I was hiding behind a big Maple when Gold noticed me. Three days into a new town, in a new state, and damned if I didn’t find him right down the street. His hair was now all grey, and his shoulders a little more stooped, but all in all he didn’t look too bad. It was the first time I’d seen him since his funeral.
That’s the magic of waking up in a new neighborhood. You never know what you’ll find. It was certainly true of the move to the town in Massachusetts. Cindy and I didn’t know anyone the day we moved in, and had no idea where we were, nor even how to find the supermarket. Didn’t matter, anyway. The first night is always pizza delivery.
The municipality in which we’d just planted ourselves was different from any place we’d previously lived. The Yellow Pages had only one listing under the pizza category. It was a full page ad, that contained no menu and didn’t give away a thing. There was just the photo of a delivery truck with a sign on the side that read, General Pizza - Order what you like. Phone 111 pizza. I expected the worst, because the stuff they make in most places is terrible. It’s as if they construct it based on a picture they’ve seen of a pizza, without ever having tasted one. Maybe that’s why we move so often.
Pizza gives you the sense of a town, whether it’s thin crust, Sicilian, or whole wheat. It can be minimalist and elegant, like the great pizza of Boston, with crisp edges, and simple cheese with a leaf or two of fresh basil, or more elaborate like the king of pizzas from New York street corners, where the sausage bites just right, and the crust is baked on salt.
Mostly, though, you run into pizza that tastes like sludge and motor oil. It’s made with pepperoni without pep, sauce without snap, and black three dimensional recreations of things that look like olives, but have the flavor of wart medicine. Once in a while, though, behind the glass of a storefront, a pizza still flies through the air like a saucer from a planet that hasn’t forgotten what it’s all about. The hands twirling out the pie are in friendly fists, and throw it with gentleness and skill. The sauce stings with flavor, the cheese is positive of its identity, and the oven is hot enough to imprint a light brown haze on the crusty edges of the masterpiece.
When I called that first night in Massachusetts I was surprised by a pleasant young woman’s voice. “General Pizza,” she trilled. For some reason she sounded happy. Even the best of places generally takes your order begrudgingly. But she was nice. And happy.
“Order what you like.”
She giggled. “As long as it’s pizza.”
I took it as a challenge. “Pastrami pizza,” I said. “Whole wheat crust. And hold the anchovies.”
“Kosher dills?” she asked. The joy was obvious in her voice.
“Just plain,” I answered.
I read our new address to her from a card I’d be keeping next to the phone for a couple of days until I was sure of the new address.
“And tomorrow?” she asked.
“There will be one,” she said, with a charming, flute-like lilt to her voice.
“But I don’t know if we’ll want pizza again so soon.”
“You haven’t tasted ours yet.”
“Can I let you know tomorrow?”
“Sure,” she said. “Twenty minutes.”
In that odd, little town, near the border with Rhode Island, Cindy and I had rented a house on a corner where hedges and trees formed two nearly solid walls along the road frontage. There was a stretch of six feet of foliage near the corner that was shorter, less dense, and lighter in color than the rest, as if it had been recently replanted. That was where I decided to take up my post.
Wherever we live I always sit in the yard for the first few mornings to check out the commuters. One or two in each vehicle, they pass by like products on a catalog page. Mostly it’s Sears, although in parts of Vermont it verges on Mountain Coop, and in Texas, nearly always Stetson.
I placed a wicker chair behind the shortest stretch of hedges, thought about the superb pizza we’d had last night for dinner, and waited for rush hour to begin. But it never did. The town didn’t seem to have any commuters. There was traffic, all right, but not in waves or swells. I sat in the wicker chair throughout that first morning, and watched cars and pedestrians passing our new house on a very steady basis. It was as if we were in a retirement community, where no one needed to be anywhere at a particular time, except that the ages of the people in the cars were as varied as you’d find anywhere else.
Cindy and I are retired, but it’s not obvious to most people. She doesn’t look much past forty, and neither do I, although we’re both well beyond that barrier. It’s not something we question, and since we move so often no one ever has the chance to notice it. Years ago, it might have seemed odd to neighbors that we didn’t leave the house to go to work in the morning, but today with so many people working from home by computer, no one notices.
The second night, I decided to chance it.
“General Pizza,” the happy female voice answered. “Order what you like.”
“If I asked for pizza exactly the way it’s made in New York, would that be possible?” For me, New York is the wrong place with the right pizza. It’s far too much of a city for my taste, but the pizza is beyond compare.
“You don’t mean “real” New York pizza,” she said, with a mocking tone applied to the word, and a giggle at the end of her question.
“No,” I laughed back, “I mean the real thing.”
“And tomorrow, Mr. Dante?”
“Life on the edge.”
“It’s all a mystery.”
The aroma of that pizza filled our entire evening. Cindy took a long bath and afterward put on the thin night gown , and we had one of those evenings that goes on and on. Some pizza will do that.
The traffic stream the next morning was again unvarying. Every few minutes a car or SUV would pass, and that was about it. Pretty dull, even for suburbia. Finally, I decided to take a walk. Cindy would be sleeping for the next couple of hours, so I slipped into the house long enough to put a note and a flower from the garden on the bedside table, and pick up the champagne glasses from where we’d dropped them on the floor.
Technically, it was autumn, but Massachusetts hadn’t yet noticed, and the air was still summer-moist and hot. Most of the houses were set well back from the road, and nearly all had well-established flower gardens, and mature trees. The only sign of life was down at the end of the block where I could hear the sound of a lawnmower chewing its way through thick grass. It was as good a direction to go in as any.
Cindy always tells me that I’m too friendly, that I should stand back in a new neighborhood and let the neighbors come to me. “They might figure something out,” she says, “and then what would we do?”
“Move, of course,” I answer, deadpan, and it never fails to crack us up.
The guy on the riding mower at the end of the block looked familiar enough that I stopped fifty yards away and hid behind a huge Maple that overhung the road. When the General Pizza delivery truck drove slowly past, I used it as cover to make my way a few trees further down the street.
“Dave,” a voice from the direction of the lawnmower called. “I can see you. What the hell are you doing? Come on over here.”
“Gold? I wasn’t sure it was you.” He looked at least twenty years older than the last time I’d seen him alive.
“Of course it’s me. Who else would I be?” His bushy eyebrows raised up a notch, and he looked at me over the top of his glasses.
“You might be the dead guy I saw laid out on ice in the coffin in your back yard a few years ago.”
“Oh. That.” His eyebrows dropped and he glanced toward the engine of his lawnmower.
“What do you mean, ‘Oh that?’ Don’t I get a better explanation?”
“What’s there to say?” His shoulders shrugged.
“For a start, what are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Dave.” There was no mistaking his chuckle.
“But you’re dead.”
“So maybe that Buddhist stuff is right and I came back again.”
“As an old man?”
“Hey. I don’t make the rules.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Think of it as algebra. You never understood that either, but you managed to pass.”
“How long have you lived here, Gold?”
“For a while. I’ve lost track.”
“She stayed behind. We never got along all that well, so it was for the better.”
“You were dead and she was alive. Of course she stayed behind.”
“Well, there’s that.” Again, his shoulders shrugged.
“Cindy and I saw Linda, a couple of times after you ... you did die, didn’t you?”
“Painfully. I woke up that morning, booted up the computer, took one look at the stock we had all that money in, you know the one. How much did you lose? I got off easy with a heart attack and death.”
“Gold, I have to tell you. I didn’t buy any.”
“Not even after I told you to bet everything on it?”
“Especially not then.”
“Absolved of that one, anyway.” He looked up at me from the seat of the riding mower. “How’s Cindy?”
“We’re still together, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“I always knew you would be. For eternity.”
Suddenly, I thought I had it all figured out. “Gold,” I said, “Tell me the truth.”
“Don’t I always?”
“Did you fake your death because of that stock deal?”
“Of course not.”
“Then, what’s the story here?”
“Just as you see it, Dave.”
“Are we all dead and this is heaven or hell?”
“You already know the answer.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you tried the pizza?”
© 2010 Alex Morton
I always claim that I learned the art of fiction by writing business plans for startup high tech companies, but the truth is that I’ve always been a writer … I just spent a lot of years doing other things to gather material.
I was born in the Bronx and grew up in Fair Lawn New Jersey, which is like growing up in Disneyland, only they don’t charge admission and it’s much more surreal. Eventually, I grew up and moved to Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia? You hadda be there at the time.
I drifted through universities, LIU, Hunter, Fairleigh Dickinson, until I finally settled into Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. A couple of degrees in English qualified me to go back to the land and grow Chinese vegetables, so I did that for a while. It was great fun being a pretend farmer, but I was also married with a couple of kids and you can’t feed them on Patchouli oil and hippy philosophy forever.
Back to civilization and, of course, straight into the computer industry! I was highly qualified. I could roll a good joint and dream up things.
My first job in Silicon Valley was as Vice President of Borland, a software company that went from three of us to a hundred fifty people in ten months, and from nothing to ten million in sales in the same time. Talk about Disneyland! While I was at Borland I created a product that I named SideKick that sold millions of copies and personally made me a few thousand dollars. I went on from there to various presidencies, vice presidencies, and board positions with a number of tech companies. Along the way, I invented a number of products ... some of which were even useful. My high tech days led to a collection of short stories, Annamaria and the King of Severance.
Eventually, my nostalgia for living in a place with an anonymous government led me back to Canada. I now live part of the year on the coast of Howe Sound, near Vancouver in an area so quiet that I think they come by and spray for neighbors once a week. For much of the year, my wife and I live on the Greek island of Ikaria, where I landed after my wax wings melted.
I write, regularly, for several sailing magazines, including Pacific Yachting, Latitudes and Attitudes, and Good Old Boat. I also write for a number of general interest publications. My short stories have appeared in a bunch of different magazines and ezines over the years.
I’ve written two novels, The Genius Card, and My Uncle Was a Shylock With Alzheimer’s, and I’m currently working on a semi-autobiographical book, titled Somewhere Else.
Back to the land again
With their world collapsing around them, two ex-back-to-the-landers try it again after thirty years. This time they’re over sixty and the farm is on the tiny Greek island of Ikaria.
:: top ::