we begin our tale with the tiniest recap of last week, which involved me going to the gym a lot because my friend Polly, who is also blonde, gets to invite any friend to her gym for a week. Her gym is very special because her work pays for it and it's full of greenish glass and Zen shapes and sleek woods and metals and world music and modern vases full of spiky, energetic looking flowers -- birds of paradise and other implausible, unbloomy blooms. It costs $1700 for a year, and the changing rooms have different, soothing music in them and little stations with glass jars full of Q-tips in case you forget your makeup tools, and free disposable razors and Barbasol and mouthwash and kelp-scented body wash and lily-scented shampoo and conditioner and aloe-flavored moisturizer and odd hairspray and deoderant pumps and large towels and thousands of hairdryers awaiting your every desire. I mostly love the gym for its bathroom, since I emerge shinier and cleaner and better-smelling and more kissable than I can ever manage to emerge from my own miserable bathroom, with its lack of electrical outlets or counterspace or warm water. I also love this gym because it has my favorite weight machine, the kind that administers happiness through the muscles in your knees (see last year's November entry.) It's called the prone leg curl machine or something, and I love it, and I did fifty repetitions each day all week.
The result of all of this gym nonsense is that, despite coaxing the Ignominious Redhead through morning sickness and maternity-clothes shopping (she's planning ahead, and can't decide between looking like Lucille Ball, with odd trapezey tops over capri leggings, or Princess Leia. She ended up deciding to look "all white trash and shit" and so we bought a rack of cheap nylon full slips and dyed them different colors with Rit dye in her kitchen sink) -- and despite fighting my own battles with the electric company, who think I used $155 worth of electricity this September -- this weekend found me feeling healthier and cleaner and more gorgeous and glowing and weak-kneed and rapturous than I've felt in a long time. Thus, although I've been averse to parties lately, because I act like an idiot at them, I was strangely thrilled to go to Eunice's housewarming party on Saturday night. I brought my things to the gym in a garment bag, and got dressed there. Let us pause for a moment to describe my outfit with a degree of detail to rival Ann M. Martin: I wore an odd, jade-green cocktail dress with a highish waist and kind of a blouson effect at the top, with this wide boatnecky collar that kind of frothed and rippled before the crest of my shoulders, and then below the waist it dropped rather slimly and fluidly to my knees and then had another little frothy aquatic ruffle. And I accessorized with a necklace made out of gold wires twisted around little sea-green rocks and a pair of pointy green-velvet shoes. I had a large and ludicrous sea-green picture hat, but I decided to save it for the next time somebody gets married, and contented myself with glossy sage-green eyelids and delicately russeted lips.
The party had started out as a dinner, but I got there around the time when people were starting to eat the desserts, and other people were coming from their dinners out and their early movies and things and were eyeing the cocktails. Eunice's new apartment is incredibly spacious and tasteful and warm, with one of those beautiful stamped-tin fireplaces and curiously stamped white panelling and an enormous, curving staircase. Everything was hung with little white lights and funny little orange pumpkin-lights and there were candles in cunning, Pottery-barn-type holders everywhere. I usually have little to say to Eunice's friends, who are too practical and secretly funny for me to keep up with, but everyone was feeling expansive and welcoming and I was introduced to a variety of different pleasant people, and exactly half of them remarked on my dress and a third of them on my necklace, and I was having a wonderful time.
At nine-thirty or ten or so a little contingent of Eunice's work friends arrived, standing close together and clucking and bearing interesting beers and foreign pastries. I immediately noticed that the mean elfin man was among them, and that he was a little taller than I had remembered and that his hair was a little longer and that he was wearing an adorable shirt and I felt that little hot bolt of recognition and terror and interest that hits me in these situations, where I'm strangely interested in someone I don't know very well, and it was such a hot little bolt that I had to turn my face away as if I had been slapped. Then I mustered my resolve, and the resolve was to talk to him charmingly somehow, and I was going through my list of strategies to get men's attention -- throwing things at them, falling on them, asking them piquant unsolicited questions -- when Eunice took my arm and walked me over to him and said, "you remember Stephen, right?"
"Yes, I think so," I said, possibly stammering but possibly remaining sweetly aloof, extending a hand and murmuring the dull syllables of my Christian name. Some people, like Eunice, discourage anonymity.
"Sure you do," he said. "We had lunch a while ago. How's it going? That paper go over well?"
Oh yes, it had gone over very well. Over the next twenty minutes I attempted to bring up more and more interesting things about the conference, about the behavior of my colleagues and my former classmates and my stockings, about the neighborhood where Stephen and Eunice worked, about television, about Kafka, about phonemics, about ranch-hands, about the cosmetic uses of the placenta, about my inadequacy as a photographer, about the President, about barn swallows, about drinking liquor, hoping to extend our forced party conversation with block after block of interesting topics, clutching at every opportunity to segue into some new, inescapable conversation as soon as the last topic seemed to have run its course. The whole time I waited for him to turn, to excuse himself because he needed to try some cake, or refill his glass, or talk to his friend, or go to the bathroom, or make a telephone call, or go to another party. I expected this because at lunch with Eunice's work friends he hadn't paid any attention at all to me, had nodded when necessary and barked his cruel appealing laughter at Eunice and teased her and eaten sushi off of her plate, but had failed to give me the appropriate flirtatious acknowledgements that you give to a friend of a friend, at least to a pretty one.
But now he was hanging on my every word. Maybe because he didn't know anyone else at the party, because the three other women from work were already mingling, because Eunice was occupied with her guests. When he went away to fill up his drink he came back with one for me, and we stopped standing awkwardly in the doorway volleying observations at each other and instead sat down next to each other in front of the fireplace and sipped our drinks and leaned in to talk to each other, and the conversation grew easy and meandering and painless, and we talked and talked, and I would grab his arm and grip it if something was funny and he would smack my shoulder or my knee if I said something implausible, and sometimes the conversation would quiet a little and get dreamy and slow, and there would be long pauses, and then he asked me outside to have a cigarette, and he smoked clove cigarettes, and they were beautiful and sweet and full of delicious fiberglass. And out on the stoop he gave me a kiss and said something weird that I can't remember, and I can't remember what I said, but he explained that the next evening we were going to have to have a drink or something, didn't I think so, and I said yes, I did probably think so, and he said good, here is my number and you give me yours and I said, sure, sure, and we laughed and the night was cool and lovely and full of stars.
Then of course it was necessary for me to go home because it just was too late and too absurd and I took a cab and just rubbed my hands together the whole way like a crazy old man would, and buried my face in my hands, and observed the lovely lines of my own face reflected in the window of the cab, my pale tired-looking elegant-looking loveable face skimming over the whole city, its dark shapes and its little glitters and its thousands of lovers, all of whom seemed insipid and shadowy and useless compared to this warm interesting man who pulsed in its center like a tiny, perfect heart in a tiny, perfect adorable shirt.