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Her phone buzzed.
It was Helen at the switchboard -- "Mildred, there's
a David James for you, shall I put him through?"
Mildred hesitated a second -- more from shock than
a lack of decision. "Yes, Helen. Thanks --
I'll talk to him."
"Milly, it's Dave." Then, almost in the same
breath, he added,
Mildred sighed, stood at her desk, turned, walked
to the window and looked
out at the late afternoon traffic. She took a deep
breath and said,
"What's on your mind, Dave?"
Dave sensed he called at a bad time. He was half
tempted to hang up. But he
was desperate! If only he could talk to her, he
knew she would see things his
"I thought we could have a drink together, that's
all. It's been a while
and I'd like to know how you're getting on .... how
Carrie is .... the
"Why this afternoon, Dave? Is it really all that
important to you?" She
couldn't help herself, it just slipped out --
hearing his voice, she
supposed. Funny how you can recognize someone's
voice even though you
haven't heard it in years.
"Well, okay then. I just thought maybe you'd like
"I didn't say I wouldn't. Just make sure you clear
it with .... what's
name, Sandra?" That was another dig; Mildred wasn't
going to let him
Dave got it, she could hear him tighten up. "I
will. Six o'clock at Hurley's, that okay with you?"
"Yes, but I haven't got much time, you know -- I
have to get home, Carrie leaves for school this
Mildred stood across the street from Hurley's Bar.
From under the awning of
The Mandarin she could see Hurley's front door. She
wasn't going in until
she saw Dave go in -- make him sit there and sweat
it out a little, then go
in. It was childish she knew, but she didn't want
him to see her waiting.
weather was misty, one of those cold mists that
come with early fall in New
York. It made her feel very alone. She got that
feeling a lot after the
divorce, taking care of everything herself -- the
bills -- the house, but
most of all Carrie, especially in the beginning.
Carrie loved her father and
she couldn't accept any part of the divorce -- even
blamed Mildred for
Dave's infidelity. It was unfair, really unfair --
she didn't know half of
the stunts he pulled. Did he think she was blind?
Damn him anyway!
Mildred was getting herself worked up again. She
took a deep breath and
lighted a cigarette to ease the tension -- that was
another thing. The
cigarettes! She never smoked until after Dave left.
Then suddenly there he was at Hurley's door. She
watched him turn around
once, shrug and go inside. Had he seen her? She
didn't think so, but he was
sharp one. He looked a little thinner, a little
down at the heels .... and
still wearing that old dark brown raincoat; maybe
things weren't going too
well at home. What was her name again? Sandra! ....
what could you expect?
Mildred finished her cigarette, dropped it in the
gutter and crossed the
street. He would probably be seated at one of the
duet tables in the back of
the room. She checked her coat and stopped in the
ladies room -- she wanted
to look poised and self-controlled. God knows she
wasn't! If the son of a
bitch only knew how she missed him!
As she entered the bar they saw each other at the
same time and Dave, who
already had a drink in front of him, rose quickly to
his feet and pulled the
empty chair back for her.
"Thanks for coming, Milly." They looked each other
y'have? I wasn't sure you'd come, y'know."
striking. Mildred was poised. She had checked her
coat, while Dave had
thrown his over the back of his chair. He was
wearing black slacks and a
brown jacket. One of the tabs of his shirt collar
was curled up like the ear
of a rodent, and his smile flickered on and off as
though he wasn't sure he
should smile or not -- that was rodent-like too.
She sat across the table
from him, silently. She took her gloves off and
folded them over her purse.
"You're looking great, Milly, aren't you wearing a
coat? It was raining
I came in -- listen to me -- I'm talking a blue
streak. Well, after all -- three years, you know?"
"I checked it."
"What? Oh, the coat -- yes I guess I should have
done that too. Did I tell
you how nice you look?" He buttoned his jacket and
made a nervous attempt to
straighten his tie. "What would you like, Milly? A
little wine -- a
maybe?" He waved his empty glass at the waitress
-- "Daisy .... Daisy ...."
He shot a guilty glance at Mildred. "I come in here
for a pick-me-up between jobs sometimes."
"You working two jobs, Dave? I'll have a glass of
white wine, by the way."
"I'll have a refill, Daisy, and the lady will have
Dave leaned back in his seat and tried to relax.
They looked each other over
carefully with the remembered intimacy of a ten
year relationship; like old
adversaries, they knew each other's strengths and
weaknesses. Dave sensed he
was the weaker of the two this evening, and like an
out of shape boxer, if he
was to gain any advantage from this brief encounter
he would have to cover up
and let Mildred take the offensive.
"You were right all along, Milly -- it should never
have happened. I was a
fool. How could I have been so stupid?"
"I asked you if you were working two jobs, Dave."
He felt pinned down -- she was at the top of her
form -- "Wasn't gonna
a thing," he thought. He took a deep breath and
let the words out slowly.
"Yes, I had to. I do telemarketing downtown at
night. Sandra .... see, she
quit working some time back. Her painting, you
know? She hasn't sold a thing
since her exhibition last year, and she says it's
because she can't put
mind to .... Oh, thanks Daisy." He handed his
empty glass to the waitress
she set the drinks in front of them, then placed
the bill on the table close
to Dave. "Where was I? Yes Sandra ...." He noticed Milly wince whenever he
mentioned Sandra's name. "Cheers Milly -- let's
look at the bright side."
"I don't think you can support two families,
Dave." She might have been
talking to her gardener. "You had a devil of a time
making ends meet with Carrie and me -- now look at
"I'm doin' my best, but it's not easy -- I've had a
run of bad luck
you know that. I somehow seem to get mixed up with
companies that are going down hill -- that's not my
fault is it?"
"No. Nobody said it was, David. But it's typical of
you, isn't it?"
She paused for a moment to let up on him. "How are
you getting on, otherwise?"
"What do you mean?"
"You and what's-her-name .... married yet?"
"Oh, Sandra you mean. We haven't set the date yet,
it's the money you
We're doing okay though, except for the money." He
leaned forward and
lowered his voice a bit. "I wanted to talk to you
about that, Milly."
Mildred said nothing. Whatever warmth that once
existed between them had
turned bitter cold, she really didn't care how he
was getting on. She wished he'd stop calling her 'Milly.' He hadn't once
asked about Carrie going
to college or how they were making it on their own.
He was fixated on money
-- his money; it was a sure sign he didn't have
"You're doin' pretty good, right Milly? I'm glad to
hear it, y'know
really I am. I used to lay awake at night wonderin'
how you were gettin'
I wished ...." he spread his hands in an expansive
gesture .... "I wished
the settlement could'a been more -- and it would'a
been more if I'da had more to give."
The thought of him lying awake at night -- lying
next to Sandra -- sent chills
down her spine. "We get by, Dave. But there's
nothing left at the end of
the month, if that's what you mean."
Dave brought his hands back down on the table. He
leaned towards Mildred with
a startled expression. "Milly, what do think I am!
I'm shocked; do you
I'd sit here asking you for money?"
off the last of her
and looked at her watch. It occurred to her that it
was a watch she had
bought herself before their marriage.
"I have to go, David. There's a million things
Carrie and I have to do before she leaves."
Dave took a few sugar packets from the table and
fiddled with them. He
shifted in his seat a bit, then put them in his
pocket. "I hate to ask you,
Milly -- but I'm a little short 'til the end of
the week. Would you mind ...."
"Paying for the drinks?"
He smiled sickly and shrugged. "I feel like a
"Do you? Got enough for carfare downtown?" She
picked up the tab and read
it, then handed Dave a twenty dollar bill. "Here,
you pay her -- you've
got to uphold your reputation in front of the bar
He took the money and put it on the tray with the
bill, then he waved at
Daisy. "It's the payments, Milly -- the payments
are killin' me. I know
gotta go on payin' for three more years. Carrie's
gonna be twenty-one then right?"
Mildred sighed and pulled her coat check out of her
purse. "Go on," she
"I was wondering if you'd consider a modification."
"What's that?" Mildred asked as she stood and
waited for David to push
chair back to the table. He leaped up quickly,
pushed in the chair and took
the coat check from her.
"Here let me handle that," he said, struggling into
his coat. She
help noticing it was still wet and wrinkled -- how
seedy he looked. There was
a tear in the pocket of the coat and the cuffs were
frayed. He walked behind
her to the coat check window -- "Well, a
modification is like .... er,
takin' a second look at the settlement. Y'see if a
man can't keep up the payments, the court can reduce them." He gave the
check to the hat check
girl. "What color is your coat, Milly?"
"Black. A black sable."
"Phyllis, the lady checked a black sable." He
looked back at Mildred.
"You're doin' all right, Milly. You still into ....
demographics?" He made an awkward attempt to slip
his arm around her waist
when he helped her on with her coat and she pulled
She didn't answer. An answer wasn't necessary.
Anyone could see the
difference between them -- although there was a
great difference in physical
appearance, there was an even greater disparity in
their bearing. Mildred was
a thoroughbred; no one, other than Dave, would
think of calling her 'Milly,'
just as no one would ever bother to call Dave
"David." The need to succeed
on her own after the divorce had made her confident
independent. Dave, on the other hand, looked like
someone who had just come in
after a bad day at the track.
He darted around Mildred and opened the door for
her. They stood in the
street and Dave lit a cigarette, holding the match
between his thumb and
forefinger and cupping it with the palm of his
hand. "You won't forget,
you Milly? About the modification I mean. Your
lawyer can explain it better
than I can." He hunched his shoulders and turned
his collar up. "I could
sure use a break, y'know .... the way things are
goin." His eyes lit up
for a moment. "Hey, I got an idea -- maybe we can
share a cab downtown."
They stood almost toe to toe -- eye to eye, at the
edge of the curb. She was
a shade taller than he -- she couldn't remember
being taller than him when
they were married. She suddenly realized he was a
stranger, someone she
didn't want to be seen with. What she missed was
what he used to be, not
he turned out to be -- a panhandler outside
Hurley's Bar in the rain. He was
dead, truly dead. Could this creep actually be
Carrie's father? Yet looking
at him standing there with his hands shoved deep in
his pockets, she was
amazed to discover she still cared for him -- and
she hated herself for it.
"Do you know what Carrie and I went through, Dave?
Do you know what it's
like for a woman to be a father and a mother? How
could you? You didn't have
guts enough to be a father! Go earn yourself a
living!" She reached in her
purse and found a subway token. "Here," she said,
"here's carfare --
I'm taking a cab."
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