MARILYN MORGAN

One more fish

One morning in late April, Marcie Simorski drove along the highway on her way to meet Jimmy Bartoletti at Tony Sparagna’s Café for a late afternoon lunch. Before she’d left, she’d plugged in her music, and rolled the top down on her convertible, allowing the warm spring sun to spill in. This date with Jimmy—if that’s what you’d call it—had been arranged over the Internet. One more fish in the sea, she thought and smirked as her head bobbed up and down to the beat of “Light My Fire”. Com on baby light my fire, she sang as the Volvo sped along the country road.

Marcie’d been fishing around on Internet dating sites for a few months. At first, she’d been reluctant—what in the world was a 70 year old widow doing on a dating site? But her friends had egged her on with the help of several glasses of wine and much laughter and so she’d launched her profile. Complete with a photo, standing on Myrtle Beach in short shorts and tank top with waves lapping her feet. It hadn’t taken long till she discovered that this was fun, even daring and clearly spiced up her otherwise mundane existence. She felt young again, maybe even forty-five and still believed—or maybe secretly hoped was a better word– love was possible.

After a few email hits, couple cell conversations—she’d been warned-never give out your real tel. number–and after an occasional lunch or dinner date—always in a safe public place– she’d come to imagine a good sized lake or even ocean filled with men of various sizes, shapes and ages, all boasting identical attributes. Honest, loyal, healthy

and fit, great sense of humor, skilled at everything from billiards to cycling, and above all, they knew how to treat a lady and were looking for companionship and love.

“Bullshit,” her friend Carmen’d said. “What they all really want is to get laid.”

Well, maybe but so far, one lunch or dinner was all it’d taken for Marcie to wonder if this big fish pond was filled with delusional men or maybe just plain liars. For there was Jake who’d posted age 62 and when he hobbled in with his cane to meet her for coffee, she was certain there’d been some mistake for he looked old enough to be her father. And then there was Sam who posted his physically fit status, and he literally waddled through the door. There was no way in hell that that man could run up and down a basketball court. Supposedly, he played basketball several times a week as well as multiple other sports.   And then there was Bruce who provided the four-step program for Internet dating.   First, you email a couple times. Second, you have a phone conversation. Third, you meet for coffee, lunch or dinner. And Fourth, you hop into bed. “It’s called ratcheting up,” he’d said. Almost as if you were betting on horses.

Yet here she was on step three once again. Jimmy’d sounded a few notes off the beaten path. He’d posted a photo of himself hiking in Yellowstone. He stood there drenched in sunshine, carrying a large backpack supported by an obviously strong muscular frame. He was smiling broadly and a full head of dark curly hair gave him the appearance of a man much younger than the 62 years he’d posted.   His profile said he was retired from a highly successful business so she’d concluded he was smart and most likely had money.   To top it off, he was a widower, but what she didn’t learn until much later was that he was a widower not once but three times.

Over the past month, she and Jimmy’d carried on long conversations over the phone, sometimes way into the wee hours of the night. Talk about children, grandchildren, books they’d read and even argued politics—although Jimmy was a Republican, he was a good-natured one and didn’t hold the fact that she was a Democrat against her.   As she drove along, she dreamed again those old school girl dreams. Just maybe this time would be different.

She’d never heard of Tony Sparango’s but Jimmy’d said just beyond Southside Mall, she should turn left onto Ellenwood and Sparango’s would be on the right. She pulled into the parking lot, switched off the motor and was greeted with canned music flowing across the parking lot from the front porch of the restaurant—“Toreador” a song from Carmen. She pulled the rear view mirror toward her, checked her hair and make up. All set, she thought and glanced down at the new red sundress she’d purchased just last week.   She chuckled when she remembered the clerk who’d babbled on about how the color and fit were perfect and made her look as if she belonged on the cover of Vogue.   In your dreams, lady, she thought as she made her way across the parking lot to the restaurant. Jimmy’d said he would secure a table in a quiet corner and to look for the guy wearing a forest green shirt and khaki pants.

She pushed open the door and was greeted by a young, attractive hostess wearing a very short, revealing black lace sundress. Her long dark hair streamed down her back and large silver hoops dangled from her ears and bobbed about as she showed various patrons to their tables. “Welcome to Tony’s,” she said. “You must be Marcie. Jimmy’s waiting for you.” Marcie glanced quickly around and before she could gather herself, the hostess picked up a menu and walked toward the back of the restaurant where Jimmy sat sipping wine and texting away on his iPhone.

“Here she is,” said the hostess as if she were delivering an anticipated package.   The hostess flashed a warm smile at Jimmy who quickly shut off the iPhone, jumped up and pulled out a chair for Marcie.

“Thanks, Mindy, catch you later,” said Jimmy.

Marcie couldn’t quite put it all together but she plunked down in the chair and muttered, “Well, at last we meet.”

This dude looked nothing like the one in the photo posted on the Internet, she thought. He’d had hair in that photo and …what was it, she wondered, as she stole peeks at him. No, he wasn’t exactly fat but where was that toned body? She couldn’t picture this old, bald guy sitting across from her with a fifty-pound backpack hiking up some mountain.

“I went ahead and ordered us a bottle of Chianti,” he said as he grabbed the open bottle and filled her glass.   “Hope that’s ok with you.”

“That’s fine, thank you.”

Just then the waiter came over. “Youse guys all set with drinks?” he asked.

“Yep, Vinnie, all set right now.”

“Take your time, just throw me a signal when youse ready to order.”

“Do you come here often?” asked Marcie looking around. She grabbed her glass and took several large swallows.

“Best food in town,” and Jimmy smiled broadly.

Marcie looked down at the menu that blurred under her eyes. She felt Jimmy’s eyes staring at her, scoping her out. What was it her buddy Mike from the office had once jokingly confided to her—men can’t help it but when they talk with a woman, it’s just natural to mentally undress her.   Marcie remembered how she’d stood there near the water fountain and turned scarlet. She glanced up at Jimmy who indeed was looking her over. She pulled a strand of hair behind her ear, reached for her wine glass, gulped down what remained and placed the empty glass back on the table.

“Guess you were thirsty,” Jimmy said and took the bottle and refilled her glass.

“Vinnie,” I think we need another bottle of Chianti.” Jimmy poured the last of the wine in his glass and handed the empty bottle to Vinnie.

Soon wine mixed with conversation and Marcie began to relax. She looked more closely at Jimmy. He really wasn’t that bad, actually sort of cute in some weird way, especially the way his eyes lit up when he looked at her and smiled. He told her about

hiking in Yellowstone, trips to Vegas, trips to the Caribbean, even suggested they might go there together someday.

Just then Mindy swished by. “How you doin?” she asked and flashed another smile at Jimmy.

Marcie wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw Jimmy wink and roll his eyes as he said, “Just fine, Mindy.”

“Guess you know her?” asked Marcie.

“Yeah, been friends since my last wife died.”

“What happened?” asked Marcie.

“Guess she’d had enough of livin. Just up and keeled over one day.”

“That’s too bad,” muttered Marcie.

“I don’t have much luck. She was the third one that bought a ticket out.”

“You mean, you’ve had three wives and they all died?”

“Yep. Keep searching for the right one for the duration.” Jimmy reached and gently took hold of Marcie’s hand and looked into her eyes.

Marcie looked down at her hand in Jimmy’s, gently pulled it away and reached for her wine glass.

“I wanna show you something.”   Jimmy stood up and moved to the side of Marcie’s chair.   “You need to stand up,” and Jimmy took her hand and pulled her up.

“Take your hand and feel around the breast pocket on my shirt.”

“What for? Is this one of your jokes?”

“Just do it?” Jimmy smiled and stood a little straighter throwing his chest out.

This was the Jimmy she’d talked to on the phone, playful and full of surprise.

Marcie laughed and waved her hand over the shirt pocket. “Abracadabra” she said and moved her hand as if conjuring up some rabbit to hop out of the pocket.

“How’s that?” she said.

“Com’on now.   This is serious. Feel around the pocket.”

“What for?” Marcie patted her hand lightly against the pocket.

“Ok,” she said, teasingly, “What’s in the pocket?”

Jimmy grabbed her hand and firmly placed it over his shirt pocket.

“Here,” he said, “Do you feel that?”

Giddy with wine, she laughed and playfully pressed her hand against the pocket. There was something in the pocket, something hard and solid.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Just run your hand over the pocket.” Marcie traced the edges of the hardness and then on down to a sort of handle.

“Oh my god,” she gasped and quickly pulled her hand away and shot her eyes into Jimmy’s face. “That’s not… a gun?” she whispered. “Is this a joke?”

“Just packin heat,” said Jimmy casually as if he were commenting on the weather.

“Excuse me?”

“Never go out but I pack the heat. You’ll always be safe with me, baby.”

Marcie glanced around. The tables were filled with businessmen in suits and ties, couples and well-dressed women out for a late lunch.   Plastic vines crept up the walls and curled around brass light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. White linen tablecloths and napkins were on the tables and light dinner music was wafting over the room. This was not Joe’s barroom down by the railroad tracks and yet here she was sitting in this fine restaurant with a man toting a gun in his shirt pocket.

She looked at Jimmy. “I’m leaving, leaving right now,” she said but as she reached for her purse, Jimmy grabbed her arm and tugged her down into the chair.

“What’s the matter with you? Weren’t we having a good time? We haven’t even ordered yet.”

“Let go of me.”

But the more Marcie tried to yank her arm free, the tighter Jimmy held on. “This is a date, did you forget?”

Date, the word rumbled around her head. This wasn’t a schoolgirl dream, this was grown-up reality, and now, even after several glasses of wine, fear began to claw its way in.   She looked again at the tables full of chatting patrons, ordinary men and women, sharing lively conversations over a meal.

“Sorry, Jimmy, but I am leaving, right now,” and again, she tried to extract her arm from Jimmy’s grasp.

As if a switch turned on, Jimmy’s eyes snapped from warm light to icy fire.

“What the hell’s the matter with you? You can’t treat Jimmy that way. Listen to me, bitch. If you dare create a scene, I’ll blow your fuckin’ head off, do you get it? “

Jimmy took a deep breath and continued, “Now, you just behave yourself and we’ll order our lunch.”

With his free hand, Jimmy signaled to Vinnie.

“What can I get yas?”

“We’ll have the Chicken Francaise and another bottle of Chianti.”

Jimmy looked at Marcie. “Why do you have to go and spoil everything? Just calm down and we’ll have a nice time.”

“Now drink your wine.” He patted her arm that was clenched tightly in his fist.

Marcie reached over with her free hand and lifted her wine glass but as she did, the glass tumbled onto the table, smashing to pieces, and dark red Chianti spread across the white table cloth and crawled its way toward Jimmy.

“Jesus Christ,” said Jimmy as he released her arm and grabbed the edge of the tablecloth to halt the spreading wine.

Marcie, free now, jumped up, grabbed her purse, backed away from the table out of his reach. “If you try to stop me from leaving or follow me out of this place, I’ll scream and scream bloody murder. Create the worst scene you can ever imagine.”

Marcie took one step back and turned abruptly to hustle around occupied tables blocking a clear path to the front door, but just as she turned the corner on the adjacent table, Mindy was hurrying toward Jimmy’s table with a clean cloth clutched in her hand. Neither woman saw the other until too late. They collided with a force that threw Mindy into Jimmy who had just stood up to grab hold of Marcie. Mindy and Jimmy, arms flying in all directions, tumbled onto the table and knocked over the two empty chairs that banged onto the floor.

The restaurant erupted in chaos. Marcie ran toward the front door.

“Com’ on,” someone shouted.

“They need help.”

“Call 911,” someone else shouted.

A couple of the diners ran toward the table where Mindy and Jimmy were sprawled out. Others stared and gawked in disbelief. And those seated near the front of the restaurant strained their heads over the gathering crowd trying to get a better look.

Marcie pushed open the front door, and as she did cymbals clashed in the “Toreador” song and collided into the cacophony of noise coming through the open door from inside the restaurant. As the door slammed shut behind her, gunshots rang out, loud and clear, cutting straight through the music flowing over the parking lot.

BIO: Marilyn is a retired English teacher, who lives and writes in Central New York State.

 

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