Anna came into my life about fifteen years ago. What a lonely old bachelor I was, for one so young at the time. My future was bleak, empty and useless.
When she walked into my life, what was a pretty barren existence suddenly blossomed with new meaning. At my age, it wasn’t about having babies and starting a family. In most ways it wasn’t even about sex. It certainly wasn’t about lust. It was about friendship, and going places, and doing things together.
It was about not having to be alone anymore. It was about embarking together on a journey of discovery. At least that’s how it worked out. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. I must have been ready. I must have needed her.
I have such wonderful memories, like cruising down a side-road in autumn, with the top down, the roar of the motor in our ears, with warm sunlight and golden leaves falling from above, listening to classical symphonies and just laughing at the world in general.
It was a whole new life. My one true love, or so I thought, left when we were about twenty-five. Somehow I never got over it, and then I did the little stretch in the penitentiary, nothing special, just a little fraud charge. You don’t get a chance for much female companionship in a jail. After twelve years inside, a certain little nest egg that I had put aside years earlier in a Swiss account, had burgeoned into a nice retirement fund. It’s easy enough to memorize an account number.
After all those years inside, I was ruined for human relationships of any kind, or so I thought.
I was an emotional cripple, for many years. There was a kind of acceptance. It’s like I didn’t even feel sorry for myself. I didn’t even day-dream about love and romance, or relationships with women anymore. My bank manager, or the people who worked at the liquor store, or the girl who sold me milk and bread, the tattooed young man behind the counter where I bought my cigars—these were the only human contacts that I needed. After I got out, my lawyer was my best friend. A lawyer will keep your secrets, and take them to the grave when he goes, too.
Time stands still in a jail.
Inside of a jail you have to shut down inside, and go into a state of numbness. It’s the only hing that can get you through a long stretch with any hope of sanity when you get out. Thank God I had a little money. It gave me hope when I was inside, and I never could have coped on the outside without money.
I remember this one time, an old friend, long since departed, gave me some very good advice.
“Papillon had a plan, and you should too.”
Papillon had a roll of money inside a piece of metal pipe with a screw-on cap, inserted up the nethermost regions of the alimentary canal, when they sent him to Devil’s Island. I had mine inserted in a Swiss account. It was basically the same idea. Back in the eighties, when I set up that little pension-investment scheme, the one based on all the junk bonds going around back then, the one that caused me so much trouble in the end, I always knew that if I got caught before I got out of the country, I was going to do hard time.
“Pay yourself first.”
That’s what the financial planners and the motivational speakers all say.
So that’s what I did. The feds never found any of the money I put away. I took a little time and set up a half a dozen new identities. That’s really all you need for most purposes. For Christ’s sakes, how dumb do you think I am? Looking back, I was a pretty sharp young guy, and I’m glad I made those sacrifices, now that I’m in my old age.
Too much success early on, then I got careless. The guys I was hanging out with were pretty dumb, and they all started off nice and respectable. They had no guts. When we got raided, all they had to do was to keep their mouths shut. Sit back, and let the lawyers fight their delaying action, and the likelihood is none of us would have done a day in jail. Once you’re out on bail, and the lawyers get going, anything can happen.
When you’re sitting there, ‘Just trying to explain things,’ to the cops, then real bad stuff starts to happen real fast. When you’re out on bail, you have the option of just disappearing one day.
They watch you, but it can be done. Some guys just don’t listen.
Amateurs tend to try and avoid detection. Amateurs like to have a plausible explanation of ir involvement and thus their real innocence. A professional, and I thought I was one, just tries to avoid being convicted of anything. The totally professional thief really doesn’t care what the neighbours think. By the time they find out, he should be long gone. My mistake was to have partners. You’re only as good as the help.
Mentioning no names here, when the first one cracked, and began signing statements about the rest of us, and then a couple more guys tried to save themselves or get reduced sentences, we were all sunk. We were all sunk, and only one person, mentioning no names, got off easy in any sense, and he still did four years. He kept telling the cops, and the jury, how we made him do it.
Even those dummies didn’t buy it. It’s safe to say that none of my partners ever knew anything about my own personal finances; or any other sort of arrangements. I’ll tell you this much. Even if I had worked for twelve years, and miraculously saved every penny, I never would have had a tenth of what I ended up with. I guess you could say I earned it, and that I deserve to enjoy what is left of my life. I’m a reformed character now. I have no wants, no warrants, no paper on me anywhere. No unpaid fines, or taxes in arrears. I’m an honest man, now. I’m a respected member of the community.
After my previous life, Anna was a revelation. She was a real lady, and I quickly resolved to learn how to be a gentleman. It seemed to please her, and I wanted to please her. I remember our first anniversary, when she made us a beautiful dinner, at home in our apartment overlooking the bay. Never mind what town we were in. Her long black tresses, combed out to a glossy shine, hung over her alabaster shoulders, drawing the eye to her slim and elegant neck, like that carved wooden bust of Queen Nefertiti. Her black, almond-shaped eyes, glistening in the candlelight, as we talked about sweet nonsense. We had our share of romance, over the years.
Anna was a good wife. When she walked into my life I was actually a little bit shy, and nervous, but of course at first it’s not really serious. It’s just that I didn’t know what to expect. The cab pulled up in the driveway, and she paid off the driver. I could see her, barely, through the glare and reflections on the windshield. And then she got out, clutching her white leather purse, and wearing her smart blue skirt and jacket, with the tiny round pill-box cap perched on a jaunty angle on her head. To see her squinting up at the numbers on the front of the building caused my heart to beat a little faster. As her heels tapped their way up the walkway, my heart seemed to keep in time with her feet. I stared through the slit in the curtains with my heart pounding. I can admit that now.
But it was all right, and we got on like a house on fire right from the start. For an uncultured gentleman such as myself, choosing a companion from another culture opened my eyes to a whole new world of taste, in art and literature, music, and theatre. It was always a treat to take her to the Kabuki theatre, where she would sit enthralled by the action, the costumes, the mime-type stuff, the gestures of the characters. I spent much of the time watching her reactions, more than anything.
She was so gentle when I came home from hang-gliding. I crashed a lot at first. I couldn’t seem to get the thing to stay in the air. She would draw me a bath, and then after dropping her electric-blue silk kimono on the wet bathroom floor, and then climbing into the sudsy waters herself, she would soap and scrub all my abrasions and contusions squeaky clean.
Tenderly, in a motherly way, helping my tired, sore and aching body up out of the tub, she would carefully dry me off, then make me lay down again just as promptly and then give me a thorough massage. She had surprisingly strong hands, and wasn’t afraid to take her time and do a good job of it.
Anna would wrap me in a ratty green terry-cloth bathrobe I kept kicking around, and then she would curl up in my lap, as I sat leaning back in the big overstuffed lazy chair, and ask about my day. Anna was a good listener, more fearful for my safety than I was myself, more shocked at my misadventures, more proud of my successes. She claimed to be too scared to watch my attempts to fly the hang glider, and her shrieks and screams the first couple of times out, convinced me to leave her home. It was too much of a distraction, when trying to gauge the wind gusts, and altitude, and not break my damn fool neck.
She taught me to dance. To dance with Anna, her scent close in my nostrils, hand in the small of her back, was to know what intimacy really meant. What patience she had. She never lost her temper when I stepped on her feet, or backed her into another couple, lost in my own world of focus and attention, timing everything so carefully and trying to keep track of where the music was…step-step-step—oops! I smile still to think upon it. She was such a good sport, always cheerful, even when I got into one of my moods.
She was a good little housekeeper. She always knew where the band-aids were, or the sewing kit. We never ran out of milk or sugar, that’s for sure. She kind of represented us as a family around the neighbourhood. I used to send her out to bingo, way back when we lived in Canada for a while.
She won a good ten or twelve percent of the time. I showed her how to invest her money, and pretty soon, Anna had her own income, which she used to buy the odd little accessories, jewelry, scarves, things like that. She liked to surprise me once in a while with a new hairdo, stuff like that. I didn’t mind, whatever made her happy was good enough for me.
We had a few spats, misunderstandings, really, but surprisingly few over the years.
Anna was such a good girl. She had her own friends, and people she used to see. Anna loved shopping. She would endlessly scour the town, wherever we were living at the time, if I needed a pair of pants or a shirt or something. She was tireless, and had a mind like a steel trap for prices. All across town, the girl always knew the prices. Some of the older women on our street would get her to go shopping with them. She was a good driver, and she could read the tags, and she would let them know diplomatically if an outfit was all wrong, or something. I didn’t care, she was entitled to a day out once in a while. I used to go off by myself, out in the woods and just do some shooting—you know, just plinking at bottles and cans, sitting up on a
Sometimes I miss that old forty-five, but I had to ditch it one day just as a precaution. I don’t know why, it was just some crazy instinct, but nothing came of it. I suppose it had served its purpose. It was a little paranoid, maybe. Loving Anna forced me to confront a few things about myself.
Ditching it represented a kind of closure, I guess. It was a funny feeling though. Somehow I felt naked, and all alone now, except for Anna. That was a tough time for me. I think that was the first time that I really allowed myself to grieve, for my lost life, my lost childhood. In a lot of ways, Anna helped me to learn how to feel again.
We must have made an odd-looking couple, anonymous enough in the working-class and middle-class resort towns where we generally preferred to live. She, barely five-foot three, with her creamy Asian skin, long, straight black hair, not looking a day over twenty-two. I made sure she was always dressed up as cute as a button; and myself, a tall, aging, balding figure, with a bit of a paunch, and my walking stick, easily old enough to be her daddy, yet clearly in love to any interested spectator. I favoured slightly stodgy and eminently boring wool suits in every shade of grey. The slightly-long sideburns, and the mustache, almost standard-issue amongst retired cops, army officers and bankers, was a stroke of brilliance. No one from my previous existence ever would have known me.
Anna and I were going to go on a tour of a half a dozen countries in Africa, on behalf of the Aids Awareness Foundation in Nimes, which was where we were living at the time. Nimes is a nice town, and we stayed there in winters, going back six or eight years. We had friends and neighbours, something that took me a while to actually get used to. All the conversations seemed so trivial, except for when someone was getting born, getting married, getting divorced, or dying.
That was about the only time anyone seemed to take anything seriously, or have a serious thought in their heads. They were completely self-absorbed. Well educated, they took no interest in the greater world around them. It simply didn’t matter to them, as long as their own interests were served. They had no enlightenment. The outside world barely existed or registered on their minds. They thought they were cultured, when they went into their ‘been there and done that’ spiel. I never had to worry about any trouble from that sort of people. They accepted us at face value. All of them sent cards and letters when Anna became ill and flowers to her funeral. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice enough people, and perfect cover.
Anna had a long and serious illness. She’s buried in the plot where my mother and father would have been buried. It’s a long story, but they were interred somewhere else. I was in jail at the time, so I didn’t get to go to the funeral. It was a car accident.
Anna’s illness lasted about four months, and in the end nothing could save her except possibly a total rebuild of all major components, and even with my independent means, money doesn’t buy miracles. First of all, the servomechanisms in her left hip burned out, and the cryogenics cooling her superconducting brain-box were leaking like a sieve. Her heuristic algorithms were a bit old-fashioned, which affected her personality. While her emotional responses and reactions to a given situation were randomized by something analogous to fractal geometry, she was incapable of the sort of real growth that a human being might be capable of.
She was old, tired, worn out and needed replacing.
I am grateful that we had chance to say goodbye to each other. She told me that she had enjoyed her time with me. I told her that she would last forever in my memory. She knew there was nothing we could do. We had plenty of time to laugh and to cry, and to work it all out. It was all so inevitable, really.
We thanked each other for our love.
And that was it. I stood there beside the bench holding her hand.
My Anna had picked up a real bad virus, and it ate into her brain and caused her to have a series of micro-strokes, which had the effect of severely affecting her personality. She would never be the same again.
The technician switched her off, and then began disassembling her, as there are certain components that must be properly disposed of for environmental reasons, and others meant to be rebuilt or recycled. After all these years, the manufacturer no longer lists or stocks parts for this model, ‘Anna;’ #1987760-As-F-B-B.’
He boxed up her chassis, now stripped, and helped me to load her in the back of my Audi estate wagon.
Rather than pay the disposal fee, and since the plot in Shore View Cemetery belongs to me now, that’s where she’s buried. In a couple of weeks, Katerina arrives. I’m picking her up at the airport. She’s modeled after a Swedish nurse or something. If I don’t like her, I can always send her back. They’ve got a ninety-day guarantee. At my age, this is probably my last companion, and I guess that’s a good thing. Actually, I hope she outlasts me by quite a few years, and goes on to another good home when I’m dead and buried.
Switching off a loved one is hard.
Long ago, some acquaintance, in some town somewhere or another once asked, “Where can I find myself a girl like that?”
At the time I just laughed.
But if you have to ask, you can’t afford one.
Story originally appeared in 'Algernon,' (Estonia,) and Ennea, '9' (Greece.)