Friday, October 25, 2013

Dinner and a Photo

Photo by Paparazzimalaya 
Morgan didn't really believe in karma, but taking an Eastern interpretation of Pascal's wager, he decided it couldn't hurt to act as if there was a grand accounting at the end of life. He also believed the little things added up more so than grand gestures. When the opportunity arose, he held doors open for others, pushed all the loose shopping carts together in parking lot corrals, and slowed down for yellow lights. It was when he volunteered for Meals on Wheels that his flirting with karmic justice turned serious. He must have made a bad impression during the interview, because they assigned him to Roger.

Morgan shifted the insulated bag to one arm and knocked on Roger's door. The old man took his sweet time answering and even longer unlatching the door. Though Roger always seemed appreciative, his eyes bored through Morgan the entire visit. Morgan imagined Roger's mahogany face on the shoulders of whatever creature was to judge him in the afterlife, the same eyes seeing straight through a cynical attempt to lead a virtuous life.

Roger's apartment was filled with pictures of women. Women of all ages, races, and situations. A black woman, eyes closed, smelling a bouquet of daisies. A white woman in torn jeans and football jersey holding a fishing pole. A woman in a red headscarf flashing a peace sign in front of a polar bear exhibit. Some wrinkled, some smooth skinned, happy women, sad women, women in motion, women taking their ease, pictures scattered across all the flat surfaces of his apartment, dotting the walls in an eclectic collection of frames. Pick any picture, and Roger would tell you the woman's name.

"Do you want me to get a plate down for you?" Morgan said.

"Nah. I'm elderly, not old. I can get my own dishes."

"Fine, Roger."

"You now, you're twenty-and-some but you're an old man. I can tell."

"Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?"

Roger spread his hands. "You tell me."

Morgan tried to respond, but no words came. Roger shrugged and went to the cupboard.

“What have you brought me today, Old Man?” Roger said, setting a plate at the table.

“Italian night tonight,” Morgan said. He peeled the foil lid from the lasagna tray and shook out the garlic bread onto Roger's plate

“Is it kosher?”

“Since when have you ever been Jewish?”

“I dated a Jewish girl once.”

“I'm not surprised. How did it turn out?”

“Two times we stepped out, then I went searching again.”

That was about average, Morgan had learned. As far as he knew, Roger's longest relationship had been five dates. “Learn anything from that one?”

“I always ordered the kosher meal on airplanes. It may not have tasted any better, but it was always a lot more interesting.”

"Where's her picture?"

Roger waved his hand. "Somewhere around here. You don't need to see it."

"You want parmesan cheese on this?" Morgan asked.

"Is it the kind from a can or from a piece of actual cheese?"

Morgan held up a white packet and shook it. "Says it's the real stuff on the package."

"Forget it, Old Man," Roger said. "That's the stuff they sweep off the floor after they've squeezed all that orange crap into the spray cheese cans."

"You don't really think that?"

"I have it on good authority. Dated a farmer once."

"How long that last?"

"Just once. The girl clicked the wrong profile on Agricultural when she made the date. Boy, was she ticked when I showed up."

"I didn't know you were ever a farmer."

"Raised a catfish in a five-gallon bucket once, then sold it at a farmer's market. I figured that would count."

Morgan looked over the pictures and pointed at the woman smelling the bouquet. "What about her?"

"Three dates, though I could tell nothing would ever happen after the first."

"How's that?"

"I'm from Botswana, she was from Philly. I think she wasn't ready to expand her horizons more any further than Baltimore."

"Was she a farmer too?"

"Nah, different site. or something like that."

"How many dating sites have you used?"

Roger looked around his apartment at all the pictures and shrugged. "I haven't counted. How about you, Old Man? You do the online dating?"

"I gave it up about a year ago."

"Why that?"

"They kept matching me up with my ex-girlfriends."

Roger laughed. "Old Man, stuck doing things the same way, expecting something different."

Morgan crossed his arms and frowned as Roger started mashing the lasagna with the side of his fork.
"I suppose you know all the secrets of internet dating."

Morgan gave him a mocking look as he took a bite.

"Is it wearing certain colors in your picture?" He had heard red was a powerful color, and attracted more interest in one's profile. That, or showing off six-pack abs. His baby beer belly wasn't qualified for those pictures, though he couldn't see Roger going shirtless for his photos either.

"No," Roger said.

"Is it code words? Like you can't just say that you have money, so you say things like you enjoy driving your convertible to wineries?"

"Not quite."

"So what is it?'

Roger smiled and flicked an eyelid. "I am a new man every time. Never the same man twice."

Morgan thought for a moment. "So you lie."

"Everyone lies on a first date, Old Man. We are not who we really are, we are some polished imitation we hope the lady will like."

"So you're a tycoon one day, a catfish fisherman the next?"

"The lies have to be believable, Old Man. The best lies coat a grain of truth. Everyone knows this but you."

"That's no way to find love," Morgan said.

"Is that Old Man wisdom? You should write fortune cookies."

"So of all these women," Morgan said, sweeping his arm to encompass the pictures, "who lasted the longest?"

"That's not the right question."

"What's the right question?"

Roger set down his fork and wiped carefully at the corners of his mouth with a napkin.

"Few are interesting past the second date; the lies repeat, you see? No, of course you don't. Some are interesting for three, very few worth a fourth or fifth dinner."

"What about love?"

"What about it? Love is best fresh. I love many times, many women, different women, different flavors. It keeps me from becoming an old man like you."

"That sounds like too much work."

Roger looked down at his plate. "You eat nothing but lasagna for the rest of your life because it feels too hard to fix anything else? Huh?"

"Says the guy getting Meals on Wheels."

Roger gave Morgan a big grin and went back to his plate.

"See you next week, Roger."

"Wait, I got something for you." Roger got up and moved to a stack of magazines in his living room.

"I'm not supposed to accept gifts. I really can't, Roger."

"No, not a gift. This you can take. Ah-ha!" He held up a small cream-colored envelope. "You deliver a meal next to the woman in 4E, yes?"


"Here." Roger gave him the envelope. "You give this to her from me."

"What is it?"

"You just give it to her. She doesn't have the Internet, and I don't trust the mail. You just talk me up to her, okay, Old Man?"

"What am I supposed to tell her?"

Roger gestured to the walls. "Tell her I'm a photographer."

In the hallway, Morgan tapped the envelope against his fingertips a few moments. Bernice might welcome Roger's advances, or she might start thinking she had a stalker. Bernice watched a lot of Court TV and was always talking about stalkers. In the end, it was karma that made the decision for him. Morgan tossed the note down the garbage chute. He didn't know if Roger was right about love, but one thing was for sure: he may deliver meals, but he was no one's errand boy.

He'd stack a few more loose shopping carts together the next time he went to the store just in case.

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