What follows is a transcript of a conversation that might have happened. Once. Or that probably will happen. Eventually.
It takes places in the laundry room of a retirement community.
There are two participants. The man is strikingly handsome, but very, very old. His name could be Gary or Randolph or Charlton or Aldo. We’ll call him James. He has silver hair, an aquiline nose, and a gaunt face deeply lined by age, weather, and sun. His shoulders are slightly stooped, but it’s clear from his posture that he was once so tall he loomed effortlessly over other men. He has piercing blue eyes and a bone structure worthy of being embossed on a coin or carved into the side of a mountain.
The woman is in her early thirties. Her name could be Sally or Jennifer or Maria or Anne. We’ll call her Eve. She has a small nose, green eyes, long eyelashes, and a beautiful neck. Eve does not live in the retirement community. She is doing her mother’s laundry while the older woman takes the afternoon off to have her hair done. Eve adores her mother. Her mother adores Eve.
When she walks into the laundry room, Eve sees James trying to fit a dollar bill into a machine that converts paper money into quarters. After the dollar is spit out three times, Eve approaches James and says, “May I?”
She takes the dollar out of his arthritic hand, turns it over, smoothes it out, and re-inserts it. Instantly, four quarters clang into the change receptacle.
James smiles and says, “Thank you.”
Eve wiggles her hand and laughs, “It’s all in the wrist.” Then she abruptly stops laughing and starts to stare. ”Excuse me.” She squints as if from the effort of remembering. Then she frowns and adds, “Uhm … don’t I know you?”
The old man stops smiling. Eve is still squinting.
“I am addicted to Turner Classic Movies,” she says thoughtfully. “I would rather watch a film made in the 1940s than eat.” She takes a step forward. “I saw you in…Oh, damn. What was the name of that movie? I’ll never forget the tears in your eyes when the lieutenant was dying in your arms. And when you leaned forward to kiss his forehead. It was so … so … masculine.”
James doesn’t say anything.
Eve blunders on, “You won an academy award for the movie about the girl who gets kidnapped in Brooklyn. You played a cop in that one. My husband says that nobody has ever played a cop as well as you did. He’s a homicide detective, so he knows. Then …”
And Eve proceeds to list over fifteen movies, including brief plot summaries, before she snaps her fingers and blurts out, “You are …” and she articulates his name. Of course, she is right.
Eve’s eyes open wide in awe. “You were a cowboy. A newspaperman. A pirate. A paratrooper. A judge. You entertained our grandparents and parents during and after World War II. Every time we watch your movies on TV, you still thrill us to the core. You played men with grit, guts, and sex appeal. You’re a symbol of integrity, a Hollywood legend, and a great movie star.”
James sighs. His eyes are serene, and there is no bitterness in his voice.
“I used to be a great movie star, but that was long ago. Twenty-five years ago, I sold real estate. Fifteen years ago, I bought into a marina. Five years ago, I retired.”
Eve takes a pen and a small pad of paper out of her purse.
She says solemnly, “When your soul leaps off the silver screen and into our hearts, you give us romance. You make our dreams bigger and our expectations higher. That is timeless. That is immortal.”
Eve puts the pad into James’ hand. “Autograph, please,” she says.
He shakes his head, never having expected to be recognized in the laundry room of the anonymous retirement community in which he lives. “I haven’t made a movie in over thirty years,” he protests. “I am nobody now. I’m just an ordinary man.”
She smiles and wraps his fingers around the pen.
“You may have done some ordinary things, but you will never be an ordinary man.”
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2011, Shelly Reuben