"Katherine," he says, and shakes his head, "when I don't see you for a while--I forget what an awful bitch you are." She does not speak immediately. Her shoulders do not move.
Then she says, "I'm not. But clearly, I'm also not what you were looking for. We can agree on that now."
"No, you sure as hell weren't," he says. And then I watch with this woman while he walks away, toward the dining room. She turns then, to look out the window. She bends forward with her whole body and stares down at the cars on the West Side Highway.
"Wasn't that a bit much?" Katherine asks. She doesn't look up and she isn't loud, so she must be able to feel that I'm standing close by her.
"First he wasn't smooth, and then he wasn't nice," I say. I'd like to tell her that he repulsed me, but they may have been affectionate with each other at one time, and so she might not want to hear him called repulsive by someone else, regardless of whether she knows it.
"True. He's only someone I used to date. He runs a company and I guess these last few days have been hard going. I bet his board of directors are feeling just like me, like they chose the wrong man. He isn't smart. That's partly why he's mean. I'm sorry that I saw him tonight."
"Complicated," I say. "It was good of you to be so gentle with him."
"Gentle?" she says. "I'm wrong to rationalize his behavior. I don't feel the least bit benevolent toward him."
There are lines at the edges of my eyes and these lines crinkle down when I smile. I smile now. I don't say a word.
She says, "In fact, he's married. But he keeps bothering me. I should tell him to leave me alone."
"Why didn't you call for help?" I say. "I could have yanked him away from you. I would have thrown him out of this window."
She glances around the room. She acts as if she is concerned that someone has overheard me.
"That doesn't appeal to me. If I want to throw him out a window, I'll do it myself. Why don't we go find a drink?"
We leave the dining room and approach the nervous undergraduate who Weingarden has set up behind a high table in a corner of the foyer. Katherine points, and he gives her a glass of red wine. He sets me up with another scotch. Oddly, he ignores my request for fresh ice. I don't recognize him, so I know I haven't taught him and he can't be angry with me. This makes me wonder if I'm slurring words, or if I haven't bothered to speak at all, and in turn, if either of these things is true, if I'm not entirely sober.
There's a table next to us, and I turn to it. It's thick with cocktail food: cheeses on a wood board, some fresh berries, a chopped-up pile of bread, green dip, red dip, crackers. I don't know if it's nervousness or the dip colors, but I lose my appetite immediately, which is typical. And I haven't eaten since breakfast--one lonely egg on a biscuit and black coffee in a paper cup, from a diner on Montgomery Street. Ninety-nine cents. This is why I often find myself going to bed hungry. I eat too little at the beginning of the day and then I'm left with an unquenchable nighttime hunger. I lack foresight. That's my problem. But it's just the sort of dilemma that's difficult to fix.
I take a piece of cheese that's studded with peppercorns and I eat it quickly. Incredibly, Katherine is still here. She's staying with me. Now I've got a sticky mouth and a stunned feeling that clenches at my ribs, because she continues to smile through my second and third glance. The room isn't bright, but the rims of things have taken on a glow, perhaps because of the scotch.
"In fact," she says, "we've met before."
Because she's said this, I feel as if I've been given clearance to look at her again, more carefully, and I do. She's in a simple dark dress, with an ache of red-brown hair grazing her shoulders, and difficult eyes. So she is no longer only a still figure in a window. Her eyes are opaque. I cannot discern a dominating color.
Excerpted from Consent by Ben Schrank. Copyright 2002 by Ben Schrank. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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