Earl Philips is a 59-year-old pharmacist. He owns the huge pharmacy where I buy my Lipitor. He knows a lot about medications and everyone goes to him for everything.
Several months ago his wife died, and he became even friendlier. He invited me to see a film on Pablo Neruda, and then to dinner.
I always liked Earl. He has these watery romantic blue eyes, pale blonde wispy hair and a soft, literary manner. Also a poet, and well read. We’d often talked about poetry — I love poetry.
“I read Ted Hughes’ ‘Birthday Letters’ and cried through the whole book,” I say at dinner. “It’s a love letter to Sylvia Plath. I took my orals in Plath and Virginia Woolf.’’
Over coffee and these sticky cakes, we talk hours about literature. I’m enraptured by his insights and knowledge.
“I want to read ‘The Waste Land’ to you. Let’s go to my house,” he says.
I nod. Wow. I feel like I’ve met Prufrock.
On the way to his house, he drives across town, reciting poetry. I’m really turned on to this Heathcliffe, glad that I’m wearing my new red boomer hottie underwear.
At the top of a steep hill, fog devouring the shadow of a narrow wood house, he jerks his Volvo to a stop.
I follow him up these tilted stairs, to the top. He explains that his house “shifted from the last earthquake,” and the steps are “slightly off.’’
“How interesting,” I reply.
“Voila!” He opens the door and it smells like rotten eggs. Then he turns on the light and oh my God, the freak is a hoarder, the bad kind of hoarder you see on television: boxes, clothes, bags, computers, more clothes, everything piled to the ceiling. I’m dumbfounded.
“Since Meryl died, I haven’t been expecting company. But the bedroom isn’t bad.’’
He takes my hand and pulls me along a smelly dark hallway, slushing over piles of books, garbage bags, into this room that stinks of old boxes and rotted fruit. He turns on the light. Even worse, the light illuminates the crap, the paraphernalia — thrown, some still with price tags, up to the ceiling.
“How do you —-“
I nod. “Rats, do you have rats?”
“Mice, but the exterminator handles that. I like chaos. And hate housework.” He pushes stuff from the bed, onto the floor.
“Ever since Meryl died, I sleep on a futon in the next room. I never wanted to sleep in our bed — until tonight.’’
‘How did she die?”
“She suffocated in her sleep. I think she had a heart attack.’’
“In memory, I don’t touch her things.’’
“Really, I have to go.’’
“Stay. We’ll read ‘The Waste Land’ together.”
He’s pushing things off the bed, not caring that boxes are spilling onto the floor.
“It’s been great. Gotta go,” I repeat.
I run down the stairs, wondering if men after 50 are normal, and flag a taxi.
The moon is bright and I stare it in the face, determined to find forever love before I die in a hospital bed, with Dr. Phil reruns on the television.
The moon is beautiful. So bright. There’s a man in it.