It was one of those rare moments in one-night stand history when both parties involved are actually coherent enough to speak, to have a “meaningful” conversation following the proverbial five minutes of pleasure.
Harry Galosh was, as Mira soon found out from the texture of his skin, roughly ten years older than her. He was still drunker than she, however, muttering something about how he just got so lonely sometimes and occasionally needed someone to vent to and maybe she could be that person for him even though of course they would keep things very casual. She was extremely terrified by his expression of need, suddenly seeing herself through other men’s eyes when she acted similarly urgent about wanting to be around them. She now had a vague sense of empathy for why men bolted from her all the time, it was too much to have all that pressure put upon one’s shoulders, the projections–the emanating desperate desire not to be alone. From now on, she would never express earnestness of any kind after fucking a guy and being interested in him thanks to pheromones or what have you.
Wanting so much for Harry to cease his prattling, she found a way to deflect the conversation to herself by mentioning that she, too, had a lot of issues with her family. “Who doesn’t, really? You know?” she added.
“How many siblings do you have?,” he asked, in standard “getting to know you” fashion.
“Just a sister. She lives in Venice.”
“Is she married?”
“How old is she?”
“Forty-one. Like you, I imagine,” she felt inclined to include as a dig at his advanced age.
“Does she have kids?”
“No,” she guffawed.
A sneer came across Harry’s face as he returned, “Your parents must be so proud.”
Apart from the obvious sarcasm in his voice, Mira was annoyed by his antiquated assumption that 1) she and her sister were living to please their parents, let alone at an age post-eighteen and 2) that they were still living in an era in which it was unacceptable to be unmarried and sans children–only as a woman, mind you.
Mira had never felt overly protective of her sister–in fact, their rapport was shoddy and patchy at best these days–but a flare up of defensiveness was awakened by his insult that caused her to retort, “And what about your parents? Are they proud of your sad little life doing nothing? The life you think is so above average because you live alone in a shittily furnished one-bedroom in New York?”
She pulled the cardboard-feeling sheets off of herself and put on her pink slip dress, the one that some pretend-socialite at a karaoke bar in Williamsburg accused her openly of looking like a nightgown. Early twenties people really knew nothing of anything, did they? Least of all retro-inspired fashion that wasn’t hit over their head with a mannequin at Urban Outfitters.
“I didn’t mean to upset you. I really didn’t mean anything by–”
“Yes you did. Of course you did. Fucker.”
She couldn’t pinpoint why his comment had so easily rattled her. It’s not as though worse hadn’t been said about her sister before when she noted some of the key details of her life to strangers. Or even after introducing a rare and select group of friends and now ex-boyfriends to her. But there was something in the judgmental venom of Harry’s voice that hit a register of vexation inside of herself she didn’t know could be provoked so effortlessly.
“You don’t have to leave like this, you know. You’re acting completely insane.”
Harry, who had previously, in the early hours of the morning, warned her not to flush the toilet in his bathroom because he still needed to buy some Drano from the bodega before it could “receive” anything, was appalled to watch her stomp over to the open door leading to the toilet and promptly flush it so that it immediately overflowed.
“You’re right, I think my parents would be proud. That they taught me how to deal with assholes and their snide comments.”
With that, she scurried out of his prized apartment, the only thing he had going for himself, and out into the street. The building was right by the park, and Mira opted to walk through it to compose herself and collect her thoughts. She hadn’t talked to her sister in about a month and a half. She was never really in a position to. The lifestyle of New York City meant constantly walking the streets (only in a semi-prostitute way) and being in public, hardly conducive to any focused phone conversation.
But sitting there on a park bench, Mira figured there was no better time than now to call her sister, Aurelia, the 41-year-old perpetual singleton, a word that would soon change to spinster once she hit her fifties. It would only be two o’ clock in Venice, she’d probably just be sitting down to lunch. Maybe to some pesto fusilli, her culinary specialty. As the phone rang, a knot started to form in Mira’s stomach. What would she–could she–say to Aurora? They had so little in common. She was selling tickets at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, as opposed to actually pursuing anything truly relevant to her art history degree, and Mira was, for all intents and purposes, a lifelong barista. Maybe she had gotten so incensed by Harry’s comment because the chord it struck was too intense, too precise. He was right. Her parents would not–were not–proud. Neither of her nor Aurelia. But at least Aurelia had the cachet of living internationally.
Before she could ponder further on Harry’s cutting statement, Aurelia picked up the phone. “Mira? Is everything okay?”
Without warning, Mira could feel tears streaming down her face. “Do you remember that deck of cards Grandma had? Old Maid? I was obsessed with that card. When we played, I always wanted the Old Maid card, and you didn’t. But I just thought she was so fascinating. So profound in her sadness.”
Aurelia, unable to detect Mira’s emotional state over the phone, laughed. “Yes, I remember. You know, I’ve been meaning to call you. Have Mom and Dad mentioned anything to you about…”
She trailed off and let the silence linger for several moments, prompting Mira to inquire, “About what?”
“Well, I met someone. And… I’m getting married in the fall.”
Mira nodded without verbalizing anything. But inwardly, she was suffering from shock. Aurelia had always been her touchstone, her exemplar for existing without a significant other. Now, there Mira was, alone on a park bench after getting railed by another gross person, wearing a slip dress that looked like a nightgown, cheap black sandals that also blackened her feet, disheveled hair and makeup that looked like it had been on for several days (primarily because it had).
She may not have been technically old and gray yet, but she had gotten the Old Maid card, just like she had always wanted. Aurelia had been shrewd to avoid it all those times during their afternoon games spent at their grandmother’s in childhood.