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Story The Man She eah had been watching @ lot of ice-skating lately Regional championships. The Nationals. The Worlds, “Stars on Ice.” She knew who had knee injuries and who was going to sports psychologists. She knew who was flawless, and who was just trying to She's always kept Adam of her mind. But seeing him again, after so many years, made her change the way she looked at everything. stay in the game. ‘There was no skating one spring night when she arrived home from work, so she made a weak attempt to clean her apart ‘ment, which mostly resulted in her moving things from one side of the room to the other. She lay down on her bed, where she looked up atthe familiar cracks in the cel ing, which reminded her of hieroglyphics. Leah worked as a supervisor in the customer service department of a mail: ‘order company. The items were mundane, but people seemed to want them urgently seeds, stretch pants, magnifying g dehumidifiers, tapes of simulated ocean sounds, The job had nothing to do with her college major, anthropology. Her papers on the Yanamamo and the Zulu, Which she labored over in the fluorescent colle it ening, according to her teachers, and she imagined her career clearly then. But when she graduated the economy was bad, so she took what was offered and contented herself clipping articles on other es: ancient skulls or skeletons, or insects library, were succinct and enti people's discover thousands of years old, preserved in amber. (Over the years, she had settled into her job, and was good at reassuring people that their problems would be solved. was a delay in the mail, she would say. A n the name or address, a digit or letter. The item was it of stock, but would be sent out shortly. She almed people down, speaking in low, even tones, listening to every detail of their complaints, She had to use an alias name, Laura Smith, to protect her identity. This left her feeling disingenuous. It was not the nan Con her diploma. It was not the name she'd signed when she ‘opened her first checking account. It was not the name she'd written on the first thing she’d ever made: a plaster of paris inthe back _ mold of her hand at 5, that she kept in her top dresser drawer. Leah grabbed the day's mail from her nightstand and went through it quickly, stopping when she noticed the envelope from Brazil. It was from her old college boyfriend, Adam, who had been teaching there. He'd kept in touch with her over the years, sending colorful postcards, shots of Carnaval and open marketplaces and wide expanses of beach. This time, he'd sent her a computer leter like those she'd been getting from her college friends lately. It seemed the era of the individual was dead. There were a lot of exclama- tion points, which immediately made her tense. We have news! Gina and I are getting ‘married next summer! We hope you all can make it. You have plenty of advance notice, so there is mo excuse for not coming! It will be in Wyoming, where Gina is from. We have planned a weekend of fun—tennis, sailing. golf, etc. We want all our friends to share in our joy! Dear Everyone ‘Golf, etc. I don’t play golt, etc.” Leah said to herself She skipped to the bottom, where he'd written. i loopy handwriting, and she (continued o» She Can't Forget (continued from page 169) found herself feeling somewhat grate ful for it L-really hope you can make it. It would mean a lot to me. Speak to you soon, home ina few weeks, She looked at the envelope, its stamp showing the unfamiliar face of another country’s leader, and the post- mark “Brasilia.” It reminded her how far away he was She called her boyfriend, William, who lived only a few blocks from her but somehow always sounded long distance, of like he'd just woken up, or both, “L got an invitation,” she told him. “To Adam's wedding. He's getting married, To that Gina woman...” Leah had met Gina once, a a going away party Adam’s parents had thrown for them when they were first going off to Brazil afew years ago, to live in Rio, Adam was going to teach math at 4 fancy school in S30 Paulo and Gina was going to teach English. Leah imagined the two of them grading papers on a beach somewhere, their skin darkening to a deep mocha. It was a pool party. Gina was blond and athletic, and already tan. She did perfectly curved dives off the deep end. She came up to Leah and said, “I've heard a lot about you,” and Leah said, ‘Oh, really?” and they got into a brief discussion on the state of contemporary literature, until Gina had to rush off to be in someone’s photograph. ‘She's very nice,” Leah whispered to Adam, trying to seem at ease, but she was uncomfortable the whole time, hanging out by the potato chips and wearing an old one-piece bathing suit that made her fel fat There was no response from William on the other end ofthe phone “Were you asleep?” she asked him, 0." he said Qh ‘There was a silence. She wanted him to say, “So how do you feel about it? How do you feel about going to the wedding of the first person you ever slept with? Are you afraid you'll be casually nibbling hors d’ocuvres when you suddenly remember the sex? Or maybe that, out of the comer of your eye, you'll be watching him waich her? She wondered if William would offer to go with her. This would involve committing to her through to next summer, Not to mention fly- ing to Wyoming, where she just couldn't see him fitting in, He always wore black leggings and shorts, and, a cap covered with the buttons of dead presidents She had told William a little about ‘Adam on their first date, at Café No Bar in the Village, where he often went to chill out with his dilapidated rice paper Journal and to contemplate piercing his other ear. They somehow got off the subject when Leah got distracted, “Why No Bar?” she asked. “I mean, saying what a thing isn’t “This is a non sequitur, “but if you come over, I'l {just bought some bok choy.” “Cool” she said. Leah walked the few blo William’s apartment. On the way, z ‘thought about freshman year, how she and Adam went to independent films together, always moving toward each other in the dark, coming close to touching. He taught her “Rocky Leah remembered how nervous they'd been the first time she and Adam made love that summer. = And then, later on, how comfortable they were. doesn’t really explain what it is. I mean, okay, it's not a bar. Why not just call it Café whatever?” “Because that’s the name, that’s what they decided to name it, okay?” he said, clearly annoyed that he was sharing his special place with her, and she was overcomplicating things. liam was divorced, so that topic took up most of their conversations. Early on, he showed her poems he'd ‘written to purge himself of his ex-wife, Esther. “Esther,” she said to herself “Esther and William.” Esther Williams. She just couldn't see it. Still, she could tell you in a second all the words that rhymed with divorce: source, of This was one of the things that had drawn her to William in the begin- rning. That he was boyish and had an air of suffering about him, and had ‘rusted her so easily to comfort him, letting her take his face in her hands, stroke his hair, tell him everything would be all right. ‘The wedding’s next summer,” she said Another silence, William did this, to her on the phone, got quiet for no reason, so that she usually ended up saying, “Are you there?” a lot. She thought sleeping with him would help, ‘but it only seemed to make it worse. ‘There were long silences, after rela- tively easy questions, like what was his favorite film (Lord of the Flies) or had he ever taken hallucinogenic drugs (yes), or why did he have so much trouble talking on the phone (Don't know”), Raccoon” on the guitar and how to drive. She taught him how to run, and they went on long jogs together down Butternut Road, on stretches so flat the horizon blended with the sky. They always found each other on the third floor of the library and studied togeth- cr in large cushioned seats that every- ‘one called the “embryo” chairs. That summer they made love for the first time. Leah remembered how nervous they'd been. And then, later oon, how comfortable they were. “They lived together in an off-cam- pus house with bad plumbing and a large refrigerator. They decorated their bedroom with Lava lamps they stared at stoned in the middle of the night. They went for drives through the flat Ohio landscape, to strange malls where they'd walk around like teenagers, buying choco- lates and slurpies She liked it when he drove, taking them through the endless miles of cornfields. They'd sing “Rocky Raccoon,” and she made a game out of saying “mailbox” out loud every time they passed one, the way she had as & litte girl in the car with her parents. ‘There was no other point than that, than just naming a thing, and then le ing it go by. During January of senior year, they drove cross-country together. She had boxes of photos from that trip. of yucea plants and cacti, Mountain ranges. Ocean, The two of them arm in arm, in front of the "Welcome 10” signs of every state. How young they looked in those pictures, she often thought to herself. Adam with his orange down jacket with the hole in the sleeve, and the beginnings of his first beard: and Leah, her hair cascad~ ing down her back, wearing her favorite “No Nukes” sweatshirt she ‘would mistakenly leave in a Motel 6 somewhere near the Hoover Dam. There were photos of them in front of national landmarks and obscure diners with names they laughed about in the car. The No Way Diner—as in no way will you ever eat here again,” they joked. The Happy Claw—not to be confused with The Unhappy Claw. Leah often thought about the peo- ple who'd taken the photos, curious about where they were now. AS if she had gotten to know them in those few seconds it 100k to explain how to use the camera. “GREETINGS,” WILLIAM SAID, KISSING Leah absently on the cheek. He smelled of onions and cilantro, and was playing atonal music. William was a gourmet cook. She could tell the first time he made her dinner, the way he stirred things, by rotating the pan rather than using a spoon. You could tell a lot by how people stirred, Leah thought ‘Who's this playing?” she asked, tilting her head as if it would make her hear beter. “The Klingons,” he said. “Right,” she nodded, pretending she'd heard of them, She noticed he had cut his hair again. Every time she saw him, his hair was shorter, and now there’ was hardly anything left. It made his face stand out more. He always had a slightly haggard look, even though he was only thirty-two, William filmed music videos, and immersed himself in his editing pro- jects until all hours. The first time she visited his apartment, he showed her dials and buttons, like a pilot demon- strating the cockpit, and she took it all in, wanting to remember everything. It made her feel important. But it had been a while since he took the time to show her anything new, so lately she just watched him. It wasn’t the same. She missed him watching her. How's Sylvester?” she asked, watching him sauté His usual erratic self,” he said, wiping his forehead with bandanna that he kept in his back pocket Sylvester was a canary left over from the marriage, which had appar: ently grown dysfunctional and couldn't be let loose, Whenever Leah looked at him, she thought of Hitchcock's The Birds. “Are you sure he can’t get out?” she asked, the first time she came over. “It's a steel cage,” William said. “Are you sure? 1 mean, at the risk of being unromantic, how do you know he won't get out one night and peck you to death? Didn't you see that movie?” “What movi “You know, that movie—" “Would you be quiet?” he said “T'm in the middle of my first postdi- vvorce seduction here.” “THIS TASTES FRENCH OR SOMETHING,” she said, halfway through dinner. He came up behind her. “I know,” he whispered, “that the way to your hear is through food’ He said this with so much certainty that she wondered if it were true, “I'm going to start ice-skating lessons,” she announced. “Oh?” he said. “You don’t want me to do this with you, do you?” “No,” she Said. She hadn't even thought of asking him to go with her. He'd tell her he had enough problems. ‘on dry land, and he did. Despite mas- tery of his loft bed, he was always stiff from the hours he spent hunched over working ‘They left their half-eaten dinners on the table and William took her hand, his usual indication that they were going somewhere, usually to bed, Leah struggled with his loft bed like she always did, and argued with him about why he couldn’t have a regular bed like normal people, or at least a ladder. ling off the side of the bed, so hoist her up, one leg after the other. “[ really don’t think this es be so complicated,” she said once she’d made it, slightly out of - “almost forgot.” he said. é “Ihave something for you.” “Why?” she said, realizing it was an abrupt response, He had never given her anything before. He reached for a small box and handed it to her. She noticed the wrapping paper, with an abstract pat- tern of colored stripes he'd painted himself. She unwrapped it carefully. Inside the box was a black triangle pendant. He gently took it out and put it around her neck, and touched the place on her chest where it fell, just above her breasts. “I's beautiful,” she said, feeling its outline with her fingers. LATER ON HE HELD HER IN HIS. ARMS, and she felt peaceful. She felt the ‘weight of the triangle against her skin, cold but reassuring. She stared at his face the way she often did when he ‘was asleep, the smooth, chiseled lines of his cheekbones, the small arcs of his eyelids, the strange expressions that signaled dreams, although he never told them to her. He opened his eyes. “Are you all right?” he asked. “Of course,” she whi He moved closer to her and draped cone of his legs over her body. “Las thinking—" he said, “What?” How young they looked in those pictures, she often thought to herself. Adam, with the beginnings of his first beard, and Leah, wearing her “No Nukes” sweatshirt. “If you wanted normal, you should ask yourself what you are doing with me," he said. “I didn’t say I wanted a normal man, I said I wanted a normal bed. Man. Bed. Two different things, at least in theory. Anyway, how come it’s so easy for you?” she asked, “What's easy?” “You know what, You're the one who can barely move half the time, and I’m the one who took seven “Maybe we should go away some- where. Like for a long weekend.” “That would be nice,” she said. ‘Where do you want to go! “Someplace with mountains a good air. Good air and good coffee,” e said, “How about Vermont?” she whis- pered, “AIL right,” he said, and they held each other, the promise of a trip like a secret pact. (continued on pave 172) She Can't Forget (continued from page 171) ‘THE SKATING RINK WAS BY THE HUDSON River, and the night of her first class, Leah was early so she went to a diner on Twelfth Avenue. She ordered a hamburger, french fries, and an egg cream, “Dinner of champions,” she said to herself, although she regretted it later as she nearly waddled onto the ice. Her rented skates were too tight and pinched her ankles. Still, she practiced going back and forth on the ice, each time getting a little better, and by the end was able to lift one leg slightly, before giving in to gravity. ADAM SURPRISED LEAH ONE DAY BY calling her at work. “It's me,” he said on the phone. “Hi, You.” she sai. He told her he was only home for a few days. Then he was going on to some convention in Florida and then a rafting trip in Colorado before going back to Brazil 'snice of you to call me—I mean, to think of me,” she told him. “I mean, with everything you have going on.” “How could I not think of you?” he said. “Don’t know,” she answered, as if she were imitating Willi “So, can you get together?” ‘Of course I can get together” she said. “Where would I be going, Tunisia” just didn’t know if you were around,” he said. “I'm alway’ around,” she said. “It’s only people who are always away who think everyone else is away, to0. Let's set Chinese.” T knew you were going to say he said. that THE NIGHT OF THEIR DINNER, SHE blew-dry her hair to make it look fuller and coated her face with foun- dation that was supposed to be light refracting. She didn’t look so different at thirty than she had at twenty, she thought as she looked in the mirror. Except for a tiny line in her forehead, a small crease she'd noticed that fall. What alarmed her was not the line itself, barely the length of a dash, but that it seemed a sign of things to come. She waited for Adam outsid restaurant on the Upper West was raining htly. She waited ten minutes, then twenty. Perhaps he ‘wasn’t coming. Then she saw him run- ning over. He was wearing hiking boots and a blue rain jacket. His black hair was flecked with gray. “Hello, hello,” he said, hugging her quickly. “Hey,” she said. ‘They went inside and sat down after moving twice, once from a table too close to the kitchen, and another too close to the bathroom. Now they were too close to the coat check. ‘They ordered dumplings and talked about how they had discovered them together, ‘The first time we ate these,” she ‘was in school.” ‘No, you're wrong,” he said. “They didn’t have these in Ohio, remember? We had this whole long. talk about it. “How could ‘dumplings in Ohio?” “Tdon’t know.” “I'm sure you can find dumplings in Ohio. I’m sure thousands of people do it everyday.” Leah said, wondering why they were talking about this. He ordered a beer. “What do you want to drink?” he asked her, “Something that comes with an umbrella init.” “You don’t still collect those things, do you” T most certainly do. I have a big boxful. Most of them are from college.” “There was nowhere to drink at college.” “True. But we did all righ,” she sai. they not have ee “You don’t know how much w it is, Having to worry about people, and what kind of flowers, and the food. I see why people elope.” “I didn’t congratulate you yet. Congratulations,” she said, awkwardly holding up her miniature umbrella. “T guess I feel funny,” Adam said. “I don’t know. Of all the people I've told, the hardest...the hardest was telling you. I mean in the letter—" “It’s okay,” she said. “That's just because—" “Because why?” “Because you didn’t sleep with all those other people.” “True,” he said. He took a long swig of beer and talked about life in Rio: the beach, Carnaval, the rain forest, the coast. It was nothing Leah could relate to. She did not associate Adam with Brazil. ‘She would always associate him with ‘America. The No Way Diner and The Happy Claw. “Do they have yucca plants in Brazil?” she asked him. “They don’t have cactus in the tropics.” “Oh yeah, right,” she said. “Remember all those yuccas in Arizona? Remember one day we tried to count them’ “Yeah, that was kind of stupid. Why did we do that” “Thave no idea. We took a lot of She made circles around the edge of her glass with her finger, trying to She told him about William. Adam seemed relieved that she had someone, and started talking about his wedding, as if he suddenly had permission. “Listen, I'm takin “Ice-skating?” ‘It’s not as easy as it looks. Actually, kind of rough on my legs. Sorry.” he said, ‘You don’t have to be,” she said. “It hhas nothing to do with you. She told him about William, although not about the dysfunctional bird. Or the long silences on the phone. He seemed relieved that she had someone, and started talking about the wedding, as if he suddenly had permission, skating lessons.” make a sound. She had never been ‘200d at this trick, and she wasn't good at it now. ‘Do you ever feel like—I don't don’t know. That when we were thinking about what life would be like—in school, I mean—it seemed like it would be different. Like things would be different now He shrugged his shoulders. “To ime, it just feels like what it feels like. It feels—well, it feels good.” “Oh,” she’ (continued on page 174) ee She Can't Forget Perna eS ir ere tS ink ody SNe eivcrattes Bee ume eon “Yes,” he said. “That's the point. ee ane ation ae eet bills face up on the table and setting ce ear ee ees ance She found herself touched to see it SE ae = Fe caste Fey att ee ci as me te RCT 2 te ee rein soured Seer soins ote ren ha ee oS ee ae nea eo ee epee pith An ee Ata pee epee SE eee Sa ena Se wi Adan al es Ae ae Se eae SE ee eae things like that just happened. They ene i ee ene te a Ee ea eae Eat saunter ta re ean tee ce omen seer tion, and the train suddenly lurched to a halt. They sat for five minutes, and jee pee ee eee eps Ce ae oe er rae oe ele eee eT ee eee ee eed kr ao el phe Te oe ee i pe ee ae ee Siete an geimitty Sey arate hese ake Rete 2 8 et aul grateful the lights had gone out. When they came on again, the train lurched forward into the station. Are you all right?” he asked her as they climbed the steps to street level. ‘Of course,” she told him, They stood on the sidewalk for a few minutes, disoriented, not saying anything. She had trouble looking him inthe ‘Good luck,” she said. “I mean, shopping and everything. You know what I mean, right?” “Yes, of course,” he said. “I know." They hugged briefly, and she felt ‘and feeling the wind and sun on theit faces. Leah felt exhilarated, like they ‘were making a new beginning together. Hours later, when it turned dark, she became disoriented and found herself looking for familiar thing: Mailboxes, yucca plants, silos. “Mailbox,” she said out loud, when she saw one. “So?” William said. “Never mind,” she said. They drove and drove in the dark, neither of them saying anything. She hhad somehow gotten lost, and wanted im to say something to reassure her. She remembered how breaking up had been her idea. She remembered how Adam gave in, how he always agreed with her too easily, never wanting to argue. him pull away from her, and watched as he disappeared around the corner. She walked home slowly. feeling the rhythm of her feet on the pave- ment, humming “Rocky Raccoon” to herself. “'ll be better. Doc, as soon as I'm able. ‘She remembered how breaking up with Adam had been her idea. She told him late one night, two weeks before graduation, told him they were too young to make any serious di sions about each other, to close them= selves off. There were people she had envisioned meeting, discovering. They would reveal their mystery to her, like the ancient sites she imag- ined visiting. She remembered how he gave in, how he always agreed with her too easily, never wanting to argue. ‘AL their graduation, she couldn't find him after the ceremonies. She had. wandered around with her camera looking for him, looking for someone to take a photo of them next to some- thing significant. As if they were still out west, and highway signs marked their boundaries. She didn’t know he'd already left for home. A FEW WEEKS LATER, THE FIRST HINT ‘of summer was in the ait, Leah put her winter clothes away and rearranged her apartment. She cut her hair. At work, she was flooded with calls for seeds—hibiscus, gerani- ums, lilacs. She and William took their trip to Vermont. They left the city in the afternoon, blaring music on the radio “Tell me something,” she said to him, “Something.” he said. It was late by the time they found their hotel, which they had passed an hour earlier and missed. When they got into bed, William fell asleep almost instantly. She wanted to talk about things. Anything. She wanted to talk about the drive, about what they would do the next day, about the way the moonlight looked at that moment, casting an eerie glow over everything. She could wake him, make him listen. Instead, she tured away from him. She knew that the two of them could be in any bed. anywhere, and still remain in the same place. She pulled down the covers and got out of bed. Then she took off the triangle necklace he'd given her and placed it on top of his jacket. In the morning, he would see her there, sit- ting away from him. In the morning, hhe would see. She turned on the television and flicked the stations, until she found ice-skating, a special on some obscure cable station. She didn’t care who was in it, or who was expected to win, She just wanted to watch as the figures jumped and turned and glided, as those who fell continued on, as if nothing had ever happened. a Caroline Jaffe's story “Where Did Our Love Go?” was published in Redbook in April 1995. She has won several awards for her short fiction, and recently completed her first novel, Offerings.

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