In the fifteen months since he’d been back she had seen Mitchell four times: twice at Transco’s semi-annual sales meetings and twice on the street, where once she had turned away and the other had actually ducked into a doorway. But now, tired of hiding, “Mitchell!”
Hearing his name called, reluctantly pulling his head from his collar, turning, he looked about.
Downtown traffic sparse on this last Friday of the year, looking to the other side of Wabash Avenue, his heart quickening, My God!
Waving, “Mitchell!” Waiting for the light to change, she was there.
In the fifteen months since returning to Transco, as he’d walked the streets of his territory, Mitchell had constantly been on the watch for her, yet hoped he would not see her. Now, the moment he’d wanted… yet dreaded.
December 28, 1962
Of course seeing each other at Transco’s semi-annual sales meetings—as though afraid more would trigger something both were fearful of—other than a nod and a quickly said, “Hello, how are you?” both did their best to remain at arm’s length and maintain a standoffish attitude.
Waving back, he watched as, the light changing, Elizabeth Herzon crossed Wabash Avenue.
Wearing a white, fur lined, near ankle length suede coat and a fuzzy pink hat pulled low onto her forehead, her long, dark blonde, honey colored streaked hair fanning onto her shoulders, his breath catching. Beautiful! Her cheeks red from the cold and wind, watching Elizabeth approach, My God, Mitchell thought. She’s so beautiful!
Wearing a dark brown, calf length overcoat, his hair ruffled by the wind, Mitchell foolishly—the hat industry killed by John F. Kennedy’s refusal to wear hats—wore no hat.
Approaching, feeling her heart quicken. My God, Elizabeth thought. He looks so good!
“Hi.” He thought of shaking hands, but knew if he took her hand he, quite possibly, would not want to let go.
“Hi.” Ready to remove a mitten if he should make a move to shake her hand. Afraid, though, if he should she, quite possibly, would not want to let go.
Looking at each other, standing wordless for a number of heartbeats, having to make some sort of a move, deciding, clumsily moving his hand to hers… hanging in the air a second then, letting his arm drop, he saw that she had began to remove a mitten but, both hands stopping movement, their eyes locked, each wondering of the other’s thoughts—which were pretty much the same—Elizabeth Herzon and Mitchell Lipensky stood silent a long moment longer.
“Uh, you still got calls to make?”
“No,” Mitchell said. “Finished and heading to my car. You?”
“Yes, me, too, uh, all done.”
“You… in any hurry to get home?”
If he wants to go someplace to be alone… Not knowing how she would respond. “No. No hurry.”
“Yeah, me, too.” Wanting to be alone with her, but terrified at the thought. “You want to grab a bite someplace? You hungry?”
One of Elizabeth’s means of maintaining her weight was rarely eating lunch and sometimes nothing more than a small salad for dinner but, “Yes,” she said. “I’m starving.”
On Wabash Avenue, looking south, “Harding’s,” Mitchell said. “Harding’s okay?”
“Yes. Harding’s is fine.”
Overcoats left in the cloak room opposite the entrance…
Wearing a white blouse beneath a businesslike dark blue wool jacket with matching, below the knee skirt and black leather pumps with a one and a half inch heel…
Walking behind Elizabeth as she followed the hostess up the richly panelled staircase, Mitchell watched her slightly thick calves and ankles—which did not deter him, not in the slightest—along with Elizabeth’s well defined, swaying backside.
“Enjoy your lunch.”
Seated at a small table facing each other.
Fearful the slightest touch might begin a process that would lead to infidelity and matrimonial disaster. Sitting stiffly, legs sharply bent at their knees, the balls of their feet planted firmly beneath their chairs. Both sets of hands held primly within their laps. Looking about the eloquently appointed restaurant, roiling emotions held strongly at bay, neither knowing how to start a conversation or what type of conversation to start. In any case, studying the menu before them, buying the time needed to think of the start of a conversation.
Elizabeth, remembering the kiss she had initiated behind the cartons and wanting nothing more than to do it again—to kiss Mitchell.
And he, remembering that kiss and the feel of her body against his knew exactly what he wanted. However, remembering that haunting dream, he also knew the eventual consequences.
The silence becoming pronounced…
“How’d you find Peoria? You enjoy living there?”
Now looking at each other. Eyes unblinking. Both intently studying the face of the other.
“Yes, we actually did like it there. It was far enough away and close enough and,”—truthfully, for and between Marsha and Mitchell—“life was slower and things more peaceful.”
Breaking the intense eye contact, Elizabeth looked downward. “I like big city living and think Peoria would be kind of small for me.”
“In comparison Peoria is small and it did take a little getting used to, but the business attitude is much friendlier and small town living is kind’a neat… Leastways, everything’s cheaper there.”
Looking at Mitchell, studying his face, “You glad you’re back?”
Thinking, other than the never ending arguments. “So far… yeah,” he said. “I think so.”
“How you finding Tom’s territory?”
Looking at her, unable to believe that he was actually sitting here with a woman as flawlessly beautiful as Elizabeth; actually that he was even with Elizabeth. “Other than freezing in winter and broiling in summer, what’s not to like?”
“Afternoon.” A waitress bringing rolls, butter and water questioned, “Would you care for a drink?”
“No, thanks.” Shaking his head negatively, he looked at Elizabeth.
“No, none for me, thank you.”
“So,” Elizabeth asked after the waitress left, “how have you been? Your wife…” remembering Marsha’s name, but, “…uh?”
“Yes, Marsha. So how have you and Marsha been?”
Lying, “Fine.” Opening the menu, “We’re just fine…. You?”
Knowing what she would order, what she always ordered. “Me?” Lying, “I’m fine too, Mitch.”
Deciding, folding the menu, laying it on the table, he took a roll and, tearing it in half, smeared a half pad of butter on each half. “You know, I was really surprised… Actually more like shocked, when Gene called and offered me my old job back.” Biting into the roll, “And especially surprised when he told me it was your idea.”
Watching him chew, dying for a buttered roll. “Yeah,” she said. Then, saying one of those things that are occasionally said before the brain has a chance to process one’s thoughts, “I missed you.”
‘I missed you!’ She missed me!
Wanting to call back her words, “Yeah,” attempting to make a joke of it, “there’s no one else at Transco for me to make nuts, so I thought I’d try to get my old desk mate back.”
“May I take your orders?”
Thank, God! Elizabeth’s eyes shifted to the waitress. “Yes, I’ll have the house salad with vinaigrette dressing on the side and no croutons, please.”
The waitress shifted her gaze.
“Hamburger, medium rare and make the fries crispy, please.”
Taking the menus, “Thank you.”
Her eyes closed, her stomach rumbling at the heavenly thought of a hamburger with French fries, along with the cooking scents of Harding’s, Elizabeth ran her tongue over her lips to wipe away any, imagined, salvia.
Thinking it best to let the “I missed you” comment lie, “I hear your sales are going really great.”
“Yes, being a woman… Well, I guess their gamble is paying off.”
“Yeah, being smart,” holding intense eye contact, “and as beautiful as you are sure helps, too.”
The complement as warming as a fireplace on a cold day, sensing a surge of emotion that she knew was best held down, lowering her eyes, changing the subject, “Your son… How’s your son?”
“Mikey’s fine, thanks, but we’ve two more now, you know.”
“You’ve two more kids?” Blinking her eyes rapidly. Three kids! The impossible situation becoming even more impossible. Swallowing, thinking, He’s got three kids! “Wow!” Elizabeth said. “When’d that happen?”
“My father-in-law… Marsha’s father was murdered about four years ago…”
“Yeah. He had a grill on East Madison Street, you know, near the skid row area, and a drunk…” not sure what word to use, “a shvartz… uh, a Negro came in and shot him.”
“A shvartzer shot him! Oh, my God! How terrible!”
“Yeah. And Marsha wanted to give her father a name, so we… she became pregnant as soon as she could.”
Nodding appreciatively, “Yes, I can understand that.”
“So we had a girl and named her Ellie—My father-in-law’s name was Eli. And Sammy… Well, she just wanted another baby.”
“Here you go, folks.” Placing Elizabeth’s house salad with vinaigrette dressing, on the side, and Mitchell’s…
Smelling it, Oh, my God! Hearing her stomach growl, knowing she was drooling—actually she wasn’t, but thinking she was drooling—looking away, trying to think of something else, Elizabeth dabbed at her lips with the napkin.
Moving the lettuce around with her fork, watching as he poured catsup over the fries, looking up, seeing Elizabeth looking at his dish, “I’ve plenty, if you want some…”
“No!” she said a bit louder than necessary. “Sorry, Mitch, but I’m,” she said weakly, “watching my weight.”
Cutting the hamburger in half, about to—not said in a condescending way but in an affectionate way—the word “Honey” about to roll off his lips, catching himself, “Liz, you look absolutely fine to me!” Taking a bite, watching her as she watched the hamburger travel from the plate to his mouth.
Her eyes dropping, looking to the shallow bowl before her, pouring a thin stream of vinaigrette dressing onto the salad and, as though forcing herself, which, indeed, she was, spearing a cherry tomato, she unenthusiastically popped it into her mouth.
Thinking of telling him, maybe to shock him as his news of three children had shocked her, but also, by telling him it might get her mind off the hamburger and fries.
“Mitchie,” toying with a slice of cucumber, “I want to tell you something.”
Swallowing, taking a drink of water, he looked at her over the rim of the glass.
“But You’ve go to promise! You can’t tell anyone.”
Intrigued now. “Sure, if you don’t want me to say anything,” he said sincerely, “I promise I won’t.”
Hesitating again, looking at her dish…then, once again their eyes locking, “I’m married.”
“Married. I’ve been married for about three and a half years.”
Confused by his contradicting emotions. Married? His heart sinking, but yet glad because now, foolishly thinking, If she’s married nothing can happen between us. “Why?” he asked. “Why’s it a secret?”
“When they hired me, I got grilled, really grilled, about was I married. Do I intend to get married or plan on having any kids? Gene told me that being the first woman to work for the company they planned on putting a lot of effort into me and promised me a really good territory, but wanted my assurances that I had no intentions about having any children. And I got the impression that they thought if I was married I’d probably want kids, so not being married was kind of a bonus to them, so, when Myron and me…
“Myron? I thought you said his name was, uh,” thinking, “Howard.”
“Yeah. When the three of us, you’n’Marsha’n’me, were sitting together at the Christmas party, you said you were engaged to a ‘Howie.’”
“Nah.” Smiling. “That was all made up to get Marsha off my back.”
Remembering, taking a bite of the hamburger, “Yeah.” Remembering Marsha’s unnerving attitude, “I can see why.”
Cutting a chunk of iceberg lettuce, swishing it around the vinaigrette dressing on the bottom of the shallow bowl, putting it into her mouth she unenthusiastically chewed. “So you can see why I don’t want anyone to know because I really love my job and don’t want them, Transco, getting the idea that I might, maybe,”—which, afraid of regaining her weight, really, truly she did not—“want to become pregnant because then they might get worried and start thinking about cutting my territory or firing me.”
Working on the second half of the hamburger, “So what does, uh…?”
Her confession no way allaying her desire for that hamburger. “Myron.”
“Yeah. So what does Myron think about keeping your marriage a secret?”
“Well,” her fork poised to spear a French fry, but knowing one fry would lead to another, calling upon all the will power she had, “I’m making more money then him, so…”
Cutting her off, revealing a bit of the depth of his feeling for her. “If it was me married to you… Thinking, ” My God, I wish! “I’d sure care,” he said emphatically.
Thinking, My God, I wish! “Seeing as I’m the one bringing most of the money into the house he really doesn’t care.”
“So you’re not really,” finishing the last of the hamburger, “Elizabeth Herzon anymore.”
Glad to see it gone. “No…” Leaving most of her salad, “so now I guess I’m Elizabeth Lipshitz.”
“Lipshitz?” Chuckling, “That’s almost as bad as Lipensky.”
“Mitchell…” Their eyes locked, for the second time saying one of those things that are occasionally said before the brain has a chance to process one’s thoughts… Or maybe not, “…I’d love it if my name was Lipensky.”
She loves me!