Polly mixed a pitcher of grasshoppers while "The Little Drummer Boy" played over and over in the apartment next door.

"A grasshopper walks into a bar," she said. "The bartender looks at the grasshopper and says, 'Hey, there's a drink named after you.' The grasshopper says, 'You gotta be kidding. You got a drink called Ralph?'"

She laughed and I laughed to hear her laugh. She was thirty then and I was seventeen and every kind of virgin, but she didn't want to drink alone and I wanted to please her, so we made a deal. For every grasshopper I drank, she'd catalogue her love life from girlhood to now.

After my fourth, she asked, "What's the grossest thing in the world?"

I didn't know.

"I'll tell you," she said. "The grossest thing is the boyfriend's old girlfriend."


"He was always going on about her breasts. He called them significant. Her significant tits. I mean, what are these?" She raised her arms and shimmied, careful not to spill. "Insignificant? These babies?" She took a sip. "He was a sad sort of guy. You'd've thought it would get him around the draft. Not that he was crazy or anything. But maybe a psychiatrist's letter, some phone calls. He was—well, funny."


"Oh, big yucks. Yucks out to here."

"But you said he was sad."

"He was funny and sad. Tragic-comic. Chaplinesque. You laugh, you cry." She poured herself another. "He shaved off his beard and mailed it to me all the way from Vietnam. It was wiry and red and weighed 2.5 ounces. Very van Gogh."

"What was your song?"

"Our song?"

"You know. Your 'they're playing our song' song."

"Shit, Lionel. I don't know."

I tapped my glass. "Hit me."

Delighted, she refilled it. "Have you ever noticed how you always sit over there while I sit over here?" Before I could answer, she said, "And you never say my name. You sit over there, like fucking Katherine Hepburn aboard the fucking African Queen, and you never—"

I sat beside her. Lights on the Christmas tree cast a forest of shadows over the walls and ceiling, over us.

"Tell me something, Polly."

"Tell you what?"

"Anything. Just tell."

"Then ask," she said. "Anything you want, anything at all."

"Did he go back to her?"


"What's-his-name. Did he go back to the girlfriend with the significant—"

"Did he go back to her?" Her voice was hard. "He didn't go back to anybody. He died, stupid."

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir pa-rum-pum-pum-pummed on the other side of the wall. Polly walked to the bathroom.

"'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face'" she said.


"Roberta Flack. They played it a lot back then. If you want, you can say that was our song."

"Whose song?"

She switched on the bathroom light. "I have to pee now. When I come out, I don't want you here." She shut the door and that was the last time I saw Polly.