Of those, Maggie had heard only of the sonnet form, but she'd had just enough to drink to shore herself up and ask, "What's a villanelle?"
"Uh, it's a form that incorporates…" he started to respond, then broke off knowing that often when he was drunk, academia would creep in and he'd sound pompous. "You know the poem, 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night'?"
"Oh yes, it's beautiful, but so sad."
"That's a villanelle. A sestina's just a complicated rhyme form that has six stanzas, each using the same end word and a three line refrain using all the end words. It's really not so hard…oh, this is really silly, we're like a couple of college kids trying to find our way, eh?"
"No, it's not silly, it's fun…"
"I used to be pretty good at having fun also."
He was drunk and nervous now, as was she. "Will you put on some music," Ben asked, "something quiet."
Maggie rose and walked to her stereo. She switched on the tuner and the room was filled with some rhythm and blues you might hear at closing time at some bar up in Harlem. The end of the evening, with everyone filled with pigs feet, rye and beer, dancing that slow, grinding dance that leads you home.
"Is this alright?" she asked.
"Perfect," he said, walking over to her and taking her hand. He was moving slowly now, filled with whiskey and wine. He tried to keep his eyes from blinking, as if to ensure himself that she was still there. His head rolled languidly now, from side to side, and up and down, taking in everything she was. Her eyes, her nose, her lips so slightly parted in a smile almost coy showing just a hint of her teeth. He could barely see her ears behind her delicate brown hair and moved his hand to her cheek to brush the locks away in order to learn it all. Then both hands rested on her shoulders, hers gently about his waist. They looked at one another so deliberately as if to know all that was possible of each other. His hands slid down her arms, then to her torso, her waist and hips, like a blind man finding sight in his touch.
They swayed with the music, but with no steps. He moved his hand below her chin and she moved toward him. It was not an explosive kiss. It was one of gentle passion at first, then long, deep and blooming to something neither had before experienced.
He was nervous and surprised himself when he pulled almost casually away and mumbled, "the Ovarian Trolley…"
Maggie's eyes rose to him and her smile broaden into a quiet laugh. "What?"
Henry Miller, "The Ovarian Trolley," from Tropic of Cancer. He said 'Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.' It just struck me. Figures, there goes the mood, eh?"
"No, Ben. The mood's here. Nothing's changed. It is funny. I am confused too. I've never met anyone like you," she said, laughing and pulling him back in tow.
"Nor I you," he said as he kissed her again.
There was no hesitancy as they padded toward her bedroom, though she seemed to lead him, they were together as they entered the room. She flicked the switch and a small reading lamp led the rest of the way. There were no questions anymore. None as they sat at the foot of the bed beginning those first taut moves that new lovers effect. There was no grace in them as they fumbled about one another, lips finding their marks as often as missing, hands navigating the uncharted small sea of two unfamiliar bodies, legs entwined first softly with questions, then with a growing understanding of all that was theirs and what would be. I lay on her small bed, looking up at the ceiling as if Maggie were somewhere else. I remember the strait I was in. Mostly I remember that anger, that resentment, that rejection of myself for not knowing her earlier.
Penelope came to mind for the first time in more than ten years and I tried to remember what it meant. The significance was there, but it was formless. I could barely remember who Penelope was. I knew there was moment to the thought. Maggie/Penelope/Maggie/Penelope…pentameter, hell, it was even iambic, Homeric. I hadn't written poetry in years, so what the hell was I thinking about meter, let alone academic meter. And the number 30 floated through me. What the hell was 30, save the end of a news story, a jim dash. I began to feel a passion for words I hadn't felt in years.
I lay there for a long time. As I did, I began to know what was coming and then I knew everything for the moment. For one single moment I knew that I hadn't fucked her. I'd fucked a lot of women, but I hadn't fucked her. I had made love to Maggie. I had never made love before, but I knew in that instant that was what I had done.
I was astonished at the revelation. I was scared. But I had made love. It made no sense to me at all, until a moment later when I turned my head to look at her. I looked at Maggie.
I didn't see her body, nor did I see her face. I saw Maggie. I saw every day of her 29 years. Hell, it seemed as if I saw every minute of those years. I knew then everything there was to know, everything I needed to know, everything I wanted to know.
I knew that she would become the measure of my life. But I also knew I would be bound in Penelope's web, that Sisyphus would be my alter ego for a while.
We held each other for that period after making love that seems interminable, feeling that residual pleasure from love that neither had before experienced. There was no acrobatics in their lovemaking, simply, if it can be simple, a passion that was overwhelming. "I'm not sure what to say first," he said quizzically.
"Me neither," she responded.
"Time is the least of my concerns now, I suppose," he said. "Then there's always, 'Well, it's late and I've got to go,' but I'm not about to unless you kick me out. I wouldn't mind Eggs Benedict right now, but the Brasserie is 3,000 miles away and I don't know what the hell is open in Los Angeles this time of morning; it is morning isn't it? Then there's the trite, 'Was it good for you?" but that would be perfectly awful. There's always 'Oops,' but that's comical."
Her eyes were narrowing now and her body tightening, just slightly. She was about to say something, but she couldn't get a word in, as he was speaking quickly now. Even if she slipped a word in, she wasn't at all sure of what it might be.
"Uh, I guess I'm, uh, a little nervous. Well, what, what I really want to say, Maggie, is that I love you."
"Please, I'm going to finish this," he said in a tender voice that was at the same time firm. "I love you. Let me tell you that I know that may sound foolish. Hell, I'm sure it isn't the first time you've hopped into bed with a guy for the first time and he's told you that. Shit, that didn't come out right, but you've got to hang on here. This really sounds fucked up. I'm not at all certain of where I'm going. I know a few things. I know Janet and I are history. I also know that's gonna be harder than I think because of the kids, friends and everything else that goes with a split. More importantly, I know right now, at this moment that wherever I'm going you're going with me. It may be easy, it may be hard, probably hard, but you'll be with me."
"I have heard it before, you know," she said. But she was almost certain that he meant it as he said he meant it. "And that didn't sound right either. But Ben, it is going to be hard. It's going to be hard everywhere we look, everywhere we go. I know that too. But I also know, well, I think anyway, that I love you too. And I know where we can get some eggs." She was smiling now. She felt it all and it was the first comfort she'd felt that she could remember.
She slipped into jeans and workshirt and he into his rumpled seersucker suit pants and dress shirt. She rolled her eyes at him and said "It's after 3. Any ideas what you're going to do about the office."
"Got an iron?"
Norm's Coffee Shop in Santa Monica was never empty. After 3 in the morning, Ben and Maggie had little company, as they ordered short stacks, bacon and coffee.
"I guess there's a lot to talk about, eh?" Ben said, with a smile that didn't hide the nervousness.
"Hey, there is, but maybe some logistics first," Maggie said. She was more composed than he, Ben thought and rather marveled at the poise, taking it not for experience, but a native equanimity that he'd grow to love over the years.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, there's my car over at the company, you need a shave and a fresh shirt, to say nothing of your suit which may be beyond any help…your wife," the latter mentioned in a far less lighthearted tone."
"Oh hell, we'll run over and pick up your car. The rest we can fix with your iron, maybe, and I'll pick up a fresh shirt at Bullock's later. No one'll notice. As for Janet, hell, I'll figure out something, we only communicate by rumor anyway."
Nothing was that simple she thought, stunned at what she believed to be borderline insanity on the outside and unmistakable almost childish fantasy at minimum. In a sense, it frightened her and it showed, as she was concerned at the frivolity of his response. Was what she had seen as depth earlier that evening nothing more but another glib man seducing her, one who appeared to fit so perfectly with her very being? Or was this just another facet, one cut deeply and without flaw, a kind of grit that was a charm?
"Easily said, eh?" she said with a shade of skepticism.
"Yeah, it is. What the hell can happen at the office? And Janet, well, it's hard to imagine her more pissed off than she is now."
"It just isn't that easy, I know it isn't. You said and it's true. I've seen this before."
Ben was feeling uncomfortable now.
The logistics were simple for him, as he drove over to Westwood with Maggie to pick up her car. All he needed was a clean change of clothes. The next time he'd have something to change into, he thought, as he knew there would be a next time. How do men handle these things, affairs, he wondered. Ben knew it wasn't an affair, not a tryst or an assignation. If he could hold her, he thought, until his separation was complete, it would work.
There was always the catalyst woman theory, the transition woman theory. It crossed his mind, as he was new to this sort of thing. But it couldn't be, he thought, believing he was different. As it turned out, he was. He was far too distinct for the good of either at that time. He was reckless, improvident but with a slight degree of caution, which amounted, as it turned out, to simply lying to his wife.
They slept for a couple of hours at Maggie's apartment. Ben woke and used the shower cutting himself appropriately with her razor, emerging from the bathroom appearing as if beset by facial stigmata, except that he had bits of toilet paper stuck to the wounds.
"What else will you need beside a tourniquet and an aspirin?" she asked with a smile.
"Three aspirin, a razor, toothbrush, clean shirt, new life. Oh, hell. I'm going in now. I'll see you there later, alright."
"Oh, if I didn't mention it, I love you," he said kissing her lightly on the lips.
"You did, but I really thought…"
"Yeah, you thought it was whiskey, uh, wine talk. Nope. I love you. And we should probably talk about this. We can either do it now, or I can go in and we can keep up appearances and do it later. Your call."
"Go in, believe me, you've got enough problems there now."
"Fuck 'em. Where's the nearest place to buy a shirt?"
"Go, we'll take care of it there."
Ben had underestimated his hangover until he started his car. The glasspack like sound of the Triumph's mufflers coupled with a blasting radio sent it home. Nausea, throbbing head, the shakes. He felt like he'd been on the road for 40 days covering a campaign. But things weren't moving as they did then, not by rote, not by a long shot.
He began to sweat as he wondered what the hell he was going to do in the office. More than that, he couldn't get Maggie off his mind, nor did he want to. Nothing was in place. He'd never been a planner, never thought of contingencies. Strategies for life were as alien to him as this new love he felt for Maggie.
He pulled into the garage and made his way to the office, barely acknowledging the blonde bitch of an office manager who greeted him. It was too early, he thought, wondering what the hell this woman was doing there at that time. Part of the cabal, he considered, barely able to hope he could hold the job for a few more months.
The phone was ringing when he entered his office. Not what he needed before 8 in the morning at all. Probably "the man," wanting something inane as always.
"Rogel," he tried to say firmly into the speaker, as he punched the button.
"This is Janet, where the hell have you been?"
"Spent the night here, gotta go. I'm busy."
"I called there at 1, and you weren't there."
"Fuck you. I didn't answer the phone," he yelled, hanging up the phone.
It was too much. Way too much now. He dialed his friend and lawyer in Washington, Bernard Martinwitz.
"Bernie, this is Stan. You got a lawyer out here. I want to get a divorce."
"Yeah, I know. We talked about it. But we haven't since. Why now? I mean this minute?"
"It's a short story, but it's not for this line, alright?"
"Yeah, call Melvin Abrams," Bernie said, rattling off a number in Beverly Hills.
"Will he give me a break on fees? It's not going to be easy."
"Just tell him I told you to call."
"Thanks, ace, I'll call you soon."
"Stay healthy, will you."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll try," Ben said, hanging up the phone.
He was into it now. He knew it and he knew he could only move forward. He dialed the number Bernie had given him.
"Melvin Abrams, please. This is Ben Rogel calling. Bernie Martinwitz suggested I call."
"Mr. Abrams is engaged," the prim voice of a gatekeeper replied.
"Get him unengaged. I want to talk with him now," the frustration of the hangover had taken over.
"I'm sorry, sir, I can't do that."
"Do it or I'll be in your office in ten minutes and I'll be fuckin' angry."
"I beg your pardon."
"Don't beg any pardon. Bernie told me to call. I'm fuckin' certifiable. Put him on the phone. Do it. Do it now."
"You've got to be the nut who lost his White House credentials for…" Melvin asked with a laugh.
"Yeah, that's me. Can you meet me for lunch today?"
"I can't today. I've got something…"
"Look, you're a friend of Bernie's, I'm a friend of his. I've got a hangover, I'm fucked up and I need to see you today."
"I'll clear it. Where?"
"Beverly Wilshire, noon."
"Thank you, Mel. I mean that."
"Try not to come to the office. I think my secretary's ready to kill."
"Sorry about that."
As he hung up the phone, Maggie walked into the office with a cup of coffee. He looked up, trying to smile, holding back the hangover's nausea.
"Morning. How you doing?" he mustered.
"I'm fine, coffee?"
"Actually, a coke would be better. Stomach's off."
"Okay, wait a minute," she said.
The intercom rang. Ben picked it up.
"It's your wife on one."
"Tell her I'm in a meeting. Ah, tell her it's off site and I'll be out most of the day. Thanks."