Harry lingered over the single serving TV dinners and pondered the colloquial reference to TV dinners and how they must have come up with that in the 50’s when families first got tvs and would sit in front of the only shows that aired. The Ed Sullivan Show. Maybe I Love Lucy. Harry knew he wasn’t old enough to know what people watched then, but he could think of at least three different episodes of I Love Lucy. The one where they wore matching dresses. The chocolate factory one. And there was that famous one where she made a commercial for cough syrup and ended up drunk.
Harry was married once, but it was unofficial and in the second grade. No papers were signed, but there was a lot of kissing involved. He assumed that real marriage looked like the exact opposite. Too much paper and not enough kissing.
He wondered if he’d ever find out, if he’d ever see the day when two pairs of shoes dotted the entryway of his spacious two bedroom apartment with arched ceilings and a built-in fireplace. He wondered if he could handle it. He’d allowed himself to dream about it on Saturdays because Saturdays are slower and less planned out. It takes mental space to dream big. He’d make a big breakfast and sit out on his sun porch. He’d wait to read the news. It was usually bad anyway. Bad, or all about dogs. He needed space from the norm, from his work-a-day mind filled with facts and numbers and planes and designs. He knew he was a creative type, when he allowed himself the indulgence of fresh air and space. He’d even fashioned a poem or two in his day. But that Saturday two weeks ago was a turning point. His ritual dream space was bombarded with the overwhelming notion that he might be alone forever if he didn’t figure out his flaws and fix them.
He was a genial sort, cracked jokes at the office. Only in the breakroom and with two or three successful trials with the same joke, but he’d gotten a laugh or two. One was a potential mercy laugh, but one was a genuine gut laugh from Percy the overweight musician who is potentially on a few high doses of anti-depressants, but still. It counts. Harry also knew that his hygiene was on par with the rest. He had purchased an excellent kit with strong but not too-strong aftershave and body wash and cologne, which he used. Not all at once, but intermittently and carefully so as to keep the bottles at the same levels. He was thoughtful like that. He kept his home in great condition. His aunt had given him a jade plant to keep and he had braggably kept it alive for years. These were all settled in his mind. Like a checklist, he walked through whatever else he could possibly fix to be alluring.
The sun was shining and scorching the porch deck. He moved his toes like little fans waving. He tucked them quickly under his chair as was his habit when he looked down at his lower phalanges. That was it. He knew now what he must do.
He so rarely went to the east side of town, so he knew he’d be safe there from onlookers or coworkers who may see him enter the Mani-Pedi-Mini-Mart and judge him. He didn’t know exactly what they’d think, but he assumed the words pretentious or pretty boy would throw him for years and ruin all hope he had for espousing the idea of marriage let alone taking a spouse.
He was escorted to his seat after a long misunderstood half conversation with the young woman at the front counter about whether men actually ever entered such premises and whether he’d like the day’s shade of pink or the natural glow polish under the gel. So much to consider and concern himself about.
He had had few moments in life that had left him as speechless as the events of the next half hour or so.
He was washed and scrubbed and patted and slapped and clipped and lotioned and rubbed from the knees down. The whole treatment was a whirlwind. Throughout it, he squirmed and shuffled in his chair from side to side and kept his eyes on the door in case someone he knew entered. He had to keep justifying it in his head and reminding himself that it is a lot like what he does to his car. It’s an upkeep, a maintenance, a General Mills kind of action that could help him check off that list of preparedness. He let his mind wander to that place that let’s a woman enter his sphere and co-own it with him. It’s nice. The pink things in the bathroom. The lady clothes in the closet. The friendly smells of lady cologne with matching lotion. It was all lovely. The woman buffing his big toe looked up and smiled like she saw the vision too. She set his foot in slip-on paper sandals and said in sweet tones, “All done, Harry.”
Harry liked hearing his name like that. At work it was Mr. this and Jones that. Harry. The sound echoed in his mind. It had been too long since he’d heard anything so sweet.
The evening passed by quickly. Harry swam laps at the Y, the quiet licking of the water only a little more mesmerizing than the Taylor Swift record being played in the loud speakers. Too young. Too famous. He had his levels. He knew not to reach for the stars. He recalled the plaque on his Aunt’s guest room wall that told him to reach for the stars and at least land on the moon or some such nonsense. Still, he liked the plaque. He liked the picture of the little kid reaching up and hanging from the edge of the moon. Maybe he could do it. Could ask someone out. Could set up house. Could enjoy that clear belled tone of his name on repeat. Then perhaps he’d finally understand the perplexing words to that Celine Dion Titanic song. It bothered him so much that he felt annoyed by those lyrics.
He looked in his freezer at the dinners piled high. They looked like the building he worked in. Grey and guessable. He slammed the door and let out a word he usually saved for public football games and smashed fingers. He felt discouraged by indecisiveness, by discontentment. He got in his car and drove back to the east side of town. The sandwich place next door to the Mani-Mart that looked so inviting earlier was closed, but one door down a taco place with a blinking sign had a deal going: two for one taco Tuesday. He walked in and noticed that one wall of the shop was dedicated to old tv shows and that one where Lucy drinks the cough syrup was front and center. He ordered two tacos and paid for two and sat in a corner where he could look out and try to forget this day. Saturdays are not meant for dreaming, after all, and shoes are meant for wearing. Toes should stay covered. He felt foolish for a minute but then he heard his name. Soft once, enough to break his spell of despondency and make him look up. A girl from the third floor at his work sat two tiny tables away from him. Jill he thought her name was. She started chatting about the broken elevator and the monotony of weekly floor meetings and Harry felt transported. He’d never heard anything so beautiful. And his tacos were amazing. Later that evening he dropped his loafers by the door. He’d forgotten socks in his rush to find dinner. He didn’t care. He looked down at his soft soft feet with their new car glow and decided he’d go again in a few weeks. Or sooner. As long as he didn’t look too eager. As he fell asleep that night he wondered if maybe Tuesday’s were better for dreaming.