Short Fiction

-Did you hear about Richard?

-What about him?

-He died. Two weeks ago in Italy. Are you still there? Can you hear me?

-Yeah, wow, that’s awful. How?

-In his sleep, apparently. Went to bed like everything was right with the world and never woke up. Natural causes. Sixty-six years old. I just got off the phone with Diane.

-She called you?

-She thought I’d want to know. He was one of my oldest friends.

-How was she?

-Sad. Shocked.

-I always liked Diane. She had a way about her, calm and classy in every situation. She handled the divorce with restraint. I thought she let Richard off easy.

-How do you mean?

-Well, as I recall Diane never publicly bad-mouthed him or deliberately tried to make his life hell. She didn’t rake him over the coals or go out of her way to humiliate him. Remember Miles and Regina Bennett? Remember how bitter their divorce was? I’ll never forget that afternoon when Regina stormed into the Men’s Lounge at the club and threw a bloody tampon at Miles’ head.

-To be fair to Regina, Miles was screwing the nanny regularly in their pool house.

-Nothing like that had ever happened at our stodgy old club, not that Regina cared. She wanted Miles’ nuts on a plate.

-No, it was different with Richard and Diane, more rational. He came to my house a day or two after he met Paula and told me he’d been struck by a lightning bolt, like the scene in the Godfather movie when Michael sees Apollonia for the first time. I’ve found the love of my life is how he put it. I thought he’d lost his mind. Paula was half his age. I remember asking him if he wanted to be a cliche — you know, successful, good-looking, middle-aged man dumps adoring wife and two kids for a younger woman — and he said he had no choice, it was fate, it was true love, too powerful to be ignored. The difference between him and Miles is that he didn’t sleep with Paula until the divorce from Diane was final.

-He was an honorable philanderer?

-That’s a strong word. I’m not saying that what Richard did was right, I’m saying he was an honest man. Not that it hurt Diane or the kids any less. She told me it took a long time and a lot of therapy to come to terms with it. She loved Richard. He was the love of her life, father of her kids, it wasn’t easy to let him go, but she knew with total certainty that Richard was lost to her and not coming back no matter what happened with Paula.

-Strong woman. Unusual woman. I always liked her.

-Me, too. Did you know Richard and Paula had a baby boy last year?

-I heard. I don’t think men of our vintage should father children. It’s unnatural.

-That may be, but it’s not uncommon. Case in point — Miles Bennett. He went from screwing his nanny to marrying a young lab technician, and now they have three kids. He’ll be in his seventies when they start high school.

-I repeat, it’s not natural. People will assume he’s the grandfather and talk shit behind his back. Will there be a memorial for Richard?

-A celebration of life.

-You going?

-Of course. I can’t believe he’s gone. I talked to him about six weeks ago. He couldn’t stop talking about the trip to Italy. Three weeks roaming through Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan. Trip of a lifetime. His practice was thriving, the baby was doing great, and he was happy with Paula. A lot of the people who were so pissed at him for leaving Diane had come around. He was just back from running the Honolulu marathon. Everything was right with his world.

-He died a happy man.

-Yes, I think he did.

-Natural causes.

-Is there a better way to go? Sure beats expiring in a hospital with tubes in your arm and a colostomy bag. Richard always was a lucky bastard.

Brian Tanguay writes about politics, culture, and books. Co-founder of the California Review of Books and the long running blog, Shouts from the Balcony.