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March 1999

The Lady With Borzoi’s

I met her in a bar in San Francisco.

I was in the bar with Peter. Peter is an old friend of mine and one of my clients, a banker in a three piece suit. His bank had purchased a lot of my companies software. I was out in San Francisco doing what is euphemistically known as hand holding. Hand holding is corporate America’s way of telling its customers, “Yes, we love and appreciate you, and will you please buy some more of our crap.” Peter was gay and had delicately let me know that he would be delighted if the hand holding were physical rather than metaphorical. I had informed him with equal delicacy that metaphors were as far as I went. The customer may always be right but being right doesn’t include having a passport into my pants.

We were sitting in a booth, sipping drinks and discussing the next phase of the bank’s software acquisition plan when a female voice broke into our conversation.

“Joe Williams! Is that you, Joe Williams?”

I looked up and took in a tall, lean, tanned, blonde Californian woman about my age. She looked familiar, somehow, but I couldn’t place her.

“I’m very sorry,” I said, “You obviously know me and you look familiar, but …” I spread my hands helplessly.

She laughed. “Joe, you liar, you said you would always love me.”

When she laughed I knew her.

“My God, Janice Wilkerson!”

We burbled at each, making the “I haven’t seen you in a million years, and this is crazy, and how are you doing” noises that people make when they meet someone they haven’t seen since long ago. I became aware of Peter sitting there with a smile on his face, enjoying the scene, and obviously vastly amused.

“I’m sorry,” I said to him, “we’ve been chattering away. Peter, may I introduce Janice Wilkerson, an old friend of mine from college. Janice, this is Peter Blume, one of my customers.”

Peter smiled urbanely. “I can see that you two are old friends. Pray, madam, join us and renew your old friendship. Do not regard me. These moments happen too seldom and must not be wasted.”

Janice said that she couldn’t, that she was sitting with friends and had to get back to them.

Peter continued, “But then you two must make arrangements to meet. Dinner tonight, perhaps?”

Janice said that she couldn’t. She had to get home to take care of her Borzoi’s.

Peter quite ruthlessly arranged things for us. He insisted that we exchange numbers, that Janice and I should meet for lunch the next day, and that we should have dinner in the evening. He deftly extracted the information that Janice was not currently married and that she now went by the name Janice Marotsky. He also adroitly informed her that I was divorced and that I was currently available.

Janice returned to a table where two other women sat. I could see that they were chattering excitedly and were glancing over this way. I turned to Peter and remonstrated with him, “Peter, that was atrocious. They will think that you are my social secretary and that I am utterly incapable of making a date on my own.”

Peter laughed, “But mon ami, you are a child in these matters. You have no grace, no flair, no panache. Always you fail to seize the moment and it flies away from you, leaving you empty handed. Now tell me about your Janice.”

I told him about Janice. She and I had been college students together. In those days she had been a slim brunette, very serious about her studies, with a fey sense of humor. In my senior year we started going out together. It had been serious on my part and I had thought it had been serious on her’s. Not long before I graduated I asked her to marry me. She turned me down for reasons she never explained. We broke up shortly afterwards; I never saw her again.

“And your Janice, was she a good lover? Was she good in bed?”

I informed him that we had never slept together, that I had been idealistic in those days and had been waiting for marriage.

“Ah, that was the difficulty. You shall see that that was the difficulty.”

Janice and I met for lunch the next day. Peter had tactfully postponed my presentation from one o’clock to 2:30 so that we might, as he pointedly said, have time to get reacquainted and to have a proper lunch. Janice and I spent lunch filling each other in on what had happened to each of us during the past thirty years.

I had gone East; she had gone West. I had become a sales engineer for a computer software company that sold software to banks and other financial institutions. She had done a variety of things, everything from being the secretary to a veterinary to managing a bistro.

Each of us had been married; we each had children. Hers were fledglings just out on their own in the world. Mine were in college. We compared our children and their prospects, examined photographs, and discussed our mutual prospects of becoming grandparents.

I had been married once. Lois had been a secretary at my company. We’d been married for 19 years when she divorced me on the grounds that she needed to find herself. She kept the children; a good chunk of my pay disappears into child support. It had been hard at first until I realized that for a dozen years we had been strangers who had shared the same bed. I keep on good terms with her for the sake of the children but we’re not close. I suppose she must have found herself by now; I suspect that she doesn’t like what she found. There are some things it is better not to know.

Janice had been married three times. Both of her children were by her first husband. She didn’t know where he was or what he was doing. Her second marriage, she said, had been short and was a mistake. It was clear that was all she meant to say about it. She said that she had felt badly about divorcing her last husband, Walter Marotsky, but that she had felt that she had to when she discovered that he was bisexual. She didn’t mind that he was cheating on her, she said, but she was damned if she was going to take the chance of acquiring some fatal disease from him. Their parting was amicable; she kept the place in Napa valley and the Borzoi’s that they had raised. They still saw each other but not for sex, not even for safe sex.

We didn’t talk about our college years or about the relationship that had failed. We tacitly agreed to save that for dinner. Lunch was weird because each of was comparing the stranger across the table with intense memories gilded over with nostalgia. Neither of us was decrepit but we were both a little shopworn. Janice yesterday had been a slim brunette with baby smooth skin and a firm figure; Janice today had some wrinkles, she was wiry, and her figure had surrendered to gravity. I’m not fat but I’ve put on weight. My hairline has receded and the brown in my hair comes from a bottle. If we were going to mine our mutual past it were better if were done under dim lights.

It wasn’t just the physical changes. Today we were adults who had lived full lives; we had strived and been beaten and battered a bit. Joe and Janice Yesteryear had been innocents, not yet full adults. The important events in their lives had been their childhood and their experiences in school as adults in training.

After lunch I did my presentation at Peter’s bank. I got through it somehow. Peter reassured me afterwards that I had done quite well but that I had seemed a bit distracted. Peter is always polite.

We met that evening at one of those fine restaurants that specialize in providing gourmet food and a romantic ambience. Joe and Janice Yesterday were going to have their chance.

We spent the dinner courses mining nostalgia, dredging up this person and that professor, reconstructing little events that had seemed so utterly important at the time. Faded memories glittered and glowed as they were polished. When dessert arrived and we were inhaling calories I asked the question, the one that we both knew I was going to ask:


Janice didn’t pretend that she didn’t know what I was talking about. She sat there, stirring her coffee with her spoon, eyes lowered, speaking in low tones to her coffee cup.

“I guess you have a right to know. I couldn’t tell you then and it seems so utterly silly now.” She lifted her face and looked me in the eye:

“I wanted you to make love to me. I wanted you to want me so badly that you wouldn’t take no for an answer. I didn’t want to be raped or anything like that but I wanted you to be so passionate that your passion swept both of us off our feet. I wanted that from you; I needed it from you. I couldn’t ask you for it; you had to do it on your own. And you never did; you never let go; you were always too proper, too restrained.”

She looked back into the depths of her coffee cup. “I think I made a bad mistake.”

We went back to my hotel room. When we undressed we saw each other as we really are; we saw what time had done to each of us. But when we were in bed and the lights were out, Joe and Janice Yesterday made love.

Sometimes, not often, but sometimes life offers you a second chance. I had lost Janice once; I wasn’t going to lose her again. When I got back to Morristown I sat down with my boss. I argued strenuously that we needed a sales office in San Francisco and that I just the man to head it up. He was skeptical but he agreed to let me try.

Two weeks later I was back in San Francisco, this time for good. I set up an office in a local office park. It wasn’t much but it was a start. I was determined to make good here; I wasn’t going back to Morristown, not while Janice was in San Francisco.

There wasn’t any question about my getting an apartment. I moved in with Janice and her borzoi’s. During the day I made the rounds in San Francisco, selling software. God, how I sold software. At night we would play at domesticity and make passionate love, recapturing our youth in desperate moments of flesh.

After two months she called it quits. “Joe,” she said, “This just isn’t working. We’re like two vampires sucking the life out of each other, living off of each other’s youth. I like you and I think you like me but we just aren’t being us. We’re too hung up on who we used to be and what we used to be to each other. We’re stuck in the past and I don’t think we can go on from there.”

I didn’t argue with her; I knew she was right. She went on, “I’m glad we tried, though. We had to try. We would have regretted it for the rest of our lives if we hadn’t tried.”

I didn’t move out right away. It took a week or so to locate an apartment and to get moved into it. We weren’t angry with each other. We just knew that living together was a mistake. We parted on good terms; Janice gave me a borzoi puppy as a going away present.

Life goes on.

We keep in touch. Sometimes I wish we could get together again, that Joe and Janice of today could make a go of it. I like Janice. But we can’t; Joe and Janice Yesterday won’t let us.

Janice has been dating an engineer. I think she will marry him. Peter has been procuring for me, introducing me to women who are lonely for male companionship. He tells me that he would rather sleep with me by proxy than in the flesh. “Your Janice,” he tells me, “is a wise woman.”

Sometimes I feel that I’ve done something wrong, that I’ve made some fundamental, incomprehensible mistake somewhere. I don’t know; maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. Maybe my subconscious is wiser than I am. I do know this:

I named the puppy Janice.

This page was last updated March 2, 1999.
Copyright &copy 1999 by Richard Harter

table of contents
March 1999