BY CARL PERRIN
Copyright is held by the author.
I NOTICED her first when she walked in. Her hair was—not really pretty, but it reminded me of someone. She was about forty, and she did wear her age well. Her teeth were bad, and she looked sad. She walked past the table where I was sitting, and I thought no more of her.
I was having lunch with some fellow teachers. We were having sandwiches and beer. Just after the waitress brought our sandwiches to us, the woman walked toward our table. I could see that she had come to us from another table where more teachers from our school were sitting. She held out her arms and said, “Of course I remember John Thayer.” John Thayer was sitting beside me. He didn’t seem too glad to see her. In fact he tensed right up.
Actually she didn’t remember John Thayer all that well because she threw her arms around me. She was drunk as hell. She tried to kiss me. “Come on, honey, how about a kiss for old time’s sake.” I moved my face away from her and said rather stiffly, “I’m not John Thayer.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her where John was, since he obviously didn’t want to renew whatever old acquaintance he might have had with her. On the other hand I did not want to accept her alcoholic affection.
“Who are you then?” she asked.
“I’m David Hanscom,” I said. No one at our table laughed, although it was a kind of a joke. The bastards at the other table, I found out later, were killing themselves laughing, but I wasn’t paying any attention to them just then. The people at my table were sitting there just as stiffly as I was. David Hanscom was the name of the principal at the school where we all taught. I don’t know what possessed me to give his name to that woman. I know he wouldn’t have approved of our drinking beer with out lunch, although it was a workshop day, and there were no kids in school.
“David Hanscom,” said. “Then you’re the high school principal. I know you. Come on, give me a kiss.”
I told her to go away, and she started crying, her tears falling on the top of my head, my shoulder, and the new sweater my wife had just bought for me.
“Denny Perkins was lying in the rain dying, and I didn’t want him to die. I spend the night in the woods with him. I don’t want him to die,” she said.
I tried to eat my sandwich and ignore her, but I could not help wondering who Denny Perkins was. What was he dying from, an auto accident? Or was it some fatal illness that had nothing to do with lying in the rain? And when did she spend the night in the woods with him? Was it a recent event or some time in the distant past?
Trying to eat a sandwich wasn’t working out too well because she kept leaning over me and talking.
“My husband said I couldn’t even do dishes. Couldn’t even do dishes! He grabbed me by the hair and pushed me downstairs.” Then she leaned even closer and said, You know Melody didn’t have to get married.”
The waitress came over and said, “Come on, Arlene, these people don’t want you here” and led her away. Someone noticed that it was almost quarter of one, the time we were supposed to be back at school.
We were hurrying to finish our sandwiches when Arlene came back. She pushed her face against mine and said, “How about a kiss before you go?”
I turned away from her and said, “Allez vous en.”
“What did you say?”
I decided to pretend that I didn’t speak English and said, “Je ne parle pas anglais.”
“Je ne parle pas anglais.”
That wasn’t doing any good. I wanted to get rid of her, but I began to feel sorry for her. “Why don’t you go see your friend,” I suggested. I couldn’t remember his name.
“The one that was lying in the rain.’
“They won’t let me into see him.”
“Sure they will.”
“No they won’t.”
“Why don’t you try?”
Where was he that they wouldn’t let her see him? A hospital? I felt sorry for the friend, whoever he was.
“They won’t let me into see him,” she said and started crying again.
The waitress came over and led Arlene away again. I gulped my sandwich down and we got up to pay our bill. I managed to sidestep her on the way out. I smoked a cigarette in the car on the way back to school. I noticed that my hand was trembling.
We were late for the afternoon session and had to sit up front. I tried to breathe carefully so the real David Hanscom wouldn’t smell the beer on my breath.