Jerry couldn’t wait to start the weekend. The day had been nothing but dreary mandatory meetings filled with preening people. He got nothing done.
Clearing his desk, he saw his two notes from the last confab. Surrounded by doodles, filigrees, and dark underlining, he’d written an idea for a training on how ‘not to ask pointless questions which prolong meetings into eternity.’
Printed neatly beneath that, he wrote, ‘paradise = alone.’
He never made the suggestion, though. He knew it would have provoked additional pointless discussion. What a quandary. No one thought of Jerry as a ‘people person.’
A dismal week had concluded. There had been little else besides meeting deadlines for paperwork documenting forms referencing obscure research. All of it played but a small role in his job. Busy work for silly people.
When the clock hit 5:00, he stood, grabbed his suit jacket, and dashed for the exit. He meant to escape before the crowd forced him to endure its inane chatter.
He thought about getting out of town. But nixed that as one more opportunity to sit in traffic. Instead, he would hibernate in his condo and recharge his batteries pursuing nothing. Not even bingeing his favorite shows.
Halfway to the elevator, Jerry paused. Richard stood waiting for the next car. Nothing to be done. Maybe they could avoid the tsunami of secretaries due any moment.
Richard nodded and hit the down button again. Good. He’s in a hurry too. The doors opened and they stepped in. He heard a phalanx of women approaching. Richard hesitated. Jerry jabbed the button. Voices called as the doors slid shut. Too late.
The two men glanced at each other.
Jerry shrugged. “Oh, well.”
“They’ll catch another. Corporate surfing…” They chuckled. Elevator conversation is always stilted, even when you know each other.
They watched the floor numbers descend. Jerry bet himself, whether the trip down could be completed without stops.
The elevator slowed and stopped at ‘P.’ “The eagle has landed!” The parting doors revealed the parking garage.
Richard turned as he exited. “Oh… coming to the pub tonight? Live music, booze… women.” Jerry tried to hide a sigh. “Us PR types will be there in force.”
“Yeah, sorry. Can’t tonight.”
“Carole should be there.”
“Maybe next week. Thanks, though.”
“Okay… Have a good weekend.”
“Yeah. I need it.” They glanced around, getting their bearings in the dim light. Jerry pointed, “I’m over here.”
“In the high rent district.”
“Right.” They laughed and walked to their cars.
Jerry settled into his driver’s seat and sighed. “Dodged that bullet…” He pulled into traffic and escaped city center before traffic snarled.
Bypassing the freeway, he took Riverside, his favorite shortcut.
Then he saw it. “No, no, no, no…” Someone’s little dog was loose in traffic, bound to get hit in the fading light. Jerry pulled over. People slowed and honked as the dog zig-zagged from lane to lane. He grabbed a water bottle and stepped out. He called it and tried to catch up.
After a few close calls, Jerry finally got its attention. He knelt on the sidewalk and made friendly sounds. Sniffing, the dog approached. Jerry poured water onto the concrete. The dog began to lap it. Jerry gave it more water and it relaxed enough for him to pet it and check its collar for a tag.
After petting it a little, he cradled it and returned to his car. The dog settled easily on the passenger seat. Jerry called the number on the tag.
A woman answered. Jerry didn’t want to lose her. “Hello? Can you hear me? I just rescued a dog… named Lola. Did you lose a little… I don’t know, a terrier?”
The woman called to someone else.
Jerry continued, “Hi… hello? Yes, she’s fine. Scared, but fine. I can drop her to you, or to the pound. What do you want...? Right… Your address?”
He fumbled for a pen and wrote on his hand. He repeated what he’d heard and said, “I’ll be there in five.”
He petted Lola. “What idiot lets their dog run wild in the city?” He awaited a break in traffic and merged. The address wasn’t far. He found a parking spot.
He smoothed Lola’s fur and murmured. “Nice meeting you, Lola. I hope your idiot master takes good care of you.” He carried Lola to the front door.
A woman opened the door and screamed with delight, on seeing her pet. Jerry passed Lola to her. The woman went crazy over her neglected puppy. Jerry wondered if Lola felt betrayed by him.
Jerry tried talking to her but she never acknowledged him. Between celebratory screams and cooing, she nodded at him as she closed the door in his face. Jerry brushed dog hair off his suit coat and returned to his car.
A few minutes later, he turned onto his street, clogged with fire trucks and squad cars. Someone pulled a U-turn in front of him, freeing up a space. He parked and picked his way through winding hoses, flashing lights, and rubbernecks. The building next to his had some damage. The fire was out. People dispersed.
Someone called to him. “Jerry!” He stopped himself from running. He wanted to be alone.
Jerry turned to the middle-aged woman, in a house dress, hurrying toward him. He didn’t know her name. They spoke a few times in passing. She lived where the fire had been.
“Jerry! It’s so good to see a friendly face. Did you hear?”
“About the fire?” She nodded. “I was lucky to get parking.”
“My apartment is gone.”
“Oh, no… Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Thank God. But I may have lost everything.”
“You can replace stuff. But not you.”
She looked at him tenderly. “Thank you Jerry. It happened so fast. I was cooking and the grease caught…”
“But you got out. You’re safe.”
“It might be days before I can go back.”
“I’m sorry… I’m not set up for guests…”
“Oh no. Of course not. I wouldn’t dream of imposing…”
“You have friends or family…?”
“Sure! Sure… yeah.” She looked defeated.
Behind her, hoses were winding up. Men shouted. Engines revved.
Jerry asked, “You need a phone? You have money?”
He thought she would melt. “No. I’m fine. Really. I shouldn’t have taken so much of your time. I’ll let you go.”
“Yeah! Go on. Relax.” She turned toward her building. Jerry watched as she made her way back.
“Jerry! You old pyro. What’s up?”
He turned to see his old buddy, Chip holding a six-pack of beer.
“Hey, Chip. What’s up?”
“I thought we’d catch the game.”
“I dunno. There’s always something on.” He raised the six-pack. “The madness in my method…”
Jerry glanced over to see the neighbor woman had gone. “You know, Chip. I kinda had plans to lay low tonight.”
“You’re making me demolish this all by myself?”
“Purely your decision, my friend. Do what you will. I can’t help you...”
“It’s Friday… Got a hot date?”
“Naw… just a ball buster of a week. I need to sleep…”
“You can tell me, Bud… Is it Maggie?”
“Maggie?” Jerry scoffed. “I haven’t seen her in… You’ve probably seen her since I did.”
Chip smiled. “That’s not what I hear…”
Jerry needed to end this.
“Check your sources, Chip. Maybe she’d want a beer. Check it out.”
“It’s been months, Chip. I don’t care.”
Chip nodded somberly.
“I might do that, Jer. Catch you later.”
They bumped fists and Chip turned away. Jerry entered his building. He was beat. The ride up to his floor held no surprises. He only wanted to shut the world out for forty-eight hours. No interruptions. Alone.
He entered his apartment and the phone rang. Jerry saw it was an old friend. He picked up.
“Phil! You’re lucky I picked up. Just got in.”
“Jer, you’re a Godsend. I’m in a fix. I need to get someplace. No wheels. Kind of an emergency.”
“Phil, is there anyone else you can call? I’m in for the night.”
“Tell you what. Give me your address. I’ll send an Uber. I cannot go out again. I’m ready to collapse.”
Phil gave him the info and they signed off. Jerry flopped onto his bed. He might have dozed right then but the phone rang again. He swore and let it ring. The machine wouldn’t pick up. He finally picked up.
“Jerry… are you alright?”
“Maggie…” Jerry couldn’t believe it. “Remember me?”
“Maggie! Sure. Long time… How are you?”
“I won’t lie, Jerry. I miss you.”
The silence was deafening.
“I wondered… Could we meet for dinner…?”
“I’m sorry, Mags. I had a terrible week. I can’t tonight…”
“Are you sick? I could make you… soup, or something.”
He flopped onto the bed. “What are the odds?”
“What? I couldn’t hear.”
“I’m sorry, I… we haven’t talked for… weeks…”
“Yeah, anyway. I ran into Chip, not an hour ago, and your name came up.”
“Mags, I appreciate your checking in. But tonight’s impossible. I wouldn’t be good company. I’ll call you.”
“You’re at the same number?”
“You can always reach me here.”
“Okay… Give me a rain check. I’ll call you when I feel better. Okay?”
“I promise, Maggie. But I have to go.”
“’Kay… miss you, Jerry. Bye.”
He put the phone down and stared at it, half expecting it to ring again.
He sighed. “Finally alone…”
After rinsing his face, Jerry stepped onto his balcony. He wondered why he didn’t enjoy it more often. City lights spread in the distance, like a velvet painting, or phosphorescent surf. The cool breeze felt good. It brought the occasional whiff of smoke from next door.
The fire trucks and utility vehicles had left. The city had settled for the night.
He turned to his sparsely furnished apartment. He couldn’t bear the TV, with more people yakking. He wasn’t hungry.
He looked down to the street. Quiet. No one.
‘Damn,’ he thought. ‘Why am I so alone?’