Queens. They weren’t very close.”
Barely satisfied, Eve’s indignance would not abate.
“You should at least have called.”
The next day, Yetta came over to Sarah’s place to lunch.
“You got a nice place here, Sarah.”
“Its not the Ritz. But its OK.”
“You’ve got such nice things.” She touched a grouping of little Wedgewood dishes.
“I went on a B’nai B’rith tour to London once.”
“I never went anywhere. Nat didn’t like to travel. Not that we could afford it.”
“Don’t forget, I worked for twenty years.”
“He didn’t like to go anywhere,” Yetta sighed. “He came home. Went to sleep on the chair in front of the TV. Sometimes he would snore so loud I couldn’t hear it.”
“Then he would go to sleep and snore some more.”
“I never met anyone who could sleep so much.”
Sarah felt the necessity of telling Yetta what she had said to Eve Shapiro.
“I told her we were sisters-in-law.” she said. “But she’s such a yenta, I didn’t want her to find out. They’d make a big joke about it?”
“I was thinking about that.”
“If we don’t tell them, they won’t know.”
“But we’re both Mrs. Nathaniel Z. Shankowitz.”
“No more. From now on I’m Mrs. Sarah. I’m going to write to everybody, the mail, the phone company, the social security.”
“And I’ll be Mrs. Yetta.”
“The Shankowitz girls.”
“That would be something. Nat wouldn’t think it’s so funny.”
“Nat is dead,” Sarah said.
“To me, he’s not so poor.”
They continued to see each other every day. Sarah introduced them to her friends and Yetta to hers.
They went to the clubhouse together, watched the shows, went shopping and sat together at the pool. Minor problems intruded only when the subject of husbands came up.
“Tomorrow is Abe’s birthday,” Eve Shapiro announced one day as they sat around the pool. Impending birthdays of dead husbands were special moments of self-pity. “He would have been eighty-six.”
“An old man already,” Sarah said.
“He was twenty years older than me,” Eve responded.
“Eighteen, actually,” Eve said. “And yours?” The question was directed to Yetta.
“Let’s see.” She held out her fingers, tapping each one in turn.
“Seventy-five,” Sarah said quickly, too quickly.
“You know so much about your brother-in-law?” Eve probed.
“Yes, that’s right” Yetta added, as if to buttress Sarah’s revelation and deflect Eve’s naturally suspicious nature.
“He would actually be only seventy,” Yetta commented later.
“No. He was seven years older than me.”
“You saw his birth certificate?”
“No. But when we married he was twenty-five.”
“He said he was forty when we got married.”
“And how long were your married?”
“Then he would have to be at least seventy-five. We were married twenty years.”
“You think he lied?”
“Do I think he lied? I know he lied.”
Yetta pondered the matter.
“Actually I lied, too, so I took off three, four years.”
“What’s good for the goose,” Sarah said, but she was thinking of other things, the events that had, up to now, demanded a barrier of silence between them. By then, they had known each other six months and Nat had been their common bridge, their meeting place. Always, when the idea popped into Sarah’s mind, she resisted, waiting for the right moment.
“Were you really the other woman, Yetta?” she said finally one day as they walked back from the pool in the declining sunlight, through the well-tended paths. The traffic around them seemed muted, the air soft. A warm breeze rustled the low plantings.
“Me? The other woman? I was a waitress in the coffee shop downstairs from where he worked. We used to talk a lot. He was a man. I was an old maid.”
“He never. . .”
“With me? Never.”
“I thought you did.”
“One night, he called me at home. He said you threw him out. So I let him come in. Look, I was an old maid. I was alone. You know, when you’re alone you do strange things. I wasn’t a homewrecker. I was alone”
“He said I threw him out?”
“That’s what he said.”
“Like he was forty instead of forty-five.”
“I was alone,” Yetta mumbled. They walked for a while, then Yetta stopped and turned toward Sarah. “You know Nat. He was always weak, a weak man.”
“Weak. That’s exactly right. Weak,” Sarah agreed. She could barely remember the circumstances of that night. What had she said to him? How had he replied?
“Does it matter now, Sarah? Does it really matter?”
She took Yetta’s hand and they continued on their way. A few months later, they moved in together in a larger condominium and were known to everybody as the Shankowitz girls.
See complete details about Never Too Late for Love including immediate purchase options.