Sitting here in my wheelchair at Miss Turnbull’s Home for Unwed Secretaries, I listen to the rain outside and do all there is left to do. I reminisce. As I take that slow, arthritic walk down memory lane, my thoughts turn, as they always do, to the Man Who Got Away, the brut who, years ago, took my heart and stomped it into the ground with his size ten and a halfs, as carelessly as he tossed back a glass of two-percent milk.
We all have that one special someone in our past—the one who makes us fly back in time to the all-too-brief moment in the sun that we shared with them. Just the thought of that long-ago someone makes our stomachs flip and our hearts flutter faster. Decades later, they still make us swoon inside and ask ourselves, “What if..?”
He’s gone now, departed for another world, but I can see him standing before me as though it was yesterday. I’d had my high beams set on him since the day we met. What can I say? I loved the lug. He was everything I’d ever wanted in a man—as polished as a diamond, as tall and dark as a summer shadow. His gentle voice was a soft breeze on a clear blue ocean, and he took my heart and soul as stealthily as a cat burglar loots a Park Avenue penthouse.
We met at a department store. He was shopping for a new cardigan, and I was heading toward the door with my boxes and bags of lingerie, perfume and chocolates– every girl’s staple items. On the top of my purchases was a hat box containing my best find of the day, a perky little number with a short veil and a velvet ribbon. It was this hatbox that blocked my view, and caused me to collide with the man who would change my destiny.
My purchases fell to the floor, and I found myself face to face with the biggest hunk of man I’d seen in all my days.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” he said kindly. “Let me help you.” I looked into his eyes and I was a goner. They were as brown as chocolate chips in a homemade cookie, and as he apologized, I found myself yearning to climb into the dimple on his chin. His slick black hair gleamed under the lights like a panther’s hide. I was lost, lost I tell you.
We realized that the bottle of perfume I’d bought had broken. He escorted me to the sales counter and purchased another. “You must let me make this up to you,” he said kindly. “Let me take you for a drink.” My heart was already his. I helplessly agreed.
We walked down the block until we found a little café. He ordered us each a tall glass of lemonade, and we settled in to some easy conversation. I told him about my secretarial job, and he shyly admitted that he was a celebrity of sorts. He had his own television show at a small public station. I leaned across the table, enraptured, as he talked about his neighborhood, his friends, and his love of children. He was quite a guy. He was also loaded. He told me he even had his own trolley.
We became fast friends that day. During our conversation, we discovered that my apartment was only blocks from his house. He was leaving town for a couple of days the following week, and asked if I’d be willing to feed his fish while he was away. Willing? Was Al Capone Italian? He slid me the key as we said goodbye. I dreamily gathered my bags and we went our separate ways. As we parted, I turned and looked back at the big galoot who was walking away with my heart.
“Hey. I don’t even know your name,” I called out.
He smiled. “Fred,” he said. “Fred Rogers.”
Fred. The name bounced around in my mind like a glassy in a street corner game of marbles. I couldn’t think of anything else. I’d met the guy I was determined to spend the rest of my life with. I wanted him. I’d have him. He was as good as mine.
The next week, I let myself into his house, and dutifully fed the fish. Though he was away, I began to feel as though I knew him as well as I knew myself. I walked around the joint, lovingly running my fingers over his furniture, his coat hooks, his picture frames. Every knick knack screamed his name, and burned in my mind like a hot poker. He had an old piano, and I plinked around on it a bit, trying to compose the love song that was in my heart. I couldn’t wait for him to come back. I sat looking at the home that I knew we’d one day share, and formulated my plan.
The day he was to return, I showed up early at his place, my hair, nails and make up so perfect that Lana Turner would have been sick with jealousy. I put my trench coat on one of the coat hooks and stood in the middle of the room, dressed in a red lace negligee, pearls, and some six-inch stiletto heels. Carefully, I laid out the whiskey decanter and the two shot glasses I’d brought for the occasion. After checking my ruby red lipstick in the mirror, I draped myself carefully across the sofa and bided my time, like a hungry spider awaiting her prey.
It sounds cold and calculating, I know. But when a dame like me sees what she wants, she’ll beg, borrow, steal and scheme until she gets it. And let me tell you friend, I wanted Fred Rogers more than I’d ever wanted anything in this cold, cruel world.
My heart pounded as I heard his key turn in the lock. He walked in and the earth quit turning on its axis. “Why hello there,” I said breathlessly, my bosom heaving beneath the red lace of my gown.
He smiled that gorgeous smile of his, and even the fish stopped swimming in their tank. “Why, hi neighbor!” He looked so happy to see me.
“Care for a drink?” I asked.
His face brightened even more. “Sure!” he said. I poured out a couple of whiskeys, and handed him one. I patted the sofa, and invited him to sit beside me. He sniffed his glass and placed it on the table, then sat down. I asked him about his trip, and he began telling me all about it, though I really wasn’t paying attention. I was watching his handsome face and dreaming of the day that I’d be Mrs. Fred Rogers.
After a few minutes of pretending to listen to his shop talk, I looked at him with every bit of sex appeal I could muster and suggested, “Why don’t you slip in to something a bit more comfortable?”
“Great idea!” he replied enthusiastically. He went over to the coat hooks and hung up his jacket. He grabbed a red cardigan from another hook, and slipped it on. Not exactly what I had in mind. I watched his manly fingers as he zipped it up, then he leaned over and unlaced his shoes. Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought. But instead of taking things off, he was just replacing them. He put some tennis shoes on his stocking feet and carefully tied them in little bunny bows. I sighed.
“Let’s see how Picture Pictures’s doing today,” he suggested. I was confused. Picture Picture? As he walked over to a large frame on the wall, he was interrupted by a knock at the door. Things weren’t going as I’d anticipated.
Freddy bounded to the door to see who it was. “Well, hello Mr. McFeely!” He turned to me giddily. “It’s Mr. McFeely, the postman!” A weird looking guy with powdery grey hair and a fake looking moustache said hello. I gave a little wave from the sofa. I became a bit self-conscious in my negligee, but he didn’t seem to notice.
I was working myself into a tizzy as they endlessly conversed. This lunkhead of a mailman was derailing my carefully laid plans. Finally, he handed my Freddy a few letters and packages, and left.
“Now where were we?” the object of my affection asked.
“You were coming over to get to know me a little better,” I replied, feeling my desire returning.
He smiled, and once again melted my heart like an ice cream cone on hot cement. I was his puppet, and all I yearned for was to unzip that cardigan and let the fireworks start. He sat down and gave a little bounce on the cushion beside me. “That’s a very pretty red dress,” he said of my negligee. “So shiny!” Now we were getting somewhere.
“You know, you’re quite the handsome devil,” I growled throatily, reaching over to unbutton the top button of his shirt.
“Why, thank you!” He exclaimed brightly. I ran my fingers through his hair, and then…there was another knock at the door. I wanted to scream. Fred bounded off like an excitable puppy to answer it. I sighed to myself and sat there, pouting. This was all going terribly wrong.
He opened that stupid door, and invited his visitors inside. “Hi neighbors!” he said with glee.
I’ll be damned if they weren’t the weirdest bunch of loony birds ever assembled. One grown man was dressed like a dog, another like a troll. One guy was a handyman, another had on a chef’s hat, and there was this broad who was dressed like some sort of dowdy princess. They all greeted each other as though they’d been off at sea for a million years. Fred made introductions. “I’d like you all to meet my new friend, Moonbeam. Moonbeam, this is Chef Brockett, Bob Dog, Handyman Negri, Lady Aberlin, and Robert Troll. They all smiled and waved, like a bunch of happy idiots. I sort of wiggled my fingers back at them and forced a smile.
“We missed you while you were away,” said the broad, Lady Whatever. How could they miss him? He was gone two days.
“I baked you a special ‘welcome home’ surprise,” said the chef. “A scrumptiously delicious pretend cake.” I looked at the chef, then at Fred, and waited for the punchline. The chef guy lifted the lid of the cake plate, and there inside was nothing. Nothing. “You see,” he said confidentially, “this cake can be whatever flavor you want. Chocolate or vanilla or strawberry or yummy banana. You just have to close your eyes and imagine.” Close your eyes? I rolled mine. Oh brother. “It took me all day to bake it,” the chef proudly declared.
Fred clapped his hands in delight. “How wonderful!” he exclaimed. “Won’t you all have a piece?” He carefully cut each guest a slice of invisible cake, and generously offered one to me.
“No thanks. I’m on a diet,” I groused.
I sat there and waited on the sofa, while this lot of mixed nuts oohed an ahhed over that stupid cake like they were eating some delicacy baked by a French chef straight from Paree. I bided my time until I could once again be alone with my Freddy, who seemed to be growing odder by the minute. Finally, finally, they left, each one stacking an invisible plate on the table before floating out the door, like a puff of smoke from an old sedan.
“What a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” Fred declared.
“Yeah, yeah. Now come over here, ya big stud muffin.” Once again he sat beside me. Moving nearer, I slid one strap of my negligee down over my shoulder. My eyes gazed deeply into his, our lips as close as two slices of rye on a tuna sandwich. Fred looked at me, and cleared his throat. I put my hand on his, and I swear, he started to blush like a new bride.
Quietly, he asked. “Moonbeam? Would you like to go to The Land of Make Believe?”
Would I ever!!!!!!!!
“Fred Rogers, I’d go anywhere with you,” I told him.
He jumped up from the sofa like he was made of springs.
“That’s great!” He said. “King Friday has decreed that today is ‘Balloon Day.’ Everyone in the kingdom will be given a different colored balloon all their own, to blow up and show everyone! Let’s go!”
In a flash, he grabbed my hand and pulled me toward a tiny track. I could hear a little bell tinkling in the distance. My mind was spinning in confusion as a tiny toy trolley car rolled up. “Magic Trolley, we need to go the Land of Make Believe,” Fred said urgently. “Hop in, Moonbeam!”
I looked at the little trolley, and I looked at Fred. My fragile heart was breaking off into splinters, like a Stradivarius in a clumsy woodcarver’s hands. I suddently felt foolish in my negligee, and my hair was limp and wilted. Big black mascara stains dripped down my cheeks as tears filled my eyes like a garden hose in a kiddy pool.
“Fred Rogers, I love you. I love you— ya hear me, you big lout? I’ll never care for anyone else as long as I live. But your mind’s twisted all outta shape, like a bent up coat hanger in a Chinese laundry.” I was sobbing as I realized that this could never work. “I ain’t gettin’ in your trolley, and I ain’t eatin’ no invisible cake, and I ain’t goin’ to no Land O’ Make Believe.” I was near hysterics.
I slipped the strap of my gown back up on my shoulder and put on my coat. Freddy was still standing there next to the trolley, dumbstruck. I kissed him on the cheek and walked out of his life forever.
He stood there, bewildered, the red-lipstick from my kiss lingering on his face. “Goodbye neighbor,” I heard him say quietly as I closed the door.
That was all many, many years ago. Fred went on to marry and had a couple of kids. A lot of people decided that they did want to go to the Land of Make Believe, and they followed him there daily via their television sets.
Needless to say, I never married. When you’ve met a guy like Fred Rogers, how can there be a follow-up act? I wiled away my days as a secretary, typing letters for lecherous old men; my nights became an endless blur of empty laughter in seedy gin joints. Now I’m at Miss Turnbull’s, waiting for the day that I’ll take my last breath. When I get to the Pearly Gates, I hope Fred will be there. I’d like to share a glass of milk with him, and a slice of pretend cake.