For questions about love, and, more particularly, inappropriate love, go to the 306.7s (e.g., The Single Woman-Married Man Syndrome, Addicted to Adultery, Affairs, Secret Loves, Keeping The Love You Find, etc.).
Aleksi Kullio, the new conductor of the Philadelphia Philharmonic, strode onto the concert stage with quick, small steps, like a boy who hadn't learned to match his stride to the new length of his legs. I knew he was married. In fact, I could just glimpse the back of his wife's head, where she sat in the front row. Blond, of course. The Philadelphia Inquirer had devoted a front-page story to his arrival. We learned that after a dreamy childhood in his native Finland, he'd attended Harvard as an undergraduate, then the Curtis Institute of Music. His conducting style was described as "buoyant" and his wife as "gorgeous." The color photo showed a handsome, interesting, and vaguely cruel face. He was perfect and he was married and I was not.
Something happens when you hit forty and you've never been married. It begins to feel permanent. You convince yourself that you never wanted to be married anyway because otherwise surely you would have been by now. Your friends have stopped fixing you up and you completely forget that a penis can be anything other than God's joke. Your therapist talks in an ever so gentle voice about the value of solitude. Flannel nightgowns and sheets, down comforters, and multitudes of pillows call your name with a low urgency that is positively sexual.
So picture me, a librarian spinster, falling in love with a married man I didn't know and had no chance of ever knowing. I would have doubted it myself except that the body tells you when you fall in love. My body sure did. Simultaneously, I felt like I was going to throw up, pass out, and have a heart attack.
My best friend, Suzanne, sat with her husband to my left. Her elbow poked me seconds after love had so unceremoniously grabbed me.
"What?" I hissed.
"Why'd you nudge me?"
Her voice skipped from low to high. "He's a doll."
"You're married, remember." It wasn't often that I got the opportunity to make her feel sorry for being married and I certainly wasn't squeamish about making the most of it. Applause resounded through the hall, a gracious, enthusiastic welcome to the new conductor.
Suzanne turned her head and looked at me with an inappropriately stern expression. I hated it when she got bossy. "So's he," she said.
I stuck my nose into the air. "I have no interest in a man's physical appearance. You know that."
"Give me a break." She sighed. "He could look like a toad and there'd still be something marvelous about him."
Aleksi Kullio turned away from us and in so doing gave the musicians a sweeping glance, lifted his baton, paused, and then lowered the baton. Mozart danced.
I took a deep, shaky breath and exhaled slowly. The brief conversation with Suzanne had calmed my heart's palpitations, but I still felt like throwing up. I had to admit that I was no stranger to nausea. I was one of those thin, vaguely anorexic-looking women who didn't quite eat enough. Nothing major, just a mild distaste for food. I'd last eaten a bag of potato chips at four o'clock in the afternoon while I read a biography called Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire in my aforementioned bed. Now, she was a woman who lived. That is to say, she lived and loved. (Look it up in Biography, Devonshire.) Perhaps the duchess was responsible for my state. I think she'd made me jealous and oddly uncomfortable in my den of pillows and down. Had I gone soft?
You're probably thinking that I'm using the term falling in love too loosely. Surely this was just a desperate crush, not much different from when you're fourteen? But it wasn't. I watched his arms wave like the wings of a bird fighting the turbulent air currents of a coming storm, and my crowded feelings jostled for space in my chest, shoving and pushing to breathe more freely. This was love, inexplicable and absurd and utterly pointless. My silly heart beat fast with the joy of it.
Gordon Albright, director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, was my boss and my best friend at work. Whereas with Suzanne I shared the feelings of my life, Gordon and I shared the facts of our lives. We met on the following Monday morning in the small back room where a coffeemaker, refrigerator, and square table were squeezed together, thus making us an unusually intimate library staff. He'd just finished adding too much sugar to his coffee and turned his strong, handsome face toward me. I knew enough, just from the way his hair poked up at the back of his head, not to ask about the weekend. A love affair lost or some such thing.
His bored eyes shot open when he looked at me.
I was so surprised that I made a little involuntary gasp. "What?" I gulped.
"Your hair is great today."
My long auburn hair was tucked into its usual french twist, no different from any other day at work during the last fifteen years. "Don't be ridiculous," I snapped.
"It's all poufy and shiny."
"And your cheeks are pink like little flowers!"
"Jesus." I picked up my Bryn Mawr mug and poured out some coffee, fighting the temptation to be pleased.
"You're in love," Gordon said triumphantly.
I whirled around. Then I grabbed a sugar and dumped it in the mug of coffee.
"See!" He pointed triumphantly.
I don't use sugar.
We stared at each other, and he seemed to re-collect himself. We might talk about sex (his) and dates (his), but love was off-limits. Gordon rubbed a hand over his head, discovering and smoothing the errant lock of hair that made him look like a naughty boy. Somehow, right from the start, we'd never strayed into thinking of each other romantically.
He was an attractive man, but just not my type. Untrustworthy was how I figured it early on, and judging by the vast numbers of women he dated-and never married-I'd been right. It goes without saying that I wasn't his type. Too thin and muscular, with tiny boobs and small brown glasses hiding my green eyes. Suddenly, feeling his attention drilling into me, I felt like Queen for a Day. I found myself standing straighter. Was I almost beautiful?
Women know that we each have our moment. Clothed and out in the world, I was a discreet woman, just the sort you'd imagine behind the reference desk of your local library. But take off my clothes in the safety of my own apartment and I changed into a glittering, gleaming creature with white, silky skin, hair tumbling around my shoulders, and my taut body like the spine of a beautiful book with gold-embossed lettering. Only I saw this other creature and I couldn't pretend that I truly believed in her. She was my fantasy.
"Any problems over the weekend?" I asked.
"Ed created the usual difficulties, but the police handled things quickly."
Like all public libraries, we were plagued by the homeless, but Ed was our greatest challenge because he was smart. He fell asleep for a short period of time, usually about twenty minutes, and then he leaped to his feet and approached the reference desk to request five obscure articles in ancient journals. The worst of it was that he read and took notes from the journals until he fell asleep again, then leaped to his feet and started all over. Every day, he carefully folded the pages of notes and placed them in the trash can as he left the library. On the weekends, he tried to get a more substantial rest by sleeping in the far corner of the 600s. He drove us round the bend.
"I just wish he'd stop researching serial killers. I know he does it to make us nervous-" I muttered.
"I'm going to see if there's anything we can do."
We gulped our coffee. Yvonne, from the circulation desk, wandered into the room holding a carton of yogurt she would leave in the refrigerator until lunchtime.
-- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.