Then, I say, there was our sea-horse period, when we were told that we didn't need mates; we were supposed to make ourselves happy just bobbing around in careers.
"Finally, Sophie met Max," I say, and turn serious. I look over at him. I think, He has a nice face. And I say this into the microphone. "He gets how funny and generous and wholehearted she is. He understands what a big person she is, and yet he doesn't want to crush her." I get some blank stares here, but Sophie's laughing. I say, "Max is the man Sophie didn't know if she could hope for."
When I sit down, Robert stands, I assume to give his toast. But he walks over to my side of the table and asks Mavis if she'll trade seats with him.
She says, "No," and waits a moment before relinquishing her chair.
Robert sits beside me and says, "I loved your toast."
I linger over the word "love" coming out of his mouth about something of mine.
He tells me that he knows Max from freshman year--roughly twenty years--and I remember that a huge number of Oberlin friends are here and ask what bonds them all for life.
He says, "No one else will be friends with us."
Then another toaster picks up the microphone.
Toast, toast, toast; Robert and I can only talk during the intermissions in hurried exchanges:
I learn that he's a cartoonist, and I have to tell him that I work in advertising. "But," I say, and don't know what to say next. "I'm thinking of opening a dog museum."
"A dog museum?" he says. He's not sure if I'm kidding. "For the different breeds?"
"Maybe," I say. "Or else it could be a museum that dogs would enjoy. It could have interactive displays of squirrels dogs could chase and actually catch. And a gallery of scents."
He tells me he's just moved back to New York from L.A. and is staying with his sister until he finds an apartment. I tell him I live in Sophie's old apartment in the huge ancient building nicknamed the Dragonia for its gargoyles. Almost everyone knows someone who has lived there--an ex-girlfriend or masseuse, a cousin--and Robert does, too, though he doesn't specify whom.
Will I check on vacancies for him? I will.
Sophie's father goes up to the microphone for the last toast, a position of honor he's requested. He reads a rhyming poem:
"I despaired at my spinster daughter though I thought her awfully fair. Then came Maxie, praise the Lord, from the heavens, I had scored.
But Max, like Sophie, makes documentaries, how are they going to pay their rentaries?"
Sophie's shaking her head; Max is trying to smile at his father-in-law. Robert leans over and whispers to me,
"Dad is trying awfully hard, but this guy is no one's bard."
* * *
Max and Sophie go table to table to talk to their guests, and as soon as Robert and I have the chance to talk without interruption, a statuesque beauty in a drapey gown interrupts.
"Jane," Robert says, "this is Apollinaire."
I'm about to say, "Call me Aphrodite," but I realize in time that he's not kidding.
"Have a seat," he tells her, nodding to the one next to me. But she gracefully drops beside him, as though to fill her urn, forcing Robert to turn his back to me. It occurs to me that I may not be the only butterfly whose wings flutter in the presence of his stamen.
After she glides off, Robert tells me that she composes music for movies and has been nominated for an Oscar. I think of my only award, an Honorable Mention in the under-twelve contest to draw Mr. Bubble.
"I like her toga," I say, confusing my ancients.
We talk, we talk, and then Robert announces to the table at large that it's time for us to prepare the newlyweds' getaway car.
Outside it's drizzling. Robert retrieves two grocery bags from the bushes and leads us to Max's car.
From The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, by Melissa Bank. ©May, 1999, Melissa Bank, used by permission of Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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