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Madama Butterfly


Harry Buschman

A well dressed man in his early forties stood at the passenger gate of track 19 in Pennsylvania Station. He absentmindedly straightened his tie as a tired voice on the speaker announced the arrival of the 6:17 from Babylon. He edged his way to the gate and stood on tiptoe to look for his wife over the heads of the arriving passengers.

He saw her and moved to stand where she would see him when she walked through the gate. She was wearing a new fur jacket, and of all things -- a close fitting hat! She never wore a hat.

"Bonny!" He shouted. "Bonny -- over here." She looked around, saw him, and smiled mechanically. He reached out and took her hand. They kissed briefly -- barely touching.

"Look at you," she said. "You've got your briefcase with you. We're going to the opera, couldn't you leave your briefcase in the office?"

"I thought maybe I could get some work done on the train home."

"While I stared out the window I suppose. You do have the tickets, don't you?"

He patted his breast pocket. "Yes, right here. It's only 6:30, Bonny. would you like a drink before taking a cab uptown?"

"You know what I'd like to do?"

She was standing before him on the escalator to the street. He brushed the soft fur of her jacket with his free hand. "What would like to do, Bonny?"

"I'd like to look at shoes."

"You're not serious."

"Of course I am." They reached the street at the Seventh Avenue exit. "It's only a block to Saks -- honestly, David I can't find decent shoes anywhere on Long Island -- it won't take long."

"It's two blocks to Saks. Suppose you find them, what are you going to do, bring them to the opera with you? Why don't you come in some other time and go shopping on your own time?"

"I don't like walking around the city alone. Which way is Fifth Avenue?"

"Two blocks east .... next question."

"I know where east is. East is that way."

"That's north."

"Come on David. Are you going to be like this all night?"

"I'll be good. It's just that I didn't have lunch today, and if you spend as much time as I think you will at Saks, we won't have time for dinner. You know how I am -- I'll have gas."

"Poor David, you suffer so. Why don't we eat in Saks? They have a lunch room haven't they?"

"Sounds great. I had in mind something a little more elegant than Saks' lunch room."

Bonny shook her head. "You're such a martyr -- really." They went through the revolving doors.

"Women's shoes are that way," he said.

"How do you know?"

"Directory sign. Up there, right over your head. It says 'women's shoes' that way."

He sat down and opened his brief case while she tried on shoes. He looked at his watch from time to time and finally shook his head. "It's seven o'clock, Bonny. We have one hour and fifteen minutes."

"Oh, I can't shop when you rush me like this. Let's go eat. I think the lunch room's on the second floor. I'm in the mood for a tuna melt and a nice cup of tea -- how about you?"

The snaps on his briefcase sounded like rifle shots.

"Grand Tier, First ring right. 8c, 10c, there you are sir -- thank you sir." They sat, out of breath and a little disheveled, each of them holding a playbill and keeping their tempers in check. Ten years of marriage had conditioned them to count to ten and back again when their patience was frayed. David pushed his briefcase well back under his seat, and with a sigh of resignation opened his program .... "Madama Butterfly" .... Haven't I seen this before, Bonny? Sounds familiar somehow."

"We saw it in Vienna, David."

"I remember now. I couldn't understand why an American naval officer and a Japanese Geisha woman would sing to each other in German."

"Well tonight they'll get on with it in Italian."

With nothing else to do, he began reading the program .... "Oh, by the way. Who did you get for a sitter?"

"Cathy, the Sullivan girl. I couldn't get Ginger."

"Why not?"

"She's got the flu. Cathy's okay, she's a senior."

"I'll bet."

She looked at him quickly, sensing he knew something she didn't. "Now there's a smart-ass remark if I ever heard one. What does 'I'll bet' supposed to mean?"


"Out with it or I'll throw your briefcase over the railing."

He sighed and closed his program. "You know Marty Shottenheimer?"

"I know his wife, I think -- over on Garden Court?"

"Well, Marty told me he and his wife went to see "Cats." Cathy Sullivan sat for them .... Look, Bonny I don't want this to sound any worse than it does, but when they got home Cathy was on the sofa with two boys."

"My God! Were they ...?"

"No, no -- it was probably perfectly innocent. Cathy said the boys were helping her with her homework .... then when he paid her, the boys said they'd take her home."

There was a growing look of concern in Bonny's eyes. She shifted nervously in her seat. "Do you have your cell phone with you?"

"The curtain's about to go up. You can't use a cell phone here at the opera."

"Give it to me. I'll go out in the foyer."

"They won't let you back in once the opera starts."

"I won't be a minute. Give it to me, damn it. I'm calling home."

He reached under his seat and got his briefcase and opened it. "Here," he said, "hurry. I shouldn't have said anything." Bonny took the phone and with a series of "excuse me's" made her way to the aisle. David sat there cursing Marty Shottenheimer -- nothing had happened after all, they were just sitting there -- three baby sitters for the price of one.

The house lights were dimming, the footlights came up and the conductor stood at the 'presto' position when David saw Bonny at the end of the aisle excusing herself again, much to the irritation of everyone in the row.

"Well?" he whispered.

She shoved the phone at him. "Well, what?' she hissed.

"Catch her in the act, did you?"

"The line was busy."

They sat there as the overture began. "Let's listen to somebody else's troubles for a while," he said.

©Harry Buschman 2001

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