martes, 11 de junio de 2024



Meet in expensive beige raincoats, on a pea-soupy night. Like a detective movie. First, stand in front of Florsheim’s Fifty-seventh Street window, press your face close to the glass, watch the fake velvet Hummels inside revolving around the wing tips; some white

shoes, like your father wears, are propped up with garlands on a small mound of chemical snow. All the stores have closed. You can see your breath on the glass. Draw a peace sign. You are waiting for a bus.

He emerges from nowhere, looks like Robert Culp, the fog rolling, then parting, then sort of closing up again behind him. He asks you for a light and you jump a bit, startled, but you give him your “Lucky’s Lounge—Where Leisure Is a Suit” matches. He has a nice chuckle, nice fingernails. He lights the cigarette, cupping his hands around the end, and drags deeply, like a starving man. He smiles as he exhales, returns you the matches, looks at your face, says: “Thanks.”

He then stands not far from you, waiting. Perhaps for the same bus. The two of you glance furtively at each other, shifting feet. Pretend to contemplate the chemical snow.

You are two spies glancing quickly at watches, necks disappearing in the hunch of your shoulders, collars upturned and slowly razoring the cab and store-lit fog like sharkfins.

You begin to circle, gauging each other in primordial sniffs, eyeing, sidling, keen as Basil Rathbone.

A bus arrives. It is crowded, everyone looking laughlessly into one another’s underarms. A blonde woman in barrettes steps off, holding her shoes in one hand.

You climb on together, grab adjacent chrome posts, and when the bus hisses and

rumbles forward, you take out a book. A minute goes by and he asks what you’re reading. It is Madame Bovary in a Doris Day biography jacket. Try to explain about binding warpage. He smiles, interested.

Return to your book. Emma is opening her window, thinking of Rouen.

“What weather,” you hear him sigh, faintly British or uppercrust Delaware.

Glance up. Say: “It is fit for neither beast nor vegetable.”

It sounds dumb. It makes no sense.

But it is how you meet.

At the movies he is tender, caressing your hand beneath the seat.

At concerts he is sweet and attentive, buying cocktails, locating the ladies’ lounge

when you can’t find it.

At museums he is wise and loving, leading you slowly through the Etruscan cinerary urns with affectionate gestures and an art history minor from Columbia. He is kind; he laughs at your jokes.

After four movies, three concerts, and two-and-a-half museums, you sleep with him. It seems the right number of cultural events. On the stereo you play your favorite harp and oboe music. He tells you his wife’s name. It is Patricia. She is an intellectual property lawyer. He tells you he likes you a lot. You lie on your stomach, naked and still

too warm. When he says, “How do you feel about that?” don’t say “Ridiculous” or “Get

the hell out of my apartment.” Prop your head up with one hand and say: “It depends.

What is intellectual property law?”

He grins. “Oh, you know. Where leisure is a suit.”

Give him a tight, wiry little smile.

“I just don’t want you to feel uncomfortable about this,” he says.

Say: “Hey. I am a very cool person. I am tough.” Show him your bicep.

When you were six you thought mistress meant to put your shoes on the wrong feet.

Now you are older and know it can mean many things, but essentially it means to put your shoes on the wrong feet.

You walk differently. In store windows you don’t recognize yourself; you are another woman, some crazy interior display lady in glasses stumbling frantic and preoccupied through the mannequins. In public restrooms you sit dangerously flat against the toilet seat, a strange flesh sundae of despair and exhilaration, murmuring into your bluing thighs: “Hello, I’m Charlene. I’m a mistress.”

It is like having a book out from the library.

It is like constantly having a book out from the library.

You meet frequently for dinner, after work, split whole liters of the house red, then wamble the two blocks east, twenty blocks south to your apartment and lie sprawled on the living room floor with your expensive beige raincoats still on.

He is a systems analyst—you have already exhausted this joke—but what he really

wants to be, he reveals to you, is an actor.

“Well, how did you become a systems analyst?” you ask, funny you.

“The same way anyone becomes anything,” he muses. “I took courses and sent out resumes.” Pause. “Patricia helped me work up a great resume. Too great.”

“Oh.” Wonder about mistress courses, certification, resumes. Perhaps you are not

really qualified.

“But I’m not good at systems work,” he says, staring through and beyond, way beyond, the cracked ceiling. “Figuring out the cost-effectiveness of two hundred people shuffling five hundred pages back and forth across a new four-and-a-half-by-three-foot desk. I’m not an organized person, like Patricia, for instance. She’s just incredibly organized. She makes lists for everything. It’s pretty impressive.”

Say flatly, dully: “What?”

“That she makes lists.”

“That she makes lists? You like that?”

“Well, yes. You know, what she’s going to do, what she has to buy, names of clients she has to see, et cetera.”

“Lists?” you murmur hopelessly, listlessly, your expensive beige raincoat still on.

There is a long, tired silence. Lists? You stand up, brush off your coat, ask him what he would like to drink, then stump off to the kitchen without waiting for the answer.

At one-thirty, he gets up noiselessly except for the soft rustle of his dressing. He leaves before you have even quite fallen asleep, but before he does, he bends over you in his expensive beige raincoat and kisses the ends of your hair. Ah, he kisses your hair.


Birthday snapshots

Scotch tape

Letters to TD and Mom

Technically, you are still a secretary for Karma-Kola, but you wear your Phi Beta Kappa key around your neck on a cheap gold chain, hoping someone will spot you for a promotion. Unfortunately, you have lost the respect of all but one of your co-workers and many of your superiors as well, who are working in order to send their daughters to universities so they won’t have to be secretaries, and who, therefore, hold you in contempt for having a degree and being a failure anyway. It is like having a degree in failure. Hilda, however, likes you. You are young and remind her of her sister, the professional skater.

“But I hate to skate,” you say.

And Hilda smiles, nodding. “Yup, that’s exactly what my sister says sometimes and in that same way.”

“What way?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” says Hilda. “Your bangs parted on the side or something.”

Ask Hilda if she will go to lunch with you. Over Reuben sandwiches ask her if she’s ever had an affair with a married man. As she attempts, mid-bite, to complete the choreography of her chomp, Russian dressing spurts out onto her hands.

“Once,” she says. “That was the last lover I had. That was over two years ago.”

Say: “Oh my god,” as if it were horrible and tragic, then try to mitigate that rudeness by clearing your throat and saying, “Well, actually, I guess that’s not so bad.”

“No,” she sighs good-naturedly. “His wife had Hodgkin’s disease, or so everyone

thought. When they came up with the correct diagnosis, something that wasn’t nearly so

awful, he went back to her. Does that make sense to you?”

“I suppose,” say doubtfully.

“Yeah, maybe you’re right.” Hilda is still cleaning Reuben off the backs of her hands with a napkin. “At any rate, who are you involved with?”

“Someone who has a wife that makes lists. She has Listmaker’s disease.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yeah,” says Hilda. “That’s typical.”


Tomatoes, canned

Health food toothpaste

Health food deodorant

Vit. C on sale, Rexall

Check re: other shoemaker, 32nd St.

“Patricia’s really had quite an interesting life,” he says, smoking a cigarette.

“Oh, really?” you say, stabbing one out in the ashtray.

Make a list of all the lovers you’ve ever had.

Warren Lasher

Ed “Rubberhead” Catapano

Charles Deats or Keats


Tuck it in your pocket. Leave it lying around, conspicuously. Somehow you lose it. Make

“mislaid” jokes to yourself. Make another list.

Whisper, “Don’t go yet,” as he glides out of your bed before sunrise and you lie there on your back cooling, naked between the sheets and smelling of musky, oniony sweat.

Feel gray, like an abandoned locker room towel. Watch him as he again pulls on his pants, his sweater, his socks and shoes. Reach out and hold his thigh as he leans over

and kisses you quickly, telling you not to get up, that he’ll lock the door when he leaves.

In the smoky darkness, you see him smile weakly, guiltily, and attempt a false, jaunty wave from the doorway. Turn on your side, toward the wall, so you don’t have to watch

the door close. You hear it thud nonetheless, the jangle of keys and snap of the bolt lock,

the footsteps loud, then fading down the staircase, the clunk of the street door, then nothing, all his sounds blending with the city, his face passing namelessly uptown in a bus or a badly heated cab, the room, the whole building you live in, shuddering at the windows as a truck roars by toward the Queens-boro Bridge.

Wonder who you are.

“Hi, this is Attila,” he says in a false deep voice when you pick up your office phone.

Giggle. Like an idiot. Say: “Oh. Hi, Hun.”

Hilda turns to look at you with a what’s-with-you look on her face. Shrug your


“Can you meet me for lunch?”

Say: “Meet? I’m sorry, I don’t eat meat.”

“Cute, you’re cute,” he says, not laughing, and at lunch he gives you his tomatoes.

Drink two huge glasses of wine and smile at all his office and mother-in-law stories. It makes his eyes sparkle and crinkle at the corners, his face pleased and shining. When the waitress clears the plates away, there is a silence where the two of you look down then back up again.

“You get more beautiful every day,” he says to you, as you hold your wine glass over your nose, burgundy rushing down your throat. Put your glass down. Redden. Smile. Fiddle with your Phi Beta Kappa key.

When you get up to leave, take deep breaths. In front of the restaurant, where you

will stride off in different directions, don’t give him a kiss in the noontime throng.

Patricia’s office is nearby and she likes to go to the bank right around now; his  back will stiffen and his eyes dart around like a crazy person’s. Instead, do a quick shuffle-ballchain like you saw Barbra Streisand do in a movie once. Wave gigantically and say:

“Till we eat again.”

In your office building the elevator is slow and packed and you forget to get off at the tenth floor and have to ride all the way back down again from the nineteenth. Five

minutes after you arrive dizzily back at your desk, the phone rings.

“Meet me tomorrow at seven,” he says, “in front of Florsheim’s and I’ll carry you off to my castle. Patricia is going to a copyright convention.”

Wait freezing in front of Florsheim’s until seven-twenty. He finally dashes up, gasping apologies (he just now got back from the airport), his coat flying open, and he takes you in tow quickly uptown toward the art museums. He lives near art museums. Ask him what a copyright convention is.

“Where leisure is a suit and a suite,” he drawls, long and smiling, quickening his pace and yours. He kisses your temple, brushes hair off your face.

You arrive at his building in twenty minutes.

“So, this is it?” The castle doorman’s fly is undone. Smile politely. In the elevator, say:

“The unexamined fly is not worth zipping.”

The elevator has a peculiar rattle, for all eight floors, like someone obsessively

clearing her throat.

When he finally gets the apartment door unlocked, he shows you into an L-shaped

living room bursting with plants and gold-framed posters announcing exhibitions you are too late for by six years. The kitchen is off to one side—tiny, digital, spare, with a small army of chrome utensils hanging belligerent and clean as blades on the wall. Walk nervously around like a dog sniffing out the place. Peek into the bedroom: in the center, like a giant bloom, is a queen-sized bed with a Pennsylvania Dutch spread. A small photo of a woman in ski garb is propped on a nightstand. It frightens you.

Back in the living room, he mixes drinks with Scotch in them. “So, this is it,” you say again with a forced grin and an odd heaving in your rib cage. Light up one of his cigarettes.

“Can I take your coat?”

Be strange and awkward. Say: “I like beige. I think it is practical.”

“What’s wrong with you?” he says, handing you your drink.

Try to decide what you should do:

1. rip open the front of your coat, sending the buttons torpedoing across the room in a series of pops into the asparagus fern;

2. go into the bathroom and gargle with hot tap water;

3. go downstairs and wave down a cab for home.

He puts his mouth on your neck. Put your arms timidly around him. Whisper into his ear: “There’s a woman, uh, another woman in your room.”

When he is fast asleep upon you, in the middle of the night, send your left arm out

slowly toward the nightstand like a mechanical limb programmed for a secret

intelligence mission, and bring the ski garb picture back close to your face in the dark

and try to study the features over his shoulder. She seems to have a pretty smile, short

hair, no eyebrows, tough flaring nostrils, body indecipherably ensconced in nylon and

down and wool.

Slip carefully out, like a shoe horn, from beneath his sleeping body—he grunts

groggily—and go to the closet. Open it with a minimum of squeaking and stare at her

clothes. A few suits. Looks like beige blouses and a lot of brown things. Turn on the

closet light. Look at the shoes. They are all lined up in neat, married pairs on the closet

floor. Black pumps, blue sneakers, brown moccasins, brown T-straps. They have been to

an expensive college, say, in Massachusetts. Gaze into her shoes. Her feet are much

larger than yours. They are like small cruise missiles.

Inside the caves of those shoes, eyes form and open their lids, stare up at you, regard

you, wink at you from the insoles. They are half-friendly, conspiratorial, amused at this

reconnaissance of yours, like little smiling men from the open hatches of a fleet of

military submarines. Turn off the light and shut the door quickly, before they start

talking or dancing or something. Scurry back to the bed and hide your face in his


In the morning he makes you breakfast. Something with eggs and mushrooms and hot


Use his toothbrush. The red one. Gaze into the mirror at a face that looks too puffy to

be yours. Imagine using her toothbrush by mistake. Imagine a wife and a mistress

sharing the same toothbrush forever and ever, never knowing. Look into the medicine



dental floss



package of eight emory boards

razors and cartridges

two squeezed in the middle toothpaste tubes: Crest and



hand lotion

rubbing alcohol

three small bars of Cashmere Bouquet stolen from a hotel

On the street, all over, you think you see her, the boring hotel-soap stealer. Every

woman is her. You smell Cashmere Bouquet all over the place. That’s her. Someone

waiting near you for the downtown express: yup, that’s her. A woman waiting behind

you in a deli near Marine Midland who has smooth, hand-lotioned hands and looks like

she skis: good god, what if that is her. Break out in cold sweats. Stare into every pair of

flared nostrils with clinical curiosity and unbridled terror. Scrutinize feet. Glance

sidelong at pumps. Then look quickly away, like a woman, some other woman, who is

losing her mind.

Alone on lunch hours or after work, continue to look every female over the age of

twelve straight in the nose and straight in the shoes. Feel your face aquiver and twice

bolt out of Bergdorfs irrationally when you are sure it is her at the skirt sale rack

choosing brown again, a Tylenol bottle peeking out from the corner of her purse. Sit on

a granite wall in the GM plaza and catch your breath. Listen to an old man singing

“Frosty the Snowman.” Lose track of time.

“You’re late,” Hilda turns and whispers at you. “Carlyle’s been back here twice

already asking where you were and if the market survey report has been typed up yet.”

Mutter: “Shit.” You are only on the T’s: Tennessee Karma-Kola consumption per

square dollar-mile of investment market. Figures for July 1980–October 1981.

Texas—Fiscal Year 1980

Texas—Fiscal Year 1981


It is like typing a telephone directory. Get tears in your eyes.


1. Fallen in love(?) Out of control. Who is this? Who am I? And who is this wife with

the skis and the nostrils and the Tylenol and does she have orgasms?

2. Reclaim yourself. Pieces have fluttered away.

3. Everything you do is a masochistic act. Why?

4. Don’t you like yourself? Don’t you deserve better than all of this?

5. Need: something to lift you from your boots out into the sky, something to make

you like little things again, to whirl around the curves of your ears and muss up your

hair and call you every single day.

6. A drug.

7. A man.

8. A religion.

9. A good job. Revise and send out resumes.

10. Remember what Mrs. Kloosterman told the class in second grade: Just be glad you

have legs.

“What are you going to do for Christmas?” he says, lying supine on your couch.

“Oh. I don’t know. See my parents in New Jersey, I guess.” Pause. “Wanna come?

Meet my folks?”

A kind, fatherly, indulgent smile. “Charlene,” he purrs, sitting up to pat your hand,

your silly ridiculous little hand.

He gives you a pair of leather slippers. They were what you wanted.

You give him a book about cars.

“Ma, open the red one first. The other package goes with it.”

“A coffee grinder, why thank you, dear.” She kisses you wetly on the cheek, a

Christmas mist in her eyes. She thinks you’re wonderful. She’s truly your greatest fan.

She is aging and menopausal. She stubbornly thinks you’re an assistant department

head at Karma-Kola. She wants so badly, so earnestly, to be you.

“And this bag is some exotic Colombian bean, and this is a chocolate-flavored decaf.”

Your father fidgets in the corner, looking at his watch, worrying that your mom

should be checking the crown roast.

“Decaf bean,” he says. “That’s for me?”

Say: “Yeah, Dad. That’s for you.”

“Who is he?” says your mom, later, in the kitchen after you’ve washed the dishes.

“He’s a systems analyst.”

“What do they do?”

“Oh … they get married a lot. They’re usually always married.”

“Charlene, are you having an affair with a married man?”

“Ma, do you have to put it that way?”

“You are asking for big trouble,” she says, slowly, and resumes polishing silver with a

vehement energy.

Wonder why she always polishes the silver after meals.

Lean against the refrigerator and play with the magnets.

Say, softly, carefully: “I know, Mother, it’s not something you would do.”

She looks up at you, her mouth trembling, pieces of her brown-gray hair dangling in

her salty eyes, pink silverware cream caking onto her hands, onto her wedding ring. She

stops, puts a spoon down, looks away and then hopelessly back at you, like a very

young girl, and, shaking her head, bursts into tears.

“I missed you,” he practically shouts, ebullient and adolescent, pacing about the living

room with a sort of bounce, like a child who is up way past his bedtime and wants to

ask a question. “What did you do at home?” He rubs your neck.

“Oh, the usual holiday stuff with my parents. On New Year’s Eve I went to a disco in

Morristown with my cousin Denise, but I dressed wrong. I wore the turtleneck and plaid

skirt my mother gave me, because I wanted her to feel good, and my slip kept showing.”

He grins and kisses your cheek, thinking this sweet.

Continue: “There were three guys, all in purple shirts and paper hats, who kept

coming over and asking me to dance. I don’t think they were together or brothers or

anything. But I danced, and on ‘New York City Girl,’ that song about how jaded and

competent urban women are, I went crazy dancing and my slip dropped to the floor. I

tried to pick it up, but finally just had to step out of it and jam it in my purse. At the

stroke of midnight, I cried.”

“I’ll bet you suffered terribly,” he says, clasping you around the small of your back.

Say: “Yes, I did.”

“I’m thinking of telling Patricia about us.”

Be skeptical. Ask: “What will you say?”

He proceeds confidently: “I’ll go, ‘Dear, there’s something I have to tell you.’ ”

“And she’ll look over at you from her briefcase full of memoranda and say:

‘Hmmmmmm?’ ”

“And I’ll say, ‘Dear, I think I’m falling in love with another woman, and I know I’m

having sex with her.’ ”

“And she’ll say, ‘Oh my god, what did you say?’ ”

“And I’ll say: ‘Sex.’ ”

“And she’ll start weeping inconsolably and then what will you do?”

There is a silence, still as the moon. He shifts his legs, seems confused. “I’ll … tell her I

was just kidding.” He squeezes your hand.

Shave your legs in the bathroom sink. Philosophize: you are a mistress, part of a great

hysterical you mean historical tradition. Wives are like cockroaches. Also part of a great

historical tradition. They will survive you after a nuclear attack—they are tough and

hardy and travel in packs—but right now they’re not having any fun. And when you

look in the bathroom mirror, you spot them scurrying, up out of reach behind you.

An hour of gimlets after work, a quick browse through Barnes and Noble, and he looks

at his watch, gives you a peck, and says: “Good night. I’ll call you soon.”

Walk out with him. Stand there, shivering, but do not pout. Say: “Call you ‘later’

would sound better than ‘soon.’ ‘Soon’ always means just the opposite.”

He smiles feebly. “I’ll phone you in a few days.”

And when he is off, hurrying up Third Avenue, look down at your feet, kick at a dirty

cigarette butt, and in your best juvenile mumble, say: “Fuck you, jack.”

Some nights he says he’ll try to make it over, but there’s no guarantee. Those nights,

just in case, spend two hours showering, dressing, applying makeup unrecognizably,

like someone in drag, and then, as it is late, and you have to work the next day, climb

onto your bed like that, wearing perfume and an embarrassing, long, flowing, lacy

bathrobe that is really not a bathrobe at all, but a “hostess loungecoat.” With the glassed

candle by your bed lit and burning away, doze off and on, arranged with excruciating

care on top of the covers, the window lamp on in the living room, the door unlocked for

him in case he arrives in a passionate flurry, forgetting his key. Six blocks from

Fourteenth Street: you are risking your life for him, spread out like a ridiculous cake on

the bed, waiting with the door unlocked, thinking you hear him on the stairs, but no.

You should have a corsage, you think to yourself. You should have a goddamned orchid

pinned to the chest of your long flowing hostess coat, then you would be appropriately

absurd. Think: What has happened to me? Why am I lying like this on top of my covers

with too much Jontue and mascara and jewelry, pretending casually that this is how I

always go to bed, while a pervert with six new steak knives is about to sneak through

my unlocked door. Remember: at Blakely Falls High, Willis Holmes would have done

anything to be with you. You don’t have to put up with this: you were second runner-up

at the Junior Prom.

A truck roars by.

Some deaf and dumb kids, probably let out from a dance at the school nearby, are

gathered downstairs below your window, hooting and howling, making unearthly

sounds. You guess they are laughing and having fun, but they can’t hear themselves, and

at night the noises are scary, animal-like.

Your clock-radio reads 1:45.

Wonder if you are getting old, desperate. Believe that you have really turned into

another woman:

your maiden aunt Phyllis;

some vaporish cocktail waitress;

a glittery transvestite who has wandered, lost, up from the Village.

When seven consecutive days go by that you do not hear from him, send witty little

postcards to all your friends from college. On the eighth day, when finally he calls you

at the office, murmuring lascivious things in German, remain laconic. Say:

“Ja … nein … ja.”

At lunch regard your cream of cauliflower soup with a pinched mouth and ask what

on earth he and his wife do together. Sound irritated. He shrugs and says, “Dust, eat,

bicker about the shower curtain. Why do you ask?”

Say: “Gee, I don’t know. What an outrageous question, huh?”

He gives you a look of sympathy that could bring a dead cat back to life. “You’re

upset because I didn’t call you.” He reaches across the table to touch your fingers. Pull

your hand away. Say: “Don’t flatter yourself.” Look slightly off to one side. Put your

hand over your eyes like you have a headache. Say: “God, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he says.

And you think: Something is backward here. Reversed. Wrong. Like the something

that is wrong in “What is wrong with this picture?” in kids’ magazines in dentists’

offices. Toothaches. Stomachaches. God, the soup. Excuse yourself and hurry toward the

women’s room. Slam the stall door shut. Lean back against it. Stare into the throat of

the toilet.

Hilda is worried about you and wants to fix you up with a cousin of hers from


Ask wearily: “What’s his name?”

She looks at you, frowning. “Mark. He’s a banker. And what the hell kind of attitude

is that?”

Mark orders you a beer in a Greek coffee shop near the movie theater.

“So, you’re a secretary.”

Squirm and quip: “More like a sedentary,” and look at him in surprise and horror

when he guffaws and snorts way too loudly.

Say: “Actually, what I really should have been is a dancer. Everybody has always said


Mark smiles. He likes the idea of you being a dancer.

Look at him coldly. Say: “No, nobody has ever said that. I just made it up.”

All through the movie you forget to read the subtitles, thinking instead about whether

you should sleep with Mark the banker. Glance at him out of the corner of your eye. In

the dark, his profile seems important and mysterious. Sort of. He catches you looking at

him and turns and winks at you. Good god. He seems to be investing something in all of

this. Bankers. Sigh. Stare straight ahead. Decide you just don’t have the energy, the


“I saw somebody else.”


“A banker. We went to a Godard movie.”

“Well … good.”


“I mean for you, Charlene. You should be doing things like that once in a while.”

“Yeah. He’s real rich.”

“Did you have fun?”


“Did you sleep with him?”


He kisses you, almost gratefully, on the ear. Fidget. Twitch. Lie. Say: “I mean, yes.”

He nods. Looks away. Says nothing.

Cut up an old calendar into week-long strips. Place them around your kitchen floor, a

sort of bar graph on the linoleum, representing the number of weeks you have been a

mistress: thirteen. Put X’s through all the national holidays.

Go out for a walk in the cold. Three little girls hanging out on the stoop are laughing

and calling to strange men on the street. “Hi! Hi, Mister!” Step around them. Think:

They have never had orgasms.

A blonde woman in barrettes passes you in stockinged feet, holding her shoes.

There are things you have to tell him.


1. This affair is demeaning.

2. Violates decency. Am I just some scampish tart, some tartish scamp?

3. No emotional support here.

4. Why do you never say “I love you” or “Stay in my arms forever my little tadpole”

or “Your eyes set me on fire my sweet nubkin”?

The next time he phones, he says: “I was having a dream about you and suddenly I

woke up with a jerk and felt very uneasy.”

Say: “Yeah, I hate to wake up with jerks.”

He laughs, smooth, beautiful, and tenor, making you feel warm inside of your bones.

And it hits you; maybe it all boils down to this: people will do anything, anything, for a

really nice laugh.

Don’t lose your resolve. Fumble for your list. Sputter things out as convincingly as


Say: “I suffer indignities at your hands. And agonies of duh feet. I don’t know why I

joke. I hurt.”

“That is why.”


“That is why.”

“But you don’t really care.” Wince. It sounds pitiful.

“But I do.”

For some reason this leaves you dumbfounded.

He continues: “You know my situation … or maybe you don’t.” Pause. “What can I do,

Charlene? Stand on my goddamned head?”

Whisper: “Please. Stand on your goddamned head.”

“It is ten o’clock,” he says. “I’m coming over. We need to talk.”

What he has to tell you is that Patricia is not his wife. He is separated from his wife;

her name is Carrie. You think of a joke you heard once: What do you call a woman who

marries a man with no arms and no legs? Carrie. Patricia is the woman he lives with.

“You mean, I’m just another one of the fucking gang?”

He looks at you, puzzled. “Charlene, what I’ve always admired about you, right from

when I first met you, is your strength, your independence.”

Say: “That line is old as boots.”

Tell him not to smoke in your apartment. Tell him to get out.

At first he protests. But slowly, slowly, he leaves, pulling up the collar on his

expensive beige raincoat, like an old and haggard Robert Culp.

Slam the door like Bette Davis.

Love drains from you, takes with it much of your blood sugar and water weight. You

are like a house slowly losing its electricity, the fans slowing, the lights dimming and

flickering; the clocks stop and go and stop.

At Karma-Kola the days are peg-legged and aimless, collapsing into one another with

the comic tedium of old clowns, nowhere fast.

In April you get a raise. Celebrate by taking Hilda to lunch at the Plaza.

Write for applications to graduate schools.

Send Mark the banker a birthday card.

Take long walks at night in the cold. The blonde in barrettes scuttles timelessly by

you, still carrying her shoes. She has cut her hair.

He calls you occasionally at the office to ask how you are. You doodle numbers and

curlicues on the corners of the Rolodex cards. Fiddle with your Phi Beta Kappa key.

Stare out the window. You always, always, say: “Fine.