Picking Up Chicks
By Candace Lyons
Published in ART TIMES December 2015
I've just fallen in love for the very first time which is not going to come as good news to my wife. She knows I don't believe in love, the romantic kind anyway. I mean, I love her, I love my kids yet it's fierce affection rather than Eros inspired love because, up until now, my theory has always been that such a thing didn't actually exist. What existed was a basic human need for companionship which I've got, being basically human. I'd never understood all that heart-beating-faster nonsense and Marybeth is aware of this – though I suspect she's convinced it doesn't apply to her.
I'll never know whether my sentiments would have changed if she'd been able to meet me for lunch as we'd planned. But, at the last minute, she got a call from the school nurse informing her our son, John, was in the infirmary, sick as a dog and projectile vomiting, something the nurse preferred he do at home -- ours not hers. Therefore, I came to the restaurant alone since I'd reserved a table and it was too late to cancel.
Had Marybeth joined me, we probably would have been talking and I'd never have heard the husky voice that should have asked, «You do know how to whistle, don't you?" instead of, "Is the crab fresh or canned?" I wouldn't have looked up wondering what Lauren Bacall was doing here and might never have discovered this woman at all. My heart wouldn't have betrayed me by beating faster. My palms wouldn't have started sweating. I would have been able to take a sip of water without putting the glass back down and breathing deeply to stop my sweaty hands from trembling. I would have been able to keep believing that love was a mere need for companionship and that Marybeth was my companion of choice. But, as I've said, I'll never know.
What I do know is that I've got to meet this woman. The question is how? Picking up chicks is something I haven't dealt with in twelve years. Even then, it was more a concept, a topic I'd listen to my buddies discuss, because I had one advantage. I am homely in that Abe Lincoln way which a lot of women actually find attractive -- or maybe just safe. At any rate, it's something they also used to find approachable and that's exactly what they did. When I went to parties, I'd sit off by myself until one of them came up to me and broke the ice with an innocuous remark. Since I liked the company of women, this suited me just fine because, if I liked a woman's company enough, I was free to take it from there.
Marybeth happened to be one of the ice-breakers. It was an encounter I wanted to pursue so I asked her out. We got along really well so I asked her to marry me. We've gotten along really well ever since. My life has rolled on serenely and I planned to maintain the status quo so the effect I had on women lost all importance. I have no idea whether my face still has the old appeal. But here I am and knowing whether I might appeal to this woman has just become important indeed. Except she's close enough to overhear, but too far to casually start a conversation with -- if I could think of something to say. At this point, she hasn't even noticed me. Maybe if I cough.
There, that got her attention, but I think I interrupted her train of thought. She looked at me as if I was a fork that had clattered to the floor. Eating utensils apparently leave her indifferent. She did smile a little when I shrugged and grinned to excuse my outburst, but I'm not sure what her smile meant; perhaps she was just being polite.
I'm supposed to be able to read expressions. It's part of my job. I'm a therapist. A psychologist, not a shrink, because it's the ordinary problems that interest me, the kind of problems that will often go away by themselves given time. In fact, I'd be out of business if my patients weren't impatient and using me as an objective, non-judgmental sounding board wasn't quicker -- I'm more an expedient than a cure.
My choice of a job is a carry-over from childhood. People come and tell me what's bothering them the way my mother told me bedtime stories when I was little. Mom was a modern day Scheherazade with a fantastic imagination. She regaled me with tales of adventure for well over one thousand and one nights; I was probably the only kid who never minded going to bed. My patients' lives are generally a lot duller, but the principle is the same. I sit and listen and ask leading questions the way I did then. If I don't like complications in my own life, the complications of other people's lives fascinate me.
Maybe I'm a case of arrested development. Maybe, here in this restaurant, I just grew up because, all of a sudden, I want to complicate my life big time. I am ready to lie and cheat and sneak around. Unless, of course, I just go over to this woman and hold out my hand. She takes it. We leave and get into a taxi. We go to the airport and buy two tickets for a metropolis so large it would be years before anyone found us even if our destination was known. We start life over again. At least I do because I am not the same man I was before I heard her voice.
If I were one of my patients, I'd say,
"Nice fantasy, but what are you really going to do?"
Possibly shoot myself. She's finished eating. No, wait. She just ordered coffee in tones richer and warmer than coffee itself and service is none too speedy here. I've got time.
Okay, what am I really going to do? It's highly unlikely she'll share my desire to start her life over, whatever that life may be which remains a total mystery. All I'm sure of is that we're about the same age, something I find extremely comforting. I hope Marybeth will too; at least she'll know that my leaving her was not simply a desire for younger blood. Otherwise, I haven't a clue as to what this woman has done, has become, during our shared span of years. She wears a ring but is it a traditional wedding ring? Am I contemplating breaking up two marriages or just one? She's here alone which means absolutely nothing. She's not in any particular hurry but perhaps she's self-employed or sightseeing or idly rich. As yet, her only reaction where I'm concerned has been to think of me as silverware.
She hasn't looked back, not even a glance. I know this because I haven't taken my eyes off her. But I've got to talk to her, to hear that voice say something to me and me alone, to have one chance to make her love me too.
Now she's finished, she's gathering her things. She's going to walk out of the restaurant and out of my life forever. I could follow her -- at least until she disappears behind some door where continuing to follow her becomes impossible. But it's a poor solution anyway since what I want to do is speak with her. I've got to synchronise our exits and make it seem like a coincidence which will be tricky enough. And then, what on earth am I going to say? If only I'd inherited my mother's imagination. Whenever her heroes got themselves into a hopeless predicament, something always came along to save them ... AHA! ... like Marybeth's glove that I found on the car seat this morning and stuck in my coat pocket. If I hurry, I can catch this woman at the door. If I ask her whether the glove is hers, she will have to reply. Hardly the stuff dreams of true love are made of but it's a start.
(Mary C. Lyons lives in Paris, France.)