Open Call 2019, Short Stories - Norman Klein




By Norman Klein


First she emailed me a picture of the three of us taken in early June. Lindy on my right, strikingly attractive with her dainty nose and movie-star lips. I was in the middle with my chin raised, my grey hair curled over my ears, and on my left was Lindy’s boyfriend Leon leaning on my shoulder, his eyes full of fun.

Minutes later the phone rang and it was Lindy calling to tell me Leon had proposed, and she had said yes, but that the official announcement of their engagement should come from me.


“We know you hate driving in the city, so we’ll come to you. How does a noon brunch at the Pequack Inn on Sunday sound?” Lindy asked.


I hesitated, not wanting to imagine what a wedding costs these days, then threw caution to the wind.


“That’s lovely, dear. What good news. I’m so happy for you. Will you make the reservation and ask for our favorite table with the view of the lake?”


“Of course,” she said.

“Is Leon there? Could I just say hello and congratulate him?”


“Hi, Mom. Can’t wait to see you. I’ll bring the champagne,” Leon said.


“Will your brother come, or will it just be the three of us?” I asked.


“Raphael is just back from Japan, and not feeling well. We’re not sure.”


Leon said. “Oh, the poor dear. Tell him I’m dying to meet him,” I said.


I had never met Raphael. All I know about him is that he’s Leon’s much older brother who owns a ten-room brick house in Cambridge. There is also a guest suite over the three-car garage, and that’s where Lindy and Leon are spending the summer. Raphael teaches nuclear physics at MIT, and does most of his consulting in the summer months, which means they have seen very little of him.


Leon has nothing but praise for his brother. Raphael put Leon through college and insisted on a Master’s degree as well. However, Lindy says Raphael now chides Leon for ignoring the fact that he can’t support her. Leon teaches political science at a Community College in Manchester, New Hampshire and lives in a modest studio apartment. The problem is he makes less than the dean’s secretary.


Lindy was counting on doing a Masters in Journalism at the state university on the other side of town, but two days ago she received a letter bearing bad news: she had not been accepted. She was furious. She had sent a picture. How could they not want her?


It was Raphael who was the first to comfort her when Lindy showed him the letter. “Here, Lindy, on the second page, did you see this? It tells you they never accept students who haven’t worked for a paper, a magazine, or some other news media for at least a year.”


“Leon didn’t tell me that,” she said, drying her tears

I called Lindy on the Friday before the announcement to ask how the search for a larger apartment was going, and learned it wasn’t going well. They needed to find something within walking distance to the school, because Leon doesn’t have a car.


“So, what are you going to do, Lindy?” I asked.


“I’ll tell him on Sunday that I’ll have to live with you if he can’t find something,” she said.


“Can’t he share your car?” I asked.


“Mom, you don’t understand. I need to keep my options open,” she said.


Poor Lindy, she’s not good at real life. In her college yearbook, under her picture it said, ‘Homecoming Queen, drop-dead beautiful, period.’


It was obvious to me what she should do. She should get a job with a salary.


Something in public relations or corporate events. That’s what her father did for a living: first public relations, and then investor relations. Sunday morning it was Leon who was first through the door, and Leon who set a champagne bottle on the table and kissed me on one cheek and then the other – not a real kiss, the European pretend kiss. Without thinking I threw myself into his arms. There’s something so warm about him I couldn’t help myself.


But Lindy didn’t approve. As I looked over Leon’s shoulder, there she was staring at me, warning me to behave myself.


“Where’s Raphael?” I asked.


“He sends his regrets. He’s not well,” Lindy said.


Then it was off to the Pequack Inn. Lindy had reserved the table with the lake view, but half way to it I was forced to ask the waiter if we could change our mind and have a table closer to the fireplace, because seated at the table she had chosen was the recently defeated state senator who last summer had tried to seduce Lindy on his so-called motorized yacht called The Love Boat.

“What’s all this, Lindy?” he asked as he approached our table. “I thought we were here to negotiate your modeling contract with New Hampshire Pools. Who is this guy?” he asked, as Leon rose to his feet.


“Give me the contract. I’ll look it over, and let you know,” Lindy said.

“No, that’s not the way it works. I’ve put together a larger package I think you will like, but we have to do this with our best customers on The Love Boat,” he said.

“Young man, you’re interrupting an engagement dinner. Please leave,” I said
He hesitated. I stood and faced him. He turned on his heel and walked away.


“Lindy, what were you thinking? Why did you arrange to meet him here?” I asked, still catching my breath.


“I told him it was an engagement party. Now he knows,” she said.

“I’m sure he does. As do we, but let’s put this aside for now,” Leon said looking at me, not Lindy.


We ordered drinks and made the best of it. I told Leon how when she was seven her father would take her on his knee and ask her if she wanted to be a model or a film star when she grew up, and she would say ‘both’ knowing that was the right answer.

In the silence that followed I asked myself what I would do if Lindy was forced to live with me for a time. Long visits were fine when her father was alive, but I can’t take it for more than a day or two. We didn’t stay for dessert or coffee. We hurried home and drank the champagne, every last drop of it, and then I went upstairs to nap. I could hear them arguing and then Lindy crying as I pretended to sleep.


Weeks passed, and Lindy finally called to tell me Leon hadn’t found anything, but he had asked if she would come and look at the work he had done on his apartment, and so she did. But it didn’t take more than a minute to look at the three rooms and tell Leon she couldn’t live in that kind of squalor.

“Where does that leave you?” I asked, and she told me Raphael had given her the summer apartment for another three months. When she thanked him and told him she was going

to give modeling a shot, he drove her to the mall and bought her suitable clothes, shoes, and jewelry. That same evening he arranged a photo shoot so she would have something she could take to agency interviews.


Then, seeing the photos, Raphael paid for six weeks of modeling classes for Lindy, and celebrated with her when her new agency found work for her almost immediately. Small projects, but real work. Nothing like the nonsense Mr. Love Boat had in mind.


We still talk on the phone every Sunday night, and last night I asked how Leon was doing. “I have no idea. How would I know? He’s too busy to email or call. I think he may be looking for a second job,” she said.


“And what does Raphael make of this?”


“He agrees with me. Leon should be calling me, and in the mean time Raphael is taking me to the nightclubs and restaurants I should be seen in I’m meeting all the right people, and I owe it all to Raffy. He’s a wonderful man, don’t you think, Mom?” she asked.

I was speechless for a moment. My hands began to tremble. I whispered to myself, “God help her,” then agreed with her that indeed he was. Two days later came another call

from Lindy just as I turned on the late news.


“Mom, you’re not going to believe this: just before seven Raffy came crashing into the kitchen with his travel briefcase full of checks and notes. He’s been summoned to the Pentagon to help with a crisis. I warmed up his dinner for him, as he wrote checks for me to deposit to keep the house going. There was also a wedding check for me that we can talk about later. There were no checks for Leon, but Raffy signed over his Outback to him and encouraged me to force Leon to take it.”


“Good for him,” I said.


“Mom. You don’t understand. I want to be with Raffy, not Leon, but this project in Washington is going to take six months to resolve, maybe more,” she said.


“And where does this leave you and Leon? If push comes to shove, you and Leon could come to live with me, I suppose,” I said.


“Mom, you’re not listening to me,” she said.


“Then go ahead, tell me about the wedding check.”


“If I marry Leon, Raffy will pay for everything, including the honeymoon.”

“So what did Leon say,” I asked.


“He said he had moved out of the studio apartment and was making other arrangements with a friend.”


Norman Klein is an Iowa MFA who publishes 20 stories in the last 20 months He has edited for Ploughshares for three years. He has taught writing at Simmons College, U Mass Boston, and the Harvard Business School. He now lives and writes in the woods of New Hampshire


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