MaybeI would like to go on a date for once, Julia thought as she brushed her auburn hair to one side, experimenting. It had been quite some time since she went out with a man, at least since she was twenty-four and in college. Her friend Rebecca had delightedly found a man whom she thought suited Julia in the doctor’s office where she had her pap smear done; so as she was sitting in the chair, feet in the stirrups, waiting for the doctor to put that awful thing into her, she thought of Julia and how nice it would be if she dated a doctor: Dr. Renard. Dr. Bruce Renard. And so the conversation ensued with Rebecca explaining to the green-eyed doctor, as he put on his gloves, that she had a lovely friend, twenty-seven years old, 5’8”, auburn hair, blue eyes, and slim, who had shut herself away with her writing and needed desperately to have some fun over a cocktail.
“I wouldn’t want her getting cabin fever all alone in her house this winter,” she said with a touch of pity for Julia. Dr. Renard reacted wonderfully, smiling as he penetrated the duck-bill-looking tool into Rebecca’s vagina–“Just a little pressure”–and accepted the date.
“Sounds like fun; give her my number.” Moments after getting into her car, Rebecca phoned Julia to tell her the great news.
“Rebecca, I told you that I didn’t want you setting me up on blind dates; I am fine,” said Julia over the phone with a huff.
“Julia, you’re not getting any younger and, besides, what could happen? He is a freakin’ doctor, for crying out loud: give him a chance,” this time with pity for the doctor.
“It’s not like I owe him anything because he is a doctor. I’ll talk to you later, Rebecca.” Julia hung up without saying goodbye.
But the look wasn’t working; her hair had been parted down the middle like a boring librarian or high hippie for so long that it wouldn’t look chic to the side no matter how much gel and hairspray she applied, and now she had to get back into the shower to wash it all out.
“I don’t fucking care,” she mumbled as she turned on the water. The rage welled up inside her and she sat in the bottom of the tub letting the water spray down on her, acting like a mangy wet cat, just hating it all, everything. When are you going to grow up, Julia? she chastised herself, then she remembered what her counselor once told her: “When the thoughts start telling you mean things, it’s probably your father and you can tell him to go away.” Get out of my head, Dad. The water beat down on her hair and she cried uselessly; crying didn’t stop the pain, didn’t even make it better, not like when she was a teenager and the tears seemed to cleanse her soul. Bubble baths didn’t help and neither did tea or hot chocolate or movies or walks. Nothing could cure the loneliness and rage that lived in her. So go on the stupid date.
She could show up for the date and fall in love with this man, this Dr. Renard, only to have him turn out to be some sap who sucks the life from her and leaves her emptier than she is, a used tampon in the gutter; or she could show up for the date and realize that he is completely boring and useless, concerned only for himself, talking only of himself, and sidestepping around what he really wanted, which would be sex; or she could not go at all and leave him sitting in the candlelight of the dim-lit restaurant on 43rd street, mournfully looking out the window at the passing couples in the din of the city under the streetlamps thinking—I knew she wouldn’t show. Jesus Bruce, when are you going to stop this nonsense? These were her possibilities, her outcomes, and they scared her. She was happy blending into the loneliness of the crowded New York Streets, she found solace in the sea of faceless people who didn’t care if she existed.
The date was set for seven o’ clock that evening. Julia had made the call with shaking hands and a dry mouth; when the doctor answered he actually said: “Dr. Renard….” Julia choked once and then stated her name and business. The conversation went smoothly enough and the time was set and to Julia’s surprise she felt sophisticated when he said–“Seven?” She felt like she had a purpose when she hung up the phone and with a little hop and a squeal, she went to find something to wear; the giddiness lasted only until she mangled her hair, and when she parked the car outside the restaurant, Julia longed to be at home facing the light blue of her bathtub, with its lavender-scented bubbles and much-too-hot water, ominously waiting the tears that would soon follow. She longed for her wood floors with the area rug that her mother gave her on Christmas, the one from Ross that was dark maroon, the color of the curtains on her front window, the light-blocking curtains that were velvety and dense like the water that she edged into on cold-lonely evenings. She longed for the formal and dignified voices of the news reporters on NPR that drift through the air of her empty home on a daily basis, keeping her company. She missed the purple comforter on her full-size bed, her bed that was too small for another, and the pictures of her past lovers that lived in her desk next to it (for reminiscing); all the things she loathed, she missed. You’re so stupid–Get out of my head. But she forced herself to open the door of her silver sedan, swallowing her fear that tasted like bile, and step onto the street beneath her. This is going to be hell.
“Dr. Renard?” she asked cautiously of a man standing, looking warily out the front window of the restaurant, with his hands in the pockets of his grey slacks and his brow creasing above his nose, the pronounced lines of someone with compassion.
“Bruce, call me Bruce. You must be Julia,” he smoothed. He held out his hand and she shook it firmly like her father taught her to. He also grasped her hand firmly and she was impressed, as was he. His expression had lightened.
“Let’s grab a table?” he said and he put his hand at the small of her back as he motioned for the waiter with a flick of his first two fingers; then she remembered he was a gynecologist and laughed. Her humor was misplaced, and he looked at her confused and took his hand away, to her dismay. Way to go, Julia, you fucked it up already. But he put it back as the waiter showed them the way to their seat; he led her, the way she so wanted to be led, to her chair. She asked the waiter for wine, something she hadn’t drunk for a year, and smiled over the table at the doctor.
He held her waist as she slightly stumbled out of the restaurant’s front door into the crisp night air.
“I think you should let me drive, Julia,” said Bruce smiling, unable to help himself.
“I’m sorry. I totally blew it all. I should not have ordered the wine. Do you hate me now?” she blubbered.
“No, I think it’s endearing,” he snickered.
“Take me home, Bruce, please,” she said. He led her by her waist, and she leaned into him, letting herself relax slightly into his wool overcoat, as they crossed the street to his car, a much fancier silver sedan than hers, with leather seats that smelled of Old Spice. She told him her address and soon they were gliding through the traffic to her house. Julia was more tipsy than wasted and was able to get the key into the door of her house and to unlock it and invite Bruce in. He complied happily. She allowed him in, closed the door behind him and threw her bag on the table beside the front door underneath the picture of Lou Reed and his black guitar. She showed Bruce the living room and walked to the kitchen and stood behind the bar that looked out onto the living room. She watched Bruce look at the pictures on her wall with his hands, again, in his pockets.
“These photos, they are beautiful.” He looked at the pictures of the children, the ones she shot in black and white with film, real film, at Central Park. There was one of a boy not more than three looking fantastically curious up at some bubbles floating by his nose. She captured his silhouette and the light fracturing from his iris; to her, it was a moment when she noticed someone who was beautiful within the crowd. She so wished while looking at that picture that someone would notice her subtly; she liked to imagine that there was a silhouetted picture of her on someone’s wall.
“Thank you,” she said, smiling.
“Shall we drink more wine? I happen to have a bottle that has been sitting here aging for a year…” she said.
“You took these photographs?” asked Bruce with his eyebrows raised.
“Yes.” She could not hide that she was proud. “I wanted to be a photographer once; I also wanted to be a musician once, but dreams die…. Wine?”
“Sure, I’ll have a glass. Although I have to warn you, I don’t drink much,” he said warily.
“That’s okay neither do I,” she laughed.
“I gathered that.”
“Dreams die?” he said quizzically, looking over his glasses. Julia suddenly felt like he was judging her. She felt much younger than he.
“What, you’ve never given up?” she shot back.
“Not on my dreams,” he said, looking away.
“Why children?” he asked after a couple glasses of the dry red wine.
“What?” asked Julia, puzzled.
“All of the photos are of children. Are they your family?” Julia looked down into her lap. They were sitting on her couch facing each other; his arm was slung over the back of the couch and he was very relaxed. Julia’s throat tightened, Goddamn the wine, keep it together Julia he doesn’t need your damn sob story. The tears were on the edge of her lids and she couldn’t breathe.
“Julia?” Bruce slid slightly forward and put his finger under her chin and lifted up her face to meet his. He looked into her eyes and furrowed his brow.
“Yea, I’m fine. Children are just pretty.” A tear escaped her eye and she went to quickly wipe it away, but he caught her hand and wiped it instead. “I’ll be right back,” she said, sliding off of the couch to escape to the bathroom. I can’t believe you are crying, God, you’re pitiful. She stared in the mirror, into her own eyes, and wiped the tears from her face. God, I can’t believe you are hiding from a man in your own home. She was so sick of the thoughts in her own mind that she ground her teeth against them. Get out of my head, get out of my head, get out of my head. “This is why I stopped drinking,” she muttered.
Bruce breathed silently outside the bathroom door, listening to her sniffling and talking to herself.
“Are you O.K.?” he asked through the door. Julia jumped, Oh God he is listening?
“Yea, I’m O.K., be out in a minute,” she called. She looked in the mirror and stiffened up, took a breath and turned, opening the door. Bruce was there, leaning up against the wall. He grabbed her and wrapped his arms around her tightly. Julia was surprised and resisted a little before awkwardly giving in.
“I don’t know what is going on, but I would help you if you would let me,” he said into her hair. “I like you a lot.”
“It’s nothing. I’m fine, really,” she lied. She pulled away from him. He looked at her, his arms still extended.
“Let’s finish that bottle,” she said turning towards the living room. He followed her.
Bruce left after Julia fell asleep. He let her head fall on her rose-colored couch pillow. He locked the door on his way out and left, walking down the street with his hands in his pockets. He looked up at the moon and sighed. It would have been nice to be with her; she is beautiful.