Carl often thought of himself as the man in the Eagles’ song, driving down the road with seven women on his mind. When he heard that song, he often could identify seven women who all were in his thoughts, though he doubted that any of them wanted to own him or wanted to kill him.
There was the young woman at church, vulnerable and yet appealing. He prayed for her; he wished he could make some gesture toward her that would comfort her, but anything he did would probably frighten her instead.
Then there was a woman who lived a few blocks from Carl. Sometimes they passed each other in the mornings when they were both taking their walks. She had long, straight, black hair, deep brown eyes, and a shy smile. Carl had never spoken with her. By luck, not by effort, he had been able to identify her house. Carl knew that she had children; he did not know whether or not she had a husband.
There was also the Olympic athlete he had seen on TV. She was also a brunette, with sparkling brown eyes and a lovely smile. Of course she was in top physical condition. They would never meet, but Carl had downloaded pictures of her onto his work computer. When the screen-saver brought up his slideshow, he would pause in his work and wait for her to appear.
Speaking of work, there was the intern with the blonde hair and the bright blue eyes. She was polite and friendly, probably considering Carl neither an interest nor a threat because of the difference in their ages.
There was the supervisor of another department, efficient without being unfriendly, able to charm customers and coworkers with equally sincere interest in whatever they had to say. A few months ago, she had announced a name change. A little Internet research revealed that she was changing from her married name to her maiden name. Carl wondered if that signaled a divorce or merely a desire to use her family name professionally from now on. He didn’t see her often, but when their paths crossed he generally managed to exchange hellos with her.
Carl remembered the woman from his department who had left for a better job more than three years ago. Carl still missed her. Every day on the way to work he passed the building where her new office was located. He hadn’t seen her since the day she left, but he still marked the anniversary of that day with regret and gloom.
The seventh woman on Carl’s mind had, in a sense, replaced number six. Not that she had been hired to do the same job, or even that she had been hired shortly after number six left the business. Carl was starting to feel the same glow in her presence that he once had felt when he was near number six. Through Facebook, Carl had discovered her birthday. It happened to be the same day that he had been marking in memory of number six. If for no other reason, Carl found that coincidence a reason to consider number seven an appropriate replacement for number six in his mind.
Not that Carl would make an inappropriate advance toward any of these seven women. Carl liked to think of them. He liked to be with them. He didn’t want to marry any of them, and Carl would never want or attempt a one-night stand. Some men had crushes on singers like Taylor Swift or actresses like Amy Adams. Carl’s crushes were (with the exception of the Olympic athlete) on people a little closer to home, but he was no more intending to stalk or to try to seduce these women than the vast majority of fans who follow celebrities.
In his own mind, though, Carl could imagine a closer relationship with any of the seven women on his mind. As he headed to his car at the end of the day, number seven was most on his mind. Before he started the engine, Carl decided that the songs he heard on the way home that evening would represent a conversation between Carl and number seven.
Of course he invited the lady to go first. Her opening song proved to be “You’re my Best Friend,” by Queen. Carl flattered himself that number seven might say some of those lyrics to him, or might be thinking that way about him. At the same time, Carl had a strong negative association to the word “friend.” “Let’s just be friends” was a kind way of saying, “I have no romantic interest in you.” Often, in Carl’s experience, the woman who said “Let’s just be friends” was the woman who would disappear from his life (if not from his mind) in a way that was distinctly unfriendly.
After a string of commercials, Carl’s reply came on the radio. The song was “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. This song was widely treated as a love song—it had even been sung at weddings—but it was a song about obsession and a claim to ownership, not about genuine love. Carl could imagine himself watching number seven as closely as the song described. He knew that a day or two of that behavior would be creepy to his coworker and might easily draw a reprimand from their boss.
Her next song was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce. Carl did not have to stretch to fit this story-telling song into the conversation. It was an unsubtle warning about men who take an interest in women who have already found their life’s partner. The title character, accustomed to taking everything he liked, took an interest in a woman who “looked nice.” This interest led to a brawl with her husband, and by the end of the brawl, Mr. Brown was not in a very good condition.
The deejays chatted about traffic and weather and played a few more commercials before Carl had a chance to answer the warning that had been given. His answer turned out to be Survivor’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Any Longer.” The anthem was a love ballad so schmaltzy that even the writer and singer seemed embarrassed by it. (Carl remembered the group joking about the song at the beginning and ending of their music video.) Calling his beloved a candle in the window was barely passible; promising to land a boat and “throw away the oar” was definitely over the top. After the clear warning involved in the story of Mr. Brown, Carl knew that he would never dare such a bold confession of love.
Number seven’s answer, though, was as enigmatic as the previous four songs had been forthright. She replied with Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” The song was still playing as Carl reached his home. He spent the rest of the evening trying to decide what the song meant. Was it an invitation to some sort of mutual involvement? Or was it a reminder that all Carl had to enjoy was fantasy and dreams? Carl knew that he would have to ponder those questions for a while before he would arrive at an answer. J.