|Fairy Tales of Manhattan: Legs (The Frog Prince)
by Julie Baumgold
"I don't see why I have to," Sharon said.
"Because you gave your word," said her father. "And because that man waded through some of the dirtiest water in the city to get it back for you."
"From what he told you, this is not his precinct. It was not his job and the way you behaved was very disappointing to your mother and me."
"Couldn't he just leave it downstairs and I'd send down a check with the doorman."
"No, you offered to take him to dinner in the ad and having dinner with you must have really meant something to him. You ran away. I didn't like that."
"What if people see us? What if he is hideous, some big old fat cop."
Her father had picked up his Scientific American and that was the end of the discussion.
Since he still supported her, Sharon gave in and agreed to have dinner with the policeman. He was going to choose the restaurant which thrilled her because she was sure he would go somewhere where they would not see anyone she knew. He was going to meet her there—a restaurant in the Thirties with a Spanish name. Sharon was going back to her apartment on Park Avenue to change and then she decided not to bother.
In the taxi down, she thought of some strange man wading into the black water of the sailboat lake filled with feathers and duck shit and who knows what to get her gold cuff. Then she thought of the argument with Bill and how she had thrown it in her fury and the fact that this cop must have seen the whole scene from somewhere across the lake — Bill storming away with his flounder foot walk, she running out of the park in the other direction.
Her father had given her the bracelet when she was sixteen and she had never lost it in twelve years, even in airports when she had to take it off to go through security. Once she had forgotten it, and run back and it was still there in the tray like a miracle.
The restaurant was upstairs. He looked very big at the table and not bad looking she had to admit. He was wearing a windbreaker, and, Jesus Christ, gray shoes.
Sharon knew she was a terrible snob, she blamed it on her mother, but gray shoes? The bracelet was on the table with a red rose leaning inside. He was very tall and not fat after all, just muscular like he worked out. He looked like what she thought a boxer might look like though she had no interest in sports and had never been to a fight. Something about his nose.
He was pouring the wine and explaining that at this restaurant they gave you a different wine with every course. The first wine was very good and very strong. Sharon was not a drinker and felt a little dizzy.
He was talking away about himself and looking hard at her with his eyes, heavy-lidded and green. He had been a boxer, had won a title in the army. He said something about his I.Q. Did anyone talk about their I.Q.? She was grateful that he was not getting to the scene in the park and what had gone on. She picked up her wineglass and wondered if she might put on her bracelet. He was holding his glass by the balloon, something her mother, who never drank at all, told Sharon was the wrong way to hold a wineglass.
They were bringing in a second tapas and another wine.
Now he was talking about his partner and one of his cases. Sharon wondered if he was married. She thought most cops got married early.
"Are you wearing a gun?" Sharon said suddenly in the middle of his story.
He opened his jacket and she saw his black leather shoulder holster and the butt of his gun. Sharon realized this was a first for her and had a rather large drink of her Spanish wine. He did have intense eyes and nice clean hands that looked strong.
Bill had surgeon's hands with long thin fingers that he used to practice tying surgical knots and stroking her in a way that had become boring. More tapas, more wine, chunks of fatty beef for fondue. His lips were moving and she could scarcely hear him. She leaned forward almost into her plate of fiery shrimps. She wondered if this had been a mistake after all, an anonymous restaurant, an anonymous man she would never see again after she…
Her elbow had slipped off the table, she hoped he did not notice. He did because he was smiling slowly. Beautiful teeth and there was plenty in that smile. She twiddled the rose he had brought for her, really a very nice, if sort of corny, thing to do.
Sharon did not touch her steak but she had a bit of the next wine and the one with the flan for dessert. For the first time in years she felt like a cigarette.
"Isn't she beautiful," he said to a couple at the next table as they were leaving. She came up to his shoulder.
Ray, for that was his name, had an orange Cadillac. That and the gray shoes were almost enough for Sharon to refuse a ride home and she was thinking of the doorman and the man in the elevator. It was just the way she was raised, not by her father but by her mother who had certain insecurities that she passed along.
Ray had the idea that they were being followed which made the ride up Park Avenue more exciting except that Sharon had had so much wine that she could not focus and leaned against the car door as he weaved in and out of the traffic.
There were handcuffs in the well by the stickshift and, when he opened the glove compartment to get his out his badge to leave on the dashboard when they parked, Sharon saw a box of .38 bullets.
The heavy gold bracelet hung on her wrist as a reminder of another life that she was jeopardizing for this folly.
He walked all around her living room looking at the books, picking up little foreign objects, studying the paintings which she had brought back as rolled up canvasses from two young artists in Paris. He was so big in the room.
He put a heavy hand lightly on her shoulder and turned her towards him.
In the morning Ray did pull-ups on her door frame. Sharon noticed that he had a sprinkling of pimples on his massive back. Again Sharon was thinking of the man on the elevator who knew Bill and asked him all the time for medical advice since Bill could never talk sports.
Sharon had to go to her job in the gallery. Ray was actually pulling on his shoulder holster and that jacket that she did not like at all. She straightened the covers on her bed where his head had indented the pillow and left grease and a new scent. Above the headboard, taken from an old church nave, was a carved wooden angel.
For some strange reason Sharon thought of her Chinese manicurist and coming here and learning a new language bit by bit and, even after years, feeling foreign. She was in new territory and so was he if he ever returned.
He was giving his card and writing extra numbers on it and she was mentioning the bracelet reward. He looked very hurt, even teary.
"I didn't mean to insult you. You spent so much money on dinner."
"Look, babe. I don't want any of your Park Avenue shit. I'll call you." He could not have left more quickly.
No one had ever called Sharon "babe" and she would have bet that no one ever would. Her legs were shaking.
It was a long day at work and she dosed herself every four hours with more Advil and regretted every sip of the deep purplish wines.
Ray did not call but when she returned home at dark she saw him lounging against a lamppost across the street, same jacket, gray shoes crossed. She was annoyed and yet she felt a lurch in her chest.
He put his arm around her as they went inside. They called out for dinner and she found herself setting the table with her best placemats and napkins. He wanted bourbon which she did not have and he went out for it.
Then he was inside without the doorman calling up and without ringing her bell or knocking.
"I picked your lock, you really should get another set of locks."
What dark world did he come from? He began to tell her about slamming suspects against walls and the neighborhood where he worked and there was great excitement in the stories and bravery and risk. They sat at the little table eating chicken and then he was back in her bed with the angel overhead for the second night.
He left early in the morning and she came to the door and stood close. This time she could feel the gun was tucked into his waistband.
On their third night he was waiting again without any call as though everything was just assumed.
Upstairs as he waited for dinner she found him dry firing from her red satin sofa and thought that he looked just like a killer.
He gave her his gun to hold and she put it into the Chanel bag she had carried to the office that day.
He began to call her "Legs" which she kind of hated and loved. She kept his existence from her parents and all her friends and felt it would always have to be that way.
"You're all I want to see," he said looking at her. She sat naked on his naked lap.
They played music and danced in the living room and she laughed when he sang along with the low voice in the group.
"Do it again." He did.
By this time she knew that he lied. She had caught him here and there on unimportant things but his daytime life was a mystery to her as hers was to him. They provided each other with puzzles and always kept back a few pieces.
No one was going to be at her parents' country house that weekend and he picked her up in the orange Cadillac which really was a kind of a golden color in the sun. They drove through the roads rimmed with autumn leaves with his hand on her leg.
They did not stop at the apple place where she was known or the local market.
Sharon had bought him a Lacoste shirt for the day thinking that if anyone showed up ... thinking, in fact, of the caretaker.
He refused to put it on.
Out on the lawn he began firing his gun into the woods until she made him stop because of the sound and because of the bullet casings on the lawn when the caretaker would come during the week.
Upstairs, in her childhood bed, he showed her everything he was and told her what he wanted to be someday and then they both fell asleep.
"I'm married," he said to her when they awoke and Sharon pretended she already knew which in a kind of way she did and always had.
He took the black Lacoste shirt from its box and put in on then and she thought this man will never look preppy no matter what. He would never be able to play tennis on their court with her brother. Her father, so at ease with everyone in the world, always liked by everyone, would be unable to speak to this man. She could not imagine him shaking her little mother's hand or bending down to her cheek.
She could see ahead to the clashes and upheavals, the departures with the intervals getting longer before he returned.
She could never fix him or change him in any way and perhaps there were children too. She did not want to know if he had children.
They did not stay the weekend. They were both sad on the drive home with their hopeless love hanging over them like the angel on her bed.
Sharon turned the bracelet on her wrist, gold as the leaves skidding around the car and those that were cast to the side of the road.
Saturday, December 19, 2015