Mrs. Paganini

The concert is over at Carnegie Hall, her husband is sitting down front. He knows me, in the manner that neighbors way down the street often know each other, neighbors you wouldn’t expect were plotting to overthrow the government. I make my way down to him and we lock eyes, William and I, and he smiles.

“You made it. Terrific!”

“Yeah,” I say. “They were great.”

After that, we have very little to talk about so I shuffle my feet and try to decide once and for all my favorite Ella Fitzgerald song, and wait for Mary. She arrives and it is clear that everybody is waiting for Mary. In that moment I know: ‘Misty’. Our eyes lock, not at all in the manner mine and William’s had, and now we are the only ones in Carnegie Hall. Just Mary and Me.

“Would you like to get a coffee?” she asks.

“Sure.”

In the cold night we walk toward Fifth Avenue where I know we will have a tougher time finding coffee. She talks about how hard the choir worked and she’s proud, and I think, no, ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ is my favorite. I am walking with the woman who gave me an appreciation for Ella, so it seems right that I should reach this conclusion with her on my arm.

“I’ve missed you so much,” she says.

“Me too.”

“Remember the year we came to New York? And we stole away from everyone and had a picnic in Central Park by the duck pond, and you asked me where I thought all the ducks went in winter, and I didn’t know that that was a line from a book?”

“I made fun of you,” I say and she nods. Her hair has grayed some in those three years since.

In front of the Plaza Hotel she takes my hand and we run up the steps like a couple of newlyweds. I am fairly sure the doorman winks at me and that makes me think of ‘I’m Beginning to See the Light’ and at least in that moment, it is my favorite song in the whole world. But then again, how can it be anything but ‘A-Tisket, A-Tasket’? I am confused. Inside the air is warm and dry and she leads us to a small settee in the lobby. When a waiter comes she orders two Chablis and I turn my head until the waiter leaves. I say I must confess something just as the wine arrives.

“I’m seeing someone.”

“Are you,” she says. “Does that make a difference?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Listen,” she says, holding up her glass. “A toast. To wonderful memories, including the ones, I hope, we make tonight.” And then – and I am not making this up – from somewhere deeper inside the hotel, someone begins playing ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ on a piano. She takes a sip of Chablis and leaves pink lipstick on the rim. “I hope we can spend the whole night together.”

“What about?”

“William? I will leave a message at our hotel to not expect me until very late. He’s a heavy sleeper.”

I’ve never stayed at the Plaza Hotel. I imagine the room as she goes to secure it. She comes back and I down the Chablis. She’s smiling like that cat, the kind of which I can never remember.

“I know what let’s do,” she says. “Let’s go on a carriage ride.” The handsome cabs are all lined up for us. I point to a white horse and she pays for an hour. In the back we sit under a red and black blanket. The coachman offers us hot cocoa, which I accept. I ask her if she remembers the time we were in Boise and we stole away from everyone and hiked into the foothills of the Rockies so far that we thought we were lost, and she told me that if she were ever to leave William, it would be for me. I tell her how that memory always makes me think of ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’.

“Of course I remember. I remember it all. And nothing has changed,” she says.

“Except for I live here now, and you live.”

“Miles, they mean nothing when you’re in love.”

I have only one cigarette left in my pack and I light it and then hand it to her and then she hands it back to me. Back and forth. There’s pink lipstick on the filter. The ride ends back at the hotel.

The room is much smaller and dingier than as I had imagined it sitting in the lobby. It has one window overlooking Fifty-Eighth Street and the marquee of the Paris. The bed has a canopy and the sheets are silky.

“Feel free to sleep in,” she says as she removes her earrings and then slides in. “The choir leaves for the airport at seven so I’ll have to slip out early.”

Making love to Mary again is like returning home after a long vacation. It’s almost novel again, until it’s not.

She says only I have ever given her orgasms like that.

When I awaken, as promised, she is gone. She left a note on Plaza stationery.

“Waking skies
At Sunrise
Every sunset too
Seems to be
Bringing me
Memories of you”

– Mary

P.S. I love you…

Outside the air is bright and dry and cold. I find the empty crumpled pack of cigarettes in my coat pocket and stop at the next deli I find.

“Pack of Camel Lights,” I say.

“How old you?” asks the Korean woman behind the counter.

“Nineteen.”

“Nineteen? OK, you look younger. OK, cigarettes. No beer.”

I turn toward downtown. Somewhere around Forty-Second Street I realize I am whistling a tune I do not recognize.

J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College. He lives in Long Island City, NY and Asbury Park, NJ with his husband, Mike, and their Keeshond-mix rescue, Aine. When he dropped high school physics in order to write for the school newspaper, he was told he would rue the day. He hasn’t. He is currently at work on a novel, Playing at the D&R and Other Stories.

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