From This Day Forward by Maureen Duffy
Libby shifted her position to catch the light from the slight part in the hotel curtains. She liked to sketch quickly before her lover awoke. This man—Marc? Dave? Hal? Shit, she thought. The monosyllabic names were hard for her to keep straight.
This man, Mr. Green Tie, had a gentle face and thick black hair. He looked younger now than he had the night before at the hotel bar where he’d shown up in his tailored suit and raw silk shirt, still rumpled from his flight. He’d told her he was an “angel” and she’d pretended not to know what that meant: He invested in start-ups, she let him explain; he was en route to New York from Hong Kong and had stopped for the night and a “key meeting” in Palo Alto on Monday.
Today, Libby thought. I hope.
She tore off a fresh sheet of paper.
What name had she given to him? She paused in mid-sketch of his soft mouth. He did look much younger now—naked, asleep, dreaming: Dreaming of me? Libby thought, and then caught herself: No.
The night before, she’d told him her new favorite life-story: She had a small antiques shop, tucked away in San Francisco, on Russian Hill. She’d inherited it from her great aunt, she told him, and as she spoke, she could picture the sign for the shop in neon, from the fifties, a steady red light.
She never told these men the truth of her life: She lived alone—now; and not so long ago, the graphic design firm where she’d worked, the firm that specialized in working with start-ups, went belly-up; when the next, and then the next firm did the same, Libby made a list of everything she knew how to do other than draw: She could roll her own cigarettes, bake a loaf of bread without a recipe (or a “receipt” as her English mother would say), drive a stick shift, speak a bit of Arabic; put a back-spin on her serve; pirouette, plié, and relevé; remember phone numbers by heart, sing acapella, make love, dance, teach. Make love, dance, teach, she repeated. Make love, dance, teach. She underlined the last two skill sets and added: teach tango.
She never told these men she’d started her own school of dance: She never told them her real name; she didn’t want to be surprised by one of them showing up at a class; or worse, waiting for her after.
At the bar, Libby told Mr. Green Tie she’d been waiting for a client driving up from Los Angeles—he had a jewelry box from the twenties he’d wanted to show her—but his car had broken down somewhere in the Santa Cruz mountains and by the time she’d gotten the message, her drink had arrived. She’d decided to stay to enjoy it, she’d said—and to watch the sky: Then she tilted her head towards the sunset-filled windows, but she kept her eyes on him.
“What’s the name of your shop?” He leaned in close to her.
“Heart’s Desire Antiques,” she said—without the slightest pause.
Now, she sketched the planes of his sleep-filled face; the rumpled sheets, the torn condom wrappers on the night stand; his half-empty glass of Champagne. Libby took a sip of what was left of hers, then she sketched the bloody towel on the floor; her period had started.
“I have three kids,” he’d said when his second drink arrived.
“Mazel tov.” She’d raised her then-empty glass.
“And a wife,” he’d added, though she’d stopped listening.
She closed her eyes when he kissed her. He tasted like the next drink she wanted.
Before he’d arrived at the bar, her students had asked her to join them for a drink. That’s why she’d been there. Once a month, she taught Advanced Tango in the ballroom of The Cardinal Hotel in Palo Alto. Some of the students liked the sangria the bar served and they often asked her to join them there after class. This time, she’d let herself linger in the hotel’s spa where she liked to shower and change after class; by the time she’d reached the bar, her students had all left. Sunday night, she thought—a kind of holy hour—they’ve all gone home to prepare for the week. She should, too, she thought, but that night, she had nothing, and no one, sacred to get back to in San Francisco. She took a seat at the bar with the best view of the sky, ordered a dirty martini and sipped it as she watched the sky deepen blue, rose, violet, and for the briefest moment, green. She ordered another and let her mind settle and then empty itself of any thoughts or dreams she’d been having. Lately, she’d been dreaming of buying a whole building to use for her school. A fantasy really—she could barely pay the rent for her dance studio in the Mission, much less a mortgage on a building.
A slender man with dark hair and a green tie sat down next to her. There’d been other empty seats. He asked if he could buy her a drink. He told her his name. She told him hers.
And here they were, in a hotel room he’d paid for with his company’s credit card.
Long before the first time, she’d read a passage in a book she’d found lying open on a favorite chair in the back of the Black Willow Bookstore: Once is a mistake—or an adventure; twice is forgivable; three times is a pattern.
And the ninth time, Libby thought. What was that?
One, two, three; one, two, three…
Libby continued to sketch. She didn’t let herself think of how long this dance could continue—she’d been doing it since Eamonn…She’d been doing it for eighteen months.
Eighteen months, today, she thought.
What name had he given her?
“Morning, Serena,” he said, his eyes half-closed with sleep.
Serena and Steve; Steve and Serena.
“Morning, Steve.” She sketched him as he lay splayed on the bed, completely relaxed—his arms outstretched wide—his throat exposed. He didn’t have much chest hair. He probably never would, she thought. He wasn’t really young; he already had three kids. And a wife, Libby reminded herself. He just seemed so much younger compared to the others.
He held his arms out to her.
“I’m not quite finished, yet.” She sketched his slender feet: Christ-like, she thought. She pressed her eyes closed for the briefest moment. She wiped her nose and cheeks with the backs of her hands.
“Do you draw all of your men in their beds?” Steve said. He hadn’t noticed she’d stopped.
“Only the lucky ones.”
He slipped the sheet off of his body and turned so she could see him. So trusting, she thought. She sketched him quickly now, assured, in the soft morning light.
Serena and Steve, Libby thought as she sketched: Before the wake-up call; before room service; before the bill slipped under the door. The delight in Eamonn’s smile flashed in her mind—when he’d read aloud their own bill that last Christmas morning at The Inn on Half-Moon Bay: “Three bottles of water (still),” he’d read. “Very. Very. Still,” he’d said in a deep voice that always made her laugh.
“You’re smiling,” Steve said. “What are you thinking?”
“No thinking,” she said, “just drawing.” She’d never drawn a man’s cock before. Not even Eamonn’s, and she’d been with him for nearly three years; from twenty-four to just before she turned twenty-seven. He’d hung her drawings up everywhere; he’d kept his favorite—one from a series she’d done of their shoes lined up just inside the door to their apartment—in his office at the university, in the spot his eyes naturally traveled to above his computer.
Perspective is everything, her drawing teacher had told her again and again during art school. By now, she knew how easy it could be to ruin her best work with one false stroke. On this morning, though, she let the imagined voice of her teacher guide her hand to the perfect spot to start the line that captured—everything. For Libby, drawing a portrait was an especial intimacy. When she drew Eamonn, he always called her by her given name: Elizabeth. Eamonn and Elizabeth, Elizabeth and Eamonn.
He never said good-bye. One morning—which would become the last morning—he lay in bed with her making up songs about all of the places they’d kissed: The steps of the library, the Valley of the Moon, the top of Half-Dome, her childhood bedroom. He ended with a litany of colors of the sea at Carmel; the place where they first met, the place where they first kissed.
The next morning, he was gone.
If anyone asked, Libby said nothing more. She kept it simple, as if an invisible tide had lifted Eamonn out of his sleep and then had carried him away.
For all she knew, Libby thought, that’s exactly what happened.
She finished the sketch. She put the cap back on her pen. She liked to carry ink pens, water colour sticks, and a pad of good paper with her. She liked to be prepared.
“Thank you,” she said. “You’re lovely.”
Steve smiled and motioned to her. “Let me see.”
She slipped her favorite sketch to the bottom of the pile and brought it to him. He slowly caressed her thigh under her robe as he looked closely at the top three sketches.
“These are good.” He placed them all on the night stand. “They look just how I feel.” He pulled her down on top of him.
“And how’s that?” She kissed his throat.
He pulled her closer to him and smoothed her fine, blonde hair. “Too bad I can’t bring one home with me.”
Libby could feel her skin flush from her chest, up her neck, to her hairline.
“You have really blue eyes,” he said.
She dressed quietly as he slept. She gathered all of her drawings: These are good, she thought. She had more at home: Nine portraits, all together. Nine, plus one. Enough for a book, she thought. The Lucky Ones.
Elegy for Eamonn, she wrote. By, Elizabeth.
She picked up the bill on the floor by the door and saw the room had been rented to David Kahn; his wife had called and had left a message. Libby knew from experience not to read it.
She can have him, Libby thought. That morning, moments before he’d fallen back asleep, when he’d lifted her to where he’d wanted her, she’d heard her own voice from deep within:I’m never doing this again.
She placed the bill on top of David’s monogrammed briefcase. She didn’t write a note. She slipped out the door before he woke. As far as she knew, his key meeting had already started.
Libby found her car where she’d left it—a small miracle. She’d parked it that Sunday night in a spot that became a no-parking zone on Monday morning. She drove out of town and thanked the universe for her good fortune—she hadn’t gotten a ticket or been towed. She thanked her car for starting, and her radio for not being stolen.
Libby turned onto the freeway and opened all of the windows. She sent up a special thanks to the gods of good luck she only taught in Palo Alto once a month; by the time she held her next class, Steve—and David—would be long gone. Libby could plan now how she wanted to celebrate the next eighteen months. She could buy a building, she thought. There was always a way. And then, or rather, right now, she could choose the color for the cover of her book: Burgundy, she thought, almost black—like the color of the sea when there is no moon. Cloth, with white lettering; a blue satin ribbon to mark the best page.
Libby sailed past her usual exit north to San Francisco. She had nothing, she thought, and no one, to take care of, not even a small fichus, not even a turtle she could barely tell was alive or dead. The next series of classes wouldn’t start for ten days. She was free.
She headed south to Carmel, to the sea, to the first place, the best place, to say a good, good-bye.
© Maureen Duffy 2013
Maureen Duffy is a writer in New York City. She moved to the city in 2011 after unexpectedly falling in love with it during a visit from San Francisco, where she’d lived for a number of years. She hadn’t planned on falling in love; but once it happened, there was no turning back. She has an MFA from Bennington and her work can be found in journals and on-line, as noted on her site: TheYesTicket.blogspot.com.
From This Day Forward was read by Josephine Cashman for the Secrets & Lies Show on 6th March 2013