Heart As Big As The Door
By Jeanpaul Ferro
There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one's own pain
weighs so heavy as the pain one feels for someone, with someone, a
pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
HE WAS ALWAYS RETICENT ABOUT HIS PAST. As he walked through the brutal heat along the Miami sidewalk, his gray eyes staring up at the façade of the News Café, Jim realized that South Beach was no longer that decrypted, old cistern he remembered from his youth back in the 1970’s—back when John S. Collins, the Lummus Brothers, and Carl G. Fisher were all in this constant state of rolling over in their graves.
He could feel the heat of the afternoon scorching hot against the soles of his feet. This orgasm of infection rose in the pit of his stomach. It was those garish green colored glass doors of the café that ate at his core! Inside was a sloppy news kiosk. Several patrons sipping fruit juice the same color as the sky. And this one old, silver-haired Cuban who sat there reading the Granma Internacional upside down. But it was the opposite of all of this that really made Jim McCall scared out of his mind.
He thought about turning around, getting back inside his convertible rent-a-car, and driving straight out of South Florida and right back home to Rhode Island.
And then out of nowhere came this magical wave of a hand, like some disembodied limb of Harry Houdini floating mid-air as it called out to him.
A tragic and beautiful smile stared back at him now.
There she sat at one of the outdoor café tables.
Jim felt sick as he watched all her confidence go dark as her hand fell meekly back down into her lap.
His feet shuffled nervously forward. He had once shuffled indecisively like this back when he still had some verve. It had been at a showcase for three record execs when he was in a band back in ’77. After high school graduation he drove straight out of Scituate, R.I. and right down to CBGB’s in NYC. But as he got up on stage, his groggy voice, still stained with alcohol from the night before, gave way, and he blew it. He never got a second chance.
Now Danielle Newmeyer sat there smiling at him like this was 1977 all over again. She had known Jim all the way back through the Dark Ages of their late teens.
Like the invisible hands of seraphim had picked him up off the sidewalk, Jim found himself plopped down in the chair right next to her. Of all the days he could have seen her again it had to be this one. Miami that morning was as torrid as a sauna. Pigeons hid underneath awnings while dogs winced with every step.
A single, nervous breath exhaled out of his mouth.
How beautiful she had become over the years. Suddenly all that hopeful élan Jim had been stockpiling up back home became meaningless. Danielle had this rakish dark red hair and these stunning eyes that were the same color as the River Jiuzhaigou. Her skin was tanned a rich hue of dark-brown. For thirty-five she looked incredible. By the muscles in her arms he could tell that she worked out. And her breasts? Both her breasts were arrogant jerks! They had contempt for everyone who had ever looked at them. And her cheekbones? The immaculate cheekbones of Danielle Newmeyer looked like they had come straight out of a beauty contest drug store. And he knew the worst part of all her physicality was that none of these things were the things that made him love her.
Like two mad scientists they sat there staring at each other. Right then her cell phone started to ring.
Jim casually picked it up off the café table. “Hello,” he said like he was her secretary. “Danielle Newmeyer has left planet earth. Leave a message.”
He plucked it back down on the table.
Half expecting her to laugh, he was shocked when her green eyes filled with tears.
He reached his hand over and tenderly placed it atop hers.
“Don’t cry,” he said. “It’s only me.”
In front of them sat these two brilliant looking Key Lime martinis. Jim watched the goose bumps sweating on one of the glasses.
Nervously, his foot started to tap against the sidewalk. He had aged gracefully. Although he had a little silver in his beard, his mop-top hair was still jet-black, and he had a strong chin that looked as though it could take punch or two.
“You haven’t changed at all,” Danielle whispered to him.
Jim couldn’t help but continually stare at her. What an absurd idea it was to go there that morning. Dotting their i’s and crossing t’s?
But lo and behold that ancient language of Nebuchadnezzar that had always been there between them, the one that got lost in a rose-quartz sunset once, was right back there in spades all throughout South Beach.
“Do you remember our first date?” he asked her.
She sighed. “Of course I do. You took me to your friend Rory’s house. I knew what you were trying to do.”
His head nodded meekly. “Danielle,” he told her, “when you’re young? And when you’re a guy? You’re doubly stupid.”
She nodded in agreement. She then quickly picked up her drink and drank about half of it straight down. She then held the sweating glass up to her temple.
“Well, Rory’s house was impressive,” she said.
“I know. I was showing off.”
Her free hand reached over and caressed his. “Trust me. It was greatly appreciated.”
Jim felt his heart quicken. He looked down into the swirling green tesserae of the café table. His head nodded as his eyes looked back up at her. “That was the day before the hurricane.”
“I remember. We fed each other Chinese food. And we sat and laughed for hours on the floor.”
“—And then the storm started.”
“—And then the power went out.”
Danielle took another sip of her martini. “I remember you put this wood on the fire. I’ll never forget the scent of apple wood.” Her eyes looked away like there was this twitch aching to get out of her. “You kissed me after that. I remember. You held my hands behind my back. I liked it.”
Jim stared at her uncomfortably.
Danielle continued to stroke his hand. “Jim— I’m a good woman,” she said. “Look where I asked you to meet me this morning. We’re not at a hotel.”
A relaxed smile came up on both their faces now.
“Do you remember Hawk’s Key?” she asked.
He nodded. “Of course. How could I ever forget?”
He sat there dumbfounded as he remembered Hawks Key. He couldn’t even believe he was with her again. He had been the one who had left her.
Kay Overstreet had been his girl friend all through high school. But as often happens in high school their relationship couldn’t even withstand graduation night. Jim met Danielle three weeks later at a party. They became fast friends. But it was only six months later when a pregnant Kay showed up unexpectedly at Jim’s door.
“It’s yours,” she told him. “And you need to fix this A-S-A-P. And it’s a boy,” she said. “My family knows these things. Trust me, buckaroo. We used to be a bunch of gypsies before we came to America.”
In 1977 there was only one thing a man could do.
A heartbroken Jim stayed awake all night, and then he broke it off with Danielle. It was the last thing he wanted to do. And somehow it all got away from him after that.
Jimmy Carter turned into Ronald Reagan who turned into George Bush who later somehow turned into Bill Clinton. Years rushed by like waves, in bitter blue fragments, in liquid pills of rain and wine.
In 1979 Jim went to work for IBM up in Providence. There was another boy, Neil, who was born. Danielle moved to Florida. She married an ex-football player name Gary Juneau. He owned one quarter of a French restaurant on the edge of Little Havana. Danielle gave up acting and got her real estate license. She bought a Siamese cat. Ironically, so did Jim and Kay. Both couples named their cats, Kent, after Clark Kent. It was all a blur after that.
Work. Sleep. The same sex over and over.
Louche television shows night after night.
Thanksgiving dinner with the same mental idiots. Mind-numbing conversations. Somehow the current President was always the personification of evil.
Tedious lunches on whole wheat bread.
Jim chasing his tail day after day.
And every time there was a wedding, funeral, or anniversary there was the ghost of the other one there. Loved ones passed away. Friends died too, running the marathon one day, and the very next day stricken with pancreatic carcinoma. Six months later Jim or Danielle would be sitting there at a hospice staring at this skeleton they hardly recognized. And then some idiot would gush on and on about how it was all God’s plan; and everything went to pot.
The sound of a wave breaking on the beach brought Jim’s attention back down to the table. His hand reached out over to her.
“Are you happy?” she asked him.
He hesitated. “Is anyone happy?”
After a long pause she said. “I’m leaving for L.A. in two days.”
For a split second his face betrayed the terrible disappointment he felt.
“Come with me,” she said.
A reluctant smile came to his face now.
“Well before you say no,” she told him, “why don’t you take a ride with me down to Hawk’s Key?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m supposed to be at a trade show.”
“Screw the trade show!”
“Look. I know you have two kids. And I’ve never met Kay, but nothing is holding me back now. Mom and dad are gone. And I got rid of that pooper-scooper, Gary, a long time ago. I know I’m being selfish.”
“No,” he said.
Jim looked around.
“You still own the condo, right?”
“Bring me something of Kay’s tomorrow.”
He couldn’t believe the audacity of her.
When she stood up from the table Jim smiled and plunked down a twenty dollar bill.
Without saying a word they walked over to her Ford Mustang, where he helped her get inside the car. As soon as the driver’s side window rolled down he could see those haunting turquoise eyes of hers staring up at him.
“If you want to— Meet me tomorrow morning. I’ll be at the Marco Polo Hotel. And don’t forget to bring something of Kay’s.”
The turbulence of her car’s engine made him stand straight back.
He watched as her dark blue car slowly started to drive away, moving forward inch by inch, foot by foot until she was almost around the corner at 7th Street, where she quickly disappeared around the side of the old Flamingo colored hotel.
As Jim stood there in the middle of the road all these bright red and yellow sports cars raced by only inches away from him.
Turning, he spotted these beautiful nickel colored waves rushing to shore. Wave after wave came hurtling forward down the beach, mist filling the air out over Lummas Park as the waves rushed up and fell down like giant slabs of concrete. Whoosh. And then: Boom! Whoosh. And then: Boom! Whoosh. And then: Boom!
Out of nowhere Jim got the impression that he was no longer a good man. A good man never had a decision to make like this. And now he did.
Standing there he felt like he was caught in a time machine, his soul hurdling back and forth between past and present, South Beach and Rhode Island, the Marco Polo Hotel and the ant hills of his mail that was piling up back home. And then he remembered the terribly expensive perfume that he had bought Kay once while they had been down in Miami. It had a unique gum Arabic color to it.
“Clive Christian Number One—” he muttered out loud to himself.
Jim stared at the panoramic valley of the skyscrapers that rose up north to south alongside his condominium. Everywhere he looked these concrete Redwoods sprung up from the ground like tall crystal cylinders. When he looked off to the west he saw this plump, pink sun setting out over the mist of the Everglades.
In silk pajama bottoms, Jim stood there drinking his 7&7, watching all these families from Wichita and Des Moines as they walked home from the beach. Mothers held the hands of daughters; fathers did the same with sons; everyone slowly marching back home to the sarcophagus of the American Dream.
Out of nowhere Jim watched as all the lights along South Ocean Drive quickly turned from green to red. Cars slowed and then stopped. The tourists all stopped at their crosswalks. A wailing of sirens tattooed the air. Fire engines rushed out of the cave of the Hallandale Beach fire house, three engines barreling up onto the drawbridge right at Hallandale Beach Boulevard.
Jim’s mind was terribly shaken. He watched helplessly as all the stoplights turned back from green to red almost in unison.
Suddenly, the telephone was ringing inside the condo.
As he dashed over to the kitchen, his heart began to pound as he thought of Danielle.
Quickly, he put the receiver up to his ear.
“Hello.” There was a long, pregnant pause.
“Jim—” he finally heard.
Out of nowhere came this sing-songy voice. “What are you doing?” she asked.
He looked down at his 7&7. “Just having a nice, quiet dinner.”
“Good for you,” she said. “I just wanted to tell you—”
Only half of him heard her. She said something about the boys. Her mother caught a cold. And then came the instrumental voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher talking. Wah. Wah. Wah. The toilet is running again. Wah. Wah. Wah. Charlton Heston. Wah. Wah. Wah. Bring two bags of oranges back home.
“And Jim—Do you think you can get away a few days early?”
This Grendel-like guilt poured straight up out of his torso. His eyes stared aimlessly at the rococo wallpaper of the kitchen.
“No can do,” he lied. “IBM set up two booths at the trade show. I’m running back and forth between both of them.”
“Oh. I thought we could go to Orlando. We haven’t been to Epcot in a while.”
He could hear the sound of water running in the background. “You okay?”
“No. It’s the dog.” Kay started to sob now.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“No!” she said exasperated. “Everything’s ruined!”
“Yes. I forgot to take the dog out last night!”
Suddenly his wife started to sob violently. He thought of Danielle’s parents who had just passed away.
“The dog crapped all over the oriental rug! You married an idiot!”
Jim held out the phone and stared at it. “It’s only a rug,” he said to her.
He could picture Kay standing there with her blond-hair up in a pony tail with that ragged Live Free or Die T-shirt she put on every night right after dinner.
He could hear her scrubbing the soiled rug now.
“We’ll take it to a professional or we’ll just throw it away if we have to.”
“I can fix it,” she insisted.
“Kay? It’s an old rug.”
“You thought it was a great rug when we first got it!”
Jim stared at a fraying seam he saw in the rococo wallpaper now.
“Jim?” Kay sobbed. “Good luck at your show!”
He heard his sobbing wife gently hang the telephone up.
Suddenly, Jim stood there in this dense darkness as the sun outside had just set.
He hung up the phone and went back over to the balcony. Off in the distance he could see an echo of faded red that was still scarring the sky. And right then he turned and looked back inside across the interior of his condo, over toward the front hallway, where in the half-light he noticed these two human size butterfly wings stained into the obverse of the front door like they were greedily trying to fly off with it out into the dark Florida skies.
Jim drove his bright-red Trans Am rental around the circular driveway of the Marco Polo Hotel. The sky was an unusual shade of sapphire that morning. Nonetheless, it was already ninety degrees at 7 a.m.
Danielle came walking straight out of the hotel. Her teal colored sweetheart strapless gown was simply beautiful. She walked beneath the shade of the tin portico over to the car. When she got inside Jim noticed that she had flattened her long red hair out like she had used an old fashion iron to do so.
He immediately reached over and slipped something down into her hands.
He nodded for her to look at it.
Her green eyes lit up as soon as she saw it.
“Clive Christian Number One!” she said. She sprayed a little on her wrists and then a little on the inside of her thighs.
As the familiar perfume started to linger in the car Jim felt this twinge of guilt.
Danielle reached over and took his hand. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I play too hard sometimes.”
Jim nodded like it was okay. He put the Trans Am into drive and pulled out of the parking lot.
Soon the pastel lines and contours of Miami Beach had passed them by. They went over the MacArthur Causeway and then past Vizcaya. Moments later they were headed straight down Route 1.
All through Homestead the pockmarks of Hurricane Andrew still lingered. Entire neighborhoods were gone now. Schools had been left in disarray. People stood all around in a daze.
“It looks like a nuclear bomb went off,” Danielle remarked.
She pointed to a field where they could see a corpse of trees.
It wasn’t until they reached Key Largo that things began to look normal again.
Along the west side of the Overseas Highway the Gulf of Mexico lay there flat like a sheet of glass. To the east the Straits of Florida flashed by in various blues and greens. Island paddocks quickly came and went; some filled with Carolina pine; others with these small groves of key lime.
Jim nervously glanced over at Danielle right before they hit Hawks Key. He reached his hand over the center console and reassuringly squeezed her hand. “Vamanos,” he whispered softly.
Jim turned the red Trans Am into a small vista right off the highway.
Before he could even stop Danielle had already thrown open the car door. “Hurry up!” she shouted as she excitedly went rushing out.
He parked and quickly went after her.
When he caught up to her, he found himself on this small cinnamon colored beach that he recognized.
“Come on in,” Danielle said as she stood there in about two feet of water.
“We don’t have any other clothes,” Jim said.
“Nope. We don’t.”
He grimaced, but a second later he kicked off his shoes and joined her in the water.
He could feel shards of coral stab at his feet as he walked.
When he reached Danielle she immediately leaned into him. They moved a little farther out so that they were both standing in a column of sun that wallowed there in the green shoals just off the beach.
“It’s so beautiful here,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like we’re in the United States. It’s like we’re lost in space.”
Her legs splashed through the water as she turned to face him. She then wiped some of her long, wet, red hair all to one side. This brazen smile came to her face. “That’s the way you make me feel.”
Her hands began to playfully rub each side of his temple, where his black hair was just beginning to recede.
“You know we’re going to wind up together some day,” she told him. “You can’t fight the inevitable!”
Right then they started to kiss. The universe swung around and everything turned upside down. All he could feel and want was her.
When he leaned back he could see his own reflection in her green eyes.
“I have people who depend on me,” he tried to tell her.
She shook her head. “Who do you depend on?”
Danielle slipped down and disappeared under the water for a second. She then reemerged about four feet away.
She then rushed back right over to him.
He didn’t try to stop her. He felt her damp mouth as she started to kiss his stomach. And then he pulled her up to him and violently started to kiss her neck. He could taste the salt on her skin.
As Danielle brushed her body against Jim’s lips he could suddenly smell his wife’s old perfume.
He stopped and looked at her as her red hair fell wet and dark all to one side. “Don’t stop,” she begged. “Keep going!”
“I can’t,” he said. “I can’t cheat on her.”
Danielle shook her head no as tears filled her eyes. “But you’ve been cheating on me with Kay for all these years!”
He looked at her, because that pained sound in her voice so moved him that it was almost as though she were talking to him from the grave. And deep down inside he wondered how long it would be until he was through loving her.
It had already been seventeen years. And in all that time he knew that his heart was only growing bigger.
The harsh blues and greens of the keys faded behind them as they made the long drive back to Miami. For a moment their lives felt whole and meaningful again.
Exhausted by desire and emotion and the sun, Danielle had him drop her off back at the Marco Polo Hotel. They held hands and talked in the Trans Am for over two hours. And then she got a magnificent smile on her face.
“I went out to L.A. last month,” she told him. “I rented an apartment near Studio City. I’m going to try acting again.” She paused, took a deep breath, and then said. “Come with me. Just think about it.”
“We wouldn’t need anything.”
Danielle reached over and took his hand, because he had such a look of profound guilt stuck to his face. “You wouldn’t be here if you really loved your wife,” she told him.
“But Danielle. What if marriage is about more than love?”
She shook her head back and forth. “You poor boy. You and I wouldn’t have that kind of problem now would we?”
His hand reached over and gently touched her lips.
With a mosquito-like zap, the pink neon of the hotel came alive outside the car. Danielle quickly gathered her things before leaning over and kissing Jim on the mouth.
“I’ll wait for you in the morning,” she told him. “The flight is at eleven-twenty-five.”
He stared at her without promising her anything. He felt a million strange things going through his brain. He thought about how his parents had stayed married for over fifty years.
As Jim drove back to his condo Wayne Newton’s Danke Schoen came blaring on the radio. To his right he saw Paul Newman’s house and the beach house that was on the cover of Eric Clapton’s album 461 Ocean Boulevard.
Later, laying there alone in bed all he could think of was her. He had spent a lifetime building rooms to hide in and walls to lie behind. But now he was beginning to think that maybe he had been living some sort of strange lie his entire life, and that he simply didn’t want to know about it; and he wasn’t sure about any of this, or whose fault it was, or if anyone at all was to blame.
Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins and Orchestra in D minor glared out of the sound system of Miami International Airport. The sound of the violins began to make Jim nervous.
As he walked with her he immediately noticed the nervous look on Danielle’s face. He gently squeezed her hand to reassure her.
“We just have to check in,” she told him. “It’ll be fine once we get on the plane. I promise.” She looked down at her watch. “We only have a few minutes.”
Jim was in a state of amazement as he watched Danielle. The tenacity she had in her eyes. He had never seen her look so happy. For so long he had blamed himself for her unhappiness.
And then it happened. He saw her see the look in his eyes.
“What?” she asked.
Jim carefully watched her over the airport pay phones. The blond ponytail. The orange sunglasses. The Isaac Mizrahi dress. It was the one with the downward turned blue flowers
“It’s Kay,” he said very calm. “She’s right there.”
Jim let go of Danielle’s hand and quietly walked away from where they stood in line by the ticket counter.
He walked a few steps before he started to walk a little faster. He felt a sharp pain in his head right when he turned and looked back at Danielle. He nodded to her that it would be okay.
As he turned back around he could see Kay’s blue eyes notice him coming out of the crowd right toward her. She smiled. His hand waved as though he had no power over it.
He turned back again and saw Danielle walking with her bags toward boarding gate C.
Jim turned back around and saw his wife. She seemed calm and serene and smiled the whole time. He couldn’t tell if she actually knew what was happening.
When he turned around one last time he saw Danielle stand there with her bags right in front of the boarding gate.
This icy loneliness ripped through the connecting synapses of his head right then.
He abruptly ran over to her.
She smiled as he ran up to her outside the boarding gate. “What are you doing?” she said to him in this breathless voice.
“Let me go talk to her,” he said. “And then I’ll come right back here and we’ll get on that plane.”
He could see this heartbreak in her eyes as she stared at him. Her head nodded that it was okay.
As he walked backwards toward his wife he watched Danielle take a few steps toward that horrid white door that he knew lead right down into that plane.
And then he felt someone tap him hard on the shoulder from behind.
When he turned around his wife was standing there. “Kay?”
“Hey, Buckaroo. That woman over there is waving to you,” she said.
She lifted her hand and pointed toward boarding gate C.
“Oh,” he said. He fumbled for his words. “She’s from the trade show. I think she’s going home to L.A.”
“L.A? Wow. I’m so jealous.” And then Kay got this angry look to her face. “Hey! Who told you I was coming today? I’m going to kill those kids of yours!”
A confused look came to his face.
Out of nowhere Kay reached over and took the small gift-wrapped box Jim held right out of his hands. “My perfume!” she screamed as she frantically tried to unwrap it.
As Kay threw her arms around her husband he stared off toward boarding gate C.
When he didn’t see Danielle standing there anymore it was almost too much for him to bear. He could feel the framework of his soul literally being torn right out of its roots.
He desperately looked at that spot where she had been standing only moments before, and he thought about that look of bitter disappointment he saw on her face again, and he thought about what it all meant. He watched helplessly as a blonde flight attendant came running from inside the boarding gate; she slowly walked over and closed the door tight while a ghost of Jim stood there hollow next to his wife as she laughed and laughed with this sleepy smile slowly growing on her face.