Gerard Bloomberg


First-Place Fiction

It was not really a special occasion. Georgia, Janice, and I had all agreed long ago that we needed a break from the house and kids at least once a month, and so we had set aside the third Thursday of every month for a girls’ day out. Today was the third Thursday, but other than that, there was nothing out of the ordinary about it. And it wasn’t even until we had all gone through the salad bar that I got any indication that this day might be one that I would long remember.

We’d all loaded our plates with lettuce and cucumbers and mushrooms. Then we sat down congratulating ourselves on ordering such a calorie conscious meal, never mind that our salads were each drowned in a half-pint of blue cheese salad dressing. As is common with conversations between mothers, the subject soon turned to sick kids and then doctors.

“Have you been to that new doctor in the children’s clinic?” Georgia asked.

“Yes, I took Harry to him last month,” Janice replied enthusiastically. “I sure was impressed with him.”

“Me too!” Georgia agreed. Up until then, I wasn’t really paying much attention. I’d never been to this new doctor; I didn’t even know who he was. But Georgia and Janice had been debating the merits of every doctor in the city for as long as I had known them, and this was the first time I’d ever heard them both give the same doctor such a hearty approval.

“He really listens to you,” Georgia was going on. “I had my Cheryl in there awhile back. She was just getting over a cold, but I didn’t think she seemed right. The other doctor wouldn’t even listen and kept insisting she was fine. But not Doctor Bloomberg. He paid attention to what I was saying, and sure enough the child had silent pneumonia.”

I nearly choked on a piece of lettuce.

“What did you say that doctor’s name is?” I asked.

“Doctor Bloomberg,” Georgia said.

“Gerard Bloomberg,” Janice added.

It couldn’t be, I told myself. It could not possibly be the same Gerard Bloomberg. But then, how many Gerard Bloombergs could there be in the world, and how many doctors with that name? Not that I was certain that the Gerard Bloomberg I knew was a doctor, but that was what he had said he wanted to be. Or rather, that was what Marny had said he wanted to be.

Marny was my roommate at college. I was a junior; she was a sophomore. I arrived at the apartment a couple of days before she did, but by the time she got there I had a picture painted in my mind of just what to expect her to be like. For two days solid people were stopping in and asking if she was there yet. By the time she was, the bulletin board was covered with messages for her, mostly from boys.

And Marny did not disappoint my expectations. She bounced into the apartment like a cheerleader returning from cheerleading camp. Her head was covered with a mass of golden curls, her eyes were deep blue, and her mouth a perfect pink rosebud. I decided that I probably was not going to like her when she spoke.

“Hello,” she said in a voice that was much more intelligent sounding than what I would have expected. “I’m Marny Southwick. It looks like we’re going to be living together for a year. It’ll be fun getting to know each other.”

She sounded so sincere and friendly that I had to like her. If Marny was anything, she was likable.

Gerard Bloomberg was in our ward. He was probably at church the first week we went, but I didn’t notice him there. In fact, if Gerard had not been assigned to me as my home teacher, I probably would have gone the entire year without noticing him. Gerard was an easy person to overlook.

As it was, he turned up at our door the second week of the semester. I answered the door when he knocked.

“Hello,” I said.

Gerard looked me squarely in the chin and asked if I was Kitty Olson. I said yes, and he said he was my home teacher. It was probably the most in-depth conversation we ever had.

We went into the living room and sat down. Gerard’s gaze now shifted to my shoes. He said he hadn’t been able to get a hold of his companion yet but had figured he ought to get over and see me. It was quite a speech for Gerard, and he had quite a time getting it out. By the time he finished, we were both ready to heave a sigh of relief.

At that moment Marny arrived. She dumped her pile of books onto the table with an exaggerated groan and looked around. Her eyes stopped on Gerard.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know you had company.”

“This is my home teacher, Gerard Bloomberg,” I said.

“Hi,” Marny smiled. “I’m Marny Southwick.”

Gerard looked up at Marny. His face turned the exact shade of red that I had been looking for in a lipstick, and then he dropped his gaze.

“I’ll just sit over here and study,” Marny went on. “Don’t let me bother you.”

But it was obvious that she did bother Gerard. He had found it difficult to talk with just me in the room. Now he found it even harder. As he stuttered and stumbled through the little message he had prepared, I noticed that his gaze occasionally shifted from my shoes to Marny’s. He finished quickly and left.

“Poor fellow,” I said when he had gone.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Marny said. “I thought he was kind of cute.”

I wondered how Marny could tell. All I had seen was the top of Gerard’s head.

“But he’s so shy,” I said.

“Lots of guys are kind of shy,” she replied. “They just need someone to bring them out.”

Marny was asked to be the Spiritual Living teacher in Relief Society. Her first lesson was on charity. It quickly became apparent that she was taking the lesson seriously. And it also quickly became apparent whom she had chosen as her own special charity case—Gerard Bloomberg.

It was the Saturday following her lesson that our stake held a dance. Gerard was there when we arrived, but he was seated across the room in the darkest corner of the gym. His arms were folded and his head down; he almost appeared to be praying. Marny spotted him immediately and began to make her way to him, but it was halfway through the evening before she got there.

Some things are hard to figure. Marny had been at school no longer than any of the rest of us. In fact, not even taking into account the extra year I had on her, I’d been there a good two days more than she had. But she seemed to have made at least twice as many friends. And that was why she took so long getting to Gerard. Every time she tried, someone would stop her to talk, and then she’d get asked to dance. Marny was too nice to ever tell anyone that she had someone else she wanted to talk to. That was part of her charm. When Marny talked to you, you felt like you were the most important person in her life. But midway through the evening, I noticed Marny seated next to Gerard.

Gerard’s position had not changed, except that if it were possible, he looked even more withdrawn. But Marny seemed oblivious to his discomfort. She was chatting away as though she were catching up with her best friend. I shook my head. Some times, I thought, it seems that the most charitable thing to do would be to simply leave a person alone.

Marny took every opportunity after that to talk to Gerard. She’d invite him to sit with us in Sunday School, visit with him at socials, and if she happened to see him on campus, she’d run out of her way just to say hi.

One evening at dinner we were discussing several of the more desirable young men in the ward, when Marny changed the subject to Gerard.

“Gerard Bloomberg went on a mission to Tennessee,” she said.

We all stared at her in dumbfounded silence for several seconds. Then Karen, the most vocal member of the apartment, put what we were all thinking into words.

“My goodness! It probably took him the entire two years to teach the first discussion to one family.”

Of the five other girls around the table, four of us burst into laughter at Karen’s remark. But Marny did not laugh. She looked at us all as sternly as she could and said, “I don’t think that’s funny. I’m sure Gerard made a fine missionary.”

I could tell she was serious and quickly controlled my mirth.

“Marny, we all like Gerard. He’s nice, but he’s just so … so …”

“So backward,” Karen filled in for me.

“Well, it’s not funny to laugh at other people’s problems,” Marny said. She got up and left the table indignantly.

After that we never laughed about Gerard in front of Marny, but we did it plenty when she wasn’t around. When Marny announced that Gerard wanted to be a doctor, it took every ounce of self-control we contained to keep from laughing. In fact, Karen had to excuse herself to get a drink of water, and I heard her choke as she drank it. After all, how could Gerard, who seldom looked at anyone above the ankles, ever become a doctor? But we were smart enough not to tell Marny that.

“You see, he grew up on a farm,” Marny explained, “and he loved caring for the sick animals. He enjoyed helping them get better. Then on his mission, he taught a lot back in the Appalachians and saw the poor conditions some of those people live in. He thought if he could become a doctor, once he was established and making some money, he could take some time to go back there and help them get better medical care.”

I wondered how Marny had ever gotten Gerard to tell her all that. When Gerard came home teaching, other than his memorized messages, I had trouble getting him to comment on more than the weather.

One night some time later I was lying on my bed studying as Marny got ready for a date.

“Who you going out with tonight?” I asked.

“Gerard,” she said nonchalantly.

“Gerard!” I exclaimed sitting up.

“Yes,” she replied not seeming to find anything odd about it.

“Did he actually ask you out?” I asked.

“Well, he did need a little prodding. I mentioned a movie I wanted to see and asked if he wanted to see it too. When he said yes, I sort of suggested we see it together.”

“Oh,” I said lying back down. “I should have known.”

I didn’t think much of that first date of theirs, but then Gerard, all by himself, asked Marny out again two weeks later. And then again a week after that. Pretty soon they were going out regularly every two weeks—sometimes even every week.

Now for Marny that wasn’t much. Marny had a date nearly every night of the week. And there were lots of boys she was dating more often than Gerard. But I was certain that there was no one Gerard was dating more often than Marny. In fact for Gerard, I had no doubt that once every two weeks was going steady.

That worried me. After all, it was obvious that Marny’s interest in Gerard was simply as a service project. She was being nice to him to help him feel better about himself. A lot of good it was going to do if she ended up hurting him.

I decided to take action. There was one boy in particular that Marny seemed to date more than anyone else. His name was Bart Hansen. Bart was a perfect match for Marny. He was as handsome as she was pretty—the kind of guy every girl dreams about and every parent approves of. One simply had to look at Bart to know he would go places.

Now, if Marny should happen to become serious with Bart, I was certain she’d cut out her other beaus. And if it happened soon enough, maybe Gerard wouldn’t be hurt as badly as if things dragged on. The end of the semester was near. Perhaps Marny could just let things fizzle out gently when she went home for Christmas vacation.

That evening as Marny and I dressed for bed, I turned the subject to Bart.

“He sure is a neat guy,” I said.

“Yes, he is,” Marny agreed.

“And the two of you make the cutest couple.”

“You think so?”

“Oh, everyone does. Have you two talked about marriage?”

“No,” Marny said picking up her brush and running it through her hair.

“If he asked you, you’d say yes wouldn’t you?”

Marny turned around and studied me for several seconds. “What are you getting at?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said trying to sound casual. “I just think of all the guys you date, Bart is the best for you, and it would be a shame to lose him because of the other guys you’ve got hanging around. Guys don’t always appreciate a lot of competition.”

“Well, Bart hasn’t even mentioned marriage,” Marny said matter of factly, “so I don’t see any point in discussing it. Frankly, I’m not sure what I’d say if he asked me.”

The conversation had not gone exactly as I had planned, but at least I had put some ideas into Marny’s head. I hoped that the more it rattled around in her brain, the more concerned Marny would become that by dating so many other guys, she might lose Bart. I had no doubt that when the weeding out process came, Gerard would be the first to go.

It was several nights later, and I was sleeping soundly when I felt a hand shaking my shoulder and a voice saying, “Kitty wake up.”

I opened my eyes and blinked several times. It was Marny just getting back from a date. Her face was pale and her manner seemed agitated. I sat up.

“Are you okay, Marny?” I asked.

“Oh, Kitty,” she exclaimed, “Gerard asked me to marry him.”

“Oh no,” I moaned. “How did he take it when you said no?”

“But, Kitty,” Marny protested, “I didn’t say no. I said yes.”

I shook my head. I had to be dreaming. Karen and I would get a good laugh out of this in the morning.

But then Marny took my hand and said, “Aren’t you happy for me?”

I could feel her hand. It wasn’t a dream; it was real.

“Oh, Marny, why?” I said.

Marny looked confused. “I love him,” she said simply.

A phrase from Marny’s lesson on charity ran through my mind. “Charity is the pure love Christ has for everyone, and we should all try to gain that kind of love for everyone too.” I wanted to take Marny by the shoulders and shake her and say, “Marny, you don’t have to marry Gerard to prove that you have charity. You’ve been kinder to him than anyone else. You’ve done enough! You can’t marry a guy just because you feel sorry for him!” But I didn’t say it. I figured that by morning Marny would be thinking more clearly and see how silly this was.

But come morning, Marny was as determined as ever. She announced her engagement to the others at breakfast. If Marny thought my reaction was unenthusiastic, theirs was downright chilly. They all sat silently and stared at her. When she said, “Aren’t you going to congratulate me?” they all mumbled a semblance of “Congratulations,” and excused themselves.

But Marny was not to be daunted by our opinions. She spent the next weeks making plans. She would skip the next semester of school and stay home to plan the wedding, which would take place that spring. Had I not known the groom, I would have thought her the perfect picture of an excited bride to be.

I kept hoping that I would find a chance to talk to Marny seriously about what she was doing. Sure, planning a wedding was fun, but once the wedding was over, she would be married to Gerard. Forever! But that chance never came, and Marny left for home at Christmas vacation.

I went to the couple’s reception. Marny looked radiant. Her gown was lovely, her manner gracious. She was in every way perfect. Beside her was Gerard looking as though his tie was too tight. That was the picture of them that I had carried in my memory through these past 12 years.

I had wondered what became of the couple. I was certain that one day Marny would wake up and realize what she had done. It would be sad when she did. I liked both Marny and Gerard. I didn’t want either of them to be hurt. But when Marny realized what a mistake she’d made, one of them would be.

As the years passed I thought of Marny and Gerard less and less often, until now I had almost forgotten them. Now, with Georgia’s comment, it all came back.

“Kitty, are you still here?” Georgia brought me back to the present.

“Yes,” I laughed. “I was just thinking. I had a roommate who married a Gerard Bloomberg that wanted to be a doctor. I just wondered if it was the same one.”

“I’d think it’d almost have to be,” Janice said.

“Have either of you met this doctor’s wife?” I asked.

Both of them shook their heads.

“But he has a picture of her on his desk,” Janice said.

“Yes,” Georgia chimed in. “She’s blond and really smiley.”

It sounded like Marny.

It was almost time for the kids to get home from school when I finally got home. My first move was to get out the phone book. Sure enough there was a number for the Gerard Bloomberg residence. It took three tries before I could get up the courage to dial the number. I listened to the phone ringing, half hoping no one would be home. Then I heard someone pick it up and say “Hello.” The moment I heard the voice, I knew it was Marny.

“Marny?” It came out as a half whisper.

“Yes, who is this?”

“Kitty Murdock … you knew me as Kitty Olson.”

“Kitty!” Marny exclaimed. “Where are you?”

I explained to her that we were living in the same town and gave a brief account of how I had discovered it. When Marny suggested that we must get together and catch up, my curiosity got the better of me, and I said that right now was good for me.

I left a note for my kids saying I’d be back soon, then grabbed my purse from the counter. I followed the directions Marny had given me and soon found myself in a fashionable neighborhood.

Marny rushed out to greet me when I pulled in. She hugged me affectionately and made me feel welcome immediately. They’d just moved into the house a month earlier, she informed me, so she hoped I wouldn’t mind the disorder. I saw no disorder.

The house was spacious, yet homey. The furnishings, right down to the picture over the sofa, were straight out of a magazine spread. Out back were four children playing. Marny called them in and introduced them, then sent them off to do their homework.

It was all exactly what I would have pictured for Marny: a lovely home, well-behaved children. All of it was perfect, except the husband.

We sat in the living room and visited for an hour. Then the question I had been carrying all afternoon came out.

“Marny,” I asked, “has Gerard changed?”

Marny seemed to think for several seconds, then shook her head.

“No,” she said, “he’s still the same old Gerard.”

I paid little attention to the next part of the conversation. I was trying to sort things out in my mind. My friends had raved about Gerard, yet how could he be such a wonderful doctor if he was still the “same old Gerard?”

A silver sedan pulled into the driveway and a tall handsome man got out.

“Here’s Gerard now,” Marny announced.

I took a second look at the man walking up the sidewalk. Surely Marny was joking.

Marny got up and met the man at the door.

“You’re early, dear,” I heard her say. “Come see who’s here.”

Marny led him into the living room. Here, at closer range, I could see that this man’s facial features were indeed those of Gerard Bloomberg, but nothing else about him was. He carried himself tall and confidently. Not once did he even glance at my shoes. When he spoke, he looked straight in my eyes, and when I spoke, I felt as if he was truly interested in what I was saying.

I can’t recall much of that conversation. I think I was in shock for the duration. But then Gerard excused himself to make some phone calls.

I turned to Marny. “You said he hadn’t changed!” I exclaimed.

Marny looked at me blankly as if she really didn’t know what I was talking about. It was then, seeing her confusion, that the reality of it all finally hit me. After 12 years, I finally understood. Marny’s interest in Gerard had begun as simply an act of charity. But Marny had taken the time to do something none of the rest of us had done. She had gotten to know Gerard. She had dug past the backward farm boy exterior that the rest of us saw and had found the heart of the man. To Marny, Gerard had always been the sensitive young doctor that I had just met.

In light of that, I realized how shallow my exclamation sounded.

“It’s just that Gerard used to be so shy,” I explained weakly.

Marny smiled softly. “Yes, I guess he was a bit shy,” she said. “But really, other than that, Gerard is just the same as he’s always been.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Larry Winborg