Sometimes now she'll take me out of the closet and look at me for a minute, but I never get worn. I never even make it off the hanger. I understand, I do, but it gets a bit lonely, and when you've only been worn once, you don't have a lot to fall back on.
The weather was heartbreaking, the day she wore me, because you knew it wouldn't last; one of those early-autumn days where the sun and the wind conspire to keep the temperature perfect, and where the sky is so blue and clear that you swear you can see the stars twinkling right behind it, just waiting for the lights to go down so they can shine.
She had an early-dinner date, not really a date, with a friend. A male friend. The kind of male friend that occasions last-minute applications of lipstick in shop windows, and smiling at strangers, and a new dress, like me. Nothing too fancy, nothing that looked like she was trying too hard, but something that made her feel good, attractive, almost pretty. He met her on the right corner, not even late, and they walked through the park together. He talked; she nodded. She seemed used to his peevish tone. She listened, jollying him along. She crack a joke and he'd let out a sharp "Ha!", smile for a minute, a patch of still water in a rough current, then go back to his roster of complaints. Someone had underrated him; someone else, he was sure, was out to get him, had never liked him; yet another person had an undeserved triumph that should have been — was rightfully! — his. There was a woman; there were several women; none of them were the right woman. He didn't think there was a right woman, not for him. He was on the verge of giving up, he was. He didn't comment on the new dress.
I could feel her breaths get shallower; how she held herself tense, hoping for some kind of flattering comparison, between herself and the not-right women. It didn't come.
They were at the restaurant; it was nothing special. Not a date restaurant, a neighborhood restaurant, but it wasn't his neighborhood, and it wasn't her neighborhood. I thought I felt her stiffen, again; was it the kind of restaurant you took someone you didn't want to be seen with? He smiled at her as she sat down, and she relaxed a bit.
There was nothing on the menu he really wanted; he was concerned for his digestion. Finally, after much inquiry as to the exact composition of sauces and the amount of butter used on the vegetables, he decided on a chop and a potato. He wanted wine, but said it gave him a headache, so he didn't order it. Tap water for him, please. She had a club soda, although I thought she really wanted wine, too. He criticized her steak-frites order: "Aren't you girls always watching your weight?" She put down her half-buttered roll, and barely touched the frites, when they arrived.
He kept talking, on and on, about how Mimi was much too flighty, not serious enough for someone of his intellectual caliber; Laura was too boring–she didn't even like to go out to the cinema (he always said 'cinema', never 'movies'); and how Beth, while accomplished, clever, and undeniably striking, was just not his type–and besides, she was too fast. What was he to do?
Her stomach was a hard knot.
"I think you'd better start running open-call auditions, then," she said, and it came out in a bitter tone. She colored.
"Oh, Kitty … not this again, is it? You're a good friend, and a good girl, but …" he had a look of mock-sorrow on his face, with a bit of smirkiness around the edges.
"I know. I didn't make it to first call-backs." She looked him full in the face, defiantly, and for a moment, she saw him as he was. Perpetually aggrieved and churlish, fighting a rearguard action against his failures, afraid to approach anything in a generous spirit, lest some unknown competitor take unfair advantage. What had there ever been, what had she read into him, that should lead to a new dress for a weeknight dinner in an unfashionable restaurant?
"Oh, Mark, it's just too bad," she said, and now there was an air of finality to her non-sequitur. He almost looked like he understood; he almost said something of consequence, but then the check came, and in their scrupulous splitting of the bill, the moment was lost.
Their goodbyes were quick. There was no setting of a future meeting, no "when should we get together again?". She didn't linger, but headed back downtown with her head up and her arms swinging. If her eyes were wet, a casual passerby would never know, and if she muttered "Goddamn FOOL" under her breath once, or even twice, no one could have heard.
Her head turned round.
"Kitty! What are you doing so far uptown?"
"Mark." She made a face, a little moue of exasperation.
"Oh, sweetie … " Ruth looked sympathetic, but a bit wary.
"Why didn't you tell me he was one-hundred-percent pure wet blanket? I feel like such a fool!"
"I did! Well, I tried to. You weren't hearing it. You were all 'He's misunderstood!' and 'He's really funny if you give him a chance!' and all that nonsense."
"I'm so sorry, I really am. I just … I just woke UP, I guess. I just feel a bit shaky. And so foolish."
"Honey, you've got nothing on the rest of us. Remember how I was about Greg? And that was worse, he was married! And such a bore. When I think of all the time I wasted, waiting for him in dark hotel bars, making a gin and tonic last forty-five minutes … only to have him show up and talk about model railroads, if you can believe it. And what about Julia, and her cruise-ship dancer, and Anna, whose latest beau is seventy-five, if he's a day?"
"I guess I'm in good company, at least. But, oh … "
They talked a bit more, dissecting their friends there on the corner, and started several times to go get a cup of coffee, or a dish of ice cream, but never moved from the spot. It was full dark when Ruth looked at her watch.
"I'm so sorry, sweetie, I have to run! I promised Doug I'd call him an hour ago!"
"It's all right, go, go. Call me later, and we will actually go have coffee …"
She walked the rest of the way back to her apartment, blocks and blocks. I could feel how tired she was as she climbed the last flight of steps. I came off right after her shoes, and was draped across a chair. "So goddamn foolish," she said, with a grimace. Ten minutes later the lights were out, and the next day she hung me up without a word. I haven't been worn since.