Melissa Goode ~ All Roads Lead to the Met

Elise awoke think­ing about light­hous­es and safe har­bors, or light­hous­es not indi­cat­ing safe har­bors. It must have come from a poem. Louise Glück? She tried to recall the words and stopped when she real­ized she was lying in a bed­room she hadn’t seen before. She was naked. Not a safe har­bor.

She want­ed to get the A train home before remem­ber­ing she didn’t know where she was. She part­ed the cur­tain. The win­dow faced a non-descript alley. No landmarks—there was only a nar­row oblong of blue morn­ing sky above the neigh­bor­ing build­ing.

Her under­wear and dress lay scat­tered on the floor. She pulled it all back on and bent down, look­ing for her shoes.

Hello, Elise,” he said, from the door­way.

She straight­ened. “Hello. Where am I?”

Do you mean who are you?” he said, indi­cat­ing him­self.

Tom,” she said, hop­ing he didn’t hear her slight­est hes­i­ta­tion.

This is my apart­ment.”

I gath­ered. Did we cross the riv­er?”

He closed his eyes for a sec­ond. “No. You’re on 23rd and 8th.”

Thank you.”

You’re wel­come.”

He came clos­er and hand­ed her a cup of espres­so. She was so hung over. She want­ed to throw up. She felt his fin­gers in tak­ing the cup and was it mus­cle mem­o­ry that made her almost step into his arms? Or was it the way he loomed over her tired, patient and still? Did we talk about light­hous­es and safe har­bors last night?

Your shoes are near the door,” he said, and left. She heard the show­er start.

*

On the A train, return­ing to her apart­ment, Elise searched on her phone and found it in the poem “Faithful and Virtuous Night” by Louise Glück:

But what real­ly is the point of the light­house?

This is north, it says

Not: I am your safe har­bor.”

*

Elise arrived at her apart­ment and the sun had van­ished already, swing­ing up into the sky and away. She got a sud­den pic­ture of Tom’s body pressed against hers, the length of his thigh, of him, a head height above her.

Her apart­ment was so qui­et. The tick­ing of the clock above the stove was loud and insis­tent. Elise lay down on her bed, still clothed, and curled on her side. She pressed her face into her bare upper arm, pre­tend­ing it was not hers.

*

They met again at a func­tion on the Met’s rooftop. He was one of the bankers. She was one of the pro bono not-for-prof­it arts sec­tor clients. Each group regard­ed the oth­er like they were the most friv­o­lous peo­ple on earth, despite the banker/client rela­tion­ship or maybe because of it. The mutu­al dis­trust and mutu­al need made Elise think of mar­riage. She was not an instruc­tor. She came for the drinks.

Elise stood at the bar because she was tired of the sec­ond rate cham­pagne cir­cu­lat­ing after the ini­tial burst of Billecart on arrival that set expec­ta­tions too high.

All roads lead to the Met,” he said.

She rec­og­nized the voice and looked up at him. “Hello, Tom.”

You remem­bered my name,” he said and she fig­ured sar­casm was his usu­al way.

The bar­tender served them and as they left the bar Elise said, “Would you like to see some art?”

Tom was silent, but his mouth squirmed with some­thing unsaid.

Seeing as we’re at the Met and all,” she con­tin­ued, deter­mined. “There is a paint­ing here that I love.”

Tom fol­lowed her to the door. “Is this a test?”

Elise said, “What?” when she want­ed to say “Yes”.

*

They walked to the European Paintings gallery and Elise led him to Vermeer’s “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher”.

Do you like this?” she said.

Tom stud­ied it. “This must be a night for dif­fi­cult ques­tions. I was asked ear­li­er why we don’t need our bones in heav­en. By my four year old son.”

Of course, he has a child, she thought.

I’m divorced,” he said, sav­ing her the trou­ble of ask­ing.

Tom leaned towards the paint­ing, then stepped back and tilt­ed his head. “I’ll give you the same answer I gave my son Chris. I want to tell you I know all about this. I don’t. I don’t know any­thing about—” he said. “And here insert your sub­ject ‘heav­en’ or ‘art’”.

Humour me,” Elise said.

He turned to her. “I’m try­ing to.”

She avoid­ed his gaze, turn­ing back to the paint­ing, and said, “There are points for hon­esty.”

That’s a first,” he said.

She laughed.

*

It was a lot of pres­sure. Her thir­ty-eighth birth­day came only three weeks after they met. Tom took her to Masa for din­ner, then the Lincoln Center to see the New York Philharmonic. Elise watched Tom in the faint light. She need­ed to leave, in the inter­mis­sion, or now. Right now.

It was Beethoven’s “Emperor”. She should have been grate­ful. The seats were excel­lent, the tick­ets sold out. She had no idea how he got them.

It took a full minute before Tom turned to her. “What?” he mouthed.

Elise shook her head and sat back in her seat, fac­ing the stage again. The music made her think of dying, alone. She wished he had sim­ply tak­en her to his apart­ment after din­ner. Or she could even have enjoyed a tat­too if he took her to a par­lor and watched her being brand­ed with a sym­bol that was dis­crete, mean­ing­ful, and able to be con­cealed in recog­ni­tion of her day job.

It was the talk of light­hous­es, the Vermeer that did it. He thought she was more seri­ous. I don’t deserve to be here, she want­ed to say, and I don’t want to die.

You didn’t enjoy that, did you?” Tom said, as they stepped out onto the street.

It was beau­ti­ful, but it’s not me.”

He put his arm around her neck, tight, and she was enclosed in the hard inner tri­an­gle of his elbow. It was almost pla­ton­ic, but then he drew her against him and kissed her hair. She shut her eyes.

*

Doesn’t a light­house sim­ply emit light and horn sig­nals to ships?” Tom said. “Wasn’t the woman just hold­ing a jug of water?”

Don’t be—”

What?”

Don’t be a fuck­ing accoun­tant about this,” Elise said.

He smiled.

They lay in his lux­u­ri­ous bed. The sheets vanil­la white and gazil­lion thread count. She saw it for what it was: the divorced man’s top two promis­es to him­self. Fuck more women. Sleep in more.

What about the Beethoven?” Elise said.

Tom threw up his hands which could have meant, go for it or I don’t care or just try, you won’t be able to.

Those tick­ets were so fuck­ing expen­sive,” he mur­mured.

She laughed.

Tom reached for her and she pressed her face into his neck.

It mat­ters. I know that,” he said. “That’s all I know.”

~

Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in Best Australian Short Stories, Pithead Chapel, and Cleaver Magazine, among oth­ers. She has been a fea­tured writer in Bang! One of her short sto­ries has been made into a film by the pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny, Jungleboys. She lives in Australia.