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© 2005 - 2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas.


He puts his hands under his head on the pillow and thinks about the first time they met.  He left the party and saw her at the other end of this long hall.  She was standing in front of the elevator, waiting for it to come.  Then she must have heard him behind her.  No, she definitely heard him.  They talked about it sometime later.  She said her first thought was that someone was about to grab or attack her, and that she’s usually not so paranoid.  That his feet stomped as he ran as if he were wearing combat boots.  He wasn’t running but hurrying now because he didn’t want her to get in the elevator before he got there and the door to close.  Though if the elevator had come he would have yelled “Hold the elevator,” wouldn’t he?  She then might have pushed the “open” or “6” button to keep the door from closing—not an easy move to do, as you got to think fast and have quick coordination—or held the door open with her hand.  Or maybe she would have let the door close.  Intentionally, because she still might have felt he wanted to hurt her, or because she couldn’t get to the right button in time.  If that had happened, he thinks he would have run to the stairway and down the five flights.  But by the time he would have reached the ground floor, she would have been out of the building.  Would he have tried, if he had run out of the building and saw her on the street, to catch up with her?  Doesn’t think so.  Wouldn’t want to startle or scare her.  But he could have just walked fast—that is, if she hadn’t stopped in front of the building—and then slower when he got near her, and said something to start a conversation, like what?  “Excuse me, but we were at the same party tonight.  My name’s Martin Samuels.  I’m a friend of Pati’s, and I hope I didn’t just now startle or scare you in any way.”  Ah, why’s he speculating on something that didn’t happen?  Because it’s interesting, going through all the possibilities that could have happened and then zeroing in on what actually did.  And what the hell else he’s got to do now?  And he likes the idea of, well…of, that he was going to meet and get to know her no matter what.  What’s he mean by that?  That if all else flopped—if the elevator had closed with her in it and she wasn’t on the street when he got there—he would have asked Pati if she knew the slim blond woman with the beautiful smile and her hair in a chignon, if that’s what that is when it’s knotted or rolled up at the back of the head.  Or knew someone at the party who did—the person she came with—and if she could fix them up somehow or just give or get him the woman’s phone number, if she isn’t married or engaged.  Or if married, not separated.  And of course, she wasn’t married or even seeing anyone then.  And Pati would have given him her number and he would have called, or asked Pati to call her first about him, and then called and arranged to meet her for coffee or a drink.  Anyway, on the sixth floor, waiting for the elevator, she heard him and quickly turned around, looking a bit startled.  He said something like—or he could have asked Pati for the woman’s name and address or whereabouts in the city she lived, if she knew, or just what borough, and he would have got her number out of the Manhattan phone book because it turned out she was the only person in it with her name.  But he said something like—definitely the “-leaver” part, though; that he definitely remembers, his first attempt at trying to be funny or clever with her—“Don’t worry, it’s just me, a fellow partygoer and now –leaver, and also a friend of the host.  That is, if you are a friend of Pati’s and weren’t brought to the party by someone who is or who knows her in some other way—a colleague at her magazine, let’s say.”  She said something like “No, I know Pati quite well.”  “That so?” he said.  “May I ask from where?” and she said “Grad school.  She was a few years ahead of me but we became friends.”  “I only met her this summer.  At Yaddo—you know, the artist colony, or art colony, or whatever they call it.”  He said that to let her know right off he was an artist of some sort and serious enough at it to get into that place.  He thought, maybe because he assumed she was interested in the arts, he thinks, she’d ask him what he does, and then, because he also must have assumed she was getting or had gotten a doctorate in some kind of literature at Columbia, like Pati, what he was working on up there and was it a productive stay and so on.  Probably not the latter.  But she just as easily could have assumed he was working on nonfiction.  Pati had gone straight from getting her doctorate to working for Newsweek as a writer and was at Yaddo the exact same time period he was—they even took the bus back together—writing a biography of an influential nineteenth century Russian thinker whose name he forgets.  Starts with a T.  T-s, T-z, T-p—but it’s not important.  He never read anything the guy wrote, though Pati had loaned him a couple of his books at Yaddo and then at the party asked for them back.  Such a stupid move, though, trying to impress Gwen fifteen seconds after he met her with that “-leaver” remark and then the Yaddo business. Tsvetkin, that’s it.  He should have thought at the time—maybe he did, but just couldn’t stop himself—that she was very smart—she certainly looked it, and her voice, if he can put it this way, was very smart too—to see through his inept maneuvers.  She might even have thought “What bullshit this guy’s trying to hand me.”  Not “bullshit” but some other word.  “Hokum”; “bullcrap”; “baloney.”   Can’t think when she ever cursed, and he bets she also rarely did it in her head.  Though once, when she was very sick, she cried out “Why the fuck did this have to happen to me?  Excuse me; I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to be vulgar.  But I’m fed up with my illness; fed up.”  But about that first night, she later said—weeks later, maybe months, when they were seeing each other almost every day—that she knew—he’d asked—he’d made the Yaddo reference to impress her.  He’d said something like “I thought so.  And what a dummy I was, too, because it doesn’t take much to get into Yaddo—a few publications and a couple of good references—and you probably knew that.  It was so desperate, but it shows how eager I was to get you interested in me, at least to the point where you wouldn’t brush me off when I asked, and I was intending to, if we could meet for coffee sometime or a drink.  I’m just glad it didn’t do any lasting harm.  It didn’t, did it?”  and she said—now he remembers; they were having dinner at her apartment; he’d brought food from Ozu, a restaurant he’d discovered and which became, more for dining there than takeout, one of her favorites for a couple of years—“What do you think?”  “What about my -leaver remark from the same night?” and she said “’Leave her’? ‘Leaver’? ‘Lever’ like the handle?”  



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How They Met, from the novel His Wife Leaves Him by Stephen Dixon