Tony Concannon’s A Brief Opportunity

by Tony Concannon

Editor’s note: while the Election & Politics Feature received an incredible volume of outstanding submissions, our guest editor and our staff had to decide which pieces fit our vision for the feature. A lot of great work went into pieces that we wanted to share, even if we could not publish them in the original run.


I first saw the woman with the artificial arm the week before the 2008 Democratic Convention. It was at Starbucks, where I stop most mornings to get a coffee and read the newspapers. I’m a bit of a political junkie, not to mention a diehard liberal, and every day I try to read both the Boston Globe and the New York Times. I was in my favorite seat, on the side, from where I can see everything. I remember there were some lousy acrylic paintings, including one of Fenway Park, on the wall behind me. The woman was very pretty, with neatly cut dirty blond hair, a small face and a great ass. I guessed her to be in her late thirties, younger than me but not that much. Standing in line, she looked happy, not like someone who’d gotten her arm blown off in Iraq, which is what I assumed had happened.

She got her drink and left. I finished my papers. I work for myself, mostly consulting with labor unions, and I had time to kill before my first appointment at 11:00. I walked down to the river behind the parking lot. The current is quite fast there because of a small waterfall a half mile upstream. I’d been standing there a couple of minutes, looking at the moving stream, when an elderly man and woman came down the path that runs along the bank. They were in their late seventies, maybe early eighties. The man was tall and still erect. The woman had long hair. I smiled and nodded at them.

“Beautiful morning,” I said as they passed.

“Very beautiful,” the man said.

The following week I saw the woman with the artificial arm at Starbucks again. She was wearing white pants that went down to just below her knees and a black, sleeveless blouse. She certainly wasn’t trying to hide her artificial arm. Once again, she looked happy. She placed her order and came my way. She smiled at me and I smiled back. Everything was moving fast and in a few seconds she would be gone.

 

“Excuse me,” I blurted out. “I’m just curious. What do you call those pants?”

“Cropped pants is what I know them as.”

“They look like what the pirates used to wear in the old movies.”

“Maybe that’s what I am-a pirate.”

Her drink as called out. It was a venti nonfat vanilla latte. As she was going out, she turned her head. “Have a nice day.”

“You, too.”

After I finished reading my papers, I walked down to the river. I was still feeling a little exhilarated from talking with the woman and for a few minutes I watched the river racing by. On my way back to my car I ran into the same elderly man and woman. They were holding hands again.

“Another beautiful day,” I said.

They stopped. “Yes,” the man said.

“Do you live around here?” I asked.

“In that building.”

There was a large apartment building on the far side of the parking lot.

“Have a nice walk,” I told them.

I started looking for the woman at Starbucks. It was a stagnant time in my life. Nothing had worked out with any of the women I’d met since my divorce. My daughter was away at college. Business was good but my job didn’t excite me. I’d be turning

fifty in a couple of years. I knew I was lonely, part of the reason I spent so much time at places like Starbucks.

There didn’t seem to be any pattern to her visits. The next time I saw her was the day after Labor Day. The Republican Convention was in full swing and the newspapers were all about Sarah Palin. This time the woman was wearing a modest gray skirt that looked like a pair of gym shorts, a long-sleeved yellow jersey and round sunglasses. A big brown purse was over her left shoulder. The arm with the prosthesis, her right, was away from me and you had to be looking for it to see it. The line was moving slowly and I glanced at her from time to time. As always, she looked happy. She finally reached the front, placed her order and moved down toward the end of the counter, near where I was sitting, to pick up her drink. I looked up from my newspaper, our eyes met briefly, and she smiled at me. Her drink was called out. It was a venti nonfat vanilla latte again.

“Do you always drink those?” I asked.

“I love them. They’re very fattening, though.”

“You certainly don’t have to worry.”

“Well, thank you. Girls love to be told things like that.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Gotta run. Bye. See you again.”

“Have a nice day.”

“You, too.”

She didn’t come the following week. I’d been all set to ask her about Tom Brady’s injury. Maybe it would have segued away into a conversation about her injury, something about which I had a morbid curiosity. I had trouble keeping my eyes off her prosthesis. All in all, it wasn’t a good week: I didn’t see her, Brady was out for the year, and the election seemed to be slipping away from Obama.

Every morning, after I’d given up on seeing her for the day, I’d go down to the river for a few minutes. I saw the elderly couple again. They were making out on one of the benches, the man leaning over the woman, his lips seeking out hers. I felt uncomfortable and turned around.

The following week the woman with artificial arm came on Friday. I was reading about the financial crisis when I looked up and saw her. She was all in black, a black sweater and tight black pants that accentuated her great butt. Her earrings were shaped like large triangles. I watched her out of the corner of my eye. She seemed to be aware of me, or maybe that was wishful thinking on my part. She placed her order and moved my way. I looked up and smiled at her.

“Good morning,” she said.

“Good morning. Is our money safe?”

“It’s scary.”

“A venti nonfat vanilla latte for Tracy.”

She took her drink.

“Are you here every morning?” she asked.

“Monday through Friday. I’m a consultant and it’s a good way to start the day.”

“What do you consult about?”

“Mostly labor law for unions.”

“What are you? A lawyer?”

I nodded. “No jokes, please.”

“I know some good ones.”

“I’m sure you do.”

“Well, I have to get to work. See you next time.”

I liked the name Tracy. It was from a generation later than mine, the one with all the Marys, Susans and Nancys. I didn’t feel like reading any more bad financial news and I went down to the river. The mornings were getting cooler and you almost needed a jacket. I hadn’t seen the elderly man and woman since the time they’d been making out on the bench. It was funny in a way to think of them having sex. Of course, I hoped I’d still be going strong in that department when I was their age.

Tracy didn’t show up again until Thursday of the following week. She was dressed in blue this time, baggy blue jeans and a light blue fleece jacket. Around her neck was a pink kerchief-it was a chilly morning-and she was wearing glasses for the first time. She looked my way and gave me a quick smile. I forced myself to concentrate on the Globe as she made her way up to the counter to order.

“I love that picture,” she said when she reached the pickup counter. On the wall behind me there was a large photograph of horse, its mane blowing forward in the wind.

“Better than the paintings they had.”

“I don’t remember them.”

Her drink was called.

“By the way, I’m Richie.”

“I’m Tracy.”

“If you’re not in a hurry, do you want to sit and chat?” I asked.

“I am in a hurry. I’ll take rain check, though.”

“Okay. Catch you next time.”

She took two steps, stopped and turned around. “Why don’t sharks ever attack lawyers?”

I shrugged.

“Professional courtesy.”

“Have a nice day.”

“Bye.”

The glasses had made her look intellectual. Maybe she had been an officer, a West Point grad. Of course, it was all speculation on my part. For all I knew, she might have lost her arm in an industrial accident. It was a drizzly morning and I took a quick walk down to the river. It had been over two weeks since I’d seen the elderly and woman. Maybe they were just getting it on in bed every morning.

The following week Tracy came on Friday. She was wearing tight blue jeans, a light gray jacket and big round sunglasses. Her low brown heels made her legs look even better.

After she’d gotten her drink, she held it up to me. “One good thing is I know I can’t skip going to the gym.”

I liked women who worked out. It showed they cared about their bodies.

“Do you have time to sit today?” I asked.

“I’m sorry. As usual, I’m running late. I still have my rain check.”

“Okay. I’m looking forward to it.”

“Me, too. Bye.”

“Bye.”

She stopped halfway to the door. “Did you hear about the time a plane full of lawyers got hijacked?”

“Can’t say I have.”

“The hijackers threatened to release one hostage an hour if their demands weren’t met.”

“Have a nice day.”

“I will,” she said, a big smile on her face.

A few heads turned as she strolled out in her heels and tight jeans. She was hot, that was for sure. She seemed to be coming on to me, but I suspected she did that to a lot of men. The whole thing was maddening. I was thinking about asking her out and I wondered if she would think I was too old. She was certainly friendly enough, but I couldn’t seem to go beyond that. She was always in a hurry. Of course, it was easy to read too much into everything. Maybe she was in a hurry. Maybe she was just being coy. And she’d said she still had her rain check. I just didn’t want to let this opportunity slip away.

The following week Tracy came on Tuesday. She’d cut her hair. She had on black sweat pants, a long-sleeved white jersey with a black pattern on the back and sandals. The line was long and I kept glancing over at her as she waited.

“You look tired to me,” she said when she came over to pick up her drink.

“Staying up to watch all those baseball games.”

“How did the Sox do last night?”

“They won. You’re not a fan?”

“I like football better. Baseball’s too slow. The Bengals are my team. I’m from Ohio.”

The barista called out her drink.

“How did you end up here?” I asked.

 

“It’s a long story,” she said as she took her drink off the counter.

“Are you going to sit and tell me today?”

“I can’t today. I still have my rain check.”

“I should have put an expiration date on it.”

“I’m sorry. Next time. I promise. Bye.”

“I like your hair,” I called after her.

“Thank you,” she called back.

She didn’t come the rest of the week. The following week she didn’t come at all. Each morning I stayed at Starbucks as long as I could. I was becoming a little obsessed with her. My mornings at Starbucks, when I might see her, was the high point of my day. All of this for a woman I barely knew and who was probably too young for me. In any case, I should be happy: the last debate had been held and Obama had a solid lead.

Most mornings I walked down to the river. The weather had been cold and the leaves were beginning to turn. It’d been a month since I’d seen the elderly man and woman.

On Monday Tracy didn’t come and on Tuesday I had an early appointment. I was afraid I’d missed her for the week. Then she came on Wednesday. The whole thing went smoothly. She sat down across from me as soon as she’d gotten her latte. She was wearing blue jeans and a tight, colorful sweater. Her breasts swelled out against it.

“That’s a pretty sweater.”

“Thank you. The fall is the only time I can wear it.”

She took a sip of her drink.

“So how are the Bengals doing?”

“A down year. We don’t expect to be good every year. Not like you Patriot fans.”

“We’re a little spoiled, I admit. But we used to be the dregs of the league. We’re not going to do much this year. Not with Brady hurt.”

She caught me staring at her prosthesis.

I looked up at her face. “So how did you get all the way here from Ohio?” I asked.

“My parents got divorced when I was little and my Dad remarried and moved to Reading. So I used to visit here every

summer. Then, when I was seventeen, my mother died and I moved up here to finish high school.”

“That must have been hard.”

“Moving up here?”

“Everything. Your mother passing away, changing schools, friends.”

“My mother had been sick for a long time. She had cancer. Getting away was good for me, I think.”

“Did you go to school around here?”

“You mean college?”

I nodded.

“New York. How about you?”

“I’m a Massachusetts lifer. School, work, everything.”

“It seems like everyone up here is like that. Don’t you people ever move?”

“We like it here. Do you?”

“I could take it or leave it. My Dad passed away last year. My stepmom’s here but we’ve never been close.”

“I guess if you weren’t born here, it’s not the same.”

“Definitely not.”

“What do you do if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I sell real estate.”

“Might be some tough years ahead.”

“Not necessarily. We’ll see.”

“Good luck.”

“Thank you.” She stood. “I’d better get going. It was nice taking with you.”

“I enjoyed talking with you, too. Let’s do it again.”

“Sounds good. Bye.”

“Bye.”

The timing hadn’t been right to ask for her telephone number. Next time, I decided. I hoped I hadn’t offended her by looking at her prosthesis. I was fascinated by it. Part of the problem was I never knew what to say to someone who’d served in Iraq, never mind who’d lost an arm there, assuming that’s what happened. It’s hard to thank or congratulate someone for something you don’t support. It’s not that I’m a pacifist. I supported the first war against Iraq and I support what we’re trying to do in Afghanistan. I just think invading Iraq was a colossal mistake.

The next time I saw her was Tuesday. It was an overcast morning and she was wearing a long purple dress skirt and a red jacket. I kept my eyes on my newspaper and I didn’t see the McCain button until she came over to the counter to pick up her drink.

“Do you have time to chat today?” I asked.

“Sorry. I’m running late.”

I pointed at the button. “You don’t see many of those around here.”

She laughed. She had a great laugh.

“I love messing with you Massachusetts liberals.”

I smiled. “He might not win Ohio.”

“I know. We’re like the key state.”

“Well, at least you’re important.”

“I guess you could look at it that way. Bye.”

 

I watched her go out. A shorter skirt would have been better. So much for getting her telephone number. She was a McCain supporter. It fit with the whole thing about being from Ohio and being in the army. To be honest, it was a bit of a turnoff. I had some time before my first appointment and I walked down to the river. You could feel the cold coming off the water. The leaves had started falling and in spots the branches looked bare and stark. As I walked back to my car, I saw the old man crossing the parking lot. I’d almost forgotten about him and his wife. I stopped and waited.

“Cold morning for a walk,” I said when he reached me.

“It’ll be winter soon.”

“You’re by yourself today. Where’s your wife?”

“She passed away suddenly at the end of September.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. You looked so happy together.”

“We would have been married five years next month.”

I stood there, not knowing what to say.

He started to move past me. “Have a nice day.”

“You, too. My condolences.”

“Thank you.”

Tracy came again on Friday that week. It was Halloween. She was wearing green pants and a black fleece jacket. Her hair was freshly washed and her sunglasses pushed up on her head. This time there was no McCain button. Standing in line, she looked beautiful. She beamed across the store at me.

“All right if I sit here?” she asked after she’d picked up her drink.

“Actually, no McCain supporters are allowed. I’m only joking. You can sit.”

“Thank you. So what are you going to be for Halloween?”

“My trick or treat days are over.”

“No party?”

I shook my head.

“I’m going to one as a witch. I got this great big hat. A long black coat. Some makeup. I love Halloween. It’s one of my favorite holidays.”

“A wicked witch, I assume.”

“Very wicked,” she said with a gleam in her eye.

“Maybe I shouldn’t be sitting with you.”

“I’ll put a spell on you.”

“Please don’t. I’ll be good.”

She held up the arm with the prosthesis. “I was going to go as the bionic woman, but I thought it would be too over the top.”

I nodded dumbly.

“You don’t have your button today,” I said after a moment.

“I was so excited about Halloween I forgot it.”

“He has no chance, you know.”

“We’ll see. It’s going to be interesting.”

“I don’t think it’ll be even close.”

“Well, I’m off to work,” she said as she suddenly stood up. “Watch out for witches.”

“You have your broom?”

“You bet. I’m going to fly around tonight and turn all you people into McCain supporters.”

“It’ll never work,” I said. “I got one for you before you leave. A woman goes shopping for a wedding dress with her friend. The friend tells her she can’t wear white. It’s her fourth wedding. The woman insists she still a virgin. Her first husband was a gynecologist and all he wanted to do was look at it. Her second husband was a psychiatrist and all he wanted to do was talk about it. Her third husband was contractor and he never showed up. But this time she’s marrying a lawyer, so she knows she’s going to get screwed.”

“Not bad,” she said with a smile. “Bye.”

She went out. I wished I was going to the party with her.

Obama won. In the end it wasn’t that close. I stayed up and listened to all the analysis and speeches and I didn’t get to Starbucks until nine-thirty. One of the employees was taking down the photographs on the wall. Tracy came in a few minutes after me. She had on maroon corduroy pants and a black jacket. A pale green scarf was tied around her neck. She shot me a smile across the room.

“Your man won,” she said when she came over to where I was sitting.

“He sure did.”

“What happened to my horse?” she asked. “I loved that horse.”

“They just took it down. They change the artwork every few weeks.”

“That horse was me.”

The barista handed Tracy her drink.

“You look wiped out,” she said after she’d sat down.

“I was up until one-thirty.”

“Everybody knew Obama was going to win.”

“I know but I still wanted to hear the speeches.”

“I figured you’d be here and I came by to congratulate you.”

“Well, thank you,” I said.

“I’m moving to Texas,” she said.

“Because Obama won?” I asked after a few seconds.

“No,” she laughed. “Although that would be a good reason. There’s a guy I used to go out with who lives in Austen. We’re going to see what happens.”

 

I nodded slowly. “Are you going to sell real estate there, too?” I managed to ask.

“I hope so. I have to look into getting a Texas license. The market’s better there. This guy I know knows some people who can help me get started. He thinks I’ll have no trouble.”

I nodded again. “When are you leaving?”

“I’ll be in Massachusetts for a few more weeks. Someone has to keep an eye on you liberals.”

She stood. “Go home and get some sleep. You look terrible.”

She turned and walked out. I looked around but no one was laughing at me. I picked up the New York Times but the election    news didn’t seem as interesting any more. I didn’t know if I was madder at Tracy or myself. She’d been playing with me the whole time. I hadn’t even found out how she’d lost her arm. I’d have to ask her before she left for Texas.

I made myself read through all of the stories about Obama and the election but I couldn’t stop thinking about Tracy. When I was finished with the newspapers, I walked down to the river. I was seriously considering cancelling my appointments and taking the day off. It was a warm morning for November and I stood on the bank, watching the river race by the bare branches on the other side. The year was almost over.

Obama was going to be president. That was pretty cool. Maybe the world would change a little. I should feel happy. Tracy and I wouldn’t have gotten along and she was too young for me. I’d always known that. She’d been right, though: she was that horse. Her life was moving on; mine wasn’t. Nothing was going to change for me if I kept sitting around, waiting. I looked at the river for a few more minutes.

 


Tony Concannon grew up in Massachusetts. After graduating from college with a degree in English and American Literature, he taught in Japan for the next 18 years. Since returning to the United States, he has been working in human services. Stories of his have appeared in Litro, The Taproot Literary Review, On the Premises and Eastlit.

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