An appropriate flashback.


It was the fall after Mercy came back from Germany, a Germany of protests and terrorists and shawls with tassels. She hadn't seen George for over a year, when he called her on a whim. Mercy went to Portland on more than a whim, with hopes and dreams she should have discarded on the far side of the Atlantic. But George was her first knock-down, drag-out love, the first to leave her nervous and breathless. She thought it was a one-of-a-kind experience. Mercy still hadn't outgrown the traditional female desire for a man she could look up to, and George's combination of scorn and admiration and a certain amount of intelligence provided a good imitation of superiority, good enough to convince Mercy at that age anyway.

Standing on his doorstep, a doorstep she didn't know, his face seemed strange to her. The features were all there, all familiar, but she had forgotten what they looked like as a whole. And he was shorter than she remembered.

The first thing George did was to take her upstairs and fuck her.

After sex, he took her out for a wonderful dinner, something he had never done before. Mercy began to wake up from her trance. "That was so good, George," she said, taking his arm as they walked out of the restaurant. "What is a tight-fisted guy like you doing spending so much money on me?"

"I'm not spending it on you, I'm spending it on us. You're fun to be with."

"You could have called sooner then. Or answered one of my letters. A year is a long time."

"I know, Mercy. I've been a cad."

"I should say so." There was a tiny catch in her voice at the words.

"Okay, okay," George said with a hint of remorse. "Get in the car. Where do you want to go?"

"I don't know. I'm the visitor, I'll let you decide."

"There's a lot to see. God, I love this town." Mercy wished she could inspire that kind of emotion. "Just want to go for a ride?"

"Sure." Mercy looked at George behind the wheel of the car, the strange, thickly lashed eyes slanting down at the corners, the wavy blond hair forming devil's horns at the temples. The features were finally starting to come together.

George took her on a drive through the South Hills to admire the mansions. Mercy's tastes tended towards modest brown, but George preferred extravagant.

"How about that castle over there?" she suggested, pointing to a huge thing complete with towers and turrets.

"That's it," George said, and slowed the car down to examine his castle on the ground more closely. "I'm going to be rich someday, Mercy."

Mercy laughed. "Right."

"I'm serious. Don't you think I can do it?"

"I guess if that's what you really want." She sounded skeptical.

"I've got to make some decisions about my future here pretty soon. I can't fix vacuum cleaners forever."

"Not if you want to be rich."

"I have a chance now to go up in the company."

"Good. Go for it."

"I'm not sure if I want to, though. If I do that, I'd probably get married, buy a house and start a family in a few years."

"Well, you were just saying you wanted to buy a house," Mercy said, staring out the window. It was starting to get dark.

"But I want to travel too."

"I just got back from Germany. I would advise you to travel."

"I feel like I need the security, though, something settled. I might like being married."

"I can't imagine you being married."

"The last woman I was involved with was married and had a couple of kids. I think I'd like to have a kid."

"I would too. Someday." Mercy looked out the window at the dream houses with their extensive lawns and gardens. The shadows of the bushes hid nightmares. "That's when I'll feel old," she said. "When the first of my lovers gets married. It would be strange to see you married, George."

"Why?"

"Because you were my lover. Because I lived with you and was in love with you."

Mercy had a weakness for melodramatic gestures, but George was merciless. "Cool it, Mercy," he drawled.

"Maybe I'll beat you to it, though," Mercy said, shrugging.

"What?"

"Marriage. I got a proposal last month." Mercy laughed at the thought.

"Oh, really? Serious?"

"Sounded like it. Another ex of mine came down the hundred miles from Portland to see me on my birthday and took me out to the Excelsior. He even bought a thirty dollar bottle of wine."

"He must be rolling in bucks."

"He claimed he was worth about half a million."

"Then why didn't you take him up on it?"

"Take him up on what?"

"His proposal."

Mercy laughed again. Things were not going at all as she had imagined. "I don't want to marry him."

"Why not?"

"I don't love him."

"People get married all the time who don't love each other. Romantic love is an affliction of the early twenties." George had reached the mature age of twenty-six. "Is there something wrong with this guy?"

"No, there's nothing wrong with him."

"Christ, I'd marry someone worth half a million."

"Well, I wouldn't."

"But just think. You'd be set for life."

"I want to make it on my own."

"Puritan work ethic."

"That's not it, George. I want to be someone in my own right."

"Latent feminism."

"Cut it out, George."

"I have nothing against feminists as long as they have good legs."

"I said cut it out."

George gave her an intentionally puzzled look. "Is this guy a nerd or something?"

"No, he's not a nerd. I like him."

"Good. You could learn to love a guy who's worth half a million."

"I couldn't."

"Then there must be something objectionable about him."

"I don't like the way he kisses."

"You could always teach him. I've taught a few people myself."

"Good for you."

"He must be a nerd."

"He's not. He's honest and honorable and he treats me right."

"He's a nerd."

"George!"

"Have you slept with him?"

"No. He never even suggested it."

"He's a nerd."

Mercy was stubbornly silent and ridiculously hurt. George seemed to see it as a challenge and proceeded to tell her more about his married lover. Mercy told him about Hans in Germany and Adam and Matt in Eugene. She won that round, but the victory was as flat and tasteless as a can of Bud left out overnight.

The next day, George changed his tactics. He took her out to play tennis and encouraged her. He took her out to Pretty Boy Floyd's for lunch and bought oysters. He took her out for a few drinks afterwards and they had long, drunken conversations with no mention of other lovers, married or not. "If I were smart, I would probably follow you around for the rest of my life," George said. Mercy melted.

She ended up marrying George. And he continued to fix vacuum cleaners.



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