Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines

Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines
The Laughing Cherub

Friday, February 19, 2016


 by Mary Elizabeth Leach Raines

On January 15, Aaron B__  passed away at his home in Santa Monica, California following a long battle with cancer. He was 79.

I found this online. It was the obituary of my longtime friend. I was sad to see that he had died, and I was appalled that such bleak words wound up being the final summation of his life.
Anyone reading such an obituary would form a picture of someone exceedingly dull and, well, gray: an elderly man, wrinkled, decrepit, seriously ill, declining helplessly into nonbeing, the victim of a malignant disease. As I looked at the words, I wanted to scream, “No! That’s not who he was!”

The first time I noticed him, I thought Aaron was the coolest guy I’d ever seen. We met at a writer’s conference in Santa Barbara, California. I was 27 years old. Aaron was not only kind, interesting, and talented; he was a smooth talker, oozing more confidence than anyone I’d ever met. His garb was what cool guys wore in the 1970s: aviator sunglasses, an expensive black leather jacket, and a shirt that opened part-way down his chest. His lean, strong body was always just a little hunched over as though he were constantly poised for that most intimate of embraces. I was sure that a man like him would never look at someone like me.
Even without Aaron’s presence, this Writer’s Conference hosted a pretty spectacular group. Ray Bradbury, the great science-fiction writer, was there. So were Charles Schultz, who wrote the comic strip Peanuts, Joan Didion, Ross MacDonald, Maya Angelou, Alan Pakula (who was writing All the President’s Men), Eudora Welty, and Alex Haley (the author of Roots). Eva Marie Saint, the famous actress, showed up. I went to a party with academy-award-winning author Budd Schulberg, who wrote On the Waterfront, and one night I had a wonderful sexy argument over dinner with best-selling author Gay Talese about whether women would ever pay for male hookers the way men pay for female hookers. I argued that yes, women would. Talese said no, they wouldn’t. He was right. But I was young.

That week I wore the low-cut polyester sundresses that were all the fashion rage, and flirted with abandon, and drank far too much liquor, and also chain-smoked, because everybody chain-smoked in those days. It was all a ruse, of course, for in truth, I was dreadfully naïve.
An enthusiastic conference-goer, I always sat dead-center in the front row when the authors spoke. Once while in my usual seat awaiting the entrance of a speaker, feeling ultra-chic as I held a cigarette in one hand and a plastic cup of rosé wine in the other, an older woman came up to me and whispered, “Honey, your boob is out.” I looked at her quizzically. “Your boob’s hanging out,” she repeated in a slightly more vicious tone of voice. “Did you want it like that?”
I looked down, and sure enough, I’d pulled a massive Janet Jackson! My right breast had somehow tumbled out of my dress and lay exposed, a little bare apple, for the whole world to see. I was embarrassed and quickly tucked it back into my sundress. Throughout the rest of the conference, I kept looking down at my chest and rearranging my halter straps compulsively like someone with a weird tic.

Aaron entered the picture one night when some of us attending the conference met in a cottage to read aloud to one another from our work. A few days later, he casually invited me to go for a ride in his cop-magnet red Mercedes. We went first to a posh restaurant overlooking the Pacific, where he bought me my very first margarita. Then he took  me to a lemon orchard.
I’d never seen a lemon tree before, much less an entire orchard of them! Aaron drove over a rutted dirt road and only stopped when we were deep inside the rows of lemon trees. When we got out of the car, it was whisper silent, more still than just about anyplace I have ever been. Neither Aaron nor I said a word.
Instead of speaking, he looked into my eyes and slowly walked to the nearest tree. He reached up and twisted a lemon off a low-hanging branch. Not taking his eyes from mine, moving closer, he plunged both thumbs into the lemon and ripped it in two. I don’t know how someone can rip a lemon in two and make it seductive, but it was the most sensual thing I’ve ever seen anyone do. Aaron handed me half, and then slowly bit into his part of the lemon, sucking the tangy juices, eyes still locked on mine.

Here is the way his obituary should have read: Aaron B___, a man who could wordlessly seduce a woman by ripping a lemon in two with his bare hands, died today, and the colors of the world may never be quite as vibrant or bright again.

© 2016, M. E. Raines

Author's note: this is an abbreviated version of a longer obituary written several years ago. Aaron's talents weren't only in seducing women, although that was certainly the joy of his life. They included being the author of two books, actor, film producer, restaurant owner and gourmet chef, outstanding artist, ex-con (yes, he went to prison for a few years for some complex white-collar scheme he'd gotten sucked into), and much more. What a man!  

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