The 90-year-old producer had a hole in his heart. A shaky, unpatchable hole. He wanted me to fill it with kisses, candy, and jokes. I handed him a travel-sized Mars bar that I got on the plane.
“Only a monkey,” he said, “would offer this old sack of bones a gift from the red planet.”
He said this because of my newly red hair. He liked to run his skinny fingers through it. I called him ‘The Producer’ because he had always wanted to produce a movie. Sometimes he asked me to write one. Told me to create a character role just for him, and to make him younger, less shaky, without Parkinson’s, less married. That was easy, as I imagined him a younger person.
The nickname “Monkey” rubbed off on me. There was a gullible monkey on my shoulder, enjoying the stories he told me about his terrible home life. How his wife carried a loaded pistol around the house, even in her pjs.
“She never puts it away anymore,” he winked. What a horrible person she was, I told myself, kissing his shivery lips.
“That blouse is very flattering on you,” the producer said, his face half fallen. It was the same blouse I had worn every other night in the dining room. I wondered if he had had a mini stroke in his sleep. Half of his face looked younger than the other half, less perceptive. He gazed at me as if I alone provided gravity.
The hotels we stayed in had very good food. We would eat in the dining rooms and middle-aged businessmen would stare with disgusted expressions as the two of us nibbled appetizers and sipped rhubarb gin. They thought he had to be a great uncle or a grandfather, so why was I wearing such low-cut, decadent blouses? Why were his eyes gripping the rise of my cleavage as if he was pulling himself out of some brackish lake?
He’s the Producer, and I’m in love with him, I wanted to say. Give me a break, I didn’t have a dad! I wanted to scream. They would offer me a weak nod, as if to say, if he croaks tonight, I’m around.
My story is filled with love tragedies, and I told the producer all about them. “You should write a screenplay about them,” he said, and this cheered me up.
My strong young boyfriends would eventually say that they saw our relationship as a weakness. I never knew what they meant. Their muscular legs would take off for runs or bike rides in the early morning. They were running away from me, my mother once said, because often, they didn’t return.
For example, my young husband disappeared after going for a long, mindful ultra-run. “I like the look of that path,” he said, and I never saw him again. I knew there were mountain lions around, but they never found his bones. Thankfully I heard from him a few years later. He wrote me a postcard from Jakarta to say that his knees, hips, and spine had finally given out.
“That’s what unhappiness does,” he wrote.
By the time I turned 27, I was tired of the young ones, their perfect bodies and deeply unsatisfied souls.
When I first met the producer, I arrived at a hotel with my dog. I was still married, but my husband had been missing for a year. When the producer hugged me in the lobby of the hotel, I tried not to cry.
“You are tattered and shabby,” he said, or maybe I imagined it. His skin was yellowed, and fragile to the touch.
“I like your face,” I said.
“I like your dog,” he said.
We took the elevator up to his hotel room and he put a Lucinda Williams song on. He had an iPad that he didn’t know how to use. He said the one thing he was confident about was the music app. “Somehow, I can make it sing,” he said.
The song that plays in my head when I remember the producer is “Something About What Happens When We Talk.” I felt it was corny the first time he played it for me. But now that he is gone, I miss the talks we had, how much he liked my dog, and how it felt as if he was calling to me from someplace close but very far away.
The last time I saw him, he perched on the sofa of our hotel room as if he was ready to fly.
“We are not the same age,” he said. This seemed like an obvious fact, and one that might have been noted already.
“I am not worried about it,” I said. “Are you?”
I took his hand, and it was cold. I wanted to say, please don’t fret about nonsense. I yanked him off the sofa, and right into my arms. We danced to Lucinda Williams. I felt sad that he had said it and was shivering a bit. He held me tight as a 20-year-old but felt as light as a paper doll. So weightless, I could have carried him home in my arms.