BY ERIC LANDE
Copyright is held by the author.
“YOU KNOW, Bruce, I have everything anyone could ever want.” Ed sat back, with the air of contentment engraved in his features. I looked at my friend and couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He had spent the better part of a lifetime accumulating. It didn’t seem to matter to him what, as long as he owned it. Ed had homes on every continent, flying between them from his fleet of jets. His garages were filled with vintage cars — and the occasional latest model of some outlandishly expensive sports model of which only a handful had been made. Everything he wore was made-to-measure for him by bespoke tailors and shoemakers in London, Rome, Paris and Shanghai. Yes, Ed was the man who appeared to have everything.
After a few minutes, I said, “Ed, there is one thing that you don’t have that I have.” My friend came out of his reverie and stared at me.
“What? Did you just say that you have something I don’t? Bruce, tell me; I’ll get it immediately.”
“What I have, you never will have . . .” I hesitated. Ed now had a look of consternation, then excitement, anticipating his next acquisition. I could read it in his eyes.
“We’ve known each other a lifetime —”
“I know, Bruce, I know that we were friends in grammar school. But tell me, what is that you have that I don’t own.”
“You are aware that I still live in the cottage my parents lived in and left to me.”
“Yes, yes, I know you do, but what do you have that I don’t have?” I could see the sweat form on his forehead that started to drip down his fat, rosy cheeks. He reached for a monogramed handkerchief that he always had handy.
“I don’t own a fancy car. Actually, I don’t own a car; I’ve always leased them.”
“Bruce, you don’t have to go into all of that. Just tell me; what don’t I have?”
“And all my clothes are bought from catalogues —”
“Damn the catalogues. I wouldn’t know what one looked like if you stuck it under my nose. What the fuck don’t I own?” Now Ed started to drool, either from frustration or in anticipation of some outlandish acquisition that he must have — because I had it.
“I know you belong to all the fancy clubs in the cities where you own properties.”
“If you tell me, Bruce, I’ll give you one of my Maseratis. I know your favorite colour is London blue. My Levante is exactly that colour. You can have it; it’s yours.” I wasn’t sure if I was the cause of his agitation, but his jumping up and down was causing me to feel dizzy.
“Food never meant much to me.”
“Bruce, what the fuck are you talking about? If you want a good meal, just say so . . . but tell me; what don’t I have?” Perhaps Ed didn’t realize, but the mauve voile shirt he was wearing was becoming dark purple, especially under his armpits.
“I enjoy working in the contained garden surrounding my three-bedroom cottage —”
“Garden? Bruce, I have no idea what you’re rambling on about. Each of my estates has a minimum of a thousand acres. I need space . . . shit, now you have me sidetracked. Get back to what you were going to tell me; what is it?” I didn’t know the reason for Bruce to start scratching as though the room had suddenly filled with mosquitoes.
“My life is simple, uncomplicated. I’ve been married once, and my wife and I are still a couple
“Bruce, I’ll go down on my knees. I’m begging you.” What’s Ed doing, rolling around on the Aubusson carpet? Is he crazy?
“We attend church every Sunday, and on holidays we invite our minister and his wife for tea —”
“Bruce, how did religion get into this? I don’t give a fuck what you and whatever-her-name-is do . . . whenever. Now I don’t even remember what it was I wanted you to tell me.” Ed got off the floor and collapsed on the couch — except, he didn’t quite make the couch and landed on the carpet.
“We have three children — about average, I would say, for the demographics here in America —”
“How in god’s name do I care how many little bastards you have and leave the demographics out of this. They’re decent people.” Ed seemed to be getting political, and as people in this country get all worked up when they discuss politics, I decided to change the subject.
“Each of my children married — in church — and produced three children. So you see, Bruce, I now have nine grandchildren —”
“Fuck your grandchildren and fuck you, Bruce. Why the fuck did I ever invite you here? You were a loser when I knew you in school, and you’re still a loser. Look at you; you’re nothing. You can’t even afford to own a car, and your home is in a lower-middle class neighbourhood. You may have had only one wife, but look at the two of you. I bet she buys her clothes out of catalogues and you probably eat frozen whatevers while watching sitcoms on TV. I think you should leave now, before I get angry.”
“Don’t you want to know what I have that you don’t?”
“What the fuck could you have that I don’t? I have so many homes I’ve lost track. My garages are filled with amazing cars. Airports around the world pant when I fly in on one of my jets. My wine cellars are overflowing. My closets are jammed with clothes made only for me. What could you — a loser — have that I don’t?”
Eric Lande was born in Montreal, but have lived most of his life in the south of France and in Vermont, where he now lives with his partner on a 500-acre farm. Previously, he taught at l’Université d’Ottawa where he served as Vice-Dean of his faculty, and he has owned and managed country inns and free-standing restaurants. Recently his stories have been accepted by more than a dozen journals, including Bewildering Stories, and Literally Stories.