Short Stories

Do You Take American Express Cards?

"There'll be two of us," Geri Hershey told the waiter. "He'll be here in just a minute."

The waiter led Geri to a table next to the window, dropped a pair of menus, and disappeared among the hanging plants and celebratory faces of the downtown lunch hour crowd. I HOPE he'll be here...

Geri fished in her pocketbook, dug beneath the envelope with the divorce papers, found her mirror, and checked her makeup. Everything's fine. Everything's just fine. He'll be here any minute. It'll all work out.

She scanned the stream of people on the sidewalk outside-suits, ties, high heels-and thought: I fit in now-finally. She hadn't seen Gerard in two months. No matter, she told herself, he'll be easy to spot in this crowd.

But Geri was surprised a moment later when she saw Gerard working his way through the crowd. His hair was recently cut, the moustache gone, and he was wearing a tan sports coat and corduroy trousers he hadn't owned -wouldn't even have considered owning-when they'd been together. And new shoes-stylish black tie shoes. If I didn't know him, I'd be wishing I did. She waved a hand and caught Gerard's attention; he stopped outside the window and smiled.

Through the glass, Geri mouthed: "Nice jacket!"

Gerard opened it wide, flasher-style, shrugged once, and smiled again. When he reached the table he gave Geri a quick damp kiss on the cheek and slid into the chair across from her.

"Gerard, you look great!"

He smirked. "Don't let it fool you. I've been out looking for work."

"Oh, goood. Any luck?"

"Been lucky so far," Gerard said. "Nothing..."

"Ooooh...," Geri tried to force a smile, but she felt it surface as a grimace. "I keep thinking you'll change."

"Over one little old divorce? Everyone says the first one is the hardest."

"Gerard, come on. Let's try to do this friendly." Be calm. Remember why you're here. "You look good, Gerard. Are you seeing someone?"

"Nah," he said. "Not really."

The waiter was there-Geri ordered eggplant casserole, Gerard tortilla soup-and then gone.

"I'll bet they're sitting right there at the top of your purse," Gerard said. "Lemme see."

Geri pulled out the envelope, removed the papers, handed them over. "It's pretty simple, Gerard. You have to sign all three copies right below where I've signed. We put it all in the mail, and in a week they send us back the last thing, a final certificate."

Gerard flipped through the pages, eyes scrolling. "What's it say?"

"We've got no kids, no property, no debts, and we're both agreed on it."

"You're still sure?"

"I'm sure," Geri said.

"Well, you know I never wanted it, but I came here to sign these suckers..." Something caught his eye. "You're keeping my name?"

"I'm keeping your name."

"Really!" Gerard looked up. "I'm surprised. I like it -- I think. But I'm surprised."

Geri watched him read, head down. She fought a memory of him reading Remains of the Day one afternoon across from her at a café in Kuta Beach. She'd given it to him as a present, and he read it nonstop for two days-he'd told her it was the best book he'd ever read. His hair was lighter then. Geri saw herself in the picture as a girl, an innocent. The day he finished reading, Gerard went out and found a copy of Serpentine, his previous favorite book and gave it to Geri; Geri had to stop one-third of the way through.

"I like being Geri Hershey," she said. "I just couldn't be Geraldine Borovitch again."

"Well, I'm glad." Gerard signed three times and passed the papers back.

The waiter: "Let's see... Who had the eggplant?"

While they ate, Gerard read aloud a long letter he'd received from Benny, a former business associate who was now in Katmandu, trekking and thinking about doing an import business-legit. The letter was full of joyous references to the wonders of Nepal and the bliss of being away from America, but Geri found herself reliving the ten days she spent raising $6,000 to bribe Gerard and Benny out of the Karachi prison. When they walked free, the man at the embassy had praised her work-"fastest release I've ever seen" -and Gerard and Benny had been truly appreciative. But Geri was finished.

Benny's letter closed: "When will I see my favorite couple again?"

"I haven't told him," Gerard said, as coffee arrived. "He'll be surprised. Hell, I'm surprised. I never dreamed I'd be divorced. And back in America struggling to find a job. And I never knew-really, I didn't-how much you hated the Road. All that time I thought you were a born traveler, and now I see that you're much more at home right here."

"I didn't hate the road, Gerard." Geri pulled the cigarettes out of her purse. "But it's true, I'm feeling a lot better. Everything's really working out. I've been six month at this job-they like me, they talk about promotions. My new place is great-I can't wait to get home each night and close the door behind me. I've got a bank account, an actual god-dammed bank account for the first time in...who knows..."

"Before you met me."

"Probably." Geri snorted smoke out the side of her mouth. "I'm relaxed now. I feel normal for once. And it feels good."

"Don't you miss the old times? Goa? Lamu? Maui? Come on-ya gotta miss Maui!"

"Oh, sure I do." Geri saw airbrushed images of the world's brightest beaches and most exotic mountaintops-scenes snipped from five years of sun-baked romance. "I'm always telling people about our adventures, Gerard! I love all our memories-I am that person, too-but it's different now. I don't have to sit in some cheap hotel room, wondering if you're coming back with five thousand dollars or a knife wound or not coming back at all. A year ago I was in Karachi peddling your hot travelers checks, Gerard! No more. My rent is paid this month and I know where next month's is coming from. Hell, I've even got an American Express card now!"


"Yes, really. The world's starting to agree that I'm stable. God, I needed that. I was not doing a good job with life, Gerard. I was getting a little crazy with you, all the never knowing. I needed some stability, some..."

Geri focused on Gerard's eyes, the green of a Costa Rican jungle, and drew a deep breath. "It's going to work out better for both of us, Gerard-you just wait. Tell me the truth. You're getting things together aren't you? You look great! How's the job hunt? Isn't this just a different kind of adventure?"

Gerard stared out the window for a long time. "I know everything will work out. It always does. But this looking for a job stuff... I can get the shit jobs-I can drive a cab or a truck, I might even get the limo gig- but I'm not really qualified for anything 'decent.' Everyone asks for a resume. What am I going to put? 'Drifter-six years. Smuggler-four.' Every day I think I should have stayed away. I should have let you come back here alone. You didn't really need me. You never really did."

Geri leaned forward. "Gerard, don't be that way-I know you, man! I've seen you turn shit into sunshine before, and it wouldn't surprise me to see you do it again-this afternoon."

Gerard's cheeks swelled. "Did you ever see that Richard Gere movie-'Breathless'? I saw it at a matinee yesterday."

"I thought you had that restaurant interview..."

"They had uniforms..."

Geri lowered her eyes, ashed her cigarette, half-smiled, half-whispered: "Gerard..."

"So Richard Gere plays this low life stud who kills a cop and has to start running from the police. He meets a girl and goes back to her apartment, and while she's in the shower he turns on the t.v. and sees his own face and hears he's wanted for murder. He sits there on the edge of the bed thinking about it, and reality starts sinking in. And God, I was cringing inside, thinking what if that was me? What would I do? Hide? Surrender? Kill myself? I would freak. I'd be paralyzed. But you know what he does?"

Geri shook her head.

"He gets up, drops his pants on the floor, struts into the bathroom and climbs in the shower. And I just started laughing out loud, because that was about the absolute last thing I'd have thought of. Hell, he's killed a cop, the whole world's looking for him, and he decides, 'Hey, no big deal - I'll just jump my new lady...'"

"Sounds kinda like you!" Geri laughed smoke.

"I wish." Gerard whisked the air with his hand. "I hadn't even seen it as one of his options. Would not have occurred to me. So I started thinking about my problems-no job, no ambition, rent's overdue, wife's divorcing me, stranger in my own weird country-and it hit me: Maybe I'm overlooking something, maybe my naked lady is a courier flight to Katmandu, or maybe it's a lottery ticket with my name on it in that drug store." Gerard waved down the street. "I'm done here, I got you home safe. Your dad thanked me for that, you know?"

"My dad is jealous of you, Gerard."

"Probably not so jealous today."

Geri laughed, Gerard whisked.

"They say that the solution to almost any problem is usually within sight if you only know how to look. And that movie helped me see that I don't have to make my problems seem so big. They really aren't-I have a place to stay tonight, I have food, I don't have police chasing me. If I look close I bet I might spot an option I've overlooked."

The waiter slipped the check on the table.

"Do you take American Express cards?" Geri asked.


"Well, then"-Geri smiled at Gerard-"lunch is on me."


The waiter took the card.

"Remember the bike ride from Tokyo to Kyoto?" Gerard asked.

Geri nodded: endless stretches of quiet roads, snow-tipped mountains, camp sites beside clear streams in hushed forests. But until Gerard had convinced her she could ride a bicycle 400 miles over the Japanese Alps she'd never ridden more than a few blocks.

"All those peasants bent over in their paddies," Gerard said, "pajamas rolled up over their knees, straw hats tied under their chins, pulling weeds. Well, after that Richard Gere movie I started thinking about them-how when we'd ride past they would see us and freeze, and gape and stare, and stop working until we'd ridden clear out of sight. And if we rode by twenty of them in the same field, if you looked back you'd see every one of them standing up, not saying a word, just staring."

Gerard was animated now, getting louder-Geri patted the air with her hands: Easy, easy...

"I loved blowing their minds. Who knows what they were thinking about before we came along? Maybe the rice crop, or their family, or Buddha, but they sure weren't thinking that any minute now two white kids from some unimaginable far part of the world were going to come wobbling by on these big overloaded bicycles. They had to wonder: 'Who are these people? Is there a big world out there I don't know anything about? Am I a fool to be knee-deep in this stupid mud while the world rides by?' God I loved that ride. Loved it."

"I loved that ride, too, Gerard! I loved all our trips. I'll always be glad you showed me all those places. Would I have seen the Bolshoi in Moscow or slept on top of a pyramid by myself? There's this woman at work, Nadine-she's never been to Europe, never been married. I tell her that on my very first day in London I met this guy, married him six months later in Bali, traveled all over the world with him and now I'm divorcing him and she thinks I'm crazy. She says someday I'll look back and see you're the best thing that every happened to me and about half the time I'm scared she's right."

Gerard reached over and squeezed Geri's hand, once, gently. "Thanks. That's really nice."

"I mean it. It was quite a ride. All of it." Geri's smile came out right this time.

"Maybe Nadine's like those peasants," Gerard said. "Maybe we all are. I remember being amazed at how many of them never looked up-never saw us! We rode right through their lives, right through their muddy little rice paddies, and they never even bothered to notice us. And that makes ME wonder: Are there things passing ME by right this minute, amazing things I'm not seeing, invisible to me? I'm so caught up in my little rice paddy-rent, divorce, uniforms-maybe I'm overlooking some luminous possibility that's staring me right in the face. Maybe I don't know how to see."

The waiter again. Geri wrote in a tip and signed. "Well, maybe you're right," she said, dropping the slip and card into her purse "Maybe you should be over in Asia, or on Crete, or Maui. Just because I got you to bring me back to this rice paddy doesn't mean you have to stay and pull all the weeds."

Gerard was quiet now, pensive. Geri thought the wistful outburst had depleted him. He raised his hand-Geri couldn't see his eyes-and rubbed his brow.

Let him go, Geri thought. You can't help him. She reached across the table and touched his forearm. "Gerard, I've got to get back."

"Sure." He looked up from the table.

"What is it, Gerard?"

"Nothing. What about those papers?"

"I'll mail them at the office," Geri said.

"There's a mail box." Gerard pointed out the window. "Let's drop 'em in there. I'd like to see them go. You know-it'll seem more final. If I don't see them go, well... How do I know you won't get cold feet between here and the office?"

He grinned. She grinned back. Her feet were about as cold as Thai food, and they both knew it. The Hershey's walked arm in arm to the mailbox; Gerard pulled the handle and Geri dropped the envelope through the slot. "Bombs away," she said. Gerard shook the handle, and they heard the slide and thunk. They were standing a foot apart now. Gerard reached out and rested his hands lightly on Geri's hips. Their eyes met.

"You're a good woman, Geri Hershey."

"And you're a good man, Gerard Hershey." She leaned into him and hugged him, and felt his warm strong arms wrap around her. No tears. She started to draw back, but Gerard held her tightly for an extra awkward moment. She felt him jerk, and then he was doing something with his arm. Wiping a tear? Gerard crying?

"Thanks for coming, Gerard," she said. She gave him a final squeeze and eased away. But his eyes were dry. He smiled at her.

"Thank you, sweetheart."

"Good-bye, Gerard."

"Bye, Geri."

She turned and walked away down the block. Don't look back...

Gerard leaned on the mailbox, watching until Geri turned the corner. He walked to a phone booth and punched in a number.

"Hey, babe. It's me. Look. Just do this-no questions. Pack a bag real quick and catch a cab to the airport. Pan Am. And bring your passport. I'll be there in half an hour. Yeah. Something good came up."

Gerard hung up and stepped to the curb. With his left hand he beckoned a taxi. His right hand was in his pants pocket, curled around the small green card; the nail on his index finger clicked back and forth across the tiny embossed lettering: G HERSHEY

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