Charlotte…an excerpt

I’m going to present Chapter 1 of my novel, CHARLOTTE, over the next few posts. So without further delay, here we go…


Her forefinger is thrust up into her left nostril. I watch with curious interest to see if she will do what little children do and lick the probing digit.

She is in her seventies, possibly eighty, white hair bristling and as unkempt as Edward Scissorhands.

An elevator is close quarters and she is not a child. For a moment she seems aware of possible eyes on her.

Surreptitiously, she moves the finger toward her mouth and the bare tip of her tongue slides through her lips and touches it.

Retreat; yet, in another few seconds, the tongue action is repeated.

I smile politely. Do we indeed return, as we reach the elder years, to our childhood urges? Well…of course, not all elderly folks do what she does. Charlotte wouldn’t think of it.

Don’t know the woman; will never see her again.

I am in New York, to catch a couple of shows before taking New Jersey Transit to Pennsylvania to visit my older sister who, I am certain, would be repulsed by my elevator companion’s vulgar act.

I use the word vulgar, though aware that in some societies such behavior may not be considered repulsive at all. We are, admittedly, products of culture.

Charlotte is my sister, past sixty-five and growing. Well, of course one can grow at sixty-eight, or any age. Shaw was witty into his nineties; Churchill drank whiskey and smoked cigars into his; and then there was George Burns, who stayed with us for over one-hundred years, and who, when asked about his smoking, said that his doctors told him to quit, but he didn’t listen to them, and now they’re all dead.

My sister lives in a retirement village not far from the touristy town of New Hope, Pennsylvania, on the Delaware River. I believe she is the second-youngest person living there.

Our family spent several decades in that area, but, when I was a child, Mom and Dad hauled us all in their old, loaded-down, four-door Plymouth sedan–which I called the Green Beetle–to the golden and hopeful state of California. The first week in Los Angeles, alas, the Green Beetle was stolen and all its tires removed: hope not shattered, but shaken. After a few days, we got it back, and Dad admitted, red-faced, that he had gone into a factory and left the keys in the car. Who knew from car thieves?

My New York trip is exciting–for a few days. Then it feels frenetic. I’m a people watcher and the Big Apple is a bonanza of diverse, odd, eccentric, desperate, pitiful, interesting people.

But soon enough, I’ve had enough. My mind is elsewhere. After all, I am hopelessly in love and my chances of consummating my heart’s desires are nil.

As I drive through Yardley Village on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware, past the still-water Afton Pond where mallards and a couple of geese seem painted in the water and by the two-hundred-year-old, rectangular, redbrick library landmark, guarded near its entrance by two bronze sentinels that look like Benjamin Franklin–I am not alone.

It is a glorious feeling to be in among the maples and sycamores and oaks that turn the narrow country roads into shady and mysterious pathways. The Delaware flooded three years ago, rose over twenty feet, and inundated hundreds of riverside homes–which now have been rebuilt on raised platforms.

I say I am not alone, meaning I am with Meredith, a heavenly young woman who sees me as avuncular. I have designs on her–about as practical as having designs on Charlize Theron.

It was two years ago, during a previous Charlotte visit, when Meredith and I found each other. That is pretentious, I know, since she would likely deny having found me.

Meredith was thirty-one at the time, and I (Charlotte is seventeen years my senior) forty-nine–certainly a hefty spread between us, but not outlandish, not impossible to negotiate.

That time, I had rented a car, and drove through Yardley, past Newtown and Langhorne, and on to Bigelow Village, where Char lives. The parking area near the entrance door to her complex was full but I spied an SUV pulling out and swerved my rented Toyota in at once. I heard violent honking and stepped out of my car to see a young woman leaning out her vehicle’s window, screeching at me.

“What the hell! Didn’t you see me waiting here? Just because she pulled out the other way doesn’t give you priority!” Her left arm spun in frustrated circles.

“Oh,” I said lamely. I liked her red-haired, green-eyed look, her high cheekbones, bare arms and thin fingers, and I also, of course, caught her fury. This was no retiring woman, giving in to a man’s intrinsic rights; gender had nothing to do with it. The scold was on.

I am not a contentious person or, I believe, a chauvinist. As she berated me, I stepped away from my car, and, as I did, saw another auto, down the row, start to back out. My arm swung forward and I pointed with urgency (and relief): “Look! There’s a place. Grab it quick!”

She did, and I waited, certain she would not be placated, expecting a verbal tirade as she came toward me, and the doorway.

Before she could say a word, I spread my hands out to the side and said, “I’m awfully sorry. Truly, I didn’t see you. If there weren’t another spot, I would have backed out and let you have mine.”

“Fat chance,” she said, with a nasty look.