My best friend is getting married. Her wedding is only two weeks away, and I still don't have a dress to wear. In desperation, I decide to go to Loehmann's in the Bronx. My friend Donna offers to come with me, saying she needs a bathing suit, but I know a mercy mission when I see one.
"It might be easier if you were bringing a date," Donna says in the car, on the Major Deegan Expressway. "But maybe you'll meet somebody."
When I don't answer, she goes on. "Who was the last guy you felt like you could bring to a wedding?"
I know she's not asking a question as much as trying to broach the subject of my unsocial life. But I say, "That French guy I went out with."
"I forgot about him," she says. "What was his name again?"
"Fuckface," I say.
"That's right," she says.
At the entrance to the store, we separate and plan to meet in an hour. I'm an expert shopper, discerning fabric content by touch, identifying couture at a glance. Here at Loehmann's, on Broadway at 237th Street, I'm in my element--Margaret Mead observing the coming of age in Samoa, Aretha Franklin demanding R-E-S-P-E-C-T in Motor City.
Even so, I search for a whole hour without finding a single maybe, until I see it, my perfect dress, a black Armani sheath--but only in an ant-sized 2 and a spider 4.
I think, A smarter woman than I am bought my 10 at Saks or Barneys weeks ago, knowing it would never find its way to Loehmann's. She knew her dress when she saw it and didn't hesitate. That woman is zipping up her sheath right now, on her way to meet the man she loves.
But in the communal fitting room, Donna hands me the black Armani sheath in a 10--the one that almost got away. I take this as an omen.
Is the dress perfect? It is so perfect.
I say, "You're my fairy godshopper," and sit on the fitting-room bench, holding the sheath in my arms while Donna tries on bathing suits. She adjusts the straps of a chocolate maillot and frowns at herself in the mirror. She doesn't know how beautiful she is, especially her sultry, heavy-lidded eyes; she says people stop her on the street and tell her to get some rest.
"No wonder I'm single," she says to the mirror. "Even I don't want to get into bed with these thighs."
I say that getting married isn't like winning the Miss America Pageant; it doesn't all come down to the bathing suit competition.
"What do you think it comes down to?" she says.
I say, "Baton twirling."
Afterward, we celebrate our purchases over turkey burgers at the Riverdale Diner. In a put-on silky voice, I say, "I am a woman who wears Armani."
"Clothes are armor," she says.
I don't need armor, I tell her; I'm happy for Sophie and Max.
"I hate weddings," she says. "They make me feel so unmarried. Actually, even brushing my teeth makes me feel unmarried."
She stops doing her shtick, and suddenly she does look tired; her lids practically cover her eyes. She tells me she's been reading a terrible book called How to Meet and Marry Mr. Right. "Their main advice is to play hard to get. Basically, it's a guide to manipulation."
I'm thirty-four, but wisdom-wise, I don't have any idea how to date, myself--or, that is, I only know how to date myself--but I say that maybe she should stop reading it.
"I know," she says, only half agreeing. "But it's like I've been trying to catch a fish by swimming around with them. I keep making myself get in the water again. I try different rivers. I change my strokes. But nothing works. Then I find this manual that tells me about fishing poles and bait, and how to cast and what to do when the line gets taut." She stops and thinks. "The depressing part is that you know it'll work."
I say, "I hate fish."
The wedding is held at a restored mansion on the Hudson. I come up here sometimes on Sundays. If there isn't a wedding going on, you can pay admission to tour the house and grounds, but I pay my $4.50 just to sit in an Adirondack chair and read the newspaper and look at the river. It's a spot so idyllic it makes you feel you're in a painting--a Seurat, maybe--and for a while I kept hoping a gentleman in shirt-sleeves and a boater would dot-dot-dot over to me. Then I overheard a guard say that this place was just for the pinks and grays--wedding parties and senior citizens.
I arrive in the rainy late afternoon to help Sophie dress. I'm directed upstairs to the first door on the left, where I expect an old-fashioned bedroom with lace curtains, a vanity, and a four-poster bed, but I find Sophie and her friends in a conference room with stacked plastic chairs and a slide projector. She's up at the lectern, clowning in her bra and stockings.
I go up to her and the words "blushing bride" come to mind, though she is, in fact, an almost constant blusher-- from sun or wind, laughing, crying, anger, or wine. Now she actually appears to be glowing, and I kiss her and say, "Hello little glowworm."
Her hilarious friend Mavis pours me a big glass of wine; she's pregnant and says that I have to drink for two now.
After I help Sophie on with her off-the-shoulder ivory gown, she asks me to put on her makeup, though she knows I don't really know how. It's for the ritual of it; I brush a tiny bit of pale eye shadow on her lids and put on barely-there lipstick. She blots her lips with a tissue.
Mavis says, "Jesus, Sophie, you look like a whore."
The photographer knocks to tell Sophie it's time for pictures, and the rest of us follow. Mavis and I stop in the bathroom, and from the stall she tells me she didn't realize for a long time that she was pregnant; she thought she was just getting fat and becoming incontinent. "So the pregnancy was really good news."
Since I have nothing to add about pregnancy, I tell her I read that Tiny Tim wore Depends in his final years. He wasn't incontinent, just thought they were a good idea.
Downstairs, we join Mavis's husband and the other guests. We take our seats in the room where the ceremony will be held. It has a river view, but all you can see now is fog and rain and wet grass.
I ask Mavis what her ceremony was like and she says that instead of "The Wedding March," she chose K.C. and the Sunshine Band's song "That's the Way--Uh-huh, Uh-huh--I Like It" and danced herself down the aisle.
Her husband does a deadpan, "Uh-huh, uh-huh."
The music plays. We wait. Mavis whispers that she has to go to the bathroom again. I say, "Think how much better you'd feel if you had a Depends on right now." This is what I'm saying when Max and Sophie walk down the aisle.
The reception kicks off with a klezmer band doing their bloop-yatty-bloop, and Sophie and Max are hauled up on chairs for the Jewish wedding version of musical chairs. I was raised as an assimilationist, but it's not my confused identity that prevents me from joining in; I've got the spirit, but I can't clap to the beat.
Finally, we go to our tables. I'm at One, sitting between Mavis and Sophie, and I know everyone at the table except the man taking his seat at the opposite end. He's tall and gangly with olive skin, a high forehead, and big eyes; cute, but that doesn't explain what comes over me. I haven't had this feeling in so long that I don't even recognize it; at first I think it's fear. My hair follicles seem to individuate themselves and freeze; then it's like my whole body flushes.
He smiles over at me and mouths, "I'm Robert."
I mouth, "Jane."
When I come out of my swoon, Mavis is telling the table that my Depends comment made her pee in her pants. She tells me I should work Tiny into my toast, and only now do I remember that I'm supposed to give one.
I try to think of it during dinner, but I'm also trying not to stare at Robert, and I'm shaky and not exactly prepared when it's my turn to go up to the microphone.
"Hi," I say to the crowd. I wait for something to come to me, and then I see Sophie and it does. I say that we met after college in New York, and that over the years we had a succession of boyfriends but weren't so happy with any of them. We were always asking each other, "Is this all we can expect?"
"Then," I say, "there was our sea-horse period, when we were told that we didn't need mates; we were supposed to make ourselves happy just bobbing around in careers."
"Finally, Sophie met Max," I say, and turn serious. I look over at him. I think, He has a nice face. And I say this into the microphone. "He gets how funny and generous and wholehearted she is. He understands what a big person she is, and yet he doesn't want to crush her." I get some blank stares here, but Sophie's laughing. I say, "Max is the man Sophie didn't know if she could hope for."
When I sit down, Robert stands, I assume to give his toast, but he walks over to my side of the table and asks Mavis if she'll trade seats with him.
She says, "No," and waits a moment before relinquishing her chair.
Robert sits beside me and says, "I loved your toast."
I linger over the word "love" coming out of his mouth about something of mine.
He tells me that he knows Max from freshman year--roughly twenty years--and I remember that a huge number of Oberlin friends are here and ask what bonds them all for life.
He says, "No one else will be friends with us."
Then another toaster picks up the microphone.
Toast, toast, toast; Robert and I can only talk during the intermissions in hurried exchanges: I learn that he's a cartoonist, and I have to tell him that I work in advertising. "But," I say, and don't know what to say next, "I'm thinking of opening a dog museum."
"A dog museum?" he says. He's not sure if I'm kidding. "For the different breeds?"
"Maybe," I say. "Or else it could be a museum that dogs would enjoy. It could have interactive displays of squirrels dogs could chase and actually catch. And a gallery of scents."
He tells me he's just moving back to New York from L.A. and is staying with his sister until he finds an apartment. I tell him I live in the huge ancient apartment complex nicknamed the Dragonia for its gargoyles. Almost everyone knows someone who has lived there--an ex-girlfriend or masseuse, a cousin--and Robert does, too, though he doesn't specify whom.
Will I check on vacancies for him? I will.
Sophie's father goes up to the microphone for the last toast, a position of honor he's requested. He reads a rhyming poem:
I despaired at my spinster daughter
though I thought her awfully fair.
Then came Maxie, praise the Lord,
from the heavens, I had scored.
But Max, like Sophie, makes documentaries,
how are they going to pay their rentaries?
Sophie's shaking her head; Max is trying to smile at his father-in-law. Robert leans over and whispers to me,
Dad is trying awfully hard,
but this guy is no one's bard.
Max and Sophie go table to table to talk to their guests, and as soon as Robert and I have the chance to talk without interruption, a statuesque beauty in a drapey gown interrupts.
"Jane," Robert says, "this is Apollinaire."
I'm about to say, "Call me Aphrodite," but realize in time that he's not kidding.
"Have a seat," he tells her, nodding to the one next to me, but she gracefully drops down beside him, as though to fill her urn, forcing Robert to turn his back to me. It occurs to me that I may not be the only butterfly whose wings flutter in the presence of his stamen.
After she glides off, Robert tells me that she composes music for movies and has been nominated for an Oscar. I think of my only award, an Honorable Mention in the under-twelve contest to draw Mr. Bubble.
"I like her toga," I say, confusing my ancients.
We talk, we talk, and then Robert announces to the table at large that it's time for us to prepare the newlyweds' getaway car.
Outside it's drizzling. Robert retrieves two grocery bags from the bushes and leads us to Max's car.
Mavis shaving creams smiley faces on the windows.
"Trés droll," her husband says, looking on.
I don't spray a word. I hold my shaving cream poised but nothing comes out. I say that I'm blocked.
Robert, tying cans to the bumper, says, "Just pretend you're spraying in your journal."
As we walk away from the parking lot, he says, "I'm pretty sure that's his car."
Inside, Sophie says she's bummed a cigarette and we go out to the patio. The tables and chairs are wet, but we manage to hike up her dress so it's just her underpants against the seat, and her big skirt swooping up and over the arms of the chair. She reminds me of a swan.
We have so much to say to each other that only quiet will do. We pass the cigarette back and forth, as we have done a thousand times, until her little niece and nephew run outside and shout, "Everyone's looking for you!"
Sophie hands me the cigarette, and as she gets up, she says, "Watch out for Robert." Before I can ask why, the little ones drag her inside.
Inside, someone is calling out, "Unmarried women! Maidens!" Most of Max and Sophie's friends are single, and a big crowd gathers by the staircase; for the first time in my wedding-going life I stand among them. Sophie appears at the top of the steps. Her eyes widen when she sees me. Trusting nothing to chance, she doesn't even turn her back to the crowd; she tosses the bouquet to me, and I catch it.
Then kissing and rice throwing, and the newlyweds are off to Italy for three weeks.
It's time for me to go, and I want to say good-bye to Robert, but he's talking to Apollinaire. I catch his eye, and wave, and he excuses himself and comes over.
"You're leaving?" he says.
He walks me out the door and down the path to the parking lot. For the moment the rain has stopped, though the sky hasn't cleared and the trees are full of water.
"This is my car," I say. It's an old VW Rabbit with so many scratches and nicks it looks like it's been in a fight.
He stands at the passenger door; I'm at the driver's. He seems to be waiting for something, and I say, "I'd like to invite you in, but it's a mess."
The front seats are covered with old wet towels because the convertible top leaks, and the floor is littered with fast-food wrappers from the last dozen road trips I've taken. I tell him that the garbage and rags discourage thieves. "If the trash doesn't deter them, there's the wet poodle smell."
"You have a poodle?" he says.
"A standard," I say. "Jezebel."
He grew up with standard poodles and loves them, and what color is mine? I think, I have found the only straight man in the world who loves poodles.
He tells me he has a cat.
"A cat?" I say. "How can you do that?"
"I love her," he says. "But we both know she's just a place holder."
Then there's a rush of drops--at first I think it's from the trees, but it's real rain, total rain, and Robert pulls his jacket up over his head and runs over to my side, kisses my cheek and gallops back to the mansion, presumably into Apollinaire's widespread wings.
I sit on the wet rags, and try not to feel like a wet rag myself.
Then he's knocking on my window. I roll it down. He asks, "Can I call you?" and I answer "Sure" so fast that my voice overlaps the rest of his sentence "about the Dragonia?"
"Sure," I say again, pretending I didn't say it the first time. "I'm in the phone book," I say. "Rosenal."
"Rose'n'Al, Rose'n'Al, Rose'n'Al," he says fast, and disappears.
He doesn't call on Sunday.
Monday, between writing lines like, "Call now for your free gift," and "There's never been a better time to call," I call home to check my answering machine. I feel elated dialing, despondent when I hear the inhuman voice say, "No new messages." Then I call again.
Donna calls to ask about the wedding, and I tell her about Robert. It feels good just to say his name, like he's still a clear and present danger. Then I have to say, "But he hasn't called."
She says, "Why don't you call him?"
I don't answer.
My devoted friend says, "I don't think you could have felt so strongly if he didn't feel the same way about you."
I say, "How do you feel about Jeremy Irons?"
When I get home, the machine's red light is blinking. I say, "Please be Robert." It is. His voice is low and shy, saying he's on his way out and will call back.
I play the message again and watch Jezebel's face. "What do you think?" I ask her.
She looks back at me: I think it's time for my walk.
We go around the block and are almost home when we run into a dog we haven't met before, a beautiful weimaraner. Jezebel goes right up to him and licks his mouth. The weimaraner jumps back. "He's a little skittish," his owner says, led away by Herr Handsome.
"I can't believe you just walked up and kissed him," I say to Jezebel, "without even sniffing his butt first."
I make a salad. I try to start another Edith Wharton novel, but I can't concentrate in the silence of the phone not ringing.
Then I think, What if he does call? I'll just mess it up. The only relationships I haven't wrecked right away were the ones that wrecked me later.
I don't admit to myself what I'm doing when I put my bike helmet on and ride over to the Barnes & Noble a few blocks away. I pretend that maybe I'm just getting another Edith Wharton novel.
But I bypass Fiction and find Self-Help. I think, Self-Help?--if I could help myself I wouldn't be here.
There are stacks and stacks of How to Meet and Marry Mr. Rights, the terrible book Donna told me about, terrible because it works. I take my copy up to the counter, as furtively as if it were a girdle or vibrator.
There isn't a photograph of the authors, Faith Kurtz-Abromowitz and Bonnie Merrill, but after only a few pages, I see them perfectly. Faith is a reserved blown-dry blonde; Bonnie, a girly-girl, a giggler with deep dimples. I have known them my entire life: in gym class, playing volleyball, they were the ones clapping their hands and shouting, "Side out and rotate--our team is really great!" In college, Bonnie was my Secret Santa. In personnel offices, when I joked about my application phobia, Faith was the one who said, "Just do the best you can."
Now I am turning to them for guidance.
Still, they promise that if you follow their advice, "You will marry the man of your dreams!" And I read on.
Their premise is that men are natural predators, and the more difficult the hunt the more they prize their prey. In other words, the last thing you want to do is tap a hunter on the shoulder and ask him to shoot you.
Half of me has to make fun of the book, if only because I've broken all of their rules--"vows," they call them; the other half is relieved that I haven't broken any with Robert yet.
I read the book from bold blurb to bold blurb until I get to Don't be funny!
I think, Don't be funny?
"Right," I hear smooth, stoical Faith say. "Funny is the opposite of sexy."
"But I'm attracted to funny men," I say.
Bouncy Bonnie says, "We're not talking about who you're attracted to, silly! Go out with clowns and comedians if you want to! Laugh your head off! Just don't make any jokes yourself!"
"Men like femininity," Faith says, crossing her legs. "Humor isn't feminine."
"Think of Roseanne!" Bonnie says.
"Or those fat, knee-slapping girls from Hee Haw," Faith adds dryly.
"What about Marilyn Monroe?" I say. "She was a great comic actress."
"That's probably not why there's a new lingerie line named after her," Faith says.
I say, "But Robert likes me because I am funny."
"You don't know why he likes you," Faith says.
Bonnie says, "You looked terrific in that sheath!"
I hate this book. I don't want to believe it. I try to think what I do know about men. What comes to mind is an account executive at work saying, "Ninety-nine percent of men fantasize about having sex with two women at once."
My mother hardly ever gave me advice about men, and I only remember asking her once, in fifth grade. I'd dispatched a friend to find out if the boy I liked liked me. "Bad news--" my friend reported, "he hates you."
My mother kept saying, "What's wrong, Puss?" I couldn't tell her. Finally, I asked how you got a boy you liked to like you back. She said, "Just be yourself," which seemed like no advice at all, even then. At a loss, my poor mother suggested I jump on my bike and ride around the block to put roses in my cheeks.
My brother calls inviting me to a benefit for a theater company Friday night--his girlfriend, Liz, knows the director. "It's a singles event," Henry says.
"Singles?" I say. I think of individually wrapped American cheese slices.
"There's some theme," he says.
"Desperation?" I suggest.
He holds the phone and asks Liz what the theme is.
I hear her say, "It's a square dance."
"A square dance?" he says, in a you're-kidding tone.
"Don't say it like that," she says. "Let me talk to her." She gets on the phone. "Jane?" she says.
"It sounds dorky," Liz says, "but I went last year and it was really fun!"
It occurs to me that I might not like fun.
"You want to meet men," Faith says.
Bonnie says, "Say yes to everything you're invited to!"
"What else were you going to do Friday night?" Faith says calmly. "I think we're talking about Edith Wharton--am I right?"
I'm getting the address of the party when my call waiting beeps. It's Robert. "Hi," I say, flustered. "I'm on another call."
Faith says, "Say you'll call him back."
But I'm confused--isn't this my fish on the line?
"Not yet," Faith says. "He's just a nibble."
I ask Robert if I can call him back.
He says that he's at a pay phone.
"So what?" Bonnie says. "It's a quarter!"
But I say, "Hold on a sec," to Robert and tell Liz I'll see her at the hoedown.
Robert and I talk about how much fun the wedding was. I'm distracted, trying to follow the vows or at least not to break any, but the only ones that come to mind are: Don't say "I love you" first! Wear your hair long! Don't bring up marriage!
He tells me he's in the Village, he's been looking at apartments, and asks if I want to meet for coffee.
Bonnie says, "Don't accept a date less than four days in advance!"
I stall, asking him how the apartments were, until the recorded voice of an operator comes on the line, requesting another nickel or our call will be terminated.
He adds a nickel. "Terminated sounds so permanent," he says. "So final."
I think, Not if you believe in the aftercall. But Faith says, "No jokes."
"So," he says, "do you want to get some coffee?"
I make myself say, "I can't."
"Good girl," Faith says.
"Oh," he says. Pause. Then he asks if I want to have dinner Friday.
"You have plans." Faith says, "Say it."
"I can't Friday," I say.
He goes right by it and asks about Saturday.
"Fine," Faith says.
"Okay," I say to Robert.
Then the operator comes on again, asking for another nickel.
He says, "Listen to her pretending that she didn't interrupt us before."
I am fizzy with elation.
After therapy, I'm on the elevator when Bonnie says, "That was great!"
"What?" I say.
"You kept the vow Don't tell your therapist about the guide."
"Because I want her to think I'm improving," I say. "I'm hoping that one day she'll say I'm all better and don't need to come back anymore."
"And one day your dry cleaner will recommend hand washing," Faith says, brushing her hair.
Thursday night, Robert leaves a message with his sister's phone number; I copy it down and pick up the phone to call him back.
"Not yet," Faith says. "Make him wonder a little."
"Isn't that rude?" I say.
"No," Faith says, "rude is not writing that thank-you note to the gay couple who had you out to Connecticut three weeks ago."
"I don't know why you hang out with them anyway!" Bonnie says, looking up from a big bowl of popcorn. "Gay men hate women."
"Excuse me?" I say.
"It's true," Faith says.
"Why am I listening to you?" I ask.
Faith says, "Because you don't want to sleep with Edith Wharton for the rest of your life?"
I call Robert back from work.
"Eight o'clock okay?" he says.
I agree, barely able to keep the thrill out of my voice.
Bonnie points to her little watch and in a singsongy voice says, "Hang up!"
I say, "Look, I have to go."
After I hang up, Bonnie says, "Short conversations! And you be the one who gets off the phone first!"
Faith nods. "Make him long for you."
The square dance is way on the East Side, in the Twenties, just a gym with a caller in braids. I spot Liz, adorable in overalls, and Henry, still in his suit.
"Howdy-do," I say.
I stand with my brother and Liz. Here I am at a party on a Friday night and I have a date tomorrow. I think, I am a dater; I am a snorkeler in the social swim.
Faith says, "Feels good, doesn't it?"
Much clapping and stamping and yee-hawing. I can't clap, of course, but I'm about to let out a yee-haw when Faith shakes her head.
"I was just having a good time," I say.
Faith reminds me that that's not what I'm here for.
"This is a singles dance!" Bonnie says, clapping right in time.
Liz says that we should be dancing, and when I agree, she takes it upon herself to find a partner for me.
The guy she brings back is Gus, the stage manager, a big teddy bear with a fuzzy face and teeth so tiny they make him appear not to have any.
He's aware of performing a kindness; he seems to regard me as poor, plain Catherine from Washington Square or poor, sick Laura from The Glass Menagerie.
He takes my hand and leads me danceward.
"Bow to your partner," Braidy says. "Ladies, curtsy."
When Gus and I promenade, he smiles encouragement at me, like I'm Clara from Heidi and he's teaching me how to walk. But I suddenly remember square dancing in gym circa third grade, and it's the nine year old in me swinging my partner and do-si-doing.
"Great!" Bonnie says.
Faith offers up a restrained, "Yee-haw."
After dancing, I'm about to say I'm parched as a possum, but Faith interrupts: "Say, `Let's get something cold to drink,'" and those are the words I say.
"Sure," Gus says.
We go to the beer-sticky bar, and Faith says, "Ask him what a stage manager does."
"Men love to talk about themselves!" Bonnie says.
So I ask, and he says, "I do what no one else wants to do."
I'm told to smile as though captivated.
Sipping a beer herself, Faith says, "Now let him do the work."
I am only too happy to oblige.
Bonnie says, "Let your eyes wander around the dance floor!" But this seems unkind.
"He's a prospect," Faith says, "not a charity."
I look around, and Gus, trying to regain my attention, asks me if I'd like to dance again.
Bonnie says, "One dance per customer."
Instead of saying a jokey Much obliged, but I should join my kin, I anticipate Faith and say, "It was nice meeting you, Gus."
Like a caller herself, Bonnie says, "Circulate!" And I do.
Faith says, "Do not establish eye contact."
"Really?" I ask.
"You think that's the only way to get a man to notice you, don't you?" she says.
"You poor lamb!" Bonnie says.
I've never acknowledged this even to myself. I sound pathetic.
"Yes," Faith says, "especially because nothing is more compelling to a man than a lack of interest."
To my astonishment, she's right. Men appear out of nowhere and glom on to me. Bonnie and Faith tell me what to do, and I obey: I refuse a second dance with a man I'm actually attracted to; I don't enter the pie-eating contest; I ask questions like "What kind of law do you practice?"
By the end of the night, my phone number is in a half-dozen pockets. "This never happened to me before," I tell Faith.
She says, "I know I should feign surprise."
When my brother and Liz walk me to my bike, he says, "Who were those guys you were talking to?"
"Who knows?" I say, giddy with the freedom to make jokes. "I feel like the belle of the ball."
He says, "The ho of the hoedown."
"You know what just occurred to me?" I say, laughing. "I went to a singles square dance in a gym, to meet men."
When Liz says, "You can't think that way," I'm reminded of Faith in personnel saying, "Just do the best you can."
I wonder if my brother is going to marry her.
Right before Robert arrives, Bonnie says, "Don't be too eager!" When I look in the mirror, my smile is huge and my eyes bugged out with anticipation. I tell myself to think of death. When that doesn't work, I think of yesterday's brainstorming session to name a new auto club for frequent drivers.
Robert buzzes. I open the door and he looks as excited as I did a moment before. He sees Jezebel and gets on his knees and rubs her haunches. "Jezzie," he says.
"Do you want a glass of wine?" I ask.
He follows me into the kitchen. He's still in apartment-hunting mode, he says, and do I mind if he looks around?
"Go ahead," I say, and he goes.
He asks if I've had a chance to check on vacancies in my building, and I'm reminded of Erich von Stroheim in Sunset Boulevard saying, "It wasn't Madame he wanted, it was her car."
"I'm sorry--I haven't," I say, and if I were in one of his cartoons, there would be icicles hanging from my balloon.
Maybe he hears it, because he's quiet a moment. He walks around my living room and stops at the table with my little cardboard barnyard animals on their wooden stands. He picks up each one--the bull, the lamb, the pig, the cow--and reads the breed information on the back. I say that I found them at a flea market in upstate New York; I pictured little farm kids coming in from their chores to play with their cardboard cows and lambs. I'm about to explain what I find moving and also funny, but I see that I don't have to.
He goes to my bookshelves and notices my portable typewriters from the fifties. He whispers their names, SILENT and QUIET DELUXE, which is what I did when I first saw them.
Over dinner, at a goofy little French place in the neighborhood, he asks how I got into advertising.
Bonnie says, "Don't be negative!"
"It started as a day job," I say. I tell him that I thought I'd write plays or novels or appliance manuals at night. But advertising made my I.Q. go down; every night I had to work just to get it back up to regular.
"What did you do?" he asks.
I got rid of my TV, I tell him, and read classics.
"Like which ones?"
"Middlemarch was the first," I say.
He laughs. "You say it like you're not sure I've heard of it."
We keep talking books, and when I tell him that Anna Karenina is my favorite, it seems to have the effect "I'm not wearing any underwear" has on other men.
I say, "The good thing about reading is that you never get blocked--and every page is really well written." He smiles, but seriously, and I can tell he hears what I'm not saying.
I ask about his work, and he says that it's hard to describe cartoons--you wind up just saying the plot, and his cartoons never have one. "I'll show them to you," he says.
When I ask him why he left L.A., he tells me that it was the loneliest place on earth. "Especially when you're hanging out with people," he says. "Everybody smiles at your jokes."
He loves New York, he says. "It's like Oberlin--it's where people who don't belong anywhere belong."
Only when Faith tells me to stop gazing do I realize that I am. I look down at his hand on the table. I see the indent where he holds his pen, which is slightly darkened from ink he couldn't wash off.
Bonnie says, "Ask if he uses a computer."
"You don't use a computer?" I say, which seems like the most mundane question I could ask.
"Just for the animation," he says. "I'm a Luddite, like you on your--" he whispers, "--QUIET DELUXE."
I don't know what a Luddite is, but Bonnie won't let me ask.
When the check comes, Faith says, "Don't even look at it."
"Let him pay!" Bonnie says.
"What are you thinking about?" Robert asks, putting his credit card in the leatherette folder. "$87.50 for your thoughts."
"Be mysterious!" Bonnie says.
"Excuse me," I say, and go to the ladies' room.
"The red wine stained your teeth a little," Bonnie says, handing me a tissue. "Just rub the front ones."
"Listen," I say to them, "I appreciate what you're trying to do for me, but I think I'm better off on my own with Robert."
"Last night wasn't a fluke," Faith says.
"But Robert's different," I say.
"The only difference is that you want him," Faith says.
Bonnie says, "Which is why you need us more than ever!"
On the way home, Robert takes my hand in his, not lacing our fingers, but really taking ownership of my whole hand.
"Let go of his hand first," Faith says.
I love holding hands. In my entire dating life I have never let go first.
"You can do it," Faith says, and I make myself.
At my door, instead of asking if he can come in, Robert asks if he can take Jezebel out with me.
"On our first date?" I say.
"If you let me," he says, "I'll respect you even more."
Outside, he meets the neighborhood dogs--and says what I always do: "Can I say hello to your dog?" His favorites are my favorites--Flora, the huge bulldog; Atlas, the harlequin Great Dane.
I think, You love dogs as much as I do.
Back at my apartment, I take Jezebel off her leash, and in my mini-vestibule, he leans toward me and we kiss.
"The date ends now," Faith says. "It's not going to get better."
"Okay," I say in my love daze. "Good night, Robert."
His eyes look disappointed, and I want to touch his hand or pull him toward me, but Bonnie says, "Keep him guessing!" And I do.
He calls the next morning while I'm walking Jez. "Hi, girls," his message says. "I wondered if you wanted to go to the dog run."
There's nothing I want to do more, but I know that I can't.
Bonnie actually gives me a hug.
"I want to see you," Robert says when he calls later.
My whole body hears these words.
He asks when we can get together, and though I think, Right now is too long to wait, I say, "Friday?"
"Next Friday?" he says, crestfallen.
"High five," Bonnie says, and slaps hands with Faith.
Robert says, "Do you like me at all?"
"Yes, I like you."
"A lot?" he asks.
"Pause before answering," Faith says.
"Yes," I say.
"Good," he says. "Don't stop."
Bonnie sings the Mary Tyler Moore theme song, "Who Can Turn the World On with Her Smile?"
Robert calls me at the office and calls me at home. He calls just to say good morning and good night.
One night, he calls to tell me he thinks he's found an apartment only a few blocks from mine and wants me to see it.
I tell Robert I wish I could. I want to so badly it hurts. I wonder when I can be normal again.
"You're normal now," Faith says.
"You were screwed up before!" Bonnie says.
Faith says, "If you were being your normal self, he wouldn't even be calling you now."
"All right," Robert says. "I guess I'm going to sign the lease." Then: "You don't feel like I'm stalking you, do you?"
I meet Donna for a drink and admit that I read the book she told me about--the fishing manual.
"Isn't it the worst?" she says.
"I know," I say.
"All those exclamation points," she says. "It can't apply to New York."
"The thing is," I say, "it's working."
"You're actually doing it?" Then she says, "I don't know why I say it like that--I tried it myself." She tells me that she kept pretending to be aloof, but men didn't seem to notice. "Maybe it was the men I was meeting," she says. "Cabdrivers," and she imitates herself nonchalantly giving an address.
I tell her about my date with Robert and that now he's calling me all the time and he's actually moved into my neighborhood.
"No!" she says, mocking my distress.
"But it's like I'm tricking him into it," I say.
She says, "Well, what about all those guys who act like they're in love with you to get you into bed? Like Fuckface."
"But," I say--I'm having trouble saying what I mean, "I want this to be real."
She says, "Was it more real when he wasn't calling you?"
I'm getting ready for my date with Robert when Faith says, "Try not to make so many jokes this time."
"Listen," I say, "funny is the best thing I am."
Faith says, "Making jokes is your way of saying Do you love me? and when someone laughs you think they've said yes."
This gives me pause.
Faith says, "Let him court you."
Bonnie hands me my deodorant. "You can be as funny as you want after he proposes!"
Robert arrives early, saying he wants to take me to a play. He has brought a stick for Jezebel to chew, and she gives him the loving look I wish I could.
I pour a glass of wine for him and go back to the bathroom to finish drying my hair. "Now this is a real date!" Bonnie says.
I say, "Your idea of a real date probably ends in a carriage ride through Central Park."
"Her point is that it started with asking to meet for coffee," Faith says. "Now he's trying to win you."
Through the motor of my blow-dryer I hear the phone ring, and when I come into the living room Robert's staring down at the machine, frowning. Gus is asking if I'd like to go out for dinner next week.
Robert looks over at me. "She can't," he says to the machine. "Sorry."
We go to Mere Mortals, a collection of one acts by David Ives, the best of which is about two mayflies on a date; they watch a nature documentary about themselves and discover their life span is only one day long--after mating, they'll die.
Leaving the theater, Robert and I are both dazzled and exuberant, talking at once and laughing, and we spontaneously kiss.
He says, "I want to mate with you and die."
We have a drink at one of those old-fashioned restaurants in the theater district. Robert says the mayflies play is what every cartoon he draws aspires to be--beautiful and funny and sad and true.
"I want to see them," I say.
"Okay," he says, and takes out a piece of paper.
It's a pen-and-ink drawing of Jezebel, and I think, You are the man I didn't know I could hope for.
"Relax," Faith says. "It's a sketch."
Back at my apartment, we begin to mate with our clothes on, lying on the sofa on top of shards of chewed-up stick.
At first Faith's voice is no more than a distant car alarm. But it gets louder and I hear her say, "No."
"Yes," I say to her.
"You don't want to lose him," she says, in the voice you'd use to talk someone on acid out of jumping out a window. "The way you've lost every man you've really wanted."
I sigh inwardly and pull back.
"What?" he says.
I tell him that I'm not ready to sleep with him yet.
"Okay," he says, and pulls me back to him. We go on kissing and touching and moving against each other for another few minutes, and then he says, "Are you ready now?"
Here is a man who can make my body sing and make me laugh at the same time. "Which is why you don't want to lose him," Faith says.
Over the phone, he tells me that his ex-girlfriend called him today. I picture Apollinaire.
I want to ask who she is and how he feels about her, but Faith practically takes the phone from me. Instead, I ask how long ago he went out with her.
Almost a year ago and she's why he left New York. "She sort of decimated me." He asks if I'd mind signing a nondecimation pact.
I'm choosing which of my decimation experiences to relate, but Bonnie says, "He doesn't need to know about that!"
We meet for a drink at the café between our apartments. He asks what I wish I could do instead of advertising.
I think, I'd like to make pasta necklaces and press leaves; I didn't really appreciate kindergarten at the time. But I just shake my head.
He says, "Let's make a list of what you think would be fun to do."
"No," Faith says. "Don't let him think you need help."
"I do need help," I say.
"He'll think you're a loser!" Bonnie says. With her thumb and index finger she makes an L, pinches it closed and opens it fast: the flashing Loser sign.
He doesn't call the next morning, afternoon, or night, and, needless to say, I can't call him.
Friday night, we go to the movies as planned, but he doesn't hold my hand in the dark theater, doesn't kiss me on the cab ride home. I want to ask him what's wrong, but Faith says not to. "It shows how much you care."
When the cab pulls up to the Dragonia, he tells me he's tired. He doesn't ask if I have plans for Saturday night.
Saturday night, I read until midnight. When I take Jezebel out for her last walk I go all the way to his street, down the dark side. He and Apollinaire are sitting on his stoop.
I am shaking when I get home.
Sunday, when the phone rings I run for it. But it's a crush from college, Bill McGuire--nicknamed "Mac." He lives in Japan and says he'll be coming to New York next weekend and wants to take me out for dinner Saturday.
Bonnie says, "Get out there!"
"I've been out there," I say. "Now I want to stay in with Robert."
"He's not staying in!" Bonnie says.
"I don't know that," I say.
"You saw them!" Bonnie says.
"They could just be friends," I say.
"Friends?" Bonnie says.
"He went to Oberlin!" I say.
"Regardless," Faith interrupts, "hunters like competition. It tells them that what they want is worth having."
"But I would feel terrible if he went on a date with someone else," I say.
"And you're trying to set an example?" Faith says.
"It doesn't work like that!" Bonnie says.
I agree to dinner, but as soon as I hang up, I say, "This feels wrong."
"It's right," Faith says, unzipping her dress. "It's just unfamiliar."
"No," I say. "It feels wrong."
She's wearing a slinky, champagne silk slip with spaghetti straps. "Aren't you being pursued the way you always wanted to be?" Faith says.
"I was," I say.
"This'll help," Faith says decisively.
"I hope you're right," I say. "That's a pretty slip."
"You should get one!" Bonnie says.
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?"
"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.
"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.
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.
"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?"
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.
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.