She turned to himwas he going to speak? His eyes were teary from the wind,
red-rimmed and bloodshot. His nose was running and there were tears on his
windblown cheeks. She clicked open the purse that hung on her arm and found her
handkerchief, but he refused it, reaching into his overcoat for his own. He
mopped his face and blew his nose before the crowd got them moving again and as
they got to the curb, she placed her left hand on her hat so he could reach her
elbow at a more convenient anglewhich he did, guiding her across the street as
if she were a novice pedestrian, and this time, perhaps, putting a little more
pressure behind the fingertips that held her.
Where are you headed, George? she asked him. He shouted something
unintelligible into the wind.
Have you eaten yet? she asked, because it was only polite. And then the
wind paused completely, as it will in April, a sudden silence and maybe even the
hint of warmth from the sun, so that he replied with odd gentleness, Yeah, I
had my lunch.
They were at the door of the restaurant. The wind was picking up again.
Would you like some coffee? she asked.
He shook his head and she could not deny her own relief. Im out of time,
he said. And then added, What about dinner?
Lamb chops, she told him. You coming over? Anticipating already a stop at
the butchers to pick up two or three more.
He shook his head. There was another tear streaming down his windblown cheek
and as he replied she lifted the handkerchief in her hand and wiped it away,
feeling the not unpleasant pull of his beard against the thin cotton.
He said, I mean, what about us having dinner?
The wind puffed up again and they both put their hands to their hats.
Where? she said, rudely, she realized later. But it was like having a passing
stranger suddenly turn to sing you an aria. Anyone would have a second or two of
not quite knowing what was really going on.
Out, he told her. He was a broad-faced man who looked good in hats. Who
looked better now than he did at home, where he had been thus far only the
unremarkable source of her brother Jimmys unpredictable enthusiasms. At a
restaurant, he said. And then to make himself clearer, The two of us.
Tonight? she said, and then they both turned away for a moment from the
peppered wind. When they turned back, he said, Why not? but without
conviction, confirming for them both that this was a sudden impulse that most
likely would not last out the afternoon. What if I come by at seven? he said.
She paused, squinting, not for the chance to see him better but for him to
see her. Ill have to cook those lamb chops anyway, she said. Or else Jimmy
and my father will be gnawing the table legs by the time I get home.
He smiled a little, unable to disguise what she was sure was a bit of
confusion about his own impulse. He said again, Ill come by at seven, and
then turned back into the wind.
She pushed open the door to the restaurant. More lunchtime bustle, mostly
women in hats with their coats thrown over the backs of chairs, the satiny
linings and the fur collars and cuffs, the perfume and the elegant curves of the
womens backs as they leaned forward across the small tables, all giving the
hint of a boudoir to the busy place. She found a seat at the counter, wiggled
her way into it. Saw the man beside her who was finishing a cigarette give her a
quick up and down from over his shoulder and then turn back to flick an ash onto
the remains of his sandwich. She imagined returning his dismissive stare, and
then maybe even letting her eyes linger distastefully on the crust of bread and
the bitten dill pickle and the cigarette debris on his plate. She could slide
the ashtray that was right there between them a little closer to his elbowhint,
hint. Emboldened, perhapswas she?by the fact that shed just been asked out on
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