The last time Michael and I had dinner he told me a story—this was during the time that Anna was living in Vermont and before I decided to try and reconcile with my ex-husband.
I had invited Michael over to eat with the kids and me. They were too young to take out to restaurants at night then—Shane wouldn’t behave and then Dylan would fall asleep and I would have to carry him home. But if I had people over and cooked for them, eventually I could put both kids to bed and then be free to have a drink and a grown-up conversation. It’s a normal thing to do, most places, but not so much in New York, so it felt a little awkward. But my friends were going along with it; they knew I was isolated and lonely since the separation.
But something had come up with Alan’s schedule and he’d had to switch his visitation at the last minute, so that night when Michael arrived, bottle of Wild Turkey in hand, I was alone. And I’d had a few minutes to put on a skirt and the topaz necklace he’d given me for Christmas ten years before, the gift that had made Alan snort every time I wore it.
It was deep February and cold and Michael was wearing a coat I had never seen before. The royal blue wool brought out his blue-grey eyes so perfectly that I knew Anna must have picked it out for him. And when I complimented him on it, he blushed and said, ”Well, thank you” so quietly that I was certain.
I went into the kitchen to pour our drinks: his neat, mine on the rocks. I didn’t need to ask. And while I was in the kitchen I decided to make us some garlic bread, because somehow the sight of the baguette had brought to mind another dinner we’d shared in a restaurant and how he had reacted when he saw Sour-Dough Garlic Bread on the menu.
“Do we need that?” he’d asked playfully.
“Oh, yes, I think we do” I’d said, and his eyes had sparkled just a bit brighter than
So, I made the garlic bread and I almost burned the salmon in the process, but I could tell he liked it. And I wished I’d had something more exciting than plain white rice to go with it, but Michael added butter and ate it. We sipped our drinks. I have a heavy hand for pouring, so there was no need to get up for another.
After dinner, I’d put on my Emmylou Harris CD and Michael asked me to turn it up a little bit. And when I turned around from the stereo, he was standing behind me and he took hold of my hand. Soon we were dancing and then we were embracing and I was touching his body with all the pent up desire of our almost twenty-year affair of the heart. There were no children in the house. And I was finally free. And somewhere in the middle of “Beneath Still Waters” he kissed me just the way he had that one time years before and I knew I could get lost in that kiss for the rest of my life.
As the kiss ended, he reached up with his left hand to touch my face. And when he did, the cold sting of metal felt like a lighted cigarette against my cheek. I jumped and pulled back and then we both stared at his hand for a long moment.
Because Michael was still wearing his wedding ring, even though he and Anna were separated. And Michael is not that kind of man. And of course that is one of the reasons I love him. So, we did not make love. I got him a glass of water instead of another drink and soon after he left. We wrote to each other that night, neither of us able to sleep with all that had been awakened between us.
But before that, after the garlic bread and before the dancing and during the salmon and rice, he told me this story and it has stayed with me since: Years before, he had been married to a woman named Maggie. (I knew this part, but he rarely spoke of her and so didn’t know much else except that she had left him, run off to Philadelphia and broken his heart.) He never saw her after she left. It took him years to marry again. (Of course, I knew this part, too. His and Anna’s wedding announcement had arrived on the day Alan moved out of our apartment.) So, shortly after he and Anna had married, her parents had come to New York to visit. They all went out for coffee to one of those Italian pastry shops in the East Village, Di Roberti’s maybe. They were sitting around a table, sipping espresso and nibbling on biscotti when Michael looked up and saw Maggie standing across the room, staring at him, looking exactly as she had thirty years earlier— honey blonde hair to her shoulders, hazel eyes, their sparkle only slightly dimmed, perky but determined actress smile on her face. He met her gaze and smiled back at her, and the two of them stared at each other for just a moment. Then she turned and walked out the door. He watched her go before turning and resuming his conversation with his new in-laws.