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When Emily’s feet got tired walking along the covered walkway she was crossing she found a place to sit down. She knew she had been foolish to have worn high heel platform shoes. She also wished that she had dressed more warmly for the autumn weather. All she had on was a short, black, clinging dress. She wanted to impress Ken. She had on the same clothes she had when she first met him three years ago. She wore the same ear rings. Her long black hair was in a pony tail, like it was then.
That evening, three years ago, she had not intended to be picked up. She had gone to a club on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, DC with a girl friend wanting only to have a few drinks, and maybe meet someone. She met Ken. He was several inches taller than her, charming, and good looking. Because he was well dressed, when he told her he had a position with a prominent law firm she believed him. He was a good dancer.
Later on that night she found he was good in bed, with the chiseled body of one who works out at a health club. Ever the thoughtful lover, he had an unused toothbrush for her. Everything in his condominium overlooking Connecticut Avenue spoke of good taste and a good income.
When Emily looked at pictures framed on the walls, she said, “I recognize several reproductions from the National Art Gallery. The others are original.” She walked over to one his book shelves. “These are impressive titles,” she said, “The books have obviously been read.” She picked out one book, opened it and read, “The Poetic Edda, translated from the Icelandic with an introduction and notes by Henry Adams Bellows. I read part of this in the Library of Congress. It has been out of print for decades.”
“I am fortunate to have found it in a used book store, just as I am fortunate to have found you.” Emily put the book back on the shelf, and walked over to kiss him.
The next morning they took a shower together. Ken prepared an excellent breakfast for them consisting of omelets, freshly squeezed orange juice, and coffee ground from beans he had bought on a recent trip to Jamaica. The cups, plates, and silverware reminded her of an exhibit she had seen at the Smithsonian in an exhibit on the eighteenth century English aristocracy.
When he drove her to her apartment in his Jaguar she asked, “When will I see you again?”
“I’ll give you a call.”
‘You don’t have my phone number.”
He gave her something to write with and on. When Emily was alone in her apartment in Prince George’s County she wondered how many unused toothbrushes Ken kept for events like her. He did call. The next Friday they saw a movie, had drinks afterward, and spent the night at her apartment. They were great in bed together. Then they had to get out of bed.
Weeks would go without a call from Ken. When she called, he always wanted to see her. When he called it was usually for something special, like a weekend at a vacation resort. He gave her gifts. He remembered her birthday. The anniversary of the night they met was celebrated at the club where they met. He introduced her to several of his friends. He never introduced her to his colleagues at the law firm. He never introduced her to his parents.
He let her know he dated other women. He told her she meant more to him than they did. If she showed up at his condo unexpectedly, he was alone. He was glad to see her. There was never evidence of another visit. He suggested she see other men, and told her that she was fortunate that he was not possessive. Every now and then she accepted a date with another man. Nothing compared with Ken.
After her first night with him, well yes it was a one night stand, she wanted an affair with him. After a three year affair she wanted…well, yes darn it, she wanted to marry him. He never mentioned marriage. He never introduced her to his parents. When she hinted she would like to meet them, he said they lived in another state. She did know that he was an important partner of the law firm he told her about, because she read an article about him in The Washington Post. She showed him the article, and said, “I’m proud of you.” He smiled. That was it. He never suggested she visit him at his office. He never invited her to a social event hosted by the firm. Eventually she learned by accident that his parents lived in Potomac, Maryland.
When he told her he would be spending several months in Europe to take care of important legal business for his firm, she did not know if she would see him again. She was not sure she wanted to. She did know that she did not want to go on being his friend with benefits.
While away he sometimes sent her e-mail messages. He remembered her birthday with a flower bouquet. She felt proud when a uniformed deliveryman brought it to her cubicle.
Ken was back for several weeks before he called. By now she had decided not to call him. When he did call, she was happy and relieved, more happy and relieved than she wanted to be. He suggested they have lunch at an elegant restaurant in an enclosed shopping center that connected to the walkway.
As soon as she got to the restaurant she realized she had not dressed properly for the occasion. The other women there were dressed for work. The work they did was apparently as prestigious as the work Ken did. They had careers. Emily had a job. The difference in their outfits made that more obvious than Emily wanted. It did not help one bit that when Emily was coming back from a trip to the ladies’ room a customer in the restaurant mistook her for a cocktail waitress.
Emily viewed many of the women in the restaurant as women who would have had a chance.
Fortunately, Ken did remember her dress from their first meeting. His conversation was polite, casual, and noncommittal. She had half feared he would use the event to tell her about another woman. He did not. He did tell her of the important places he had been, the important people he met, the important work he had done for his law firm. When she first met him that kind of talk impressed her. What impressed her this time was that she did not have anything from her own life and job that was nearly as interesting to discuss.
Emily had taken off the whole day from work, and the next day too, just in case. When she suggested they spend the rest of the day together, or at least meet in the evening, Ken told her he had an important client to talk to. She realized more than ever before that “important” was not an adjective he used when thinking about her. It was not going to be. He would only prolong the affair until he found someone suitable.
Ken picked up the tab, and tipped generously as he always did. He did not suggest they see each other again. Neither did Emily. She still wanted him. She was tired of doing all the work, and always being the one who apologized when they had a quarrel. They did not say, “Goodbye.” She knew she would never see him again.
Ten minutes later, Emily was sitting in the walkway, thinking about what had happened. She felt more numb than hurt. She knew pain would come. She did not regret her efforts. She regretted the outcome. Because she could not think of anything she could have done differently or better, she was at peace with herself.
She looked up. At some distance down the walkway an older man had turned around, and was looking at her. The older woman he was with, whom Emily guessed was his wife, was gently pulling him along. Did she feel threatened by her husband’s apparent interest in a younger woman? It did not matter. He would not leave his wife for Emily. He might pick her up at a bar. That would be it. It would not even lead to a three year affair.
Looking away from the man Emily thought of “The Hollow Men,” by T.S. Eliot. She paraphrased the last sentence to herself, “This is the way our affair ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”
Walking to the Metro station Emily was generous to a pan handler. He was about Ken’s age, and seemed embarrassed to be asking. He did not tell her that his platoon was nearly annihilated in Iraq.
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