“I can teach him how to catch a football,” I said. “That’s a start.”
“What if it’s a girl?”
“Are you implying girls can’t catch footballs? That’s a rather sexist thing to say, Savannah, don’t you think?”
She rolled her eyes. “Logan, all I’m saying is, I don’t want you to feel obligated in any way, like it’s going to be a burden on you. You can be involved however much you want, or not at all. It’s your call.”
“What if I want to be fully involved?”
“I’d welcome that.” She reached over and ate the last of my pie. “But I think I have a right to know how, specifically, you propose to be all in — other than teaching our child how to catch footballs — when you live in Rancho Bonita?”
“I’m not following you.”
“Logan, you live 120 miles from Los Angeles. It seems to me that your location alone would preclude day-to-day parental involvement.”
“You could always move to Rancho Bonita.”
“I like living in LA.”
Part of being human is making pronouncements without weighing their full consequence. Words pass through your lips unfiltered and, suddenly, they’re out there, irretrievable, like some unguided missile. I don’t know whatever possessed me, sitting there in that loud, crowded diner, at a lunch counter that was anything but romantic, to say what I said. Maybe it was the on-screen image I’d seen of that tiny beating heart. My child’s heart. All I know is that the words just came.
“What if we got remarried?”
Savannah paused, sipping her coffee, and turned her head, meeting my gaze.
“What did you just say?”
“We could fly to Lake Tahoe tomorrow,” I said, “and get a license. No waiting on the Nevada side.”
She searched my eyes.
“Please don’t say that if you don’t mean it, Logan.”
“I meant it. Every word.”
Her own eyes were the color of some exotic strain of golden-hewed wood. It felt like they could see straight through me.
“You do mean it, don’t you?”
I nodded solemnly.
Her arms were suddenly around me. Her lips found mine. I could taste the salt of her tears. We held each other, oblivious to the smiles of other diners.
“OK, then,” she said.
She wiped away her tears and said she was going outside to call her father, to tell him the news — but not before kissing me once more.
I felt good inside. As good as I could ever remember. Watching her head for the door, I was reminded of something I was taught at the academy, how the biggest mistake you can make in war is being too afraid to make a mistake. The same, I suppose, can be said for life in general. I didn’t think I’d screwed up asking Savannah to remarry me.
Fate would prove me as wrong as I’d ever been.
You haven’t lived until you’ve walked in on your octogenarian landlady, a retired gym teacher from Brooklyn, as she grunts out squat thrusts while trying to keep up with some hunky Israeli physical fitness guru on her ancient, black and white console TV.
“Working the glutes,” Mrs. Schmulowitz panted, up and down, up and down. “Melting chicken fat like it’s going out of style.”
Her joints sounded like somebody stepping on broken glass.
“Careful you don’t hurt yourself, Mrs. Schmulowitz.”
“Don’t you worry about me, bubby. I taught physical education for sixty-one years. And the first rule of physical education is, if your legs don’t feel like they’re falling off your body, you’re being a lazy schlep.”
With her lime green high-tops, raspberry leggings, tangerine leotard, and a blue New York Giants sweatband, she looked like an eighty-eight-pound Jell-O parfait; one topped with a thinning frizz of hair dyed the color of straw. She sprang off the floor like a woman a third her age, toweled the sweat from her brow, and patted my cheek.
“So, how was Los Angeles?” Then she caught sight of Savannah, walking in behind me. “And look who you brought back with you! Only the most beauteous gal in the whole world.”
“You’re looking as lovely as ever, Mrs. Schmulowitz,” Savannah said.
The two embraced before Mrs. Schmulowitz took a step back and gave her the once-over. Savannah was wearing flat-soled Roman sandals, leather straps snaking up her supple calves, and a pleated peasant skirt. Her perfumed, hennaed tresses cascaded over the shoulders of a simple sleeveless white cotton blouse.
“I’m gonna tell ya something,” Mrs. Schmulowitz said. “If I looked that crazy sexy when I was your age, I would’ve blown off the whole teaching gig and gone straight into porno. My only problem was, they hadn’t invented movies yet. People back in my day sat around the campfire, telling stories.”
“Right,” I said. “The campfire. In Brooklyn.”
“You’re not that old, Mrs. Schmulowitz,” Savannah smiled.
“Not that old? What, are you kiddin’ me? You know that key Ben Franklin stuck on the end of his kite? It was to my apartment on Bay Parkway.”
I tried not to laugh. It would’ve only encouraged her.
“Savannah and I are flying up to Lake Tahoe tomorrow,” I said. “We’re getting remarried.”
She was momentarily speechless and obviously delighted. It was the first time I’d ever seen Mrs. Schmulowitz at a loss for words.
“Mazel tov! May the both of you find as much joy as I did with my third husband. OK, granted, so the man could get a little kinky at times. You take the good with the bad, am I right?” Mrs. Schmulowitz pecked us both on the cheek, then gave me an affectionate, coach-like slap on the butt. “Way to go, bubby. Smart move. She’s a keeper.”
I politely declined her offer to cook us a celebratory dinner. My plan was to take Savannah out that night, somewhere romantic.
“Then at least let me watch your cat for you while you’re away,” Mrs. Schmulowitz said, “unless, of course, you want him in the wedding. I can see it now, that meshuggener kitty coming down the aisle, the ring tied around his neck. A kitty ring bearer. You could get on the Internet. You could get on Letterman!”
As if on cue, my cat, Kiddiot — so named because no feline in history was ever more intellectually challenged — came strolling in from Mrs. Schmulowitz’s kitchen looking like an orange balloon mounted on short, skinny legs, with a pipe-cleaner tail that stuck straight up. He made little chirping sounds, like he was happy to see us. He even allowed Savannah to scratch his ears for a few seconds before glancing over at me with a look that I interpreted as disgust, flicked his tail, and strolled nonchalantly back into the kitchen.
“He’s decided he enjoys chopped liver,” Mrs. Schmulowitz said. “The secret Schmulowitz family recipe. He prefers it on rye bread.”
“Of course, toasted. How else is anyone supposed to eat chopped liver?”
In the next life, I most definitely want to come back as my cat.
A resort community as affluent as Rancho Bonita isn’t hurting for fine dining. California Street, the main drag, which ambles up from the beach for a tree-canopied mile before doglegging inland, boasts dozens of restaurants where dinner and drinks can run more than a monthly car payment on a new Mercedes. They’re not the kind of eateries that locals like me typically frequent: Mexican greasy spoons that serve up six-dollar smothered chile verde burritos fat as bricks, the kind that camp out in your gut like squatters, leaving you convinced you’ll never eat again.