DINNER AT LE CIRQUE
By Glenn Gray
Howard and Natasha had dinner at Le Cirque the night before, then drinks at Trader Vic’s in the Plaza Hotel before ending up at Howard’s new apartment on East 43rd Street, not furnished yet, having moved in two weeks before. They made love all night and then at one in the morning Natasha started to sob.
They talked until four, sunlight peeking in the window, Natasha telling Howard how she felt it was time for a break. The morning came quickly, Howard getting short fits of intermittent sleep.
Natasha was up now, quickly dressing. She looked at Howard. He was getting onto one elbow, rubbing his eyes.
“Just some time,” she said.
He lay on his back, staring at the ceiling, head throbbing. “Take all you friggin want.”
Natasha wriggled into her bra, clasping it in front, tossing her hair.“It’s not how it should be happening you know.”
“How should it happen?” Howard rolled then sat on the edge of the mattress. “Tell me.”
“Don’t know,” Natasha said. “Not like this.”
“Figures,” Howard said. He stood, a pair of boxer shorts clumped in his hand, and shuffled naked to the expansive window looking South over Manhattan. The king-sized mattress rested on the newly lacquered hardwood floor. The new floor smell hung in the air. Next to the mattress, black socks flopped over the edge of an opened but sparsely filled suitcase.
From the 68th floor, smoldering wisps of smoke were visible in the September morning haze above Ground Zero. Howard pulled on the boxers then leaned on the sill, straight-armed on palms, nose pressed to cool glass. He wondered what it was like to jump from a skyscraper.
Natasha finished dressing, except for shoes, wearing dark slacks and a tan cashmere turtle-neck sweater. She stood near the door, the weight on her right leg, arms folded across her chest. “I won’t stop loving you,”she said. “You know that right?”
Howard did not move. His deep exhalation created a circular fog around his face on the glass. “Right.” People on the street below appeared as tiny figurines, unaware of the unfolding tragedy.
“I will you know.” She stared at the deep curves of his back, accentuated by dim light and shadows. “Should I go?”
He wanted to turn around and embrace Natasha, hold her lovingly, and then perhaps strangle her. He knew from the moment they met that Natasha was the woman he should have, should bear his children. And now she was leaving. He remembered their first dinner at the Upper East Side Italian bistro, how he felt after they walked hand in hand through Central Park drenched in moonlight, then sitting on the stone steps in front of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, laughing.
He did not turn. “Do whatever you want.”
There was a long silence. “Maybe I’ll just go.”
“I’d like to talk a bit more.”
“It,” She said. “Us”
“There is no us.” Howard said. “You just said it. Stop your bullshit.”
“We can still talk, no?”
An awkward laugh. “You just don’t see it.”
“You say you love me but can’t be with me,” Howard said. “What’s not to see?”
Natasha shook her head. “It’s not that simple.”
“Sure it is.”
“I’ll just go.”
“There‘s the door.” Howard thrust his hand without looking at her. “Go.”
“I wish we could’ve connected more, that’s all,” Natasha said. “You‘ve changed since September eleventh.”
“Yeah I’ve changed. Everything’s changed,” Howard said. He spun around to look at Natasha, his face dark in shadow. “Half my goddamn friends are dead.”
Natasha’s eyes welled up. She took in a breath and seemed to hold it. “You think I don‘t know it?”
He took a step forward.
“It got me thinking,” Natasha said and stepped back. “People died. Going to work one morning. Just like that.”
“Just like that.” Howard stepped closer. “Just…like…that.”
“Made me think is all,” Natasha said. “You know, reevaluate things.”
“Nice reevaluation,” Howard said, in her face. “The holidays coming.”
“So,” She said. “So what.” He rubbed his face, eyes closed. “And my stocks.”
“So what.” Natasha raised her voice slightly.
“Who cares?” Natasha said. “It’s not important.”
“The fuck is.”
“Everything else,” she said. “Me.”
“I adored you.”
“Two years,” She said. “Don’t see a ring.”
Howard shook his head and made a cackling sound. “Whatever.”
“Fine.” Fists clenching now.
Natasha stepped back and slipped her feet into the black half-heels near the mattress. “Guess I’ll just go.”
Howard said nothing.
Natasha said, as if making an announcement, “I’m leaving.”
Howard turned and walked to the window and again caught the black smoke curling in the sky, twisting and arcing, his body numb.
Standing in the open doorway, she said, “Goodbye Howard.”
Then the clicking sound of the door as it closed.
After a moment, Howard turned and sat on the hardwood floor next to the suitcase, legs outstretched, his face in his hands.
He sat that way for a while before he walked to the bathroom and took along hot shower, letting the water massage his face and upper back. Afterwards he shaved and splashed on cologne. He put on one of his navy Armani suits and his favorite power tie, one that Natasha had given him after their first month of dating.
He then returned to the window clutching a shiny 9 mm Glock. He stared downtown. He turned the pistol over in his hands several times, rubbing the slick metal, mesmerized by the smoke.
Like a soldier saluting, he pressed the shaft to his right temple. Howard stood at attention, sucking in a deep breath through his nostrils, his grip tightening.
After a minute he lowered the metal to his throat, and then to his sternum before he tossed the gun into the suitcase and stood in the massive window, head slung back, his body silhouetted in glass high above New York City.
Glenn Gray is Radiologist in private practice. He writes fiction late at night and early in the morning. He is at work on his first thriller. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.