Sunday, June 05, 2005

Chapter 4 (final installment)

Finally S. got around to what caused him to notice me the first time:

“I’m positive it was your walk that made me look more carefully.”

“My what?”

“There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about it, something between a bounce and a skipping sensation, you seem most of the time to be almost running on the balls of your feet. On that particular Winter’s day, you were careening toward the main entrance of Sterling as if you were either going to take wing and fly— or fall ingloriously on your face. It so happened my own path was taking me inside; naturally I followed. Cherchez la femme.”

“You’re such a liar, Retter!”

“Not at all! Under that God-awful peacoat, your figure was nothing special, though body types, large or small, never deter me. I wanted to see what your ass looked like with such a walk—


“—bouncing up the stone steps of this ridiculous American Gothic portal. No, I’m sure it was your breasts I wanted to see as well. They bounce so saucily when you walk that way.”

“You stare at my breasts?” I asked with mock shock and displeasure.

“All the time, there’s no harm in observing the beauty of the world.” He paused for a split-second to wait for my “Harrumph!”, then continued as if he hadn’t said anything, “I was hanging back enough so that you wouldn’t hold the door— or notice me lurking behind you. Once in the building your shoes, low and sensible of course, probably loafers or something equally dull and school-girlish, yet charming in their innocence, clicked along the tiles in a stammering rhythm that I found brave or a perhaps even a little forward, in any case my interest level increased a notch, then several notches as you disrobed out of the coat. Don’t roll your eyes! I’m being serious! I couldn’t be sure, I asked myself, what was it about you that pricked my curiosity so?”

“That I wore a skirt?”

“Ha-ha, you’re always so penetrating with your insights, Mis-us Campbell. In any case, I didn’t have to think about it very long, my heart beat a little faster as I saw you turning down the corridor to the right towards M & A and then into its doors. You turned around when I called out “hello!”, though only briefly I’m glad to say, tossing your hair, unconsciously I suspect, you never, ever are outwardly the coquette.”

“Well, I’m glad I meet up to your standards, then….”

“Ah, but tossing of the hair is one of the ways women signal a man they’re interested, you do realize that? Another is pulling on their hair, or arranging it as they talk to someone else, it’s a sort of deferring of their interest to something else. And as I have gotten to know you bet-ter, I have come to realize you are not without a certain charming vanity. Who is it lists her hair color as ‘dark ash blond’ on her driver’s license?”

“How do you know that? Have you been in my purse?”

“Alas, it’s the only private part of you I have been in.” He patted his own hair with an elaborately feminine gesture. “But I also know you enhance those lovely tresses— that is the term, isn’t it? Tresses?— with a bottle of chemicals you keep in your bathroom cabinet labeled so fetchingly with the brand name of ‘Summer Blond.’ In Germany, our blonds are blond more than just in Summer.”

“That’s the absolute last time you’re taking a leak at my apartment! From now on you have to pee outside in the street.”

“Ah, Beirut! I pissed in the streets so many times there. Getting back to that first time— we met, that is— I only caught a brief glance of your face before you turned away— your gaze was more innocent than most of the incoming freshmen, all of the ones I meet at mixers or after classes are either pre-med or pre-law and definitely post-coital. Of course, I couldn’t study you then in any detail, these were all first impressions, it was only later that I came to know that face better. I learned it’s no school girl’s face, no innocent at heart.”

“You’re such a hopeless flirt, Retter.”

“Yes, I’m afraid that’s true. I shall rush to confession tonight and regale the Monsignor with my misdeeds. You see, I had to be careful, lest Ellen sees I was looking at anyone except her. We had only been going out for a few weeks, and strange to say, she’d never alluded to you as her M & A roommate. I understood immediately why not.”

“We’re hardly roommates.”

“And she’s hardly in the same league as you are. But that’s the mark of Cain on my head, Mis-sus Campbell. In any case, I smiled my crispest German smile for you both, though I positioned myself in front of Ellen’s desk in such a manner that she would think I was smiling just at her. What was I thinking taking such a chance for someone I hadn’t met? I hoped you might see my smile, but alas, you did not look back again, instead disappearing behind the doors to the research room. Freed from that stodgy pea coat, which you flung into your chair in one motion, the bounce in your step carried all the way up your body. How I wished at that very moment I could see you shed more than the coat!”

“Always the Lothario,” and I playfully slapped his face, though not hard at all, more the palm of my hand glancing across his cheek, his skin felt cool and rough even though he’d shaved. He grabbed for my hand, which I pulled away with a laugh.

“Ah, but what else would account for my sudden craving to see what you looked like underneath the knit dress which clung to your figure in both the right and some of the wrong places?”

“You cad! How dare you allude to my fat?”

“I told you body types are an American obsession. I like a woman with some substance. Besides, you’re hardly fat, my dear.”

“Well, tell that to Patrick, he’s always hinting how I’d look so much better if I could just lose 5 or 10 pounds.”

“It is not for me to comment on your husband’s perception or lack of same.” He was serious for a moment, and it made me extremely uncomfortable I’d revealed that detail about P. or that he’d commented on it. “But I digress. You were the ‘older woman,’ and Laclos had whetted my appetite for that. I remember telling myself how very interesting things in M & A were likely to become over the next few months.”

If only we’d both known how right he was— though looking back, I’m not sure it would have changed a thing.

I’ve introduced two of the three persons in this psychodrama. What about P.?