(With Apologies to John Galsworthy)
Shortly after New Year’s Day, Lathrop Wisebroat, well known at Redwood Acres Country Club, stepped onto the small balcony off his bedroom and surveyed the sweep of turf that sloped obediently from his house to the street below him. The perfect winter day, he reflected, and inhaled the cool morning air. He admired the blue sky and observed the vibrant gold of a last maple leaf that lay on the green lawn. How could life be better? His home stood proud amid equally proud homes, walled, gated and impregnably sheltered from what lay beyond them. He breathed deeply again, noticed a glint of red from the driveway across the street, then felt an odd sensation under his rib. It was a twinge, an unexpected throb beneath his sternum, followed by an emptiness.
“Nothing,” he said aloud, for that is what his internist had assured him; he was the picture of health. Lathrop stepped to the mirror over his bureau. Still handsome at fifty, he thought, and he raised his brow slightly, admiring the healthy tan, the firm chin, the trim waistline, the full crop of mostly dark hair. Distinguished. Young women who assisted at the firm still examined him approvingly, he had observed. A lucky man. One in a million.
Lathrop trotted downstairs, past the drying Noble Fir that still filled the room with its rich seasonal fragrance, and across the carpet, specked with pine needles and bits of tinsel. A bit vulnerable in his silk pajamas, he stepped barefoot outside to retrieve the morning’s Journal. On the porch he paused again and enjoyed his world: immaculately trimmed lawns, freshly swept cobblestone driveways and impeccably cared-for residences. His mind floated to the calm blue of the pool behind his house, the sleek lines of the plasma television in his den, and the careful stitching on the golf bag in the trunk of his stately sedan.
The grass chilled the soles of his feet as he walked to where the paper lay near the street. As he stooped to pick it up, his eye again caught the red glint, a glint he now identified as the hood of a bright roadster in his neighbor’s driveway across the street. It gleamed in the slanted December light, the color of a matador’s cape. Teardrop headlamps and a sneering grille. He imagined himself behind the wheel, the top down, wind tousling his hair and ruffling the linen of an open collar.
He straightened himself, inhaled, and again felt the odd twinge and emptiness in his chest. A morning like this, he thought, and such a beautiful automobile with no one on the block but me who has the––to come out and––.
“Beautiful morning, isn’t it?”
Lathrop was startled by his right-side neighbor Edgar Wagstaff, also well know at Redwood Acres Country Club, standing in almost identical silk pajamas in the exact position before his house that Lathrop occupied before his own. He bore a healthy tan, a firm chin, a trim waistline and a full crop of mostly dark hair. For an instant Lathrop had the sensation he was looking in his mirror.
“Yes, a beautiful day,” Lathrop replied agreeably but caught a bit off guard.
“A glorious time of the year in California.”
“December. Always an exceptional month,” Lathrop said. “I was just admiring the Fulton’s new car.”
“Lexus,” replied Edgar, eyeing the iconic L on the grille. “Fine engineers, those Japanese.”
“Certainly are.” Lathrop’s voice had regained its accustomed confidence.
“Prefer them to those little German things. Not so gaudy. I hear it’s a Christmas surprise from that young wife of his.”
“Certainly is. Well, have a good day.”
“You, as well.”
Journal in hand, Lathrop crossed the lawn back to his porch, then turned once more to admire the shimmering Lexus. The car was vibrant, alive almost. He mentally cruised a stretch of Highway 1 just above Big Sur, until he heard a muffled cough. It was Edgar, still standing in his spot by the curb and also still admiring the red automobile. For an instant they looked one another directly in the eye, and embarrassed, Lathrop retreated to his house.
A moment later, as he stood alone in his den, the odd twinge and emptiness once more disturbed Stanley’s chest. Then, unaccountably upset, Lathrop found himself thumbing the Yellow Pages for the number of a Lexus dealer.