In this excerpt from Interior Designs, Martha remembers the past and an evening with Zach Lowenstein.
Saturday night, as I curled up in the big caramel-colored sofa in the family room, a stack of DVDs next to me on the coffee table, I tried to forget about thoughts of romance or anything else resembling a social life.
But somehow, I couldn’t keep my mind on track. First of all, I had chosen movies like When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle—old favorites that touted romantic couplings. Instead of Tom Hanks on the screen of the second movie, I thought about Zach Lowenstein. And recalled something that had happened between us early in our professional relationship—he had invited me to dinner, and telling myself it was a business meeting, I had agreed.
But then we had walked into a charming bistro, where the head waiter led us to a small table in the corner.
Oh, my God! This is all a big game to him! I had struggled for the poise that had deserted me. Finding something resembling my usual casual ease, I had murmured softly: “Everything looks great. I really like this place.” Glancing around the room, I noticed for the first time that all the other tables were full. Maybe it was sheer accident after all, finding ourselves stuck over here in what had looked like a clandestine setting. Blushing even more for fantasizing about Zach’s motives, I slid down in my chair, hoping that all my thoughts and feelings weren’t plastered all over my face.
“Marty,” he began again, casually using the nickname that I hadn’t heard in the longest time, and triggering moments from a distant past when someone else used to call me that. I could visualize that younger version of myself, strolling along the beach, holding Hal’s hand. Abruptly brought back to the present by Zach’s voice, I startled as he continued. “I’m sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable in any way.” Suddenly serious, he fastened his gaze upon me.
Was this a game, too? “It’s all right,” I insisted. “I’m afraid that this….” I waved my arms around the room, as if to embrace the intimate lighting, the ambience, and finally, the secluded setting. “It’s all very lovely, and it’s just been a long time since I’ve enjoyed such a treat. I’m afraid my life has been all business for awhile now, and this just reminded me that there is life after work.” I had hoped that my tone and words belied the shakiness of my insides, and that my face didn’t reveal how much this whole thing meant to me.
“Well, if that’s true, then you’re long overdue!” Gesturing for the waiter, he placed our orders and requested a bottle of very nice, very old wine.
Impressed, I decided to just enjoy this little moment in time. Later, I could take the memory out and treasure it, reminding myself that sensuality and beauty still existed in the world. Even for Martha Cummings, rejected wife and lover.
Over the next couple of hours, I sat back, watching him orchestrate the most lovely, ambient evening I’d experienced in a long while, from the wine on through each course and finally, topping it all off with that decadent dessert that just oozed with layers of chocolate and cream.
As we finished the last bite and sipped the final drop of brandy, we could hear the music softly emanating from the nearby lounge. Our eyes met, and by unspoken agreement, we rose together, meandering slowly between the other tables until, almost magically, we found ourselves on the dance floor. And like everything else about him and this perfect evening, our dancing seemed light and airy, as if our feet had sprouted wings.
Finally the evening wound down and, regretfully, we walked to the parking lot.
He stood next to me as I unlocked the car door, and then, when I turned to him, opening my lips to say something socially correct, he covered them with his. I melted. My body seemed to move imperceptibly into his embrace while my curves connected with his musculature. I’m not imagining any of this! He really feels the passion, just as much as I do!
Brought back to the present by the ringing phone, I sat very still, for just a moment, as if to savor the memories.
“Hello, Martha,” the very familiar voice spoke, in that deep, resonant tone that used to send me into ecstasy.
“Oh, hi, Hal,” I replied, in what I hoped was a neutral tone.
“I just wanted to touch base about Meadow,” he continued. “I was hoping to pick her up for spring break. That’s coming soon, you know,” he added, as if I might live on another planet and not be aware of it.
“Of course, Hal. I do still keep a calendar.” I laughed, to soften the harshness of my words.
As we worked out the details, I let my mind go somewhere else, while I busily jotted down the notes. I couldn’t afford to let emotion enter into this exchange. Even after all this time, it still hurt.
Hanging up the phone finally, I sat back, feeling as if someone had socked the stuffing out of me. And then I laughed out loud at that expression that had seemingly come out of nowhere. Who said that, anyway? I frowned, as if to burrow once again into my memories, and, like magic, I found myself somewhere else.
I was transported back to the early days of Hal and me.