Bridget Bernstein’s hand trembled as she inserted a key into the lock of her ex-lover’s apartment door. She had to hurry. He’d be home in half an hour. She heard the whirr of the elevator down the hall and threw herself against the door. It flew open.
She stumbled inside and shut the door. If she hoped to reconcile with David, it had to be today, their third anniversary. David loved romantic surprises. Just last year, on their second anniversary, while she was still at work, he had decorated her apartment with beeswax candles and vases of pale white gardenias. To her delight, when she got home, he waited in her bedroom wearing only a gardenia behind his ear. Candles glowed on her dresser. A bottle of champagne rested in a silver bucket on the nightstand. Surely, he’d forgive her tonight for trespassing.
Cautiously, she moved through the dim hallway, a thick knot in her throat. If she found signs of a new girlfriend, she’d leave without a trace. Barring that, she’d try to set things right.
She remembered making love with him on the lush Turkish carpet that covered a pine plank floor, gazing up at rough-hewn beams, secure in his arms as if they were on a voyage together. Now the apartment, a former dressmaker’s loft, looked dusty and neglected. His beat-up sneakers lay askew on the living room carpet next to an empty soda can. She wedged her feet into them, held out her arms to an imaginary David and waltzed across the floor.
Tripping over the soda can, she bumped into the coffee table. A cloud of dust wafted into her face. Her eyes watered as she tried to stop the sneezing attack that overcame her. Regaining her balance, she stepped out of the shoes and went into the hall.
She opened the closet beneath his bedroom loft, fearing she might find an unfamiliar frilly robe or silky nightgown. A quick search revealed only David’s clothes hanging on the rack. She brushed her hand across his nubby brown tweed jacket, the one he’d worn the night she moved her things out of his apartment. Cautiously, she dipped her fingers into his jacket pocket, then stopped. What was she doing? She was an upstanding thirty-two year old social worker.
There were women who steamed open their lover’s mail or checked their phone bills, but she never dreamed that she’d stoop so low herself. She tried to will her fingers out of his pocket, but they continued grazing the soft material until she was sure that his pocekt was empty. She sniffed his shirts. No foreign perfume. Hallelujah.
In the bathroom, she saw an old tube of her lipstick on the sink. David’s toothbrush hung alone in a porcelain holder. The usual items lined the shelves of the medicine chest On a hammered brass tray near the tub sat a bottle of the chocolate liquer she and David had shared when they took baths together. She lifted the bottle, unscrewed the cap, remembered tasting the sweet liquid from David’s lips and took a deep chug. A surge of confidence shot through her body. It was obvious he still missed her. Why else would he leave such intimate reminders?
She checked her watch. It was time to go upstairs. David would be home from teaching his sociology class in fifteen minutes. In the loft, she turned on the lamp. David’s nightstand drawer was ajar. Just like him, always rushing somewhere. She sifted through loose change, scraps of paper, a few packets of the condoms they’d used. Everything had a light coating of dust. It sure looked like his sex life was as boring as her own.
At the foot of his bed, she ran her fingers over the quilt she had bought for him. She smiled, remembering how he had laughed when he found the naked couple she’d embroidered in the corner. Tracing her finger along the feathery thread outlining their bodies, she imagined him climbing the stairs, undressing, slipping into bed beside her, whispering, “Glad you’re back, babe.”
“I love you,” she whispered, pressing her mouth to his pillow, imagining his lips opening to hers. Giggling, she sat up and removed her raincoat, blouse, skirt and stockings. She had worn his favorite red lace bra and matching bikini panties. Before snapping off the light, she carefully folded and stacked her clothes on the floor.
His spicy scent enveloped her as she sat on the edge of the bed and drew the quilt around her shoulders. She peered eagerly through the railing where she had a perfect view of the living room below.
She had to make him understand why she hadn’t immediately accepted his marriage proposal, why she had panicked and run to Grandmom Ruth in Florida. David wasn’t sure he wanted children. Now, she realized she shouldn’t have backed off so easily when he ignored the topic of having a family. Instead he would bring flowers, make her dinner. They’d go to a movie, and her desire to hammer out issues would vanish with the opening credits.
While in Florida, she thought about how they both loved the theater, art, movies, and shared so many ideas. They could work out the issue of children later.
She had called him from the airport before her return flight. “Let’s try and work things out,” she said. She heard him suck in his breath.
“Do you know how many women would jump at the chance to be my wife?” He slammed down the receiver.
At first she thought his response arrogant, but on the plane she decided that she had deeply hurt him. She didn’t argue when he insisted that she move her things out of his apartment and return his key. But first, she made a copy just in case he changed his mind and became his old self again.
In the days that followed, she wandered the streets on her way home from work. Sometimes, she found herself in front of his office at the University or on a bench at the bus stop across from his apartment. She’d stare up at his windows, happiest when the lights were off imagining him alone in the dark, missing her. She stopped going out at night and sat by the phone. His telephone number flashed on and off in her mind. Once, she’d disguised her voice pretending to sell subscriptions for Bride’s Magazine, but he had hung up. That’s when the idea struck her. She’d do something dazzling to get him back.
A noise broke the silence in the loft. The door squeaked open. She held her breath, leaned forward and peered over the railing. David’s familiar footsteps reverberated on the wooden floor. Her heart pounded. He flipped on a light switch, filling the room with a soft yellow glow. Hair mussed, shirt wrinkled, he looked tired. She couldn’t wait to comfort him.
He turned back to the door.
“Come on in,” he said.
1999 – copyright text, Frances Metzman, Joy E. Stocke