How's David?

By Guy Prevost

The nightmare dissolved as Sarah awoke. The details seemed irretrievable. What remained was a vague anxiety. She struggled to go back to sleep, to recapture the dream, but the memory of the night before flooded back, filling her with dread. If only she could swap her dream, however grotesque, for what had happened. She remembered closing the front door, the last glimpse of David’s tear streaked face, his fading footsteps on the walkway.

As was her habit, Sarah got up quickly. She hurried into the kitchen which was immaculate and painted pure white. The rest of her spacious apartment was “Papier-Mache Gray,” trimmed with the same white. She fired up the espresso machine. She’d have a café au lait before the breakfast meeting, using the beans she’d recently brought from Guatemala. But the thought of breakfast raised a desperate question. What about lunch? The evening was covered – she had tickets to the MOCA opening – but she had no plans for the lunch slot. The idea of this vacancy almost made her nauseous.

But wait, she said to herself, I’ve got a “go” picture. They told me yesterday. Not only will the network make the film, but I’m going to produce. Still that gave her little solace now. She felt like someone had kicked her in the stomach. She felt worse.

In the bathroom, after brushing her teeth, Sarah looked in the mirror. Her skin was pale, almost matching the cream color of the sink’s custom tile. Her dark hair was cut short and just off balance enough to suggest “hipness.” Her slender face, straight nose, and high cheekbones were still distinctive, she thought. She was aging well. But now she noticed, for the first time (had it happened overnight?) a deepening wrinkle on her right frown line. It wasn’t so much the wrinkle itself that shocked her, but the asymmetry created, because the left line still held. Like Scarlet O’Hara she decided to deal with this crisis tomorrow.

“Is it because you’re not attracted to me?” she had asked.

“No, it’s not that at all.”

While blow drying her hair, she suddenly remembered the dream. She was standing at the edge of a cliff, high above a dark churning ocean. A black bird, seemingly ravenous and armed with razor sharp talons, descended from the gray sky. Swooping down, the bird flew in ever tightening spirals around her. At first she was frightened. But as the bird got near enough to touch her, to harm her, she surrendered to its approach, which became soft and intimate – almost sexual. She heard the gentle rustling of the wings and felt feathers brush lightly on her cheeks. Only afterwards, when the bird flew away, did she discover that her face had been horribly pecked and bloodied. In the dream her reaction was neither terror nor shock – just curious surprise at her numbness.

“You are all the figures in the dream,” Dr. Spivak had told her. But other concerns pushed these thoughts away. The problem of lunch was becoming too dreadful to ignore. After finishing her second café au lait and cleaning the espresso machine thoroughly, Sarah hustled to the computer at her writing desk. Punching up her telephone directory she began calling various lunch candidates. Monday, as the beginning of the week, was not a good day to bother someone with an impromptu lunch. So she confined her attempts to friends who didn’t work, or those who worked at home (writers, story analysts, free lance producers) and hence might be lured by the prospect of getting out of the house. At first she reached several answering machines but didn’t leave messages so as not to betray her desperation. Then finally she came across Matt’s name. He is a friend, she thought, a true friend to whom I can talk freely. I don’t want any challenges, not right now. And above all, no sexual vibes. That part had all passed with Matt a year ago. And she congratulated herself on how gracefully she had turned this prior fling with Matt into a “friendship”, how she had, as she told her friends, “de-sexualized” the relationship.

He answered on the second ring.

“Want to have lunch? I have a ‘go’ picture. The network told me yesterday.” Sarah infused her voice with cheer, as if she only needed a friend to share in the celebration.

“Congratulations, that’s great news,” replied Matt. “How about Solly’s?”

Solly’s deli, a real drag, she thought, cheap but lacking upscale panache and ambience. Of course this suggestion was dictated by Matt’s relative poverty.

“Come on, I broke up with David last night. I need some atmosphere. How about Trattoria II?” There was a pause.

“All right. One-thirty OK?”

“Well, I have an appointment with the upholsterer at two forty-five, so that doesn’t give us much time. How about twelve-thirty?”

“Good. See you there.”

She had solved the problem. And now it was almost time for the breakfast meeting at the Bel Air, so she gathered her notes.

Later that day, as Sarah drove to the restaurant, it started to rain. This recalled to her the dream and then the image of David’s stricken face. Gridlocked on Pico Boulevard, she reached into the glove compartment and selected a CD, the Samuel Barber Adagio.

She slipped the disk into the stereo and waited in the gloomy drizzle, letting the lush tragic strains underscore her own sorrow. But the remedy was brief. The Barber had achieved the dubious status of cinema cliché for instant emotion (along with the Satie Gymnopedie #1.) She remembered it from Elephant Man, Platoon, and had a vague recollection of a Truffaut movie where it served as a backdrop to a forlorn lover driving in the rain, as she was doing. The music soon cloyed. And her almost pleasurable sorrow turned into an edgy disconnected pain. She began to think of the upholsterer. It was annoying, she said to herself. Screwing up “Peach Daquiri” with “Santa Fe Adobe” – an error she discovered in the nick of time.

The moment Sarah walked into Trattoria II she felt enormously better. It was still raining outside, but the restaurant was bright and busy. There were big windows, white floors, and a bleached hardwood bar where she waited for Matt with the rest of the lively crowd. Feeling safe and sheltered, she immediately ordered a Calistoga water. Next to her at the bar was a man about thirty, with a moustache and wire rimmed glasses. They started to chat and it turned out that he was an “artists’ manager,” also waiting for his lunch date. This is right, Sarah thought. This could even be Manhattan. I’ve come into the right place, ordered the right drink, and glided easily into conversation with a perfectly presentable guy.

As they chatted, Sarah learned that the Artist’s Manager was having lunch with a client, someone she knew, a Youngish Director with whom she’d had an affair several years before. Well, almost had an affair. She and the YD had been working on a project together and one thing had led to another. There had been a powerful attraction, but he was a total washout in the bedroom, in spite of her efforts to be “understanding” and “non-threatening.” Still, she hoped there remained a mutual affection and respect for each other’s talent. The memory of the failed relationship caused a surge of pain which she did her best to ignore.

I am in the right place, she thought. I’m having a friendly chat with the AM of a working YD who was once my lover. And then she thought he might be a good person to handle her money, so she took his card.

Sarah was slightly disappointed when Matt walked in because his arrival foreclosed a possible invitation to join the AM and YD. Yet she was glad to be with a friend and Matt always put her comfortably in mind of her elevated career status and general upward mobility. He’d been to an Ivy League College and came from a Main Line Philadelphia family. His writing efforts had been promising but “uncommercial,” so he was relegated, at this point, to a low level job as a script reader; a job, in fact, that he obtained by virtue of her recommendation. She, on the other hand, came from much humbler origins: a working class neighborhood of Detroit (or so she described it to her friends, though her parents were teachers). True, she didn’t finish Northwestern, but everyone knew, she assured herself, that formal education could stunt rather than enhance an artist’s development. She was, as she often said, someone who’d made a quantum leap in social class. Whereas Matt had made a little stumble, backwards.

Anyway, Matt’s stumble would fortunately not be obvious to anyone else in the restaurant. He was blondish, with fair coloring and blue eyes. His dress and grooming betrayed atavistic sixties traits with “preppie” topspin: Oxford shirt with a little wear in the collar, crew neck sweater and an outer jacket of “distressed” leather. In sum he wore the casual uniform of the writer or director. Nobody would know he was only a reader, thought Sarah. Again she congratulated herself, this time for handling her personal crisis so admirably. She could have stayed at home and moped. Instead she was taking care of herself.

They were able to land a table by the window because Sarah was friendly with Trattoria’s owner, a woman in a black cocktail dress who smiled graciously from her post at the end of the bar. As Sarah and Matt sat down, the waitress asked for the drink order. Matt was content with LA tap, an annoying reminder of his economic plight, Sarah thought.

“Speaking of water,” she said curtly to the waitress, “This Calistoga from the bar has lost its fizz.” Matt gently pointed out that Calistoga water was not heavily carbonated.

“It’s not like straight soda or even Perrier,” he said, “Where the bubbles are finer.”

The waitress raised an eyebrow, “I’ll give you a few minutes,” she said leaving.

“So, you have a ‘go’ picture,” Matt said brightly. “That’s great.”

“It’s for cable but they’re giving us a lot of freedom. The really good thing is that I get to produce this time. Of course I have to find someone to help me, a line guy who knows the nuts and bolts stuff, like dealing with crews and teamsters and all that. But it will be good for me. Writing MOWs can be so isolating. I need to be around people more.”

The waitress brought Matt’s water. He toasted Sarah, but she only nodded and then looked down.

“I broke up with David last night,” she said morosely.

“David is the guy you’ve been dating, the comedy writer?”

This caught her off guard. Since she hadn’t seen Matt recently, he wasn’t up to speed on the David situation. But she knew from writing episodic TV that you could often dispense with the exposition as long as you plunged into the action, which is what she clearly had an urgent need to do.

“I made a wonderful dinner for him at my apartment last night. You know, fresh peppers from Gelsons, bread from La Brea, and I made the pasta from scratch. I sensed something was off and then after coffee he told me he wanted out. He said there was something missing. I asked him what. He said ‘The romantic component.’ I’d thought things had been very passionate. Did that mean he was faking it? No, but…he was confused. I told him the feeling would grow over time. ‘Is it that you’re not attracted to me?’ ‘No, ’ he reassured, “It’s got nothing to do with that.” He finally admitted the problem was his, not mine. He was going to find a good therapist. He had “issues.” He’d been getting lap dances at the Spearmint Rhino and didn’t know why. It was awful. We were both in tears. We kept going over it, staying up half the night, and then he left. I can still see his tear streaked face as I shut the front door, the echo of his footsteps…” Her eyes were moist. Matt shifted uncomfortably.

“It’s just that we’re so right for each other,” she went on. We’re different people, of course, but our very differences are what make it interesting. He likes flannel and jeans, I’m pure Anne Taylor. He drives an Xterra, I’m more BMW. He was going to teach me to ski and I was introducing him to modern art. And I didn’t sleep with him until the third date. And even then I didn’t spend the night because, I didn’t want to pressure him – or me. Of course after that it was all fine. That part was very good for us. He was very kind, really kind.” Her voice cracked, and weak sobs slipped between her words. “I just can’t stand the idea of being alone. It’s too difficult. I think this will always happen. This is the way it always has happened. I meet someone, we start to build a relationship and then…”

“Don’t think like that,” said Matt, seeming to strain for a sympathetic tone while squelching his embarrassment. “Don’t beat yourself up like that.” The cliché came all too easily to his lips. Sarah calmed down, taking a sip of her Calistoga.

Just then the Youngish Director, who’d been seated earlier across the room with the AM, approached the table. Sarah made an amazing recovery, the redness of her eyes the only trace of distress. She smiled broadly.

“Richard!” she exclaimed. The YD, Richard, was a scruffy round faced man in his mid-thirties. He was dressed like Matt (except he had actual torn holes in the knees of his jeans), and of course he had more legitimate claim to the uniform.

“Richard, I’ve got a ‘go’ picture at the network,” she beamed. “And I’m going to produce this time.”

“Outstanding!” he replied, giving her a big hug. She mentioned her earlier chat with his AM, and he told her about his new project, a story about the first woman poker champion. For several minutes they traded creative portfolios and gripes about what Philistines the executives were. Finally Sarah introduced Matt, and the YD returned to his table.

“Maybe he should direct your movie,” offered Matt.

“I don’t think he’s right for it. Wrong sensibility.” The waitress re-appeared and announced a long list of specials. “Does the fettucine a la fantasio have cod?” Sarah asked.

“Not today.”

“My problem is I need protein. There’s not much protein without the cod,” she declared.

“Uh-huh,” replied the waitress, not overly concerned with Sarah’s metabolic balance.

Sarah eventually went to the antipasto buffet in search of correct proteins while Matt ordered a plain pasta. When she returned to the table, she only picked at the food and seemed to be sinking back into melancholia.

“So what’s the film about?” he asked. Sarah felt a surge of resentment. Couldn’t he see that she was in a lot of pain, that she needed to talk about David in order to work through it? But then, maybe he was trying to distract her from the pain. So she began to describe the story: a heroine from a lower middle class family who earns a scholarship to Harvard and falls in love with her married professor. But as she spoke, Sarah couldn’t muster much enthusiasm, and she was glad when they were interrupted by the restaurant Owner who dropped by the table to say hello. Pleasantries were exchanged.

“How’d David?” the Owner asked.

“…his tear streaked face, the echoing footsteps.” Sarah was gratified to share her experience with another woman. There were no sobs this time, and she edited the sexual aspects. The Owner offered sympathy, suggesting the split might just be temporary, and then she found an urgent problem in the kitchen that compelled her attention. After she left, Sarah noticed Matt fidgeting. She struggled to remember what had been going on with Matt recently, but couldn’t think of a thing.

“I’ll be right back,” she said.

In the restaurant bathroom, Sarah checked her frown line once again: it had still fallen. She wondered – hoped, that it was only obvious to her. She thought of Dr. Spivak, and wished that he’d been available that afternoon instead of being in Nantucket, on her dime, in a way. She’d been paying the analyst one hundred and fifty dollars and hour and he was supposed to be “there for her” – and now, she could only try to remember his mantras. Her head was reeling with noise, mental noise and snatches of conversation, and the mad scream of birds as the dream came back to her. “You are all the figures in the dream,” Spivak had said. “As long as someone is the victim and the other the oppressor, it doesn’t matter which.” He was the Sphinx. “Could you just tell me what to do?” He would make an “A frame” of his hands, tap them together in a highly annoying fashion, and say nothing or as the hour ended – ‘We have to stop now.’”

Now out of Matt’s sight, she could think of him more clearly. She made a note to herself – after all this dust settled from David’s betrayal and the “go” picture, that she really was quite fond of Matt. She remembered the coolness a mile out to sea, the day they sailed. When everyone else was broiling on shore in a record heat wave, they were cruising in an offshore breeze – no matter that it was a cheap rental boat with a jammed winch and undersized jib. She liked the way he improvised and fixed the winch with his Swiss Army Knife, she liked the nautical jargon which she quickly learned. She remembered dropping the Ecstasy when they decided to heave to, meaning set the sails so the boat wouldn’t move. They stretched out in the companionway and that didn’t matter because once the drug took over she was deep into it and even came without his going down on her. And right afterwards the dolphins appeared. Well you couldn’t beat that. Was this guy able to summon them on cue?

What was it that had driven them apart? Again, these files were suddenly inaccessible, some web master of her mind juggling her memories and senses like a magician. The birds gathered and swooped, flickering on the edge of her consciousness as she rinsed her face - and then vanished when another woman entered the bathroom.

Sarah returned to the table, ready with a question for Matt. To change the subject. She knew she had been doing a lot of talking about herself. Sitting down, she asked about work which for him meant had he read anything good recently? Yes, in fact, he replied, he’d just done coverage on the Book of Revelation. He rattled on, delivering what would have been, another time, an amusing riff on why the execs wanted a synopsis of this esoteric book of the Bible. Revelation and not Revelations, as most people thought, he pointed out, was the source for The Omen, The Exorcist and other horror flicks, providing useful prophecies of Armageddon with images of Satan, the Whore of Babylon, and all that good stuff.

As Matt went on, Sarah’s concentration drifted to another familiar face in the restaurant, that of Chase Hampton, a network exec she’d dated two years ago. She fondly remembered the weekend they’d spent together at a Sante Fe resort. He was a compact, elegantly dressed man, intelligent, shrewd, and ambitious. Being older by about fifteen years, he certainly knew how to treat her. Chase didn’t suffer from David’s adolescent fixations, or the YD’s sexual hang-ups, or Matt’s career paralysis. He was an adult in the truest sense of the word. In the final analysis, thought Sarah, she’d be better off with Chase, or someone like him. Dimly aware that Matt was about to finish his Revelation riff, she managed to refocus her attention just in time: “Did you give it good coverage?” she asked.

“Of course. Do you think I want to offend God?” Sarah laughed. OK. Matt was a sweet guy. Suddenly she felt reassured. These people were her family. The YD, Chase, the AM, the Owner, the other familiar faces she saw, and yes, even Matt. And now

there was an addition to the “family gathering.” Waving and walking eagerly toward their table was Paul, the mutual friend who had introduced Sarah to David in the first place. He was David’s agent and weekly tennis opponent. Appearing to be on his own, he seemed delighted when Sarah invited him to sit down.

“How’s David?” Paul asked brightly.

“…and I still remember his tear streaked face, the footsteps fading on the pavement.” At the end of Sarah’s narration, there was silence. Matt looked down. Paul, muffling his discomfort, turned to him.

“And you’re here to console her?”

“Well…and you introduced them?” Matt replied in a neutral tone.

“I knew two people, both of whom I like very much, and I gave them each other’s phone number. I let them take it from there.”

Sarah felt another rush of emotion. I am with friends, she thought. Family. If I can’t show my feelings with them…

“Being alone is so awful,” she said, again on the brink of tears.

“Listen,” offered Paul, “Why don’t you come and have dinner with me and Kathleen tonight?”

“That’s really kind of you,” said Sarah, composing herself. Paul was a good friend, she thought. But his sudden invitation posed a dilemma. She had two tickets for the MOCA opening, and though she lacked an escort, the event promised attractive social and professional opportunities. Dinner chez Paul and Kathleen, while comforting, and preferable to no plans at all, might be a bit tame. And there was the matter of Kathleen’s taste, the Blue Nun wine for example.

“I think I’ve got something for tonight, but it’s not absolutely firm,” she answered. “I’ll know this afternoon. May I call you later? And if it doesn’t work out, could I come over tomorrow night instead?”

“Well sure,” Paul stammered in surprise, and then backpedaled. “But tomorrow night, I’m a little like AA in these things. One day at a time. I don’t know if we have plans tomorrow. Which reminds me, I forgot to give my name to the hostess. Kathleen is meeting me for lunch. Sorry about you and David. Nice meeting you, Matt.” And he was gone. Sarah and Matt once again sat in silence.

“Are you still seeing your therapist?” Matt asked.

“Yes. He’s wonderful, a kind gentle man. The kind of man you would like to have as a father. He serves me tea from a genuine samovar, from Russia. His parents survived the pogroms in Ukraine, just like my grandparents.”

Outside it was still raining. As Sarah and Matt waited for the valet to deliver her car, she began to feel uneasy at the prospect of being alone again. Try as she might to buffer the imminent pain by the exercise of her fervent imagination, there was no way to turn the landscape of this dismal boulevard into something beautiful and sad, like the Barber Adagio, or like a Parisian street as filmed in a moody thriller. Here were gas stations, tanning salons, yogurt parlors, a Carpeteria, a McDonalds, and a host of small utilitarian stores with garishly painted signs.

The valet got out and opened the door for Sarah. Now the feeling of dread possessed her completely, and with it came a desperate panic at the thought of dinner alone that night. Should she at least ask Matt to escort her to MOCA, so that she’d have someone to eat with afterwards? But then his presence might preclude her from meeting someone new. She was confused, until struck with inspiration.

“I’m going to the MOCA opening tonight,” she said. “I’d invite you to come along, but I only have one ticket. Maybe you’d like to get an early dinner with me before I go. Solly’s would be OK. We could have pastrami sandwiches. Say around five-thirty?”

“I’ll get back to you later,” was his mumbled reply. She kissed him on the cheek and said goodbye.

Driving off, she saw him hunched over in the chilly rain as he hurried to his car. Of course he didn’t use the valet. She decided she was right in not asking him to MOCA that evening. And now she would be on time for the upholsterer.