The question is should she tell him about it first thing when he comes in the door or should she wait a bit, after he’s taken off his jacket and maybe fixed himself something to drink, made himself more comfortable, because even if she doesn’t especially think of it as bad news she’s still pretty sure that’s the way he’s going to hear it. Of course it’s a touchy subject. She knows there’s still a lot of pain there for Donald, but on the other hand she can’t just not mention it because then it’d be like there was something to hide and there isn’t anything to hide really and what if he found out anyway? She’ll just tell him. Like, “Guess who I ran into today?” Whom. Or maybe she could just say, “Jane says hello,” and he’ll stop whatever he’s doing, taking off his jacket or fixing his drink, and want to know what the hell she’s talking about and she’ll explain to him because isn’t it the funniest thing how she happened to run into his ex-wife today at the store. The grocery store. Waiting in line at the post office. They both signaled the same cab and isn’t that funny? Because it is funny and nothing else. It’s just funny.
So Donald comes home at six o’clock or six-thirty because he woke up late this morning and missed the train and had to take the car in to work, and he opens the front door and says, “Honey, I’m home,” though nothing so suburban as that unless he’s feeling ironic, so maybe he says, “Hey, something smells good,” because she’s been cooking just because it’s an eat-at-home night, because shopping for dinner for home was where she was after all when she ran into Jane.
He walks into the kitchen where she is because they just don’t have the kind of relationship where she would rush to the front door to greet him, and if she ever did he’d probably look at her like something terrible had happened, like she just found out her mother has cancer or there’s a sexual predator loose in the neighborhood. It’s not that they don’t love each other because they do, and if anything he’s proven that time and again, just that they have more private, discreet ways of showing it to one another, like the way he leans up behind her and kisses her ear and asks her how her day was.
“You’ll never guess who I ran into today,” she says. Whom. She doesn’t mean to just blurt it out like that and certainly not the first thing she says when he comes home.
“Who?” he asks.
“Guess,” she says, but why is she drawing it out like this? She’s nervous is what she is, and sometimes when she’s nervous like this she says things she doesn’t mean, or does mean but probably shouldn’t say on account of whoever’s around her. Whomever. “Jane,” she says before he even has a chance to guess and because she knows there’s no way he could come up with the right answer and how strange it would be if he did. “Your ex-wife,” she adds, even though she’s pretty sure they don’t know any other Janes, as common a name as Jane is.
“Huh,” Donald shrugs. “What do you know?” he says. “How’d that happen?”
“We were waiting in line at the post office,” she begins, or maybe: “She came up to me in the produce section at the grocery while I was looking for mangoes,” because Donald doesn’t like it when she takes a cab unless she’s been drinking too much, she’s drunk, and for whatever reason he can’t drive her or he’s drunk too and it’s late, but for the most part he says taking a cab is just like throwing money away since public transportation in this city is excellent and also she never usually goes anywhere not too far to walk.
She’d been waiting in line at the post office for almost ten minutes because of the postal employee behind the counter, trying to explain to the old man at the front of the line that they needed more information to ship the package to his grandson than just a name and city of birth. They were out of mangoes. She felt a tap on her shoulder and thought it was someone to complain about the wait, ask how long she’d been waiting or shouldn’t they have more than one person behind the counter at lunch hour and with Christmas only a month away? This is a government office after all and isn’t that what we pay our taxes for? But mangoes were in season. Not in season. It was a month before Christmas. “Excuse me,” she said. “You’re Cat, aren’t you?” Had it been the other way around, her behind Jane, her decision to tap or not tap and just pretend she didn’t recognize her, she’s pretty sure she would have said nothing. Without exit and everyone in front of and behind you listening in to your conversation, and just the kind of thing you’d think to yourself, well this must be awkward, and aren’t I glad I’m not one of them.
She’d only ever talked to Jane once before and it hadn’t been the most friendly of conversations if you could even call it a conversation. Donald was going to meet Cat at her apartment. He’d given his office her phone number in case of emergency so they could reach him, meaning clients, while he was at the veterinarian putting down their dog but really at Cat’s apartment. When his wife Jane called the secretary who told her how sorry she was about the dog and that Mister Dixon had already left for the vet, she didn’t even mention that they didn’t have a dog and just asked for the number he could be reached at because he always left a number where he could be reached at because his line of work required that his clients always be able to reach him, which was a nuisance he often mentioned but came with the territory considering the line of work he was in.
Meanwhile or at the same time, the telephone rang. They were done doing what they’d come to do so there was really no reason not to answer it and anyway it could have been one of his clients trying to reach him, so they answered it. She answered it. Cat. “Hello?” she answered.
“Is my husband there?” asked Jane. “Please give me to my husband.”
As far as conversations go it wasn’t much, and they never did see each other, though of course Cat saw her in photographs that Donald kept and apparently Jane had once seen Cat because she remarked on how much taller she was in person. Also, of course, she had tapped her on the shoulder so she must have recognized her somehow unless she had some kind of strange sixth sense that told her the woman standing in front of her was the woman who’d stolen her husband out from under her, now her ex-husband’s new wife.
The other thing was that Cat was a little afraid of her. There’d been the not so much of a conversation of course and the timbre of malice when Jane asked to be handed over to her husband, but even before that Donald had told her what a temper she was capable of and how violent she could become and use Donald’s generally obliging inclinations to get what she wanted and also, he’d said, she had an alcohol problem. So much that Cat never did feel especially guilty about sleeping with another woman’s husband, and when they eventually spoke over the phone and she handed her over to him she thought: for the last time. Because she thought of Jane as a destructive force in Donald’s life, his life that she cared for so much, cared for at first of course because she was attracted to his body, but then as she came to know his body his mind and sensitivity and generally obliging inclinations and when she thought of Jane it wasn’t with regret or even empathy or sympathy, but maybe a little pity and now that she was standing in front of her dread worrying what she might do, a destructive force, though all she could really do was nod and say yes, her name was in fact Cat, because there was no exit.
“It’s funny running into each other like this,” said Jane. “Funny because I’ve wanted to meet you for some time now and tell you no hard feelings or anything, even though I doubt you worried about it much and not because you’re cold or unfeeling or anything because I’m sure you’re not, but just because it’s not the kind of thing anyone would worry about more than every once in a while, but you know I still care about Donald and I’m happy he’s met someone else and whomever that person is must be a pretty special person because he is, special, and surely you’re someone worth meeting if for no other reason than to say no hard feelings.”
“Oh,” she said. “No hard feelings,” or maybe, “No hard feelings?” or would have said if just then the postal employee behind the counter hadn’t called out next. The old man was gone. Cat was next. She was mailing a package to her father in Michigan. Her sister in New Mexico. She was buying stamps. A money order. Outside the post office, she hailed a cab.
“Good for you,” said Jane behind her. “Donald always hated me to take a cab. He always said the public transportation in this city was excellent and taking a cab was like throwing money away.”
“He’s never said that to me,” she said. Lied, even though she’s not sure why. Sure she’s sure why, because he was better to her than he’d ever been to Jane because she was better for him, wanted Jane to know this because it was true. “Although I do try to avoid taking cabs because of the expense,” she went on, “and because public transportation really is excellent, like you said, like he said, Donald says, but right now I’m going across town to meet a friend at a restaurant. The salon.” She gave the cross streets.
“Of course,” said Jane. “Forgive me. But I’m heading in that direction myself. Do you mind if we share the cab? It’d be silly to take two cabs if we’re going the same direction, don’t you think? That really would be like throwing money away.”
The cab pulled up or maybe pulled up while they were talking and Cat still had her hand in the air, Jane opened the door but was still talking when the cabbie leaned back and said something like, “We getting in or not?” or maybe, “Coming or going, ladies?” or maybe something entirely different but similar inasmuch as an expression of his impatience, anxious to leave and would have if it wasn’t for them holding him up, which is to say their indecision, hers. Cat’s. So she decided. Because it was an expensive fare across town and the cabbie was drumming his fingers now on the steering wheel and Cat always tried to avoid upsetting people because of her generally, just like Donald, obliging inclinations, and even if there really wasn’t any friend she was going to meet at a restaurant or appointment at the salon, she would worry about that when it came if it did.
“Imagine what I’ll tell him,” said Cat, climbing into the cab and scooting over to the far side to make room for Jane. “You’ll never guess who I ran into today. Jane!”
“Whom,” said Jane.
So there they were in the cab, Cat and Cat’s husband’s ex-wife Jane in the backseat and the cabbie in the front, though of course the cabbie wasn’t any kind of relation to anyone else in the cab but it was the cabbie making Cat most uncomfortable, pounding on the side of the door as he was and screaming at the cars in front of him to get a move on already because he has to make a living here! It was slower going across town to the location Cat didn’t really have to get to because it was midday, lunch hour, traffic was congested on account of the baseball game, parade, a fire.
“How does she look?” asks Donald. “How did she look?”
“What? What do you mean?”
“I mean did she seem distraught? Agitated? How did she sound?”
She seemed nice actually, sounded in control, pretty, also taller than Cat expected from the photographs she’d seen. No, not expected since she never expected to ever meet her: imagined. Actually she looked beautiful. In the cab Cat watched her profile while she talked and felt a surge of pride is the best way to describe it, that such a beautiful woman had chosen her husband and that between her and this beautiful woman her husband had chosen her. “She looked okay,” says Cat. “Just like in the pictures I’ve seen of her though a little older.”
“So what did you do?” asks Donald. He’s bouncing from one foot to the other like he has to go to the bathroom.
There was a traffic accident. A school bus hit a pedestrian. A bicyclist. A fender bender between a minivan and sedan. There were casualties. An ambulance. No one was hurt. “I don’t think you’re going to make it to meet your friend, the appointment,” said Jane. “Maybe you should call?”
“Maybe,” she said. “Maybe I’ll call her. Them.” She took out her phone, punched her phone number, theirs, heard her own voice instructing callers to leave a message after the beep for Catherine and Donald, Cat and Donald, Cat and Don, said, “Hello? This is Cat. Cat Dixon. Catherine Dixon. I’m sorry to call on such short notice, but I’m stuck in traffic, an accident, don’t think I’ll be able to make our lunch. My appointment.”
“Since your plans fell through,” said Jane over the phone, after she had hung up, “would you like to join me for something to eat? There’s the nicest bistro I know nearby. Tapas bar. Diner. Watering hole. Indian cart. The only place in the city where they serve mangoes out of season. Are you free? Of course you are.”
Poor Donald, thought Cat, to be married to such a force. Not of destruction, at least not so far as she’d seen, but the kind of woman who can’t help but sweep you along once you find yourself caught in her path. Cat was hungry since she hadn’t really eaten since earlier that morning and that only a small yogurt and cup of coffee since she didn’t especially like a big breakfast. Also there was a part of her that desired to be swept along. God forbid Donald should ever meet someone else, but if he did this could be what lay in store for Cat and she wanted a glimpse into her dark future, Jane glimpsing her bright future past. “Actually I’ve been craving mangoes lately,” she said or didn’t because it was Jane who said it, mentioned mangoes, but the point is they were out there and she accepted. “Actually that sounds nice,” she said. “I think I’d like that.”
“You can let us out here,” Jane said to the cabbie. “Right here is fine,” even though they were in the middle of traffic and the light was about to turn green. Should she pay or let Jane pay? All she had was a credit card so if Jane paid she couldn’t even offer the tip, but she should pay. She was going to take a cab even if Jane hadn’t stopped her, would have had to pay anyway even if where they were getting out wasn’t anywhere near where she was planning on going. She should pay, but Jane already had her money out, a twenty. “Keep the change,” she said to the cabbie, and then to Cat said, “Let me get this. You can get lunch.”
“It’s just down this block a ways,” she was saying to Cat. They were walking outside now and it was getting colder. It was already cold of course, a month before Christmas, but was even colder here in the inner chambers of the city where the tall buildings cast out the sun and the brick and metal and steel preserved the frost. “It’s not far now from where Donald and I used to live when we were first married,” she said. She pointed down the block near where a meter maid was ticketing a car parked in front of a fire hydrant and said, “Right down there, that little walkup, on the second floor.”
“Huh,” said Cat.
“But that can’t be right,” interrupts Donald. “Our first apartment was on the east side across from the park. I didn’t ever live downtown, with her or anyone else.”
“There was a park nearby, although small and really just a patch of grass with a couple of sad-looking trees and a bench, but anyway I can’t imagine she’d lie about something like that because why?”
“She could have been trying to rile you,” he says. “Or maybe she saw an apartment that looked like the apartment we lived in when we were first living together and she got confused, although that apartment was on the first floor and not a walkup, but I’m quite sure I never lived in that area so the other possibility is she was confusing me with someone else.”
Anyway. She doesn’t want to stop now that she’s started otherwise she might never start again. The restaurant was nearly empty, which was surprising since it was still only around one o’clock and also, if what Jane had said was right, they were the only place in the city to serve mangoes out of season. Mango juice. Salsa. Lassi. The sign by the front door said to seat yourself so that’s what they did, at the window, in the corner, at the bar, where the light was best, where the light wasn’t in her eyes. The waiter, bartender, seated on a stool reading the newspaper, folded it in half when he saw them, walked over, left arm behind his back, placed his hands palms down on the bar, and Jane ordered a gin and tonic. Vodka tonic. Martini.
“Vodka martini,” says Donald. “Her drink. Of course.”
Vodka martini, and Cat ordered a glass of wine even though she wasn’t really in the mood for any alcohol but didn’t want to seem like no fun, even if she was already nervous about the vodka martini remembering now what Donald had said about her alcoholism, her drinking problem. But just one drink isn’t going to make her soused, she thought, and if she really has a problem even two or three wouldn’t really show much and after that, if she kept ordering drinks, Cat could just excuse herself on account of another prior engagement, an appointment after the salon or lunch she’d already mentioned, and not even worry about what Jane thought of her, because after all they’d never see each other again and any rapport she’d hope for would only be on account of Donald who wasn’t even there.
But then this was what was really funny, because she knew the waiter. Not Jane but Cat. Cat knew the waiter. Or bartender. The man serving them drinks, and then later food. A salad for Cat and another vodka martini for Jane, which is to say the olives, one, two, three. It was a green salad without mangoes, honey mustard dressing. There were no mangoes. Mangoes were out of season, and this is what’s funny, because no one mentioned mangoes. Not Cat or Jane. The mangoes came from the waiter or bartender who knew Cat from years before when Jane was with Donald, living or not living two blocks away in a little walkup on the second floor.
Several times they had slept together. They met in the produce section of the grocery store where she was picking out mangoes. Mangoes were out of season but there they were, ripe and large and orange. He said, “You know, it’s unnatural for us to want mangoes in the winter. Our bodies are designed to work in cycles, from menstruation to digestion, in accordance with the seasons.” His name was Stephen, George, Frank, Paul, it doesn’t matter. After they’d slept together, they ate mangoes over the sink and the juice dribbled down their chins and then they slept together again, sticky.
He said, “Hello, my name is Stephen, George, Frank, Paul, it doesn’t matter. Can I take your order?” He didn’t recognize her or maybe he did. “Catherine? Is that really you?” No one called her Catherine but she was surprised he remembered her name because she didn’t remember his. Those were dark days then, she was dark, men were attracted at first but eventually left her for it in the end. She can’t remember who left who, whom, who left whom, with this one, or if it just shriveled to nothing, but eventually she met Donald who left Jane who met Cat who together met or ran into or were waited on by Stephen, George, Frank, Paul, it doesn’t matter.
“Handsome man,” whispered Jane after he’d left to prepare their orders and Cat said, “Yes” and nothing else, or, “Yes, we used to know each other” and nothing else, or, “Yes, we used to know each other, he used to feed me mangoes in bed.”
Or else it was funny because his name, Stephen or George or Frank or Paul or whatever it was when he said it, made Jane cry. “Did Donald ever tell you about the miscarriage?” she whispered after he’d left to prepare their orders and Cat said, “No,” because he never had and she was surprised and also a little wary thinking maybe she was trying to rile her like before, and because she’d already had three vodka martinis, three olives, they’d been there over an hour. She was drunk. “That name, his name,” she said. “The baby’s name.” Stephen, George, Frank, Paul, it didn’t matter. There weren’t any mangoes. The mangoes came later, when she returned home. She paid for the check with her credit card, three martinis, a glass of wine and a salad with honey mustard dressing, no mangoes, and an extra big tip for the man she’d once slept with or shared the name of her husband and her husband’s ex-wife’s miscarried child. She said goodbye to Jane who was drunk from the three vodka martinis. At the grocery store, she bought mangoes.
“Hey, something smells good,” says Donald when he comes home at six o’clock or six-thirty because he woke up late this morning and missed the train and had to take the car in to work. He walks into the kitchen where she is because they just don’t have the kind of relationship where she would rush to the front door to greet him, and if she ever did this he’d probably look at her like something terrible had happened, like she just found out her mother has cancer or there’s a sexual predator loose in the neighborhood. But there’s nothing dire to tell him tonight, nothing remotely interesting at all except maybe that she went to the store today and bought a big bagful of mangoes.