vee "I'm just thinking about the line for would stay. He still counted on her abject generosity, she thought. Like the pate at Balducci's." "Why don't I run over to the bank and time he'd gotten busted at a Grateful Dead concert in Syracuse. He'd used his you can start shopping?" one phone call to call her. Not a lawyer, "Okay." "Give me a kiss, 'cause I can 't stand not someone within a fifty-mile radius. you," he suddenly said. He pulled her He'd called Jessie , knowing she'd make close, quickly. "Okay. You're done . the trip from Boston in a borrowed Buick Don 't get too friendly with the vege- Skylark. And she had, driving apprehenBy Liane Kupferberg Carter sively across Route 90, reaching Albany table man." The letter came for Jessie one rainy She turned the corner. Already she by midnight, where she stopped only for Saturday, on her way out. She was head- could smell pumpernickel-onion rye, ra- a cup of coffee and a rare cigarette. She ed to the dry cleaner's , the bank, and the tatouille, and the mixed aromas of hun- sped on through dark and dreary industrial towns till she reached the police stafood emporium , although it was the kind dreds of cheeses. of day when she ' d have preferred to The store was crowded, as usual. She tion in Syracuse much later. She bailed watch old movies on TV , pay the bills, or sighed , found a cart, and pushed her way him out by morning and drove him back reread Jane Eyre. to the back of the produce section, past to the musty house he shared with four The letter was buried beneath a renew- strawberries that looked pumped with guys from school, while he regaled her al notice from the New Yorker, a Lord & hormones, wax-perfect apples, plump with stories of his night in prison. "I realTaylor black-and-white sale catalog, a strings of figs. It was empty there. ly slept on a plank ," he said in disbelief. bill from American Express, the Metro- Wedged between the turnips and pota- "And they took away my shirt and belt. Can you believe it?" politan Museum calendar, and a thank- toes, she pulled out thdetter. What she couldn't believe now, ten you note from a pair of just-married Its return address was somewhere outfriends . The handwriting on the letter side San Francisco. She turned it over years later, was that he still assumed she was familiar-the curlicues and flour- and caught a whiff of Old Spice. Is he still would drive to the proverbial ends of the ishes of an architect's Rapidograph pen, spraying his stationery? she thought irri- earth for him. Or, even more, put him up the unevenly sized letters. tably. Once, at least ten years ago , she with his child bride in her cramped apart" Anything interesting?" Michael used to spritz her letters to him with a ment. She had to admit she was curious asked impatiently . He was dressed too bottle of Norell. They had written every to meet this eighteen-year-old southern warmly and eager to leave. day they were apart, and her mailbox had honey Carl had called to tell her about. It "The usual ," she said absently, tuck- always seemed to smell of him. was not long after she was engaged to ing the letter into her purse very careful"Darling," he wrote . "It's been much Michael, a divorced man she'd met at ly. She would wait for the right moment too long since I let you know what I'm up the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Carl to read it, away from MichaeL to . Ellie and I are living just north of San heard from a mutual friend that Jessie They stopped in front of the cleaner's Francisco. We're renting an ugly gray was engaged; three weeks later, he on Ninth Street, and Jessie carried in an house on the beach, raising dope and called in an exuberant mood to tell armful of shirts. The man behind the stray cats. I lost the job I came out here her that he , too , was getting married. "But who is she? How did you meet? counter greeted her expansively. for over some stupid business about bor"Hello, darling, what've you got for rowing some of the company's mailing It's so sudden!" said Jessie . "About six weeks ago she was dating me ? Hmm? You smell delicious. Light lists, and I'd love to get a job with Indusstarch, cardboard, in boxes, right? So trial Light and Magic, but for the mean- my next-door neighbor. We liked each what are you doing today? You get that time I'm selling computer hardware from other right off. I get along with her as husband of yours to take you somewhere here to Monterey. Six months ago we well as I did with you. In fact, better. We special. Nice man-never gives me a spent eight weeks in the Far East. We never fight .'' "Give it time," she said sardonically. hard time with his shirts. You take care, rented a place in Bali for part of the time. "So then I got a job offer in California, Finally tried Thai cooking-! had to darling." "Have a nice chat?" Michael asked chase it down with Rolaids! Seems they and I asked her to come with me, and when she reappeared. tone it down for the tourists, too. Finally Ellie said absolutely not unless we were ''The usual patter. They do a good job, got to India-kept thinking I should be married, so I said sure, why not." "When did this all happen?" though ," she said. seeing that with you. Gave up on being a "About two hours ago! You're the first He took her hand. They walked vegetarian, too-with all those cows toward Sixth Avenue . At the corner of walking around, I missed hamburgers! person we've called. Would you like to Fifth they passed another couple hand Ellie sends love. We'll be coming into say hello to ,her?" "No, I'd feel silly. Just-just give her in hand. Her hair was magenta; his was New York for a convention-think you cut in a Mohawk. Jessie did not no- could put us up? Hope you still have my best. WHen's the wedding?" "In January. I'm getting married betice them. room. No kids yet, I hope . Can't see you "Jesus, look at that shmohawk!" Mi- stuck in that. That's about all-we'll give fore you." So that 's what this is about, she you a call when we land in N.Y. on the chael remarked : "Hmm?" 23rd. All my love, Carl." thought, then pushed aside her anger. "Are you okay? You're so quiet." No question, he simply assumed he "What's Ellie like?"
In another time, Jessie was another girl! Could the vagabond lover she'd chased after then still have magic enough to disrupt her tidy, settled, quietlv contented life?
Liane Kupferberg Carter