Not long ago the editor of these stories sent me the complete works.
I’ve decided to begin from the beginning.
Gilberto Rides Again: Chapter 1
by Stephen Halpert
Gilberto came into the condo, kicked off his loafers, and yawned. He wanted more time with Joey, especially to watch him at his varsity soccer practice. Instead, as part of Atlas’ ever-present frontline of defense, he sat in on board meetings. His position had many perks, one of which was traveling, particularly as a spokesperson for the behemoth corporation’s continual vigilance of antitrust and monopolist criticism.
Eleven years have passed since he, Maria, and her son became a family. Joey is now a junior at Houndstooth Academy, a boy’s preparatory day school in Brookline, Mass. Ramona, born not long after his marriage to Maria, is the apple of Gilberto’s eye. She loves to draw and wants to be an artist. Maria, works as a counselor at a battered woman’s shelter in Boston, with her best friend, Rosa, who is married to Gilberto’s best friend, Ramon.
Gilberto, now fifty, is a senior vice president at Atlas International, his firm for the last twenty-five years. Ramon also works for Atlas.
“You look tired.” Maria hugged him. “You seem to have all these thoughts coming out of your ears.”
He chuckled and kissed her. “We’ll have to do more traveling.”
She smiled. “Great! When? Where?”
“Conferences starting next month in New York, then meetings in D.C. and Atlanta.”
She nodded and began loosening his tie so she could unbutton his shirt. “So you’ll be talking to politicians.”
He nodded. “Protecting Atlas is like trying to rein in a crazed bronco.”
She sighed sympathetically. “Nothing will change as long as acquisition is on their front burner.”
He nodded. “It has to keep growing. That’s the nature of global sales, distribution, and shipping. More opposition from Congress about our use of drones. Everybody has their hand out for political contributions.”
She noticed a new touch of gray in his hair. His pants seemed to fit him tighter. “And we’ll be?”
“Dinner parties, new plant openings. You know the drill. We’re on stage.” He waved a hand in the air for emphasis.
She noticed he was holding several new brochures for yachts. “Oh Gilberto, you work so hard. And what you really want is to drag me off?” She searched his eyes for an answer.
He brightened and he nodded. “Yes. Want to go back to Niagara Falls and relive our honeymoon?”
“Is that what you truly want?” Maria asked.
“I just want us to be together, even if it’s in some shady motel in the sticks.”
Maria made a face like she had just tasted a lemon. “I’d hate for us to be seen at some place like that,” she groaned. “Why not a weekend getaway at the Ritz?”
Gilberto liked that idea. “Sure. We can walk across the Public Gardens.”
Maria finished unbuttoning his shirt. “I want to keep you lean and hungry like a caged tiger ready to spring.”
He growled and kissed her. For long moments they held onto one another, a momentary escape from life’s immediacy.
“Know something?” she asked. “You’re bored.”
“Yes,” she nodded. “I think you need a diversion. Me more.”
“I like ‘Me more’,” he laughed. “That has real possibilities. Maybe we could meet at a hotel and pretend to be lovers.”
“Now you’re talking!” she laughed, “but who needs to pretend?” She kissed him again, longer this time. “I’ll make a reservation for this weekend.”
Ramona rushed into the room. “Mama! There’s a horrible big bug in my room!”
“Can’t you just swat it?” Gilberto asked.
Ramona wrinkled her nose. “No, Daddy. It stinks when you squash it.”
Gilberto raised his eyebrows. “You don’t have to kill it. Just put it in a jar. You don’t need your mother for that.”
“Pleeeeeease, Mama!” she pleaded, grabbing her mother’s hand and pulling on it.
Maria sighed and looked at her husband. “She has your temperament you know.”
“Please, please Mama, please,” wailed the child, sobbing theatrically.
Maria took her daughter’s hand and led her back to her room. “Do you like staying with Aunt Rosa and Uncle Ramon?”
”Yes!” she cried, suddenly elated. “They have pizza and apple pie.”
Maria found the bug, took it in her hand, opened the window, pushed up the screen and tossed it outside.”
“From now on, that’s what you do,” she said. “Do you understand?” Ramona nodded, then asked, “But do I have to touch it?”
Maria pretended not to hear the question. “I have to go speak with your father. Please don’t come running in and interrupting us again. Understand?”
Ramona nodded again, calm for the moment.
Just then, Joey arrived home from the Houndstooth bus. As he entered, Maria immediately noticed the apprehension in his face. He sat across from Gilbert and Maria, tears in his eyes.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Nothing could be that bad. Did you flunk your history test?”
“Worse than that,” he sniffled.
Now he had Gilberto’s attention. “It wasn’t me,” he sobbed. “I didn’t do it. I promised not to tell.”
Gilberto looked stern. “Then tell us!”
“I promised I wouldn’t. She told me not to. She made we swear to secrecy.”
Maria gently took her son’s hand and sat beside him on the sofa. She looked into his eyes, then said very softly, “Start from the beginning.”
“I’m just afraid. She doesn’t want anyone to know.”
“But she told you,” Marie said softly, keeping her gaze on his face.
“Who are we talking about?” Gilberto asked.
“Sophia,” Joey sobbed. “She said she’d run away. I don’t know how to help her!”
“Start at the beginning, please,” Maria repeated.
“She thinks she’s pregnant,” Joey blurted out. “I promised not to tell anyone.”
Gilberto sighed. “And who’s the father?”
Maria stroked Joey’s shoulders. “It’s all right to tell us. Carrying something heavy like that can be awfully difficult.”
She went to Spring Weekend at Dartmouth. I think she got drunk.”
“When did she go?” Gilberto asked.
“Over spring break, maybe last month. She’s all confused and doesn’t want to remember or have her parents find out.”
“Are you in love with her?” Gilberto asked.
“No…um, not like that,” Joey stammered. She’s like an older sister to me. But I promised I’d help her.”
“How?” Gilberto asked.
“She asked if I could give her—loan her—money, so she could end the pregnancy. She promised she’d pay me back.”
“Hmmm…”, Maria said. “It’s not quite that simple. There’s a lot of emotion involved. It’s not like having a tooth pulled.”
Joey’s face turned white. He trembled, then started to choke, as though he’d bitten off too big a slice of life that was stuck in his throat.
“I have money in the bank,” he sobbed. “Birthday money and cash I earned doing odd jobs. I could give it to her.”
Gilberto shook his head and sighed. “How was your history exam?” he asked, trying to change the subject.
Joey ignored him and looked at his mother. “I don’t know. I couldn’t study. We’ve been texting a lot. I’m the only person she can talk to.”
Maria rubbed Joey’s back while trying to think of comforting words to say to her son. Finally she said calmly, “Please, Joey, don’t feel disloyal to Sophia for telling us. It was the right thing to do. A secret like that is a huge burden to carry, especially when it’s someone you truly care about. A wise man once said, “A burden shared is a burden halved.”
Gilberto cleared his throat, struggling to get his words in order. Finally he asked Joey. “Is that everything? Or is there… more you haven’t told us?”
Joey started to cry, burying his face in his mother’s shoulder. Maria lifted his head and handed him a tissue. “So as far as you know—” she started to ask.
“That’s just it! I don’t know!” Joey sobbed.
To be continued…
About the author…
A graduate of Emerson College, Stephen Halpert has been a published author since the 1970s. Most recently, his weekly column “American Scene,” which ran in The Grafton News from 1989 to 2022, featured humorous vignettes of his life with his wife, Tasha, and serial fiction. Since 2020, Halpert has authored a trilogy, The Loves of Gilberto, which he describes as, “a love story with a hint of murder.” In 2018, Halpert published his first collection of fictional tales, Abracadabra Moonshine and Other Stories, available on Amazon. His next writing venture is titled “Mona Lisa’s Eyebrows and other stories.” Contact Stephen to learn more.