I hoped La Tour would impress. We left the restaurant and walked among a jostling, stone-faced crowd toward my Park Avenue Townhouse. The smell of twisted pretzel braziers mixed with the fumes of taxis that honked and swarmed past us like yellow jacket wasps. I hadn't seen Hal and Daniella since Cornell. After graduation, they settled in North Creek, the sleepy hamlet deep in the Adirondacks where Hal grew up. When Hal called to say they were coming to Manhattan, I found myself humming at the office. I met them at the airport in a hired limo, and Daniella greeted me with a kiss on each cheek. There was a trace of verbena, and I was twenty-three again. Hal had been a bit of a jock, and when they got off the plane at La Guardia, I was shocked to see how far he'd let himself go. A quivering gut that hung over his belt plus the mere wisp of scruffy, brown hair combed over a bald patch added years. Daniella Dickerson, nee Silva, was Brazilian, and she still had the grace and figure of a dancer. Her green eyes had retained their intensity. She had gray streaks in her long black hair, and used no make up.
Daniella was an Art History major, and she insisted we drive to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise panels on loan from the Baptistery in Florence. While Daniella told us about the gilded, schiacciato-relief panels, the lines around her full lips softened. I looked at her and thought, "Paradise Lost." Hal beat me out for Daniella's affections at Cornell. Afterwards we went into the Classics Wing to look at the Sleeping Eros bronze, a chubby brat whose misdirected arrows had skewered my happiness. Hal was first out the door of the museum. Daniella looked forlorn, as she trudged down the granite steps.
We decided to walk down Madison Avenue; Daniella wanted to look at the designer boutiques. Along the way, we caught up. I'd joined a Fifth Avenue law firm after school. The law was my only faithful mistress, and I was one of the youngest partners ever in my firm. Hal practiced in North Creek. His cases ranged from vandalism defense to divorce, and once in a while he landed a client from Lake George. He talked about the law in monotone, but Hal brightened when the topic turned to hunting and fishing. I'd wondered how a Rio cariocan like Daniella could survive in Podunk, USA, but Hal boasted that she'd become an avid outdoorswoman and an excellent shot. They had no kids. When I asked Daniella what kept her busy, her eyes went down, and she changed the subject to how much she'd looked forward to the trip.
We stopped in Max Mara. Hal and I took chairs, but I kept an eye on Daniella as she perused the racks. She emerged from the changing room in bare feet and walked up to us with the lithe sway of a midway model wearing a thigh length, sleeveless blue dress that clung to her body. I stopped hearing Hal as she approached. She asked Hal how she looked. He barely interrupted his story about a duck hunt and questioned where she'd wear such a thing. I hoped she'd ask for my opinion, but she didn't. I would've offered to buy the entire goddamn store for her. We left the shop without the dress and resumed our walk on Madison.
The heat got to Hal, so I had the limo pick us up and take us to Broadway. I'd purchased scalped matinee orchestra tickets to Once, a musical about a woman who rekindles a passion for music and song in a despondent young man. Daniella sat between us. When the lights darkened, our arms touched, and she didn't withdraw. Her shoulder was close to mine, and I breathed in her silhouette. At intermission, Daniella and Hal went to the rest room, and I reflected on my life. When Daniella chose Hal, I skipped classes for a week. I contemplated killing Hal, her, or myself but instead attended their Ithaca wedding. I never married. Manhattan was a target rich environment, and I sampled the Facebook generation of women who'd broadcast live to their friends where we dined and posted a tag of me like a trophy. I often felt evaluated and ranked for some soon to be released personal exposé blog.
After the show, we sat in La Tour's bar until they opened for dinner. I stole glances at Daniella, and wallowed in the lilt of her accent. My contrast with Hal was stark. I was successful, sophisticated and vain. My life was bright red, Hal's drab gray. I wanted Daniella to see what she missed, and what was still possible. At dinner, I told Hal the story about the time Daniella and I walked into the Phi Sig Frat House and almost tripped over a naked couple in the hall. I didn't say that Daniella and I made love later that evening in her dorm, her body aglow in the light of a mango-scented candle and with Cássia Eller singing, Palavras ao Vento – words in the wind, in the background. I wanted the reminiscence to coax a smile from Daniella, but her face darkened. As the evening progressed, her eyes wouldn't meet mine, and her brow furrowed when she looked into the distance. I imagined that the visit to New York was a reminder of a more active, vivacious life that she knew in Rio and could have in Manhattan. Perhaps she pined for it? Maybe she harbored second thoughts on her choice of Hal?
It was a short walk to my place across from Central Park. I'd ordered the limo to deliver their luggage and arranged for the doorman to put everything in the condo while we had dinner. I gave them my room with the king bed, and I took the single bedroom next to the kitchen. I served them cognac in my cream colored living room with travertine floor, and they sat on a chestnut, leather sofa. I took the Eames Lounge Chair. Daniella remained quiet. While Hal and I talked outdoor stuff, Daniella went into the kitchen, fiddled around with the stove, and asked about the espresso machine. We all had decafs. She drank hers looking out the window. Hal talked about the time he landed a muskie and then caught a yawn with his wrist. He said he'd retire. I agreed and thought Daniella would go with her husband, but she said she'd finish her coffee, and we left her alone.
Daniella didn't remain in the living room. She came to the kitchen, and her shadow blocked the light visible from under my door. I willed her to come to me. I'd warm her exquisite body and make up for twenty years in one night. But her shadow dangled at my threshold and disappeared. I almost went to her; Hal wouldn't hear us. But I worried that I'd misread the situation, and I preferred my fantasy to the risk of another rejection. Eventually booze took over, and I dropped off to sleep.
I awoke with a start to complete blackness. My mind said something was amiss. A dream lingered that I was in a dark pool of water, nearly drowned. I smelled rotten eggs. I threw off my covers and ran to the kitchen. One of the jets on the stove was turned on "high," but there was no flame. I coughed in a cloud of methane, shut the gas and maxed out the exhaust fan until the odor dissipated. I collapsed onto the sofa. How could the burner be turned on? My room was close enough to the kitchen that I would've been asphyxiated before dawn. I shook my head. Once the odor was gone, I returned to bed.
The next morning over coffee, I mentioned to Hal and Daniella that I found one of the stove jets open. Daniella held her coffee with both hands. Her eyebrows rose over the mug, but she said nothing.
Hal said, "Shit, good thing you woke up."
He said that they had to get back to North Creek. An important client was in some sort of trouble. They'd booked a noon flight.
We all shook hands just before security at La Guardia. I watched Daniella's back as they walked toward their gate and thought, she wouldn't have turned on the burner intentionally. We had a great day together. It was something else. Daniella played with the dials to see how everything worked. It was just a careless mistake. By the time I was back in the limo, I almost had myself convinced.
BIO: Joseph Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their little Shih Tzu, Sophia. His stories have appeared in Black Heart Magazine, Crack the Spine, The Summerset Review, Forge, River Poets Journal, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, Writers Abroad, Bong is Bard, The Stone Hobo, Johnny America, and Orion Headless.