The last guest left. Finally, as far as Miriam was concerned, though she knew she should be flattered and grateful. It was the first time in her life that friends gave her a surprise farewell party. It was the last time as well, though she wouldn’t have known that. Tom and Nick had arranged everything, and the surprise had been genuine. Tom was the local music guru with whom she had somehow developed an occasional lunch friendship, though she had never taken a lesson with him, private or otherwise. Nick was a violinist, poet, and law student who was currently renting a spare bedroom in Tom’s penthouse apartment while completing law school. She was staying with them for her last night in the country. Tom had graciously offered his sofa, and the apartment was convenient to the airport by Metro. She only had carry-on luggage. Two footlockers with a few of her most cherished possessions had preceded her to Paris where Bernard, her fiancé of seven years, lived, and where she would join him as of tomorrow. Possibly to get married, though while they had committed to it for some nebulous time in the future, neither of them considered it a very pressing matter. Bernard had promised to help find her flute playing engagements. And she could always give lessons.
She had had a crush on Nick for four years straight, ever since they had been in a chamber music group together. Once early on, Nick had criticized her lack of voicing her opinion in the group, and for some incongruous reason that had spurred her on to try and prove herself to him. It was never quite clear to her whether she had succeeded in that endeavor. At least he was always respectful to her after his first animated critique. Nick, recently divorced, was cheerfully playing the field but, to her puzzlement, never made any overtures to her. His current preoccupation was a frail woman from Philadelphia whom he found fascinating.
Leaving a place, and especially leaving the country, lent itself to certain liberties, for example to making a proposition without the danger of extreme disgrace to either party, so, after the last guest finally descended down the elevator, she asked him if she could spend the night with him. To her delight, Nick didn’t skip a beat and accepted, only mentioning his astonishment at her being so free. He had the back bedroom with just a small window to the river view, but the rent was nominal, and he was supposed to be studying most of the time rather than looking out at the river. Besides, now it was night anyway.
She thought it would only be polite to let Tom know that she would not spend the night on the sofa. She knew all this was not quite in keeping with her general reputation, so she was nervous when she went to say goodnight to Tom who was busy lining up glasses and porcelain dishes by the dishwasher in the kitchen, waving off her involuntary offer to help. Her nervousness made her mouth dry, and it felt as though her lips stuck together when she told Tom in a semi-whisper that she wanted to spend the night with Nick. For a moment he misunderstood and thought she was telling him she wanted to spend the night with him. She saw a smug gleam light up his eyes, then fade again as she quickly clarified. It made her feel horrible, for him and for herself as well. For her part, she felt like a teenager wearing a miniskirt to attract attention from her peers, only to get the unwelcome attention of an unattractive elder instead. Tom was in his late sixties. She was not even thirty yet. Currently he was courting a woman only ten years his junior; however, rumor had it this woman had recently declined Tom’s marriage proposal for the second time.
Things finally straightened out, she went to Nick’s bedroom, still preoccupied by the recent shock to her system. “Spend the night with Nick” didn’t sound anything remotely like “spend the night with you,” even with compromised lips and teeth. At least so she thought.
She was distracted and felt like an alien when she and Nick finally made love. It was not very memorable. They didn’t speak. Nick’s penis was fleshier and ruddier than she had imagined. Not that she was an expert on penises, having only encountered two others prior to this event. Somehow her anticipation and imagination had raised her expectation to a level beyond what was on offer in reality. When they considered themselves done, she touched his pockmarked face with tenderness and lay awake for a long time, wondering if his earlier reference to her astonishing freedom meant that he now considered her a slut, or whether it meant that, had he had that knowledge earlier, he might have taken a chance on falling in love with her. Overall, the most memorable part of the occasion had been the glint of self-satisfaction in Tom’s eyes when he had first misunderstood her intentions.
Paris was wonderful and exceeded expectations with plenty of opportunities for earning her keep with her flute, and she married Bernard in due course.
Nick became a successful lawyer and his music and poetry faded into the background of the demands of business.
A few years later, Tom married a woman even younger than Miriam.
Beate Sigriddaughter lives in Silver City, New Mexico (Land of Enchantment), where she was poet laureate from 2017 to 2019. Among her latest publications are a poetry collection, Wild Flowers and a novel, Soleil Madera. In her blog Writing in a Woman’s Voice, she publishes other women’s voices.