ENCOUNTERS MAY BE PREDICTED
by Paul Perilli
Back then, whenever I was looking for something good to read, I went to Spoonbill & Sugartown over on Bedford Ave. There was always plenty to choose from and I spent a lot of time picking at the paperbacks and rows of magazines. That afternoon I met an old friend, Eugene, a clarinet player. He asked me what I was doing around the neighborhood when I’d moved out of it five years ago?
Taking a walk, I said, and it’s ending up being longer than I was expecting. They usually are. But to be honest, I still like it around here. This bookstore’s still one of my favorites.
Mine too, so I understand, Eugene said. I’m walking off the gig I had last night. How about we go to Teddy’s and have a brew? Catch up on things.
We went to Teddy’s, took a booth by the windows and ordered pints from the waitress.
I’d been hoping to run into someone I knew. It was one of those days I thought I might. I’ve noticed when I feel something like that’s going to happen, sure enough it does.
Eugene said, You really thought you were going to run into me?
Not you specifically, I explained. Someone though. Anyone I haven’t seen for a while. Not that you’re anyone. We went through too much to call you anyone. I used my fingers to hang quotes around that last word. I’m glad you came along. I never forgot the time you let me stay in your place for two months when you went to France and I played house with your neighbor Mo. You know what I mean?
I’m not so sure you weren’t thinking of me.
No. I think you came over here knowing exactly what would happen when you headed this way.
I found it encouraging there might be a plan out there that determined chance meetings like these, which I guess wouldn’t make them chance at all.
Now that you say it, this happened to me another time when I was in Mexico. It was maybe the only time I’d been out of the country when it did.
I was doing research for a project that gave me money to go down there and travel around. The first time that had happened, someone paying for something I wanted to do and would have spent my own money on. Anyway, I needed to be alone to take in as much I could, fill notebooks with observations, take pictures. Just look around. It was really great.
Four of those days I spent in Oaxaca hanging around the cafes on the zocolo. Most of the time I went to the one right around the corner from my hotel. The Del Jardin. It had the most relaxed atmosphere and interesting people. One afternoon I met a couple there from Florida, a German named Jergens. His wife Judy had a southern accent. They were buying objects in the villages to bring back to sell in their shop in Miami.
That’s Jergens’ business, Judy said with the toss of a hand. I got the feeling she didn’t have anything to do with it.
Later in the conversation she told a story about something she saw earlier in the morning. She was out alone, without Jergens. He was still in bed and she didn’t feel like sitting around waiting for him to get up and get ready. She went for coffee and a roll and was just finishing up when behind her a pigeon plopped on the plate of eggs a waiter had just set down in front of a French guy. Landed dead center, was how she described it.
The guy wasn’t laughing. His wife was though, and she called for the waiter. The waiter took his plate and brought back another right away. He came with it so fast Judy wondered if they’d made him a new one or just spooned off the bad parts and scraped the rest onto another dish.
They’d only do that in New York, I told her.
Right after I said that Judy noticed the sudden change of mood that came over me. She located the position of my eyes. There was a woman standing on the corner across the street from us chatting with another woman. Her name was Andrea. Years back I’d worked with her at a university. She’d introduced me to my first wife and I always regretted not trying to get something going with her before then. Well, my ex and her had a falling out and I wanted to avoid any conversation that might have come up about it.
You know her don’t you, Judy said without any hesitation. She didn’t miss anything. I might have been gazing into deep space. But she knew it was something more. And I’d been having the feeling I’d run into someone from my past. I didn’t know why. And I did.
Why don’t you go over there and say hello. You want to. I can tell. I’ll go over there for you. Why not? You’re down here alone. I’ll say the man over there wants to talk to you. He knows you.
Don’t do that, please, I said.
Can’t you see that’s why you’re traveling alone, she said. You’re afraid of women. You have to come out of that shell sometime so why not now?
Meanwhile, Jergens is staying out of this. Lighting up a cigarette right after finishing another.
Not saying hello to Andrea was a relief. And after that I avoided the Del Jardin, and Judy and Jergens.
I suppose you regret doing that, Eugene said. A swift wave of a hand got the attention of the waitress and the order of two more pints.
Not at all, I said. The next night I spotted Judy and Jergens sitting with Andrea and her travel companion. I could feel Judy’s eyes wandering around looking for me. Later on, when I was sitting at another café, I saw the four of them walking together. Thankfully it was time to move on to the next place.
Eugene was staring at the television hanging above the bar. Into the uncomfortable gap, I said, Do you think they’re all friends now?
Do you? Does it matter? Eugene said.
Maybe these coincidences aren’t all we’re making them out to be, I said.
Or maybe it was one of those special moments we were talking about, Eugene said. That there’s a power in us that knows more than we do, than we want to or try to. We’re connected to something deeper that we don’t tap into much since we walk around in a daze most of the time. Something did come to me while I was listening to you.
Do you think Andrea had a feeling like that, thought she was going to run into someone she knew? Is that what you were thinking?
Eugene said, Do you remember Beth Babson?
Of course. How could I forget her. She was part of that group we knew when we all just moved here.
I know you liked her, Eugene said. Without any hesitation he added, I’m going to tell you something I probably shouldn’t. Out of all of us, she liked me the most. She was always looking for ways to be with me, to go where I was going, even though she was living with Kevin all those years and it wasn’t wise for us to be seen together.
I didn’t know that. The second-man-in role, a tough spot. My voice trailed off. It sounded like one of those experiences you never forget and don’t want to. Someone you thought you weren’t supposed to be with at the time only to realize later it was exactly what you should have been doing.
I thought she eventually wanted to marry Kevin so I never tried to turn what was going on between us my way. Or that’s what I wanted to believe. I wasn’t with anyone special. I was willing to let her sweep me along if she wanted to. We had a freaking blast together! Everywhere we went, restaurants, bars, museums, all of it on the sly. Once we decided to take two days off from our jobs and go to Montauk. It was July. She gave Kevin some excuse about going there with a friend to help her get over a bad breakup.
We took the jitney. Which was risky if you think about it. Someone might have been on it that we knew. Beautiful weather was forecast and the bus was packed. I had the inside seat and Beth the aisle. The woman sitting across from her, a saleswoman we’d find out, snagged Beth in a conversation she didn’t want to be in.
Turn my way and talk to me, I whispered in her ear.
That’s what she did. Leaned into me, put a hand on my arm and talked about our hotel.
It wasn’t going to be anything special, but it guaranteed three nights together. I’d made the reservations at my place before we left. When we were there Beth remembered she had to call her office to tell them she wasn’t going to be in. She hung up the phone and said, Phew, I didn’t have to talk to my boss. Her assistant said she had an emergency and wouldn’t be back until Monday. That was easier than I thought it would be.
Are you mad I didn’t get us a hotel on Old Montauk Highway? I said. The only rooms left were four-hundred dollars a night.
Ours turned out to be a pretty bland place. But it was quiet and away from the main strip, and that’s what we were looking for.
The hotel manager, a guy with arthritis and a bent back, told us our room wouldn’t be ready for a couple of hours.
There were a few chairs around a table and we sat there waiting for a couple of slackers to get all of their things out of our room and packed into their car, and then for the maid to tidy it up.
We stayed inside the rest of the afternoon. We were in love. That’s why we went there. To hook up as much as we could.
The next afternoon we went to a fish house in Montauk center and ate steamed lobsters. We had a table by the windows and took our time, eating slow. We were talking about going to the beach when we were done when all of a sudden Beth got the look of a cornered cat trying to find a way out of the place.
Oh no, it’s her.
A tall woman dressed in tan slacks and a white blouse had just come in. She had an air of importance, as if everyone wanted her attention.
What’s she doing here?
That’s what I’m asking myself.
Maybe she won’t see you.
No chance of that. Her boss came over to our table, to reprimand Beth was my assumption. But instead of that, she smiled and winked at her.
If you don’t tell anyone, I won’t either, she said. She went on over to a table in the back where a guy with curly black hair and a plaid shirt was sitting.
Well, you know, until then I’d been expecting to run into someone we knew. To get caught in our game. Seeing Beth’s boss and having her in the same situation made me relax for the first time since we’d left New York.
Later on, her boss’ wink and smile became a joke. It reminded us of the good time we were having. But once we were back in the city Beth started disengaging from me. We still talked on the phone and met in secret. Still winked and smiled in a joking way, but something had changed. I didn’t want to ask her what it was. I was afraid she might tell me something that would mean the end of us.
I said, People never ask the questions they should ask for that reason. They fear the answer might be the one they know but want to keep pretending isn’t true.
I started seeing someone else. Her name was Anne. Beth and I were still in touch. But it was obvious she wasn’t leaving Kevin. Anne and I decided to go to Paris. I didn’t tell Beth I was going. I hadn’t told her anything about my new relationship. I wanted to leave room for her. I was willing to give her more time. We stayed in a small hotel near San Michelle. A quiet place, not too expensive, with rooms that looked out at the square. After four days we went south to Biarritz, then to San Sebastian and Bilbao, then back to Paris. We had three more nights at the hotel in San Michelle.
The first morning we went down to the complimentary breakfast. I’d been having a strange feeling since we got back from the south. Then I saw what it was. Beth came in the door with a guy I didn’t know. She was trying to look the other way. When she saw I noticed her she smiled at me and winked. That’s when I remembered I’d told her I stayed in that hotel with an old girlfriend.
I didn’t say anything to Anne. Though the look she gave me wondered if I’d seen a ghost. Fortunately, I didn’t see Beth at the hotel the next two days. And I haven’t run into her since then.
You mean you haven’t run into her until now. I looked past Eugene and his head made a slow turn that way.
About the Author:
Paul Perilli’s fiction ‘Summary Report to the Committee’ appears in Overland’s False Documents issue. His story ‘Orwell’s Year’ appears as a chapbook from Blue Cubicle Press. He’s currently working on a novel about the 2008-2009 financial crash titled SEVEN SEVEN SEVEN. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.