A short story by Scott Gressitt
They were at a weekend yoga retreat in Big Sur. He drove a Porsche. So did she.
She had seen him pull in to the registration line right behind her, driving a brand new 911 GT3 completely tricked out. She had picked her vintage 356 from her stable of exotics for the drive down the coast from Marin.
At dinner she maneuvered behind him in the chow line and said to his left shoulder, grinning knowingly, “What’s the difference between a Porsche and a porcupine?”
He turned, looked her over head-to-toe, and answered without a hiccup, “With a Porsche, the prick is on the inside. Good evening. I’m Roland.”
She stood for two full seconds, mouth breathing, completely at a loss, eyes wide with fear.
“Are you ok, my dear?”
“Yes— yes, fine,” she blurted. “I— I just realized I left something important outside.” Flustered and decomposing, she turned without another word and bolted off to her room in a panic, as he smiled after her, watching her jerk out of the dining room and wondering what was up with this woman who was so good looking, and built like a thoroughbred.
She fumbled for her keys, unlocked her door and fell into her room, sweating and scared.
“Who does that jackass think he is, damn it!”
She was not used to being out of control. Her life was a long exercise of controlling things: her parents, her asshole sister, her countless boyfriends, and all four of her husbands.
She had leveraged her talents as a clever manipulator and user to amass wealth, power, and prestige. Her assets were counted in nine digits left of the decimal point: properties around the world, jets, yachts, the work of the masters hanging in all nine of her homes, and a portfolio of liquid and other assets, the details of which she had long ago lost track.
She left every relationship with more in her pockets than when she came in. She was the mistress of moneymaking, the empress of gold digging, and she had no remorse for any it. She joked with her girlfriends that, when filling out forms, in the blank for profession, she always wrote, “alimony.” She thought herself hilarious.
She had watched the Porsche walk in and was disturbed by how enamored with him she sudden became. He was not her type. He was rough and just slightly unkempt, though handsome as an oak tree. His clothing looked old and worn, and carelessly put on. His hair was messy and he hadn’t shaved in weeks.
She hated facial hair. But when he glanced at her and smiled, she melted into a puddle, and felt herself moistening. This was bad, very bad. She had never felt such an attraction to a man before, and certainly not to one as rough-hewn as he.
She looked in the mirror, saw how angry she was, and took pause.
“OK Barbara, anger is a secondary emotion to fear. What the hell are you afraid of?”
She nearly peed in her panties when someone knocked on her door. “Who the hell could that be?”
She put down her bag, straightened her coiffeur in the mirror, and moved to the door, opening it a few inches and peering out. It was him!
“Hi there. Are you OK?” he asked.
“Are you OK?” he repeated, looking genuinely concerned.
“Oh yes, I’m fine. Thank you for asking. … That’s bullshit. No, I’m a wreck and something terrible is happening to me. I’m completely moved off center by you,” she said, shocked by the words that escaped her lips unchecked.
He smiled at her and said, “I’ve heard I have that effect on women, but they rarely cop to it until they know me better.”
“I’m never honest with men I’ve lied to and manipulated them for my personal gain all of my life.”
She couldn’t believe her ears, and her heart began to race.
Roland stood patiently, smiling calmly, wondering just what was happening here.
Her eyes bugging open, breathless and out of control, she uttered another damning statement. “I have only used men for the acquisition of money, power, and prestige. I have no idea how to relate to them in any other manner.”
She wanted to push him out the door and call an ambulance to take her to the psyche ward but, instead, turned and pulled a chair out from the desk and offered it to him. She then turned, standing with legs spread and hands at her side, faced him squarely and began to confess her sins to him, one manipulated man at a time.
She couldn’t stop herself. She thought she was losing her mind as she listened to herself spill the beans, one agonizing confession after another. She poured out her story, explaining every detail of intent, execution, and result, working over all the suckers she had milked for the last forty years.
To put the icing on the cake, she uttered this closing statement, “I have no idea how to love a man. I hate myself. I’ve used that hatred to blanket my use and betrayal of every man I’ve ever known. I long for love and to learn how to love, and I don’t know where to start. Please help me.”
Then she slumped to the floor and looked into his eyes, quivering with angst.
He looked back at her with compassion and tenderness and said, “I love women, and while I am not a psychologist, I know enough to recommend you see one immediately.”
She answered again, wondering where the words came from, and what was compelling her to speak so plainly, “I don’t know that a psychologist can do the job of a priest.”
Roland, enjoying a triple espresso, watched through the portico as Barbara lugged her bags to the car the valet had pulled up for her.
She glanced up from her purse, as she pulled a twenty out to stuff in the valet’s hand. He stood in the morning sunshine looking crisp in white tennis shorts and a white polo shirt, white sneakers, white teeth, white hair from too much time in the surf, holding the car door for Barbara.
She said thanks and excused herself and walked toward Roland trying desperately to look away from his eyes, staring her down.
She walked up to him, pulled up a chair and said, “I know I should ask if I may join you, but I’m dispensing with pleasantries this morning. I’m angry with you for having this effect you have on me. I’m getting as far away from here as possible in hope that it wears off. I am drawn to you in a way I’ve never experienced. I don’t want to fuck you, but I do want you to approve of me. I need to know why I give a shit about your opinion. Do you know why?”
He looked in her eyes, welling with tears. She meant business and he was buying her sincerity. He felt compelled to assuage her fear, but found strange words escaping his lips, “What has happened to you is of no concern to me. My role is that of a gatekeeper. I have opened a gate. You can go through or not. I have no investment in your choice, either way. I will never see you again, but meeting me will forever change everything you believe. As a pilgrim relating to another pilgrim on the planet, I hope only the best for you. Here’s my email. Let me know how things work out for you.”
She lurched to her feet.
He stood and gave her a hug, then a kiss on the cheek.
She looked up into his open face and asked, “Thank you?” then turned and raced off to the blue-eyed surfer, holding her door.
“Thank you, young man,” she offered, in an uncharacteristically polite tone.
Roland enjoyed the rest of the weekend in Big Sur, getting up early and soaking in the hot springs overlooking the ocean. He felt strangely distracted, but engaged the yogis and came fully to the part for the next few days.
On a number of occasions, he thought of Barbara and wondered what, exactly, had happened with her. He was even more curious about his remarks to her, which seemed to have come from the ether, somewhere outside of himself.
Photo credit: Hindu yogi sculture photograph by Deepak Gupta via a Creative Commons License