by Mary Elizabeth (Leach) Raines
Jessie was in love with the man in his GPS.
The name of his love interest, according to the manual, was Bob.
At first, it had been a little joke, something he would share with the gang at a dinner party after a couple of glasses of wine to make them laugh.
“Bob’s voice is already mine,” he said. “Now I want his body.”
“Looking for a new hood ornament, are we, Jessie?” his friend Gabriel teased.
Everyone laughed. It was that silly. At first.
This curious love affair all began when Jessie bought a car with a built-in, state-of-the-art GPS. There had been twelve available voices in the GPS software from which to choose. Listening to the phrase, “Proceed to turn left in 500 feet,” he sampled them all. Even the women.
Bob was the clear winner. Sure, some of the voices were deeper, or sexier, or more dramatic (and Jessie was not adverse to a little drama). Bob’s voice, though, beat out the others because of its sweet, mellow tone, and because Bob sounded, well, normal. And steady. At his age, Jessie was growing to appreciate normal and steady.
In his youth, he had been different. He had only gone out with bad boys—the tattooed and pierced tight-leather-pants types who rode motorcycles without helmets, and who had at least a couple of DUIs on their record, if not something far worse.
As he entered middle-age, however, he began to lean more towards normal and steady men. He’d gotten tired of padding into the kitchen of this or that bad boy after sex, hungry for a snack, peering into the refrigerator, and finding only beer and nothing else but traces of mold on the grubby shelves. This was a problem for Jessie, who was both fastidious and an after-sex snacker. Normal and steady men, he learned, usually had more things in their refrigerator than beer. Like sandwich ingredients. Including mayonnaise.
Jessie fancied himself as a songwriter, and a song he’d written called Rainbows, Roses and Rocket Ships had actually been picked up by a band with a small following. (More about that later). Meanwhile, his day job, which paid the bills, was in pharmaceutical sales. In the early years his job had entailed a lot of travel.
He had spent many lonely nights on the road with Bob as his only companion. Thus the crush. Bob consistently told Jessie exactly where he needed to go to find his way, but he was never overly bossy about it; rather, he engaged in gentle verbal nudging. Yes, he did sound slightly robotic, but that could be overlooked, for he was inevitably right.
Occasionally Jessie would veer away from Bob’s directions, rebelliously believing that he knew better. Whenever he strayed from his route, Bob would not scold. He would simply say in the sweetest possible way, “Recalculating. Recalculating.” His patience seemed infinite.
Jessie grew not just to rely on, but to adore the sound of Bob’s voice, which made him feel less alone. After many dark nights on the road, Jessie came to the realization that Bob’s patient, common-sense style was exactly what he needed in his life. Route by route, highway by highway, Bob began to evolve into Jessie’s dream man and soon dominated all of his fantasies.
stream through the sleepy lonely sleepy darkness of my journeys,
providing a beacon of guidance,”
Jessie wrote in his tell-all journal. (He was pleased at the sentence, which he
thought that he might possibly be able to turn into a song.) “Oh, how I yearn
to meet the owner of this voice,” he
continued. “I so need someone like Bob in my life to ground me. I am the
roving bee, and he, the blossom of the rooted tree whom I must pollinate
whose nectar I must taste.”
When the engine in his car finally died, he went excitedly to the dealership to road-test new vehicles, dragging his friend Gabriel with him. To the latter’s dismay, Jessie wound up spending more time on the showroom floor experimenting with the GPS systems of the new cars than actually test-driving them.
“Honey, would you please hurry up?” said Gabriel impatiently. “I forgot my phone at home, the coffee is dreadful, and they have no readable magazines in the waiting room whatsoever. I mean, who wants to read Automotive Digest?”
What Gabriel did not know—for his friend had of course kept the growing seriousness of his infatuation a secret—was that Jessie was looking for Bob. His quest turned out to be in vain. None of the new GPS systems in the showroom cars included Bob’s voice. Distressed, he failed to buy a car that day.
When he got home, feeling desperate, Jessie did an extensive internet search to see if he could find a way to hack Bob’s voice into one of the newer GPS systems. No luck. He also wasted a great deal of time online trying to see if he could track down the names of the actors whose voices had been used in his old GPS. His attachment to Bob had become that serious, and, although he knew on some level that he was behaving like a crazed stalker, he persisted. To his regret, he came up empty-handed on all counts, and lost an entire afternoon to boot.
Jessie made a rash decision. He decided to rebuild the engine in his old car rather than give up his relationship with Bob.
“Love is quite an extraordinary word to define my feelings,” he wrote in his journal that night, “but it is the only accurate summary. I AM IN LOVE WITH BOB. Yes, love. There. I’ve said it! The little blossom of my love has burst into a ripe ready fruit. I’m not interested in any other men, even though I am fully aware that this love of mine will be forever unrequited. So alas. My dreams about Bob will simply have to go into
purgatory refrigeration a meat locker cold
Jessie regretted crossing out “My dreams about Bob will simply have to go into a meat locker,” for he could not help but note that there was a certain naughty scrumptiousness to that play on words. Cold storage, however, sounded more mournful.
A few weeks later, the miracle happened. He and Gabriel went out to dinner. Jessie ordered a kale salad and Gabriel selected a pasta dish.
“You have been alone far too long, sweetheart. You need to find someone,” said Gabriel. “‘The worst kind of man is much better than no man at all.’ That’s by Judy Garland.”
“Judy Garland said that?” asked Jessie.
“No. She sang it.”
Jessie retorted irritably, “Then it’s not by Judy Garland. That’s like saying Night and Day is by Lady Gaga. Night and Day is by Cole Porter. We songwriters are completely overlooked today, doomed to obscurity.”
This was a sore point for Jessie, since, as was stated earlier, he thought of himself as a professional songwriter, and would tell that to people when they asked what he did, instead of admitting that he was a pharmaceutical sales manager. And it was sort of true. He was no Cole Porter, but to date, he had paid a total of $125 in taxes on his earnings from Rainbows, Roses and Rocket Ships.
He continued. “It’s like saying The Sound of Music is by Julie Andrews instead of Rogers and Ham….”
His spiel was interrupted as the bored waiter set their meals down in front of them.
“Excuse me,” said Gabriel to the waiter. “This pasta is supposed to be gluten-free. Are you absolutely sure it’s gluten-free?”
The waiter perked up at this question. “It’s made out of rice, so in that sense, yes, it’s gluten-free," he replied enthusiastically. "However, it’s cooked in the same water as the regular pasta, so I cannot guarantee that it is gluten-trace free.”
As the animated discussion between the two men continued, Jessie, still glum about the anonymous fate of songwriters, allowed his attention to wander. And then it happened. A familiar sound bubbled up through the gluten chatter. The sound was unmistakable.
It was—yes, indisputably—the voice of Bob himself!
Jessie whirled to see where the voice was coming from. There sat the love of his life with his back to Jessie. He was only two tables away, conversing with an elderly man and woman who, as it turned out later, were his parents. Bob was pointing out to them the dishes on the menu that might not agree with their digestive systems. He had the kind of voice that carried.
From the back, Bob was not handsome in the least. Even with only a half-view, his appearance would have been disappointing to anyone less infatuated than Jessie. Jessie, however, (for the first time in his life, I might add), truly didn’t care. Bob had thin ginger-colored hair fanning out from what would soon become a major bald spot, and he was wearing a brown corduroy sports jacket that must have been fifteen years old. He appeared to be shorter than average, with rounded shoulders. He was shaped somewhat like an egg.
But his voice! His voice more than compensated for the rest of his failings.
“This has sour cream and butter in it,” Bob was saying to his mother, tapping a spot she had been perusing on the menu.
His tones were mellifluous. If there was an ever-so-slightly cranky edge to his words, it didn’t matter to Jessie.
“They’ll trigger your lactose intolerance, Mother, to say nothing of the damage all that cholesterol will do. You know how high cholesterol runs in our family.”
When he advised his mother to order the kale salad instead, Jessie felt a surge of warmth shoot out from his heart and bolt across the two tables. It seemed as if Bob could sense that, because he suddenly swiveled almost completely around in his chair and fixed his eyes curiously on Jessie. Jessie believed that this was because of the magnetic attraction between them.
“My heart has reeled him in like the pull of the moon on the ocean tides,” he mused. The thought aroused him slightly.
Bob’s glance, however, was not due to animal magnetism. It was far less exciting than that. His parents had noticed how earnestly Jessie was watching their table, and he had only turned to see what they were looking at. The intensity of his stare was due to the fact that he was extremely nearsighted and had left his glasses in the car.
Bob, it turned out, had a reasonably genial face with a high forehead, balanced by a slightly weak chin sprinkled with the trimmed graying hairs of an even weaker goatee. He was older than Jessie. None of his features were outstanding enough to make him attractive, but on the other hand, none of his features were outstanding enough to make him unattractive. That didn’t matter in the least to Jessie, as has been noted.
The eyes of the two men locked.
To his delight—being the self-aware romantic that he was—Jessie began to tremble from the adrenalin surging through him.
“Life gave me this magnificent opportunity and I had to seize it immediately, or it would have been whisked away as quickly as a waiter grabs someone’s unfinished meal,” he wrote later.
“Hey, Gabriel, watch my plate,” he said to his dinner partner, putting down his napkin and pushing his chair back. “There’s someone I need to talk to,”
Gabriel, who was poking at the rice pasta with his fork, frowning about the possibility of gluten contamination, grunted assent without looking up.
Jessie rose. Straightening his jacket, he walked over to Bob’s table.
“Sorry to intrude,” he said with a gleaming smile, which, as many had told him, was his best feature. “But you look exactly like the brother of a friend of mine. Your name isn’t Jim, by any chance?”
“No,” said Bob in that magnificent voice. “My name isn’t Jim.”
(“Just hearing him speak, I could have creamed my jeans right then and there,” Jessie later confided in Gabriel.)
“Oh, I do apologize,” said Jessie.
“No problem,” replied Bob.
Jessie didn’t move.
Finally Bob stuck out his hand. “My name is Bob,” he said cordially.
Jessie, who was both astounded and pleased that the GPS company had used his lover’s actual name, ardently clasped the cool limp hand that Bob had proffered with both of his hands, wanting to savor the moment forever. Bob gave him a puzzled look, and then withdrew his hand, gesturing toward his parents.
“These are my folks,” he said in his calm, familiar voice.
The older couple grinned good-naturedly up at Jessie. Jessie half expected Bob to add, “Proceed to turn left in 500 feet.”
What Bob actually said was, “And this is our entire family.”
“Well, except for Lilith,” his mother chimed in.
“Oh yes,” said Bob, brightening. “Except for Lilith. My pug.” He smiled.
Jessie, desperate to prolong the introduction, improvised quickly.
“You have a pug? Did I hear you just say that you have a pug?” he asked.
Bob nodded happily. “Yes. Yes, I do. Her name is Lilith.”
“But that’s amazing,” lied Jessie. “I have a pug!”
“You do? What’s its name?”
“His name? It’s…ah…Pugsley. I love pugs!”
And that was all it took. The men jovially made a date for the dogs and their owners to meet at the dog park, and exchanged phone numbers. Jessie was ecstatic.
“I am surfing on a riptide of rapture,” he thought, making a mental note to write that in his journal at home later that night.
After he returned to his table, occasionally turning to share an across-the-room grin with Bob and his parents, Jessie described the meeting to Gabriel.
“The vibe between Bob and me is so powerful! It’s kismet!”
“Don’t mean to make that strong, erect vibe of yours go flaccid, kissy-met or no kissy,” replied Gabriel, “but honey, that man is so not gay.”
“Nope. You’re wrong. My gaydar is excellent. Bob is definitely a friend of Dorothy,” replied Jessie. “By the way, you don’t have any idea where I could get my hands on a pug, do you?”
It turned out that Jessie was incorrect. Bob was not a friend of Dorothy (e.g., gay). At least, not yet.
It cost Jessie a whopping $200 to rent Pugsley for four hours. He didn’t mind paying the price. The two men, along with Lilith and Pugsley, had a pleasant date at the dog park. They compared notes about their dogs (actually, Bob made salient comments and Jessie nodded knowingly), laughed at their antics (actually, Bob laughed at their antics and Jessie smiled agreeably), and brushed arms more than once (actually, Jessie brushed arms and Bob did not pull away). When their dog date finally came to an end, Jessie was pleased to see that Bob seemed a little crestfallen. He suggested, with studied casualness, that they should meet for dinner later that week. Bob eagerly agreed.
The two had another date, and a few delicious telephone conversations, and then another date, and then another, and then when Jessie, trying to sound sad, showed up on Bob’s doorstep announcing that Pugsley had been run over, Bob attempted to console him with a hug. And finally, triumphantly, Jessie seduced Bob.
A wonderful romance ensued.
Bob was, or at least had been, straight, but because he was neither a particularly noticeable nor an assertive man, the only people he’d dated before meeting Jessie were a small handful of women who, for whatever odd reason, had selected him and chased him down—and there hadn’t even been that many of those. As a matter of fact, there had only been two. Neither of them had chased Bob as hard or relentlessly as Jessie chased him. It had been a completely unnecessary expenditure of energy on Jessie’s part to do that. Bob was both lonely and horny. Switching preferences was not a big deal. He was, as they say, easy.
In the beginning, their relationship was quite passionate, at least in Jessie’s mind. This was because, as is true in so many cases of new love, Jessie projected upon the blank slate of Bob (whom he called Bobby, until even Jessie himself realized how ridiculously wrong that was) the man he believed and wanted him to be. He saw him only through the distorted filter of his own fantasies.
Bob, being unimaginative and drab, did not protest. Even to being called Bobby. For his part, he was thrilled simply to be able to have sex with someone.
“Verbal flourishes are my forte,” wrote Jessie in his journal. “Bob’s forte is his stunning practicality.” (Only someone with Jesse’s romantic imagination could categorize practicality as stunning.)
Thus believing, each for his reason, that they were deeply in love, the two got married.
After the whirlwind of a courtship and marriage like theirs, disillusionment was inevitable. In his state of ecstasy, Jessie happily overlooked what should have been a major red flag: they did not go on a honeymoon. This was because Bob stubbornly refused to leave Lilith either at a kennel or with his parents.
“As soon as he said no to the honeymoon, I should have scrunched up my eager heart and thrown it into the hamper with the dirty underwear,” wrote Jessie in his journal—but much later. For the time being, he remained in denial.
Their life together did not get better. It never does. In no time at all, Jessie was the recipient of three major letdowns. The first letdown was disappointing. The second was repulsive. The third was shocking.
When Bob had completed his GPS gig, he had moved to the world of commercials, where he was in modest demand as a voice-over actor. Therein lies the first disappointment. A week after their wedding, when they should still have been on their honeymoon, cuddling in hammocks and drinking pastel-colored tropical drinks named after movie stars with the ubiquitous paper umbrellas in them, Bob was called to audition for a part. He landed it, and he was very proud of the job. It paid well, too.
Bob became the voice of a tampon in a feminine hygiene commercial.
“It’s quite strange, and not at all right,” Jessie confided in Gabriel.
“But you still love him, don’t you?” replied his friend.
“I fell in love with the man in my GPS. I did not fall in love with a tampon!” cried Jessie. “I mean, my new husband is practicing his lines at home, imagining himself inside some woman’s vagina, for goodness’ sake! And not even having fun there! It hurts me.”
Later he wrote in his journal, “It feels as if my heart got her first period.” He scratched that out, and wrote instead, “It feels as if my heart has entered menopause.” (At the time he wrote this, he had not yet consigned his heart to the dirty underwear hamper.)
The commercial was only the first of the letdowns—the disappointing one. The repulsive letdown had to do with Bob’s pug, Lilith. Bob adored Lilith. Jessie was beginning to suspect (and it was, sadly, true) that his new husband cared more for the dog than for him, but, manning up, he did his best to be a good fur-dad to Lilith. He tried to like her. It turned out to be an impossible task. The aptly named Lilith had horrible breath, together with an oozing bulging eye that was always infected, and whenever he attempted to pet her, she would snap at him. Worse, Bob insisted that Lilith share their marriage bed.
“Whenever we have sex,” shuddered Jessie as he confided in Gabriel, “she’s right alongside of us. She stares at me in judgment the whole time with that runny eye.”
Still, Jessie continued believing in their romance…until the third letdown, the shocking one. It too occurred soon after their marriage.
The couple went for their first visit to see Bob’s aging parents, who lived in a nearby suburb where they had resided for the past 55 years. Bob, who refused to take Jessie’s car and insisted instead upon driving them there in his practical gray hatchback, had grown up in that house. Bob did not have a GPS in his vehicle. He didn’t believe in them. He thought that they were not accurate.
And he took the wrong exit off the freeway. Despite Jessie’s pleading, Bob persisted in driving down the wrong road at 35 miles an hour for a good five miles without stopping to ask for directions or checking the map on his phone before admitting, in a peevish way, that he may have made a mistake. It was, of course, a classically cliché male stunt, but beyond that, it revealed something unthinkable to Jessie, and here it is: Bob possessed a dreadful sense of direction. The luscious voice that had so calmly navigated Jessie back and forth across the country over a period of not just months, but years, could hardly discern between left and right, much less east and west. This was when Jessie finally threw his now-menopausal heart into the hamper with the dirty undies.
As the weeks continued, he became more and more disillusioned. The two men were, as it turned out, very different people. Jessie, in his yearnings for a normal, steady man, realized that he had manifested exactly what he’d wished for. He was married to a normal, steady (in other words, dull) man who lived a normal, steady (in other words, dull) life. And one who was completely without a sense of direction.
“Our romance has fizzled like an alka-seltzer dropped into a grimy water glass by someone with a bad hangover,” wrote Jessie dejectedly in his journal. The sentence pleased him. He pencilled in a little star next to it for future consideration as a song lyric.
Bob, of course, didn’t even seem to notice or care that the relationship was souring, for Bob was a man of habit. As long as he could keep his schedule and do the same things at the same time, with no adventures or drama intruding upon his boxed-in life (beyond the accidents that Lilith was prone to have on the carpet), Bob felt content.
During their courtship, Jessie had found those little routines enchanting. Early on, he had described them to Gabriel with great affection and high humor.
“My darling absolutely must have his toast and a hard-boiled egg every morning,” he cooed, fluttering his hands merrily. “He’s so cute! It needs to be a five-minute egg. Not three. Not four. Five minutes precisely. It’s so much fun! I just love our getting-to-know-you time!”
The day after the visit to Bob’s parents, in an attempt to heal their first little rift, disappointed but still blinding himself to the reality of what was, Jessie got up early to make a surprise treat for his husband: eggs Benedict, one of his specialties. The hollandaise sauce turned out perfectly, the English muffins were imported, and the Canadian bacon was superb: pink, thick, and tender. Jessie watched with eager anticipation as his husband entered the kitchen and headed for the refrigerator
“Don’t you fuss. I made you breakfast today,” he cried joyously. “Sit!”
Bob sat suspiciously at his usual place, tucking a napkin under his chin. He stared down at the mound of gourmet food on the plate in front of him, transfixed, and then prodded it with his fork, revealing the bacon base. Finally he spoke.
“What exactly are you trying to do?” he demanded unpleasantly. Bob was patient and dull, but that didn’t mean that he never got grumpy. His voice rose in a high-pitched whine that sounded quite unlike that of the man in the GPS. “Are you trying to poison me with cholesterol, Jessie? For the life insurance? Maybe you meant well, but this is…is…disgusting.”
He pushed the plate away. Lilith, who had plopped herself down at Bob’s feet, looked up at Jessie and growled.
Jessie, who had been imagining exclamations of gratitude, smiles of appreciation, and possibly even morning sex as a reward for his efforts, promptly picked up the plate and dumped Bob’s eggs into the kitchen garbage. Meanwhile, Bob rose from his seat and silently proceeded to boil his egg and toast his toast in the usual way, without saying another word about Jessie’s love offering.
Enchantment and irritation are actually neighbors. There is not such a big line dividing them as people think. As he dumped the gorgeous, untouched eggs Benedict into the trash, Jessie crossed that line. Taking the dishes to the sink, his back to the kitchen table, he heard Bob’s knife grating against the toast as he spread margarine on it—the same way Bob had spread margarine on his toast yesterday, and the same way he would spread margarine on his toast tomorrow—and the scratchy sound suddenly seemed disproportionately amplified, scraping its way into every nerve in Jessie’s body. Bob then took a big swallow of coffee with a prolonged and loud gulping noise. Bob was not a quiet swallower. Jessie clenched his fists and repressed a desire to shriek aloud. Instead, he turned the water on and began washing the dishes, trying to drown out the sound of his husband slowly chip-chip-chipping away at the shell of his hard-boiled egg in the same deliberate, maddening process that he followed every morning.
“I simply cannot
stand endure being around him at breakfast any more,” Jessie later wrote in his journal. “He is
flaking off my happiness, piece by piece, the same way he flakes peels chisels
the shell from those dreadful five-minute eggs of his.”
It may surprise the reader, but like that of many incompatible couples, their marriage survived and, in its own peculiar way, endured—this despite Bob’s insistence upon putting up on the lawn that Christmas, and every Christmas to follow, a tacky seven-foot cutout of Santa Claus smoking a cigar that his grandfather had made, or despite the ghastly way that he would cut his toenails (which we won’t get into), or despite the continued loud gulping.
That the marriage remained intact was due entirely to Jessie, for Bob, like most people with seriously annoying habits, never guessed that anything was the least bit wrong. In fact, the more lackluster and routine their lives became, the more comfortable Bob felt.
It was all up to Jessie, and he made the difficult decision to stay with his husband. For one thing, Jessie was aging and knew it. He had stopped going to the gym long ago, he was growing increasingly soft and paunchy, his beauty had left him a few years before, and the thought of being out there, starting all over again, flirting and facing rejection, was not a glamorous one. The idea was exhausting. It was easier to stay put.
The slow, downhill course of their relationship also got a little rise when one day, while Bob was out on his tampon gig, bad-breathed, gooey-eyed, and ill-tempered Lilith quite mysteriously died. No one could understand why, because she hadn’t been sick. It took a great deal of effort for Jessie to talk Bob out of having the vet perform an autopsy.
To the degree that he ever showed any emotion at all beyond a certain crankiness, Bob was sad for a while, but even that proved to be a boon, for during the grieving period, Jessie was able to act a little more touchy-feely towards his husband. Jessie was a romantic, as we have already stated, and he loved being demonstrative. Before Lilith’s demise, Bob would get grumbly when Jessie “gushed,” as he called it. (Gabriel cynically claimed that by allowing Jessie’s affections, Bob was just replacing the vacancy left by the pug.)
Another factor contributing to their continued togetherness was Bob’s life insurance policy, in which Jessie was named as beneficiary. The feminine hygiene people had wound up making a total of six very cute and trendy commercials, and Bob had the recurring role of the voice of the tampon in each of them. He became somewhat famous for this, and cleaned up money-wise. His financial advisor had suggested that he take out the huge life insurance policy as an investment.
“As long as he keeps you as the beneficiary, you might as well stay with him,” said Gabriel. “Face it, he is older than you are, honey. Who knows when he might kick the bucket?”
“That’s so crass of you! Although I must say, apart from making an occasional fuss about how high his cholesterol is, Bob really has lost all interest in staying in shape,” Jessie mused, conveniently managing to ignore his own failings in that regard.
That night he wrote in his journal, “Gabriel’s right. I cannot
withdraw from divorce abandon
At the times when their marriage grew so lackluster that he couldn’t stand it any longer, Jessie would leave the house and take a long ride in his aging vehicle. By himself. As soon as he had driven a safe distance from their home, he would choose some random destination and program it into his old GPS.
“I’m here. Talk to me, Bobby boy,” he would beg. “Guide me. Shepherd me.”
Once again, just like old times, Bob’s normal, steady voice, sans the whine, would begin speaking, unfailingly helping him to find his way. Jessie loved those rides. Before many miles had passed, he would become mesmerized, for the voice in the GPS would reignite the deep mystery and passion that had started this whole business in the first place.
Whenever he got home from one of those rides, his spirits revived and his love rekindled, he and Bob would have sex. Afterwards, they would go to the refrigerator and Jessie would make them sandwiches. With mayonnaise. He always made sure to give Bob’s sandwich an extra generous dollop of mayonnaise.
© M.E. Raines, 2015
As this story is copyrighted, copying, excerpting, or reproducing in any form are forbidden by law.
Feel free, however, to link to this story!