Copyright is held by the author.
THE WAITER pours a little white wine into the glass and stands back while Bob takes a sip. He looks too old to be waiting on tables, his apron so long he seems to have no ankles and feet. He winks at her.
The minute Delia looked up from her computer on a cold January morning and saw Bob striding toward her, she knew she was going to sleep with him. Tall, fit, with a shock of brown hair and a Tom Jones smile, he was the finely made male of the species. And with a J.D. from Hastings College of Law, a venerable San Francisco institution — we are told. Delia likes a good mind in a man.
She has a few years on him, and she watches him nod to the waiter with a mixture of lust and maternal affection. She would have skipped dinner out, her Cannelloni. Sex is better on an empty stomach. They could be on the road now in his Porsche, racing across the Golden Gate. It’s been a while.
Hours later, she wakes in the dark in a strange bed. Where am I? she wonders for a moment, thinking of the girl in the Mavis Gallant story, whose parents are inveterate wanderers, and who wakes up every day wondering this.
The window is open slightly. Moonlight penetrates the room. There is a large tree outside, an oak perhaps, dark against the sky. Bob is snoring quietly.
Her skirt and cashmere sweater lie on the floor by her boots — Ferragamo — standing like soldiers at attention. Soundlessly she opens the jar of Nivea on the nightstand and inhales. Summer. Dorset. Bare feet on a wet lawn. Her mother’s voice.
“I’ve lost an earring.” She is dressed, everything but the boots. There is a smell of coffee. Hazelnut. She was sure she’d put them on the nightstand.How much wine did she have last night? It will turn up. She fumbles around the pillows. Two glasses? Three? And Drambuie? She is not good with liqueurs.
“You’ve lost an earring?” He stares across the marital bed in disbelief, young and hunky in T-shirt and jeans — she’s never seen him in anything but a suit and tie — his hair damp from the shower. He expects her to be the seasoned adulteress. And she has. Till now.
“It’ll turn up,” She says, as though this happens routinely. “It has to be here somewhere.” She wiggles an earlobe. “It’s silver, like this.”
She pulls back the duvet, looks inside the pink cover, on the floor, under the nightstand. Yes, they’d made love — they’d had sex —but it had all taken place right here. It can’t be far.
“Fuck! We’ve got to find it.” He is panicking now, the brown eyes jittery. He picks up a pillow and shakes it angrily. Then another. A tiny feather floats down. Then he thumps them back against the headboard and gets down on all fours.
Delia does the same with her pillows, gently. She looks on the nightstand again, behind the Nivea, the digital clock. She gets onto her knees. It must be somewhere.
And there it is! What a relief! Wedged up against the skirting board. How did it get there?
“Thank God!” He puts his hand to his forehead, shaken. “I’ll pour you some coffee.” He heads into the kitchen. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
Every day now, in the office, they will be reminded of this.
She brushes her hair and looks out at the tree. What a mess. Last night had been lighthearted, reckless, a one-night stand, and they both knew it. Now, all he wants is to get her out of here. If he could fire her from a cannon, and she were to float like a projectile from Marin to Berkeley, he would. Then into the garden, clipping the box hedge when Rose pulls up in the Subaru, Josh in the car seat, banging his pudgy little legs, anxious to see Papa.
Let’s get this show on the road. It was something her father used to say. That hectoring male voice. She was a dreamy child, always mulling things over in a vast grey interior, never quite ready when doors needed shutting, bags packed, sandwiches made.
He brings her coffee in a small mug with a floral pattern. Once again, she has missed the point somehow, not been paying attention. She feels an old bitterness, something she cannot name. She pulls on her boots, the smell of new leather comforting.
The sun slants across the duvet. She pictures Rose unpacking in this room, hanging up a dress, arranging her brush and comb on the dresser.
She walks over to his side of the bed. She removes an earring, pulls the duvet back, and places it on his pillow, where he will not miss it. Then she walks into the living room, her boots resounding on the shiny wooden floor, grabs her coat and bag off the couch, and follows him out to the car.
“You’re not wearing them!” He says, as they drive off. “After all that!”
“I only wear those earrings at night.” She smiles. “On special occasions.” He laughs and pats her on the knee.
At work on Monday, Lorraine looks at her over her espresso, stunning in a cream silk blouse that sets off her dark skin, the thick black hair.
“How did you and Bob get on last Friday? Did you work late?”
“Yes.” She pauses. “He took me out to dinner. Adolph’s. In North Beach.”
“Hmmm.” Raised eyebrows. “Pretty nice.”
“I spent the night with him.”
“Oh well. I could see that coming. He’s been eyeing you since he got here. Where was the wife?” A pause. “Or was she part of this event?”
“In San Jose, with the son and the mother.”
“I see.” She glances around the office. “This could get mucky.” A hint of reprimand.
“Don’t worry,” Delia says. “It won’t happen again.”