“You’ll be back,” the mover said. Jeanne was halfway through her moving day when the guy supervising the job, an older man named Donnelly, delivered his pronouncement.
“Trust me,” he said surveying the boxes arrayed on the sidewalk on West 76th Street. “I’ve been moving in New York for thirty years. People moving from the Upper West Side have books. People moving from the Upper East Side have furniture. And when people move from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side, they always come back.”
Donnelly wasn’t doing any actual moving himself. He had a big belly and a back brace and he watched as three younger men carried her boxes and possessions out to the waiting truck.
“Well, I hope you’re wrong,” Jeanne said. She was drinking a tall skinny latte and watching the movers along with him. “I’m moving in with my boyfriend and we’re going to be married.”
“All the best,” Donnelly said. He seemed embarrassed and turned away from her as he spoke. “I didn’t mean anything. Maybe your new husband will move back here with you.”
Jeanne reported this exchange to her friend Bart over the phone later that day. “Can you imagine someone saying that?”
“Sure,” Bart replied. “What I can’t imagine is Gunther moving to the Upper West Side.”
She was standing in the living room in Gunther’s co-op, her new home she kept telling herself, amidst the boxes of books. The movers had unpacked some but had run out of bookshelf space almost immediately. Now she stood in the midst of the stacked boxes like a giant among skyscrapers. Gunther was still at work and wouldn’t be home for hours.
“You know I really just bought all these books to impress you,” she said. Out the window she had an expansive view of the zoo and the park beyond it.
“Well, I’m impressed,” said Bart. “Now all you have to do is read them.”
It had been Bart who suggested her last move, from the Village to the Upper West Side. This was a couple years ago, when Jeanne was desperate to find a husband. Working in a gallery in Chelsea she had met dealers and artists but the dealers were gay or married while the artists tended to be faux bohemians, affecting poverty while living off their family’s money. The fact that Jeanne’s parents still helped her was entirely different.
On her last downtown date she went to dinner at the East Village apartment of an artist who had just had a one-man show at the gallery where she worked. First he told her, after she presented him with a bottle of wine, that he didn’t drink and out of deference to him she didn’t either. Then, as they were eating the lamb he had prepared, his cat jumped up on the table right in front of her and planted itself between them.
“I spoil her terribly,” the artist said, feeding the cat a piece of meat from his plate. As she sat there trying not to look at the cat’s anus as it wagged its tail in her face, she wondered how things had come to this pass.
“And all that without a drink,” Bart said when she told him about the date the next day. They were having a late lunch at Pastis as she relived the evening.
“Is it me?” she asked him. Her 30th birthday flashed like a Bridge Out sign down the road and she was aware of the decade or so that separated her from the women at the adjoining tables. She was still mistaken for a model though more often now people asked if she used to be a model. “Have I completely lost it?”
“Consider your choices,” Bart said. “You said yourself you’re looking for some solvency. You don’t want to be with the guys who make the art; you want to be with a guy who can buy the art.”
That was when he told her she should move uptown. “And once you get there you need to start fishing in different streams. We need to get you into some gala events, benefits – society functions, darling.”
Though he camped this last bit, Bart knew better than anyone what Jeanne wanted. For though they were Just Friends he enjoyed what he sometimes liked to call “Most Favored Nation status.” They had dated when they first met, almost lived together, but now they seldom shared a bed. Jeanne didn’t want to give him the wrong impression.
Bart had approached her in the gallery one day to tell her about a bookstore that was opening on Tenth Avenue. “Not that anyone down here necessarily reads anything longer than wall text,” he said, “but you might meet some interesting people there.”
Working behind the front desk at a gallery in the same block as Gagosian and Mary Boone, Jeanne had become able to discern the different types that flocked to Chelsea. There were the artists and the collectors but the biggest bulk of pedestrians were the Lookie-Loos, as her mother would have called them, tourists who tromped through the galleries hidden behind the auto shops because someone said they had to. They were no more likely to purchase something on display, or even intelligently inquire after it, than she was capable of buying a Mercedes. Jeanne had learned to present most visitors with an expression of beautiful indifference.
But Bart was hard to categorize. He had the emaciated rocker look of many formerly young artists — black jeans, ironic T-shirt — but none of the slacker affect the hipsters had. From the moment he came into Jeanne’s view, blocking her light so she was forced to look up from her computer with a practiced, frosty “Yes?” he was brimming with enthusiasm for the opening he was telling her about – and it wasn’t even his store. Jeanne was used to men trying to pick her up but seldom was she surprised.
“So you’ll come?” he said at the end of his spiel. Though his monologue had been witty, it was never self-important and Jeanne had found herself inordinately charmed. She saw him at the opening, amidst a crush of writers, editors, agents and some of the art crowd she knew, and the instant they made eye contact he flew toward her like an arrow.
“Isn’t this place incredible?” he shouted above the din. “Every book on this table is one you want to take home with you. Weegee; Preston Sturges; Henry James – hey, can you imagine a dinner party with those three? Should we fight our way to the back and get you some wine? And has anyone told you how beautiful you look tonight?”
It was all she could do to keep herself from taking him home that night but she had a rule about that: The third date and never before. Even though she hadn’t told him about her creed he seemed to sense that his time was nigh on their third evening together, and they rushed through a meal at the Cook Shop, shouting through the din and reading each other’s lips. Whatever misgivings she had about him at that point (she was relieved to learn he wasn’t an artist but unnerved to find his steady income came from freelance paralegal work) were smothered by their mutual attraction. They fell into bed in his book-strewn loft on upper Broadway that Friday night and did not emerge until Sunday.
“You could start your own bookstore,” she said, peering over his hollow chest at the tomes that surrounded them. He had returned from the kitchen with a coffee press and two cups with a cigarette between his lips.
“If I could stand to part with any of them. What you’re seeing is the result of years or winnowing.”
It turned out that they had friends in common and many a long and liquid evening they spent in their ever-widening circle, arguing and laughing about graffiti and mole sauce, Shaker furniture and reality TV. And while those first months together had felt like the opening of a magic show, Jeanne began to sense that she knew how this trick would play out. Though she had never moved to New York with the goal of landing a rich husband (unlike some of the girls she’d known at Bryn Mawr), she noted with increasing envy her friends who had. And as they went to Europe as she and Bart went in on a share in the Hamptons she awakened to her sense of resentment.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you don’t look like a Bart?” she said to him one day as he sat on the floor, sorting legal documents into an accordion envelope. Sometimes his work spilled over into their evenings and weekends together.
“And what is a Bart supposed to look like?” He looked at her before she could answer. “Please. Bart was perfectly respectable name before that cartoon came along. You know that Bartholomew was one of the unsung disciples? He was flayed to death for his faith.”
He began filing again. “Are you mad because I’m working? I can’t say no to overtime. And if I were in an office I couldn’t see you sitting there so beautiful and half-clad.”
She had wrapped a sheet around herself like a modest marble statue. “I’m not mad at you because you’re working,” she said, “not really. Maybe it’s the work you choose. You told me before you don’t have any ambition.”
“Not beyond loving you.”
She paused. “You don’t want to be a lawyer.”
“I told you, I hate lawyers.”
“But you work for them.”
“I do half their job, are you kidding?” He stopped his work again to look at her. “It doesn’t mean I want to spend my life working like that.”
“But why not?” She stood up and moved from the bed, holding the sheet in place. “You could be making ten times what you are now.”
“Right, and have no time to enjoy it. This is the life that I want,” he said, gesturing around the room at the books and her and the patch of view his window afforded. “Doesn’t being in the midst of all this truth and beauty make me rich already?” He was being both ironic and sincere and she didn’t know which she hated more.
“Nothing lasts forever,” she said and stalked off to the bathroom, her sheet unwinding behind her.
Their argument simmered through dinner and a movie at the MOMA, with tacit and sometimes spoken acknowledgments of their competing agendas. It wasn’t that she wanted to be rich (though there was nothing wrong with having money). She had told him early on of her desire to be cared for, to be swept up as friends of hers had been, and while he had never professed to be the person who would do the sweeping, he had never ruled himself out either. Now the conversation seemed headed in another direction, as if they were each accepting that he hadn’t got the role he tried out for. Or that maybe he’d never actually auditioned.
Their lovemaking that night was impassioned, almost violent, and when it was over she clung to him like a flotation device.
“You know about so many things,” she’d said. “If you just had one great talent.”
He was quiet for a moment. Bart had shown her some short stories he had written, and not been able to publish, but she couldn’t make much sense of them. Even in college she found English classes harder than French.
“What if my great talent is loving you?” She couldn’t tell if he was joking.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to pay you for that,” she said, and they had both laughed and finally drifted off to sleep. She heard him leave the bed in the middle of the night but didn’t look to see where he went.
But that evening, and the other experiments in dating that followed, had led her to Gunther and her new life. Bart had secured her invites to benefits and society parties where her chances of meeting a man with money were much improved. He had made friends with some of the partners at the white shoe firm where he temped – “I’m the smartest guy there,” he said matter-of-factly – and they sometimes asked him to go to charity events in their stead. It was Bart who landed her a seat at a $10,000 table at the annual Real Estate Council Benefit at the Metropolitan Museum.
“You don’t want to be too late,” he told her as she stood before a full-length mirror in the Anna Sui gown she had borrowed from a girlfriend. “Most of these guys are asleep by nine.”
People were still milling about when she got there. She picked her table out and stood off to one side, not wanting to be the first one to sit down. She saw a willowy blonde approach, take in the table and then, after a quick glance around, dart in to swap two place cards. No sooner had she left than another woman, similarly dressed and coifed, did the same thing. She felt like she was observing the rite of some strange species of bird and that she needed an ornithologist to explain its meaning. She turned to find a tall man in a tuxedo beside her, also observing the ritual in silence.
“What are they doing?” she said.
“They are trying to get closer to the eligible bachelor at the table,” he said. He was in his forties and had a thick German accent and a very high forehead.
“Wow,” said Jeanne, almost adding, and I thought I was desperate. “I wonder if the poor chump knows?”
“I sink so,” he said, “for I am that chump.”
Jeanne may have refined the dialogue a bit in her memory, causing Bart to exclaim when she reported the exchange, “Jesus, you ‘met cute’!” But as Gunther – whom everyone called by his surname – continued to pursue her, he was careful not to say anything more disparaging than that.
Gunther had made his millions in real estate, and he had interests in companies all around the world. Jeanne did not pretend to understand half of what he told her about his work (and he had been the one to move her card beside his that evening) and he did not seem to mind. He was fascinated by her opinions about the latest shows at the Met and books reviewed in the Times that weekend – opinions, she realized, she had borrowed in part from Bart.
“I talk of nothing else all day,” Gunther said of his investments, when she tried to figure out why he needed to go to Dubai so early the next morning. “When I go out I want to hear about some sink other than my business.” He left before dessert but promised to call her the next day, and he did, as his jet refueled somewhere in the Mediterranean. She saw him again upon his return – dinner at Per Se, a show at the Carlyle – and she suspended her three-date rule for what she hoped was the last time in her life.
At first she felt she might have made a mistake: he left her apartment before dawn and was out of the country by daylight. But that afternoon the doorman called to tell her that some flowers had been delivered for her. Riding the elevator down in her stocking feet she expected the classic dozen roses but was delighted to find a bouquet of ranunculus and lemon branches instead. Even the note was surprising: “My dearest Jeanne,” he had dictated, “this card cannot give you as much pleasure as I felt putting your card next to mine the night we met.” She drank in the scent as she walked away from the doorman’s desk.
There were patches in his resume that surprised her as well. As a young man he had done some performance art in Berlin and after moving to the United States ended up in Oregon, living on an ashram. He pronounced the word with short o’s instead of a’s — Osh-Rom like Oshkosh, the town where they made the overalls, not far from where she grew up — and it made her giggle to imagine him meditating each day, listening to some swami. What happened after that, she wanted to know.
“Wharton School,” he answered. As if that should put an end to the discussion.
Their courtship stalled out after two delectable months. Gunther had been married before, and only divorced for a year when he met Jeanne, and at the end of a weekend in Palm Beach he told her that it was too soon to think of marrying again. He would like to still see her, he said, but Jeanne flew home with the feeling that this show had died in try-outs.
But her friends, Bart included, made her reconsider her strategy – was she really going to do better than Gunther? And what made him think he knew what was best for him? So she retaliated with some high profile dating, and got her self seen in places where his friends, or even Gunther himself, might spy her. She hit the jackpot three weeks after he had given her the heave. She was courtside at a Knicks game, in the company of a retired tennis pro, when she saw him in his own courtside seat, studying her. She ignored his tentative wave, crossed her legs slowly, and turned to laugh at something her companion said. Gunther called her the next day and proposed within a week.
The Times announced the wedding of Jeanne Catherine Marche of Sheboygan, Wisconsin and Jurgen Gunther of Dusseldorf, Germany at the Immanuel Lutheran Church – a concession to her parents that he felt comfortable with. Her friends and family outnumbered his at both the service and the party at his place in Bridgehampton, though Bart took ill at the last minute and had to miss both.
They spent a week in Paris, which his friends assured her was like a month for anyone else, and soon they were back in New York where she began to acclimate herself to life with Gunther. He let her buy art for the house and they were soon sleeping under a photo of a frightened looking Cindy Sherman.
It took her a while to get used to Gunther’s moods. When he got tired – which he would suddenly over dinner sometimes – or even slightly annoyed, his normally good English faltered and he started to sound like one of the extras in Casablanca. And when he got really angry he would break into obstreperous German, which was like listening to glass going down a garbage disposal.
In the early months of their marriage she tried to arrange dinners that blended her friends and his, but the mix wasn’t always palatable. Besides, with Gunther’s schedule, even weekend events weren’t guaranteed. He left as guests were arriving once, telling them all he needed to look at some buildings in Buenos Aires immediately. He was sure they would understand, and his friends did while hers for the most part didn’t care, as long as he was buying dinner. They would carry on until late in the evening, going out and coming back, and several times Gunther came into the living room, dressed to go the office, to find Jeanne and a handful of her friends still up and talking.
“You could get a job, you know,” he told her one morning as he drank an espresso she had made him after she shooed her company off. Bart had been the last to leave, blowing her a kiss as he drained a drop of ouzo from his glass. The morning sun was turning up the color on the world outside.
“I thought you didn’t want me to work.”
“I don’t want you to work in that tatty gallery.”
There was nothing tatty about the gallery where she had worked but Gunther had always likened her job there to that of a hatcheck girl, something she found deeply insulting until the day she quit, flashing a four-carat diamond engagement ring from Harry Winston by way of explanation.
“I don’t really know about anything else.”
“Please.” Gunther held up his hand in a familiar gesture that made her want to say, Heil Hitler. “Always with your friends you are talking about theater and architecture and history.”
“But I learned that all from books.”
“So you work for a book publisher. I know a person you can call.”
Later that morning she did and by the next day she had an appointment with someone rather important at a publishing house. She was regally received, which had more to do with her husband’s name than what she was wearing, but the executive – an older man with a gray goatee and red glasses who seemed to enjoy studying her immensely — ended the interview by offering her a job.
“It’s in marketing,” she told Gunther that night as they celebrated with champagne, “when what I really wanted was a job as an editor. But he said I would need to have had some editing experience, if you can imagine, and the marketing people had more fun, anyway.”
This was in the days when publishers still threw parties and arranged events, and Jeanne took to the social aspect of the job. She met lots of authors and agents, but best of all were the free books. By then they had remade a guest room into her own office, which she filled with the books she was bringing home. Some of it was rubbish, of course, but a lot of the books were from other publishers – art books, photography, literary fiction – and beautiful. The job kept her on some kind of schedule, which meant Gunther no longer awoke to find her friends still crowing at dawn.
It was during this period that Bart began to fade from her life. Friends told her he wasn’t doing well; he seemed to be drinking more and sleeping less and they worried about his health. There had been no other woman in his life since her, something she found increasingly odd, and now she couldn’t even see him. She tried inviting him to events and readings she’d had a hand in but he always had some excuse. “The company’s involved in this class action suit and I’m just working all the time,” he told her over the phone. “They’ve even got me wearing a tie, if you can imagine.”
“But surely you can do lunch?” she said. “How about the weekend? It will be my treat.”
“Let me see if my schedule opens up.”
“Please,” she implored. “You have to come see all these books I’m getting!” There was a pause and she imagined him wrestling with temptation. “I really miss you, Bart.”
“I’ve got to go,” he said by way of goodbye.
That evening, as she opened up the boxes of new books she brought home and sorted the cardboard for the maid to deal with, she found an unnamed anger. Why wouldn’t he come? Her husband was gone almost all the time; surely he realized that. She imagined him coming into her office and literally laying her down upon a blanket of books, the two of them slipping on the jackets and padding.
“What a stupid fantasy,” she said aloud. She removed a sheet of bubble wrap from a Rizzoli’s box and began to pop the bubbles with her lacquered thumbnail. It was the most satisfying thing she had done all day.
The next day she felt depressed. What was wrong with her? Her husband had done nothing to her and there was absolutely nothing wrong with Gunther as a lover. Yes, sometimes he was rough and indifferent but she had ways of slowing him down and making him attend to her more closely. The fault had to be with her.
She finally met Bart for lunch at Michael’s, which seemed like a perfect compromise: There was modern art on the walls, even if she hated some of it, but publishing types came there as well. Also it was not outrageously priced, so she wouldn’t feel bad if he insisted on paying.
He looked much healthier than advertised, even though she found him a bit distant. When she kissed him on the mouth he seemed surprised and hugged her in return. He was interested in her new job and the privileges of her new life – he couldn’t believe they flew to Bayreuth for the Ring Cycle over the weekend and she was back to work on Monday – but deflected most questions about himself. Strangest of all he wasn’t drinking.
“Not even a glass of wine?” she asked, holding the big menu out to him.
“It just wasn’t making me happy,” he said.
She couldn’t convince him to come back to her place to look at her books but somehow persuaded him to take her back to his apartment. She’d had a few glasses of wine alone and was not to be dissuaded. On the cab ride she had her hand on his leg and within minutes of being in the door they were back in his bed.
Afterwards they lay together, listening to a car alarm outside. “You must think I’m a terrible person,” she said.
“Those weren’t actually the words I had in mind.”
She sighed and rolled over to look at the Franck Muller watch Gunther had given her. She lay back down and Bart ran his hand through her hair.
“Sometimes I think I just made a big mistake,” she said quietly.
Bart said nothing.
“I mean I haven’t even been married two years. This shouldn’t happen so soon.”
“Well, remember I always had Most Favored Nation status.”
“That was before I was married.” She looked into his eyes and saw no judgment there. “No, I meant the disillusionment.”
He smiled. “So which was the illusion?”
She kissed him and looked at her watch again. “I can’t answer that now, grasshopper.” She began to pick her clothes up from the floor and glanced about the room. “Is it my imagination or are there fewer books in here now?”
Bart got up and pulled his jeans on. “No, I’ve actually been getting rid of some.”
She didn’t bother to shower before she left; she had taken the afternoon off and Gunther wouldn’t be home for hours. She would have time to shower and change and probably even sneak in a workout before he returned. She kissed Bart one last time on the lips and made him promise to call her.
And then he disappeared.
It took a while for her to realize he was gone. She left him a few messages and sent him an email or two, but she was used to being ignored. Still, it made her sore and as the fall season moved into gear, and she found herself at more book parties, and attending theater openings and operas with Gunther slipping into sleep in the seat beside her, she thought of Bart with annoyance.
It wasn’t until she called and got a recording saying that his phone had been disconnected that she began to worry. She called a few friends who said they had not heard from him a while either and a call to the temp agency confirmed his suspicion: He had given notice rather abruptly in October, she was told.
“Let me know if you talk to him,” the woman she spoke to said. “They’re asking for him all the time. He could be making a lot of money.”
She visited his apartment building and found someone else’s name next to his bell. When she rang the super he told her over the intercom that Bart had moved out suddenly and left no forwarding address.
“I’m still getting mail for him,” the super said. She stared at the speaker box as it whined. “What am I supposed to so with all this crap?”
After a week of fruitless phone calls (she even called the bookstore on 10th Avenue where they had met for their first date) and conversations with friends who were equally concerned and clueless, she mentioned his disappearance to Gunther. He was enjoying a cigar on the balcony, looking at the Christmas lights in the park.
“Maybe he owed someone money,” Gunther said, blowing smoke into the night air.
“Nonsense,” said Jeanne. “Did you see how he lived?”
“The only time I saw him was when he was here,” said Gunther. She thought she detected a hint of bitterness in his words; he had never particularly liked Bart or any of her old friends, which was why she saw so little of them now. She had never told her husband that they had once been lovers.
“Trust me,” she said, “Bart isn’t the kind of person who owes people.”
“Everybody owes somebody some sink,” he said, and stuck the cigar back in his mouth.
It was later, after Gunther had fallen asleep, that Jeanne’s imagination began to run wild. She was lying beside him in bed, wearing an Oscar de la Renta nightgown and trying to concentrate on a novel called The Inheritance of Loss, when she became suddenly frightened. What if Gunther knew about her and Bart? She recalled how, early in their marriage, he suddenly pulled out of a business venture and terminated all relations with an important partner of his.
“He was talking with other investors, behind my back,” he explained to Jeanne. “After we half signed a deal.”
“But how do you know he was talking to someone else?” she had asked and he had smiled a strange smile.
“I half spies everywhere,” he had said. And she didn’t think he was kidding.
Now, in the dead of night, she replayed her lunch at Michael’s in her mind. The restaurant had been crowded and she had been indiscreet, even unbuttoning her blouse a bit when she went to the ladies room. She had practically climbed on top of Bart as they got into the cab together, right across the street from Carnegie Hall. How could she have been so foolish?
When her husband awoke at five a.m., Jeanne was awake in the bed beside him. He blinked at her in surprise as the clock radio played business news.
“Tell me,” she said wildly, “if you know what’s happened to Bart.”
“Are you crazy?” he said, staring at her. “How would I know what happened to Bart?”
“Did you do something to him? Did you pay him to go away?”
He stared at her in silence for a moment, his mouth open. “And vie?” he said finally. When she began to cry he swore in German, kicking an Ottoman as he stalked out of the room.
“I don’t half time for this!” he shouted as she threw herself on the pillows.
Gunther left without saying goodbye and Jeanne immediately began to regret her behavior. Even if he had done something to convince Bart to go, what would that say about Bart and his feelings for her? And how stupid to let him know what he might not have suspected in the first place! She placed a call to her lawyer, who’d handled the prenuptial agreement she signed, but was told he was out of the country.
By the time Gunther came home that night she had composed herself. She wanted to apologize without saying any more about her dark fantasies. But she also did not want to downplay Bart’s importance to her. “After all, if it hadn’t been for him I never would have met you,” she practiced saying to her reflection in the mirror.
But Gunther was not angry. Nor was he apologetic, though it was nearly ten when he walked in the door – late even for him. He wore that strange smile again, and seemed very pleased with himself as he poured a scotch and added a spritz of soda.
“So I asked some people to look for your friend this morning,” he said, after he had taken a sip. “And I am happy to say they half found him alive and well.”
He took another drink and seemed to delight in dragging out the moment.
“Well?” Jeanne finally said. “Where is he?”
Gunther smiled and leaned toward her. “He is living in an Osh-Rom!”
At first she didn’t believe her husband as he told her that Bart was ensconced in a religious retreat in India: Bart had never seemed the least bit religious and had never, within her hearing, expressed much interest in India, either. But Gunther insisted that his sources were unimpeachable and that Bart now knew she was looking for him. Gunther pulled a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket; on it was written a long string of numbers.
“You can call him at this number,” he said, “if you don’t believe me. He is expecting your call.”
Jeanne stared at the piece of paper. “What time is it there?”
Gunther frowned. “Morning, evening, who cares? If they are meditating they won’t answer the phone.”
She waited until he left the room before she dialed the number. It rang in short, double tweets, like some faraway bird, and rang for many times before someone finally answered. She couldn’t understand what the person said but she said Bart’s name loudly and then the voice said, “One moment, please.“
The moment was more like ten and then Bart answered. She began to cry when she heard his voice but composed herself to talk. The connection was bad and she had to speak loudly to be heard.
“No one knew where you were!” she shouted. His voice in return was very small and she imagined him being so tiny she could put him in her pocket.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was trying to find myself and your husband got there first.” She laughed and he followed up. “I’ve been working on that line all day.”
He told her he was studying something called Vipassana Meditation and the ashram was three hours from a place called Maharashtra. “I came here once before,” he said, “for a ten day retreat but I liked it so much I decided to come back for longer.”
“When did you go before?” Jeanne asked. “I don’t remember that.”
“I think you might have been in Europe or something.”
“So you just sit around and meditate all day?” She was trying to imagine Bart sitting cross-legged with a bunch of hippies and Indians and couldn’t picture it.
“We do a lot of sitting,” he said with a laugh. “But we do Dharma work too.” His voice was drifting away.
“But what started all this, Bart?” she shouted. “I don’t get it.”
“You know how it is when you really want something you can’t have?” he said and then he said something she could not make out.
“When are you coming back?” she yelled and then the line went dead.
By the time she got to bed Gunther was asleep. He had a sleep mask over his eyes that made him look like the Lone Ranger. She turned out the light and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
She apologized to her husband the next day for whatever suspicions she had harbored and tried to explain them away as a product of hysteria.
“I had no idea that this man was so important to you,” he said rather stiffly as he ate his morning muesli.
“He’s not,” she said. “I mean, he is. But not in that way. We’re just very close.”
“If you are so close how come you did not know he was going to an Osh-Rom?”
She tried calling the number again after Gunther left and again several times for the next few days, but to no avail. Either it rang and rang or a recording told her that all circuits were busy and to please try again later. After a while she began to doubt that she had actually spoken to him and thought maybe the number was like one of those worm-holes in time that you read about in science fiction and that this one had closed.
Then she got an email from him. She did not recognize the address; he was writing to her from an Internet café in another part of the country called Tripura. His retreat was over and was traveling before he came back to the states. He was going to stop and see his brother in London and then would be in New York and was hoping he could see her.
Who knew that Bart had a brother – or that he lived in London? She could not write him back at the café but after reading her message she involuntarily put her hand on the screen as if she could touch him. She realized then that she loved him. She had never tried to find herself and yet he somehow had stumbled upon her, and tried more than anyone since childhood to help her get what she wanted. Or what she thought she wanted. She was afraid she did not love Gunther, and maybe never had. She closed her computer and wished she knew how to meditate.
Two weeks later she got another email from another strange address. The author identified himself as Simon, Bart’s brother in London. He was the bearer of terrible news: Bart had contracted meningitis while traveling and was quite ill when he arrived. After a few days of high fever and a stiff neck they had taken him to the hospital where he died rather suddenly.
“I know how important you were to him,” Simon wrote. “He spoke of you often and made me promise that I would write you and tell you he was okay. Sadly, I cannot keep that promise.”
Bart was cremated in London and Jeanne helped organize a service of sorts for him in New York. They settled on a wake at her house where people stayed and drank and talked until dawn, just like the old days. Gunther actually joined them at one point, even bringing them fresh bottles and glasses as the occasion called for it. He seemed to be mourning someone he did not know.
Their marriage did not last though. He never seemed to forgive her for thinking he could have had something to do with Bart’s disappearance and hoped she would not contest the divorce.
Jeanne was able to find an apartment in her old building on the Upper West Side and was even called the same moving company with the shamrock trucks that had brought her there. She scarcely recognized the owner though; gone were his belly and his back brace but he told her he’d had worse problems since then. Cataracts, he said, and he needed a new hip. “I shouldn’t be working at my age but what can I do?”
“You were right,” Jeanne said to him as a different set of movers of varied race hustled her boxes out of the co-op. “Remember how you told me that people always move back across the park with their books?”
He said he remembered but she wasn’t convinced that he did. One thing that was different was how much more expensive the move was – twice the price and it had only been three years! Inflation, rental costs, he explained as he fixed her with one occluded eye: The cost of everything.