I stopped in the Plaza Hotel to find a phone that worked. I figured if there was any place in New York that a phone should work…it would be at the Plaza. I found one directly off of the main lobby. It was a small, old fashion type situated in a dark corner. It even had a wooden seat to sit in while I made my call. The doorman watched me for a moment or two as I searched through my pockets for the correct change. He decided that I was fine and that I wouldn't cause a problem. in his hotel. The reason for my call was to cancel a meeting I had with an agent who was interested in a book I had just completed. He was always interested in things I wrote…but has never signed me to anything. So, it really wasn't that big of a deal to cancel on him. I didn't feel like getting rejected today anyway. Which is how I ended up going to the bar in the Plaza after making my apologetic phone call.
It was that wonderful afternoon hour when most of the lunch crowd had now departed, leaving only the professional drinkers to hold court. Well-dressed drinkers drinking expensive scotches and fine wines, while they sat in one of the most beautiful rooms in New York – a small, cozy, deeply paneled room that spoke of money, and the joys it brought. I, on the other hand, made my living as a freelance writer. I figured I have a beer or two, imagine being rich for a an hour or so, and then hurry back to my small apartment in Jersey City.
There were about eight people in the room when I sat down at the bar. Two business men arguing about stocks, a very well dressed older women with two large suitcases tucked under her table as she worked on her martini, a group of loud TV producers discussing some project, and a woman with her back to me sitting at a far table facing a mirror. I ordered a beer, stared around the room some more, and wondered what I would do with the rest of my day. After finishing the beer I walked to the bathroom. After finishing my business I washed my hands and stared into the mirror. I saw a man in his mid-forties staring back at me. A man who somehow missed the success boat that all his other friends had somehow gotten on. As I was making my way back to the bar I passed the women sitting alone in the corner. As I passed her I heard her say, "How are you, Jimmy?"
I didn't have to turn to find out who was talking to me. The voice was as familiar to me as it was twenty-five years ago when we were in college together. I turned to see Margo Keene, one of the true loves of my life. Smiling at me, and motioning for me to join her. I grabbed my beer from the bar and sat down across from her. It's hard to know what to say to someone you haven't seen in twenty-five years. Especially someone you almost married. She was the same Margo, except she had aged some. She was still beautiful with those green eyes and black hair that was now peppered with gray.
"So how long has it been, Jimmy, twenty-five years?"
"Just about," I said back, starting to feel emotions I hadn't felt in a long time.
"So what brings you to the Plaza, Jimmy Abbott? Have you finally hit the big time?"
"Not yet," I said back to her…"but I keep trying."
She reached over and touched my hand. "You'll never change," she said. The feel of her skin took me back to 1970, when we were just kids trying to find out way in life. She rubbed my hand and said, "No ring, you never married?" I reached over and placed my hand on top of hers and sad, "No, it just never happened. And you?" She removed her hand from mine and drank some wing, her full lips catching a few drops that tried to escape.
"Divorced, two children."
"Do you live in New York now," I asked her. Not believing that we might have lived in the same city for the past twenty-five years.
"No, I live up near Woodstock. My ex is a businessman, real estate. We broke up three years ago.
There was something about all those years between then and now that made me feel just how fast life moved along. I looked at her face and could see the beautiful coed I had loved for two years, the smart woman who was going to be a lawyer and save the world, the person I almost married but never did. I called the waitress and ordered two more drinks. Margo studied me with an intensity of someone trying to figure out a great puzzle.
"So why are you in New York?" I asked her. Breaking her concentrated stare.
"I'm here to see my doctor for my check-up."
"What, they don't have doctors in Woodstock?"
"He's a specialist for cancer," she said, as if telling me the time of day.
"Cancer? But you look fine."
"I am now," she said, squeezing my hand. "I'm beating it. Two years now."
Suddenly the past years seemed to lose their innocence in my mind. In my mind the two of us were still somehow in that state college, frozen in time, nothing but promise. But now, she sat in front of me, telling me about her cancer, and I sat in front of her, a man who never fulfilled his promise. I was beginning to see how time had its own plans for people. We sat and talked for a good two hours. We covered our lives up to that moment. There is something so wonderful about seeing a person you had once loved after a long period of time. It clarifies one's existence.
"I'm staying at the Plaza for the evening before going back home," she said. Let's go up and have a drink for old times sake.
I paid the bartender, and held Margo's hand as we entered the elevator. It was like old times, nothing had really changed I told myself. Nothing, could break the ties between the two of us. I wanted to believe that as the elevator stopped on the seventh floor. As we entered the plush room, we heard music coming from down the hall. We stood there for a moment listening to the melody move towards us. The lyrics asked, "What's new, how has the world treated you? Gee but it's great to see you again."
We poured ourselves drinks and stared out the windows onto Central Park. The sun was just beginning to set. We stood together a good five minutes, not saying anything, just staring and thinking. Then we turned towards each other, as if on cue and kissed. A warm, forgiven kiss that almost made me cry for some unknown reason. I touched her back, her arms, her face. She softly moved away and told me to wait. She disappeared into the bathroom, where she reappeared wearing a silk robe. The room was now dark. The last rays of sun moving across the ceiling. She came to me and kissed my face. Then, she opened her robe, showing me the place where her right breast had been. Showing me the jagged scar that ran across the right side of her chest like an angry river. Showing me, showing us, what life had done to her. I lowered my face to the purple scar and kissed it. I kissed her other breast. I could feel something release inside of Margo, like a vast breath escaping from her. We moved to the bed and held each other like kids just learning about love. Then, she moved her mouth close to my ear and said softly, (as to not rile the gods, as if telling me a secret that she wanted only me to know) "I beat it, Jimmy, I beat it." Then she lowered her beautiful face to my chest as if looking for something, then kissed my right nipple.
back to the Short Story Page.How Has the World Treated You?, 11 June 1997