When I tracked her down at her parents' place in New Canaan, she was completely surprised. We met for lunch on one of my first off-days from the Ladies' Club. She was no longer the hippie she'd been in school. While her long, frizzy brown hair was still her most distinguishing attribute, in the four years since I had last seen her she had lost the roundness in her face and had traded in her T-shirts and Indian print skirts for tailored clothing. Between graduation and dental school, she had worked for her father, who owned and managed properties and acquired things. Even though she slept under his roof and received a salary from him, she seemed to harbor boundless hostility toward her father. In her lingo, he was "capitalist pig scum," who apparently felt morally justified in his own brand of bigotry because his parents were Holocaust survivors. After the initial weekend lunches at local restaurants, I invited her to my apartment for dinner. Then came the day she showed up at my door with the soup.
I rub the mustard onto the capon's skin, with its largish pores and nipple-like bumps; the mustard's whole seeds, tiny orbs rolling between my palm and the lubricated skin, produce a highly erotic sensation.
The telephone rings and I jump, embarrassed by the pleasure I'm taking. My mind leaps from the capon to Lisa Lee. She must be calling to cancel our date; perhaps she has a project due and can't come to dinner.
But the instant I lift the receiver I realize I don't want to hear that message at all.
"I'm here! I'm here, I'm here, I'm here!"
It's Bliss. Originally, she explains, she planned to fly in tomorrow, but a classmate, Ray, has a wedding to attend in Greenwich, and she caught a ride, saving money, his drive-buddy. At this moment they are outside Syracuse, still hours shy of Connecticut.
"I'm skipping my parents," she says. She sounds all juiced up, still speedy from the road. "It's a hit-and-run visit. I'm not even stopping in, they'll want to feed me, take me shopping, you know, monopolize my time. I'm going to stay with you."
Love is a lot like cooking. When either is successful, there's a delicate chemistry in operation, a fine balance between the constituent parts. If you have the perfect recipe for vichyssoise, you don't monkey with it. We've had a workable arrangement. The U.S. Postal Service has kept us connected; we have a standing agreement to take holidays together. That's plenty. Why spoil a good thing?
"We're going to stop by Randazzo's," Bliss says. "Come join us. I'm letting Ray buy me drinks." She informs me that Ray is a third-year dental student; he has been "a good help" to her, and twice has taken her hunting for ring-necked pheasant in the harvested cornfields.
"I'm stuck here," I tell her. "I'm experimenting with a new recipe." Which is the truth.
"Always other women," she says.
I hear the sarcasm in her voice, understand she means the club ladies I have to feed, but suspect she also means Lisa Lee. For a moment I consider putting an end to the intrigue, inviting her and that guy Ray to join us for dinner. A foursome around the table. Me and Bliss. Ray and Lisa Lee. At the mere thought of such a pairing I experience a biting pang of jealousy.
"Silvy, what's the matter?" she says, into the silent line. "It's me, Bliss. Are you upset with me? Come on, tell me. Do you feel threatened by Ray?"
I keep seeing the four of us around the table; Ray, some generic Midwesterner in a hunting cap and ammo vest, and Lisa Lee, who at that moment I imagine as my sister Lucy.
"It's true we spent the night together in the car. But he's just a friend."
I stay silent. "I'm sorry. Nothing happened. Don't be that way. You know me. I'm already spoken for."
Reprinted from The Barbarians Are Coming by David Wong Louie by permission of G.P. Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by David Wong Louie. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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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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