|Illustration by Josh Cochran|
By Donald Antrim
March 12, 2012
Ever since his wife had left him—but she wasn’t his wife, was she? he’d only thought of her that way, had begun to think of her that way, since her abrupt departure, the year before, with Richard Bishop—Jonathan had taken up a new side of his personality, and become the sort of lurking man who, say, at work or at a party, mainly hovers on the outskirts of other people’s conversations, leaning close but not too close, listening in while gazing out vaguely over their heads in order to seem distracted and inattentive, waiting for the conversation to wind down, so that he can weigh in gloomily and summarize whatever has just been said.
He was at it again.
“What you’re saying, if I’ve heard you right, is that the current rates of city government spending will eventually bankrupt the public schools.” He was speaking to a group of young parents—presumably, that’s what they were—at a book-publication party for a novelist he’d never read. He’d come with his friend, his date, he should say, who worked for the novelist’s publisher. He added, “My ex-wife, well, not my wife, but, you know, she might as well have been, taught eighth grade in the Bronx for two years.”
“Really?” a woman in the group asked. The man next to Jonathan turned sideways, as if he were a door swinging open to let him in.
Jonathan stepped forward. “Yes. She found it exhausting but exhilarating. She loved her students but always felt at war with the administration. Finally, she quit. It made her depressed.”
“I can see how it might be depressing to teach in the New York public schools,” the man who’d moved to let Jonathan into the circle said. “But it’s such important work.”
Jonathan said, “That’s how Rachel felt, and that was the pity of it. Every day was a struggle for her, because she believed in what she was doing.” In this way he invoked her, as he often did, in heroic terms. Thinking of her in a grandiose light made him want to cry for what he’d lost in her, and he lowered his head and quietly announced, “Excuse me, it’s been nice talking to you all.” Without waiting for introductions, he lurched off to the bar, where he asked the bartender for “Scotch-and-soda on the rocks? Please?”
Where was Sarah? He couldn’t see her in the crowd. This party was a work night for her. It was important that he not get too drunk.
But it had been one of those weeks, and he wanted a cigarette. There had to be smokers somewhere, clustered together in a stairwell or guest bedroom, or craning out of one of the giant loft’s windows overlooking the Hudson. The sun setting behind industrial New Jersey was brightly orange and enormous. He heard Sarah’s voice, and turned. “I’ve been looking all over for you! I’m running away from my boss.”
“I’ll bet you are,” he said.
“She wants me to be paying attention to this obnoxious writer we’re celebrating tonight.”
“Tell me again the name of his book?”
“ ‘The Strictures of My Love.’ ”
“He’s very demanding. He wants a lot of publicity. He’s a twerp. But he makes money for the company.”
Publicity was Sarah’s area.
“Give me a sip of your drink,” she said, and Jonathan handed her his glass. “I was looking for a place to smoke,” he said.
“Did you bring cigarettes?”
“No, I was going to bum one.”
“Bum two, will you?” she said, and gave him back his Scotch-and-soda. The ice in the glass was already melting. “I’ll come find you. I have to make an effort to be professional.” He watched her sashay off toward the author, who was surrounded by guests and was wearing a suit. Really, he should marry Sarah, he reminded himself. But, then again, he should’ve married Rachel.
Now waiters were making their rounds with trays. Jonathan took something off one of the trays and wound up holding a toothpick, which he put in his shirt pocket, next to the joint he’d rolled that afternoon in a stall in the men’s room at his office. Was it time for another drink? The last shindig Sarah had brought him to—it had been on the Upper West Side, near Columbia University, for a historian of the Revolution—he’d remained sober and later wondered why.
On his way back to the bar, he saw Fletcher, a young editor at Sarah’s company, who, according to Sarah, bombarded her with daytime e-mails asking for dates that she then declined. Fletcher was thinner than he—in better shape all around, no doubt—with sharp cheekbones and a widow’s peak.
“Jonathan,” Fletcher was saying.
“It looks like we’re both en route to the bar.”
“Or the bathroom.”
“Good point,” Fletcher said, and Jonathan said, “I think you’re right, though. The bar.” Then a pretty girl walked past, and the energy in the room seemed to rise. The men got their drinks refreshed and went off in different directions.
The loft was filling and growing noisier. Next to Jonathan, people were talking animatedly about health-care reform—a woman in the group who’d undergone surgery was deep in debt. Jonathan craned his neck and blurted, “The possibilities for real change in health care are undercut by the bureaucracies that make change crucial! My ex-wife used to talk about this all the time.” Then, shyly, he added, as he always did, “Actually, she wasn’t my wife, but we were together for many years.”
“Nice to meet you,” a man wearing a pale-green shirt said. “I’m William, and this is Kathy, and this is Deborah.” It was Kathy, a short blonde, who had had the surgery. Jonathan nodded and said, “My name is Jonathan. I hope it wasn’t rude of me to jump in like that.”
“What’s a party for?” Kathy asked, then said, “Do you know a lot about the medical industry?”
“Not really,” Jonathan admitted. “Rachel—that’s the woman I wasn’t married to—had strong opinions on social issues.”
“I’m ready for another drink!” William announced.
“Get me a white wine?” Deborah asked.
“I’ll go with you,” Jonathan, who had been sipping constantly, said. He looked around for Rachel—no, Sarah—but he didn’t see her.
At the bar he told William, “I’m not of this world.”
“I mean, I’m here with a friend.”
“Aren’t we all?” William said. “Cheers.” He carried his drink and Deborah’s wine back into the crowd.
The summer sun had nearly set. The light it threw into the loft had become an amber glow that shone up through the windows to touch the ceiling, where it outlined the shadows of party guests. Soon, as night fell, the loft’s numerous wall sconces would come into effect. Copies of the author’s book were stacked in little piles everywhere.
Jonathan was extremely conscious of his origins, which were Southern, his father and his father’s family having come from Virginia, and his mother and hers from the Florida Gulf Coast. Jonathan’s father had been dead for ten years, and his mother had retired to Maryland’s Eastern Shore; and, these days, he regarded himself as oddly and bravely homeless, imagining, from this city he’d chosen to live in, a lost, green place—Charlottesville, where his parents had been professors, and the nearby Blue Ridge, where he’d camped as a boy. If he drank enough, his accent would break through.
Sarah appeared at his side. “Hey, Buster, let’s go fuck in the bathroom,” she said. This was something that he loved about her—her easy playfulness, which he took as a sign not only of her trust in him but also of her willingness to let him trust her. “I wish we could,” he told her, though in fact he didn’t, at that moment, wish so—he needed a smoke more.
“Are you done taking care of the writer?” he asked.
“I was finished with that a long time ago,” she said.
She was shorter than Jonathan by a foot. When they walked down the street together, and he rested his arm on her shoulder, he thought sometimes about how essential it would be in old age to have someone to lean on. And though his old age was a long way off, and he felt, the majority of the time, that he would never reach it anyway, he nonetheless considered it often when he was with Sarah.
“How are you and Fletcher getting on?” he asked.
“We’re fine,” she said.
“I saw him earlier. He’s not very talkative.”
“Come with me—there’s something I want to show you.” She took Jonathan’s hand and tugged him toward the windows.
He said, “Hang on, I want to get a drink.”
“You’ve got a drink.”
“It’s about gone.”
“Get it in a minute,” she pleaded. “We’ll get drinks together and then find somewhere to hide out.”
She was in love with him. It pulled at him, as if with a kind of warm, perfumed gravity.
What she had to show him was the sun, disappearing at last, and the sky above, the color of fire. She held his hand, as they stood together before a big window, and he wished that he were more in love with her. Or was he, maybe, in love with her?
She said, “The world is incredible at this time of day, isn’t it?”
“It is,” he agreed, and took a step back from the window. He said, “A lot of the color in the air is the product of atmospheric pollutants.” He felt her hand go limp in his. He apologized. “I didn’t mean anything by that.”
She was easily upset. He often found himself apologizing to her for remarks that he hadn’t meant to be hurtful. She squeezed his hand, and he squeezed hers, and he felt, for just an instant, at peace.
Things at the party were picking up. Jonathan faintly smelled cigarette smoke. “Come on, Sweetpea,” he said to Sarah, and pulled her away from the window and back to the bar. They took their drinks and went to stand in a corner, and Sarah said, “So, Mister, what about us?”
Was she a little drunk?
“Us,” he said. But before he could go on there was a loud crash in the middle of the room, followed by a hasty shuffling of partygoers turning around, making space for the accident, the mishap—someone had tripped over a piece of furniture and fallen heavily. It was William, the man in the green shirt. “I’m all right, I’m all right,” Jonathan heard him saying as he rose to his knees, then his feet. “I’m only suffering minor embarrassment,” he said, laughing, as, behind him, a man in gray—it was the celebrated author—pushed the chair William had tripped on back into its place beside the long glass-topped coffee table.
“Is he good?” Jonathan asked Sarah.
“The author. Is he good?”
“People think so.”
“Rachel read one of his books.”
“I don’t remember,” Jonathan said, but amended, “Oh, no, I almost remember. It had ‘kill’ in the title.”
“ ‘Abel Kills Cain,’ ” Sarah said.
“That was a major book,” Sarah said.
“It sounds like the name of a band.”
“It should be.”
“Hey, I like this guy,” Jonathan said.
She joked, “Don’t say that until you’ve worked with him,” and Jonathan said, “No, not the writer. I mean the guy who fell. He’s coming over here.”
Then William was upon them.
“How bad did that look?” he asked.
Jonathan said, “William, this is Sarah. Sarah, William.” Then he said, “It didn’t look bad. Don’t let it bother you.”
“From your lips to God’s ears.”
“As long as you’re not hurt, that’s all that matters,” Sarah said.
“Hurt my body all you want, but leave my pride alone,” William said, and Sarah replied, “I know what you mean.”
She was a touch drunk.
It was the three of them now, snaking in a line past art works and tall bookshelves, searching for smokers. They stopped at a door that was locked, and kept going, single file, with Jonathan leading and Sarah in the middle. At times the crowd pressed in, and Jonathan had to forge a path through it. They came to an open door that led into a hallway painted dark red, and could hear voices down the hall.
“Who lives here?” William asked.
“The owner is the heir to a cosmetics fortune,” Sarah said, adding, “He’s also a very good poet.”
At the end of the hall was a room, where about eight people were gathered on and around a big bed, talking and drinking.
“Come in!” a comfortably stretched-out man, who had taken off his shoes, cried. “We’re having an argument about whether it’s ethical to live on government disability in your twenties.”
Right away, Jonathan said, “It is if you’re disabled. My ex-wife used to work with disabled kids.” Then, for Sarah’s sake, he anxiously exclaimed, “I don’t mean my ex-wife! I don’t know why I said that!”
“We’re not talking about that kind of disabled,” the man said.
“My friends and I were looking for a place to smoke,” Jonathan quickly replied.
“I think people were smoking on the terrace,” the man said.
“There’s a terrace?” Jonathan asked.
“I know where it is,” William said.
It was William’s turn to lead. They went back out and along the red hallway to the main room, and then squeezed and pushed their way diagonally through the crowd toward the terrace door. Now when Jonathan tried to touch Sarah’s shoulder, or hold her hand, she pulled away. As they were about to reach the terrace, she spun around, shouting above the party noise, “Your ex-wife?”
“I’m sorry. That was a slip.”
“She was your wife? Are you out of your mind? She was never your wife!” Then Sarah asked him, “Do you still love her?” But she didn’t wait for him to answer. She said, “I don’t even want to know.”
“I’m sorry. I’m very sorry.”
“I’ll think about it,” Sarah said.
William held the door, and she marched out onto the hot, humid terrace. Jonathan skulked behind her.
He and she and William sprawled on the patio furniture and waited for smokers, but none came. The terrace faced north, toward midtown. A large ascending moon, glowing in the sky over the Rockaways, was partly visible around the corner of the building.
“Ought I to light a joint?” Jonathan asked—now a trace of his Southern diction emerged—and William said, “Absolutely,” but Sarah, still angry, said, “Save it for later.”
He could feel a light breeze. He left the joint in his shirt pocket. He’d known her in a distant way, through other people, mutual friends, for a long, long time—when had they first met? It had been at the wedding of his college classmate Kenneth—and they’d run into each other here and there in the ten or eleven years since, either at parties or in big groups at restaurants, that sort of thing; and, at any rate, this drawn-out, vague acquaintance had given them each the subtle feeling, once they’d begun seeing each other and sleeping together, that they somehow shared common origins, though in fact she’d grown up on the Upper East Side, the daughter of psychoanalysts, and showed a dedication to European fashion magazines—Rachel had rejected fashion as a malignant form of commercialism—that he would never, throughout their long life ahead, their marriage, come to fathom.
He overheard her whispering to William but couldn’t make out what she was saying. She and William were on a low pair of lounge chairs at a distance from his. Above the brick terrace wall, he could see the spire of the Empire State Building. Below that, on the terrace, was Sarah’s back, turned to him. He had a view of her ass, wrapped in her cotton skirt. How much had he drunk?
Finally, the terrace door opened and more people tumbled out, including William’s friends.
“We came to find you!” Kathy exclaimed, and Deborah said, “Here you are! Where have you been?”
“Exploring,” William said, then went on, “Deborah, Kathy, this is Sarah, my new pal, and you met Jonathan earlier.”
“Hi, hi,” everyone said.
Jonathan had the feeling—he was drunk enough to feel this—that, though they were all just casually meeting, they were also, after a stretch of being apart, coming into one another’s company again in a significant way: the encounter on the terrace was a homecoming.
“Is anyone smoking?” he asked, and Deborah felt about in her purse and said, “Where are my cigarettes? I just had them.”
The terrace was filling. Everywhere, people were gathering in groups of two and three and four.
Deborah practically screamed at him, “I’m sorry, I don’t know where my pack went!” and Jonathan said, “We’ll find some.”
He called, “Sarah, come sit with me,” but Sarah turned her head and said, “In a minute. I’m talking to William.”
With Rachel, all his pent-up urges to make a home and a family had begun to declare themselves—in his last year with her he’d felt a strong desire to have a child. At times this desire had come on him fiercely. He’d felt it as a pleasurable shock that rose from his knees, up through his chest to the top of his head, causing him to tremble and sometimes visibly shudder. He recalled that Rachel, early in their relationship, had had an intuition that, were they to have a child, it would be a daughter. This idea of a girl had settled in him, and after a while he couldn’t conceive of a son. When Rachel left him for Richard Bishop, he’d felt bereft not only of her, of his never-to-be wife, but of the daughter that they had not had, would not have; and now a year had passed, during which he’d often felt that his chances at fatherhood had gone with her, with Rachel. Of course, this wasn’t true, he knew that, but the feeling was convincing, and much of the time he went about in a state of grief over it.
He had to take action. He would go hunting and bring back a cigarette for Sarah. He got up from the chaise and said, “Deborah, come on, let’s go find cigarettes.” He held the door for her, and she went inside ahead of him.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
She had dyed red hair and pale skin. She was about Rachel’s height and size. He hadn’t looked closely at her earlier, when William had first introduced them.
“I’m not sure,” he said. What was he doing with this woman? “We’re going to the bar,” he said.
“Lead the way,” Deborah said, and he squeezed by her and got in front, where he set to work. At one point, he got them stuck—the crowd was thick indeed—and he heard a man near him say, “You can’t just drop a bunch of rocks in a pile to make a stone wall. There’s a way to do it. It isn’t random.”
They backtracked. Now Jonathan was following. Deborah found a path and got them to the bar. She was drinking vodka.
“What do you do?” he said.
“I’m an architect.”
“Really? What kinds of things do you build?”
“I mostly work on apartment renovations. I’ve done some house additions. How about you?”
“I’m a lawyer,” he said.
“I do litigation.”
“I like your jacket,” she said, and reached out and felt the sleeve.
“Oh, thanks, thank you,” he said.
Behind her, he saw Fletcher, gazing over at them. Jonathan turned his body away from Deborah’s. He spoke to the bartender. “Is there a back stairwell somewhere, or a fire exit?”
“Try the kitchen,” the bartender said.
Jonathan could see the tops of two swinging doors opening and closing about twenty feet away. He could see Fletcher approaching.
He grabbed Deborah’s hand and pulled her forcibly toward the kitchen doors. “I think it’s over in this direction,” he said.
Deborah exclaimed, “I’m right here!”
“Sorry, I was trying to avoid someone,” he said.
They waited for a man carrying a tray to pass, and then went into the kitchen.
“Can I help you, sir?” a waiter asked.
“We’re looking for the stairs.”
The waiter pointed past a long kitchen island lined with trays and overhung with copper and steel pots.
“Make room, make room, please,” a waitress called as she walked by. There was a smell of baking bread.
Jonathan said, “Let’s go,” and he and Deborah rounded the kitchen island. He opened the heavy steel door at the back, near the freezer.
“Aw, fuck,” he said.
The gray stairwell was empty. The door closed behind them and they stood face to face under the dim light. Peering at Deborah in the dark put him in mind of Rachel; suddenly he wanted to call her, a bad idea.
Deborah was holding his sleeve again. “Hey,” she said. “How are you doing?”
“I like you,” she said then.
“I like you, too,” he said, and she announced, “I want you to know that if we sleep together and I get pregnant I’m keeping the baby.”
He frantically wrenched the door open.
“I don’t know what to say! It used to be that people always smoked in the fire exit!” he blurted.
Where was Sarah? He needed to put things right with her. He stormed out of the kitchen and through to the terrace. On his way, he noticed that a few people at the center of the room had begun subtly dancing to the music playing on the stereo. Sarah was no longer on the terrace. The moon was significantly higher in the sky now. Instead of a dying sunset, he saw in the west a bright metropolis of oil tanks, freeways, and planes taking off or landing at Newark. He’d lost Deborah—abandoned her, really—along the way. Back into the party he went. Then, at a loss over how the evening was going, he made for the front door and the antique cage elevator, which he rode to the lobby with a couple who were leaving the party—but what was he doing? Was he also leaving?
He was. The heat on the street had made a soup of the air. He felt his hair sticking to his forehead. He looked at his phone. He was on the verge of being quite drunk. He put the phone back in his pocket. This was his way of not calling Rachel.
He began walking. There was nothing much to look at on the street: bagged trash and a few brightly lit entryways. He came to a broad artery. Church Street? He was sweating. A couple passed him.
He and Sarah made a couple, didn’t they? Was it too late to phone Rachel? He crossed Church. After another few blocks, he had a feeling that the street was sloping downward.
There was the river. He leaned heavily against a building and dialled, and Rachel answered. “Jonathan?”
“Hey. Is it all right that I called?”
“Can you talk?”
“Maybe for a minute.”
“I’ve been missing you.”
Rachel said, “You shouldn’t be calling me, Jonathan.”
“I know.” The buildings around him were massive and dark.
“Have you been drinking?” she asked.
“Jonathan, we’ve been over everything. We don’t have anything to talk about anymore.”
“I was ready to marry you,” she said.
“Why are you bringing that up?”
“Because you were never going to ask.”
“You don’t know that,” he said. Then he said, angrily, “Hang on, a truck is going by; I can’t hear you.”
“Can you hear me now?”
“Yes,” he said, and she asked, “Where are you?”
He said, “Downtown, near the Hudson,” and she said, “Jonathan, I think I should tell you that Richard and I are moving.”
“Moving? You’re moving? Where?”
“Los Angeles. He has some friends who can hook him up with teaching work at one of the art colleges.”
“I thought you might have heard from Irena or Paul.”
“I said, I thought you might have heard from Irena or Paul.”
“I haven’t talked to either of them.”
“Let’s not fight,” she said.
“I’m not fighting!” he said with a raised voice, and she said, “I heard that you’ve been seeing someone.”
“Oh, God, Rachel,” he whimpered. He was suddenly near tears.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Then he began to weep. He tried to keep the sound from her. She said, again, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Jonathan.”
Jonathan put his phone back in his pocket. He wiped his wet eyes with his jacket sleeve, and thought of Sarah.
By the time he got back up the street and into the loft building and up in the elevator, he had pulled himself together. The loft was a mess. The author’s stacked-up books had disappeared or been scattered. The music was loud; dancing was taking over. A woman in the crowd held her arms high, shaking them in time with the beat.
Rachel, dancing, had always put her head down and tucked herself over and whirled her arms like threshers.
“Sarah!” he called into the mass of people, because he thought he saw her, jumping up and down in the crowd. But it wasn’t her.
Then he glimpsed, in a far corner of the room, what looked like a green shirt. It was William, talking to Sarah and Fletcher. Jonathan saw her look his way; she gave him a weak smile and a little wave, and then Fletcher and William turned and saw him.
“Jonathan,” William called out.
“Jonathan,” Fletcher said.
“Hey, guys,” Jonathan said, and came forward to join them. “I was just looking for you all.”
“We’ve been wondering where you were,” William said.
Jonathan explained, “I went in search of cigarettes. Well, Deborah and I went in search of cigarettes.”
Sarah spoke in a harsh voice. “Did you have any luck?”
“Not a bit,” he said to her.
“I’m surprised,” she said.
“Apparently no one smokes anymore,” he said.
She said, “Lots of people smoke.”
“I guess I’ve been looking in the wrong places,” he told her, and she said, “That sounds right.”
William finally broke in. “We were just talking about how much we hate these kinds of parties.”
“Who’s ready to dance?” Sarah said.
“Let’s go,” William said, and she and he went off together toward the center of the room.
“Do you want a cigarette?” Fletcher asked, taking a pack from his jacket pocket.
“Good God, thank you,” Jonathan said.
It seemed they were going to be friends for the night.
Jonathan said, “Let’s go to the terrace.”
When they got outside, they found Deborah and Kathy.
“Forgive me for running off like that,” Jonathan said to Deborah.
She asked, “Did I scare you?”
“A little,” he said, and laughed, and she laughed, too.
It wasn’t long before Sarah and William appeared, sweaty from dancing. Jonathan took the joint from his shirt pocket and asked, “Does anyone want this?”
Fletcher held the lighter. Jonathan inhaled, and then passed the joint to William, who took a puff and gave it to Kathy, who handed it to Sarah. She gave the joint to Deborah, and Deborah took a big hit before offering it to Fletcher, who had some and gave it back to Jonathan, who passed it around again.
“Are you stoned?” a voice asked. It was Sarah.
His body felt heavy, and he could clearly hear the traffic coming and going on the streets and avenues below.
“Kind of. Are you?”
“I’m on the way,” she said.
William said, “I’m ready to dance some more.”
“I’ll go with you,” Deborah said, and Kathy added, “Let’s all go.”
Inside, Deborah and Kathy cleared a space and began gyrating. William followed, and then Sarah, too, began to move.
Jonathan watched her sway to the left then to the right, her arms seeming to float in the air beside her; she looked as if she were in a pleasant trance, like a charmed cobra. Watching her, he felt—what? appreciation? affection? love? He felt himself lucky to be with her, for she made him feel calm, and now he slid up next to her, got his arms partway around her, and lightly pulled her toward him, so that their faces came close to touching. She shut her eyes and let his hands around her waist balance her.
“You can be a jerk sometimes,” she whispered to him.
“I’m sick to death of hearing about Rachel,” she said.
“I won’t mention her again,” he said.
“You hurt my feelings,” she said, and separated herself from him and joined the other three.
He stood next to Fletcher. Without a word, they turned and headed to the bar.
“Will that be a Scotch-and-soda?” the bartender asked Jonathan.
“Thanks,” Jonathan said.
It was late now, almost midnight. He’d drunk too much. Had he been at the party with Rachel, she would have said, “Enough is enough,” and they would have left by now.
But Rachel was gone, for good, it seemed to him at that moment, and—it was both crushing and a relief to feel this—he was free. And though he knew that this sense of freedom from her would not entirely last, that the memory of her would overtake him again, the feeling was nonetheless substantial: he was with Sarah.
“Excuse me, do you have any cherries?” he said to the bartender.
The bartender leaned over, opened a small refrigerator, and pulled out a jar of bright-red maraschino cherries. “We’re closing up,” he said. “Why don’t you just take the bottle.”
He turned and began opening cardboard boxes for the empty and near-empty bottles lined up on the bar.
Jonathan dug two fingers into the jar and began trying to capture the cherry with the longest stem. He pulled up one, then another, and finally found one that seemed right. He ate the cherry but kept the stem.
“Fletcher, will you excuse me?”
He stumbled away from the bar and began weaving among people.
Where were they—where were his people? There they were. They were still in their circle of sorts. He crossed the floor to Sarah.
“Hello,” he said in her ear.
“Hello,” she said.
He got down on one knee before her and took hold of her hand. Awkwardly, he curled the cherry stem around her ring finger. He made a number of tries at tying it there, but, sadly, it wasn’t long enough after all, so he held it in place with his hand, clutching hers.
“What in the world are you doing?” she asked.
It was a good question—what was he doing? “What does it look like?” he said, and he wondered, briefly, whether he meant it, whether he would still feel this strongly about her after he’d sobered up. And he thought that he would. Surely, he would. He had the idea that he was seeing into his future, and he felt, quite naturally, at that drunken hour, that they would share it.
“Are you proposing?” Sarah asked.
He said, “I’m not sure that I can propose without a real ring. But at least you’ll know.”
“I’ll know what?”
But he was afraid to say.
He stood and kissed her on the cheek. Then he gave her a kiss on the lips. They came closer and wrapped their arms around each other.
The party was ending. The loft’s wall sconces came up brightly, and the music went down low, and in the harsher light he could see a line of people heading for the door to the elevator.
They stood together holding hands. Their new friends were with them. Everybody said what a nice time it had been. They exchanged phone numbers and promised to be in touch.
On the sidewalk in front of the building, beneath the awning, he asked Sarah, “Do you want to walk?”
Her apartment wasn’t far.
“Let’s walk,” she said. They went toward Broadway.
Out on the avenue, the air was hotter and more humid than it had been on the terrace. A few cars and taxis drove by. He asked her which of the author’s books he should read.
She said, “Everybody likes ‘Abel Kills Cain,’ but it’s not my favorite. I think you might like the new one.”
They turned at the corner. There was no traffic now, and he could hear their footsteps echoing from one side of the street to the other. “I’ll bring you a copy from work,” she offered.
“That’d be great,” he said.
He took off his jacket and slung it over his shoulder, then undid the buttons on his shirt cuffs, first the left, then the right, and rolled the sleeves up to his elbows. The moon was bright and the sky was starless. Buildings rose above them. He put his arm around her shoulder.
Donald Antrim / The Emerald Light in the Air
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Jonathan Franzen / Rereading The Hundred Brothers by Donald Antrim
Donald Antrim / Ever Since
Donald Antrim / Another Manhattan
Jonathan Franzen / Rereading The Hundred Brothers by Donald Antrim