The sun had
long ceased to cordially hang in the sky and rejuvenate our weary spirits when
the last of us left the office for the day.
“Won’t you join us for a round, Richard?” John had asked. I politely declined and used my habitual excuse-that I was to have dinner with a fine young lady, but I was beginning to suspect that my lies to my friends were as obvious as the ones I told myself.
I started my automobile and returned to my apartment, saying hello to the doorman, a polite older Spaniard with a flair for mustaches, and checked the mail. Sure enough, she had written, but it had been too long and the past was already stuffed and on display in my living room, something to contemplate before a gin and tonic, or to show friends and laugh about. I threw the letter in the pile with the others, and sat down at my desk to read something old. For seclusion, there’s nothing quite like antiquity to make you feel alone. But it was not enough-the telephone rang and eventually it occurred to that I had to answer.
“Hello, Richard,” a female voice said. It was a pleasant voice, warm, something scratchy and it reminded of the vinyl records I used to play against my father’s will, who insisted on maintaining a perfect collection of untouched collectibles.
“Hello, Hallie,” I responded. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your calling?”
“My father has just canceled for dinner, and I thought you should invite me out.” I thought I could hear her smiling, but you could never tell, and I often never cared to find out. But it was a Tuesday. And I couldn’t burn an MP3 CD of the latest Panic! At the Disco release-there wasn’t much of a point to anything,anymore.
“As fate has it, Hallie, I have no plans this evening. How does the Club sound?”
“Dreadful but whatever you like, Richard. You know how I hate planning.”
“Well, somewhere else then. I’ll pick you up at 8. Or whenever you feel like, since you seem to so object to punctuality.” I started to hang up, and she said delightful in a half-excited voice that leaned towards sarcasm and then lost its balance and tumbled, syllable after syllable into a pit of cynicism that only an unmarried 28 year old could inhabit.
We drove to the club in relative
silence, the occasional Dadaist revival shouted at random from the passenger
seat. I pulled up and tipped the valet five
bucks to stop starring at my girl. He
didn’t speak English, but nodded anyway. We walked in. Sure enough, Scott
was there, and invited us to sit down.
“I do love to see Scott here,” she said.
“I’d rather not dawdle. There’s not much to say.” I looked around the room. I knew she would be here, on a Wednesday. After all, that’s why I came to the Club.
“Oh don’t be such a haberdasher, Richard. Scott’s absolutely delightful!” She walked up to him and they had a large hello that begged for as much attention as possible in polite society.
“Hello Scott.” We shook hands.
“Glad to see you out, Richard. How long have you and Ms. Nottingshire been seeing each other?” He grinned and reddened- he was drunk and probably already embarrassed at it. But in case he wasn’t, I prayed my fly wasn’t open.
“Not long,” I replied.
“Not long enough, he means. He thinks I’m a dreadful bore.” She put her arm around me.
“She used the word delightful twice already.” I laughed, and we all did. It was a strange thing to laugh about. But you laugh at strange things when you can’t burn the latest Panic! At the Disco release onto an MP3 CD with 47 other great songs that would totally run together and make your morning drive fun and your evening drive relaxing.
We ordered dinner and ate, repartee soaring over the heads of the surrounding tables and shooting past the wine glasses as they rose and fell, constellations of social grace and inebriation, things that make me gassy.
“I do wish you’d stop being so
morose, Richard,” she said, unraveling whatever was left of her clothing.
“Well, I wish you’d stop getting drunk at the club and taking your clothes off in front of Scott, god damnit.” I accelerated, taking corners are mildly unsafe speeds. Sometimes, adrenaline is the only sedative you have, and it doesn’t take a lot to work after four gin and tonics at the Club with Hallie Nottingshire and Scott Haddalastname.
“It was only a dance. Besides, you were so enthralled with Kitty Lindh I should suspect it didn’t bother you at all.” She tossed off the last two words with a drunken concoction of accents, confusing England and 1940’s
“You sound like a high-school actress, now cease your prattling. I don’t have any music to drown the sound of you out, and you sound like a sea lioness trying to play the trumpet with its vaginal lips.” The comment hung in the air, a brilliant image that only the vividest of painters could capture, and sure as it was said, Dali’s estranged heirs would one day paint it. In the present, however, it seemed to suffice as a mood-killer, and Hallie was quiet for a good thirty seconds.
“You don't have any music, Richard? I should like to hear some.” Her voice had changed, the gravity of the situation had sucked it in and now she was also upset, if only to have some company by way of mood.
“No. And I’d rather not talk about music.”
“She wrote to you again. That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” I turned to look at her for a half second, and smiled.
“I can’t…” I started. I turned back to the wheel and accelerated more.
“Can’t what, Richard? It’s alright, dear, I won’t ask about her again.”
“No, I’m afraid it’s not about that at all,” I said.
“Well, just be careful, you may lose me. And then all you’ll have is your music.”
“Very well,” I choked out, and tried to hold back whatever it was I felt-rage, anger, a desperate need to flip though all 47 tracks of an MP3 CD to hear how amazingly even the first five seconds of each track transitioned into one another and to ride the peaks and troughs of divinity as the rush from the sonic momentum built and dissipated, leaving only joy and passive enlightenment. “Very well.”
We ariived at her apartment.
“Would you like to come up? I’d like you to come up, Richard.”
“No, I’m afraid I shouldn’t, Hallie. But thank you for a lovely evening. I expect I should call on you sometime this week.” We were soul-crushing in our formalities, implicit in the coldness of our hospitality, estranged in the insistence of friendship, engendered in the estrangement of our genders.
“Well, I should like that very much. Goodnight, Dick.”
I drove home, said a quiet goodnight to the doorman, and prepared myself for another week’s worth of reading, solitude, and company, the three things that competed for the attention of my social hours. I checked the mail, and tomorrow's letter hadn’t come. I suddenly realized I was looking forward to it, if only to have some constancy of annoyance. And so I went to my room, endlessly borne back into the past through the roads weaved by a month’s worth opened letters, and had the drunk munchies. While the soundtrack of an entire bag's worth of Doritos Cool Ranch is no Panic! album, the familiarity of it was a haven for my conscious mind, and I escaped into sleep, feeling kind of like a fatty for eating the whole bag.
By Michael J. Weingarth