Authors: Paul Watkins
Little White Lies
© Copyright 2003 Paul Watkins. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author.
National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data
Watkins, Paul, 1935-
Little white lies / Paul Watkins.
PS3623.A84L58 2003 813’.6 C2 003-902 8 70-4
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LITTLE WHITE LIES
All Rights Reserved
Dedicated to my wife, Gwen.
It’s a good thing I don’t have to drive for a living, ‘cause I’d be broke if that were the case. This particular road has been a long, twisting, bending stretch of pavement I normally would have no patience to attempt, let alone finish. Any trip over fifty miles should get serious consideration for an alternative method of travel. I just don’t have the time or the desire to log many hours behind the wheel these days, having done too much of that in my long ago youth. Big difference back then was attitude. Driving was fun and getting there was always an adventure. I can remember when I would think of any excuse to get behind the wheel, even if it meant a trip to the grocery store. Just to be driving was enough somehow. There was a sense of freedom. I was on my own… just like all the adults I knew who seemed so matter-of-fact and blasé about the whole thing. In those moments life was great and all that really mattered was condensed right into that small space behind the wheel. The future was infinite and I thoroughly enjoyed cars and everything about them. But that was a long time ago and now the times and I have changed.
Just what is there to all this historical review? How much time… how much change has really taken place? Does it even matter?
Anyway, instead of just trying to get there and get it over with, my normal approach to almost any trip, this time I’m trying to enjoy the process. Lots of leisure hours, take in the scenery, look about and get a sense of the land and all it has to offer. Invest two days in a half-day trip. Nice thought. Instead, I find myself slipping in and out of a conscious awareness of my surroundings … then experiencing the uneasy sensation of snapping back into the present. The sudden blink of recognition of things about me, but having no idea how I got to where I am now. A quick review of the road just traveled yields a few visual snapshots here and there. A tall, blue farm silo; a truck with the same last name as mine printed on the side and back; a rest stop with a sign saying ‘no facilities’; but other than random errata, there’s no continuous film of the passage. There’s no mental record of the trip that accounts for more than a few seconds of my life. Where in the hell did all the time go? I suppose this sort of thing happens to everyone at one time or another, but this entire trip, or at least how it all came about, has been somewhat unusual from the very beginning. Who knows… maybe that’s why I’m making such a big deal out of something that should be nothing more than a little jaunt down the road. But it’s not the trip that troubles me. It’s how the trip came to be.
I left the New York State Thruway about five minutes ago. A brief sojourn of straight driving after meandering through the central part of the state on an old road that served as the main thoroughfare a couple of generations ago. Today it’s a lightly traveled path that hits every village right smack in the middle ofdowntown. On occasion the signs direct truck traffic around the village, but usually not. The town fathers used to fight to have all the traffic go through their commercial districts in the misguided belief that cars equaled business. Soon, too much of a good thing brought many of the little villages to their knees. Locals, looking for a place to shop, would shun the small downtown areas because of the heavy traffic and go to the nearest suburban shopping center instead. The high-speed thruway eventually solved the problem for most by circumventing all urban centers, large and small. The twentieth century moved on and the little towns went back to sleep.
As for this trip, my directions are good and everything has checked out right on schedule. I can’t be more than a couple of miles from my destination. I’m about fifty miles north of New York City, just west of the Hudson River. This might be a good spot to pull over for a few minutes and take stock before going on to my appointment.
I hit a button on the console and the window drops with a sound right out of a futuristic movie or TV show. definitely Sci-Fi… fast and efficient… it sort of hums. The open window allows the engine noise to penetrate the cabin. I like listening to the low, throaty growl of the Porsche’s engine as it idles. Sort of like a big ol’ speedboat sitting at the dock. One could easily believe they designed this little number around the exhaust system. I don’t think there are too many cars that sound quite like the 928. It’s one hell of a lot of fun to drive… even for someone who doesn’t particularly like driving.
I decided to take primary roads instead of the Thruway for the majority of the trip because I wanted to see more civilization. I enjoyed the hills and curves, the tree-lined road suddenly opening to a small town. The towns themselves have a special kind of beauty. It’s amazing how many little villages supported the farm economy a few generations earlier. And how grand some of the homes must have been in their heyday, many preserved as if in some sort of time capsule, unaffected by the twentieth century rushing to its conclusion.
Starting out at daybreak, the roads were wet black with a lazy mist that soon burned away with the early spring sun. Winter has gone, perhaps not for good, but certainly for the time being and the earth will soon awake from its winter slumber and the magic of new growth will begin once again as if for the first time. April, and even May sometimes, is witness to a seasonal struggle in this part of the country. Winter doesn’t seem to want to give up and Spring can’t quite get a firm foothold. The temperature seesaws back and forth with no clear-cut victor and before you know it the battle is over and it’s summer. It’s a bit worse up in my neck of the woods near Lake Ontario, but it seems to be the case throughout New York. Schizophrenic weather patterns driving weather forecasters and residents to distraction while they attempt to anticipate what’s in store for them that day… forget about tomorrow or the rest of the week.
Life for me right now is a bit on the loony side. I’ve been like a ship without a rudder for the last eighteen months or so… ever since my wife, Laura, died. Her death was totally unexpected. Less than a year earlier I had received an offer for my business… the kind you can’t refuse, or, at least aren’t supposed to… and I didn’t. Seemingly overnight I found myself retired at the ripe old age of forty-one, with more money than I would ever need.
Before I could get into any mischief Laura talked me into an extended sightseeing trip. What the hell, I had been doing nothing but traveling for the last fifteen years, so a little more wouldn’t hurt. However, I had never stopped to smell the roses, as the saying goes, and Laura decided it was time I did. Before I got old and just smelled as she put it. But regardless of how exotic or nice the places were to visit, we always hurried home to familiar and more comfortable surroundings. I guess we weren’t that dedicated as travelers when you came right down to it. But Laura was restless. I don’t think we were ever home for more than a week before she would haul out the maps and once again begin plotting still another campaign.
We were in Egypt when it happened…Cairo, to be exact. Ancient civilizations have always been of interest to me, so talking me into that trip was relatively easy. Laura enjoyed going to art galleries and museums, while I would rather look at ancient ruins and try to imagine what thoughts and deeds took place there so many centuries ago. I think there’s a special kind of excitement that goes with walking the same ground as the great kings and queens of Egypt. There’s so much history, and so much we don’t know.
We had spent the day touring the pyramids. As far as I was concerned, the whole of Africa was hot and dusty, and so were we… the ubiquitous sand layered by the artistic winds to a thin film on every surface, coloring our world a perfect taupe.
We decided to return to the hotel to clean up and have a drink before finding a place for dinner. Laura was the first into the bathroom to shower. I had just opened a beer when I heard the sound of glass shattering on the tile floor of the bathroom. I called out to her, but there was no answer. Not quite certain what was happening, or if she had heard me, I walked to the door, knocked and called her name again. Laura was already dead. The doctors said she might have felt a momentary pain in her head, but most likely she was gone before she hit the floor. An aneurysm, they said, massive and final. or perhaps a coronary. To be certain an autopsy would be necessary, but it wouldn’t change anything. it wouldn’t bring Laura back to me, so I decided against it. Laura was gone.
I can accept the fact of Laura’s death, but I still can’t get used to it. We had been together a long time and had shared a lot. We met in college and just sort of teamed up. Accidental meetings in the coffee shop, the library and various parties made us friends before we were acquaintances. After a while I imagine I expected her to be there. We talked on the phone a few times and eventually progressed to actual dates, although it never seemed to be formal in any sense.
We had known one another less than a year when we finished school and had to step out into the real world. My real world became the army and eventually service in Viet Nam. Her real world became a fling in the fashion circles of New York City. But we stayed in touch and although nothing was ever actually spelled out, I think we both assumed we would marry one day and go on from there together.
After Laura’s death I returned home and tried to resume a normal life. Only one problem: there was nothing to do… and no one to do it with. We had assumed our future would be together. I don’t think we had ever considered the possibility that one of us would die so quickly. We had lived for each other.
As I attempted to pick up the strands of normalcy, well-meaning friends stepped in and decided I should get out more. Dinners and parties were arranged and there was always the single woman for me to meet and somehow connect with. I often wondered at the time if those poor ladies were as tired of that sort of thing as I was. A little frustrated and weary with the routine, I finally decided to put a stop to it by simply informing my potential host that I had no interest in any additional matchmaking events. Apparently I wasn’t desirable as a lone dinner guest without romantic potential. The invitations gradually dried up and I found myself with more and more time on my hands. Eventually I had too much time.