GRETCHEN AND ALEXANDER
Chai Redbush Tea (no caffeine).
Tag reads: Open up to infinity and you become infinity.
Gretchen’s green eyes moved across the computer screen as she read and reread the ads for relationships on Craigslist. “Women Seeking Men.” The air that gently entered in through the window was springtime warm just a hint of cool. The light was dappled on the green gardens in the courtyard outside of the office building; from above it looked like a palate of greens and yellows, very dark in some spots and pale almost fluorescent in others. What she wanted –undeniably passionately—was to find a partner for Alexander, her friend at work. Friend. Alexander was in the cubicle right on the other side of hers. It was like one of those exotic screens that separated young lovers, breathing can be heard, the heat of the other person’s presence, known but they are kept apart for their own good.
They were not close in the traditional sense of the word. Really. Gretchen had looked it up, googled it. Close. When Gretchen looked up “close”, she was 1) surprised at the number of definitions: there were twenty-two; and 2) terribly disturbed to discover that “closed” was the past-tense verb form of close. Of all twenty-two definitions, these were the two that confirmed for Gretchen that they were not “close”
2. Being near in relationship: close relatives. They are not.
3. Bound by mutual interests, loyalties, or affections; intimate: close friends. Yes and no.
Of course, all the other definitions of the word listed were misfits too: “close supervision,” “close the door” etc., but the relational definitions were what Gretchen was concerned with. And, Ok-- there is also the sub textual –or not even sub textual—there is a connection between them. Would you say they were “bound by mutual interests, loyalties, affections?” Again, Yes and no. Not closeness, per se but a connection. Here is the thing: Gretchen is not Alexander’s type. If anything, she is more like a sister to him. She knew this because in the six years that she has known him, he was 1) married once, 2) dated a woman for a year and a half and 3) fell in love one time. All three women were the same: very pretty with a kind of wealthy air. They were small frame—thus, the low heeled shoes Gretchen has taken to wearing—not completely because of Alexander, but she does like talking to him at his own level. He stands at 5’6”, which is half an inch shorter than Gretchen. For a man, he’s on the less tall side, and for a woman Gretchen is on the taller tall side. Anyway, his girlfriends are usually between 5’4” and 5’6” from what Gretchen could tell. Ok, his first wife was taller and made no effort whatsoever to match his height. She was likely 5’7” but always wore extravagantly high shoes, which during the divorce Alexander had told Gretchen cost usually upwards of $700 a pair. “She could afford it, though” Alexander had chided. “Jesus, could she afford it.” To which Gretchen said “hmmm” then, after a moment, “sick.”
Gretchen one time had made the Amelda Marcos joke and then for months they had beat into the ground and then kept it up until they had to write an actual written contract between them to keep it dead and buried. After that, it was never referred to but Gretchen would sign her e-mails EM for a while. And, Alexander was still signing his: FC (Fidel Castro) another joke, which somehow when it was fully evolved had to do with the marketing director (Tessa)’s husband who always showed up on Thursdays with a thermos of martinis and box of fresh sushi which the two of them would eat on the balcony of the office building and laugh, laugh laugh. He didn’t even really look like Fidel Castro. It was some comment that Tessa, the marketing director had made about him and Gretchen thinks that Fidel Castro was more to irritate her, but really she can’t remember. Then that disappeared along with Amelda Marcos. But not completely. Ok, but the thing about the women that Alexander fell for—more than anything else—was their dark, almost black hair and their fabulousness. It is true. In addition to practically being an heiress, his ex-wife designed clothing that she sold in shows in Los Angeles and, sometimes New York. And, whenever she had come to meet Alexander she smelled like some pretty spicy fruit that Gretchen could never identify.
Gretchen opened a listing that didn’t have a picture. That’ s unfortunate she thought as she opened the link. She read the description and Alexander remained on her mind:
I am a 36, cute, sexy and fun. I am white, with brown hair, and blue eyes. I enjoy hiking, exploring, learning, and watching movies. I am professional female; I have a good job, and plenty of free time. I am looking for a man (duh) between the ages of 32-39. Some who is employed, and clean cut. Who likes to have some fun! Indoors and out...hehe. I am real. Send me a picture, and I will return the favor. Of course tell me something about you. I will respond. Thanks J.
“I’m looking for a man (duh).” Duh Gretchen thinks, what’s that? Hee hee? The post is annoying, but that doesn’t mean the girl is annoying. She’s the right age. She has a good job. That’s good. Not super wealthy, family money, but someone who needs an identity because she has to have one. That would be good for Alexander: a more independent woman, less needy. Not so full of themselves. A head on her shoulders. Funny. But not emotionally needy. That was always the problem wasn’t it? Needy. Yes. Gretchen thought that was.
“What are you doing?” She quickly clicked on another tab and Amazon page came up with the listing.
“Don’t jump up on me like that.”
“Jump up on you?” Alexander asked.
“I mean sneak up.”
“Eclipse? Is that a romance novel?”
“Shut up—its for my book group—what do you want?”
She turned from her screen and looked at him. She examined him and he did look handsome: he was wearing a dark shirt and when she looked at him his cheeks are flush and his eyes flashed deep brown with sparkles towards her. Gretchen could feel an impulse, a pulse of desire, then she packaged it up neatly and packed it into one of those fed ex boxes in the copy room. She sealed it up and sent it off to someone else.
He squinted and leaned closer to her computer screen. “Is that one of those Twilight books?”
“It’s a novel for my book group.” He was reading over her shoulder, “very intellectual”
“Stop it!” she snapped at him.
“All right,” he said, “I’m going to talk to Tessa then do you want to do burritos or salad?”
She nodded, “ok” she says, “I haven’t even started the copy for the website.”
He squinted and made a face “so?” he asked. Then, he nodded and here it was another one of their jokes. He made an obvious dramatic wink, “I get it.” He said very slowly “we’re playing the ‘we have a job’ and we’re actually going to get some work done game today.” She smiled at him. And his eyes hung on to his fake serious I get it expression. She leaned in closer and couldn’t help but smile, “I’m pretending,” she mouthed without saying the words very loudly at all “for Tessa’s benefit that I am actually going to meet my deadline. Then, just before it some kind of snafu will hit.”
“Nice work, Lacey.”
“Ok,” he said, “I’ll meet you at Tortoise Taquaria”
When he left, she clicked back on to the personal ad. “Why not?” she whispered. And she hit reply. And then she typed “hey, what can I tell you about myself? Pretty typical guy: work for a furniture catalogue—sounds pretty mundane, I know, but I also write plays and short stories. I’m thirty-seven. I love hanging out on a warm nights, talking and laughing over a bottle of Chianti at a patio restaurant until it closes. I love to laugh. I’m attaching my picture, if your interested return the favor. Peace.”
Gretchen shuddered at writing “peace” but it was how Alexander signed his e-mails. Peace, Fidel.
She had the picture all cropped and everything. It was one from the office party, the one where he was standing with Fidel and Tessa. Somehow his eyes were squinted just slightly and he was leaning into the picture. He looked debonair somehow, serious. Handsome. And the photograph was in color but it almost looked sepia and so that made him look timeless. He could be Don Quixote. He could be Hans Solo. She attached the file and reread the e-mail. She didn’t care. He’ll be mad, or—she’s not really sure. Would he be mad? He seemed embarrassed when she says she will find someone for him. But, maybe it was endearing; maybe it was sisterly. What do men think anyway?
Tuesday After Work
Quote, Day-by-Day Literary Calendar, Tuesday, May 18, 2007:
Soul meets soul on lover's lips.
~ by Percy Bysshe Shelly ~
The night air was crazy warm and Gretchen had loosened her two braids that she somehow clipped together in the back and managed to look like a 1930s communist revolutionary (Alexander’s description). Now it was loose blonde waves down her back and she was comfortably drunk. The air from the bay was warm and the lights looked yellow and pretty, as the evening turned almost dark now. Across the bay you could see San Francisco and it was all blue up until Alcatraz and then there was a cottony fog where the city met the water. A bug lamp zapped and she felt comfortable. Her legs were up on the chair across from her and Alexander was sitting right next to her. There was still a warm impression from when his hand had rested on her arm while he had spoken to the waiter. It was unconscious. Alexander was wearing a dark shirt with a tight weave, probably a casual Banana Republic shirt, and now that his top two buttons were loose, Gretchen could see that he was wearing a t-shirt underneath.
“Are you wearing a t-shirt?” she asked him and leaned closer to him and pretended to look inside of his shirt.
“Why?” he asked and then he leaned back and looked at her and smiled. He reached over and picked up the package of Marlboro lights and shook one out of the pack. He put one in his mouth and held it there and smiled at Gretchen for a long moment and then he took the cigarette out of his mouth and leaned over, put his head in his hands and started laughing.
“What?” she asked and hit him on the arm. “What are you laughing at?”
“That was so fucking ridiculous today…oh my God,” he said and wiped the tears from his eyes. “Oh shit.”
He was drunk.
“What?” now Gretchen was laughing too.
She was drunk too.
“Oh my God.” He said and he held his hands over his eyes to stop the humor. “When you were saying all that shit about pretending to work.”
“Oh my God,” she said “are you fucking serious?” now she copied the same gesture and puts her hands over her eyes. She looked up at Alexander again, “Tessa was like…’I guess its funny to shirk responsibility.’”
Alexander scrunched his face up funny and said slowly “shirk.” He rolled his eyes and squinted. Now he lit the cigarette and looked at Gretchen, “what kind of word is that, again?”
“What ‘shwrik?’” She realized she pronounced it wrong and tried again “swir—what did I say? What was the word? How do you say it?”
He was laughing so hard that he just kept looking down. He took a deep breath and then said slowly “shirk.”
“That doesn’t even sound like a word any more does it?”
He said it again “shirk” he took a drag and then looked into the night sky thinking about it. “That is like when you write something—a word—then it looks completely wrong on paper.”
“Shirk,” she said again. And then she picked up a cigarette and lit one too. She looked around and her golden hair moved across her shoulders. “That is a fucked up word.”
He can’t help but laugh again. “A fucked up word? What does that mean?”
She kind of said sarcastically using the word in a sentence, “such a shirker. I’m starting to hate that word.” She laughed and took a deep breath. She held the cigarette in front of her lips before taking a drag. “I got to go.” She said.” I’m drunk.”
“Can I ask you something?” he asked. His face turned serious. And, he blurted,” do you like me?” It was hard to tell what he was really asking her.
She looked into his eyes deeply and there was a sudden drop in her stomach, like defying gravity or the strange levitation of centrifugal force. “I adore you.” She said glibly.
He took a drag from his cigarette and the lines in his face grew long when he looked at her. He was transformed into someone who was whispering secrets to her somehow. It was off putting almost causing pain in her solar plexus—but just tightness. The clamor of the restaurant rose around them. “What are you doing? She asked, and this time it was softly.
“I think you are so pretty,” he said almost inaudibly. He looked down at the ashtray and snuffed out his cigarette.
ASTROLOGY.COM, RE: YOUR FREE DAILY HOROSCOPE. GEMINI: You feel temporarily blocked now. Resistance and challenges from others or from outside situations suggest this is not a good time to try to force your will and desires onto the world, as friction is the only likely result. Relations with men can be especially tense.
An ocean of drunkenness can swallow almost anything and even precious gems can sink to the bottom. I think you are so pretty.
Alexander was completely himself again at work. “What are you drinking? More of that yogi tea?”
“A hangover remedy.” Gretchen said without looking up from her computer screen.
He was standing behind her looking at her monitor. “What does it say today?”
“It says that ‘relations with men can be especially tense.’” She didn’t feel friendly towards him, but somehow her body and mind were automatically friendly. Her feelings were becoming transparent and she tried to cover up, but she couldn’t think of funny things to say. It was amazing, she thought that they have been best work friends for years and yet there are these little bleeps on the radar—when something erupts in her. She took a sip of her “calming” tea and waited for it to subside. “Anyway,” I have a lot of work to do.”
He leaned into her and started the joke; He winked “oh I get it—“
“Ok” she said seriously, “I really do.”
He stood stunned then his face changed expressions and he turned serious. In that moment, she had the desire to fix it, to smooth it over and go back. It will go back, but not this second. I think you are pretty. Then, even that phrase seemed fictional. It is just what the horoscope said.
“Ok,” he said and walked back around the fabric cubicle screen. She could feel his every move and she could hear the tapping of his computer keys. The tapping stopped and she listened for a moment.
“Are you mad at me for some reason?” he asked from the other side of the fabric barrier.
She typed “no” into an IM and sent it over to him. Then, she typed, “let me get my work done.” She heard him laugh quietly. Then she typed “for once.” He laughed again and she typed “for God Sake!”
A few minutes passed and both of them were hitting the keys and all you could hear was the sound of little plastic keys hitting plastic pads in a kind of unrecognizable rhythm. His were more forceful chicken pecks; hers were the sound of smooth taps then dramatic clicks from the space bar.
A second later a message came on to her screen “So, you aren’t mad at me about anything, right?”
Her fingers typed “so you’ll support me when I lose my job?” but then she backspaced and deleted the words. And then she thought about it. Instead she typed, “I’m not mad.”
“Where are we going to lunch?” popped up on her screen.
She felt as if she is in a meat grinder and her insides were being churned and pulverized. She closed her eyes—too strong an image. She took a deep breath.
“I think we should just chill.” The second she hit send a searing shame came over her. She could feel herself growing red and hot. What in the hell was she thinking? “We should just chill.” As if there was a we and if something was happening between them that should be chilled. She couldn’t even concentrate on anything now and she heard his keyboard slide across his desk and in a second he was standing behind her and she couldn’t turn around. All she felt was the desire to cry.
He walked to the side of her chair and stood there without saying anything. She didn’t look up.
“What’s the matter? Did I say something that upset you last night?”
She turned slowly and looked at him and she hadn’t realized it until this moment. He was God-awful handsome and for so long she had been hiding in this little sister friendship with him talking with him about his gorgeous girlfriends and fabulous ex-wives and reading his short stories and now, suddenly she realized that she was a surrogate or a … a what?
“A friend,” he said, “we’re friends right?”
“Why did you say that?” she asked him.
“Because. We’re friends. Why are you acting like this?”
It seemed so obvious to her now. As it must have been all along. And, all she was wondering was what are the magic words to smooth over this truth that was becoming revealed. There was no solution.
“Why are you mad at me? Don’t be mad at me. Last night you said you adored me.”
Then it appeared: this perfect excuse. This lie that would transcend the humiliating revelations of the last few moments. “Its not you.” She said, “I had a big fight with my mom this morning.”
His whole face softened. Now he felt stupid. Now she could see that all of that vulnerability, the mistaken assumptions about her feelings had all fallen back on him. And, whatever confidence had carried him over to her was now gone.
“Oh God,” he said to her. “Ok. Well let me know if you need anything.”
“Ok.” She said, “I’ll probably call her back during lunch and try to smooth it over.”
“Ok.” He said and walked back over to his cubicle. And there was a shift in mood in the office. An atmosphere like after an electrical storm. Nothing in the air but a neutral, ozone kind of smell and a calm. She listened for a moment and heard the tapping of his keys.
She looked at the tag on her tea bag Our intuition lies in our innocence.
She opened her e-mail and she saw a reply from the Craigslist ad. She had forgotten all about it and now that so much had happened—nothing at all really but so much nonetheless—now that so much had happened, a searing regret rested inside of her stomach. Gretchen looked at the fabric wall between them. She opened the message and it opened to a picture of a woman. The woman has long straight dark hair. The kind of straight hair that is perfectly shining and soft looking. Her eyebrows had strong gorgeous arches. Gretchen looked at the picture closely and a horrible feeling of jealousy and regret surfaced. Gretchen examined her further. Her features were perfectly sculpted, lips with a slight smirk… a plum lipstick.
This was the perfect woman for Alexander. This was the woman that he was going to fall in love with. Marry. Have children with. Gretchen could feel it and she felt as if this was some Greek tragedy and she had secured her own fate.
My own fate? She thought. What does that mean? Why am I feeling this? And, in a split second, Gretchen wished that she had a boyfriend or a date. Someone to compete with this goddess on the screen. And, the next thought was I am totally losing my mind. She had the strong urge to just delete the reply. To bury it and then to just return to work. To start typing copy for the website. But, she knew exactly how long it would take to complete the assignment…not long at all. She had all the time in the world. She sat frozen alternating between looking at the fabric screen between them and this picture on her computer. In a way, she almost wanted to give him this gift. This beautiful gorgeous woman. I think you are so pretty. And, she could also ask to talk to him. Ask him why he said that. Why those words redefined everything they had said to each other up until that point. But, she knew that he would say that he was just drunk.
“Do you want to get lunch with me?” she heard him say through the screen. Was he talking to her?
“I said I have to call my mother.”
His head popped over the screen. “You are mad at me. You might as well just go to lunch and continue to be my friend. You didn’t have a fight with your Goddamned mother.”
She bit her lip and smiled. ‘Who said I wasn’t your friend.?” She looked at him intently. Ok. So this was going to be the relationship. Ok. She could find a way to package these feelings back up. To move them to a file cabinet in the archive room. Why not? She didn’t even know if they’d been there all along.
“This is total harassment in the work place,” she said. And, just at that moment Tessa walked by carrying a large box that looked like a cake box. “What’s that?” Alexander asked. She gave him a quizzical look. “Personal” she said dryly and passed by.
“Hmm” he said to Gretchen. “You’re not getting married are you? That looked an awful lot like a cake box.”
“Harassment,” she said again and sat back down at her computer.
“So should we get Chinese food?”
She looked back up at him. “Fine.”
“Fine” he said back and she heard the tapping of the keys again.
When Gretchen looked back down at her computer, she was startled to see the picture of the woman on her screen again. It was like a magic mirror. A comparison. She was about to hit delete but the she read the e-mail. “What are you doing, Alex? You are fucking crazy —I still adore you, I am just exploring my options, of course I am not abandoning our thing (until we have exhausted ourselves—at least physically)…”
Gretchen was frozen. “Oh shit” she whispered. She felt like a little sister, peeking into the living room. Relegated to an innocent witness. She listened expecting Alexander to make a comment. “Oh shit” she moved her lips but no sound came out. She bit her lip and tried to think of something. This woman obviously knew Alexander. “Obviously” she moved her lips again. And in a slow panicky voice in her mind she thought, oh my God he is having sex with her. Exhaust themselves physically. That was disgusting. Now, the whole thing was disgusting. This woman. Gretchen felt not only a kind of nauseausness, but also a cool emotionless relief. This new information about Alexander had completely neutralized the You are so pretty or whatever he said –she can’t even remember the words. It sobered her up. She closed the e-mail and would think of something later to write or nothing at all. She felt a kind of power –the power of reality she thought. She picked up the phone and dialed her friend Tara’s work number.
“Hey,” she said into the phone. Her new confidence was energizing. Last winter, she had kind of abandoned Tara and her regular end-of-the-week soirées, but now she was free. A kind of emancipation had happened. All of this in the matter of three moments.
It was jealousy. But she didn’t recognize it.
It was anger. But she didn’t acknowledge it.
All of it, completely irrational. This she knew.
“Are you still having a party after work on Friday?” To which Tara of course says she was. “Is that lawyer guy, Michael, going to be there? The one I talked to at the New Years thing?” To which Tara says she could call him and invite him or just give Gretchen his e-mail or number?
“No…if he’s there great.”
Before she could hang up the phone Alexander’s face appeared over the cubical wall. Gretchen hung up the phone. “What was that about?” he asked.
“What’s What?” she said to him.
“That lawyer guy. You said he was an asshole.”
“You can’t always tell who is an asshole and who isn’t.” she said and then looked back down at her computer and started typing. She would just finish the copy now and get it done and over with.
Wednesday – lunch
Fortune cookie fortune: The one you love is closer than you think.
“Do you have a new girlfriend?” Gretchen asked as she poured another cup of tea into the small white ceramic cup. Lunch was all done and their plates were sitting empty with brown Chinese sauce and a noodle or a piece of onion sitting cold and limp on the plate.
Alexander shook his head and blew on the tea. He put the cup back down forgetting to take a sip. “No.” But he didn’t look back up at her.
“Why are you acting so weird?” he asked. And in that moment, she felt as if she had made up and imagined the whole thing. That this really was a special friendship and that so what if he said she was pretty. So what? Hadn’t she touched his shirt when she made a comment about his t-shirt? That certainly could have been construed as intimate, but it wasn’t. Why was she ascribing this new meaning on to these familiar exchanges? And, it all seemed like something she was imagining and if something had gone wrong with her now. Like she was completely crazy and living in an alternate reality. But last night his hand was on her arm while he ordered drinks from the waiter. Had he asked her if she liked him? She couldn’t remember. It was something like that. “Do you like me?” She couldn’t remember. She had been so drunk. Wasn’t there seriousness to their conversation last night?
“All right, I am thinking that I am going to die if I have to sit through the staff meeting tomorrow. I say we construct some elaborate…” But Gretchen could not hear his words or his joke. She had this inside information on him and it coincided with his break from their friendship last night. And, she realized as she is looking at him… him joking and looking for her to conspire, to re-connect and for the two of them to laugh again…he wanted things to be the same, but all she can see is all of this information that has mounted. “…It would be really subtle, an expression like this” he stops talking for a moment and takes on a dramatic, serious expression. “Just nod like this and then we say ‘yes. Yes. Go on’ It is so subtle and you could—“
“I did something really stupid,” she said. And these words were not even her own. They were independent of a thought or a plan. They had intentions all of their own.
“What?” now he couldn’t tell if she is adding on to the joke. He looked at Gretchen’s face then, he stopped. He raised his eyebrows and stared at her. “Really? Since last night? What did you do?”
The way she said it was like she was going to announce that she was pregnant or that there was a warrant out for her arrest.
“What did you do?”
She felt herself growing red, nervous. “Listen. I wanted you to find another—someone. A girlfriend. I don’t now why. It’s been like three weeks and I’ve been combing the want ads. I don’t know why—it became a passion. Do you mind?”
He raised his eyebrows and he smiled and when he did his perfectly straight teeth showed just a little and they were perfectly white. He nodded slowly holding back a smile. “I don’t’ know. What did you do?” and he didn’t seem mad in the slightest. He smiled sweetly and looked at her, “that’s really sweet. Did you find a match for me?”
“Do you already have a girlfriend?” The way Gretchen said it was almost accusing.
His expression changed. “What is with you?”
She started to tell him and then the waiter showed up with the change and a few more fortune cookies. “We already got some,” she said. The man shrugged and smiled at her.
Alexander reached for a cookie, cracked it open and slowly pulled the paper fortune from within it. He stared at it, folded it and put it into his shirt pocket. “So what were you saying?” he popped the cookie in his mouth.
“OK. I’m just going to tell you and then we can kind of go back to how things were.”
“Were? What has changed?”
She looked at him for a long moment. Did he not remember what he had said last night? The way they were together. If she hadn’t taken a cab by herself, she was sure they would have kissed, maybe even gone home together. He was so close to her, last night, walking out of the restaurant, walking down the pier towards the road. He had said, “wait wait” taken a handful of hair and gently held it in a lump at the back of her head. He stood close to her—in front of her—close enough to kiss her, inspecting her. “You do look like a communist. Like a woman from the 1920s—a Weimar Communist.”
“Do you remember what you said to me last night?”
He kind of frowned and then shook his head. “Not really.”
She took a deep breath. “You said you thought I was pretty.”
She thought these words were going to land on the table between them like an uncooked fish that had some how jumped from the tank. Dead. Limp. She thought that something so mythically unusual would happen. That he would freak out or profess his love or something. “You are.” He said. “You are really pretty.”
She felt an elation, a sort of confirmation of something they had been doing together for a long time, but not admitting. Not even really knowing.
“You are not my type but you are really, really pretty.” He added. Ok. Firstly did he just say that? Yes. He just said you are not my type but you are really, really pretty as if taking the words from their meaning and then just proclaiming them ordinary. You don’t just say someone is pretty.
He fiddled with the little plate of cookies, took one into his hand and without looking up cracked another fortune cooking and pulling the wrapper slowly from the shell. He held it in front of him and read it. Even thought he was acting calm, Gretchen could tell he was tense. The muscle in his jaw tightened and he scratched his neck, but he didn’t look back up. He started folding the paper fortune neatly in a tiny little rectangle.
“What does it say?” she asked.
He looked up at her and she could tell that he felt guilty or something.
“I mean,” he said, “you know you are pretty, right?”
Gretchen thought, now he is taking full ownership over the meaning of the words and then handing it back to her in a completely different way. That was not how he said it last night.
“Well, I thought that last night the way you said. I don’t know. I—“ and she was mumbling and rambling quickly and now she didn’t even know if her feelings or her assumptions belonged in this conversation. She didn’t even know if all along she had felt this way or this new meaning she had just constructed because of some alchemy last night under the warm light, the blue water on the bay. And he is handsome –of course he is—but her knowing him is the same as some good friend. You can admire looks without falling in love with someone.
“All right,” she said gathering up her things. “This is too fucking weird.”
“Well, wait,” he said, “What were you saying about the girlfriend thing and the Internet stuff.”
“Oh” she shook her head. She really didn’t even care any more. “It was so stupid. I replied to a personal ad and sent your picture. I pretended to be you.” She stood up and started to turn for the door. “I’ll see you at the office later. I have to call my mom.”
Again his hand was on her arm and there was that warm impression as if his hands were radioactive like a superhero and it sent a buzzing energy into her skin just where he touched. And, her arm was bare because it was warm out and she hadn’t put her cardigan back on. She just had on her linen tank shirt with a pretty cotton skit and the outfit made her feel ethereal and with this new energy between them and his hand on her arm and his dark eyes, his deep eyes examining her with both anger and urgency his hands felt even more intimate. Seductive.
“What?” he said in an almost inaudible, gruff whisper “what did you do?”
“It is so stupid. And, apparently you already know the woman.”
His eyes closed slightly as he brought her face into sharper focus, looking for meaning. “What are you talking about?”
She pulled away from him and he released his arm. “Oh come on. Don’t be mad. At least I am telling you the truth. It’s stupid. It’s no big deal. A joke.”
“This is a total breech of trust.” He said. “Who was it? You can’t misrepresent me.”
And, suddenly now there was a serious between them. It was the beginning of a feud. A gulf.
“I don’t’ know,” she said and released herself from his touch. Unconsciously, she brushed her flesh with her hand and she wiped his warm impression from her arm and made her way out the door.
SF CHRONICLE NEWSPAPER HOROSCOPE, GEMINI: How long has it been since you slept late or had breakfast in bed? This could be the perfect day for the comforts that make you feel nurtured, safe and protected. Go ahead and baby yourself--you deserve it.
Gretchen was at home today. She had called in sick to work and she was sitting at the couch with the Chronicle and a cup of strong, English breakfast tea. She was afraid to read the quote on the tea bag tag, so she left it hanging on the side of her mug, osmotically absorbing the orange tea color. Her laptop was opened beside her and since she has been up this morning she had checked her in box for an e-mail from Alexander, but there was none. And, there was not another one from the Craigslist beauty. He must have talked to her or she must have talked to him…now Gretchen felt even more foolish and jealous. That was his personal life, it hadn’t belonged to her. And even though nothing really came of it and probably the two of them just had a good laugh over her, she felt childish and small and she wished she could just delete all of the events of the past few days. And, then another part of her was glad that it happened. She looked around her flat and stood up and walked over to the window. A nice light came in, a light that can only be found in san Francisco—a deep blue and bright yellow that enhanced the hues of all of the colors. She looked across the street at the pretty Victorian houses painted pinks and reds and royal blue. Flower were erupting from large pots and hanging boxes. She unlatched the window and the big pane of glass opened outward horizontally letting a rush of cool, cleansing air into the living room. She adjusted her robe and walked back over to the coffee table. She reloaded the page and she saw an e-mail from Tessa. RE: New Submission Protocols. She clicked on the e-mail and it was to Gretchen and Alexander. The intimacy of the two of them on the recipient line was unnerving. It was a reminder that they worked together, had a professional relationship. She almost found humor in the idea of a “professional” relationship and she remembered the joke they shared about acting “professional.” And the emphasis on the word was “pro” and all day it was like that, describing how a “PROfessional” worked the photocopier, or how a “PROfesssional dressed at a business lunch.” But, not now, her mind barely recalled the humor. And, then she re-read the subject line: new submission protocols. She knew what Alexander would say—the deluge of jokes about “submission protocols” Gretchen read the e-mail and it simply detailed the guidelines for submitting copy for editor’s review. The editing department did not like “wayward” e-mails with text copy or “random slips of paper left in her inbox.” In a moment of humor, the same familiarity she always had, she clicked on reply and started a reply only to Alexander.
“Ok, I am very concerned about the new “submission protocols.” I am particularly concerned about the “wayward e-mails.” What do you think?” she clicked on ‘send’ and in an instant she felt like she had offered an olive branch. A way out of the confused mess that they had wandered into. If anything was wayward, it was the course of their friendship.
Gretchen felt elation as she went into the bathroom and showered. She decided she would go for a walk on the pier and meander around the Thursday farmers market in the embarcadero. It was such a gorgeous day and she would relive the memories of when she first moved to San Francisco, the smell of eucalyptus, the sophisticated urban California skyscape. The pretty bay and views from the top of Nob Hill streets.
She expected an e-mail from Alexander would be in her in box and she was eager to check it, but she took her time getting dressed. The warm feeling of resolution and reconciliation and the affections she had for him murmuring through her body. She just felt good. She just felt like everything was back to normal.
Once she was dressed, she pulled the shade in her room and light poured in. The white IKEA curtains created a theatrical, heavenly mood. She tied a scarf around her neck and dabbed on her make up. She looked at herself in the mirror and held her hair back with both hands. She liked the idea of looking like a communist intellectual from the 20s. Mysterious, full of ambiguity. She grabbed her keys and as if –she really believed it was an afterthought—she went over to computer and clicked on her in box.
There were no new messages. Just as that Euphoria had blown her up and made her light and agile, a thin pinprick released the air in a stream of disappointment and shame and as she became deflated, it picked up momentum and all of the excitement emptied out of her. Because now the e-mail was sitting on his computer screen, having been devoured by his eyes and mind and he had made the decision not to respond. Gretchen looked at the time. It was 10:15. She clicked back on her own e-mail and re-read it. Gushes of embarrassment poured through her body and there was nothing to be embarrassed about. Gretchen tried to find the interpretation that was cavalier, who cares, no need to respond. But not after what had happened. Ordinarily, he would have responded in an instant—even in a meeting—he would have seen her e-mail on his iphone and typed a clever message. And, whenever she was out sick from work before, she would have gotten a call first thing. A pretend inquiry or an impersonation of some John Cleese official from the “human resource accounting department.”
She now felt horrible. Why couldn’t she have just behaved like a normal friend? She had crossed a line and it was bordering on mean. She clicked on the inbox again and there was nothing. And, it felt like a silence. And, even if it wouldn’t last forever, Gretchen knew that some things do change a relationship for good. And, in another instant she reasoned with herself: what did he expect, for this to go on like this forever? Gretchen looked at her teacup and the little quote on the bag, now a deep orange from the liquid absorbed by the string. She flipped it over and read the pithy, calming bit of wisdom:
Let your manners speak for you.
Gretchen knew that all day she would feel horrible, despite the pretty San Francisco, light and cool air. All day she would feel beaten up on the inside. And, she knew just as well that Alexander wasn’t going to respond to her e-mail.
Friday Early Evening
Disheveled Man on the BART subway platform, yelling:
“Tired and discouraged souls keep on working.”
Gretchen will go back to work on Monday. She couldn’t go in again today. It was too much still and with Alexander never responding to her e-mail, it was impossible to go in. Now she was waiting for the BART to take her to Tara’s house in the mission: a big flat that a friend of hers had gotten a long time ago, from a friend of hers and so somehow Tara had scored an enormous flat with an upstairs attic apartment. And, because Tara owned a upscale furniture store, she had all the floor samples in her house. The attic loft looked like Andy Warhol’s studio. That was where Tara did her paintings that she sometimes showed at galleries—mostly in the mission. And the paintings were modern, close ups of hands and fingers and in the fingerprints you could make out scenes of people, usually people kissing or Madonna and child. Gretchen shifted her weight and tonight she wore high strappy sandals. She had on a pretty silk outfit, a straight skirt and a fitted tank top. It was gold and rose colored. It was sophisticated and still casual. Her hair was down and she did look very pretty. And, she felt different than she did at work with Alexander. She felt not like a communist from the 20s, but like a thirty-year-old career woman in San Francisco.
A rush of oily smelling air burst past as the train pulled to a sudden halt in front of her. The doors slid open and she walked into the train. There were a few people on board and there was a seat available. She sat down and the train pulled out of the station. The movement of the car was liquid and silent…the electric power generated a futuristic feel even though the train was probably thirty years old. She took out her iphone and checked her e-mail. She opened her in box and there was a message from Alexander. No subject. She felt her heart pounding and she turned to the window momentarily and the train was passing through a dark tunnel. She saw her own reflection and she recognized a look of fear and then excitement.
What did she expect? On the one hand she hoped for a funny e-mail, the return of their friendship. On the other hand she wished for something more, something deeper. Because all those feelings that she wrapped up in boxes and hid away or sent off in the fed ex mail slot, they had all been returned to her. They were right here in front of her. And, she did care about him. She clicked on the e-mail.
“Are you still going to Tara’s tonight?”
That was all it said. The blood in her heart was still pumping even though the e-mail didn’t reveal anything. But, it was an end to the two-day silence. So that in itself was something.
Gretchen looked at the time: 6:40. She wondered where he was. He had his phone. He would get a text. She typed a text message.
“Where are you?” her finger hit send.
She waited a moment, looked out of the window as if she was just day dreaming, thinking about nothing. She looked back down at her phone.
She kind of smiled. Because the communication was familiar again.
“Well what are you doing?” she typed.
“What are YOU doing?” he typed back.
She started to laugh. She started to type, “I asked you first.” But she stopped. She thought about it. Instead, she typed, “do you want to.” should she write “talk?” or just “hang out?” She typed “do you want to meet me for a drink?”
Her heart was racing and she ran her fingers over the screen.
“Ok.” She typed and then she smiled and waited. Her heart pounded and she couldn’t help but smile. She closed her eyes. When she opened them again she read: Can you get to pier 23?
“How bout 7:00?”
Gretchen got off at the next stop and took the next train back to downtown. When she arrives at Embarcadero, she hailed a cab and in a few minutes she was at the restaurant.
As she walked towards the restaurant she thought to herself that everything had changed. There was no more guise of platonic friendship. Then, in just another instant she thought maybe she has become confused by the communication. And for a split second she thought, what if that beautiful woman from Craigslist was here with him. Could that happen? And, there was a brief panic, but in an instant she saw him outside of pier 23, smoking a cigarette. She recognized his stance and his short dark hair. He saw Gretchen as she started across the street and his dark eyes were on her. They followed her the whole way.
For a moment, she felt awkward in the heels she was wearing. She didn’t want him to feel awkward if she stood taller than him. But, as she walked up to him, she saw that the shoes had made her just about the same height. He looked at her for a long moment, standing in front of her. She expected a joke or a smile, but his face remained serious. So much so that it made Gretchen reflexively start to smile. A subtle smile crosses his lips and then he let out an audible sigh. She waited for him to say something. And, it seemed too long. It seemed that they would have nothing to say to each other. But, then finally he whispered, “You look really pretty.” Then he leaned closer and kissed her gently on the lips. Gretchen could feel the weight inside of her lift and drop and then there was that feeling again, defying gravity. He put his hand on her arm and pulled her even closer. He looked into her eyes and brushed the hair from her face. His lips found hers again. He pulled away and took something from his pocket. It was a tiny rectangular piece of paper.
“What’s that?” Gretchen asked.
“It’s the fortune from the Chinese restaurant, the other day when we had our fight. ” He handed the little piece of paper to her and it was so small, it was difficult to take from him. But, she did and she carefully unfolded the little strip of paper. She smiled when she read the words:
You are going to have some new clothes.
“Wow” Gretchen said and looked at Alexander.
“I know,” Alexander said joking, but with a serious expression “I mean it’s uncanny.”
“Yeah,” Gretchen said smiling feigning seriousness “weirdly prophetic.”
Alexander smiled at her again. He leaned closer and kissed her. She took in all of him: his spicy smell and his strong arms. Her whole body felt the radioactive electricity of the closeness of him.
“Should we go in?” he asked.
She nodded and together they walk into the restaurant and the evening was still warm; and, the sky over the San Francisco Bay was turning pink and yellow and it made the whole world feel heavenly.
- * -