Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Comfort of a Woman

He watches her as she bounces ever so slightly, her shoulders dipping in rhythm as she picks up dog toys from the floor. On the stereo, the Gramercy Five bounces gently along, with his wife responding unconsciously to the music. She was only ten years old when Artie Shaw put together his quintet, but her body knows what he was saying all those years ago.

Wherever did he find her? The three ounces of vodka in his gimlet take away almost every inhibition he had. But he doesn't need to do anything—all he has to do is watch her. With this woman whom he's treasured for a quarter century, even with all the limitations of age, here is a familiar feeling, one that makes life worth all of its pain and uncertainty.

She wasn’t his first love. That one had come in the loneliness of youth, a grasping for comfort, a mutual need for certainty. That one had ended, inevitably, in disillusion. The comfort was temporary, the certainty elusive.

Others followed, each one promising fulfillment, only to float away in currents of change. Each one gave him that which only a woman’s love could give, a buoyance in the maelstrom. He’d given back as long as they lasted; the flesh and the souls eventually tearing apart in mutual loss.

The playlist in his computer cued up Johnny Mathis and then Tony Bennett—long ago and fondly but faintly remembered, the regrets and the sighs of those years now barely noticed.

Earlier, as they prepared dinner, he'd played an old album by Herb Alpert and had remembered floating down a highway with another woman in her Mustang, the eight-track stereo blaring Tijuana Brass, feeling free for the first time in his life. He’d savored the memory. It didn’t matter that it was fifty years before; the feeling was still there.

“Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall” and other tender songs of Paul Simon the other evening had brought wistfulness in the midst of a world gone mad, a clutching for that old solace of youth, when the touch of a hand felt warm on the heart. The maelstrom was too violent, the love too fragile. The haunting drum solo in “Inna Gadda da Vida”—In the Garden of Eden—had marked the end of something precious, the fluttering of an Iron Butterfly, a nostalgic wail in sweet smoke.

A time of aimless wandering, accompanied by an equally lost companion, moved by Roberta Flack’s “Killing me Softly,” longing for something only glimpsed in the mist, something now forgotten. And then a rainbow, a swirl of hair, a voice from the past, the child of that first love. Eva Cassidy singing “Fields of Gold” and remembering, restoring. A hole of darkness, healed.

Now he puts on the track “What a Feeling” from Flashdance, and he watches her. “I can’t not move,” she always says, smiling at him.

Old music vividly remembered and responded to evokes feelings collected in a lifetime. Like faded snapshots (those were discarded years ago), the songs he’d shared with others become the themes of unwritten narratives and longings stuffed beneath the cushions of memory.

Now, a fitting coda to a life. In the waning time—months? weeks? days? that they can spend together, he basks in the glow of her, the comfort of a woman.

The only one.

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