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Vol. 2, No. 1

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing
by Melissa Bank

~

The day after Sophie gets back from Italy, we meet for coffee at a café in the Village. Before she tells me about her honeymoon, she asks what's going on with Robert.
      I tell her that I don't know. "I think maybe he's seeing someone else."
      She says, "What?"
      "I saw him with that statue from your wedding," I say. "Apollinaire--the goddess of NASA."
      "Apple's a lesbian, okay?" she says. "Besides, he's in love with you. The question is, are you in love with him?"
      I nod.
      "So, why are you making him so crazy?" she says. "He's not even sure you like him."
      I hesitate before breaking the vow Don't talk to non-guide girls about the guide! Then I tell her everything. For a second she looks at me like I'm someone she used to know. "Are you serious?"
      "I know how it sounds," I say. I try to think how to explain. I borrow Donna's swimming-vs.-fishing analogy. "I realized I didn't know anything about men."
      She says, "You didn't know about manipulation."
      I say, "Tell me I haven't wrecked every relationship I've ever been in."
      She says something about the unworthiness of my ex-boyfriends.
      "I don't want to wreck it with Robert," I say.
      "You won't," she says, "if you cut this shit out."
      I admit that I don't think the book is all wrong.
      "What's it right about?" she says.
      "Well," I say. "Max made the first move, right?"
      "Right," she says. "Max is a slut."
      "And he pursued you," I say. "You didn't even return his calls."
      "I thought he was insane," she says.
      I persist. "And he said, `I love you' first."
      "On our first date," she says. "He's like you--or how you used to be--"
      I say, "Well those are all vows from the book."
      "Vows?" She shakes her head. "You need deprogramming."
      She bums a cigarette from our waitress, and I remember to ask her why she warned me about Robert.
      She hesitates. "I thought of him as a commitment-phobe. But now I'm more worried about you. You have to stop reading that book."
      "I haven't read it in weeks," I say. "I internalized it--you know how susceptible I am." I remind her of the time I borrowed an ancient typing manual from the library; I kept typing a practice exercise about the importance of good grooming in job interviews. I say, "Every time I go on one I still think `Neatly combed hair and clean fingernails give a potential employer--'"
      She interrupts me. "You need an antidote." She suggests Simone de Beauvoir.

 

~

I'm reading The Second Sex when Faith says, "My husband was a total commitment-phobe!"
      "Really?" Bonnie says.
      "Lloyd didn't have a girlfriend the whole four years he was in medical school."
      I say, "Maybe he was studying all of the time."
      "Yeah," she says, "studying pussy."
      Bonnie's nose wrinkles. "Faith!"
      "The point is," Faith says, "the guide is about getting commitment-phobes to commit."
      "I'm trying to read," I say.
      "Did you ever read her letters to Sartre?" Faith says. "Pathetic."
      I ignore her.
      She says, "You'll notice that she never became Madame Sartre."
      "Look," I say, "I'm not not thinking about marriage anymore. I just want to be with Robert."
      "You sound just like Simone," Faith says.

 

~

Friday, Robert takes me to dinner at the Time Café, a hipster restaurant, and we're seated across from a table of models.
      He doesn't even seem to notice them, and against Faith's protests, I tell him with my eyes how I feel.
      I can see he's surprised--he practically says, "Me?"
      I say, "You."
      "Me, what?" he says.
      I say, "Will you make love to me after dinner?"
      Bonnie says, "I can't believe you."
      Faith gets the waitress and orders a double martini.
      Robert moves the table and comes over to me on the sofa, and we kiss and don't stop until our salads come.
      He eats his with theatrical speed. "Let's take Jezebel and go to the country tomorrow."
      "Yes," I say.
      Robert tells me that Apple invited us to her girlfriend's place in Lambertville, and all he has to do is call them.
      Bonnie says, "You have a date tomorrow, kiddo."
      I taste the vinegar in my salad.
      Once our plates are cleared, I excuse myself and go to the phone.
      I dial Information. I feel bad canceling on Mac, but when the operator asks, "What listing, please?" I feel even worse. I don't know where he's staying.
      During dinner I try to convince myself that I could just not show up for the date. But I know I'm incapable of this.
      "Robert," I say finally, closing my eyes. "I can't go away with you."
      "Why?" he says.
      I can't make my mouth form the words. I start to. I say, "I have..." and Robert says, "You have a date."
      He shakes his head for a minute. Then he signals for the waitress. While he signs the credit-card slip, I blather on about how the guy is from Japan, and I would cancel but I don't know--he interrupts me with a look.
      "Two stops," he says to the cabdriver.
      Faith says, "Nice going."

 

~

In the morning, I call Robert, but his phone rings and rings. I take Jezebel to the dog run at Madison Square Park. It is the first true day of summer, but the clear sky and strong sun make New York seem gritty.
      Even the sight of Jezebel prancing around doesn't cheer me up. I feel like the old whiny beagle none of the dogs will play with.
      "I know how hard this is," Faith says. "But if Robert is so easily discouraged, he's not right for you anyway."
      I say, "If Robert did this to me, I'd try to forget about him."
      "You're putting yourself in his place," Faith says.
      "But you're not Robert!" Bonnie says. "You're not a man!"
      "I'm a dog," I say, "and you're trying to make me into a cat."

 

~

I wash my hair. Dry it. I put on a dress and sandals. Drop lipstick in my bag. I do it all as perfunctorily as if I were preparing for an appointment with my accountant.
      Bonnie says, "Look at your nails! You could repot a geranium with what's under there."
      "What is it with you people and nails?" I say irritably.
      I put on my bicycle helmet.
      "You're not riding your bicycle," Bonnie says. "He'll think you're a weirdo."
      "I am a weirdo, Bonnie."
      "Well," she says, "you don't have to wear it on your sleeve or whatever."
      I see Mac before he sees me. He's tall with broad shoulders and wavy blond hair, aristocratic in a blue blazer and white shirt. His strange features--beady eyes, thin lips, and pointy chin--somehow conspire to make him attractive, though I feel none of the electricity of yesteryear.
      "Jane Rosenal," he says, and as he kisses my cheek, I realize that for all of our flirting we never kissed.
      He looks down at my helmet. "Bicycle?"
      "Yup," I say.
      "Isn't it dangerous?" he says.
      I nod.
      "Do you mind eating outside?" he asks.
      We follow the maítre d' upstairs to an exquisite roof garden with candles and flowers, flowers everywhere. It's breezy and the sky is full of billowy clouds, and for a moment I am not sorry to be here. Then I remember Robert and the cost of this dinner.
      "Do you want a bottle of wine?" Mac asks.
      "I think I'll have a drink-drink," I say, and when the waiter comes I order a martini. Mac says he'll have the same.
      "So," he says and begins to ask the questions you'd expect. He speaks and then I do, his turn then mine; it's less like a conversation than a transatlantic call.
      He says that he lives in a residence hotel for businessmen, which is convenient and luxurious; and it isn't until he adds, "Home, sweet residence hotel, I guess," that I realize he's funny, dry, and deadpan, his own straight man.
      "By the way," he says, "you can call me Mac if you want to, but I go by William now."
      I say, "I go by Princess Jane. If we get to know each other better, I may let you call me just Princess."
      He laughs. "That's what I remember about you," he says. "You were so funny."
      "See?" I say to Bonnie and Faith.
      "And it only took him fifteen years to call," Faith says.

 

~

After two martinis and a bottle of wine with dinner, I realize I better order coffee if I want to walk down the steps.
      During dessert, Mac asks if he can call me Princess, and I say, "Yes, William."
      He tells me that he plans to come back from Asia before long; he wants to teach in Morristown, New Jersey, the horsy suburb where he grew up.
      "What would you teach?" I ask.
      "Anything but gym," he says. "What about you, Princess? Can you see yourself growing old in the suburbs?"
      I know what he's asking, and the Faith and Bonnie in me is glad to hear it. But I say, "Only if it's a choice between the suburbs and setting myself on fire."
      Outside, he suggests we go somewhere to get a drink or hear music.
      "No, thank you," I say. I tell him that I have to walk my bicycle, and if I start now I'll just make it home before sunrise.
      "Can I kiss you?" he asks.
      I shake my head. I'm about to say that my lips are spoken for, but with a pang I realize that they are not. I say, "You can unlock me," and I hand him the key.
      He unlocks my bicycle, and says, "We'll put it in a cab."
      He hails one, and manages to get my bicycle into the trunk.
      I get in the cab and thank him for dinner. He nods. "My pleasure."
      I say, "You have a nice personality." Then I give the driver my address.

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