Authors: Valerie Frankel
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General
Alison, Dan, Howie and Judy.
During the worst of times,
you showed the best of yourselves,
day after relentless day.
You are all true grit. The truest.
And—I’m honored to say—the grittiest.
A woman was walking along a deserted beach
when she stumbled upon an old brass lamp. She picked it up and rubbed it. A genie popped out.
The genie said, “I am the genie of the lamp. Make one wish and I will grant it.”
The amazed woman asked, “One wish? Don’t I get three?”
The genie said, “My magic is so powerful, you only need one.”
Unhesitatingly, the woman said, “I want peace in the Middle East.” She happened to have a map of the region in her purse. “Look here,” she said. “I want these countries to stop fighting with each other now and forever.”
The genie looked at the map and said, “But they’ve been at war for thousands of years. I'm good, but not that good. Make another wish.”
The woman thought for a moment and said, “I’d like to meet and marry the perfect man. He should be considerate, fun, gorgeous, warm, affectionate, faithful, drug-free, a social drinker, a nonsmoker, have an interesting, high-paying job, love kids, love to travel, have a big dick and know how to use it, be a good cook and a happy vacuumer, get along with his family but keep them at a healthy distance, look great in jeans, and make me feel like I’m the only woman in the world. That’s my wish.”
The genie let out a huge sigh and said, “Let me see that map again.”
“I’ve got the perfect man for you.”
Peter Vermillion’s eyes traveled a familiar path, from his…
There he was again. Betty Schast had spotted him four…
“Mommy!” Justin spotted her and ran toward Frieda, his…
“How’s the salad?” he asked.
Peter returned to his office and sank into his chair. It was a…
“Just coffee, thanks,” said Betty to Frieda. Her sister loved…
Betty had left a half hour ago, and Frieda hadn’t moved.
Peter should have worn a heavier jacket. New York went…
The three sisters sat together at Bouillabaisse, a tiny bistro…
Ilene turned on the shower full blast. Hot. Hotter than…
“You’re right on time,” said Sam Hill as he opened the door.
“Peter Vermillion? This way, please,” said the fetching…
“He did what? For an hour?” asked Betty into the phone to…
“Yes, Frieda,” said Ilene. “He’s very good.”
“Have a seat on the couch or the chair,” said Denise Bother,…
“It took two months, but here we are,” said Peter as he sat…
“Let’s go shopping,” said Earl to Betty as they walked out…
Ilene loved the cold. The blast of wind on her face, the…
“I thought you did well,” said Frieda to Sam as they lay in bed.
“Where is he now?” asked Betty into the phone.
Peter hadn’t been to Aux-On-Arles since his…
Frieda liked the New York Post. She should read the…
“I haven’t been to the East Village in years,” said Ilene.
Betty was three seconds from quitting her job. She’d been…
Peter groped for his watch. It was on the coffee table…
The list could go on, but Ilene was too hungry to continue.
Stephanie and Justin splashed in the tub together.
Alone in her Avenue A apartment, Betty spread the…
“Sorry I’m late,” said Sam when he showed up at Frieda’s…
“This is it,” said David Isen as he ushered Frieda into his…
“Feet in the stirrups,” said Dr. Regina Habibi. Ilene had…
“It’s a girl,” said Jane. “She says she met you at the…
Betty arrived right on time. She was embarrassed to be so…
“What brings you here today?” asked Denise Bother.
So it’d come to this, thought Ilene, paging through the…
Betty held the bomb in her hands. She was still undecided…
Drunk, stoned, in a dimly lit room, with a pretty woman’s…
“I have an announcement to make,” said Frieda at the…
In the past week, Ilene had told her pregnancy/separation…
Betty called in sick. She didn’t have any personal days left.
The holding pen was crowded, but, thankfully, the city had…
“By the powers vested in me by the City of New York,…
Thursday, September 5
“I’ve got the perfect man for you.”
“Not another one,” said Frieda Schast. “Is that why you came to Brooklyn? To give me the hard sell?”
Ilene, Frieda’s older sister by three years, said, “You know I love coming out here. It’s practically a trip to the country. I needed the fresh air.”
“I’m not a cause,” said Frieda.
Ilene didn’t have to explain further. It’d been a year and a month since Frieda’s husband died. The day after the deathiversary, Ilene began fixing up Frieda with suitors she’d located, apparently under a rock somewhere.
Ilene said, “He’s an entomologist.”
“So you did find him under a rock,” said Frieda.
The two women sat behind the counter at Frieda’s frame store on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. Ilene had taken the afternoon off work in Manhattan to make the visit. Despite her annoyance with the topic of conversation, Frieda was grateful for the company.
Frieda asked, “Does he twitch?”
Ilene said, “Not that I know of.”
“The last one twitched.”
“A tic is not a twitch,” said Ilene.
“A tic is when someone tugs his ear if he’s nervous, or twirls his hair. I’d even allow a tic to mean incessant blinking or handwringing. But the last one had full-body convulsions every two minutes. I thought I’d have to rush him to the hospital. Or that the force of his seizures would make his head fly off.”
“Just as long as you’re not exaggerating,” said Ilene.
On the counter in front of her, Frieda held a small trip-tych of a girl on a swing. The photographer had taken the pictures of his daughter, and had carefully selected a three-quarter-inch cherry-wood frame. The girl’s dress was red and pretty, and Frieda imagined herself on that swing. She could only guess which sensation was more thrilling for the girl, zooming backward, her hair floating around her head, covering it protectively, or zipping forward, hair blown back, exposing her to the world of the playground.
Frieda reflexively tucked some of her own brown curls behind one ear, leaving the bulk of it to hang down against her cheeks. She knew she’d have to move forward, that it was impossible to backswing indefinitely. Frieda asked, “Have you met this guy? How many degrees of separation are we talking here?”
Ilene said, “He’s the brother of Peter’s secretary’s best friend.”
Frieda calculated this information. “That’s four degrees.”
“Best friend, secretary, Peter, you.”
“I’m not counting myself.”
“Why not?” asked Frieda.
“We’re related,” she said. “We shouldn’t count Peter, either. You’ve known him for ten years. He’s like a brother to you.”
“I’m sure Peter had nothing to do with this,” said Frieda of Ilene’s husband.
“Peter likes my fixing you up,” said Ilene. “He thinks it will distract me from the size of his stomach. But let’s not even mention it. Peter’s belly is too big a topic to get distracted by.”
“It is an immense topic,” agreed Frieda.
“It’s more than a topic,” said Ilene. “It’s practically a tropic. Like the tropic of Capricorn. The one that spans the globe?”
“I’ve read the book,” said Frieda.
Ilene said, “His name is Roger. He’s a resident professor at the Museum of Natural History. The marriage potential is sky high. He could be The One.”
Frieda had already had The One. So Roger Bugman would never be that. At best, he could be The Two. Hard to get worked up about The Two. Nobody ever says, “He’s The Two, I just know it!”
Frieda said, “It would be helpful, when we have these conversations, if you could shift the pitch from, ‘He’s The One’ to something like, ‘You might have a pleasant dinner with him.’ Or, ‘He’s good practice.’ Or, ‘He’s easy on the eyes.’ Or just, ‘He’s easy.’ ”
Despite her loss of a husband (which sounded like she’d misplaced him somewhere), Frieda hadn’t lost her sex drive. It was just buried in her mental closet. She knew that, at thirty-five, it was unlikely she’d never have sex again. But the idea of getting naked with a complete stranger, having been with the same man for nine years, was intimidating. When she’d met Gregg, she was a dewy twenty-six-year-old. She hadn’t any wrinkles then. Nor had her belly been thickened by a pregnancy.
Ilene said, “I can show you his picture.”
Frieda felt a sudden flutter of nerves at the threat of coming face-to-photo. “You brought his picture?” she asked. “You’re sick, Ilene. There should be a special hospital for people like you.”
“His photo and bio are on the museum website,” said Ilene. “He’s very handsome. And he’s the nation’s foremost expert on dung beetles.”
“No shit,” said Frieda.
“Take a look,” said Ilene.
“I’m very busy,” said Frieda.
“I can see that,” said Ilene, pointedly glancing around the store. Not a single customer was among the bins and boxes. Business was slow, but not dangerously so. At the Sol Gallery, Frieda sold original photographs and did custom framing. Photographs were mounted on cardboard, wrapped in plastic, and put in bins for customers to flip through. Frieda priced the photos according to size and subject matter ranging from $5 to $500. Her standard arrangement: The photographer would get 40 percent of the purchase price and she’d keep 60 percent. Retail photography accounted for about 20 percent of her overall business.
Rows and rows of L-shaped frame samples covered the walls by the back counters. They were grouped by medium (wood, metal, etc.), color and size (five-inch gilded ornate maple to quarter-inch fiberglass). Frieda often sold a photograph and then framed it for the customer. That was profitable. But she derived greater satisfaction from framing originals. When a customer brought in a picture, painting, old baseball card, antique needlepoint—whatever—and said, “What do you think?” Frieda knew just the thing, and the customers were always pleased with her choices. She saw borders everywhere, the white rims of stop signs, the black lead of newspaper columns, squiggly lines on restaurant menus. She had the habit of mentally reframing anything two-dimensional, believing that, with adjustments, she could make it better. Images without borders made Frieda feel unhinged, as if the words and pictures in a magazine, for example, would slide right off the page without a neat box to contain them.
The desktop of her iMac, which Ilene had turned on, displayed gray rulers at the top and bottom of the screen. Not enough of a border to satisfy her compulsion, but she could live with it.
Ilene keyed quickly, accessing the museum’s site in seconds. “Here he is!” she announced, as if ushering Mr. America into the room.
Frieda looked at the screen and stared at the face of Roger O’Leary, Ph.D. Color photo, thick black border.
“You’re right,” said Frieda. “He is handsome.” He was, actually, quite presentable. Nice big smile, square teeth, kind eyes. Decent-shaped head and neat, cropped hair. His bio bragged that he’d gone to Columbia for his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. He was a native New Yorker, but had traveled the world to speak about his area of expertise. Roger O’Leary had spent five years in Oslo, consulting on the production and construction of the world’s first and only beetle zoo. Apparently (who knew?), Scandinavians were way into bugs.
“Now there’s a conversation starter,” said Frieda. “ ‘So tell me, Roger, do the zoo beetles live in cages, or in a free-range habitat that resembles their natural environment?’ ”
Ilene laughed, too brightly. “So you’ll date him?” she asked. “Why wouldn’t you? He’s good-looking, well educated. He lives on Central Park South. I’m telling you, he’s perfect.”
At a glance, Frieda knew Roger O’Leary would not be The Two. She looked at his face, and saw, concurrently, what he was and what he was not. Clearly, Roger was an attractive male specimen. But, more important, he was Not Gregg. Every man was Not Gregg to Frieda. She tried desperately to peek beneath the cloak of Not Gregg every day, on every man she passed on the street. But, much as she wanted to, she couldn’t. Or, she should say, she hadn’t.
“I think it’ll take me by surprise,” said Frieda.
Ilene turned away from Roger’s webpage. “What will?”
“When I can look at a man and see his own face.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Ilene wearily.
“Forget it,” said Frieda.
Ilene sighed. She clicked off the website and shut down the computer. “So, can I give him your number?”
Frieda knew that Ilene wouldn’t accept a no. If would be easier and less time-consuming to go on a date with Roger O’Leary than to explain over and over again why she didn’t see the point.
“Okay.” She relented.
Ilene said, “You’ll keep an open mind?”
Frieda said, “Oh, yes! I’m optimistic! I’m ever hopeful!”
“It’ll be fantastic,” crowed her sister. “I have a great feeling about this.”
Frieda nodded. “I’m glad someone does.”