The Missouri Review 29.2 (2006) 10-26
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| Figure 1 |
When Deborah said, "Jason, you know I'm a little in love with you," he pretended not to hear. Deborah was twenty-one. She was a tattooed and bejeweled art student currently taking a painting class with him. He had met Marilyn, a graduate student with whom he had become friends over the past few years, for a drink at a noisy East Village bar, a bar, it turned out, that Deborah frequented.
When she saw him sitting in a high-backed booth with Marilyn, whom she knew, she came over to say hello. Marilyn invited her to join them, and now the three of them had been drinking and telling stories for hours. Jason looked away, across the bar, where he could see their booth reflected in a tall mirror.
On a good day in bad light he could pass for a guy in his mid-forties. He worked out daily and was in better shape than many of his twenty- and thirty-year-old students, who were given at this stage in their lives to smoking, drinking, and a generally dissolute life. His life, on the other hand, was compulsively ordered: he woke, ate breakfast and went directly to his studio to paint all morning. When he was finished painting, he exercised for approximately an hour to an hour and a half, which included a two-mile power walk. Then home to shower before teaching his late-afternoon and evening [End Page 11] classes. He had followed variations on that routine most of his adult life. For the past three years, since the breakup of his last serious long-term relationship, he had followed the routine exactly. His productivity in that time had skyrocketed, and his art career had jumped to a higher gear—but he also had begun to think of himself as a kind of monk, since he had no social life whatsoever anymore beyond an occasional evening out—like this one—for drinks with one of his students or an old friend.
In the tall mirror, he saw two young women staring at each other while a middle-aged man looked away, across the barroom. Both women, in his eye, were surrounded by the resonant aura of their youth. Their skin was alive with it. The air around them vibrated with it. Deborah had a tattoo of a snake curling over her bare shoulder and along her collarbone to her neck, where its small red eyes watched whomever she faced. Marilyn, who was about ten years older than Deborah, looked nonetheless like a high school girl in comparison. She wore jeans and a man's undershirt with a V-neck that showed cleavage and a quarter-sized tattoo of a rose high on her right breast. Deborah's dark hair was long and silky and streaked bright red. Marilyn's hair was naturally blond and cut boyishly short. Deborah wore a slinky black halter top that left her midriff bare above white pants cut impossibly low. Marilyn's jeans were tight, but cut like a man's, with a high waist. Both young women, in Jason's eye, were beautiful. And he, blessedly, didn't look so bad himself in his ordinary blue jeans and a black, short-sleeved shirt that showed off muscular arms. His hair was graying, and it was thinning and receding, but it was still there, a respectable head of it looking silvery against the black of his shirt.
Marilyn placed her elbows on the table, folded her hands together, rested her chin on her knuckles and leaned across the table to Deborah. "Jason," she stage-whispered, "appears to be pretending he didn't hear you."
"Do you think?" she said, her eyes going wide, acting great surprise. She pushed Jason's shoulder playfully. "Jason," she said, "are you pretending you didn't just hear me tell you that I'm kind of in love with you?"
Jason watched the three of them a moment longer in...