The Love Song of Langley Moran
The Love Song of Langley Moran
by Wayne Scheer
As they prepared for bed, Langley Moran told his wife, “I’d be happy if I was just pissing away my life. Instead, it’s passing in dribbles and squirts, like an old man with a prostate problem.”
“Then get it checked. Do you want me to make an appointment with Dr. Levy?”
“No, no. My prostate’s fine. It’s my…never mind.”
Agnes, still shapely though her white hair gave away her sixty-one years, looked up from the mirror where she was removing her make-up. She began to say something, but he spoke instead.
“I’m a dinosaur, Aggie. Thirty years with the same firm.”
Agnes turned sharply towards her husband, as if pricked with a hairpin. She hated being called ‘Aggie.’
“Maybe they’re right. I have lost interest. Maybe it is time for me to think about retire–”
“Oh, don’t let me forget. Phyllis Ramsey left a message when I was out today. She and John want to get together for dinner this Saturday. We talked about it earlier.”
“Talked about what?” Langley had taken off his clothes and was disappointed Agnes hadn’t even noticed him standing naked before putting on his pajamas. When did he start wearing pajamas? Was it a year ago? Ten years ago? Langley recalled how they both used to sleep nude, no matter the temperature. Agnes would curl into his arms, pressing her flesh against his.
“I’m talking about dinner with the Ramseys. Don’t you listen?”
“Oh yes. Dinner with the Ramseys. How can I forget?”
“It’s our turn to choose the restaurant. Perhaps Marcel’s?”
“They have a lovely poached sea bass. You had the chicken breast stuffed with crabmeat last time. You thought it was a bit dry.”
“Fine. Dry chicken sounds like an inducement to go there again.”
“We could go someplace else.”
“Why bother?” Langley crawled into bed while Agnes applied cream to her face.
Already awake, Langley turned off the alarm before it rang at six the next morning. Agnes had kicked the covers off herself during the night and her nightgown had ridden up exposing her rear end. In the glow of the morning light, Langley recalled how excited that sight once made him. He slipped out of bed, covering her with the blanket.
She stirred, and offered to put up the coffee.
“No, I’ll do it.” He looked forward to the time alone.
He felt odd this morning, acutely aware of his every move as if he were an actor playing the role of a man brushing his teeth, showering, shaving and carefully combing his hair from one side to the other to cover his bald spot. Dressing in a dark blue suit and white shirt, he thought of putting on the brightly colored tie his son had bought him for Christmas, but reached for the modest blue and maroon striped one instead.
Langley stared at his reflection in the mirror and stifled the urge to weep.
Instead, he thought of his son, two daughters and five grandchildren, a thirty-five year marriage and an impressive title at work—Director of Research. He was a comfortable man in a comfortable life. What right did he have to be unhappy?
But happiness isn’t measured in years married or titles, he thought. His children made him happy, but they had followed jobs to other parts of the country, as he once did. He saw them and the grandchildren only occasionally. Agnes once made him happy, but they hadn’t laughed together in years. Sipping coffee at the kitchen counter, Langley tried remembering the last time they had made love.
His work was all he really had, and it bored him. Yet the thought of not leaving for the office each morning scared him senseless.
Hints were being dropped at the office. At yesterday’s weekly meeting, he was asked about his retirement plans. He joked, saying he was too young to roll up his pants and walk on the beach. But as he looked around, only old man Thompson was remotely his age. Most of the others could have been his children.
Thompson’s son, Peter, talked of the new MBA program at Yale in Opposition Research. The bastard put him on the spot by asking what he knew of their approach.
“I’m…er…looking into it,” Langley remembered saying. “I’ll get back to you next week.”
He saw the smirk on Peter’s face, especially the look he and Dave Simmons gave each other.
Langley unclenched his fist and sipped his coffee, imagining what he would do if he had the strength to act on his impulses. Would he put a gun to Peter’s head, bringing the snot-nosed twit to his knees? Would he put a gun to his own head? Would he take Agnes in his arms and tell her he never stopped loving her or would he simply walk out of the house and never look back?
Agnes padded barefoot into the kitchen, her loose robe exposing generous portions of her breasts. “Coffee smells delicious,” she said, pouring a cup. “How’d you sleep?”
“Fine, just fine.” Langley looked at his wife. She was still attractive, still desirable. He could see the girl he married. He recalled how afraid she was after giving birth the first time that her breasts would never again be round and firm.
“I’ll sag like an old washerwoman and you’ll lose interest,” he recalled her saying. Langley wanted to tell her how much more beautiful she was now, how much more sensual and womanly her breasts were now.
More than anything, he wanted to share with her how afraid he was. But he didn’t know how to begin. Would she understand? It had been so long since either of them spoke to the other about anything that mattered.
They had met in college. Back then, they’d spend hours discussing poetry and arguing politics. Langley remembered his dream of writing a novel based on T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” He would tell the story of an aging man who sees himself as others see him, and although profoundly disgusted at the sight, is too set in his ways to change.
Again, the urge to weep nearly overwhelmed him.
Langley felt Agnes take his hand. “Are you all right? You’ve–no, we’ve been so distant lately. I don’t know what’s happening to us.”
“I’ve been measuring my life with coffee spoons.”
“It’s a line from…”
“You remember it?”
“Of course I do, Lee,” she said, using the nickname he hadn’t heard in years. “Of course, I do.”
Langley wasn’t sure what to say. He felt the back of his throat burn as he recalled another line from the poem: ‘I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.’ For the first time, he understood the utter despair in those words.
This was his chance to tell her…to tell her what? That his life bored him? That she bored him? That he wanted to do something daring. Something unexpected.
“What?” he imagined she would ask. “What do you want to do? Do you want to quit your job? Travel? Climb mountains? Take up with a younger woman? Is that it? Is there someone else?”
Langley tried to picture Cheryl, his new assistant. She was young and pretty. He was surprised how long her hair was when she let it down at her desk the other day. But Langley couldn’t deceive himself into thinking she was attracted to him. He knew she saw him as a sad old man.
Instead, he remembered how long Agnes’s hair used to be, how it tickled his body when she…
“What should I tell the Ramsey’s, dear? Is there another restaurant you’d prefer?
“Marcel’s will be fine, Agnes. Be sure to call Phyllis and make arrangements.” He added with a sigh, ” I’ll give the chicken another try.”
–refers from the line “It encircles her like Walter’s arms ” in Madeline Mora-Summonte’s story If This is Crazy