It's 3:00 a.m., I should be sleeping, I have to get up early this morning, but I can't. Someone, this girl, has put my mind in a spin, and no doubt she is sleeping like a cat right now, secure in the knowledge that she has just dumped her soul on me and all her worries. Transference? Possibly. I'd thought that after my wife and I split up I would never let another woman get inside my head like that and twist everything around, but she just did. This sprite of a girl, well, woman really, she's 37, but she looks like a pixie and acts like one too - God help me, maybe I just fell in love with her.

No, no I'm not. I'm awestruck.

Toby, my man, I say to my cat, Toby, what the hell? And why am I saying all this crap to a cat anyway? Yah, I've been caught. She's got me, and she doesn't know it.

I wish I hadn't picked up the phone. I mean, it was 11:00 already and I didn't recognize the number but I wasn't thinking. So there she was on the other end saying, "Alan, is that you? It's Wendy. You know, Don's friend? I was at his place the other night."

Wendy. How could I forget. She made me laugh. She's one of those people whose eyes sparkle when she laughs. She must be Irish, I thought at the time though it is a little trite to say so.

"Sure, I remember you," I replied, "we've met before. Don talks about you a lot - you and his wife are pretty close, right?"

"Yes we are. Go way back to high school, imagine that." And she laughed. "So I know this is pretty ridiculous but Don said I should call you since you're divorced and maybe you...well, maybe you can give me some advice."

"Advice on what? Getting divorced?" I asked.

"No, I know that one all too well I'm afraid. I'm divorced too."

She paused for a few seconds and I was beginning to think she had hung up the phone when she said quietly, "Oh this is stupid. I don't know what I was thinking, I'm sorry to bother you. You must be getting ready for bed. Christ, I didn't even ask if you were alone or busy or something! And it's late. Look, I'm sorry I called you."

"No, umm, I wasn't doing anything. You don't have to hang up, it's okay." To be honest, I like the sound of her voice, has a musical lilt to it that makes her sound happy. "What's up?"

"You're going to think I'm crazy, but you probably do already. So here goes. I saw my ex yesterday at the park. He was talking with this woman and he had his hand on her shoulder. It bothered me, and that bothered me 'cause I don't care about him anymore. Has this ever happened to you?"

"Actually, my ex is remarried. I wound up at her wedding 'cause I was taking our kids while she went on her honeymoon."

"Oh." She said.

"And honestly, yes, the first time I went there and he was there on the chesterfield beside her, it did bug me. I mean, it's awkward enough going there anyway and then here's this guy....." I didn't tell her that as soon as the kids went back I went out and got drunk, tried to pick up anything female, failed miserably then went home and threw up.

"Why does it bother us then? I mean, if we don't love them, we don't want them, why should it matter?"

"The possession is nine-tenth of the law rule? I don't want you but I don't want any one else to want you either 'cause you used to be mine?"

She laughed. "Yah, that's probably it. What you said, sounds like a Country and Western song."

"Oh, baby," I sang, badly I must add, "my shorts are in a knot, you were just caught, holding the hand of another and you used to be mine, you can't do that you bitch, no no other lovers for youuuuuuuu........"

"Holy jumping that was awful," she giggled, "don't even think about doing that for a living!"

"What you mean I won't have a huge fan club waiting breathlessly to see me after my concerts? groupies for me then."

"Nope, not a one. That's alright, I don't exactly have a huge line up of men at my door either, never have had and I can sing."

"I don't believe that," I told her, "you're cute and you're funny. Men like that."

"They like that as friends. They like the cold hearted make-upped every hair in place, you act the way I tell you to women."

"Uh, Wendy? I'm a man. And I don't like those kind of women at all."

"Sure. Tell me you don't have a few women friends that are great to hang out with or chat with but they don't spend a million bucks on their appearance and they may be a few pounds overweight, or they've got a nose that's too big or boobs that are too small or something and you think they're just the greatest people but you'd never ask them out, would you?"

I thought. "Yes, I do. Problem is, they're married. That's why I don't ask them out."

"And if they weren't? Would you? Would you really or would you still pine for that unattainable model-type lady you see on the bus everyday?"

That kind of shook me. I mean, was she psychic or what? "Busted. Yes, I would pine for that lady on the bus, wouldn't ask her though. She has to be taken. Ladies that great usually are. The others, the friends who are married and what if they weren't - I don't know what I'd do. I try not to think of them that way."

"Bullshit." She was starting to sound angry.

"No, I don't. Well, okay, once in a while when I'm bored or something I think about it, yes. But I'm a guy you know, I think about a lot of women like that, that's what we do."

"So, what then. You be like you and me on a Saturday night talking on the phone having a beer or something, day dreaming about being with someone and not? You've been divorced for a while then I guess."

"Yes. Four years. I have kids though, two of them, and when you have kids you're never really ever totally not their spouse 'cause you created these human beings together and you're their parents and unless you're really a heartless bastard you do what you can to keep things good for the kids. A religious friend of mine said that anyone you sleep with is really your wife in a spiritual sense, but you can have many wives in a lifetime. Well, husbands for you I suppose. I don't believe that but there is that connection that once made can't be erased, even if you don't like them as people anymore. Of course I'm not the kind of man that has slept with dozens of women so maybe if I were, I wouldn't feel that way."

"Hmm. I'm lucky I never had kids with him I guess. Makes me a bit sad though. I'm 37 now and I'm looking at this as okay, we put it off so long that if I were to meet someone tomorrow and fall head over heels I'd still be not as stupid as I was before, I wouldn't jump into marriage that quickly again and so what? I'd be 40 or something. I blew it big time on that one. Should never had accepted him putting it off 'till it was too late. Should have done what I wanted."

"Kids are a big responsibility. If he didn't want them, he would have left you, you know."

"Maybe. But what about the men or women for that matter, that do realize they want them when they have them?"

"That's usually people who did want them but had some sort of agenda or something that had to be filled first and oops! Made a mistake honey, I'm know, a lot of children happen that way."

"You're probably right. And he never really wanted kids, whenever we talked about it he hoped the subject would just go away."

"I wanted kids. We talked about it before we got married. Wouldn't have married her if she didn't want them."

"I'm an idiot, I know." She sounded sad.

"You know what?" I told her. "I'm putting on some music. Why don't you grab yourself a beer and we can talk - I take it you haven't been apart for very long, have you?"

"I don't drink beer but I can make a Brown Cow, I've got some Kaluha. Okay, let's do that. So what are we listening to?"

"Megadeth. Just kidding. Oh, some Bruce Springsteen sounds just about right. Hang on, I'll go put that on and grab a beer, don't hang up."

She giggled. "Alright, I'll get that Brown Cow. Don't you hang up."

"I won't." I said, and as I put on the music I thought, this is nuts. It's like I'm in university or something and I'm 41 for heaven's sake. But it was nice to feel like me, the inside me, with this charming lady.

Bruce was singing "Born In the USA" (1) and she came back on the phone, swallowed. "This is fun," she said. "I needed this. Thank you."

"No problem," I answered, "I really like this too." And I meant it.

"So, Alan, can I ask, what happened with you? Sounds like you two get along together alright."

"It was a little bit of this, a whole lot of that, and I hate to say it but we just became different people over time. Fighting all the time, you know, that sort of thing. One day I said something really dumb, I was mad, and she threw me out. To be honest I think she was probably seeing someone behind my back, but I didn't care. I was just there 'cause of the children by that time."

"Oh, I'm sorry. So it was a - one more wrong word and you're out - kind of thing then."

"Yes. Something like that. You? What happened with you?"

"Nothing. We just didn't like each other any more and we stopped talking and he did his thing and I did mine and one day I thought, why don't I do my thing by myself I don't want to answer to him anymore so I got my own place and moved out."

"How did he take it? You just up and going like that?"

"He didn't say anything. I mean, he didn't get mad, he didn't cry, he didn't shout at me or throw anything or do anything that would have told me he still had feelings. He just... didn't. He said, okay then, goodbye, and walked out of the room and that was it. When he did that I knew there really wasn't anything there. Couldn't be. You know, when there's a lot of bitter and people shouting at each other and doing stupid tricks through the lawyers, that sort of thing, that's 'cause there's still feelings there."

"It's a fine line between love and hate?"

"Exactly." She took a sip of her drink. I heard her swallow, heard the glass clink. I could see her, feet up on a smoky glass table 'cause she didn't have kids so she wouldn't know the fear of what if it breaks, and feet up on it 'cause she's a jeans and t-shirt sort of person, clean but not neat, ruffled. I like that.

We sat and said nothing at all for a while; the CD changed and Marc Cohn was walking in Memphis (2) and she was humming along with it on her end so I turned it up, hoping the neighbours wouldn't start banging on the wall 'cause by this time it was 1:00 a.m.

I liked this silent listening, this feeling of her just being there, admittedly over an electronic instrument and I tried to find some words to say so she would stay on and talk a little longer. I wanted to ask her, what do you like, what really turns you on and not in the physical sense, well, maybe a bit of the physical sense but she was too vulnerable right now, I knew the feeling of being free and wanting to grasp at the first straw I saw and wipe out everything that happened before, and knowing I looked so damned desperate that women would joke with me and flee before I could get any closer than a hand on a knee, and then I knew what I had to ask her. Okay, so this was my third beer in two hours and maybe I was a little buzzed but I wanted to know.

"Wendy, let me ask you something. How do you feel? I mean, how do you really feel, about men and all that. You haven't been apart long so yeah, there's some baggage there, but we all have baggage by this age I would hope, and well, I know how I felt when I split up my wife, as a man I mean, but how do you feel?"

She sighed. She took another sip of her drink and said, "I have to pee."

I laughed. "So do I!" I said, "Look, just put the phone down and come back, okay? You don't have to answer what I just said if you don't want to."

"I do want to answer that, I just don't know how and it's probably because my teeth are swimming. I'll come back, don't worry."

So she did her thing and I did mine, and when I picked up the phone again she said, "I thought women were supposed to take longer than men. What happened? Thought you flushed yourself down or something."

I roared and the hell with the neighbours, this girl was funny. "Nah, just grabbed another beer. Hope you don't think I'm some alkie or something."

"Nope, I'm actually getting another Brown Cow as we speak. So. How do I feel? About what? About my ex? I told you how I think about him. Feel about what?"

"Feel about being you, in your situation right now. I remember what hit me the most was how quiet it suddenly got. Nobody to tuck in at night. No plastic things under my feet. No pantyhose on the shower rod, no tampons under the sink, no phone ringing twenty times a night...stuff like that."

"Oh my God. No, nothing like that. Well, I guess if you want to put it that way, maybe the smell of his aftershave in the bathroom, and the hairs in the sink, and no socks to pick up off the floor, and cooking for one, how do you do that and eat well? But there's good things, like 2 loads of laundry instead of 4, and a heck of a lot less ironing - I hate that, and you want silly? I spent a day naked 'cause I could and I wanted to see what that would be like..."

"So, did you like it?" I had to ask this.


"Being naked all day. I did that once myself you know."

She laughed. "It was December. We're Canadian. It was cold. That's what I remember."

And I thought, she didn't answer my question, but I liked the image.

Time for some other music. I needed something lively so I put on Great Big Sea, and then I told her something I had told no one else. "You know, I was lonely. I wanted so much to connect and I didn't want to be tied down and I think my poor kids, well, they liked it 'cause I took them everywhere and I never went straight home after work for the first little while, I went to bars and all those singles meeting places."


"I felt old. Everyone one there needed to be carded. And I thought that this is what I didn't want when people surrupticiously sat someone next to me at dinners and things and my relatives were either trying to get us back together or telling me everything they thought was wrong with her and you know, I thought, back off. I just want to live my life, I want to move on and I don't want to talk about it anymore and I don't want to be introduced to strangers you think would be perfect for me, and yes, I want to get laid but I don't want somebody who's going to want to be my everything and I don't want someone who doesn't want to give a damn and the first time I went out with someone I asked who said yes, I spent the whole time talking about my ex, and she smiled at the end of it and gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, you'll be fine, it was a nice evening and I knew I blew it so now I'm just kind of careful, that's all."

"So, okay," she said, "did you get laid?"

"Umm, yes." And now you, lady, I thought. What about you?

"Was it what you thought it would be?" She asked me.

"Eh? Well, yes, I liked her. She lives in another city so it was....nice? Felt alive anyway."

"I, I haven't, you know...I umm, getting it over with is not what I want."

"What do you want?" I had to ask.

"Nothing. I want nothing and I want everything and I wish I were in a movie and everything was scripted and I didn't have to think about this at all because everything would already be worked out, and I like who I am and I like where I am, and I'd make room for someone if they were the right someone and in the meantime, well, I read and listen to music and I'm just happy being me."

"That sounds like a plan. Nothing wrong with that."

"No. But I just wish I could shut off that part of me that says I need something, well, maybe I've been talking to my friends and my mother too much, anyway....why do we need people?"

I wanted to jump through the phone and hug her. How do you answer a question like that? Isn't that what philosophers have been debating forever? "Because we're human? Isn't it natural to need others? You're alive Wendy. You have feelings."

"Yes I do, but I don't like it. It bothers me. I don't feel quite right."

"You'll get over that, and when you do, you'll be comfortable with where you're at."

She sniffled and I wondered if she was crying, but I didn't ask that. I just wanted to hear her talk. "Why do we need people? People hurt each other. I mean, why do we get attracted and why do we say yes when we know that chances are, this great guy is going to turn out to be some evil prick someday down the road, and you let them in your world and they turn it upside down and then they go off and do their own thing and you just don't fit in anymore, and you give and you give and it's all for nothing, why do we do that?"

I sighed. I had no answer to that one. Not really. I wanted to hug her, and breathe in her hair, and say: stop thinking, just for tonight, please stop thinking, let your heart take you wherever it wants and let's deal with the consequences later.

"You know what? I'm sorry." She said, and I could swear she blew her nose, then she came back on the phone, "I really didn't intend for this call to devolve into a pity party. You're a nice guy, thanks. I'm glad we spoke. And I think it's time I said goodnight."

I looked at my watch. It was shortly after 2:00. And I thought, she's right, enough's enough, we've talked for three hours, and I've run out of music to play, and words to say, and if she were here I would kiss her and say, you're great, everything is going to be alright but she's not, and she's not the kind of girl who likes me anyway.

"Well, I hope you feel better, give me a call any time, I don't mind, I've been where you're at. It's okay. So good night."

She sighed. "You know? Thanks, I needed this and I promise I won't call you again. This was...nuts? Here's me calling an almost stranger. I don't do that usually and I'm really glad I had you to talk to and I won't do this again. Glad you were here tonight though."

"Me too. Glad you called. Maybe I'll see you at Don's?"

"Maybe, but I think they're getting a bit tired of my antics. Might have to give that a rest, I mean, they've got a life, you know?"

"Yah, I know. Well, you know my number. What's yours?"

"Bon soir, ŕ la prochaine," she said and hung up. Good night, until next time. Damn, I didn't want this to end. And I knew that chances are, I won't see her again. She put her soul out there on the line and it's gone now and she can't reel it back in, and I'm what she's missing, but she needs a guy who buys her flowers and says dumb text book things and uses after shave, and has the balls to ask anyway 'cause she's cute, and I'm not like that.

I'm a nice guy she said. She's right, I am. And I'm human, and I'm a man, and I wish...

So now it's 3:00 a.m. and my cat Toby is rubbing himself against my arm and purring and it's time to put the garbage away and turn out the lights.

Sleep? Probably not. This last hour I've gone through everything we said, over and over in my head, and I know I'll never hear from her again. This was better than sex, we connected, and I wish...

My mom used to say to me when I was a child if wishes were horses then beggars would ride. I don't know what that has to do with anything but it's apropos, don't you think?

So good night, Toby. And let me say I'm envious of your neutered status, and your lap loving life, and the fact you don't use telephones. My life was a whole lot less complicated four hours ago.

Then again, I have call display, and a callers list. And you know, my ex is taking the kids overseas for a skiing holiday and I'm not sure I want to miss my two next weekends with them. Maybe I need someone to talk to about that, and well, Don's a good friend but he just doesn't understand.....

©2001 Catherine M. Harris

1. ©1984 Bruce Springsteen, "Born In The USA" Columbia Records

2. ©Marc Cohn, 1991, Atlantic Recording Company

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