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© 2005 - 2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas.

 

She looked at him as if she found the line peculiar or she didn’t quite know what it meant or something else but she didn’t smile or laugh, and he said “Just trying to be funny.  I don’t know why I feel I always have to crack you up.”  She said why would he want to? and reached past him and pressed the button for the ground floor and the elevator started moving—and he said something like “Before you think I’m entirely ridiculous or nuts—I’m not, the second one, anyway—let me in as adroit a manner as I can manage under the circumstances, tell you why.”  He said that what he was about to say must have been obvious to her at the party.  He’d wanted to introduce himself to her since she got there but, and these were his exact words,  “I didn’t have the guts.”  Also, “and believe me, none of this is a line,” she was always talking to someone or several people and looking as if she was having a good time and he didn’t want to butt in.  He must have made her uncomfortable, though, staring at her so much, and he apologizes for that.  They had to have been out of the elevator by now and might have been walking to the outside door.  She said his staring, as he called it, wasn’t obvious to her because she doesn’t remember seeing him at the party, and he said “Oh, you had to have, at least my shirt,” and opened his coat.  “You see, I didn’t know it was going to be so formal an event.”  His shirt was a long-sleeved rugby type, blue and yellow stripes with a white opened-neck collar.  “I thought it was going to be a small informal get-together of friends Pati made at Yaddo this summer.  I thought that because the day we left there, that’s what she said she was going to do this fall.  I didn’t see anybody from Yaddo there.  But I didn’t know she knew so many well-known painters and writers and high-powered critics and book editors and the like.  I didn’t get to meet any of them but overheard people saying they were there and a couple of them I recognized.  In fact, I was talking briefly with some writer a few years younger than I, who cut me off and said ‘Excuse me, so-and-so publishing big-shot just came in and I was told I should meet him.’  What a schmuck.”  “He was just trying to push himself a little; that’s not so bad.  But what I find curious is that I still have no recollection of you at the party.”  He remembers she took a while buttoning her coat and wrapping her muffler or scarf around her neck and putting on her gloves before they went outside.  “Oh, I was there, all right,” he said.  “I know, but what I’m saying,” she said, or at least something like this, “is that I think I would have remembered you, as you said, from your shirt.  I don’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable, either—I certainly hope I’m not; your shirt is just fine, and that it has long sleeves, even better for a late-fall party—but it does stand out in its own way and would have contrasted with all the jackets and ties and dress shirts.  Were we ever in the same room together?”  and he said “Oh, yeah.  And by the way, you were very diplomatic just now and I don’t at all feel uncomfortable in what you said.  At first I felt a bit odd at the party in this shirt, but I quickly got over it.  But I even got so close to you in a couple of rooms—I’m afraid to even admit this bit of snooping, but here goes; I’ve just about told you everything else except, maybe, how surprised and disappointed I was when I saw you were suddenly gone from the party—that I…where was I?  That I was able to see—that’s it—that you only half-finished your glass of red wine and left it on a coaster on a credenza and that you seemed to favor the smoked salmon and carrot sticks, but with no dip on them, of all the hors d’oeuvres and crudités on the food table.  I also like carrot sticks, but with the dip.  Anyway--“ They had to be outside by now because he said something like “So, here we are.  Which way you going?  I live on the Upper West Side and was going to take the Broadway train.”  “So do I,” she said, “ — Upper Upper.  But I’m taking the Lexington Avenue line to meet someone on the Upper East Side.”  “Someone important?” and she said “If you mean in my life, a good friend.”  “Which subway station, the one on Astor Place?”  “There’s a closer one near Prince.  I know how to find it from here.”  “Would you mind if I walked you to the subway?” and she said “It isn’t necessary and would take you too far out of your way.   And the streets down here on weekends are always crowded at this time, so I feel perfectly safe going alone.”  “No, I’m sure you do.  It’s just I only suggested it because I’ve enjoyed talking to you and I’d like to—you must’ve known that was eventually coming—for us to meet again.  And not meet accidentally, at a future Pati party, let’s say, but intentionally.  Willingly.  Something.  Prearranged.  For coffee.  Would that be okay with you?  You can check with Pati first to see what she thinks of me.  But she wouldn’t have invited me to her party—the only acquaintance from Yaddo there, as far as I saw, though maybe the others couldn’t make it—if she thought poorly of me.  Oh, I don’t know what I’m saying.  I’ve killed it, haven’t I?”  “Why do you say that?” and he said “Because I’m just bumbling, bumbling.”  “Really, you’re too tough on yourself.  Sure, we can always meet for coffee one afternoon when I’m not teaching or busy with something else and you’re also free.”  “Afternoons are good.  Mornings, too.  I’m pretty much unemployed now except for my writing and what I make off of it, so I can meet anytime.  It’s easy, and I don’t mind, breaking up my workday, because I can easily get back to it and usually with fresh ideas and better ways of saying what I was working on that I wouldn’t’ve had if I just continued writing without that break.  I don’t know if that was clear, what I said, but I call them, these breaks, constructive interruptions.  Anyway, I’m holding you up.  So, great, we’ll meet.  How should we arrange it?”  and she said “Call, since I won’t know till I get home what my schedule’s like the next few weeks other than for my classes and office hours.”  She gave her last name and the spelling of it and said he doesn’t need her address to find her in the Manhattan phone book since she’s the only Gwendolyn Liederman in it.  “Nice to meet you, Martin.  You go by Martin and not Marty, am I right?”  “Always Martin.  Kids called me Marty when I was young and I never liked it.  I always pictured this tubby shlub, which I never was.  Otherwise, I’m not so formal.  Then I’ll call you, Gwendolyn.  ‘Gwendolyn’ and not ‘Gwen’?  They’re both nice.”  “’Gwen’s’ fine,” she said, “although I like Gwendolyn better.  But either.  Goodnight.”  She put her hand out, he shook it and she started for the Prince Street station. 

 

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How They Met by Stephen Dixon