Shadows flickered on the pink walls of the cafe and Dorrie felt
her breath rise and snag as, without warning, Jennifer began
describing the sexual byplay of her two nights with Bryant.

Jennifer said, "He stuck a flashlight up my vagina and handed me
a mirror. It was incredible. Don't tell a soul."

Dorrie pictured Bryant commanding Jennifer to open her thighs
(" . . . Wider, please . . ."). That made her blush.

"It's too warm in here, Dorrie. Maybe we should tell the
management to turn the heat down. You're breaking out in blotches."
Jennifer swung around, signalling for the waitress.

"Probably early hot flashes," Dorrie joked.

"But you see my problem? It's like what you said about Matthew
the other day, that you're growing faster than he is."

Immediately, Dorrie was sorry she'd said it. No waitress
materialized.

"At least Matthew gives you room," Jennifer said. "I mean, Stan
is always pushing himself on me with his needs. It's such a cliche.
After so many years, Stan and I are more like friends. Now he wants
to become friends with Bryant so he can understand why I'm involved
with him."

Dorrie tucked her skinny legs under the booth. She felt safe in
the booth. It shamed her to remember how she'd been flattered and a
little bit frightened by her enforced intimacy with Bryant. She
remembered visualizing the inside of her mouth from his point of
view--slimy ripe cavern of pleasure, sex and food, aggression and
pain.

"That's a bad idea."

"I know. Bryant thinks we ought to cool things down, for my
sake. He's taking the blame because my marriage went rocky. I'm not
so sure. Most marriages have some rocks in them, don't they?"

Dorrie said nothing. She imagined Matthew in bed by this hour,
checking the clock. Waiting for her? Fat chance. When he finally
visited her studio last week after one of his big client
preparations, Dorrie was eager to show him the hermit crab series,
explaining in what she soon saw was too much detail how hermit crabs,
with age, grew too bulky for their acquired shells and literally
suffocated if they weren't cast off--yet without shells their soft
bodies were completely exposed.

"Catch 22, it isn't safe either way, so they only leave if
they're suffocating or in order to mate. Sort of like long-term
relationships," Dorrie had joked, trying to hold Matthew's flagging
interest by lobbing him an opportunity for easy irony at her expense.
But he was already turning away.

She pictured him now reading in bed, wrapped in a blanket,
Navajo-style, his oversized bluff of a forehead, his thick sandy
eyebrows and bushy moustache. They had met twenty years ago as art
students. But Matthew molted from being a fine artist into an
advertising design director for a national magazine. She hadn't told
him she was going out with Jennifer tonight.

She shot Jennifer an encouraging smile.

Jennifer said, "See, if I separate from Stan it will be like
starting all over again. Maybe that's a good thing."

"Are things bad enough with Stan that you're actually thinking
about it? Do you think Bryant actually wants you to break up your
marriage?"

She was resentful of Jennifer's intensity; she knew other women
Bryant had slept with. Little bubbles of annoyance boiled upwards in
her mind. She didn't want to come right out and tell Jennifer this
starcrossed relationship with Bryant was all her fantasy. Listen,
she told herself, most reality is fantasy. It was the promise of the
fantasy she was envious of. Ever since Matthew realized that he was
never going to be the famous artist he once dreamed himself to be,
the next Matisse, the next Franz Kline, not even the next Julian
Schnabel of his generation--an artist he had contempt for, but whose
wealth and high recognition factor he secretly envied--he had
retreated from Dorrie, and everyone else's aggressive ambitions for
him, and eventually--although she couldn't pinpoint when--from
himself.

"Maybe Bryant doesn't want the responsibility of a
relationship," Dorrie snapped.

Jennifer recoiled as if Dorrie was pinching her.

Instantly, Dorrie felt bad. Jennifer's situation was serious in
spite of being ridiculous.

"It's true, he has a lot of responsibilities," she said,
deliberately vague--pretending to misunderstand.
Dorrie felt as if her skin was too tight. Was she gaining
weight? She was about to burst out of herself.

"You should see how red your face is turning," Jennifer said,
squinting dreamily, as if thrilled by her own powers of perception.

"Don't you hate the way skin changes at our age? My own skin is so
sensitive too."

"Excuse me, ladies--"

A young waiter in clunky hipster glasses suddenly swooped his
delicate face in between them. He was cute. Smiling, shiny, unlike
their own scowling waitress. He wore a tiny earring that looked like
a fishing lure, and displayed a carefully tended three-day stubble.

Dorrie scooted sideways.

"Did you lose these?"

He dangled Dorrie's big purse and a pair of earmuffs in front of
their eyes.

"My purse! Did you just find it?"

"Oh, god, we left all our things at the last table when we
moved."

The cute waiter laughed, delighted.

"We're so dumb," said Jennifer, snatching at the earmuffs.
"These belong to me."

Dorrie felt fluttery. The waiter was leaning towards her, close
to her face. The air was roiling. "How did you know this purse was
mine?" She wondered why their waitress hadn't found it.

"By going through your wallet, trying to find a phone number. I
found the video club card with your husband's name on it and I looked
him up. I would have recognized you from your driver's license if
you hadn't changed your hair color."

"You called my husband?" Dorrie was startled, then excited by
the intrusion. She felt light-headed at the image of a stranger
curiously slipping his fingers through her credit cards, appointment
slips, paint receipts and birth control pills. "Oh, thank you. Thank
you so much."

She breathed into his face. He breathed back, and she got
scared.

"But I'm worried that my husband will worry since you called
him. I'd like to tell him you found me. Do you have a phone?"

"You don't have one with you? There's a public phone across the
street."

She felt ashamed that there was no one for her to be urgently
available to, and that she didn't carry her own mobile phone.

"Matthew's got the flu bug or something," she said to Jennifer,
pointedly turning her back on the waiter. There was a phone on the
cashier's desk in the front of the restaurant, and she took the cute
waiter's response as rebuff. "I don't want Matthew to bundle up and
run down here to retrieve my purse for me."

"That's what I mean," Jennifer sighed. "You have such a caring
relationship with Matthew. It's what I'm missing most with Stan."

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