The Man, the Maverick, the Legacy
By Alexander Santo
Howard Payne had a brunch date with Darcy. He’d picked out a pink colored restaurant in midtown. The dining area was covered in ribbon and there were small vases of roses on each table. Howard had felt that the restaurant would express his romantic intentions more than his own words could. Howard thought he was in love with Darcy and he wanted her to know this. However he couldn’t come out with the words to state his feelings plainly and so instead he spent most of the meal pointing out how pretty everything looked, how the flowers at the table were real and everything, and he knew Darcy wasn’t allergic to them or he wouldn’t have brought her to this restaurant. If she had been allergic to flowers he would have taken her somewhere equally romantic but with less foliage. When the woman across from him smiled her lovely smile and told him how very thoughtful he was, Howard flushed as pink as the unobtrusive flowers.
He almost told her of his intentions to marry her right then and there. But he decided that, while this meal was special, it wasn’t perfect. There should be music playing for one thing. Howard would need to find out Darcy’s favorite song. And he would need a ring of course, a fat golden band with a huge rock in it. Howard could afford such a ring. He and Darcy were both nearing retirement age, were both divorced, and neither of them had children. Howard dreamed of living a relaxed life with Darcy in a big house. Just imagining it made him feel twenty years younger. Several times during the meal he tried to shift the conversation toward topics of the future, but Darcy seemed more interested in discussing some odd aspect of the Clinton administration. Howard didn’t let this bother him very much. As long as Darcy continued to smile at him over a plate of chocolate chip pancakes he would have been content to talk about anything.
All in all, Howard enjoyed the meal very much. As he and his date left the restaurant he was unaware of two things. The first was that the woman he had brunched with was not Darcy, but rather her twin sister Lucy. The second was that she was about to get him killed.
The twins had arranged the deception the night before. They’d been up late, putting their hair in curlers and watching Chicago Hope. At that point Darcy had been quite excited about her brunch date with Howard. She used the word ‘devoted’ several times and this caused Lucy to exclaim the following:
“Dee, how can you say a man like Howard Payne is devoted? Oh my god. I bet Mr. Payne could devote himself to a basket of free breadsticks.” She used the reflection in a small picture frame to check her hair, then settled back into the couch she shared with her sister. She said, “He only wants what’s under your clothes.”
Darcy, dressed in a matching night shirt, laughed loudly at her sister. She put a loose fist to her mouth to hide her smile. “Lucy,” she said in mock seriousness. “It’s been a great while since any man has been interested in anything other than my shining personality."
“If I ever meet a man that uses the words ‘your personality’ truthfully in a sentence I will die instantly and St. Peter will have to explain to my poor confused soul how I got there,” Lucy said.
“Oh, Lou honey, you think you’re going to heaven? That’s sweet.”
“You can go to hell, Ms. Darcy. Hey why don’t you let me go to brunch with Mr. Howard Payne tomorrow?”
“Why? You don’t even like him,” said Darcy. She looked at the TV distractedly but found nothing interesting there. She reached for the remote and turned it off.
“Well, I’ll bet you Howard doesn’t even realize it’s me. I bet Mr. Payne goes just as gaga for me as he does you,” said Lucy.
“Sounds like someone’s jealous,” said Darcy.
“You’re worried Mr. Payne ain’t so devoted, more like,” Lucy said. She put a hand to the back of her head and struck a pose. “Or maybe you’re ready to admit I age better.”
“God no!” Darcy looked for something to throw at her sister. When she couldn’t locate anything lethal she sighed and said, “Fine, have brunch with the man, what do I care? If he can’t tell one person from another I’ll have to return him to whatever lobotomy shop he escaped from.”
Both sisters laughed and then yawned identically, with their hands over their mouths.
The pink stucco façade of the romantic restaurant faced a busy street lined on either side with cars parallel parked. On the north side of the street, that is the side the restaurant occupied, the line of cars was broken by four orange pylons. Between these bright plastic cones was strung orange painted rope, creating a neatly cordoned square. In the middle of the square was an open manhole. A construction worker stood on the outside of the rope square, his tanned arms sweating in the early sunlight. As Howard and Lucy exited the cutesy restaurant, this man faced south and was occupied in the task of not doing very much. So he did not notice when Lucy and Howard hugged a brief goodbye and went to their respective vehicles, Howard to his new Ford Maverick directly behind the orange square, and Lucy to her teal ’89 Corolla next in line.
“So long, Darcy!” Howard called out. He was so thrilled with how well their date had gone that he did not register the fact that she didn’t look up at the sound of her name. He waited on the sidewalk until Lucy got into her car, figuring that was the gentlemanly equivalent of seeing a girl to her door, and then waved to the woman he thought was Darcy. The movement caught her eye and she waved back. That done, he stepped off the curb in front of his Maverick. A semi-truck came rolling down the street and Howard decided to wait for it to pass before going around to open his door.
Meanwhile, Lucy distracted herself in a gloating fantasy. She couldn’t wait to tell Darcy everything that had transpired during the brunch date and, more importantly, everything that didn’t happen. Darcy would be a little heartbroken of course, but that would only give them an excuse to buy more expensive booze than they normally did. After she finished gloating, Lucy would take it upon herself to comfort and console her bereft sister. They would drink, maybe cry a little, and then browse their well-worn denture catalog for laughs. Everything would be fine in the morning. She keyed the engine on, wondering if they had any Alka-Seltzer left in the medicine cabinet. Lucy threw the car into gear…and bumped into the car behind her with a very audible clunk.
Howard glanced curiously down the manhole and once the semi had gone past, walked to his driver side door. Lucy was now in a rush to leave the scene of her minor, harmless accident and she pulled out into the street very quickly. The result was this: A car driven by a jittery man, a man from the country and completely unused to driving in the city, saw the teal Corolla pulling into the street and swerved into the left lane, nearly crashing into an oncoming pickup. To avoid this incident the jittery man from the country swerved back into his lane, overcorrected, and smashed into Howard, pinning him to his Maverick in a crumpled mess of glass and metal. This caused Lucy to slam on her breaks just half a foot from the wreck. Howard’s face, red with blood and white with shock, turned slightly to stare at his darling Darcy. His eyes met Lucy’s, held her gaze a moment, and drooped as the light of life forever left them.
Two police cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck arrived shortly, bearing all the appropriate people. If asked how long she sat in her car before a young man knocked on her window, Lucy would have answered hours, minutes. He was one of the waiters from the restaurant and he’d tapped on her window almost nervously, as if afraid to cause another accident or give the poor lady a heart attack. A few hours later Lucy would not remember if the young waiter had spoken any words, but she would be positive that she herself had not spoken. She would have sworn to this in a court of law. But the waiter would have said, if anyone had asked him, that Lucy had spoken several words. “That stupid lovesick bastard,” was the first phrase, and the second was, “Darcy’s going to kill me. She’ll kill me.” But the waiter never was asked many questions about the crash. Once the police discerned he’d only come outside at the sound of tinkling glass and quickly crumpling metal he was turned away, and forced back into the pastel colored restaurant.
Somehow Lucy got out of her car. She would not have been able to tell how. An officer with kind eyes and sharp cheekbones asked her what seemed to be hundreds of questions. He ended many of them with the word ma’am. “Did you know this gentleman, ma’am?” he asked.
“No,” she said. “I didn’t know him.” Her shocked eyes scanned the officer’s face, but he registered none of her deception. Lucy hadn’t planned to lie, but once she started answering questions only lies would come out of her mouth. Lucy was certainly not a pathological liar. When she thought about it months and years later she would decide her mind had gone into a primal sort of survival mode. Over and over again she told herself Darcy mustn’t know.
Her resolution to this end solidified as she watched the firemen pull the vehicles apart and Howard’s corpse was pried out of them. It would take a month before Lucy fully regained her appetite. And while this happened the man from the country sat in the back of the ambulance with an oxygen mask, weeping. Lucy discovered that each of these strange and horrible sights made time move differently. She was also approached by a paramedic and a light shined in her eyes, but once she had blinked the paramedic was gone and she held a statement in her hands. After signing it she looked up from the paper and it seemed to her that a pair of tow-trucks had appeared suddenly and were taking the two wrecks away. The ambulance and fire truck were nowhere to be seen.
Did Lucy need a ride home? This was the question posed and it took her a moment to answer it. “I think I’m fine,” she said. “Yes, I’m okay to drive.” The police officer nodded and handed her a small stack of papers. Lucy didn’t look at them.
“I just feel so bad,” she said.
“Well ma’am, it’s a terrible way to go, but from what I understand it was probably very quick.”
“The man’s death, I mean. He probably didn’t feel much.”
“Oh. Thank you officer.”
The officer left, and like that Lucy was alone. Someone had parked her car again. It was almost like the accident had never happened. Well it’s the nineties, she told herself. They’ve got these procedures down pat.
She got into her car and marveled that she was alone. It didn’t seem possible. She wondered if someone had forgotten to take her into the police station. She should be charged with something, shouldn’t she? But Lucy then recalled all of the lies she had told and a new panic stole over her. Would anyone realize she’d been lying? And Darcy! Darcy couldn’t find out, not ever. Lucy did not give herself time to think of the state of her morality. If she had too much time to think she might break down. So she turned the key and started the engine. Lucy pulled into the street very quickly again and sped home to her sister.
As Lucy drove she was reminded of the police officer’s words. “Probably didn’t feel much,” he’d said. Lucy had a hard time believing it. Certainly he must have felt the warm jet of blood come up his throat and spurt out between his lips. But that wasn’t the worst thing she had seen. Howard’s eyes had locked right onto hers just as the life seeped from them. His expression had been so sad, as if he was losing everything that mattered to him. But that would mean…
Lucy shook her head and moaned to herself, but it was too late, the idea had already taken root. She sped up her car as it barreled down the freeway. However no amount of speed would let her escape the terrible idea that perhaps Howard really had loved Darcy.
Darcy sat at the kitchen counter, doodling on top of the Times crossword puzzle. Her curly hair fell over the crow’s feet surrounding eyes, and she turned at the sound of the door opening. Lucy rushed inside, tossed her handbag into one corner, and went to the refrigerator.
“Oh Lou, what’s the matter? You were gone such a long time, I was starting to get jealous…are you okay?” Darcy said.
Lucy pulled two bottles of beer out of the fridge. “Is this all we have? Oh it doesn’t matter. Drink with me,” she said.
Darcy took the bottle that was shoved at her and looked at it suspiciously. “Well, what happened with Howard?” she asked.
Her sister opened her mouth partway and it seemed she was unable to begin speaking. Then her lips moved a little and she said, in a high stutter, “That son of bitch didn’t show!” Lucy appeared to taste the words once they were in the air and, finding them in a working order she nodded and opened her beer.
“He stood you up?” Darcy said.
“Yes! I mean…I guess he stood you up, really,” Lucy said. She pulled up a stool and sat facing her sister across the counter. “I sat there forever, like a fool. I knew everyone must be staring, but then I thought everyone probably just thought I was some poor old lady, and so I ordered myself a meal and ate it!”
“That’s awful! It doesn’t sound like Howard at all!” Darcy said. Her shoulders slumped and her lips pouted. She absorbed the news of Howard’s uncharacteristic behavior and shook her head. She twisted the cap off her beer. “I’m very disappointed in that man. He really doesn’t seem the type,” she said.
“Well, it just goes to show you,” Lucy said and took a long swig.
“It’s just so odd. When he called to ask me out he seemed so excited when I said yes.”
“Oh I bet some better looking woman with fake you-knows caught his eye and put you right out of the picture,” Lucy said.
“Do you really think Howard’s like that? He was always so sweet to me.”
“They’re all like that. That fact should be clear to us by this point in our lives, shouldn’t it?”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Darcy. She looked at her beer with a glum expression. “Maybe I should call him.”
“No! I mean, why should you? That just gives him all the power back.” Lucy glanced around the small kitchen, looking for a new direction to steer the conversation. “I’ll tell you. If that man does have the good sense to realize his mistake he’ll call you. And then you can decide whether or not to be merciful.”
“Oh,” said Darcy. “That does sound like a good idea…if it happens.”
“And so what if it doesn’t? We’ll just go down to, ah, where do men our age go for recreation?”
“The golf course?”
“Yes, we’ll go there and have a grand time and we will even drink to Howard’s health.”
“Sure, to show we’re not the kind of ladies who hold a grudge.”
Darcy glugged her beer down. “I think I might be the kind of lady to hold a grudge. Shall we buy more beer? Or Caribbean rum, maybe?”
Lucy lay in bed that night, picturing Howard’s dead eyes. Had that last emotion really been love? Had she deprived her sister of a man who really cared about her? But it wasn’t entirely her fault…if it was the police would have taken her in. Except, she had lied so much, and everyone else had been too distraught or unobservant to say anything to the contrary.
The alcohol spun around in her head like dust in water. She had almost broken down and told Darcy everything. It would have felt such a relief, but there was no way to be sure how Darcy would react. And wasn’t this better? Lucy tried for much of the night to convince herself that it was. Then sleep stole over her like a furious wave of unconsciousness and it was not until her bladder sounded an alarm at six in the morning that she woke.
That morning she took the TV antenna and broke it, just smashed the thing against the wall. Later, when Darcy marveled at the wreckage and wondered aloud what had happened, Lucy would say, “Don’t you remember? We broke it last night during our sulk-fest over that silly man.” And Darcy would be placated. Lucy also took that morning’s paper from the hand of the boy who delivered it and without reading it, ran the paper under the hot tap, shredded the soggy remains, and tossed the lump into the trash can. Lucy then made eggs and tried to eat them, but her appetite was nonexistent, and she was forced to splatter them atop the newspaper pulp in the garbage.
When Darcy awoke and had drank a glass of seltzer water and washed her hair in the sink, Lucy suggested they go out for the day. “It’s Sunday,” she said, “I think we still haven’t made up for all the Sunday’s our mother made us stay indoors when we were girls.”
Darcy pulled at her drying hair. She yawned. “Except now that I’m old and can do whatever I want I just want to stay in all day.”
“Don’t you let yourself get depressed over Mr. Howard Payne, Dee,” said Lucy. “I thought we agreed last night that he wasn’t worth your precious time.”
“Yes,” said Darcy. “Well, what did you want to do?”
“Anything you want. We could go to the zoo.”
“…I think I’d feel like an old lesbian if we went to the zoo,” Darcy said.
“You could just say you don’t want to go.”
“Fine, I don’t want to go, sister dear.”
“You’re lucky we’re both hung over, or I’d think you really were this much of a bitch all the time,” said Lucy. She glared at her sister.
Darcy’s mouth went slack, and then her feather’s really bristled. She shot back, “I don’t know why you’re so awful this morning! Nothing happened to you. I have every right to act like a bitch. I was dumped yesterday and I wasn’t even present for it!”
“Oh, so what? That’s nothing.”
“It’s a hell of a lot more than you had to deal with.”
“That’s nothing compared with the nightmare I had to deal with yesterday,” said Lucy. This was a sentence she would regret saying for a long time and she would never be able to properly explain how it managed to escape her lips. She realized her mistake almost immediately and her eyes dilated with panic. Darcy noted this right away. She fumbled her words for a moment and then asked in a lower voice,
“What are you talking about?"
Lucy averted her eyes. “Nothing. Forget it.”
“You tell me right now, Lucy.”
Lucy burst into tears. Her face seemed to collapse. Her shoulders sagged and heaved. A horrible wail issued from somewhere deep in her lungs and her sister stared at her in shocked silence.
“Lucy!” she said. “What in the hell is wrong with you?”
Lucy’s face was ugly with shame and sorrow. “H-he’s dead, Dee! H-Howard’s dead!”
“He got himself run over by a car, a-a-and I saw it happen. I didn’t want you to know! That’s why I smashed the TV antenna and got rid of the paper and that’s why I’m so miserable right now. I’m sorry.” She then collapsed into a pile at the kitchen counter and was unable to look at her sister.
Darcy couldn’t move either. She trembled all over, thinking of Howard being rolled under the tires of a car. “Oh god,” she said lamely. Then she went around the counter and grabbed Lucy, who thought—and for a moment accepted—that her sister was going to throttle her. But Darcy only hugged her sister and cried.
Lucy clutched her sister’s shoulders and wept onto her neck. She still hadn’t told the truth in its entirety, but still she felt much better. She and Darcy cried all morning and then broke out the bottle of Caribbean rum again and drank to the man they had cursed the night before. In the early afternoon Lucy sat across from Darcy again, this time in the small living room. She sipped at her warm rum and wiped at her raw eyes. “I think,” she said quietly, “I think he really loved you, Dee.”
“You think so?”
“I do. I really do. He was a sweet man.”
“He was,” said Darcy. She raised her glass. “Here’s to Howard, a sweet and lovely man.”
“To Howard,” Lucy echoed.
Photo credit: letinhastock.deviantart.com