Hand Job

Lunch Ticket 2015

It is Linda’s first night home after a four-day sales trip that takes her from Connecticut to Maine and back home again to Connecticut. She goes out on the road every other week. On the first night home after one of her trips we stay home, order in, get wrecked and do sex—mostly in that order. Tomorrow we will go out alone for dinner and on the third night we usually get together with friends. Somewhere in this scenario is at least one argument. Linda and I can argue over how the other says hello.

She sells specialty stuffed bears—mostly to card and gift shops in hospitals. Bears are still number one in the stuffed animal world. The company she works for is called, Physically Imbeared. It specializes in stuffed animals that are impaired in one way or another. She says that it’s a great niche market for kids with physical limitations. For example, her biggest seller is Bear With Glasses. The animals can be ordered with any of the following: glasses, hearing aids, prosthetic limbs, wheel chairs, iron lungs, walkers, or the biggie which is Bear In The Bubble.

I take the night off from my bar and hope that my manager doesn’t become my partner. She’s new, been with me only three weeks, so I chance she won’t start stealing yet.

We are in the Jacuzzi eating Chinese. Linda is having the only thing she ever orders—a Number Three. That’s a combination egg roll, pork fried rice, and sweet and sour chicken. She still won’t even taste anything else after six years of my trying to broaden her food horizons. I guess it shouldn’t, but this angers me. There’s a series of things that Linda does to anger me. This is one and she knows it. Won’t even take a taste of something different. Never does. I don’t understand her lack of curiosity. I’m having one of their specials—Wonderful scallops in most delicious and unusual surprise spicy sauce with lichees.

Linda is looking at her hands, holding them out in front of her, turning palm up, palm down—sometimes empty handed or with whatever she has in her hand at the moment—chopsticks, a joint, a bar of soap, the carton of white rice. She’s been doing this since she got home. It’s another one of her habits that angers me. Instead of coming out directly with what she wants to say or discuss, Linda would rather put me through the torture of twenty questions. I’d like to start my own line of bears and call them Emotionally Imbeared.

I sit in the tub and look at her, the heart-shaped face and high forehead that I always found attractive, and still do. She changes hairstyles often, but not color. Tonight her hair is hanging straight—almost to her shoulders and she has wisps of bangs splayed across her forehead.

I’m not going to ask her what she’s doing because I know it’s driving her crazier that I’m not asking. I’m just hoping for a fortune cookie that will let me segue into an argument that will lead to her moving out of my house and back to her apartment in the next few weeks—by Thanksgiving. She’s got to be out before the Christmas season begins. I have to make the argument seem real—not contrived. That’s for my benefit. She knows it’s going to happen—she expects it, but I just can’t come right out and tell her the real reason. It would be cruel and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. The less said the better.

“Did you ever notice my hands?” she finally asks in a tone as if the thought just entered her mind. “I have hand model hands.”

“No kidding,” I say. “What does that mean?”

“It means that I have very special hands—thin and well proportioned—the kind of hands that hand models have.”

“Oh?”

“I can make a living modeling my hands,” she says proudly.

“Someone will pay you to show them your hands?” I ask.

She gives me her look. “It’s not only the hands, it’s what they are holding and how you use them. See what I mean?” she asks, showing me her hands as she holds the egg roll in her wet left palm and points to it in a showy way with her right pointer finger. “I have the right shape hands and the long thin fingers that are in demand,” Linda says, sounding like a pitchman for the Acme Hand Models School.

“Did you ever notice my hands?” she finally asks in a tone as if the thought just entered her mind. “I have hand model hands.”

“Pass me the egg roll,” I say, “and let me try.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says. “You don’t have hand model hands.”

“If you have them, I want them too.”

“Your fingers are too wrinkled and short and you also have scars on your hands.”

“So?”

“So, you can go to all the modeling agencies in the world and you’ll never get a hand job unless they happen to need someone with wrinkled, short, scarred fingers.”

“Where do you fit in this world of hand jobs?” I ask.

“I fit in well, thank you—and I just happen to have an appointment with a photographer who specializes in models to do a hand portfolio for me this week.” Linda says.

“How do you pay him? With money or a hand job?”

“Maybe both. Everything’s a joke with you,” Linda says. “For your information I was told by an agent who represents people in commercials that I have perfect hands. Can you imagine making big money just because you have perfect hands? I can give up the bears and stop traveling by car. Models travel first class.”

“Where did you meet this agent?” I ask suspiciously.

“What difference does it make? I met him.”

“Was it in a bar?” I ask.

“Yes,” Linda says. “As a matter of fact it was the hotel bar in Newport.”

“You sound as if there is an ‘and’ coming,” I say.

“There is no ‘and’ coming,” she says.

“Really?”

“It’s no big deal. We both had business in Boston the next night and met for dinner. We discussed my hands and he told me the benefits of having an agent.”

“Let me guess,” I say. “He offered to be your agent.”

“Yes, he did.”

“That kind of says it all,” I say, recognizing an opening when I hear one. I get out of the Jacuzzi, “I can’t trust you on these trips. I always knew it.” I wrap the towel around my waist. “I won’t fuck you again without a health note,” I tell her.

“That’s why I don’t tell you everything. You are a sicko and I won’t fuck you even if you have a note from your mother.” Linda turns on the loud Jacuzzi jets to end the conversation.

While lying in bed reading and waiting for her, condom on the nightstand, Linda walks in dressed and says, “What’s the big rush this year? I was planning to move but it’s not even close to Thanksgiving. You’re getting to be like Hallmark—moving the season up a little earlier each year.”  She walks out and I hear her car drive off.

She’s right. It is earlier than usual. It’s only the beginning of November and I usually start “the argument” right before Thanksgiving.

This has gone on for most of the seven years we’ve been together. It was our third year together when Linda moved in and we stayed together right through the holidays. I swore never again. It was the Christmas tree. I grew up with menorahs and latkes in December, not a dead tree with tsatskes and flickering annoying lights dominating the living room.

I didn’t know how to tell Linda that I couldn’t deal with Christmas in my house. No more trees and the best way to have no more trees was to have no more Linda. I was marking time with her, I would never marry her but I was too much of a coward to tell her.

All those years ago, with her husband away on business, when we first made love, Linda asked me—right out—then and there—if her not being Jewish mattered to me. Not having thought about it before and not wanting to lose the moment I told her, “No, of course not.” As I said it I realized that it did matter and during all these years I never corrected myself, and she never brought it up again. Linda used that brief exchange as an excuse to get out of a bad marriage. She hung in with me for her own reasons. Love? In all of our years together, sober or stoned, in bed or out, neither of us used the word or was courageous enough to chance the question.

Over the years when she moved back into her apartment I would drive by nightly until I saw the lit tree and then I’d call her. I’d buy her Christmas presents, apologize, and court her again. We’d end up spending New Year’s together and then sometime before Valentine’s Day Linda would move back in. Some might call this a sick relationship, but it’s no different than the games that married people play for far longer periods of time. I knew Linda wanted to get married. She never spoke about it and I certainly never brought up the subject. The real problem was comfort. We became comfortable in this scene and before we realized it seven years had passed. I wanted to get married too, but not to Linda. The trouble was that wishing wasn’t going to find me a new mate—action was—but wishing was easier. I’m sure she thought the same.

I keep driving past Linda’s house and never see any signs of life much less a Christmas tree in her window. One of her girlfriends tells me that she went to stay with her parents in Florida for the holidays.

I overhear Candy, one of my waitresses, telling the bartender that her husband is away on a business trip until after Christmas. She is happily married but not adverse to a little adventure now and then. I wait for an opening and then I offer to take her to Bermuda over Christmas. She is silent for a minute. Finally she gets off the stool, says, “Wait,” and walks over to talk to the bartender. On her way back he gives me a look that says, “I’m going to steal double while you’re gone for moving in on me.”

“You’re on,” she says. She tells me she’s excited about the trip. I’m excited about Candy. She has the girl next-door looks with a dazzling smile. Her hair is short and brown and I’m enamored with her rich, full lips.

Bermuda is better than either of us expected. As the plane is taxiing for takeoff she whispers in my ear that she’s so nervous she forgot to pack or wear any underwear. I look at her. Candy’s dazzling smile sets the tone. The beaches are great, the lovemaking better and, for the most part, I put Linda out of my mind. Candy and I arrive home on the twenty-seventh with neither making promises to the other. We shared a great few days with lots of laughter and gossip and we both know that it may or may not happen again. “Merry Christmas,” I say as I drop her off at her car. “Back to you, big guy.”

Pulling up to my house after dropping Candy off I’m floored. It’s decorated. There are Christmas lights in trees and around the door; an illuminated Santa stands defiantly on my roof. Inside, I find the decorated Christmas tree. I feel uncomfortable in my own house. The strong smell of pine adds to my discomfort. There’s a box under the tree wrapped in Christmas paper. Linda knows I don’t like getting gifts wrapped in Christmas paper. It’s another thing she does that angers me.

I pick up the box to open it and all of a sudden realize that I’m in a lit-up house and thoughts of my friends driving by gives me a panic attack. Rushing to the bathroom, I grab an anti-anxiety pill from the medicine cabinet and then run outside to turn off the lights. I yank on Santa’s extension cord so hard he comes crashing down into my bushes—but at least he’s no longer glowing. Running from tree to tree I manage to get all the lights out and decide that I’ll work on removal in the morning. The blinking lights around my door surrounding the mezuzah are the final straw. I yank the cords and smash the bulbs. Spent, I sit on my stoop and then it dawns on me that one of my neighbors might come by and say something. I dash inside and pick up the phone—but I’m not sure who to call or what to say.

Sitting on the floor, facing the darkened Christmas tree I rip open the box. Inside is a framed section of the local newspaper showing an ad for menorahs. The ad shows a very beautiful silver menorah resting on a glass table. It has a full complement of new unlit candles. There is one hand gently holding it on the side and the other hand is pointing at it. I recognize those long skinny fingers and their position. It’s the same way Linda pointed to the egg roll in the tub. She really does have hand model hands. I flash back to an earlier memory—one of our sitting in a restaurant and I’m looking down at her hands resting on top of mine while we talk. I nostalgically remember how good those hands made me feel—their lightness and their warmth.

 

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