“Can you get that?” he yelled from the shower.
“Yeah,” she yelled back, diving for his cell phone which was ringing, buzz- twirling on the bed stand. “Hey Mary, everything’s fine. There was a mix up with the reservations, but they found us a room that’s, I would say, even better, and — what? Oh, sure. Go ahead, what’s up?”
Ginny listened, her face growing somber. She let go of a heavy sigh. “Hold on, I’ll get him.”
The shower water was off, and Frank had dried himself, combed his hair. He splashed on some cologne, invigorated, ready for the evening. “Who was it?”
She opened the bathroom door and handed him the phone. “It’s Mary. You better sit down.”
“What happened?” he barked into the phone. She waited, mentally strapping down anything in the hotel room that might blow away in a strong wind. She knew what it was like to be on the other end of the phone, trying to tell him something hadn’t gone his way.
“WHAT?! Those sonsabitches. Get Mike on this. What do you mean he’s…well GET HIM BACK FROM THE GODDAMN FUCKIN’ BAHAMAS…Mary, you're my secretary! You tell him I said we’ve got a life and death emergency here and I don’t give a shit how long he’s been married to his wife, this is important~! Have him call me right away.”
He threw the cell phone across the room. It landed on the bed. Ginny walked over and calmly ended the call.
She sat on the bed, half dressed, with her head in her hands. Why? Why does this shit always happen at the worst possible moment?
Frank pulled on his pants, yanked his shirt off the hangar in the closet. “Ginny, come on, let’s go.”
She didn’t move. “Everything’s going to shit. We won’t be able to make payroll. We’ll lose the house!”
There was a moment where their eyes met and he knew it was true. But then, he decided he didn’t. “No. Mike will fix it. He always finds something.” He adjusted his tie in the mirror, jutting out his chin.
“Jesus, Frank, I’m so tired of this.”
“Too bad. We’ve gotta get to the Met. Get dressed. The thing is at 7:00. It’s 6:15. We just have to get our heads back in the game and play hard. Tonight. We’re finally gonna meet the great Donald Rosenstein. We’ve been developing him for months. Can you —?” He held up one hand and handed her the cufflinks with the other.
She got up and took over. While she threaded them through the buttonholes, he went on, “Emails, phone calls, copies of contracts back and forth. But he’s gonna be there himself tonight — ”
“ — which means he’s in. We just have to get him to commit and —thanks — do you have my briefcase ready?” He put on his jacket.
“Yes. It’s by the do — ”
“He commits, and it’ll keep us afloat for another three months. Ginny, come on. Chop chop!”
She gave him a split-second look, then finished dressing. She pulled on black silk stockings, wriggled into her drop-dead dress, asked him for help with the zipper. He used to be unable to perform this task without his hands veering into time consuming territory. She stepped into her heels, checked her make up, smushed her hair the way she liked it and, as a last touch, sprayed her perfume into the air in front of her and walked through the mist. They rushed downstairs and Übered themselves to the Met.
It was a Friday evening, and the whole world had decided, on that evening, to go to the Met. The crowds moved like molasses. It almost made them late.
Frank and Ginny checked in at the information desk, he spoke low to one of the attendants, and they were escorted upstairs to the reception. Real silver trays laden with hors d’oeuvres floated by them every seven minutes. There was an open bar. Ginny went and got their drinks while Frank made a beeline for poor Malcolm.
Malcolm Baldwin, Chairman of the Board at the Met, was someone Frank had been wooing for the past two years. He was hosting this reception in honor of one of their more important donors —an obscenely rich Texan, who had learned about art (and where to donate it) from his close advisor, Donald Rosenstein.
Frank had weaseled his way onto the guest list (nobody knew how he managed these things), and so there they were in their finery, drinks in hand, ready to move in for the kill.
“Jack, this is my wife, Ginny. Ginny, this is the famous art patron, Jack Williams from Texas.” The guy in the slick cowboy hat feigned humility. His bolo tie alone probably set him back $20,000.
Texas doesn’t miss a beat. Says, “Ah, honored to meet you, ma’am,” bowing to kiss her hand. “How did you end up with an old coot like Frank? You lose a bet or somethin’?” (Hearty laughter all around.)
“Yeah. I lost the bet, but because of me, he lost all his money, so I figure we’re even,” she said, and now they were really laughing. She asked the gathering, “Is there a ladies room somewhere on this floor?” No one seemed to know. She asked a server.
“You have to go down the main escalator, then turn right at the bottom. Turn right and then go all the way down and you’ll see the sign.”
“Really? Nothing on this level?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
She excused herself, and left. They wouldn’t miss her. Sometimes a ladies room stall was the only option for her to get away and be by herself.
Ginny made her way to the escalator, and watched the crowd coming up as she floated down. God, there were so many of them. A mother with some entitled-looking nine-year-old. They probably do this every Friday night. Self-righteous little brat. A group of people who were probably from Germany from the sound of them. A guy in his forties with curly, salt and pepper hair. Wow. Not a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, that one. Good Lord, would you look at those lips.
Oops. Eyes. Eyes looking right into hers. He didn’t look away, and neither did she.
Electricity shot through her body all the way down to her feet. She stood still and held his eyes in hers. Both of them almost smiling — but in a sexy way, not. Each standing firm in their own predatory nature, not needing anything more than this gorgeous, gliding stranger coming closer and closer. Tourists pushed in on them from all directions. Eyes burned through them all and held firm. And then came the moment when they passed each other, and it would have been awkward to maintain the connection.
If she could have, she would have slipped him a note. “Let’s grab a cab and get out of here.” But there was no way to do it.
And anyway, she wouldn’t really do that.
When she got to the bottom, she looked back up to see if she could find him. But he was gone forever.
Still. What a nice rush. Definitely worth the trip to the bathroom, which was now another a half city block to the right.
When she was done, she checked herself in the mirror again — strangely happy with this sweet frustration. Her sap descended with the promised Almost of it. They came so close. Close enough to never ever touch.
She washed her hands, and made her way back up the escalator, half hoping to see him on the opposite side coming down.
Snap out of it, Ginny. There’s work to do. She thought about the situation Frank had gotten them into. Always up against the wall, never any margin. Forever looking bankruptcy in the face, but never talking about it. Sometimes she just wished the other shoe would go ahead and drop. Go ahead. Declare bankruptcy. Stop struggling. Sink.
Anyway. They had to clinch this last ditch effort.
And after all, she had just enjoyed this delicious little reprieve from the unending stress of her life, so stop complaining already, she told herself.
As she entered the fray, lots of men in suits, women in cocktail dresses, drinks clinking, silver trays gliding by, Frank’s voice boomed over the crowd, “There she is! Ginny, my darling, come meet my friend, Don Rosenstein.”
Their eyes met (for the second time, now) and neither of them could explain what was so funny.
Ray Bradbury had an idea for how to get your own education in writing. It’s the 1000-day MFA. I learned about this from Shaunta Grimes. The idea is to read a poem, an essay and a short story every night before bed for 1000 days. And during this same period, write a short story every week. This is the story of the week. Hope you enjoy them.