Tony and Ida
Tony Stiles, an app developer with an upstart software startup, piloted a project that succeeded well beyond his modest expectations, netting his employer $2.4 million in its first year. This was a big surprise to the hapless engineer. He had never planned to be a manager, but once he found success, Harry Fishgate, the company president, rewarded him with a higher salary, moved him out of his cubicle into a private office with a window view of the front lawn, and made him a junior VP. People acted differently around Tony, more respectfully, more likely to ask his opinion on matters technical and otherwise. Co-workers sought him out socially, men and women both, and he gained confidence with his success. Among them was Ida Bitar, a junior programmer. She made eye contact when they passed in the hallway, and he began paying attention to her, having heart palpitations whenever he saw her. Tony had worked hard all his life as a kid and in college, a scholar with a scientific and technical bent. Introverted, uncomfortable around women, he had seldom dated and remained single at age twenty-nine. He realized Ida had awakened a latent yearning in him. She was tall, with fine features, not just a pretty girl. From her top secret security clearance, Tony calculated she was twenty-seven years old. She had grown up in New Orleans and had a slight southern accent.
At his request, she began working for him writing code, collecting data, preparing reports, and doing odd jobs. They spent increasing amounts of time together on work projects, often talking in his office. It soon became clear to others that they were friends, and perhaps more. Tony did not talk about the relationship, but co-workers seemed to be aware that he had a yen for her, betrayed with a wink, candid comment, or involuntary facial expression. From gossip he learned that Ida had married a man named Sam she met on a blind date. He worked part-time in a relative’s falafel shop but had ambitions to find a more lucrative line of work eventually and had taken courses in court reporting, repairing home computers, and real estate appraisal. Currently, he was attending a professional photography course at a private college. Ida was covering most of the couple’s living expenses and Sam’s education.
The company held its annual Christmas party at a country club. Tony attended alone, mixed with friends, and tried to fit in. He kept looking for Ida, but she was not there, a letdown. She came later with two female friends. During lunch Ida and her two friends sat at one table and Tony at another with his friends and their wives. Eventually, servers cleared the tables, a piano trio played, and couples danced. In due course, Tony and Ida made eye contact. He got up and, as he approached her table, one of Ida’s friends was talking about a recent trip to Las Vegas and catching a show by L.L. Cool J. “He was really sexy.” She said. “I wouldn’t mind if he put his shoes under my bed.” The three women erupted in laughter. Ida said, “I wouldn’t mind it a bit,” then noticed Tony. “Hi, Tony. How long have you been standing there?”
Tony cleared his throat. “Not long. Do you mind if I . . .” He sat down beside her. “How’s Sam?”
“Working his ass off in a hot little chicken shack.”
“Is he coming?”
“My husband, who knows? He works all the time or he’s at school or in the darkroom, it’s always something.”
Tony scratched an itch on his nose. Did Sam have a girlfriend?
Ida’s two friends traded glances, then got up and left.
Ida looked directly at him with a faint smile. “What’s on your mind, boss?”
Tony smiled. “You are.”
“What did I do wrong this time?” She lifted her glass of red wine and sipped.
“Nothing that I’m aware of. You’re perfect.”
“Do you believe in open marriage?”
“People should do what they want to do.”
“Sam said I should get out more.”
Harry, who had been wandering around, socializing, sat down across the table from them. “How’re you folks doing this afternoon? Having a good time? Enjoy the softball match? I got a lot of laughs myself.”
Ida nodded at Harry and smiled. Tony stared at him. Harry got up and left.
“Why were you rude to him?” Ida said.
“He lacks subtlety.”
“Do you want to take me home with you?”
“Just testing.” She got up, crossed the hall, and left through to the main entrance.
The following week, Ida worked for someone else on a project in the far reaches of the building. He usually saw her by chance in the coffee room or hallways, but not that week. Was she avoiding him? When he called her on Monday, she said she was working on an exciting new project.
“I need you on mine,” Tony said.
“It’s better for my career if I work on many projects.”
“Beats the alternative, I guess.”
“I knew you’d understand.”
“Maybe we could have lunch together sometime.”
“Sure, Tony.” The line went dead.
He wondered if she’d lost the yen for their special friendship.
In the weeks that followed, he saw less of her, until one day he caught he alone in the coffee room and asked her out to lunch on Friday at Cort’s, a popular bistro with the drinking crowd. To his surprise she said yes, and they made a noon date. Alas, on Friday he was stuck in a meeting with a manager and clients until a quarter after twelve and when he got out, she was not in her cubicle or in the other places he would likely find her. The receptionist said she had left for the day. At 1:30 in the afternoon?
More weeks passed, and then a month and more, and soon it was summer. Harry, having recognized Tony’s budding management talent, assigned him to handle the booze for the company’s summer picnic. This was a task regularly bestowed upon the up and coming as a test of their fiber, in the tradition of dirty tricks, like sending a Tenderfoot Scout on a snipe hunt, the ground rule being that he had to satisfy the desires of the entire workforce with beer and wine only. He approached the task by asking a few employees what beers and wines they favored, and realized it was like arranging a lunch date with misanthropes. He picked the blandest brews and cheapest wines. The picnic was held on a sunny July Sunday in a public park dotted with oaks. Employees gathered in cliques at picnic tables in shaded areas. As noon approached, the VPs barbecued hot dogs and burgers and served the masses. After lunch, a senior VP assigned the willing to softball teams that played as others watched.
As Tony disliked beer and wine, especially the junk he had foisted on everyone else, had brought along a bottle of Tanqueray gin in a brown paper bag and sat at a table watching his co-workers play softball, schmooze Harry, kiss up to their supervisors, and get loaded at the company’s expense. Softball interest waned as hits were declined and errors increased and the game eventually died. People retreated to their tables, grew woozy from the heavy food, hot sun, and sitting there listening to boring conversations, and began leaving. Harry and the CFO, a Lutheran tea totaler, wandered around, dutifully saying hello and goodbye to everyone as they prepared to leave or were on the way out, but took one quick glance at Tony with the Tanqueray and his tall paper cup, and skipped that one.
Tony looked for Ida and Sam all afternoon unsuccessfully. Around three o’clock, with the picnic essentially over, he spotted Ida at a table with Harry’s secretary, looking directly at him. He picked up his brown bag and paper cups and walked over to Ida’s table. “How’d you like a real drink?”
Ida smiled up at him “I would. This wine is awful. Whoever chose it should be fired.”
Harry’s secretary got up, said a few words to Ida, and left. Tony sat down across from Ida, put a fresh paper cup on the tabletop, and poured her a double double straight gin. “Sorry, no ice.”
She raised the cup, sipped, and squinted. “Owoo. Tasty. Thank you.”
They stared at each other in silence.
“How long have you been here?” Tony said.
“Not long. But too late, I guess. Everyone’s gone, almost.”
“I’m here, and you’re here.”
“Yes, we are.”
A long silence.
“Sam’s working, of course. He’s printing negatives for one of his instructors at the institute.”
Again, the question of Sam’s fidelity entered Tony’s mind.
“How often does he print negatives?”
“Um, just curious.”
Ida sipped her gin. “We’re moving to Orlando.” She looked at something far across the park. “Tony thinks there’s opportunity there, all the theme parks. Photographers can make a killing. Have you ever been there?”
“Sure, to conferences.”
“I’m from the south.”
“It’s nothing like New Orleans.”
He noticed her sad eyes. “I love you, Ida.”
“How do you feel about me?”
Dusk was coming on. They were alone in the park.
Tony fortified his drink, then poured more into Ida’s.
“What do you want?” Ida said.
“What’s your answer?”
“I see Sam.” She stood up. “I have to go home now.”
She walked to the edge of the park and disappeared. He did not see Sam, wondered if he was there, but did not rise and follow her. He poured the Tanqueray dregs into his cup, finished it, then lay his head on the table and dreamt a nightmarish midnight walk through Disneyworld.
A few days later in the parking lot, Tony noticed a big man in a soiled cook’s outfit exit a battered Honda. He stormed up to Tony, body coiled, face irate, exuding garlic and beer breath, and poked Tony’s chest. “Stay away from my wife, asshole!” he shouted, then punched Tony in the gut.
The attack caught Tony by surprise, but Sam’s punch was weaker than his halitosis and Tony was still upright. He shoved Sam backward, got into his car, and closed the door. As he drove out of the lot, he spotted Ida standing by the rear entrance of the building, watching them.
A few weeks later, the company held a buffet breakfast in the back room of a restaurant to wish a temporary goodbye to Tony and his team, bound for London to open a regional office, and permanent goodbye to Ida, relocating to Orlando. Employees sat at two long tables topped with cheap champagne bottles and plastic glasses. At 8 a.m., champagne corks popped and Harry stood up, raised his plastic glass, wished Tony and his team success at commerce in the UK and, in the same breath, good luck to Ida in Orlando. Others stood, toasted the soon to be departed and told bad jokes. Everyone went to the buffet, filled their plates, and returned to their seats for lukewarm breakfasts. From first popped cork to final bite of waffle or scramble or toast, it was over in sixty minutes. Harry signaled the end by standing up and leaving. Those still present followed him promptly out the door. As Ida rose to leave, Tony walked touched her arm. “Can I buy you lunch today?”
“Yes,” Ida said.
He stared at her, hoping this was not another false promise. “At noon.”
They got to the Cort’s, a cocktail lounge of red wallpaper, leather booths, and atmosphere, shortly after noon, sat across a table in a booth, ordered martinis, which arrived quickly in oversized Old Fashioned glasses. Tony raised his glass. “This is our first date. And probably our last.”
Ida raised hers and touched Tony’s
“I’ll miss you,” Tony said.
“We’ll have to keep in touch,” Ida said.
“Send me your address when you get there.”
“Maybe I could stop in Orlando when I come back from the UK in six months or so. It might even be sooner, or maybe later. Have you ever been to London?
They ordered lunch; finished their drinks. Lunch arrived, they ate, silence.
“Do you want another drink?” Tony said.
“I’m already drunk.”
“It doesn’t matter. We don’t have to go back to work.”
“You don’t. I do.”
Tony signaled the waitress and ordered coffee. A busboy cleared the table.
They sat in silence over coffee cups.
Tony drove Ida back to work and drove home. He decided to forget her. Definitely. She didn’t want him; no use a broken heart.
Ida never sent Tony her new address. His job in London kept him busy and he thought about Ida less. The new office was doing well and his six month assignment extended to a year, and before long he had been in London for three years and two months. He was beginning to dress and talk like a Brit, and had acquired British friends.
One day he received a postcard postmarked Boston. He recognized Ida’s handwriting. In it, she said: Dear Tony, Orlando was a bust. We moved to Boston, Sam’s home town. Sam is now a big success, working for his uncle, selling carpet. His cousin told me Sam was running around on me. We separated. I’m now working in the Pittman law office as a legal secretary. I hope all is well in London. I’d really like to visit there someday. Sincerely yours, Ida.
All the old feelings flooded back—loving her, but tempered with anger and resentment. Now she needed someone to bail her out. Still playing hard to get, she had not even given him her phone number. He asked his receptionist to get him the phone number of the Pittman law office in Boston.
Henry Simpson is the author of several novels, short stories, and works of nonfiction on technical subjects. He studied engineering, did graduate work in English and Psychology, and holds a PhD from UC Santa Barbara. He lives in Monterey, California.