I'm an eighty-year-old woman trying to distinguish love from lust. I haven't felt anything like lust since 1979 when a strapping bagpiper was hired to entertain the tourists over by the lighthouse. That was a good summer. I was only sixty-eight then and raring to go. Everything about me was sex - u - al. I looked a lot younger than my age, too. That, my sister speculated at the time, must have been how I snagged the forty-three-year-old bagpiper.
"He's gonna hit the road the minute he finds out your age."
"No he won't," I argued. But of course he did. Well, can you blame him? I had no money hanging over my head and after a while the sex just got a little tiresome. Same old thing all the time. The poor guy wasn't ready for the likes of me. That was the last time I felt anything close to lust. So what was happening to me now? A second wind at eighty? Couldn't be. I always figured any wind at eighty would have to be caused by a good dish of beans or some bad guacamole. No, that wasn't it. All Meredith had to say was, "here comes the old-timer" and I felt my legs go weak from the tip of the varicose vein on the back of my left knee right down to my ankles.
"Why don'tcha quit thinking about that old fart for a while and get back to work," Meredith admonished, jarring me from my reverie.
"For your information," I began, "I was just thinking we oughta start selling some of them adult videos to the tourists. Something we can really put our Made in Nova Scotia stamp on."
My sister, Meredith, and I owned and ran The Lobster Potpourri, a seasonal trinket shop aimed at luring in tourists. Located just across the road from Bay Ferries, we usually got our fair share of tourists before they hit the highway in search of more exciting destinations.
"Awww....don't talk so vulgar," Meredith said, paling at the thought.
"You sound like the Virgin Mary."
"And you sound cheap," Meredith retorted, fingering the St. Christopher medallion which hung from a gold chain around her neck that as far back as I can recall had never been removed. I know for a fact she'd never paid more than twenty dollars for that chain and it never ceased to amaze me how it didn't turn her neck green. Just then something caught my eye. My breath caught in my throat at the quick glimpse of a tattered jacket just outside the shop. I looked for the bucket, the squeegee, the man with the bandana on his head.
"You gonna jump at every piece of filthy tweed that moves now, are ya?" Meredith laughed, shaking her head in disbelief. "I told ya, that old man's not coming back."
"These windows haven't been washed in weeks. He'll be back." And I knew that he would. There was no way the rumors could be true. Why would a seventy-something window cleaner, who'd been a part of the neighborhood as long as the stink of the flats, just wander off and drown? People from Yarmouth didn't drown in the harbor. That was just stupid. Sure, a fisherman or two was lost every lobster season out on the open sea. That was bound to happen. But people didn't just walk into the harbor and drown. Yeah, the old guy was probably getting a little senile and maybe he just got lost. That would explain his long absence.
I wasn't even sure of his real name, so there was no way of checking the obituaries. Around town he was just known as Nut. I'm no expert, but I'm damned sure no one would post an obituary about someone named Nut who'd passed away recently. Even if he had no family to claim him that just wouldn't be done. Not even in Yarmouth.
"For the love of God what d'ya see in that old bag of wind anyway? He's a window cleaner for heaven's sakes!"
"He's got sex appeal. Nothing you'd know about."
"I know enough to know that man's got no sex appeal, Dorothy." Meredith's mockery faded as she disappeared into the stock room, emerging again with a few jars of "bottled fog".
"I can't believe you're gonna sell an empty jar for five dollars," I said. Meredith, after overhearing the conversation of a young honeymooning couple who'd ventured into our shop, got the bright idea to bottle the fog.
"Why not? People want this stuff. You heard so yourself."
"Those people didn't say they wanted to buy the fog."
"They said, 'Wish we could bring some of this home with us,' is what they said." And to Meredith, that meant business. Dollar signs were her fantasy, rarely men. So far she hadn't succeeded in either venture.
"You sure that's not him?" I asked, removing my eyeglasses to get a better look.
"It's not him," Meredith sighed, busying herself with stocking shelves, cracking open a new box of candy bars and systematically plucking dead flies from the window ledge. "Reach me those books up there would ya?" Meredith, a full foot shorter than myself, said. "I'll be damned if I'm using that old piss pot to step on when you're standing right here. That's why God made you tall."
"That's why God made me tall? To be your personal slave?"
Meredith had her own very unique relationship with God, a relationship that seemed to include no one but herself.
"I need those books down here. Customers can't see 'em there. Can't sell 'em if you can't see 'em."
Grumbling, I got them down. Romancing the Maritimes. Paperback. Just the word "romance" got me to dreaming all over again. I unpacked the books, slipping them onto the lower shelf, allowing myself to slip into my favorite fantasy. The sun was high and the day was hot. Oppressive. I'd be working hard, tending to a swarm of customers, all under the admiring eye of the window cleaner. Finally I'd succumb to heat and exhaustion, crumbling to the floor in one graceful swoon. I pictured Mr. Window Cleaner tearing off his thread-bare tweed, revealing a tatoo of my name over bulging biceps. He'd storm in and demand to know what had happened, scooping me into his hairy arms and carrying me outside to the cool shade.
"She's gonna have a stroke. It happened to an old aunt of mine."
"Should we call 911?"
Embarrassed, I switched off the fantasy. "I'm sorry," I said to the two young men who were staring with obvious fascination. "Were you looking for something?" I straightened up, blinking the glaze out of my eyes, feeling Meredith's righteous glare boring a hole through the back of my neck
"Wow, we thought you were having a stroke!" The taller of the two boys said, looking disappointed.
"Was there something you were looking for?" I asked again, contemplating having some sort of "attack" for the entertainment of the young audience before me.
"We're from the Student Employment office. Heard you got some windows that need cleaning." A moist hand was thrust into mine, his smile revealing strategically stuck pieces of lunch which were wedged tightly into his braces.
"I'm sorry," I said, "but we have a window cleaner."
"No, we don't," Meredith stepped up to bat. "He's long gone. When can you start?"
"Got the stuff to start now if you want."
"That'd be fine. Thank you." Meredith wiped her hands on her apron, removed it, and reached for a jar of Rose Hip Jelly. "Oh, and wipe those flies off the sill would ya?"
"Come on, Dorothy," she said. "Wipe off that sour puss and eat some lunch ." She reached into a paper bag and pulled out a couple of English Muffins, some baked bean sandwiches and a thermos of tea.
"Where's my boiled eggs?" I asked, peering into the empty bag.
"They smelled like farts."
"I like 'em. What'cha you do with 'em?" I asked.
"We can't have fart smells stinkin' up the store. It's not good for business."
"So you just took 'em out? You took out my lunch without even telling me?" My voice rose a few ridiculous octaves too loud and I suddenly remembered a scrap of Dr. Hardy's advice from my appointment the previous week.
"Visualize happy thoughts when you're feeling angry," he'd said. "Visualize what makes you happy," had been his advice. I visualized kicking Meredith's ass.
"Here. I brought you this." Smiling, Meredith produced a plate of rappie pie from beneath the counter.
"And I'm supposed to eat it cold?"
"Won't kill you." Meredith shrugged, biting blissfully into her bean sandwich.
The day continued on in pretty much the same tone. We worked. We argued. We had customers and we had a couple of new window cleaners. In fact, the days went by in pretty much the same tone. Before we knew it, days went into weeks. By then the summer was half over.
"So you still think he's coming back?" Meredith had the nerve to ask one day.
"He's coming back you know." But even my own conviction was weakening. His appearance faded from my memory and he began to take on characteristics reminiscent of a teenage heartthrob. I went about my business, lost in my fantasies, secretly wishing for his return. I'd become so enamored of my own fantasies that the day he finally did step up to that window again I thought I was dreaming.
"Well I'll be damned," Meredith said as she doled out a customer's change, peering over her reading specs at the apparition in the window. "The jackass is back."
"I'll be right back," I said. My heart raced in my chest as I approached him, taking in his weathered face. He still sported the tattered bandana and his customary tweed blazer.
"Hi," I said, summoning phlegm to produce a sexy voice. I waited as he dropped his squeegee and wiped his hands on his jacket, for the look of rapture I'd always envisioned. Instead, I got a squint of suspicion and a grunt.
"Didn't think you were coming back," I ventured, hoping for a confession. This was where he was supposed to say how he'd missed me, longed for me, had to see me one more time.
"Prostate's been actin' up," he muttered, spitting into the dirt.
"These windows been cleaned already ain't they?"
"Uhhh...yeah. Some kids came by."
"Yeah." I shifted nervously, averting my gaze from the irregular black mole spreading across the bridge of his nose.
"You've got paint on your shoulder." I swatted at the while dollop.
"It's bird shit."
"Oh." I withdrew my hand quickly, wiping it on my behind. "Well, uh, glad your back."
Maybe that's why they called him Nut, because he strode around town all day with bird shit on his shoulder. I felt subdued by this man's reality, and I tried to hide my disappointment as I made my way back inside.
"Get yourself a date?" Meredith asked, snickering behind the salt water taffy display.
"Could if I wanted to."
"He's a real cutie. Got yourself a winner there," Meredith chided.
"Maybe he's not the world's snazziest dresser -- or the best looking man around, but there's something about him."
"Something about his smell you mean."
"I see his soul when I look into his eyes." I couldn't believe I'd said that. It sounded cornier aloud than it had in any of the romance novels I'd read lately and left me wide open for Meredith's ridicule.
"His soul!" Meredith hooted, slapping her legs gleefully. "You got yourself a real gift there Meredith. Seeing souls! So you're telling me he's dead."
"He's not dead."
"Must be if you're seeing his soul."
I managed to go about the rest of my day with little more fuss from Meredith. It was nice to sneak a glance every so often at the man of my fantasies. He did the same window three times before moving on to the next, bringing hopeful ideas that perhaps he'd wanted to see me after all.
"You gonna close the cash or you just gonna stand there mooning all day?" Meredith asked.
"The cash? We closing early or what?"
"I don't know what time zone you're operatin' on but it's time to go. Five o'clock." Meredith tapped impatiently at her watch.
She was right. I'd gotten lost in yet another fantasy, this time involving a secret moonlight rendevous with the window cleaner. He'd write a message in the window with his soap. Meet me tonight, it would say. We'd meet on the beach, pull each other into a tight embrace, and...
"There he goes," Meredith said, interrupting my thoughts.
The chimes above the door jangled and became twisted around each other as I charged -- which, at my age, is something akin to a lumbering gait -- into the street, nearly knocking the poor man flat on his ass.
"Oh, I'm s..sorry."
"Someone light a match under ya or what?" he asked gruffly, swiping his sleeve under his nose as he staggered around.
"I just thought you were leaving."
"So I'll see you tomorrow then?" I asked, noticing the dirty black socks hanging from his right breast pocket.
"You're not coming back?" I managed to pull off the I-don't-really-care-one-way-or-another tone. He shrugged, dumping the dirty water into the weeds at the side of the shop. Without another word he turned and sauntered off.
"So I'll see you later!" I shouted after him, waving to his back. I saw his hand go up into the air but couldn't tell if he was waving or swatting a fly.
"He'll be back," I said aloud. Meredith came out then with the keys.
"You got everything you want?" she asked.
"Yeah, I guess so." I heard the deadbolt click into place.
We sauntered the short distance home making small talk about the day's business, the weather and the shortage of water sure to come if it didn't rain soon.
"I'll bet we've seen the last of him this time," Meredith said. "What's the matter? Been awful quiet. Bet you're missin' him already." We walked along without speaking.
"What are you thinking about?" Meredith persisted.
"I was just thinking about how we oughta get a new doorknob for the storage room before one of us gets locked in." I imagined the possibilities. The window cleaner would stride in one day out of the blue. He'd follow me into the storage closet and close the door behind him, locking us in. The air would be hot, hot enough to undress. I'd cup my hand to his freshly shaven cheek and he'd lower his mouth to mine. The possibilities were endless with this fantasy. I'd have to work on the details tomorrow -- but only if he didn't return. I still don't know the difference between love and lust though, because this don't feel like it's the one or the other.
© 1999 Lisa Smith
Lisa Smith lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. She started writing four years ago, juggling writing time (which usually occurs on her lunch hour) between a full-time job as secretary for the Nova Scotia Community College and her role as mother. She's had a collection of short stories electronically published by the webzine Zatta Fact and has recently completed a script which is being considered for stage production.
e-mail Lisa Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org
e-mail SouthernCross Review: fts@SouthernCrossReview.org