Last words & epigraphs
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Out of the corner of his eye, Kavanaugh had watched her settle snugly
into the seat next to him--plump and fragrant. Later, after take off, he
felt her tap his shoulder. He was taking notes from Crowe-Bruton's abridged
Cyclopedia of Saints, preparing his lecture for the spring term.
"Excusez moi, she said.
"I overheard you telling the stewardess that you were only having one drink. Would you mind awfully ordering another and letting me have it? I've already had my quota and I need a teensyweensy bit more courage." She pressed a five dollar bill into his hand.
He returned it, "Sure, my treat," he said smiling sympathetically. "Slightly Phobic, are you?"
She polished off the Scotch in three long gulps. "Hallelujah. That should assuage my fears, at least until we're over Altoona. Thanks." Her warm hazel eyes surveyed him frankly.
Kavanaugh knew it was his move, but she made his head spin. Try as he might, he couldn't compose anvthing witty and woman-willing. "You work in Chicago?"
"Heavens, no. I was on my way back from shooting in Cozumel and had to stop off on business. I work out of Paris."
"What do you do?"
"I'm a filmmaker."
"What kinds of films?
"Oh, commercials mostly -- a little documentary work. Someday it will be features."
Inexplicably, and without premeditation, Kavanaugh declared: "I design suspension bridges."
In truth, Kavanaugh was a teacher of Ecclesiastical History at a small Catholic girl's college in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His contract was not being renewed, however. It was just as well. He was tired of teaching and hoped to return to trade magazine editing. He was on his way to Baltimore for a change of scene during the Easter break and because his brother, away in Rome, had offered the use of his apartment. Also he had lined up an interview there with a publication--Poultry Journal.
"Bridges! I adore bridges. How super. Must be fascinating."
"Well, like anything else, it has its share of drudge work. I spend much more of my time figuring out stress loads than I do on aesthetics."
"Oh remember that simply marvelous poem about the Brooklyn Bridge? I went into ecstasies over it when I was in school. Even memorized it. Wait. I think it's coming back: 'Unto us lowliest sometimes sweep, descent/And of the curveship lend a myth to God.' There's another line-something 'a rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene'--but that's all I can remember. What was the poet's name, for godsakes? It's stuck on the tip of my tongue. Oh, how frustrating."
Now, Kavanaugh thought, is the time for you to beguile this cultured temptress with your erudition. What was that bugger's name? He couldn't think of it to save his soul.
In a desperate exit from the subject of bridges, Kavanaugh blurted, "Are you of Jewish persuasion?" and instantly regreted it--what an odd expression, what a very stupid thing to say. You'd better stop babbling, Kavanaugh, he admonished.
But it didn't seem to faze her. She flashed a dazzling smile and replied: "Not in the eyes of your friendly neighborhood rabbi I'm not. My father was an English Jew, my mother is gentile. Mother is some kind of Russian countess--isn't that a gas? Explains my exotic handle--Tanya."
"Tom," he said extending his hand, "Tom Kavanaugh."
"Tanya Pavlovna Latt, nee Ellsworth," she said, holding his hand firmly. "Enough about me, tell me about you."
Kavanaugh conjured up a San Francisco apartment and a life of relentless travel to places like Dakar and Kathmandu. From there his monologue caromed off several topics before he randomly settled upon sky diving, although he had never jumped out of airplane with or without a parachute and had absolutely no intention of ever doing so. Nonetheless, he rhapsodized about "floating freely toward blue earth with only the wind beating on your eardrums." He even had the gall to recommend parachuting to Tanya as an antidote for her phobia.
She seemed entranced. "Do you yell, 'Geronimo, ' when you jump?
"I do, I know it's shameless of me. My fellow chutists think me hopelessly passé. One chap I know yells, 'Kierkegaard.' "
Tanya laughed, a resonant belly laugh. "You're making that up."
"No, no, really. Another guy hollers 'Hillary Belloc,' or is it 'Havelock Ellis,' well anyway, it sounds terrific on the way down. There's a lady chutist, I don't know her personally, but usually reliable sources tell me she yells, 'Clytemnestra.'
As they walked together through the Baltimore terminal, Kavanaugh managed to lag slightly behind every so often in order to enjoy Tanya's walk, and he was richly rewarded. She rolled her splendid hips with a self-assurance which would have been regarded as vulgar in less enlightened times
Waiting for the luggage, he fretted over how to get her to his brother's place--if your pitch is too bold, Kavanaugh, you will scare her off; not bold enough and she'll sense your inexperience, your uncertainty, your terror.
Tanya saved him the trouble when their bags arrived. "Lead the way, mon Kavanaugh."
His brother's apartment was in a new glass and steel rectangle and was furnished mostly in sleek plastics, except for a lumpy couch which converted into a bed.
"Mon Dieu, I'm famished," said Tanya as she headed for the kitchen. "Look at this. The frige is practically bare except for two bottles of champagne--Dom Perignon yet--a wedge of Brie and six, no, nine lamb chops. Say, who is this brother of yours anyway?"
"He's a priest. Not bad, huh? No vows of poverty for him."
"Listen, sweetie-pie, I'll put these lamb chops on the broiler. Why don't you open one of these bottles and pour us a smidgen."
By the time they were cooked, Tanya had drunk almost half the bottle of Dom Perignon. Kavanaugh only sipped his, at intervals reminding himself to stay stone sober for later. They ate the lamb chops, which were luscious, with their fingers.
"Drink up, mon Kavanaugh," Tanya urged, pouring the last of the first bottle into his glass. She eyed him quizzically. "Loosen up, man, Are you always so tight?"
She embarked on a long, convoluted tale about friends of hers who were apparently celebrities, but none of whom Kavanaugh recognized. His mind wandered. He hoped that his old boyhood friend MacKenzie would stop by as he did sometimes, He could see the surprise, the cheerful envy and, yes, the lust on MacKenzie's face. This desire to show Tanya off as if she were a prize heifer at a State Fair was, he realized, an ignoble one. Nevertheless, he continued to relish it, unrepentant.
"Yo-ho, Kavanaugh, do you read me?"
"Sorry, Tanya. What was that again?"
"You do recognize the name, Othmar Ammann, don't you?"
"Ah, sure. Wasn't he Theodoesius' Governor of Cappadocia?"
"Give me a hint."
"Othmar Ammann. Played second base for the Cubs in '56, didn't he?"
"Wrong again, mon Kavanaugh. Othmar H. Ammann, a bridge designer, was responsible for some of the nation's most outstanding suspension bridges-including, for your information, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which spans New York City's harbor mouth and which happens to be the world's longest suspension bridge."
"Oh, THAT Othmar H. Ammann," replied Kavanaugh.
A devilish gleam entered Tanya's eye. She advanced on him, with the second champagne bottle pointing outward, thumbs pressing down on the cork.
"Tanya, my love, you could hurt somebody doing that." She chortled. He retreated, grinning uneasily.
"No kidding, Tanya, you could put out a fella's eye with that thing." She laughed more, kept working the cork and advanced. Kavanaugh backpedaled.
"Eyes, hell, imagine what it could do to your schvantz," said Tanya, now almost in tears with laughter. "Thomas Kavanaugh, bridge builder, or whatever the hell you really are, you have been tried and found guilty of prolonged puberty in the first degree and are sentenced . . . "
"Jesus, Tanya, watch . . ." Kavanaugh dove for the floor and heard the cork whiz past his left ear. It ricocheted off a globe lampshade and fell a foot or so in front of his down-pressed nose. Tanya collapsed into a bagel-shaped chair and proceeded to drink more Dom Perignon.
He had stayed at his brother's before and knew how the couch worked. He removed the cushions and grasped the handle in the front and pulled upwards. It rose alright, but he couldn't get it to fold outwards. It seemed to be stuck halfway between being a couch and being a bed. Normally, when a mechanical contrivance conspired against him, Kavanaugh would lose his temper, curse, kick or pummel the device, and then apply unreasoning brute force until its mechanism was incapacitated. Now, however, with a heroic act of will and with Tanya humming "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon" in the background, he remained calm.
He repeated the up and out maneuver three times, coolly and deliberately. Nothing. He took a deep breath. "Prepare to submit to your master, you beast." He plunged one hand deep into the crevice between the seat and backrest giving a mighty heave. It still wouldn't fold out, nor would it go back down. Furthermore, his hand and arm seemed to be stuck in the crevice. "My God, eaten by a Castro Convertible."
"Whatsa matter Geronimo," said Tanya, slurring her words now, "won't shure chute open?"
He winced. Bull's-eye.
Another desperate heave opened the bed and freed his extremities. He turned and bowed towards her.
She giggled and applauded. Then she announced: "Great Scott, I'm soused," and passed out.
Kavanaugh undid the five buttons on the front of her silk blouse. Looking at her sprawled in front of him, he savored the idea of removing the clothes from her swelling breasts and thighs. But something was wrong. The word "necrophiliac" darted across his mind. "Get hold of yourself, Kavanaugh. This isn't necrophilia. The lady is breathing. Christ, she is even snoring. Besides, what's so bad about necrophilia. Ought to try everything at least once before you croak."
Tanya awoke. "I feel, ummm . . ."
"Unwell?" he volunteered, observing her greenish hue.
"Wretched," she responded and wobbled towards the bathroom.
"Beaucoup sick," she said upon her return. "Please call cab."
Kavanaugh slept until mid-afternoon and awoke very hungry. He strolled through the deserted Sunday streets and finally found something which was open--a Mexican restaurant.
That night the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Kavanaugh in a dream--maybe it was the enchiladas. The Archangel was perched on a parapet of the Brooklyn Bridge. Kavanaugh knew who it was because stenciled across the front of his grey sweatshirt was "Archangel Gabriel," and he had a pair of wings. He also wore stained pantaloons and addressed Kavanaugh in a strange tongue. Kavanaugh understood not a word. He interrupted the somewhat fruity voice. "Gabe, are you a male or a female? Oh, I know angels are always referred to in scripture as 'he,' but I often pondered whether that was merely a literary convenience. I mean do you have sexual organs, and if so, which ones?"
"Quoi? Quoi?" replied the Archangel Gabriel, huffily, Kavanaugh thought, before dissolving.
The next morning Kavanaugh strode off to his interview buoyed by the dreamit had mysteriously struck some unknown but responsive chord deep within the muck of his subconscious.
"Hiya, honey-bunch," he greeted the receptionist. She smiled sweetly and told him to have a seat. "Mr. Vermilion will be with you in a minute."
Reading the company's house organ, Gallus Domesticus, a picture of the office softball team caught Kavanaugh's eye. He glanced along the two rows of smiling players and his eyes came to rest upon one particularly well-formed bosom. He looked at the face. It was Tanya Pavlovna Latt nee Ellsworth. In the caption, beneath the picture, she was identified as Ms. Ruth Schram, Art Director of Poultry Journal. Kavanaugh borrowed a memo pad from the receptionist and scribbled: