I slammed the door. It was metal and it clanged in the empty corridor in which I never saw any of the other doors open, where I never saw another person waiting for the elevator, as if I lived on a stage set of a corridor thirteen floors above street level in which only one apartment had people in it.
I went to the stairwell. It was a lot of stairs to descend, but I couldn’t risk standing by the elevator. he might come out, start talking to me, get me to change my mind. He could always do that. He could always get me to change my mind, do what he wanted. I thought he should have been a lawyer. He could make a case for anything.
A few weeks ago he had told me that we were invited to some friends for dinner, people I didn’t know very well. On the way home, I brought home a pie from a fancy bakery to take with us. “No, don’t bring it,” he said. I really wanted to. Finally, he said, “I want it. Don’t take it. I want it.” On the way to the subway I was ready to stop for flowers to bring instead. I hated the idea of showing up with nothing. “Why don’t you wait til we’re nearer their house?” he said. We argued. He won.
Finally, on the subway, he showed me the two tickets he had hidden in his pocket – Bruce Springsteen at Madison Square Garden. That’s where we were going.
I told the story the next day at the office to the older woman I had become friendly with, emphasizing the surprise part of the story, but she didn’t smile. “Didn’t you think something was up?” she asked, puzzled. No, I hadn’t. Those little arm twists were normal.
I had come about six months ago. Come back after seven years, seven years spent mostly with Natvar in a nightmare. Coming back to New York City, leaving Europe, coming back to the States and to this boyfriend had seemed so fairytale like.
When, back in London, I told my friend Aliki that I had suggested to Jeffrey that I come back and live with him again, she said, “You shouldn’t have done that.” Aliki was so old I paid attention when she said things like that.
She had become my friend. Sort of. A conditional friend. An old woman. A wealthy woman. An aristocratic woman who brought her servants from Portugal. Greek she was, originally, but she had lived in England most of her life, had married a well connected Englishman, the cousin of Bertrand Russell, a man with a title. He had been the British ambassador to Spain. She had hosted the queen.
John, her husband, had died a few years ago, recently enough that he was still present in her mind. “You know what he told me once?” she asked me one morning, sitting in her bedroom which is where I always met up with her, the bedroom with the big double bed, the little vanity where she applied her make-up without looking because she couldn’t see much anyway, the TV she drew her chair to and sat two or three inches from the screen to see, the drawers where Natalia, her personal maid, a plain unhappy woman Aliki said she had saved from poverty, a woman with one Thalidomide arm and very little English, the drawers where Natalia folded every pair of socks perfectly so that when you opened a drawer it was always neat and in perfect order. “Aliki,” he said, “you have never bored me.” She smiled at the recollection.
Aliki had been a sculptor, but I didn’t like her creations, the ones I saw in photographs – cold steel abstractions.
Still, she had been excited for me when Jeffrey was coming to London to see me after six years. I took him to meet her. We had tea in her elaborate and tasteful drawing room. Afterwards, she chided me. “He s not good enough for you.” And I knew she was right, but but but, there was nowhere to go but straight ahead, nowhere at all to go except where I was determined to go: to New York, to my lover, to my one true love.
“Enduring love is so precious,” my sister had written to me from India where she was when I surfaced after having disappeared for four years. Yes, I thought, enduring love, that’s what it is.
I had Jeffrey’s tape to prove it. He had brought me a tape when he came to London, a mix of songs he had put together just for me. “You’ve been down to the bottom with a bad man, babe, but you’re back where you belong,” growled Dylan, and it seemed right. “Out of this world, out of the blue, out of this love for you,” sang someone else, in smooth yearning tones.
He must love me. It must be this romance. I showed Aliki the photographs we had taken of ourselves using a timer. I was excited to show them to her, I was filled with my week of visit with Jeffrey, wanted only to think of it, of its good parts.
My heart had dropped when he didn’t look back, walking through the gate at the airport.
Aliki and I walked to a tea place. Aliki liked me to walk with. That was one of the conditions. She put her arm through mine. I walked slowly.
I showed her the photographs. Jeffrey and I on the delicate embroidered couch in his stepmother’s fancy house. She looked at them thoughtfully. “He is very drawn to you,” she pronounced. And then, “How is the sex? That is very important.” I assured her it was just fine. And it had been. My first sex in six years. It was fine.
And so much wrong with the plan. So many boulders to overlook and climb over to keep my fairytale intact.
And when Aliki called me in New York to see how I was doing, I knew she knew I was lying and that it would be our last conversation.