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Vol. 3, No. 2

The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine
by Melissa Bank

IV

Mimi came by my office and asked if I was free for lunch, and I said, "Sure." She was in a girlsy-whirlsy mood, and linked arms with me walking to the restaurant.
    I felt like I was going to have a great time with her, and I was surprised when I didn't.
    She wanted to talk about men--"boys," she called them, regardless of age. All the ones in her life seemed to be in love with her, except maybe her husband. He loved her so much that he hated her.
    She told me that she'd recently had dinner with her second husband, a Southerner, who still called her "Sugarpie." Just as sweet was the author who'd taken her to the Yankees game last night; she hoped he'd stop by the office today, so I could meet him.
    Archie had told me I could probably learn a lot from Mimi, and I wanted to. I looked at her eyebrows; how did she get them so perfect?
    I nodded as she spoke, which was all that was required, until she asked me if I was seeing anyone. I said that I was, and when she said, "Who?" I could tell that she already knew. Even so, when I told her, I felt like I'd sold something I should've kept.
    After lunch, she said that she was getting her hair colored and wouldn't be coming back to the office.
    I said, "Your hair is dyed?"
    "Colored," she said. "Never say dye."

 

~

Following Archie's advice, I had lunch with an agent I liked. The agent had once worked with Mimi and sang her nickname, "Me-Me-Me-Me."
    It was almost 3:00 when I got back. There was a note on my chair from Mimi: "Come visit."
    When I went to her office, she didn't offer her perfume.
    "Sorry I'm late," I said. "I had lunch with an agent."
    Her voice was like dry ice. "If you're going to be late, just let me know, okay?"
    "Sure," I said, which came out shir; around her I sometimes developed a no-running-water Appalachian accent.
    She said, "There's a novel Dorrie acquired that I want you to edit, Jane."
    I'd edited a dozen novels by then, but knew I was supposed to be excited and tried to act like I was.
    She said, "No one's expecting you to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."
    I said, "So, you're expecting a vinyl purse?"
    She said, "Just make it the best sow's ear it can be."

 

~

I thought the novel was silk as it was. But knowing how Mimi felt about it, I spent a whole week editing the first chapter. Before I went on to the second, I decided to show it to Archie.
    He told me that I was hyperediting, treating it as though it was a test.
    "It is a test," I said.
    "You're thinking about Mimi," he said. "Think about... " he turned to the title page, "Mr. Putterman."
    As soon as he said it, I knew that he was right and I was glad I'd asked him. I beamed at him.
    "You love me," he said. "Don't even try to deny it."

 

~

I got lost thinking about Mr. Putterman; I didn't delete a comma without picturing his reaction and asking myself if it was necessary. I averaged about a page an hour, and the next time I looked at my watch, I saw that I was already forty-five minutes late to meet Archie.
    I arrived at the restaurant, saying, "Sorry, sorry, sorry."
    Archie didn't seem annoyed. "I was just beginning to worry," he said. "Let's get you something to eat."
    Later, though, in bed, he said, "Are you asleep?"
    "I was," I said, our standard joke.
    "You don't want to be late, honey." He smoothed my hair. "It tells the people you care about that they can't count on you. That's not the message you want to give--especially now, with your dad sick."
    "You're right," I said. I asked him to help me.
    "Just think about the person you're affecting," he said. "Think about Mr. Putterman."

 

~

I met Sophie at Tortilla Flats, where my ex-boyfriend Jamie worked as a bartender--just while he decided whether to open a restaurant of his own, direct movies, or apply to medical school again. We were friends now, though I hadn't seen him since I'd gone back to Archie. When I told him I had, his face didn't change. Then he looked at Sophie with an expression that said, Look out for her. And she shrugged, I'm doing the best I can.
    At the table, she and I talked about everything but Archie until our second round of margaritas.
    "Since you haven't brought up sex," she said, "I'm assuming there hasn't been a miraculous improvement."
    I said, "It doesn't feel like a problem the way it used to."
    "That is a problem," she said.

 

~

Archie and I went up to his farmhouse late Friday night. I was sleepy, but I stayed awake to talk to him while he drove. He didn't ask me to play the old car games--Capitals, Presidents, Twenty Questions, or Ghost--which collectively revealed my lack of knowledge on every subject.
    Instead, he asked quizlike questions about my father: What trait I admired most in him (equanimity); what expression he'd said to me most while I was growing up ("Don't take the easy way out, Janie"); what my earliest memory of him was (sitting on his shoulders during a parade).
    When Archie said, "We'll have our own little girl one day," my eyes went wide in the dark.

 

~

We woke up to chilly rain. We ate breakfast at the diner and then wandered around town. I went into the Fish 'n' Tackle, thinking I'd make earrings out of lures, but they were all too shiny or feathery, too lurey.
    In the afternoon, Archie lit a fire. I read Mr. Putterman. He read Mickey's new book. By early evening, we were both restless.
    He said, "Why don't we go out for dinner and a movie?"
    I said, "Methinks a better plan was never laid."
    He suggested asking Caldwell, his professor friend, to join us. I made a face.
    "You look like Elizabeth when she was thirteen years old," he said.
    I said, "Caldwell seems about 113."
    "Don't be ageist," he said.
    "He has a bad personality," I said. "He interrupts."
    "He's fascinating if you get him talking about Fitzgerald," Archie said. "He wrote the best book on Scott in the field."
    I said, "I'll read it."
    He shook his head.
    "He never asks me questions," I said. "It's like he can't even see me. I'm just your young thing. I'm just the blurry young person sitting across the table."
    He kissed me and said, "You are a blurry young person."

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