Seems criminal that a person has to wait thirty-nine years to acquire a garden, but that’s what happened to me.
My father was a sculptor — a master of transformations. His day job was arborist so his tool was a chainsaw. He made many fantastical creatures to populate our wild garden — dragons, demons, griffons. My mother believed too much in personal freedom even to weed – thus giving my father’s creations their perfect background. When my dad asked me what I wanted him to make for me I said, “Mermaid” – the Little Mermaid being all the rage that year. So she was born – a chainsaw mermaid to watch over me through the sumac saplings. Then my father died and life assumed a different mien.
Turns out there is no freedom without money – a brutal fact with which my mother seemed unprepared to cope. When the process servers came, the things I’d always known were sold piecemeal.
I’ve haunted junk shops and garden stores ever since, certain I would someday find something of his again, and when I did not, well, it only proves how unwilling anyone would be to part with such masterpieces. But everyone has to die eventually, right? Someday I would find them. And!the right garden to put them in.
Ron never wanted to be a homeowner, just like he’s never wanted to get married. “Steps to the grave” is what he calls such behavior. He’s more concerned about
premature burial than Poe ever was. But he’s been so successful in the construction business that finally his lawyer made him see reason, by actually accusing him of throwing money away. That lawyer is the only person I’ve ever heard of who can make Ron do anything. His technique? Numbers.! Show Ron the numbers, and prove to him he’s wasting money.
If numbers aren’t my thing, neither is begging or cajoling. The really worthwhile things in life are without numerical expression. If a person can’t figure that out for themselves then God help them, I say.!! Ron already has a sneaking suspicion my brain is better than the one he’s got and he wastes too much time trying to convince himself of the opposite. It’s a sore spot – one he irritates himself.
I was less than thrilled about moving, after finally getting the garden at the rental place just the way I like it. I could hardly imagine that Ron, acting alone (or even with his lawyer) could come up with a house acceptable to me.! Partly because Ron is!the King of Deals – he won’t buy anything unless the price is an absolute steal.!What else can you expect from a man who chains his wallet to his pants? So I took it for granted the place he bought was a dump. Rental agents have legal standards they’re required to maintain, but you can slap a “for sale” sticker on anything. Since Ron’s expertise is construction,! he’s not bothered by little details like missing roofs or bathrooms. He likes to pee outside anyway.
I’m happy to say I was very surprised. Yes the house – and garage – were a dump and going to be an eternity of work – but that garden! Or “yard” as Ron calls it. Huge! Gorgeous! So overgrown – very reminiscent of the garden of my childhood. Haunted by the ghosts of perennials – hollyhocks and roses and dahlias and poppies– poking up through the weeds. Shadows of espaliered pears and pollarded crabapples. So much room! I was dazzled. I was in love. It was big enough for a water course – a koi pond or even a waterfall. A garden you could get lost !in. Delicious challenge!
I was unwise enough to let Ron see my rapture. Afterwards I heard him on the phone with his lawyer worrying about what constitutes common law marriage. Would I get some kind of legal hold over him by sharing his legal residence?! (He didn’t know I was listening, natch.) His lawyer reassured him that we don’t live in a common-law marriage state and Ron was all relieved. The property was in foreclosure – too good a deal to allow to slip away.! Some other guy’s grief was Ron’s tax break, because the garage was big enough to store business equipment and there was room enough for a home office. So after offer and counteroffer, scaring me half to death, he bought the place.
Don’t ask me what Ron’s problem is. I’ve got too strong a gag reflex to study anyone’s psyche closely. All I can say is Ron appears to operate on the basic theory that women are always trying to force men to do things they don’t want to do and the only manly stance is Resistance. In our relationship, I’m cast as the Nazis and he’s the French Underground. Emotional isometrics.!
At the beginning of our relationship he used to try to get me to take any position, just so he could pick the opposite side. If I switched, he switched. I’m too wily for that now.!I don’t care about marriage. I was married before and it was sufficiently unpleasant that I wouldn’t care to go through anything like it again. The short version is, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and my husband bailed. He was the type who has to be having sex every minute and if you’re under the weather, he’s out the door. And no kids? Dealbreaker.
I! beat the cancer – I’m a survivor. Forget marriage. I’ve explained all this to Ron this over and over, but Ron thinks women automatically lie about everything. At the start of our relationship it was condoms, condoms, condoms. He’s a double bagger — he just wouldn’t take my word for anything.
“That’s what they all say,” was his wittiest retort. We must have had sex 180 times before there came that one time when he “wasn’t prepared.” Of course that makes them want it even worse.!I said,“Don’t worry,! baby, I took care of it.”
Bit of a euphemism for massive organ removal, wouldn’t you say? But things improved from that day forward.!!As a cultivator, bound by the cycles of the seasons, I cultivate patience. I care about potential, about becoming. One thing I learned from my mother is, don’t waste energy. Allow nature to take its course. I respected Ron enough to allow him to take his course; he would love me or not, as he needed to; we would stay together or not. Whatever.
We’d been together five months – approaching the Critical Half Year – when I got The Speech. He had to wire himself up with a few beers first so I could see something big was coming. He told me he was never getting married and he never wanted children, and I could live under his roof and cook his food and tease his penis but that was it.
I probably gave him the shock of his life by telling him it was fine with me. Whew! I was afraid he was going to tell me to get a job but as long as he pays the bills
and lets me do what I want I consider myself lucky. I’ve got too many plans of my own to sign my time over to someone else.
So I gave Ron my speech. I said that since the condom’s disappearance I had assumed we were a monogamous pair, but if he ever wanted to partake of foreign delights, I would appreciate its reappearance. I wouldn’t say a word of criticism – he was as free as a bird. But I’d be grateful for protective impulses. I’ll share, but I don’t gamble with my health. He said “OK.”
Although I considered we had an ironclad agreement I couldn’t resist being a bit curious about him. I wasn’t surprised to discover that his most potent fantasy is being handcuffed to a bed. “Control freaks!”
Careful not to wear her out I saved Dungeon Mistress for our “special” nights. His other fetish seemed to be taking nude pix of me – I have a great body and I don’t mind showing it off – but I draw the line at action fare. And I was gratified to see the condom never again reared its ugly head.
In a relationship like ours, “Love” is a forbidden word. You don’t want to hear Ron on the subject of love – it’s his least attractive side. He totally buys into the self-interest explanation of why people do things. “Love” doesn’t exist – it’s just dressed-up lust, a social lie people tell to make themselves feel better, yada yada yada.
He’s “freed” himself from all that. I did feel sometimes like I was having sex with a fifteen year old – he’s not that much younger than me – but if he’s immature, he has other qualities. I learned not to scare him with the things he can’t understand. It just messes with his hard-ons.
I’m the Queen of Deals myself — I haunt consignment and thrift stores. It’s amazing the treasures you can find. That night I wore my red silk Halston with the long skirt – slit right up to here – and no blouse beneath the jacket.! It doesn’t need a blouse unless I lean way forward, which I wasn’t planning to do. I put on long dangly jet earrings and all my rings.
I enjoy being alone in restaurants — I insist on one set place so everyone can see I’m not expecting company. I love the whispering, the speculation; whatever they guess about me is wrong. I even enjoy the occasional attempted pickup, but so far I haven’t been tempted to accept.
Ron keeps his weirdnesses well hidden – he’s a handsome man with a gorgeous body – and he knows what I like in bed — so he’s actually made my standards higher. If he’s intellectually lacking, well, a game of intellectual chess usually results in boudoir disappointment, I find.
So who could seduce me? Perhaps a man the exact opposite of Ron – wearing, say, a Tom Ford suit with art deco cufflinks; blond, foreign, cosmopolitan.! None of those hanging around our corner of the world.! Not so far.
I’d been busy with the move and I hadn’t had the opportunity to study the “fine dining” pages and pick a place to patronize, as is my usual amusement. Plus, now that we lived in the country I really didn’t want to go all the way to town. The Smithy was the furthest outpost I could think of where the food was impressive, the ambiance acceptable and the decibels dulled so I steered the BMW there.
At the entrance to the restaurant I was hurrying from the parking lot as fast as possible in stilettos when I bumped into somebody.! Come to think of it, he bumped into me.
“Renata,” he said. “Right?”
“I don’t know you.” I halted abruptly. This was not my dream man, but he was wearing a suit. He was about my height with a receding hairline and long, messy salt and pepper hair. An unkempt moustache. Looked a bit like the manager of a rock group or somebody of that sort.
“Oh yes you do, Renata. You know me quite well. It’s true we’ve only talked on the phone, but we have so much in common. I’d like to buy you dinner tonight.”
Hmmmm. Nothing familiar about those bloodhound cheeks, those sad, sad eyes. But he was right. The voice I recognized.
“Brad Bolio,” I said. “You’re Ron’s lawyer.”
“Right.”! We were standing in the doorway blocking traffic. He took my elbow and steered me inside.
“How did you know I was coming here?” I asked. “I didn’t even know myself till about twenty
“I followed you. I’ve been following you for days.”
Questioning my memory, I hadn’t noticed him – I hadn’t noticed anybody. But thirty-nine-year-olds don’t expect stalkers. !So I allowed myself to be led to a table. I noticed he chose the darkest corner.
I ordered the grilled salmon; he selected the lobster ravioli and a bottle of St.Emilion. A vintage that can lead you astray.
With the long habit of saying the exact opposite of what I’m really thinking, I said, “It’s kind of flattering to be followed. What did it tell you about me?”
“That you’re a deal taker and a risktaker. I already knew you were clever and cultured. Ron brags
about you. “
Jawdropper. I had to struggle not to react. Ron, bragging to others about the very things he criticizes in me?! Be still my heart!
“I assume you know he has nude pictures of you on his phone and he shows them to everyone. Waitresses, cops, flagmen. People he’s just met. They’re his calling card.”
This info was less welcome. If he was trying to get a reaction out of me, he’d scored. My one hope was in all this darkness he couldn’t tell how dark I’d reddened.
Brad Bolio eyed me glitteringly.
“I ask myself why the hell do you put up with him?” He answered his own question. “I’m guessing you’re addicted. Addicted to comfort.”
The wine was delicious. I pushed away the forgettable food to concentrate on its dark delight.
“You’ve got me,” I said. “I’m a lazy risktaker.” I always think of my father when I drink. Why? He used to get down on his knees to speak to me. No man has done it since.
“Unfortunately,” Bolio was saying, “I’m a risk-taker too. And the house keeps winning.”
A gambler! Poor bastard.
“I’ll bet you have a system,” I said.! I’m not a dumb risk taker. I would never bet against the house. The odds are deliberately stacked in favor of the house and everyone knows this. The key is to be the house.
“Let me show you something.”! He produced a black eelskin document case from his breast pocket and removed a folded square. He wore three big rings – Catholic high school, college and law school rings, judging by appearance. They’re usually the gaudiest. His precise movements didn’t match that big lazy body, so I psychoanalyzed him for amusement. I can smell “internal conflict”. I visualized the gambler in fisticuffs with the attorney, picturing each in a variety of hats. Cowboy? Coonskin? Maybe a Cardinal’s hat to go with those ostentatious rings. He produced a cigarette lighter – gaudy and bejewelled – and lit it so that I could read the paper.
It was a marriage certificate, made out for Ron Valerio and me. Ron’s side was signed; a line awaited my signature. Somehow, in the midst of packing and unpacking the UHaul, it seemed we had found the time to go to Vegas.
“Who are these witnesses?” I demanded. “They’re going to know it wasn’t us.”
“They’re professional witnesses,” said Bolio. “A Franklin is the only face they recognize.”
“It really looks like his signature,” I teased. “Must be one of his surprises. I wonder when was he going to tell me?”
“It ain’t real, sweetheart, but the minute you sign it, it’s legal,” and Bolio stretched it helpfully out on the table and offered me a pen. “What Ron doesn’t know won’t hurt him. There’s a will, too. I’m a Renaissance man with many gifts – I’ve been signing Ron’s name for years. Sign here so you will no longer live in sin.! Then everybody’s happy.”
Maybe after a day of hard work, on an empty stomach and three glasses of wine, I was as high as a kite, because I signed. But I still wasn’t getting it. I was certain Ron knew all about this. It was some kind of underhanded legal maneuver – like, we’re married if it suits Ron financially, and not when it doesn’t. That touchstone. A marriage of convenience. I tolerate ambiguity less well when drunk.
“Did Ron ask you to come here?”
Bolio summoned the waitress and addressed her flirtatiously from beneath his lashes. “This lady is cut off,” he said. “Get her a double espresso.”
“Hey, I signed,” I said. “So how come I don’t get another bottle of wine?! You could always drive
Bolio sighed. “Because I have something very serious to discuss with you and you need your wits about you. And no, Ron definitely doesn’t know I’m here.”
The waitress delivered my espresso with a smirk. I felt like giving her the finger. I was starting to feel rebellious but also antsy. Ron wouldn’t like me doing things behind his back – had I just done something stupid? Messed up my future? But if Ron’s signature was forged, couldn’t I claim mine was forged too? But would I get away with it?
Bolio poured cream so carefully over a spoon it floated on the surface of his coffee. Flashy dude.
“Ron is very, very rich,” he said. “And he maintains a huge position in undeclared cash. But not as much as he thinks he’s got because when I was in a jam I helped myself to some of it.”
“And now you can’t pay it back.” I guess the party was over. Regrettably the espresso was working.! Time to smarten up.
“I’d rather not pay it back,” said Ron’s attorney. “I’d rather kill Ron actually, but for that I need
“Why on earth do you want to kill Ron?”
That got a reaction out of me.
“Doesn’t everyone? Don’t you? Isn’t he the most irritating bastard you’ve ever met? He won’t marry you and he doesn’t love you. He says emotional involvement is for suckers. You got nothing, lady. I expected you to be smarter, actually. After you’ve worn your pretty fingers to the unattractive bone fixing up his brand new house, what’s to keep him from kicking you out and moving in a younger cutie?”
Of course that had always been a possibility. I simply enjoyed believing Ron couldn’t find anyone as wonderful as Wonderful Me. But Wonderful Me was definitely getting older and missing most of her insides. What if he got some cootchie pregnant? Ron wouldn’t be the first man to decide in his fifties that what he really wanted was a family. I had a sinking feeling Bolio knew plenty of things I didn’t know. But I was hinky. There was still that possibility of a setup.
“Are you recording this?” I demanded.
“Why would I? I’d have to be crazy – since I’m doing all the talking, and you’re doing all the listening, right? So listen a little. I need an heir I can trust. You can’t lose! – it’s all gain.! He’ll leave a huge estate. There’s even insurance. We split fifty-fifty and you clear a cool mill after taxes. Did you know he paid cash for that house? Can you imagine such a thing in this day and age? The house would be yours. The cars would be yours. There’s no family around to spike your play. The partners will almost certainly offer to buy you out of the business. I could negotiate that for you. You don’t want to get ripped off.”
I knew better than to show the rage I was beginning to feel but my remarks were fairly cutting. “And we’ve established how trustworthy you are. My affairs would be so safe in your hands.”
He was game; a game advocate. And so he advocated. “Look at it this way. We’d each be contributors to the body of the crime, so if we tell on each other we’d be telling on ourselves. My assessment of you is you’re too smart. You enjoy the finer things of life but spend all your time at flea markets. Here I am offering a free upgrade. Want to spend a lifetime in jail? Neither do I. I’m his executor, I’ll see his estate through probate, then we’ll say sayonara. I’m even willing to do all the wet work. The way I see it, all you’ve got right now, is Ron, and if you knew Ron as well as I know him, you’d realize that’s less than nothing.”
Before meeting Ron I was in sales, so I recognized this technique. Give the sucker two choices – yours and something horrible. Don’t let them think about what could go wrong. This is the same way he probably manipulates Ron.
“Don’t assume-“ I hissed with a little too much heat but he held up his hand.
“I’m not assuming anything. I’m asking. You can certainly refuse and that’s the end of it. I wouldn’t dare kill him if you say no, so his life is in your hands. I’ll pay the money back and look for other opportunities.” He shook the eelskin document. “Here’s your bonus for even talking to me about it. Goes in the safe and mum’s the word – only gets found if it needs to get found. All I ask is you sleep on what I’ve said for a week. One week. OK?”
He leaned over the table, gripping my hand in both his. A musky, heated smell of desire poured off him. He said troatily, “You’re settling for way too little, lady.”
Finally a come on! I pulled back and loosed my hand. Cocked a brow.
“Is there a Mrs. Bolio?”
He threw down his napkin. “There’s a
question I didn’t expect.! Should I be flattered?”
I guessed clever Mr. Bolio was still a secret to himself. “You know all about me. Tell me all about you.” I liked seeing him nervous. Unsettled. He rattled his rings against his coffee cup.
“There are no co-conspirators, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“That’s not what I’m asking.”
“There are three Mrs. Bolios. All of them are too expensive. However, they are not in the picture at
“Got a girlfriend?”
“All my exes live in Texas,” I hummed. He shook his head. “Can’t dignify her with the title.
“So here’s my final question. Wives or girlfriends –who do you treat better?”
His mouth worked his moustache nervously. He realized he was auditioning and he didn’t
“I’ll agree with Ron about one thing. Marriage is best avoided,” he said shortly. “My advice to you is pass through engagement and head straight for widowhood. You’re going to be a very wealthy widow. I recommend it as the best of all possible worlds.”
Of course it didn’t answer my question. But it only raised my suspicion that the truth about Mr. Bolio was that his right hand and his left hand had never even met. When I drank the last cold little bit of espresso, I was sorry to see it go.
“Do you know how you’ll do it?! Have you gotten that far?”
Now he was on surer ground. “He makes it pretty damned easy by driving drunk every Saturday night. It’s not a question of how.! It’s a question of when. I favor jamming a beercan under his pedals and stranding him unconscious across the train tracks with the midnight Acela coming through. There’s a bad crossing the town fathers have been dithering about fixing for years. Three deaths there already. Simple but effective.”
Sounded functional. As the suicide hot line counselors say, his method was sufficiently lethal.! I rose abruptly.
“OK. I listened.”
“You’ve got one week,” he reminded me.
“Call me. I’m number two on your speed dial.”
That was also true. Over my shoulder I saw him paying for our dinner in cash. Ron’s cash, presumably.
To be Continued…