Black Olives

Black Olives

by Martha Tod Dudman

Paperback(Reprint)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416549611
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 09/03/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Martha Tod Dudman is the author of Expecting to Fly and Augusta, Gone, which was adapted into an award-winning Lifetime Television movie. She lives in Maine.

Read an Excerpt

1

Nine months later, I run into David for the first time since our breakup. All year I've been dreading this moment, but always dressing in expectation of it, because when I do see him, finally, I want to look good.

I'm standing in Rogerson's Emporium, over by the olives, when it happens. I hear the door open and I glance around and see him walking in. I recognize at once the bright flag of his white hair, but I've got my back to him and he doesn't notice me.

This feeling goes through me, like my cell phone's on vibrate and it's going off in my pocket — like I'm experiencing a minor electric shock. Like I can't move. Maybe he won't see me. Won't recognize the back of my head, the jacket I'm wearing, the once familiar shape of my ass.

Is she with him? I crane around, but I don't see a woman near him. He's alone.

I turn back to the refrigerated case. The black olives there are so shiny, in their little plastic containers. I want to distract myself with olives, to think about olives; the various colors and textures, degrees of saltiness.

There are other people in the store but they don't count. I am aware only of him. He walks over to the place where they grind the coffee and asks for Samoan. I can hear him right across the store. It's the first time I've heard his voice in nine months, after hearing it every day for ten years.

I stare down at the olives. There are little white cards above the olive containers, printed in a definite black hand. I wonder if the saleswoman in the white smock wrote them. The olives are described generously, romantically, as if they were wines, or "Staff Picks" in a book shop: meaty, luscious, mild. Tart, intriguing. Try these with a dry white wine. Everything is unreal.

"Can I help you?"

The woman in the white smock with the wide, wholesome face, and the unfortunate, dumpy cook's hat, is smiling at me.

I imagine that she knows, and the other woman, the one cutting the roast beef, knows, and the man in the brown coat examining the gourmet mustards, he knows — they all know — about the drama taking place in their store.

They all know that I — the woman by the olives — was abandoned nine months ago by the man who is purchasing Samoan coffee, oblivious to my proximity.

Will I speak to him? Will I flounce by? Will I hide from him?

For nine months I have imagined this meeting. I have rehearsed all the sad things, the reproachful things, the angry things I have to say to him. The words of sorrow and revenge. The words of fury. But now, here in Rogerson's Emporium, I am mute. I want only to turn to the woman in the frumpy hat and rest my head against her crisp, white-smocked bosom and cry.

I feel as if I could cry forever. I could begin crying right here by the olives. My eyes might wander as they blur, over the fancy mint pastilles, the dried nectarines, the chocolate-covered ginger slices. I might observe the fancy jellies in their square glass jars — the shape of the jars somehow implying privilege — and these things would all seem meaningless, like foreign objects, like conversations full of words that I don't understand — and then, finally, I would give myself over to my enormous sorrow, and fling myself like a little child onto that smooth white smock and cry and cry and cry — the snotty, noisy, fulfilling kind of cry a child cries — heedless, unending, and final. The tears of all the year gone by.

The woman behind the counter looks at me curiously. Maybe she has asked me a question.

"No, thank you," I say just in case, whispering, because I don't want David to hear my voice, to turn around, to look at me. I'm not ready yet. Nine months and I'm still not ready. How should I handle this?

I glance back again, over my shoulder. He still has his back to me. He hasn't seen me. This is still my show. I've rehearsed it so often but now, faced with the moment, I hesitate. I feel so shy with the man I once knew inside out. The man I spoke to every day for ten years, the man I slept with, now a stranger.

I look blindly at the lady in the white smock, as if she might have some good advice, and the lady looks back at me, thinking whatever she thinks.

I can't speak to him, here, in Rogerson's Emporium, ye phony old grocery store. Not here amid the fine wines and the dilly beans and cheese straws.

I step quietly over, positioning myself behind the shelves, and peer around at him. Is he as tall as he used to be? Doesn't he look different somehow? But he's wearing a sweater that I remember putting my face against.

It's too much. I can't be the jaunty girl I want to be; say something glib yet cutting — apparently kind, but with a sharp knife edge, the dagger that you notice later — what have we here? — while the blood runs down. I can't think of what to say, what to do. I just want to squeeze around the espresso machines and licorice whips, get out that door, and escape.

And now, as I crouch by the various honeys and chutneys of life, it's as if everyone else in the store is frozen, like one of those scenes in a movie where only two of the actors move and all the rest are completely still. Like that romantic scene in West Side Story, where Tony and Maria meet at the dance. The other actors all look like they're made out of wood or wax or some other inanimate substance, not human flesh.

They're all motionless: the woman in the funny hat who looks like a librarian; the ponderous older couple cruising the wines; the elfin, thin man with his complimentary paper cup of Ecuadorian coffee; the lady by the salsas; the bearded man who roasts the coffee and measures it out into the tall white paper bags. All of them irrelevant and stilled. It is only the two of us — David and I — only we two — who are alone alive in the vast store silence.

He starts to turn and I duck back behind the shelves again. From here I can see his feet on the wooden floor. He's wearing the shoes he always wears. A certain kind of walking shoe that he favors, brown leather Rockports. I work my way along the span of shelving, as he on the far side, still unaware of me, moves toward the cheese.

I'll wait until he's occupied, then make a dash for it, as if I were engaged in some long-ago schoolyard game on an asphalt field. I was never much good at kickball. When I was occasionally, by some trick of fate, catapulted onto the bases, I felt very proud and self-conscious. The cheering around me like silence. Ready to run.

And now I will run — out from behind the tall shelf full of pickles and marinades. I will make a dash for the door and rush through it. He won't have a chance to see me; I will just be a blur.

Only, maybe he will. He will cry out to me, come after me, follow me into the parking lot pleading come back to me come back to me because finally, this time, for once, I will be the one who has left.

I dart out from behind the shelves, knock against a tall cappuccino mug (bright red) that teeters, but, amazingly, I catch it backhanded without stopping, yank open the door, and slam out into the parking lot, breathing hard. The door falls shut behind me. Did he see me? I'm afraid to look. Copyright © 2008 by Martha Tod Dudman

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions
1. Could you identify with Virginia's obsession with David, the man who broke up with her?
2. In the story, Virginia hides in David's Jeep and then goes through his house, "investigating" her former lover. Have you ever been tempted to conduct a stealth investigation of an ex-lover?
3. Traditionally, popular fiction has relegated sex and romance to the young. Do you think people change their attitudes about sex as they age? Do they become wiser, or are they still vulnerable to the bewilderment of desire?
4. Virginia wasn't always happy with David, but she repeatedly says that he made her feel safe. Is that a primary reason that women stay in unfulfilling relationships? What other factors could there be?
5. Virginia wanted to keep the passion in their relationship alive by insisting that she and David live in separate houses and maintain separate lives. Can you imagine having a relationship like that? Is marriage more attractive to older men than to woman who have already been married and have well-established lives?
6. David, Virginia's lover of ten years, broke up with her on New Year's Eve by telling her that he'd been having an affair for the past few months. How would you react in her situation?
7. How does a midlife breakup compare to a breakup at twenty-five or thirty?
8. How did you feel about the novel's ending? What would you have done if you were Virginia, and David did wake up?
9. What advice would you give to Virginia?
10. What advice would you give to David?

Introduction

Discussion Questions

1. Could you identify with Virginia's obsession with David, the man who broke up with her?

2. In the story, Virginia hides in David's Jeep and then goes through his house, "investigating" her former lover. Have you ever been tempted to conduct a stealth investigation of an ex-lover?

3. Traditionally, popular fiction has relegated sex and romance to the young. Do you think people change their attitudes about sex as they age? Do they become wiser, or are they still vulnerable to the bewilderment of desire?

4. Virginia wasn't always happy with David, but she repeatedly says that he made her feel safe. Is that a primary reason that women stay in unfulfilling relationships? What other factors could there be?

5. Virginia wanted to keep the passion in their relationship alive by insisting that she and David live in separate houses and maintain separate lives. Can you imagine having a relationship like that? Is marriage more attractive to older men than to woman who have already been married and have well-established lives?

6. David, Virginia's lover of ten years, broke up with her on New Year's Eve by telling her that he'd been having an affair for the past few months. How would you react in her situation?

7. How does a midlife breakup compare to a breakup at twenty-five or thirty?

8. How did you feel about the novel's ending? What would you have done if you were Virginia, and David did wake up?

9. What advice would you give to Virginia?

10. What advice would you give to David?

Customer Reviews

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Black Olives 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A 50-something woman, obsessed with her former lover, hides in his car nine months after he broke up with her. She rides to and explores his house, reliving their not very satisfactory relationship along the way. It was well-written and held my interest 9fortunately it was quite short), though it was hard to understand what she saw in this old depressed man.
emigre on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Mesmerizing read, simple plot: A 50-ish woman hides out in her ex-lover-of-10-years' car after a chance run-in 10 months after the breakup, she relives their relationship while the ex keeps driving along unaware. The details about the different phases of a relationship: The perfect honeymoon period, beginning of discontent, and the disillusionment before the breakup all ring true. The ex was experiencing depression, so the protagonist's efforts to revive the relationship seemed doomed in its cheerfulness. The ending was surprising but also inevitable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book makes you think at every turn of a page, 'what is she doing? NO WAY!'. Virginia is every girl who ever let someone go, wondering if breaking up was the right thing to do. Couldn't put this down. I had to know what she was thinking!