on one crutch, pulled everything out of the closet and the bureau drawer and dumped it onto the floor beside the bed, hefted the suitcase onto the mattress and sat on the bed, stowing it all as best he could. When the suitcase was full, he had three pairs of slacks and four shirts that didn’t fit. He considered what to do: Repack? Leave them for the maid?
The bathroom door clicked open and Estelle emerged. She had brushed her hair, washed her face, reapplied her makeup. She seemed composed, yet when he looked at her, she averted her eyes, as if she was embarrassed he was watching her.
She sat in the overstuffed chair where he’d spent so many of his hours in the room during his pity parties—watching television or staring out the window.
“Are you better?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said in a quiet voice. “Much.”
He waited for her to offer some explanation or bit of gratitude for what he’d done—kept her company, rescued her from Frank—but she said nothing. She stared out the window, although it was full-on night now and she couldn’t possibly see much, save for pieces of buildings illuminated by streetlamps or the lights of the hotel on the far side of the park. The rain had stopped and the sky was clearing, the fat nearly full moon framed almost squarely by his window.
“I should finish my packing,” he said.
“Don’t mind me,” she said.
He reopened his suitcase, pulled out half of the clothing he’d stuffed into it and began folding each piece as neatly as possible and laying it into the suitcase.
“Frank was my teacher,” Estelle said, squinting out the window as if she were trying to make out an object in the distance. “I went back to school when I was twenty-six. I wanted a—well, it doesn’t make any difference. I didn’t finish what I was studying. I met Frank.He was my professor in a seminar I took on Old English literature in my second term. I was—now he just seems like a pretentious shit. I mean, a ponytail? Since when? It’s to impress that little tart.” She took in a breath and let it out slowly. “He was electric in the classroom. Do you know anything about literature?”
“Not really,” he said; the last book he’d read was a Perry Mason mystery.
“Well, this won’t mean anything to you—I don’t mean to offend you. I mean, it’s okay that you …” She laughed. “You’ve been so nice to me and here I am sounding like … What was it Agnew said? I’m an ‘effete intellectual snob.’ ”
“It’s okay,” he said.
“I remember sitting in class one day while he was giving a lecture on the Junius manuscript. It meant nothing to most of the people in the room. I mean, who reads Old English? No one was paying attention to him. One girl was knitting, another was addressing invitations to her wedding, but in front of the room, Frank was alive, talking about—but who the fuck cares? I was a silly girl. Hardly a girl. That was—how the fuck could I have been engaged to him for eleven years? Who is engaged for eleven years?”
He realized she wasn’t really talking to him; he was just another human being who happened to be in the room as she rambled.
“Do you want to fuck?” she said abruptly.
“What?” he asked.
She stood up from the chair beside the window and crossed the room toward the bed where he was sitting.
“Fuck,” she said. She sat beside him and, after hesitating a moment, laid a hand on his shoulder. “You’re not married or anything, are you?”
“No,” he said. Was his proposal that hung in the air between himself and Julie an “or anything”? He hadn’t talked to her in weeks. He imagined her in her apartment, reading, glancing expectantly at the telephone on the table beside her couch, a yellow princess phone that had a small chip in the receiver from a time Audrey had slammed it into its cradle when a boy she liked told her he didn’t want to see her anymore.
Estelle slid closer to him on the bed until her hip
Michele Zurlo, Nicoline Tiernan