I’m on the corner of 53rd and Park, and I can see Richard crossing the street. He is of average height with wavy chestnut hair which is neatly parted to the side. His temples are graying, but this only frames his face to give him a distinguished look. He lives alone in a small one bedroom, but with a spacious kitchen, in one of those pre-war buildings by the UN. He is not home the majority of the time to feel the loneliness of living alone since he spends most of his waking hours at the office.
Richard has been divorced for eight years now, and although he has enjoyed throwing his weekly dinner parties for his art society friends, he still manages to escape to Montclair, New Jersey to play golf at his country club. His ex-wife kept the 5-bedroom Colonial and the Mercedes, and he even agreed to letting her keep the cat. He decided to keep his membership at the club so he could keep in touch with the friends that he had known throughout his time in Montclair, an intimate community where people could relax around each other and trust enough in each other to share intimate secrets. In New York, he always feels like he has to keep his guard up, even with his closest acquaintances. He was not an avid golfer, but he liked to come out to the quiet to escape the craziness of Midtown. Sure, the conveniences of having his dry cleaning and his dinners delivered were great, but his apartment was not home like his house in Montclair used to be for all those years. Those were the happiest years of his life, sprinkled with a few sad years. The saddest years coming towards the end of his marriage.
Richard never speaks above a whisper. The doormen more than half the time just pretend to understand what he says to them. I am somehow able to understand most of what he says, even when he speaks with his face turned away and down to the floor. We run into each other when we are waiting for the elevator or getting our mail. The conversations are mostly limited to the weather and the contents of the junk mail we receive that day.
It was all a misunderstanding last Saturday, and although I know it was a misunderstanding, I can’t act like I know it was a misunderstanding now because it would just make the matter even worse. Rob, the daytime doorman, told me what had happened. Ethel has a way of being a troublemaker. She is retired and lives by herself and is friendless. Her daughter moved as far away as she could to California and never comes to visit, even when she was sick in the hospital with pneumonia. Ethel’s the type that if you prick her, she will stab you in your most vulnerable spot over and over again until you regret it for the rest of your life. She never forgets a snub and she will never let you forget it either. So last Saturday, she was coming back from walking her toy poodle when she noticed a huge bouquet of roses sitting on the front desk in the lobby.
“Who are the roses for?” Ethel asked in an inappropriately domineering way.
“Oh, they’re for 724.”
“For Richard? He’s divorced. He shouldn’t be getting flowers. Are you sure?” She spoke as if she had the lone authority over flower deliveries.
“That’s what the envelope says,” Rob muttered. He didn’t feel like he needed to explain the flowers to her. Ethel wanted to continue the inquisition, but Rob left the desk to open the door for Mrs. Bradford. Mrs. Bradford just recently suffered a stroke and needed help with her walker as she exited the building. While Rob was getting the door for Mrs. Bradford, Ethel went and opened the envelope. She just couldn’t help herself. The card was blank. Ethel then quickly wrote: For you. From 818.
This was payback for when I caught her, completely unintentionally, stealing Carol’s newspaper. Ethel always gets angry whenever she gets caught doing something she knows she shouldn’t be doing. So when Richard received the bouquet, he was perplexed. He didn’t even know who lived in 818. He asked Rob about the flowers, and he had no explanation for him. By the time he realized what had happened, Rob felt too embarrassed to let Richard know.
Richard went to look up at the mailboxes to see who lived in 818. He saw my name and asked Rob, who told him that it was me.
The next time he saw me, he smiled and shined his pearly whites and gave me a wink. “Thanks for the flowers. I never knew you felt that way about me.”
“I’m sorry?” I asked, confused. I never saw this side of him before.
Richard’s face reddened. “Oh, did you want to keep it a secret?”
“Oh, I think there’s been a misunderstanding. I never sent you any flowers. In fact, I don’t even know your name.”
“Well, who else lives in 818, then?”
“Um, just me?” I replied sheepishly. I was terribly embarrassed for him.
Richard’s eyebrows furrowed, “Is this some cruel practical joke? What did I ever do to you? I smile and say ‘hi’ and make small talk with you, and this is the thanks I get for being nice to you?!”
“I-I don’t know what to say. I had nothing to do with this. I really didn’t!” I didn’t know how to explain because I really didn’t have an explanation.
Richard angrily opened the door to the stairwell and took the seven flights of stairs up instead of waiting for the elevator with me. He now missed living in Montclair more than ever.