Thursday, September 13, 2007

Conversation

A Conversation
In the Kitchen
With Her Father

Her father and I went into the kitchen together, leaving Carrie in the dining room with her mother.

He was an electrical engineer, a quiet man with an inquisitive expression, a head shorter and a few years older than me, balding and shading toward softness.

"Cappuccino – non-fat foam?"

"If it's no trouble."

He smiled. "No trouble. I make it that way for my wife." He had the tools, the coffee roaster, the burr grinder, the foamer, the stainless steel dual drip espresso maker – he had thousands of dollars worth of equipment on the counter. He opened a container with beans he'd roasted and fed them into the grinder. Over the sound of the grinder he said, "How'd you meet?"

"I ran a workshop last year. I hadn't taught in a while and friends called in a favor." They thought they'd been doing me a favor, getting me out into the world again.

"Carrie took an acting class?" He sounded surprised.

"No" – the grinder went silent, and I lowered my voice. "Her boyfriend."

"Mark."

"I don't remember his name. He quit early on." I didn't remember his name, but I remembered him. He was strikingly beautiful, a couple years younger and rather prettier than Carrie. Possibly he hadn't known he was gay yet, and very likely he hadn't known he was the worst actor I'd seen in thirty years. "Very good looking boy."

He tamped down the coffee and slid it into the dual-spout espresso machine. "That was Mark. When she told us they'd broken up," he said carefully, "her mother and I were not terribly upset."

"Until you heard why?"

He shook his head. "She didn't tell us why."

"When did she tell you?"

"After she invited you to meet us."

We'd been living together for six months at that point. "Ah."

"You're not surprised."

"And nor are you."

"She keeps her own counsel, that girl." He put the frothing wand into the milk and steam hissed up. "You don't look your age. You look ten or fifteen years younger than me."

Normally I pass it off as good genes. What is really is, is work. "You read trade journals and such?"

"It's mostly moved to the web, but yeah, I stay on top of the publications."

"Sunscreen, botox, laser resurfacing, chemical peel, diamond micro dermabrasion, tretinoin, collagen injections. That's mostly for the face. I get a manicure and pedicure once a week. I don't have a bald spot, that's genetics, but I've had my hairline touched up twice. I dye my beard and hair. I had Lasik. I spend three hours a day working out – hot yoga every day for ninety minutes, aerobic interval training daily, weight work three times a week, longer-form aerobics four times a week." I thought about discussing my diet and supplements, decided that was more than the point needed. "I've started with intermittent fasting recently -- eat one day, don't eat the next -- supposed to help you live longer and improve your immune system and neural health."

He smiled, a little tentatively. "Hard work."

"It's the job. Or it's vanity, take your pick. It's mostly vain people who get into my line of work."

"I looked you up on IMDB." He shook his head. "I recognized a couple of your roles."

"And all of my movies."

The espresso machine started hissing, pumping dark coffee into the small cups. "Most of them."

Only people in the industry know my name. A couple years back an industry blogger figured out who the top dozen actors were by box office receipts – even he was surprised to find my name on the list. Harrison Ford and Samuel L. Jackson were first and second – I was sixth. I had speaking roles in two of the Star Wars sequels, one of the Lord of the Rings movies, Titanic, Aliens, True Lies, and Independence Day.

The only movie with my name above the title bombed so badly that the executive producer named an evil alien after me in his next project.

"You haven't worked much the last few years."

"No."

"You wealthy?"

"I don't need to work if I don't want to."

With a wide silver spoon he scooped foam onto my cappuccino and handed me the cup. "You don't pour the foam, or you get wet cappuccino. People asking for wet cappuccino really want a latte."

I sipped, and then sipped again. "This is very good."

"People get good at the things that matter to them." He stood there with the cup in his hand. "What are your intentions toward my daughter?"

"I don't have any."

"You've been together almost a year."

"And living together for half of that. I keep expecting her to get tired of me and move out. So far she hasn't."

"You're an unusual man."

"As actors go I'm not extraordinary."

"Forgive me if I think that's a highly qualified statement."

I shrugged.

"She said you were married and don't like to talk about it."

"Yes."

"Why not?"

I wanted to leave, take Carrie or leave her, and get out, and not talk anymore to this mild, inquisitive, friendly little man.

"I've never told Carrie. I don't think she'd understand."

"Ah. Well, there's that. Twenty years difference between you two."

"I've never told her my wife died. In a car accident. And --"

"How long were you married?"

"-- and so did, so did the kids."

"You had children."

"Two. Two children."

"When did this happen?"

"Four years ago. My son was eight. My daughter ... would have been a couple years younger than Carrie, today. In her first year at Berkeley, probably. She wanted to go to Berkeley. Her Mom went to Berkeley."

"What were their names?"

I hadn't spoken their names aloud since it happened. "My wife was Marie. My daughter was Jane. My son was Lu...Lu...Lucas." Stuttering. Christ, I hadn't stuttered since I was twelve.

"How long were you married?"

"Seventeen years."

Marie and Jane had died at the scene; Luke had taken two days dying. The first time he woke up they hadn't medicated him yet, and he screamed until his voice gave out, from the pain of the burns.

"Ah." He sipped at the coffee, slowly, enjoying it, and looked up at me with those kind eyes. "I very much wish you weren't involved with my daughter."

"I can understand that." I thought about it. "Yes. So do I."

4 comments:

Sean Fagan said...

Well, that's bittersweet...

Shawn said...

Does The Guy stay grim & gritty, or have a life-changing event ahead of him? Tune in next week!

It's interesting seeing the "bits & pieces" getting written, knowing that they may never make it into a finished story... but that they're good enough narrative to stand on their own in this format.

Dan Moran said...

Don't know what happens with this guy. (I don't know his name either.)

I know I'm not done with him.

Jesse Wendel said...

I was a paramedic in Oakland. And Houston, Tucson and South Tucson and out on the rez. And other places.

But Oakland was where I retired, where I lost my edge.

We treated three sisters, teenagers, burned alive in West Oakland. They didn't know they were dead yet.

The fireman, strong men, stood around, their heads turned away, as my partner and I loaded the girls in. Still talking to each other, holding hands, I took all three away in my rig.

They didn't say anything special; sister things. By the time we reached Highland, their breathing was going to hell and they got tubed. No chance to say goodbye. No one told them their talking to each other in the rig was their last words.

I went back to my rig and picked their skin up off the floor.

I went out on another call. They were dead 36 hours later.