I’m furious with Gary, even now when he’s convinced me it’s not his fault. But then, according to Gary, I’m always angry at him. It’s pouring rain, and I guess I have to admit I blame him for that too. When we were first deciding, earlier today, to go to this thing, this reading that I really didn’t have time for—at Kempton’s urging (Gary’s friend Kempton), I said to Gary it’s going to rain and he said, “Dear, I called the weather three minutes ago. . . .” Well, that’s certainly like him. “. . .and the new 3:00 forecast said some cloudiness, no rain.” The restrained, reproachful, why-must-you-be-so-obstinate, -I’m-so-rational voice.
“I know it’s going to rain,” I muttered, but I could see we were going to this thing. I had to rush out after a meeting when I knew Arthur wanted me to hang around and discuss the meeting with him. He’s going to give me such a hard time tomorrow.
So I start out angry at Gary because I’m going to have to face Arthur in the morning. Then that foul subway jammed with sweating bodies, and I’m running the gauntlet of those awful, pathetic beggars and that stench of urine, and I come out in a thunderstorm. Not just a little drizzle. A torrent of rain. Cats and dogs and crocodiles and hippopotamuses. Inch-deep puddles every step I take. My new pink leather shoes! My toes are probably pink now. I want to kill him.
We are going to a reading of Chekhov stories—read by Swoozie Kurtz, Woody Allen and Cher if you can believe that. I mean I don’t even know Chekhov really, Gary’s Mr. Literature, but still, Cher? Woody Allen?
Anyway, I think we are going to this thing.
When I walk the block from the subway, getting absolutely drenched in the process, I see Gary with Kempton, under the marquee. Gary has a tight-lipped, hunkered-down look about him that I know too well, and Kempton has a big, oh-boy-is-she-going-to-be-pissed grin on his face.
“Dear,” Gary says, you’re not going to be too pleased about this, but—” and he laughs. It is a kind of self-conscious chuckle. “Heh, heh, heh.”
“They’re sold out,” I say, my voice registering my complete disgust with him. I see the handwritten sign. I also see the bedraggled people in what passes for a line, waiting for—hoping for—returned tickets. The line winds into the pizza place, then continues under the awning of the drug-store. If he suggests we get in that line, I’ll murder him.
Gary follows up fast, before I have time to really boil over. And Kempton is here, which he knows will restrain me somewhat. “We thought some large margueritas might relieve some stress.” He chuckles again. “Heh, heh, heh.”
I scowl at him.
“We’re already here and wet,” he says. His anxious look pleads with me to keep the lid on.
I nod, trying to bring to bear the full value of the three and a half years at $75 a session, calm myself, realize that it isn’t such a big deal. Things happen.
We start to walk up the block, a dreary succession of drugstores and liquor stores and bodegas, sprinkled with occasional hip restaurants. This is further uptown than I feel comfortable, but Kempton lives up here.
Kempton is under his umbrella. Gary, as if demonstrating his lack of culpability, doesn’t have one, so he is stooping under mine. “You could have called when you got here,” I can’t keep myself from saying.
“Dear, I did call.” And he launches into a long condemnation of my staff and secretarial help for never being at their desks and never delivering messages. As we walk, getting wetter and wetter, he goes deeper and deeper into why it isn’t his fault, why he had no way of knowing the reading would be sold out, and repeating the reasons that he couldn’t get through to me, now pretty much putting the blame on me.
“Hello Kempton,” I say, giving him a big don’t-mind-us-while-we-squabble smile. He’s been hanging back, out of the line of fire. He pushes his umbrella away from his head to duck under my umbrella and buss the cheek I proffer.
Kempton’s hair is getting long again, and he’s neglected a two-day growth of beard. He is always at war with his corporate existence, still wanting to think of himself as the graduate student he was a dozen years ago. He never lets his hair get really long, but more often than not it’s just beyond what is acceptable for an aging baby boomer with a responsible, corporate job. He’s come from work, as we have, but he’s wearing jeans with his white shirt and sport jacket. His tie is loosened over an open collar.
“So?” I say, giving the signal that I’m okay, under control, ready to be sociable. Kempton’s life has been a running soap opera, and I know he will have a new installment for us. “Or don’t I want to hear?”
We swerve on the sidewalk to avoid the spray from a taxi passing heedlessly close to the curb and sending a geyser our way.
“You don’t want to hear,” Gary says, dancing away from the water splashing at his ankles. Going “heh, heh, heh.” Kempton’s obviously been giving him a preview. “You thought it wouldn’t get any worse?” Gary says to me by way of teaser, holding the door of the restaurant for us, bowing his head against the rain as we close our umbrellas. His curly brown hair is matted and water trickles down his forehead.
We crowd into the tiny, dry entranceway, “Oh man,” Kempton says, shaking his arms like a dog shakes its soaked body.
“Yeah,” Gary agrees, trying to brush the water out of his hair.
“I never know,” Kempton says, his voice dropping to a confidential, apologetic tone, “if you two are going to groan to yourselves and say, “Oh God, more of his endless whining.”“
“Don’t be silly,” I say, knowing full well that this flood is unstoppable. “What are friends for?”
“Whine and dine,” Gary says.
We can’t decide whether we want to eat Mexican or Chinese food, so we decide to sit in the bar and have our margueritas. Gary goes to make a reservation in the restaurant for later, in case we decide to stay for dinner. Kempton and I take a big round table at the window in the bar. It is the table I want. There is something pleasantly melancholy about watching a storm. Cleansing too, as you can almost feel your anxieties being washed away with the soot and grime of the city. But Kempton chose it.
He made some comment about the window, but I know he saw the woman at the next table. I know he took her in, the instant we entered. She is not really anything special, a little thick even around the middle, but the kind of soft features and lots of hair that they can’t help themselves from noticing. He is doing his best to make conversation with me, but I see in his watchful eyes a readiness for the opportunity that may present itself. An empty glass sits in front of the chair across from her and we are now both, below the patter of our idle conversation, waiting to see what gender of person is sitting there.
“Gary turned white when he saw that sold-out sign,” Kempton is telling me with glee, “knowing he was dead meat and nothing he could do about it.” I give him an embarrassed smile. Being Kempton, he sees the vulnerability and pushes it, “”Lorena” Rosner,” he says.
“Cool it, Kempton,” I warn him.
I take off my wet shoes, and try to arrange my damp sleeves so they feel less gross against me.
It turns out to be a woman who sits down in front of the glass. I see the pleased look on Kempton’s face before I see her. She arrives with two very large margueritas in her hands about the time Gary appears with the word that we are okay for dinner. He’s been to the bar himself and sets down three thick mounds of frosted liquor, two with salt, mine without. The woman and Gary seem to have become acquainted at the bar, and I suppress my impulse to be annoyed with him. He and she offer us a fleeting, amused comparison of the size of their drinks, her two tankards and his three smallish glasses, obviously the subject of their introduction. Kempton would like to extend the interaction, of course, but it is self-limiting as they sit down facing away from each other, the woman already talking to her friend.
“Story time,” Gary says, turning to Kempton and starting to work on his drink with a spoon. “Tell Mommy and Daddy.”
Kempton moans quietly, perfectly serious in his self-absorption. “It’s gotten really bad,” he says, framed in the rainy day, looking pathetic.
“Kempton,” I say, “she is trying to give you a message and you aren’t taking it.”
“That’s not true,” he responds indignantly, lifting bits of frosted liquor to his mouth on the edge of his straw. “She keeps giving me the message that she likes me, that we aren’t just employee and manager. I don’t even know how this happened. She is the tattoo and nose ring generation. Look at you smiling. She doesn’t actually have a nose ring. She does have a tattoo though.”
“Where is it?” Gary asks.
“Why do you want to know where it is?” I ask him.
“I don’t know, dear, I just asked a question,” he says with a look of exasperation clotting his face.
“I would think,” I say, not a little put out, “”What is it?” is the obvious question.”
Kempton interjects, “It’s a flower, on her shoulder, not exactly original, is it? I hired her specifically because I thought she wouldn’t tempt me. She isn’t particularly good looking and not at all my type, so it should have been safe.
“I mean, I know,” Kempton lowers his voice to say, “this is some kind of obsession. I am not blind. I look at it and say there is no future here, this is not someone I can be with, live a life with.” He looks from one of us to the other, his voice starting to quaver, “but I can’t stop wanting her.”
“Look, why don’t you just ask her out,” Gary says. “You’ve been living in this twilight zone for six months already. The worst she can say is no. Then it will be settled. You can get on with your life. You’ve been frozen in this thing.”
“Well, I finally did.” He sits there looking sheepish.
“You asked her out? Why didn’t you say so instead of holding out on us?”
“It seems like ancient history already. It was weeks ago. She said she didn’t think it would be a good idea.”
“Because?” Gary asks.
Kempton raises his palms, a helpless look on his face. “She didn’t say. If she had just said she didn’t find me attractive or she is serious with someone else, maybe that would be it, and I could forget about her. Instead, she sipped her coffee and blinked at me and said she likes me a lot, she really does. She doesn’t think of us as boss and employee, she feels like we are very close.”
“But nothing. That was it. I felt funny for a couple of days like I was back in high school, for christsake, and some girl turns you down and you are mortified—embarrassed to face her for the rest of the year. But she treated me as if it had never happened: still just as friendly, almost more flirtatious. And we went along like that for a while, except I was jumping out of my skin.”
We sit for a minute, silently, Kempton lost in the details of some painful moment. Then words roar out of him like a car idling too fast suddenly jammed into gear.
“I’ll tell you how bad it is, one morning I needed to talk to her about something, and I went down to her office rather than call—so I could look at her.”
He laughs. He is right; he does know he is making himself foolish, but at the same time, he is getting high talking about her. “I know every inch of her face, every blemish; every coffee stain on her teeth. I know her body so well I can tell when she has her period. I have this physical need, this craving to see her, to study her. I get anxious if I can’t look at her.
“But, as I was starting to say, once I was at her door, I could not face going into her office and hearing her telephone ring. It had gotten so that every time I went in there the phone would ring at least two or three times and I would have to listen to her put on this sweet voice, “Hi. I’m busy, I’ll call you back.” And wonder if one of them was some guy she is screwing. Or all of them. It sickens me just thinking about it. What does she do when she leaves the office? I try to picture every minute of her day. I go home so depressed, picturing her with some whacked out moron with an earring and backwards baseball cap. What I imagine is probably a hundred times worse than what she is actually doing. But she really is always out. I try to remind myself that six months ago she was working for me and she was living her life just the same way, and I was blissfully indifferent. Why can’t it be that way now? I can barely remember that there was once a time when her phone ringing didn’t hit me in the pit of my stomach.”
“So, you were standing in the door of her office—and?”
“So I was standing in the door of her office, unable to go in, talking to her, getting more and more anxious waiting for the phone to ring, and finally I asked her to come up to my office, and she said, with mock hurt in her voice, “Don’t you want to come into my office? We’re right here.” Her eyes almost laughing at me.”All right,” I said. What could I say? “I’m afraid someone is going to call and ask you out.” I keep telling myself it doesn’t matter if I am there or not, right? They are still going to call her and ask her out, and she is still going to be out at night doing things whether I am in there when the phone rings or not.”
“Think of it this way,” Gary says, “every minute you were in there is a minute she couldn’t say yes to anyone.”
“Thanks, that’s very helpful. I went in and sat down.”
“And let me guess, the phone rang?”
“No, but I couldn’t stand the tension after a second. I yanked the fucking phone off the hook.”
“What did she say?”
“Nothing. She looked at me. Not even surprised. Then this knowing, indulgent smile came over her face. We talked about the business question I had come to talk about.”
“Oh, she is playing with you. She sees the power she has. And she is liking it.”
“It gets worse,” Kempton says. He leans back and stretches. As he does, he catches sight of that woman at the next table. After his intimate disclosures, he seems to realize it is silly to hide his awareness of this woman. “She’s cute,” he says.
“She is,” I encourage him. “I think she’s interested,” I say. “I saw her checking you out.”
“Why don’t you try to meet her? She doesn’t have a ring on.”
“What am I going to do with you all here and her girl-friend? Forget it. Besides—”
“She’s not Janey.”
“That’s good!” Gary and I both shout at once. “That’s the point,” I say.
“I wish I could find someone to pull me away from this thing,” he muses. But he is drifting back into his reverie. “It is like she can’t commit herself. You know, her father died when she was 14.Right at the start of adolescence. She could be fixed in adolescence and not willing to risk loving any man again.”
“I think you are trying to find reasons for something that doesn’t have any deep reasons. Kempton, she doesn’t want to go out with you. Stop pouting. I’m just saying what seems obvious.”
“It isn’t obvious. I know she likes me. There are reasons of some kind.”
“She’s got a boyfriend?”
“She never talks about one. I don’t believe she is serious with anyone. She went on her vacation alone—to Club Med. If she has a serious boyfriend, wouldn’t he have gone with her? Wouldn’t she mention him? At least sometimes?”
“Maybe he’s married.”
This hadn’t occurred to him, and his body stiffens as he sits considering it, realizing that this theory could fit his facts. I think for a moment he is going to start crying.
The woman at the next table has pushed her chair out awkwardly and stumbled up, which catches our attention. I study her, trying to see what the attraction is beyond all that curly hair. She’s just a woman, in her mid-twenties, wearing white painter pants and a tee shirt, an ordinary mortal woman, with a cute but unremarkable face, an inflamed zit on her chin, and a chunky shapeless body. There are a thousand like her all around the city.
“Follow her,” Gary says.
“Go ahead,” I coax.
“What?” I can see him actually debating it momentarily, but he waits too long.
“You two are crazy. I’ve got no context. This isn’t a singles bar. She’s not here to be picked up.”
She is over at the bar placing an order. “Come on, what do you have to lose? Get up. Come on,” Gary says.
I give Kempton a nudge under the table. He just smiles at me awkwardly. By now she is coming back, juggling two drinks and a bowl of chips. “Forget it,” he says, “this is silly.” But he follows her with his eyes and when she becomes aware of his scrutiny, she gives an instinctive smile, then looks away self-consciously as she sits down.
“Hey,” I say, grinning at him, but he shrugs it off.
“She’ll have to go to the bathroom,” I say. “Follow her down.” The look in his eyes tells me he is considering it.
“I hope her bladder capacity isn’t too great,” he says. “I’ve got to go already.”
“Cross your legs,” I say.
“This is silly. I can’t do this,” he says. “Where was I? One night we had to work late, it was stuff we couldn’t start till four o’clock and it had to get done, and Janey was pissed because she had to cancel plans. Vague plans, she was not specific at all. She never is. She was on the phone for 20 minutes doing it! At least it made me happy that she had to cancel them. By about eight we were nearly done and both getting tired. She said she wanted to call her cab by nine. I said very casually it was late enough that we were entitled to dinner if she were interested. She didn’t respond. I didn’t press. Talked about something else. But when we finally stopped working, she volunteered that she was interested in dinner.”
“You’re surprised? It would have been very easy for her not to,” Kempton says vehemently, leaning over the table. “To want to get home. Easy easy excuse. She wanted to go out with me.”
“Or she wanted dinner,” Gary says.
“Right,” I say.
“She was entitled to dinner without me. There’s nothing you can say, is there?”
“She felt uncomfortable eating alone in a restaurant?”
Kempton frowns at me dismissively. “We went to a really nice restaurant. Had drinks, ate, and talked for three hours, till near midnight. She was not the one who made the first move to leave. It was like we were on a date. We talked about personal things, not work. We stayed an hour after we paid the bill. I didn’t push anything. Just let it happen. And I felt like she was becoming really attached to me. She touched me with her hand more than once.” He reaches over and presses my forearm lightly with his fingers. “I was flying.”
“So how long ago was this dinner?”
“It was two weeks ago, and I thought it would all build from that, but then the whole next week she avoided me. She was totally cold. I realized I blew it. I should have taken advantage of the moment and made a real move. Gone home with her. That night I could have had her. But I didn’t, and then things were just worse.
“I started to see that she enjoys the power of my wanting her, so I resolved to deprive her of that. From then on, I was businesslike, uninterested. Sure enough, after a few days, she ambled in as casual as could be, but with this sheepish grin on her face. “I feel as if I haven’t seen you in ages,” she said. Gave me this awkward, eager twitch of her mouth. I stared at her for a minute, letting her get uncomfortable. And she did. She looked so forlorn, I started to feel sorry for her, and that just got me madder. “Am I getting that report on Wednesday?” I asked her, icily. She nodded, her eager grin turning to an uncertain frown. Then I picked up the phone and spoke to my boss about another matter. After a minute or two, she slunk out.”
Kempton pauses, giving me a disgusted look that says “your whole sex is responsible for my misery.” He gazes out at the rain, which in the darkened street, in the lights of passing cars, sparkles and shines like the falling, fading embers of fire works. “That got me really angry,” he says, quite unneces arily. “”Just do your work, bitch, and fucking well do it right.”
“She didn’t react though. The colder and more demanding I got, the more passive and stoic she got, and the harder I pressed to get some response. It got so every interaction was fraught with an unbearable intensity. My palms were sweating from the moment I walked into the office in the morning. I was living with this certain knowledge that something would explode, but I didn’t know when or how.
“And then it happened. A couple of days ago I called her to give her some work, real shit to do, copying, I think. My heart was thumping the minute I picked up the phone. But I got a busy signal. I slammed down the receiver and cursed just as my boss walked in. “She’s on the phone again,” I spat out. You see, I’d paved the way with him. And now he was furious. Her career is very much in my hands. She doesn’t get it.”
“Kempton, you better watch it. All she has to do is go to your human resources department, and you will be in big trouble.”
“She won’t do that,” he says confidently.
“I wouldn’t count on it, I’m not kidding,”
“I am walking a tight rope, I grant you, but everything I ask her to do, I am within my rights. I am pushing her, and I’m going to keep pushing just hard enough to keep her miserable, but not hard enough to get hurt. I’m too good at it.”
“I think you’re being vindictive,” I say.
Kempton shrugs. “She was playing with me.”
He ignores me. “I laid into her about her phone usage. She was furious, but I had my boss’s authority. She started bitching about that copying, too. I said, “I don’t want to hear it.” I told her, “Don’t make plans for your evenings this month.” She just glared at me. I said, “Anything else?”
“That was it. Whammo. She blew up. “I’m tired of being abused like this,” she screamed, standing there in her prim little navy blue suit.
“I screamed back, “You being abused!”
“She said, “Things are really getting out of hand.” I knew she wasn’t talking about the work issues. I think we must have glowered at each other with identical expressions of rage and hatred.”
Kempton laughs a little self-conscious Gary laugh. “I felt this wave of panic then. I thought I had pushed her too far.”
“You better hope she didn’t bring a tape recorder,” Gary says.
“There’s more. I couldn’t stop myself. I looked her in the eye then and said, “You never cared about anybody but yourself a day in your life.”“
“You said that?” Gary marvels.
“”Who am I supposed to care about if not myself?” she screamed. “What do you want from me?”
“We looked at each other then, because we both knew the answer to that, and we seemed to have had this tacit understanding that we would not mention it, that we would have surrogate fights about work issues. But this time I said, “Could I just ask—why? It might help me if I knew why.” I tried to help her. I said, “It could be that you’re just not attracted to me. That would be an easy answer I could understand.” She stood there gazing at me like a zombie.
“”It could be that we work together, or the age difference.” I said to her, “I don’t believe you’re in love with someone else.” She said, “It is a lot of things. It is not entirely untrue that I am seeing someone else.” My insides just fell when she said that. I can’t tell you, “It is just a lot more complicated than that.” What does that mean? I looked at her, all but begging her for more. “I’m gonna go now,” she said. It was only getting less clear. I wanted to howl with frustration.”
“She just got up!” I say.
Kempton’s and Gary’s heads jerk up as she turns the corner.
“Shit,” Kempton says.
“Go, Go. Go,” I urge him. “Hurry up.”
He hesitates, with his eyes fixed on us. We are by now sitting rigid in our chairs, frozen, expectant, wondering if he will do it. Then he shoots out of his seat.
Gary and I laugh at first, then sink into the sudden vacuum his leaving has created, as the babble of voices in the bar now flows over us.
“Live drama. Isn’t this better than Swoozie Kurtz and Cher and Woody Allen?”
“Don’t push it,” I warn him.
Gary starts to speak, but thinks better of it.
“What do you think?” I say.
“I don’t have the slightest clue. What would you do?”
“Walking to the bathroom in a restaurant? Blow him off.”
“I can’t believe we prodded him into this.”
“She did notice him. She smiled at him.”
Gary gives me a look.
“Actually, I meant what do you think about the other thing.”
Gary shakes his head slowly. “He thinks he can pin her down so she makes sense,” he says.
“Maybe she doesn’t want to go out with him, but she just enjoys being adored,” I say.
Gary reaches out and takes my hand, caresses it, and then starts to squeeze it with a passion that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with me. I withdraw my hand and we sit without talking.
I realize I am quite anxious, waiting for Kempton to come back. My palms are sweaty. I also feel weird sitting here with Gary, participating in another man’s seduction. And then I feel like it is going to be very embarrassing if she blows him off after we pushed him.
“Here they come.” Gary whispers.
“They aren’t together.”
“Yeah?” I say impatiently. “Tell me.”
“He’s about ten steps behind her. He’s not smiling. Actually, he’s got a bit of a crazed look on his face.”
“Oh, God. What about her.”
“I can’t tell. She’s sort of smiling, I guess.”
“Maybe he never did it.”
Kempton sits down woodenly and silently.
We look at him with eager eyes.
He raises his glass, holds it tipped up to his mouth, and nibbles at the icy slush.
“Well, should we go eat?” Gary says, looking at his watch, trying to make the best of it by ignoring it.
“What happened?” I say, flustered.
Kempton doesn’t answer. He is like a statue. Just staring straight ahead at the window, at the ceaseless rain scrubbing away at the city. “Kempton?” I say.
After a minute he turns toward their table.
She is hunched forward in her seat, all smiles and frizzy hair and that zit on her chin. She is nodding at him.
“My friend approves,” she says. “You get the okay.” The other woman has dug a pen out of her pocketbook and produced a napkin. The object of desire is writing on the napkin.
“Really?” Kempton blurts out before he realizes it.
“Let’s go.” I nudge Gary and we quit the scene discretely.
Standing up, I become aware of just how blitzed I am on the margueritas. As I follow Gary to our table, negotiating on unsteady legs the narrow passages between rows of happy people, a blackness overtakes me. I am glad for Kempton, but it depresses me.
I sag dizzily into my chair, taking the oversized menu from the maitre de, and try to focus. All around me I see seductive young women engaged in animated conversations. A strikingly attractive woman in a yellow dress several tables from us at the border of the smoking section draws my eye again and again. She’s so aware of herself, pushing her flowing hair back, gesturing with arched fingers as she speaks. I know Gary noticed her the minute we sat down and tried not to let me see him glancing over there.
Kempton comes to the table with a smug, composed look on his face. But when he sits down, he can’t keep from breaking into a grin and pounding his fist on the table in exultation.
He feels immortal, Mr. Stud. Sitting back in his chair, he surveys the room, his eyes coming immediately to rest on the woman in the yellow dress. “Ohh,” he sighs. Right now, he thinks he can just walk up to that table, and she too will give him her phone number.
“Don’t be greedy,” I say.
Gary says, “Go for it.”
“Gary,” I say.
Kempton is shaking his head slowly, smiling in his slightly inebriated euphoria. “I wonder how her bladder is,” he says.
He sits down, but then stands up, “And speaking of which. . . .” He wanders off in the direction of the men’s room.
I feel really bad; a foggy, cobwebby feeling that clings to me but that I can neither grab onto nor wipe away.
Gary is shaking his head. “That was pretty amazing, wasn’t it? I don’t know what’s wilder, his thing at work or this. What’s the matter?” he asks.
I squint at him, trying to get hold of this feeling. Then, peering at his no longer quite so boyishly smooth face and his brown hair now flecked with gray, I do. “You wish it were you, don’t you?” I blurt it out before I have even realized I am thinking it. But once I say the words, they take me over.
“Come on, admit it.”
“As sick and miserable as his life is, you’re jealous, aren’t you? You wish it were you going out with that woman. It’s exciting thinking about it, isn’t it? Not knowing how the night might end, with this total stranger, whether you’d sleep with her. You miss it, don’t you, the uncertainty, the excitement? The newness.”
Gary is saying something but I’m not even listening, and then Kempton is back, radiating his joy. I smile at him. He and Gary start talking about stocks, and I turn myself inward. I try not to look at the people at the other tables: the woman in the yellow dress tossing her hair, and beyond her, two young women smoking cigarettes, careless of their lives, of the wrinkles around the lips the smoking will bring in time, but not now. Young and powerful and confident, they are talking with great animation. Their skin is radiant, their juices plentiful. They are frightening in their come-and-get-me outfits. It was so easy for Gary to engage the woman at the bar when he was picking up the drinks, and with a ring in plain view on his finger.
I feel as if I have come to a place of clarity in my thoughts I have never been before. And I feel a relief of a strange sort flowing over me, a relief I craved in all my sessions with Ellen, all that anger and anxiety floating around the couch just out of reach.
“What have I done, Dear? Jesus,” Gary says suddenly.
“Nothing. You haven’t done anything.” So once again, I am the ogre, the hormonal bitch on wheels. Kempton is squinting at me and Gary is hunkering down.
Life is so deceptive. You believe it is always building to something. You think it has a form to it. Everything that happened that night seemed climactic, overflowing with portent. But it was all illusory: false hints of shape flattening into time gone by formlessly.
Kempton went out with that woman. It had seemed, at that moment, that night with us, charged with possibilities. But already when he called her to set it up, she was very tentative. He suggested dinner, a movie, a club, but she wouldn’t commit herself to more than drinks on a Wednesday night. And when they got together, the encounter was a non-event. It turned out that she had been so drunk that night at the restaurant that she didn’t really remember him at all. They had nothing to say to each other. After no more than an hour, they were both happy to end the evening. It only made him long more helplessly and bitterly for Janey.
Nothing ever came to a head with her either. The inscrutable Janey never gave up her secret. She did not break under the pressure and turn him in. Neither did she succumb to the power of his desire. She went on working for him for another year of roller coaster days of pain for them both, all of which he described to us in agonizing detail and tried desperately to parse in subsequent dinners around town. Then, quite out of the blue, she was offered a much better job at a corporation in New Jersey. She left, and he never saw her again. I suggested to him that perhaps the reason for her reticence had been a serious sexual disease. He found a certain compelling logic in this explanation, so in the end he adopted it and felt sorry for her, and glad things hadn’t worked out.
Gary and I seem to just keep going on in the same old way. Whatever awareness I gained under the influence of those margueritas that night didn’t change anything. I see Ellen each week, spend my $75, $85 now. But I still feel incredibly anxious when I see those young girls and know he is so quietly, innocently, surreptitiously, yearningly aware of them. It is so powerful. I never feel really safe.