Issue 215, Winter 2015
They were aloft, above the storm, the interior of the DC-9 darkened. On her headset, Kat listened to Classic ’80s Rock, an oxymoron on three counts. Justin would likely be eating now, stored leavings in plastic sacks shoved into a corner of the freezer and stiff with cold. There was an eloquent blank white rectangle provided on some of the sacks suggesting that the industrious homemaker might, if he or she so desired, write down the name of the thing the bag contained and the date on which it had been stored. Around their house, no one so desired. This was how the gourmet fed himself when she was away: she knew his rebuke so well.
Suddenly she remembered Danhoff as she’d last seen him. She and a kind-of boyfriend were at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor having lunch when he’d walked in and gotten in line. She knew what a small town A2 could be and she mostly avoided it, but Danhoff had always thought the place overrated and was on record as having said that it was absurd to wait in a line out the door for a sandwich and in any case his taste did not run, never had run, to sandwiches or deli fare generally. So of course here he was. She was only a little surprised because this was the uncomfortable scenario she was always expecting, if not prepared for, and she avoided looking in his direction. She became conscious of herself acting: nodding, smiling, raising the cup to her lips in what she took to be an unmindful manner. It wasn’t like she had to. Act, that is. They had no legal ties. She’d done everything on the up and up. Time—some time, anyhow—had passed. She glanced quickly at him and instantly could tell that he’d spotted her spot him. He stood staring straight ahead with a kind of deflated dignity that she recognized, almost missed: there was both a hurt and a sense of duty not to embarrass her with even a friendly encounter, and this guy opposite her wiping Russian dressing from his mouth with the back of his hand had no clue about the historical energies running through the room, had no idea that as soon as Danhoff had entered her field of vision he and his face and his Russian dressing had basically been pushed out of her history, this would be the last date; she could never turn up with this guy anywhere in the world where Danhoff’s presence was at least a theoretical possibility—whoever the hell he was, dangling his shiny fingers limply over his plate and trying to figure out how to politely express all his interesting date thoughts with his mouth full. Kat swelled with a feeling of shame. She couldn’t go up to Danhoff. She couldn’t sit here. She couldn’t leave.
Now in the here and now Danhoff appeared to her: her seatmate, belted in, half glasses pushed to the end of his nose, plain as day under the reading light. Danhoff put his hands together. He spoke in his slight accent. You are so funny, he said, in his slight accent. In a pinch, the studiously atypical girl makes a beeline straight for the emotional main chance: Me. Our failed marriage. The undespoiled purity of the past (fingers up to form quotation marks), ah. Do me a favor, sweet pea. If you want out of your marriage to Mr. Justin, don’t turn me into some kind of saintly benchmark (fingers up). Don’t make our failure tragic rather than just dishonest and impatient. You were dishonest and also you were impatient. A saint (fingers up) you could have lived with. If I’d been a saint (fingers up), I wouldn’t finally have put my foot down about your routine abuse of my trust and my good nature, not to mention the patience I possessed that you did not. You didn’t think that was saintly (fingers up). You merely hated it. You hated that I ran out of patience, you hated that I did not possess unlimited quantities of trust, he said, in his slight accent. You liked the stable older man who could pay his bills and didn’t drink himself to sleep on the couch every night, but hated the wet blanket (fingers up) who wanted to know where you were and who wanted to know when you were coming home and who became annoyed with you for not telling him. I couldn’t live with it. You couldn’t live with me not being able to live with it. I tried. But listen: I didn’t let you go (fingers up) because I wanted you to be free (fingers up). I did it because once you had gone, and I had been alone again in my house for a few weeks, I realized how calm it was, how surprisingly easy things had become, how few questions each new day posed. It was calm and it was easy, around my house. The days were no longer puzzles to be solved, he said, in his slight accent. You want to know why I didn’t come up to you at the delicatessen that time? Because I had someplace I needed to be and I very sensibly thought, God, I could go over there and say hello and make her feel better about herself—grown-up, maturely beyond the marriage, all that baloney—but fuck it: I’m running late, and I’m not losing my place in line to make reassuring chitchat (fingers up) with her and her yuppie, I am not going to perform the hyperadult, hypermodern pas de deux of still good friends (fingers up); she’ll just have to sit there pretending she hasn’t seen me and sweating it out until I’ve finished here with my delicatessen business. You need to understand that while a saint (fingers up) would have welcomed, even sought out, your friendship, I wanted nothing of the kind. I had no desire to be your friend (fingers up) after you had left. The very idea of being your friend (fingers up), and the exhausting playacting it would involve, nauseated me, as it still nauseates me. I confess that I can’t comprehend why you would place any value on the friendship (fingers up) of someone whom you have deceived and betrayed. And so I chose to allow you to sweat it out while I tended to my business, at the delicatessen, to tend to my own ordinary physical hunger rather than indulge your insatiable emotional hunger not merely to be liked but to publicly appear to be someone who is liked, he said, in his slight accent. I’m gratified, I have to admit, that in that regard you’ve never quite stopped sweating it out. And I am amused that, among virtual strangers, you are famous (fingers up) for being liked while among the people whom one might assume are important to you, you make not the least attempt to be likable. But as I say, do me a favor and, if you feel guilty, don’t feel guilty because you’ve made me out to be this wonderful person who was the regrettable collateral damage (fingers up) in your great quest to discover yourself (fingers up). You didn’t think I was wonderful (fingers up) at all, and you didn’t discover a damn thing about yourself. You spent three years pushing me into a corner, telling me I had to stop this or change that. I had to change absolutely everything, and you had to change absolutely nothing. Those were your terms, and I accepted them for as long as I could, and when I said enough already, you packed up your things and left. Feel guilty because you went into marriage in an incompetent way and bailed out of it in a contemptible way. And now you believe you’re coming up against Mr. Justin’s limitations just as you did with mine. They’re your own limitations, sweet pea, he said, in his slight accent. I think everybody seems clingy to you, sooner or later. That screwed-up childhood of yours bred some distinctive traits, including zero sense of accountability and a kind of obsessive secrecy. And that is just that. Not my problem. Now: I don’t know how you’re going to handle things with Mr. Justin, but do me a favor and leave me out of it. Oh, and you wanted impartial. Right here, I am as impartial as they come. In real life, who knows. In real life, I may still be completely shattered (fingers up) by your exit, perhaps I shall never recover (up), perhaps life has bright moments that turn darkly back on themselves when they ultimately remind me of my time with you (up, stabbing repeatedly at the air)—you’ll never know. But here, I am the purest strain of conscience, a virtual Jiminy Cricket (fingers up), he said, in his slight accent, before vanishing and leaving her on her own.