••• The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
The Big Girl
“To thine ownself be true,” said Dorothy Rubin.
“That’s easy,” I said. “Hamlet. Polonius to his son Laertes when he’s going off to Venice or somewhere. How about this? Life is a tale told by an idiot.”
“Hmmm. Let’s see. Macbeth, I think.”
Dorothy and I were graduate students in English at Columbia University in New York. We were in the same Shakespeare class and had gotten into the habit of going to the university café afterward for coffee. Somehow, we’d clicked right away and testing each other with Shakespeare quotes was a game we liked to play. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” I said.
“That’s easy, too. Romeo and Juliet. All the world’s a stage.”
“I’d guess Hamlet again. That sounds like something he’d say, probably when that acting group comes to the castle.”
“Not right. It’s from As You Like It.”
“You could have fooled me. What are you doing this weekend?”
“Not much. Probably do some reading and work on my thesis.”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
Dorothy had a pretty face and was bright and funny. Unfortunately, she was also overweight. I didn’t see her going out on many dates. We finished our coffees and went our separate ways, me taking the subway up to my parents’ apartment in the Bronx and she going back to her parents’ apartment in Manhattan.
After a few more weeks Dorothy and I confessed to each other that we wanted to be writers. We exchanged stories we were working on. Mine was about a kid who wanders off his block in the Bronx and what happened to him then. Hers was not, as I’d half expected it to be, about a girl living in a posh Manhattan building trying to find meaning in her life, but instead was about a beautiful duchess who falls in love with a swashbuckling pirate in some unspecified time and place. I was surprised at how sexy it was, nothing compared to the stuff we have nowadays of course, but still pretty spicy.
The end of the spring term came and Dorothy and I had our last coffees. She told me she was going to spend the summer at her parents’ place in the Hamptons. I told her I’d be looking for some kind of summer job. Suddenly she said, “There’s an Ingmar Bergman film playing at a movie near where I live. Would you like to see it with me?”
I considered this. Was it a date? I liked Dorothy, but not in that way. But I was pretty sure she understood that. We’d just be two friends going to a movie. “All right,” I said. We arranged to meet at the movie the next week.
The movie was at a small art house in the 70’s close to Central Park. I met Dorothy as arranged and we got on line. It was a matinee performance and already the line was pretty long. Ingmar Bergman was very popular with us young intellectuals at the time. When we got in the audience watched reverently as the black-and-white film rolled on and we absorbed Bergman’s view of life as being, if not exactly a tale told by an idiot, a pretty somber story. Afterward, when we got out in the sun, Dorothy said, “Why don’t you come up to my parents’ apartment and we could have our traditional coffee. It’s not far from here.”
Again I considered. Well, what harm could there be in having some coffee? Besides, I was curious to see what a posh Manhattan apartment was like. We walked along the outside of Central Park. It was pleasantly warm. Trees were coming into leaf. Birds were chirping happily. Even the New Yorkers rushing along the sidewalk seemed less harried than usual. When we got to Dorothy’s building a doorman greeted her and held the door open for us to go in. We took an elevator to the 20th floor or so. The apartment was huge; you could put my parents’ place in one corner. It was also richly furnished, large comfortable-looking couches and chairs, paintings on the walls, and to top it off, a view of Central Park.
“Nice little place,” I said.
“We have a new expresso machine,” said Dorothy. “I’ll try it out.”
We were seated on the large couch in the living room. The expresso was good. I hadn’t noticed it before but Dorothy had changed her hair style and was wearing more make-up. She looked good. Still, she was a fat girl. “So,” she said. “Have you found a job.”
“Yeah, in the garment district, at my Uncle Al’s business. In the family, we call him Al the button king.”
“Are you writing anything?”
“Yeah, I’m still in the Bronx. How about you?”
“It’s kind of a romance novel, I guess. My heroine is a rich girl with lots of suitors. Her parents want her to marry one of them and of course she doesn’t. Not too original, huh?”
“Depends on what you do with it. I don’t suppose it’ll be a Henry James type of story.”
“No, not at all.” Somehow, Dorothy had moved closer to me. I could smell the perfume she was wearing. “You know Arnold,” she said. “I really like you.” Before I could react, she’d thrown herself on me and was kissing me. Without thinking, I pulled away.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I like you, too, Dorothy, just not, uh, in that way.”
“Oh. I guess you think I’m a fool.”
“No, no, you’re a great girl. I’m happy for you to be my friend.”
“Famous last words.”
“Yeah, pretty cliché. Not Henry James.”
We finished our expressos and I quickly got up to leave. “I’ll see you next term,” I said.
“Yes, sure. Thanks for taking me to the movie.”
But when the next term started, I didn’t see Dorothy. She was in none of my classes. I didn’t know if she was still going to Columbia or not. I thought several times of calling her. I could easily find her name in the phone book. Then I met another girl and it got pretty serious and I gave up on that idea. It would only complicate things.
As always happens, life moved on. For various reasons, I moved out to California and worked in an ad agency. I married, not the girl from Columbia, but a secretary from the agency. I never became a writer. My wife liked romance novels and one day I looked at one she’d brought home from the library. The author’s picture on the jacket looked familiar and I looked more closely. Yes, it was Dorothy Rubin, only a slimmed-down Dorothy. So she’d finally found a diet that worked. I thought it best not to say anything about knowing the author to my wife. A lot of memories came up and I went through them that night. Well, I was happy that Dorothy was no longer a fat girl and was also evidently a successful romance novelist. But a few years later my wife brought home another novel by Dorothy Rubin and, judging from the picture on the jacket this time, Dorothy had put back most of the weight she’d lost. Everyone said this usually happened. The blurb on the jacket didn’t say if Dorothy was married or not. I hoped she was. As Shakespeare said, life is a tale told by an idiot, but it was the only one we had. I hoped she was having a happy one.
© Martin Green March 2017
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