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September 18, 2023

All Things Being Equal, Part Seven

By Bernie Pilarski

"It is not good that the man should be alone."
-- Genesis 2:18



"It's Michael. Don't hang up."

"I know it's you, and if I was going to hang up I wouldn't have answered."

"We've got to talk."

"My grandfather says I shouldn't talk to you."

"Yeah, well don't listen to him; the only person who can tell you that is your mother."

"She says not to talk to you, too."

"Then don't listen to her."

"But you've always told me to listen to my mother."

"Yeah, all right, don't listen to me either, okay, but we've got to talk."

"So what do you want me to talk about?"

"Nothing. I don't want you to talk. I just want you to listen."

"So, my grandfather was right; I shouldn't talk to you."

"Aiden, god damn it, I need to talk your mother."

"As in you talk, and she listens?"

"I swear, Aiden, I'm going to kick your ass ..."

"I've missed you too, Michael."

He laughs. He seriously laughs. My guts are hanging out, and I'm already desperate enough to think that some fourteen-year-old kid is going to be able to understand the predicament that I'm in, and he laughs. For eight years I lived with his mother and thought I knew her, but eight weeks ago when she walked out because I wouldn't agree to get married in church, in her church, I couldn't understand what she had become. It made no sense to me that she would throw away everything we had on some arcane notion that who we choose to live with is regulated by some mystical mumbo-jumbo that exists only in her church.

Eight weeks ago I resented the fact that they were trying to force me into a mold that I didn't fit, but eight days ago, I had this epiphany: I walked into this bar near where I work, the one that I used to take Nicole, a girl from my office, or at least I did until Jess found out about it and got really bent out of shape that I had told Nicole I wasn't married, which I wasn't, although that didn't seem to matter back then except in the one case where I told somebody that, but I walked into the bar, got a drink and walked out. I didn't talk to or even look at any of the women there. I couldn't. I had no heart to.

That's when it dawned on me that the person Jess walked out on was not the one she thought it was, not the one I thought it was, and in fact, was someone I had failed to recognize. Eight days ago I realized that being around Jess had changed me, even though I don't know how, and eight hours ago I realized that I liked the person I had become more than I liked the person I was before, even though I didn't know much about this new person except that I wanted to be with Jess even more than I wanted to breathe. How the hell do you explain that to a fourteen-year-old kid?

"Aiden, look, it's complicated."

"So, what do you want?"

"I want to talk to your mother."

"Yeah, well, she knows that."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that if I go and say 'hey, Mom, Michael wants to talk to you,' she's like going to say 'yeah, so what else is new?' If you want me to do the whole John Alden thing, I'll need something to work with."

"Who's John Alden?"

"You know, the guy that Miles Standish asked to go to speak to Priscilla for him?"

"Don't know him."

"Dude, The Courtship of Miles Standish?"

Granted, everyone's life is different, but sometimes I think Aiden is an alien. I don't know where he gets half the stuff that's in his head.

"Just tell her, Aiden. Okay?"

"I could make something up. I could tell her that the doctor has given you only weeks to live."

"Would that work?" When you're desperate you don't always think real clearly.

"Maybe not as good as the truth, but she'd probably go for it."

"What do you mean the truth?"

"You're going to want to tell her how you feel, man."

"I don't know how I feel." I know that sounds stupid. "Not that it's any of your business."

"So what were you planning on saying?"

"Jesus, I don't know. It's actually really hard to put into words the things I think I need to say."

"'Love hath made thee a tame snake.'"

See, that's what I mean. You're having a conversation with him, and then he just says something that makes no sense whatsoever.

"What the hell are you talking about, Aiden?"

"'Love hath made thee a tame snake.' Shakespeare? As You Like It? Listen, dude, the word is everything. That's why almost five hundred years later people are still listening to Shakespeare. You have to know what to say to get your message heard."

"So okay, smart-ass, what is it I'm supposed to say?"

"You got to tell her what she wants to hear, and you have to convince her you mean it."

"So, what? I tell her that I want to get married?"

"You can, I guess, but I don't think that's what she wants to hear."

"What do you mean that's not what she wants to hear? That's what this whole thing is about. Look, kid, I know you're only fourteen years old, but ..."

"Fifteen, doofus. My birthday was last week. Thanks for the card."

"I didn't send a card."

"See? That's what I mean. I didn't want a card."

"Then why'd you bring it up?"

"Because it was your opportunity to be real, but instead, all you wanted was to be was right."

I admit that I've never really warmed to Aiden, and sometimes I like him less than others. I always figured that was okay since it seemed to me that his mother didn't always like him either, but maybe pissing people off is just his gift. Right now, however, I need him, I really need him -- maybe that's not a good reason to like somebody, but I'm dealing with a lot of stuff right now that I can barely understand myself. Aiden is my only in with Jess at the moment.

"Okay, listen. I really, really need to talk to your mother, Aiden. Just tell her I called, and let her know that it's important that she call me, okay."

"I'll see what I can do," he says and hangs up.

"The earth is filled with harmony and trust
when the alliance between man and woman is lived well.
And if man and woman seek it together between themselves and with God,
without a doubt they will find it."
-- Pope Francis

For the past two days, I have had my phone in my hand pretty much constantly. I even made sure it was within reach when I was in the shower -- I set it on the commode. I had kind of envisioned Aiden hanging up and going straight to Jess, and then Jess calling me straight away, but after a couple hours I figured maybe Jess had been at work. That would explain the first day of waiting, but when Jess hadn't called yesterday, I began to think all kinds of things, but mostly that Aiden had screwed me over and didn't say anything. Why would he do that? Fourteen-year-olds are a pain in the ass, even if they have turned fifteen. How was I supposed to know it was his birthday? Jess always took care of that kind of stuff. If he had gotten Jess to call me, I would have gone out and gotten him a birthday present.

I have to admit, though, that he got me thinking. What am I going to say to Jess? There's a lot of stuff going on in my head, and I'm not sure where to begin. I'm thirty-five, and I hadn't thought of myself as old really until a couple of days after Jess walked out, but I'm too damn close to forty to be screwing around with starting over.

The phone rings, and I jump and drop the phone. I move to pick it up and kick it under the bed. What the hell? I get down on my knees and look, but I can't see anything -- I just hear my ringtone of this guy whistling a smooth little jazz riff that's already repeated twice. Apparently the phone has gone all the way under the bed and out the other side, probably under the night stand. I mean, seriously. Why does this kind of stuff happen? I already don't know what I'm going to say and now this. I climb over the bed and root around under the night stand until I find the damn phone. It's like totally covered in balls of dust.

"Hello? Jess?"

"Michael? Michael, are you all right?"

"Yeah, sure. Just dropped the phone."


"Just dropped the phone when you called, is all. Nothing big, you know?"

"I mean are you all right? Aiden told me the doctor said you were really sick."

"What? I mean no, I didn't tell him that. I'm fine, really."

"Aiden!" I can hear some muffled yelling, and I'm guessing Aiden's going to catch some flak over this. "Michael, Aiden says he talked about this with you?"

"Me? No. I mean I called, but I didn't say anything about a doctor or anything." I don't want to get sidetracked with another issue right now. I'll make it up to him later if I can get back in Jess's good graces. "I didn't call and say 'Aiden, I went to the hospital,'"

"You went to the hospital?"

"No. I didn't."

"Then why did you bring it up?"

"Because I didn't go, that's why. I thought you'd want to know that."

"So you called to let me know that there's nothing wrong with you and you didn't go to the hospital?"

"Yeah, well, in part I guess." This is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. "How are you doing, Jess? Okay?"

"What do you want, Michael?"

"We need to talk, Jess."

"About what? We had eight years to talk, Michael."

"Yeah, but this is different."


How? How? How am I supposed to answer that? I spent most of thirty-five years thinking one way and the last eight days thinking another, and now I am expected to be some kind of expert about myself. I don't know what it is I am supposed to say, but I'm pretty sure, I'm hoping, that whatever it is, she can really understand what I'm saying.

"I was stupid, Jess."

"And now you're not?"

"No," I say. "I'm just about certain I'm still stupid, Jess."

There is a long period of silence which I can't interpret. I'm holding my breath.

"And?" She doesn't sound angry, but I don't know what else she wants. I thought I said it all, and even though I didn't really expect her be to be like, okay that's cool, I was hoping she would add a little more to the conversation from her side.

"And," I say thinking as quickly as I can. "I would like to have dinner with you, you know? Kind of a second-chance first date."

"You called to invite me out to dinner?"

"No. I don't have that kind of money. I was hoping to make you dinner."



"At your place?"

"No, actually. I was hoping to maybe bring the food over to your place. The room I'm renting only has like a hotplate and a mini-refrigerator, and there's no place really to sit. Oh, and I only know how to make hot dogs, if that's okay."

"So you're inviting yourself over to make hot dogs." She laughs a little bit, and I take that as a good sign. At least she hasn't immediately blown me off. "And when do you propose doing this?"

"Tomorrow. Will you parents be there tomorrow?"

"Damn it, Mike, yes, they will be here, so, no we just can't jump in the sack and act like nothing ever ..."

"Wait, wait, Jess. That's not what I'm saying. I just need to know how much food to bring, you know, buns and stuff. I would like them to be there. And Aiden. It would be nice if he was there."

There is another long period of silence before Jess says anything. "This was why you called?"

"No," I sigh deeply. "I didn't have plan, actually. I just needed to hear your voice, Jess."

"And if hearing my voice is all you get from this?"

"It'll have to do, I guess. It's already more than I deserve, I know. I would like to talk to Aiden before you hang up though. I should thank him."

"So what, you did put him up to this?"

"Yeah," I say. "Well, no, I mean I didn't say anything about doctors. That was his idea, but I didn't have a better one, so I guess we kinda went with his."

"You're a dick, Michael."

"Yeah, that's what Aiden's been saying all along."

"What time is dinner?"


"When are you and your hot dogs coming over for dinner?"


"For dinner. Nothing else."

"Dinner. Nothing else. And is six-thirty okay?"





Okay. I need a shopping list. And a clean shirt. And a birthday card for Aiden. I can't screw this up.

Article © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2016-06-20
Image(s) are public domain.
3 Reader Comments
ralph bland
12:06:34 AM
I like this. I mean I really like this. This dialogue sounds like Salinger and Holden Caulfield and Phoebe and Ward Stradlatter have joined forces to tell a story. Fresh and witty dialogue without the first cliche anywhere near. Crackling word play and excellent non-expository character development!
12:16:35 AM
It finally registered in my thick skull that when there is a Part Seven it generally means there are six parts before it.So I went back and read the first six parts. So now I like this even better. I can't wait to see what happens in the lives of these people I've come to know.
05:59:46 PM
Ralph, thank you. Comments like that, coming as they do from such a talented writer, really, really make my day.
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