Bob squinted through the glaring studio lights, wondering what would come next. It would most likely be one of four types of contestant: the soldier, the college student, the grandparent, or the housewife. If it was a female, he could rely on a kiss to his cheek when she won her way up onto stage. If.
And there she was now, stumbling once, briefly down the aisle. She righted herself without breaking stride and brushed her... her... hair... back...
What name had Rod read? He squinted against the lights again, this time trying to read in vain the name on her glaring pricetag. He could swear he recognized her from somewhere. Ten years ago, she might have been familiar. Twenty, unmistakable. But now, age had had its way with her looks and his mind and neither was as sharp as it once had been. She must've been close to his age, with sad bits of coloring in her greyed hair. He was glad he'd given up that foolishness for a more dignified gray long ago. It made her look childish, dammit. She didn't deserve childishness, not her... whoever 'she' was. If only...
She had on one of those "Barker's Beauties" sweatshirts. Beverly. She smiled at him with her chipped-tooth smile and suddenly he remembered. He remembered how she'd chipped that tooth, stumbling like a minute before, and how she'd brushed her hair back from her face, like a minute before. She smiled up at him, and, like it had only been just yesterday, mouthed to him over the cheers of the crowd, "I love you, Bob."
Did she remember him?
He felt himself slackened and so closed his mouth. He came back to awareness as the next item up for bids was wheeled out. The audience shouted out numbers and the contestants obeyed, parrotting back the guesses of their friends and loved ones. She was way off on whatever it was, he knew before he even pulled the card. As he absentmindedly welcomed some stoner college kid onto the stage, he tried to remember Bev... Sault neé Frasier. She had said she'd never be able to marry anyone but him, but apparently she had. And she'd been the only woman he'd thought of marrying... for a long time. But that was before Hollywood and Studio City. Now he lived in a mini-republic twice the size of the Vatican and much more powerful, and she was Grandma Bumpkin from Squatville, Iowa. Here to win glittering prizes from the man who once offered her a lasting love. Oh well, you get what you can in L.A., and get out.
The stoner kid won an armoire, but lost a ping-pong table. He was too gone to care. The next item was up for bids, and he looked back to Beverly. As the girls wheeled out a bumper pool table, she clasped her hands with delight. No ring?
The bids were fired in haphazard fashion, all flying too high. The audience was already screaming for the one dollar bid when her turn came. The ever-impressionable Beverly was not one to disappoint; she held up the slightly arthritic index finger on her right hand, and said clearly, "One dollar." Surely enough, everyone else had overbid, and she was now the proud owner of a bumper pool table. Maybe she could trade stoner-boy. What would a frat house do with an armoire, anyhow? Liquor, maybe.
And then she was beside him. He bent expectantly for his customary peck, but it was inconclusive. Dammit, did she recognize him or not? He didn't have time to play a guessing game on national TV, even if it was a game show. "I suppose you and your husband will be able to get some use out of that bumper pool table!" he joked.
"Husband?" She smiled at him, placidly; vacantly. She didn't recognize him. She recognized Bob Barker, alright, but she didn't recognize Bobby. Meanwhile, he was foundering on national TV. Move on, Bob.
He chuckled woodenly and led her across the stage to show her what she could win next. It would be a trip or a dinette set or a motor home... an empty, lifeless motorhome. Or a new car!, which it was. And the game, the game was one of the ones where the numbers have to be put in the right order to match the price of the car. As he led her over to the game itself, she was fluttering with delight, smiling with mouth and eyes and facial wrinkles and all. She was to have been Beverly Barker, the beamin' beauty. He faintly smiled to see her light still alive within her. She was still... vibrant. The word was rare at their age. She was very much alive, he felt.
He told her the rules and she was all too eager to get started. Heedless of the audience, she grabbed numbered cards and arranged them to make the price of the car, which she estimated at $35,108 dollars.
Bob was aghast. She was completely wrong. Not even close. But she had a hope; though the thousands were off, if she had a number right, she could keep going. The judges lit up the numbers she'd gotten right; the one and the eight. The music started up again and she went to cover the cards she'd gotten wrong, but she seemed to have no concept of numbers. Bob watched helplessly as she covered the three and the five with a one and a two... putting the price at less than thirteen grand. He reached out with his hand to touch her shoulder, to check her, to stop her; anything, but he caught himself and let her finish before turning her to face the cameras. Twelve thousand, one hundred forty-seven dollars. She'd even covered up the eight. Christ, Bev, Bob thought. What had happened to his honey, his love?
The music changed to signal commercials. He showed her the way offstage and turned back to wave to the crowd. He'd see her again in the Showcase Showdown.