Peggy Duffy reads
Don't Bring Me Flowers
in RealAudio format.
When he tells me he is happily married, I believe him. We are in my bed, arms and legs entwined, the passion which drove us here quieter now. I would prefer the intimacy of silence, to listen to nothing more than the beating of a heart through a chest wall, to bathe in the warmth that lies between us. These men always prefer to talk. They roll onto their backs, at once distant yet eager to bridge that distance with conversation. He pulls away and gazes at the ceiling.
"Iíve never done this before," he tells me. And I believe this too.
He is a square-faced man with a surprisingly delicate, long thin nose and soft lips. I met him at an antique auction earlier; I was buying for a client, he just browsing for himself. We found ourselves side-by-side, studying the French barbotine vase on the table before us.
"Beautiful," he said, looked at me and smiled. I met his blue eyes, lit up with a startling clarity. I smiled back. We walked together, examining the glassware and pottery on display. He only wanted to flirt. We guessed at what some of the items might go for. He offered some wine. I saw the shimmer of a gold band around his left ring finger. His eyes seemed brighter, bluer; his laugh warmer, more infectious. I told him I didnít see anything I was interested in bidding on and offered we share a cab home.
"Would you mind if I call you?" he asks from beside my bed now. "Maybe come by again some time." He is dressed, trying to sound casual, like heís making an appointment with his dentist or stockbroker.
He calls a few days later. "I canít stop thinking about you," he tells me. He comes over during his lunch hour wearing a dark pinstriped suit and a starched white shirt. Heís thirty-eight years old and has been married for twelve years. He has two boys, ages six and eight. He tells me this afterwards, his arm around me, his eyes on the ceiling. I share nothing beyond my bedroom.
He lives just ten blocks away, in a similar brick building with identically dressed
doormen. This worries him. He tells me this one night while his wife is at a school board meeting and his children are with the babysitter. But he doesnít feel guilty, heís quick to add. He runs his lips up and down me before he lets himself out. I sit
on the windowsill and look two stories to the street below. I watch in the near darkness for him to hail a cab, but he walks across the street and enters the florist shop instead. He emerges with a bouquet of red roses wrapped in green cellophane. These men always buy flowers to bring home.
He sees me when he can, whenever he doesnít have to account for his absence. I run in the park in the mornings, tend to my decorating business by day, do errands at night. But I am always here when he wants me because this is the only thing he asks. He is a satisfying lover, eager to please, easy to please. I want nothing more.
"I have a surprise for you," he says one night. I prop myself up on one elbow and block his view of the ceiling. His eyes dance like a school boyís full of mischief. He lifts his jacket off the floor, reaches deep into the inside pocket and hands me a brochure of a country inn. I accept it with reluctance. "Doreen is taking the kids to visit her parents this weekend," he explains. Itís the first time in six months Iíve heard her name.
He picks me up in a cream-colored Mercedes. He nods to the doorman, grabs my suitcase and rushes me into the car, his face flushed, either from the cold outside or the furtive energy within. I canít tell. He drives with the concentrated eagerness of a boy on a first date. It takes us three hours to get there, the longest stretch of time weíve spent in each otherís company. The car heater is turned way up and midway to our destination, I slide my coat off onto the seat. His right hand reaches over and strokes the inside of my thigh with such urgency I donít think we will make it to the inn.
Itís a cozy place with a huge fireplace in the lobby and a communal dining table. We leave our room only for meals. The owners have white hair and kind faces and have been married for thirty-five years. They boast about this at supper one night, exchange knowing glances when we return to our room after we eat. They tell the other couple at the table we must be newlyweds.
"This has been the best weekend of my life," he says. "No one is as good to me as you are." He looks at me like he never has before. Something murky clouds his eyes.
"Are you cold?" he asks and pulls me, trembling, to him. His eyes have that soft and steamy look of a man falling in love.
"Doreen never does this for me," he complains a few weeks later. He lies on my bed, naked, while I rub his feet. I finger and gently crack his toes. "Sheís always too busy with her school board activities. And the building association. Sheís on that committee too." I move my hands slowly, from his feet to his calves to his thighs. He moans softly. He tells me later that Doreenís talking about having another child. "She says weíre drifting apart. She thinks a baby will bring us closer."
"I canít sleep with her anymore," he confesses a week later. He folds himself around me. I feel small and lost inside the vastness of his arms. "I love you," he whispers.
Thereís a part of me that wants to believe him. I kiss his lips to silence them. He misunderstands.
We make love again, a desperate clinging sort of love. Wordlessly, he dresses. His suit jacket is crumpled; his hair has taken on a few lines of gray.
"Iím going to tell her," he says.
"Why donít you buy her flowers," I suggest. "Itíll make you feel better."
The phone rings a few days later. I am met with silence when I answer. "Hello," I repeat, about to hang up.
"I just wanted to hear your voice," she says. Her words are slightly slurred and quivering, the sound of a woman whoís been drinking or crying for days. "Did you know he had a wife? And two kids?" she asks, her words coming at a faster and more demanding pace. Sheís on the verge of losing control of what she has to say. "I didnít beg, you know? I gave him a choice, you or me." She slams the receiver as if to finalize her ultimatum. The sound echoes in my ear long after sheís hung up. I hold tight to my end of the receiver before putting it to rest on its cradle.
Through my bedroom window, past my own wavy reflection in the glass, a never-ending stream of cabs and buses pass between the florist shop and where I stand two stories above the street. A man emerges, dapper in a dark suit and tie, a large bouquet of roses in his hand. I close my eyes and imagine for a moment how it might be if I were handed a single rose. When I open them, heís gone.