Shorter Stories for my Husband — Lenny learns to dream
SHORTER STORIES FOR MY HUSBAND #1 — LENNY
This is the very first story in a series titled Shorter Stories for my Husband. In my somewhat delayed journey to writing a novel, Liam wanted to encourage me to write and publish more frequently, so every Wednesday he delivers to my inbox a ‘writing brief’ which I turn around in 24 hours, it cannot be edited after this. Of course, I welcome all feedback.
Writing Brief November 20, 2019 — Every morning at 7am Leonard “Lenny” Edelman puts on his hat and tweed coat, attaches his adopted dog Stella’s leash and hobbles down his 5 flights of stairs to Tompkins park for their daily walk. It’s here he ponders all he left behind when his family immigrated from Germany in the 60’s, including his childhood sweetheart
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Lenny learns to daydream
It is a miserable day outside, one of those insufferable grey ones that refuses to either snow or rain so you must merely sulk in its soberness. Everyone is wearing thick coats and bad attitudes which means winter has arrived as it always does in New York, swiftly and without introduction. But, I guess the weather only matters if you have someone interesting to talk to. For Lenny, the outside extremities were no longer a bother.
“Put that mutt on a leash,” a woman yells across the dog park. Lenny’s own dog, Stella, is off digging a hole with another small, scruffy Terrier. He doesn’t know the other dog’s name because he mostly avoids their owners. Conversing was rarely on his agenda at this time of morning.
Stella is a doe-eyed rescue his youngest daughter Emily picked up for him from a shelter in Brooklyn late last year. She thought it might give him some companionship, he saw Stella as a good way to escape Debbie in the morning without making much of a fuss. And, Stella had become a furry, flea ridden constant in his life.
Six dogs seem to form a type of conga chase around the park kicking up a mini tornado of dust as they go. Lenny finds himself in the middle of the chaos, content, his tweed coat covered in dry mud. He shuts his eyes to drown out the noise, hoping that once again he might slip away into the newness of his memories and to the sinewy silhouette of Grace.
Until recently, life was a series of steps repeated day in day out without a hint of uneasiness. Wake up. Get the paper. Make the coffee. Kiss Edwina good bye. Go to work. Eat. Sleep. Shit. His father’s ideologies were so ratified in him, he never managed to shake them. And he didn’t seem to mind. To be certain of one’s life was still a gift.
Lenny had never fancied himself an imaginative man, nor had he ever leant himself to the practice of daydreaming. The only reason he owned a TV was because his youngest son won it in a raffle and decided to up and move to Missouri one Sunday. The 60 inch LCD was positioned above his bathroom cabinet, threatening to fall every time he brushed his teeth.
When he was young, his father, a locally revered civil engineer, would say that mindless wandering was for the weak and workless. ‘Anything that truly matters can be touched, seen, or calculated,’ he would say. Over dinner he would preach to his four children that life was made meaningful in its certainty. “Never cast your hope in the unfounded theories of others,’ he would huff as he finished smoking his last cigar. So, Lenny and his brothers learnt to look up to their father and to them he would become a man who only ever spoke in truths.
In the 60’s, when the Cold War was nearing its climax, Germany was split between the east and west zones. Living in the east under the newly founded German Democratic Republic, Lenny’s father was called on to be a driving force behind the European Coal and Steel Community. It was decided that they would emigrate to the United States to strengthen ties with western democracies.
Lenny was 16 at the time. No one he went to school with knew much of America. They knew of bands and famous movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Cary Grant but what of real life. He was scared and excited all the same, but mostly he was unsure if he would ever see Grace again.
Grace wasn’t much to look at; waif like, with a sharp pointy nose and wiry, chestnut hair. But she was smart as a tac and witty and damn near crazy in her ramblings. Lenny loved that she could pluck an idea from the sky and insert them inside it like they were starring in their own John Frankenheimer film. She would regale everyone around them with false tales of being born in Paris as the daughter of a fraudulent art dealer, brought to Germany to escape the Sûreté nationale. Some called her a liar, others called her a creative genius. Of course, Grace was god-awful at school, but she was street smart, y’know. She knew so many things Lenny didn’t. To him she became the most fascinating girl in the world, the only person that could tear him from his convictions.
They met the summer before last at calculus school, which Grace was failing miserably. Lenny had offered to tutor her for extra credit before realizing how much of a handful she would be. They fell in love in the back of a math’s book.
Working for weeks after class in the library, Lenny was determined to shift her skills to something that reflected anything analytical, but he had never met someone so strong-willed. They would begin well, moving quickly through derivatives and then integers, but before he knew it they were seated in the back of the empty science lab, using the Bunsen burners to light up menthols Grace had stolen from her father.
Nearing the end of the summer their affection was undeniable. Grace’s future as a mathematician was nil to invisible and Lenny’s academic pursuits had started to wane. He found himself dreaming at night of this live wire young woman that filled his world with light. In their last study session, for the first time all season, Grace seemed somber. Her face sat glumly in the palm of her left hand as she scribbled ‘All is lost, I think I love you’ on a spare piece of grid parchment she placed before him. They shared their first kiss that day at the back of the library, right next to a row of books on 12th Century Kings.
Lenny is jostled to attention by a shrill sound coming from his pocket.
“Leonard Edelman speaking”
“Dad, you don’t need to always say your name when you answer the phone.You know it’s me.”
“Well, there is a chance it could not be you or perhaps it could not be me. We shouldn’t take that chance.”
“It says my name… anyway that’s not why I called. Dad, you can’t keep doing this to Debbie,”
“Debbie is alright, I left her a note to clean the iron grate around the fireplace.”
“She’s not a cleaner Dad, we hired her as a nurse.” Lewis, Lenny’s oldest son was very worked up for this time of morning.
Lenny hated holding the phone to his ear, the cold would make the arthritis in his fingers flare.
“I don’t need a nurse, Lewy.”
“Yes you do Dad, c’mon you’re sick”.
“Actually, I’m dying, there’s quite a difference.”
“Don’t say that, Dad.”
“Well, it’s the truth. Can’t avoid the truth, son. Anyway Lewy, I’ve got to go, Stella’s done a shit on the tail of another dog.”
Stella was actually in fact prancing around the south fence trying to entertain some young children into feeding her their fresh bagels. Since Edwina died last year, Lenny had started lying to their children, just occasionally at first then more regularly when they intervened too much. It was around the same time he started coming down to the park to daydream. At first it made him feel a bit ill in the way that doing something wrong does but then it grew on him and he settled comfortably in his small deceits.
While he allowed himself these small indulgences, Lenny was built on a rigid constitution. His life was one of habits and it had taken him 70 years to learn how to freely dwell in the impermanent, if only for an hour.
Stella sidled up to Lenny, still standing in the middle of the park, looking fed and full of herself.
He attached her leash and they began the silent walk back to 2nd avenue. Lenny wonders briefly about looking up Grace Bergman. Would she still be alive? Still in Germany? Would her hair be wiry and grey now or permed purple like the ladies in the Village?
When Lenny and his family had boarded the boat to America many German-Jews were fleeing to Poland before the wall was erected. People, Nazi-empathizers, were either being exiled or executed at the hands of the Republic, and the country was entering a new era.
Lenny decided his memories were better preserved as they were.
At home, Debbie was drinking a tea in Lenny’s armchair by the window enjoying the morning sun on her face. She was pale with ivory hair and couldn’t have been more than 40 but had the caustic wit of a woman that had seen lifetimes.
“Ah Leonard, I wasn’t expecting you, what a nice surprise,” Debbie sipped her tea and swiveled about in the chair.
“Hello Debbie, good to see you. Ah I notice you haven’t cleaned the fireplace again, maybe tomorrow then eh?”
Lenny’s pills sat piled up in little transparent buckets next to the fruit bowl which always ran empty.
“You know it won’t be my fault if you die alone, don’t you Leonard?”
“I certainly do, Debbie,” he let Stella off the leash so she could pounce over and plop herself on Debbie’s lap.
“No Debbie, it certainly is not, but it is some kind of wonderful.”