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“As in ‘fellow partyleaver,’ one of the first things I said to you when we met at the elevator after leaving Pati’s party.  Also said just to impress you?”   She said “I think I didn’t understand what you meant with that leaver but didn’t want to question you on it, so I let it go.  Now I see what you were getting at —partygoer, partyleaver’; I can be slow—and I’d say it’s so-so to maybe a-little-more-than-that clever.  Anyway, original.  I’m not aware of anyone else who’s used it.  So you are, to the best of the little I know, a coiner.”  For a while after that, when he called her, he’d say “Hi, it’s your coiner calling.”  Or just “It’s the coiner” or “your coiner” and once or twice “your coiner calling from a corner,” till she stopped laughing at any line with “coiner” in it, so he stopped using it.  Anyway, sixth floor, after he mentioned Yaddo and got no verbal response and he doesn’t think any visual reaction to it either, “So, I assume that, like Pati, you went or still go to Columbia for your doctorate?” and she said yes.  “Went? Go?” and she said “Went, although I’m still very much there.”  “So you’re not completely done with it?  Or you are—orals, dissertation, defense of it, if the orals and defense aren’t the same thing,” and she said “They’re not, and I am done with them.”  “Literature, also, like Pati?” and she said “Same language but literature of a different century.”  “What are you doing with it? Or maybe I should say, why are you still at Columbia, if that’s not too personal a question?”  “I’m doing a post-doc and also teaching a Humanities course as part of their Great Books program.”  “That should be interesting,” he said.  “And a feather in your cap and gown, I guess, and no doubt a terrific addition to your vita for a possible job there or somewhere else, though I’m not sure what a post-doc is.”  “It’s short for post-doctorate,” and he said “No, that my little pea brain figured out.  But it’s not another degree, is it?” and she said no.  “So what was your dissertation on?  And it is a dissertation for your PhD. Not a thesis, right?” and she said yes and gave the title of it and he said something like “You’re not going to believe this, though I don’t see why not, but he’s just about my favorite nineteenth century fiction writer.  Maybe favorite of any kind of writer and of all centuries and millenniums, not counting whichever one Homer was in.  Though he only wrote, if we can call it that, two books while your guy filled up volumes and everything I’ve read of his shines,” and she said “You of course know he extended into the twentieth century, though not by much, but is considered primarily a late nineteenth century writer.”  “Right,” he said, “the late great stuff,” and gave a couple of titles.  She smiled, not, it seemed, at what he’d said but as if that was to be the end of their conversation, and turned to face the elevator.  “Tell me,” he said, “and if I’m talking too much or you don’t want to talk, tell me that too, but have you been waiting long? I mean, more than the three minutes or so we’ve been standing here?”  “Not that long.”  “So what should we think, the elevator’s broken or stuck?  It was working fine when I got to the party. I’d say it’s not working and that if it doesn’t come in the next minute we should think about walking downstairs.  It’s only five flights.”  “You walk,” she said, “I don’t mind waiting.  And I’m sure it’s being held up because someone’s loading or unloading a lot of things off it and that it’ll eventually come.  Besides, I don’t like those stairs.”  He said “Why, what’s wrong with them?” and she said “They’re unusually long and insufficiently lit and also a bit creepy.  And the one time I walked down—not because the elevator didn’t come—I couldn’t get out on either the ground or second floor.” “ In that case you’re right, and I’m glad you warned me.  But it’d seem locking those doors would be against some fire regulation.”  “I don’t know if they were locked or, as someone explained to me, it had something to do with humidity and air pressure.  But I thought the same thing about a fire regulation being violated and told Pati and she said it’s happened to her too, more than once.”  “Someone ought to complain, then, in case there is a fire or something like that,” and she said “Pati did, several times, she said, and the situation hadn’t been corrected when I walked down the stairs, so you can see why I don’t want to take the chance.”  “I’ll be with you,” and she said “No thanks.”  “I was just kidding, of course,” and she said “About what?”  “Nothing. I thought I might have sounded pushy,” and she said “I didn’t think so.  You were trying to be helpful.  Thank you.”  The conversation went something like that.  More he talked to her, more he knew he didn’t want to leave her without getting her phone number and some assurance she’d meet him sometime for coffee or a drink.  He still didn’t know if she was married or engaged or had a steady boyfriend.  She had gloves on now but at the party he got close enough to her to see she wore no ring on either hand.  He remembers thinking at the elevator What a beautiful voice she has, clear and soft, and a lovely face and good figure.  And she speaks so well, he thought, and is obviously very smart and seems gracious and he likes what she does: teaching and getting a Ph.D. in literature and at Columbia.  They’d have lots to talk about if they started seeing each other.  He was never a scholar but he did like to talk about books and writers and he often read literary criticism of novels and stories he’d recently finished but felt there was more to them than he got and wanted somebody else’s take on them.  He could reread her writer or read some of the work he hadn’t read or she recommended and what she thought were the best translations of it, and later talk about it with her.  He liked the way she smiled and laughed at the party—not loud, and the smile warm and genuine, and the intelligent look she had when she seemed to be in a serious conversation.  She usually had a guy or two talking to her and one time three to four men surrounding her, each, it seemed, vying for her attention.  That made him think that maybe there wasn’t one particular guy in her life, but of course, he thought, it could be that her husband or boyfriend hadn’t come to the party.  She was the beauty there, that’s for sure.  He remembers when she came in—alone, took her coat and hat off in the foyer, probably her gloves too, and went in back with them and, he assumes put them with most of the other coats and where his was too, on Pati’s bed. 

 

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How They Met by Stephen Dixon