shoulder-length hair was blond, her plump body calm. She had a long way of saying her words, a relaxed but vaguely predatory way of turning her head. She came from a wealthy family, and he supposed that was where she got her assurance. Her background was part of what made her attractive to him. He wasn’t after her money (although he wouldn’t mind, certainly, if one day she spoke to her parents about financing a film project of his own); there was simply something foreign and delightful about this rich girl whohad been safely surrounded by money all her life. The perfume of wealth graced her casually, like grass stains on the skin of a lazy child sleeping in a garden. He pictured her as an adolescent, lounging on her huge unmade, canopied and silk-sheeted bed. She was in her underwear, she was reading Tolstoy, occasionally scratching herself and eating from a box of chocolates, although he knew that Cecilia didn’t like candy and never had.
“It’s so interesting,” she said. “Now that I’m closer to success, I’ve become much less interested in it. I’ve always known that I would be successful, that I just had to work for it. But it was always out of reach, so I obsessed about it all the time. It was a goal. Now it’s more like a natural outcome, another element of my life to be experienced. It’s not even important anymore. There are so many other things in life. It’s silly to be so narrow.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” he said. “Things are always less important once you’re assured of having them.”
“It’s not that it isn’t important, it’s just that I’m not focusing on it to the exclusion of everything else. But I’m sure I’ll enjoy it when it happens. If anything, it’s more real to me now, not like something I’m going to acquire.”
He chewed without answering, and she flicked the corners of her mouth with her tongue.
“I think I’m going to Italy in a few months,” she said. “I’m really excited about it. I want to meet an Italian film producer and have an affair with him.”
“My roommate is in Italy,” he said.
“You told me.”
In a few months he would say, “My friend Cecilia is in Italy.” He looked at her serene face, her resting throat, her slightly upturned chin. He had slept with her for almost two years. She had sucked him off with that mouth. He thought: My friend, Cecilia. My friend.
When he returned to his office he got on the WATS line and called Wilson. Wilson had been a close friend while they were in Ann Arbor. Now he was stuck teaching undergraduates in a geologydepartment in Washington, D.C. Joel called him about twice a month to gossip about other people they’d gone to school with. He knew Wilson kept in touch with the woman he’d seen again this morning.
“Do you know what Sara’s doing? Do you know where she’s working?”
There was a breath of silence before Wilson answered. “She’s all right. I think she’s still working in a bar in the East Village.”
“Has she gotten anywhere with her painting?”
“I don’t think so. Not since the little show she was in at that club. Why?”
“I’ve seen her twice on the street this week. We haven’t had a chance to talk. I just wondered what she was up to.”
Wilson had disapproved of Joel’s relationship with Sara, even though he’d been morbidly fascinated by it. Even though it had raised Joel in his esteem.
Joel got off the phone and gazed at the morose buildings standing in a clump outside his window.
Interrupted, static-ridden commercials for memories of Sara flitted mutely through his mind, chopped up and poorly edited—Sara before he knew her, a small slender person walking down State Street with her books, wearing jeans and fawn-colored boots. She had a very stiff walk despite her round hips, a tight sad mouth and wide abstracted eyes. She was always alone whenever he saw her, and always appeared vaguely surprised by everything around her. He saw her propped up