Page 24 - WTP Vol. IX #7
P. 24

Conditional Mood (continued from preceding page)
 It was a philosophy that would get her through all kinds of future difficulties, but as an adult, it had a certain limiting factor and she wondered if the alone moment had counseled the best action after all. It had made her strong and self-sufficient, but was restraint a good thing? Was not standing up for yourself, not acting on desire a good thing? Those were the things she wondered about when she was older, and es- pecially on another sunny day in December twelve years later when she was halfway through her third year at college. The term was ending, she’d finished a big research paper, and she wanted to do something
wiped out, glowed by the register.
Their conversation went along familiar lines: where they grew up, what they were doing that day in Cambridge (he was returning home from his work- study job at a science lab), what they hoped to do in the next few years. There was nothing extraordinary about anything he said, but she could feel electricity from his body, and realized it was sex, and it was so explicit, she couldn’t look at his wrist without notic- ing the beauty of his hand, she couldn’t see his neck without imagining how it would tilt close to her to say something she would definitely want to hear, and as she looked into his eyes, she knew these fantasies were being communicated without her permission, even though, out loud, they were talking about other things. All the while he was drinking coffee—he drank it with cream, but no sugar—and she was eating dark chocolate cake, and with each dense and buttery forkful, her body felt more awakened.
They sat at the table for a couple of hours. When they paid and were on the street again, he said, “I don’t live far. Why don’t you come over?”
She wasn’t a virgin, and in those days, the birth con- trol pill was new and exciting and young women like her took it even when they didn’t have a boyfriend. So, pregnancy wasn’t a consideration and though she desired experience, she also desired love. But those were abstractions. What felt urgent to her was the reality of his voice, his face, his body. She ached for him. To say yes to all she was feeling, all she wanted, to say yes to this man who would be safe and beauti- ful, to say yes to this moment in time, to complete
it in a necessary and adult way, would be an act of spontaneity, of truth.
But the subway entrance was right there, and she could hear the rumble of a Boston bound train and she knew, if she caught it, she’d be home in half an hour. The earth would continue its orbit around the sun and the day would come to an end whether she went with him or returned to her room on Beacon Street. The room called. It was hard to resist.
Staffel’s stories have been published in The New England Review, Ploughshares, The Common, Seattle Review, among others, and collected in The Exit Coach (Four Way Books) and Lessons in Another Language (Four Way Books). She is the author of three novels, The Notebook of Lost Things (Soho Press), She Wanted Something Else (Northpoint Press), and A Length of Wire And Other Stories (Pym Randall Press). She has published essays on craft in A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on their Craft edited by Andrea Barrett and Peter Turchi; and Letters to A Fiction Writer, edited by Fred Busch and Cerise Press. She teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.
clever salesman,
her mother, her whole body would be
pressed into the theatrics of trying to explain.”
to celebrate. So, she took the subway into Cambridge and as she walked down Brattle Street, she was think- ing about a movie or a concert or a visit to a museum, or even buying something for herself, a blouse, a necklace.
She fell into step with a man she had noticed when she came up out of the subway. She liked his looks.
He had a luxurious mop of uncombed hair and a purposeful, confident walk, head upright, shoulders sloped. His clothes were wrinkled; even his jacket looked like he’d lately picked it up from the floor. She glanced his way and when he turned to meet her gaze, he gave her a nod of recognition, and in that instant, he seemed familiar, a favorite cousin, brother, or old friend, though of course he was none of those.
“It’s so cold, can I interest you in a cup of coffee?”
“You can,” she said simply.
There was a coffee house on the next block called Bailey’s, a place that also served sandwiches and pastries. They sat at a metal table in the center of the room, heads bent over the menu. Ada was hungry, but with the idea of celebration, of having earned
a special day, she decided to order not a sandwich, but a piece of the chocolate cake she’d noticed in the glass case at the entrance. The room was decked out for the holiday in the more restrained, secular fash- ion of the nineteen seventies. Ropes of evergreens festooned the walls, lights glowed along the ceiling, but a jolly Santa Claus, the last cultural icon to get

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