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Vol. 2, No. 1

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing
by Melissa Bank

~

No messages on the machine. I take Jezebel out and walk her to Robert's building. I look up at the windows and try to guess which are his.
      "Go home, pumpkin," Bonnie says.
      I sit on the stoop. Jezebel maneuvers herself so she can lie beside me, and puts her head on my lap.
      To the tune of "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" I whisper, "Why can't a man be more like a poodle?"
      "You've had too much to drink," Faith says. "If you want to, you can call him in the morning."
      I say, "You're just saying that so I'll go home."

 

~

In the morning, there's still no answer at Robert's.
      In the afternoon, when the phone rings I run for it. "Princess?" Mac says. He tells me he had a great time.
      "Same here," I say.
      After we hang up, Bonnie pats my knee. "Isn't it nice just to hear the phone ring?"

 

~

I picture Robert in the country with Apollinaire and her girlfriend. "Robert, please," she's saying. "The woman's in advertising for Christ's sake."
      Maybe they've invited a date for Robert, a straight, statuesque Oscar nominee.
      "You're losing it!" Bonnie says. "You're the one who had the date!"
      In the evening, I call Robert again, and this time he picks up the phone.
      I say, "Aren't you supposed to be stalking me?"
      "I went away," he says, and his voice is flat.
      I ask if he'll meet me at the outdoor café between our apartments, and he agrees.
      After we hang up, I go to the mirror, and Bonnie hands me my lipstick. Faith sits on the ledge of the tub and reaches for an emery board. She files her nails, stops and looks up at me. "This is the deciding moment in the hunt," she says.
      "The hunt!" I say. "This is New York--nobody hunts!"
      "You don't have to get snappy," Bonnie says. "It's just an analogy."
      "No more hunting or fishing," I say.
      Faith says, "Just being yourself, is that it?"
      "No!" Bonnie says, frowning so hard her dimples show.
      "Yes," I say.
      "You're going to lose him, Jane," Faith says.
      "I won't."
      "Yes," Faith says. "You will."
      "Okay, but I'll lose him my way," I say.
      "That's the spirit," Faith says.
      I close my eyes. "I want you to go now."
      Faith says, "We're already gone," and when I open my eyes they are. The bathroom is suddenly empty and quiet. I am on my own.

 

~

 
      At the café Robert is sitting outside, looking at the menu.
      He half rises and kisses my cheek, as though we've already broken up and are starting a friendship, which throws me.
      "How are you?" I say.
      "Fine," he says. "You?"
      I nod.
      We both order red wine. I say, "Where'd you go?"
      He doesn't answer right away. "I went to New Jersey. To my parents' house," he says, sounding like he wishes he could say any place else.
      "How was it?" I say.
      "The usual," he says. "I watered the lawn, argued with my father, regressed, and aged."
      I smile, which he doesn't seem to see.
      Our wine comes, and he takes a sip and then another.
      "Your mouth's purple," I say.
      "Listen," he says. "This isn't going to work out."
      "No?" I say.
      He shakes his head and looks down at Jezebel, who lifts her head to be scratched, and he reaches down.
      "Don't pet my dog," I say. "If we're breaking up, you can't touch either of us."
      "We can't break up," he says. "You're going out with other people."
      "Other person," I say. "From Japan," I add, as though it proves something.
      "Whatever," he says.
      I say, "I don't want to go out with anyone else." I feel relieved saying these words, until I see that they have no effect on him.
      "It's not that," he says.
      "What is it?"
      He takes a deep breath. "I fell in love with someone else," he says.
      "Oh," I say. "Well." I once heard someone describe jealousy as ice water coursing through your veins, but in mine it's more like vomit.
      "It's not that you're not great--you are great," he says. "I just thought you were different."
      "What do you mean?" I say.
      He says, "At the wedding, you seemed different from..." he hesitates "from who you turned out to be."
      It takes me a second to realize--he means he fell in love with me! Then I realize he also means he fell out of love with me.
      My voice is so low that even I can't hear it when I say, "Who did I turn out to be?" I have to repeat myself.
      He shakes his head; I see that he doesn't want to hurt me, which hurts even more. "No," I say, "really, I want to know who I turned out to be."
      "Like someone from my high school," he says.
      I think of Faith and Bonnie in gym.
      "Or I felt like I was in high school and I was going after you," he says. "Like I had to earn you or win you or something."
      "Yeah," I say.
      "We were dating," he says. "I don't even know how to date."
      "But I don't either," I say.
      He doesn't react. He can't hear me anymore; he's decided who I am, and that I am not for him.
      "I know I'm weird," he says, "but for me our relationship started when I met you at the wedding."
      "Same," I say.
      "You're not the same, though, Jane," he says, and his voice is careful again. "You let me know that I had to ask you out, with notice, for dates. Datey dates."
      "Datey dates," I say, though he has no way of knowing this is an expression I use myself.
      "It's not that you did anything wrong," he says. "I mean, you're the normal one."
      "I am not normal," I say to myself.
      "I'm sorry," he says, and he means it.
      "Who did you think I was?" I say. "At the wedding."
      He shakes his head.
      "Tell me," I say.
      He looks at me as though I'm a good friend, and he lets himself reminisce about the person he was in love with. "You were really funny and smart and open," he says. "You were out there."
      "I was out there," I say.
      His voice is sad. "Yup."
      "Listen," I say. He's sympathetic but I can tell he's wondering how long this will take, and I have to fight myself not to say good-bye and stand. "I got scared," I say.
      He seems to hear me, but I don't know which me--maybe just the friend he hopes I will turn out to be.
      "I felt the way you did at the wedding," I say. "But I'm bad at men."
      He laughs for the first time in a long while.
      "You get all these voices about what a woman is supposed to be like--you know, feminine." I do not want to continue. "And I've spent my whole life trying not to hear them. But . . ." I steel myself to go on, "I wanted to be with you so much that I listened."
      He nods, slowly, and I can tell he's starting to see me, the me he thought I was and am.
      Still, it takes all of my courage to say, "Show me your cartoons."
      On the way to his apartment, I tell him that he can hold Jezebel's leash if he wants to, and he does.
      I follow him up the steps to his building, climbing over the ghost of me from last night, up to his apartment on the top floor. Jezebel and I wait outside while he closes the cat in his bedroom. Then he leads us to his study, which has big dormer windows, all of them open, facing the backyard. He asks if I want a glass of wine, and I say yes.
      One wall is covered with taped-up cartoons in black ink and watercolor.
      I find the gallery of scents from my dog museum. Sea horses bobbing. I see cartoon him up there pining for cartoon me.
      He hands me my wine. And I tell him that his cartoons are beautiful and funny and sad and true.
      He smiles.
      I ask him what else the review of his dreams says about him. He likes this question. He thinks. Then he says, "Robert Wexler is a goofball in search of truth."
      I think, I'm a truthball in search of goof, and I realize that I can say whatever I want now. And I do.
      Instead of laughing, he pulls me in. We kiss, we kiss, we kiss, in front of Jezebel and all the cartoons. There is no stopping now. Both of us are hunter and prey, fisher and fish. We are the surf'n'turf special with fries and slaw. We are just two mayflies mating on a summer night.

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