Running down the avenue past the coven of churches (First Presbyterian followed by some Episcopal and another Grand Mulligany or Indian-French with peacock feathers) I was stopped by the gaze of a cross-eyed dwarf who suddenly revealed himself to be Tommy.
“I tawt dat was you!” he exclaimed, moving toward me with his hand extended.
We talked briefly as I considered how late I would be to my appointment. I remembered that I had wanted Tommy’s help getting a recommendation and he hadn’t given me any. And while he liked me okay, I thought, he didn’t really like women. Today, in the park, he was fatter, shorter, and dressed all in white. The eyes had moved relentlessly toward the bridge of his nose. A dog was screaming near the fountain.
I unenthusiastically asked how he was doing. Although I was attired like a female acolyte of Fidel Castro, in a Maoist cap and the boots of Woody Guthrie, I now occupied the semisecure nest of a lower middle-level functionary in a giant world corporation which only recently had begun to rumble like an awakening volcano as it discovered its not quite untapped power to inflict on its employees the terror of targeted layoffs. There were no windows in my cave of an office, but the positive aspect of this was that nobody ever looked at me, so there was some chance that when the volcano blew, its burning lava might simply slide by without touching me and I would remain alive and whole in the scorched building with my choice of any of the offices that weren’t rendered rubble and the ability to give myself a good raise, since they were all now dead.
Tommy seemed pleased to see me. I could not quite figure out the angle, what with his disliking women and thinking of them as stupid and maybe even – that horrible word that men use to denigrate women—which I won’t say here. We talked about the place where we had once briefly worked together. Yes, he was glad to see one of the old familiar faces. It puzzled me, since it had been several years before, and I had not even worked there very long, so there hadn’t been much getting to know each other. But then I remembered the great warmth there’d been at the end. Everybody got very excited and hugged and kissed, exchanged contact information, and promised absolutely to keep in touch. So it could have been, though I didn’t remember it, that he and I too had hugged and kissed amid the general rapture in the room.
His cross-eyed face reminded me of a woodchuck’s. He was pudgy and short, but broadshouldered. There was some sort of polymorphous perversity in his way of wanting to get intimate right away even with nemeses like me, a female.
“Watch out!” I said, “there’s a spider right near you.” He jumped in fright and turned. It was crawling down a web toward his bicep.
He seemed interested in acquiring my number again, so I gave it to him and took his. Then, “Let’s have coffee some day.” Maybe it was “some day,” but I was sure it would not happen, since not only did everybody say this, I said it, too, all the time, and none of us ever expected any of it to come about.
Strangely, however, only a few months later, I encountered Tommy again one day, in the Conservatory Gardens. I went there whenever I got a chance, but would never have pegged him for a lover of nature. He was stouter than before (so was I) and seemed to be showing off his brawn in a tight green T-shirt and shorts with lots of baggy pockets. I noticed the nice shape of his insteps.
“It’s kismet,” he said. “I’ll call you and let’s have that coffee!”
I thought, Let’s see.
“It’ll have to be someplace cheap, since I’m out of work now,” said the everburgeoning Tom. “Not to discourage you…” The eyes headed toward each other as they focused and bored in to me.
I was rather aghast at the thought that he might have been hinting I should pay for both of us when the much anticipated coffee date arrived. I really hardly knew him. This did not fit in with my notions of what little woodchucks in bright green fatigues would try and put over.
We left it that we’d plan something soon, and I moved on to the sour smelling white blossoms that shaded one of the southern lanes where police sawhorses closed off that part of the garden grounds because some trees had become dangerous.
Jill Rapaport is a writer of fiction and nonfiction prose, and has written numerous plays, essays, poems and songs. Her collection of fiction, Duchamp et Moi and Other Stories, was published by Fly by Night Press/A Gathering of the Tribes in 2014. Her work has been published in a number of literary magazines and anthologies, among them Found Object, Resister, IKON, Red Tape, Sensitive Skin, New Observations, and others. She has read her work and had it performed in many venues in New York and other places. She is the editor and publisher of the I.H.I.Y.W. Newsletter, which specializes in analysis of contemporary developments.