My long day ended with a sleepless night. I rose early, shaking fatigue from my shoulders, pulling my robe around me. As I stumbled downstairs, I remembered the emptiness of the coffee tin. I let the dog out as water boiled for tea.
Out on the porch, I watch the clouds gather. Days on end of thunderstorms broke for the twenty-four hours of the quarterly art event. My prayers answered, the event wildly successful, my night over, I am content despite my weariness.
I think of the few real conversations I had last evening. I spent the party stationed by the entryway, greeting each visitor, cajoling them into signing the guestbook, handing out title sheets for the work displayed in the show. But I took a break or two and mingled; and afterwards, I dined with a handful of people and there, too, fell into real conversation.
Now I'm thinking about those exchanges, re-living them, wondering, second-guessing. Did I say too much? Did I ask too few questions? I summon the faces of those with whom I talked, and strain to decipher the message in their eyes. Did I show empathy -- or self-absorption?
And suddenly another party post-mortem comes to mind. And I am falling, lost in a decade forty years dead, traveling home from a party with a man who squired me around in those days for reasons that I did not understand then and fathom even less from this distance.
In the gloom of the car, he asked me if I had met anyone interesting at his department Christmas party. I thought a minute and admitted, yes, I did talk to a few people. I studied his profile: broad cheeks, slender nose, thin lips, chiseled chin. Wariness overcame me. This man spent his days pursuing a combined PhD and MD at Washington University and his evenings in the living area of my studio apartment. We had been keeping company for a few months. I had yet to feel at ease with him.
I saw you talking to Doctor. . .He spoke the name of one of his professors. I reflected a moment, letting a block or two slip behind us. I turned back towards him, suddenly wary, my heartbeat quickening. A rush of fear gripped my innards. But I cast aside whatever premonition held me back and admitted that the conversation had indeed occurred.
What did the two of you talk about, he asked.
I hesitated, then said, My job in Jeff City, mostly. I summoned an image of the little professor, bow tie, tweed jacket, frizzy hair. Kind eyes. He asked me what it was like to talk to legislators, to travel back and forth. He asked about grad school. I fell silent. I realized my conversation with the man at the party had actually been quite pleasant, the highlight of the evening. My apprehension faded and I turned back, smiling, remembering how nice it felt to be regarded as even vaguely interesting.
Did he happen to mention -- my friend's voice grew steely -- that he had just been awarded a Nobel prize for his scientific research?
I felt the door slam; heard the lock slide into the bolthole; shuddered as the chain slipped onto its bracket. No, he didn't, I said. The car slid into a parking space and the engine died. I looked through the glass at my apartment building, its sturdy brick rising into the dark night. Are you coming up? I asked, not sure which way I wanted his answer to go.
I don't think so, he said. He made no move to get out of the car. He kept his hands on the steering wheel while I struggled with the door, lifted my pocketbook from the floor, buttoned my coat, stepped onto the snowy street. He pulled away before I stepped onto the sidewalk. I watched his car until the taillights faded. Then I went into my apartment building and stood beneath the stairs, suddenly unsure of whether I could climb them.
Now Jessica comes onto the porch and tells me about a strange dream she had last night. Here in the present it is not winter; there is no snow beneath my feet. But the thunder rumbles. Our day of respite from the rain will soon be forgotten. And the conversations which trouble me, the words that I might regret saying, will linger only slightly longer.
Saturday, June 6, 2015
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.
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