The wind is loud in the chestnut tree outside the window.
Disaster has not struck. The sidewalk is covered in leaves. They are wet, so they do not kick up so well when you walk through them, and many are still mostly green, because it was so rainy and windy last night, so they are not as blindingly gold as they often are, but they are still really super pretty, green with gold edges, and it is still nice to walk through them.
Rounding the bend in the freeway, a wall of low cloud rolls over Vienna like a white catastrophe, pushed by another wall of grey cloud shaped like a snowplow blade, or the walls of dirty snow beside the road at the end of winter in cold places.
Traffic is pretty light.
The kittens are cuddly, and the woman is in a good mood.
He doesn’t realize until he’s already feeding the cats that it’s only 4.30 in the morning. He thought it was later.
He’s pretty hungry when he gets home from the city. He eats and reads and talks and goes to bed.
The rain gradually stops.
He makes a little effort and shakes off the tunnel vision. No cars in front of him and none behind him. Things are mostly black, with a little brown, and the road is silver, slick with rain and stretches out in front of him until it disappears. He wonders how low the coefficient of friction is. Pretty low. No way could he stop quickly, at this speed. No choice but to keep going. He checks the rear-view mirror. Some cars way back there, headlights in the dark. He takes his foot off the gas and the car gradually slows. This would work, as a way to stop, taking his foot off the gas.
His daughter’s dorm is across the street from Vienna’s best single-malt shop! Why didn’t anyone tell him? And over there? she says, over there is another dorm where they have better parties. She gets out of the car and runs into her dorm. He lifts his hand to give a little wave but she doesn’t look back.
Driving in Vienna in the pouring rain at night is quite disorienting, but he pretends to know what he is doing and see where he is going, and nothing bad happens.
The rain is pouring down when they leave Starbucks, so they stand under an awning and finish their chai and share the sandwich. Despite the awning it rains into his shoes, the backs of his legs get wet somehow, it’s raining so hard. She talks to a friend on her phone, the same friend. The rain doesn’t slow down, so she packs his camera and he puts her new dress under his coat and they run for the parking garage. The parking ticket thing is soaking wet by the time they get to the machine, but it still works.
She decides to get the white dress with black dots. He pays for it and they leave the store. She says she’ll get him something at Starbucks. It’s starting to sprinkle.
She tries on several more dresses. At one point she starts talking, and he assumes she’s talking to him, and answers, but it turns out she’s talking to someone else on her phone, a friend she is meeting later. He’s glad she sees her friends, and makes new ones. Another guy waiting for another woman trying on dresses too gives him a funny look because he was talking to someone who was talking on a phone, not to him. He looks back at the guy like, did someone say they were interested in what you think?
She comes out of the dressing room and shows him the first dress she’d tried on, cocktail dress, white with black polka dots. She looks beautiful, and happy. She has a big grin and her pale skin and dark hair, all that, look beautiful. Young and happy. He’s glad they finally got to do this. She goes back into the dressing room to try on a few more dresses. He looks at himself in the giant mirror at the end of the corridor. He is a sad-looking cunt, he tells himself. Jesus. That hair. Suit’s okay, but work on the posture. Get some sleep. And some exercise. He hates surprising himself in mirrors like that.
After work, he drives to the parking garage by Schwedenplatz. It is drizzly so traffic is slower than usual and it takes him nearly half an hour to get there and he starts getting antsy and thinks, no wonder I’m always rushing my kids, I’ve done it to myself all my life. He resolves to stop. Walking to the store, he calls her and she is already trying stuff on, she says.
So when are we going to buy that dress, she says. And he says, after my next paycheck. Two weeks from now, how about that? He’s been waiting to do this forever. What evening is best for you? Email me, or I’ll call you.
There’s this hotel on the Ring in Vienna somewhere, paneled and stuff, not far with the opera, and this guy was in it, years ago, with some guy from work, at happy hour, for a drink and at the time he thought he’d like to take his kid there for a cocktail when she started going to college, and he could even get her a cocktail dress or something. She’d probably like that, he thinks.
One thing about wet leaves: they’re very, very slippery – one could easily wrench one’s back if one slipped and then lurched to catch one’s balance. I speak from experience.
As for cocktail dresses, I don’t think that I, nor any of my four sisters, nor my mother ever had one. Certainly we had, at anytime, at least one dress that could be worn to functions to which some women wore cocktail dresses; but a cocktail dress, per se, I don’t think so. Our dresses were more versatile. Seems we wanted them that way. Or as the women’s magazines say, wear a black suit to work, change the blouse for a lace camisole, put on fancier earrings and necklace, shoes with higher heels, and you’re all set for the after work party. But my daughters and nieces all seem to have cocktail type dresses, by which I mean black, bare shouldered things. They wear them to high school proms, college dances, and all types of weddings. In fact, at the last few weddings I attended, black cocktail type dresses seemed to be de rigueur for the bridesmaids.
I just got off the phone with my sister, mother of two, grandmother of one, who had a long career as social worker for the state of Michigan. “Cocktail dress,” she said, “Now why would I have wanted one of those?” But her daughter has at least one.
If you think that seeing your daughter in a sophisticated cocktail dress is unnerving, wait till you see her in full bloom in maternity clothes!
Is that ever a reminder that you are advancing in age also.
jann: thanks to slippery leaves, i know that i can do the splits, if i have to.
sue: no doubt.