[Author’s note: this story is submitted as a twofer, in response to new prompt “Isolation and Solitude” and also to last week’s prompt “Timing is Everything”]
I often spent Sunday afternoons in the spring of my final year at law school roaming the law library for possible companionship. My grade point average was beyond repair, my prospects for a good job felt remote, I was alone in all ways.
If I had any imagination, or intelligence, I certainly could have found a better venue for instigating companionship. The women at law school were serious-minded, on the whole, and while everyone is always keeping an eye open to good fortune, in my experience the law library wasn’t a dating bar, wasn’t frolicky, wasn’t embracing to boulevardiers, or disassociated law students, or depressed drifters, or others such as myself. I was wasting my time.
...And there she was, encamped in the front reading room, chatting and smoking. My heart did a little dance. My eyes blinked from surprise and relief, to see her again. She seemed spot-lit and radiant as I slow-walked past her, urging myself to stop, but not stopping.
But I had nothing else to do, was free as a bird if I could have figured out how to fly, and quite alone as I already said, and I am a bad alone person, I tend to spiral downward in my aloneness to a grim slab of floor concrete on which I sprawl, which was where I was heading on this particular Sunday afternoon as I sashayed from the main library to the front reading room, to the elevators, and thence the concrete.
I made a mental note of one woman whom I passed in the Supreme Court stacks, whom I had not seen before, but thought (intuitively felt) I knew, and liked. I noticed via my side-long glance as I feigned attention to binder embossments that she had a welcoming open face, not pinched in the law school fashion, seemingly alien to law school in general, I thought, sort of happy looking. She was dressed ridiculously, in blue jeans, and a long-sleeved striped polo shirt covered by a short-sleeved blue Lacoste jersey, with an alligator. Years later I called her, with affection, “A Large Hick”, or “ALH” for short.
But that sobriquet incorporated additional information not visible from my side-long glance in the stacks, including that her father was a farmer, and that she did not come from the toney suburbs and was quite defenseless against the pokes and barbs of those who did.
I passed her by, and didn’t speak. What should I have said, “Excuse me, would you like to make a life together?”
I lost track of her as I continued my constitutional through the maze of tall stacks, federal and state court decisions, statutes, law reviews, and much, much more. In multi-colored binders, red, yellow, green, and brown. I imagined myself on an autumn walk through the woods. Adrift from the business of the law library and its population of grinding students minding their careers, as I deemed them, snarkily, as an outsider walking in the autumn woods.
I gathered my books, pens and notebooks which I had spread on a worktable at my arrival, untouched since then, and headed down a path from the main library to the front reading room, toward the elevators, and thence the street. Chatting and smoking (that’s how long ago this was) was permitted in the front reading room, a decompression chamber for those exiting, a chance to extrude the chitchat and assume the rule of silence for those arriving.
And there she was, encamped in the front reading room, chatting and smoking. My heart did a little dance. My eyes blinked from surprise and relief, to see her again. She seemed spot-lit and radiant as I slow-walked past her, urging myself to stop, but not stopping.
In a minute I was through the front reading room, into and out of an elevator, crossing the ground floor lobby, and out the rotating door into the cool, gray and darkening afternoon. Where I paused.
“Am I missing a life changing chance?” I asked myself.
“No, don’t be silly.”
“Why is she so attractive to me?”
“You’re making up a story. Go back if you want, nothing good will come of it.”
“I feel this is a crossroads. A chance to save myself.”
“Ha ha ha.”
In the end I reversed my self, and returned to the reading room, casually (affectedly) walking in and up to her table.
“Hello,” I said. “I like your alligator.”
Our courtship began, followed by making a life together.
Here is what I said about myself on the back page of my 2020 humor/drama/politico novel "The Debutante (and the Bomb Factory)" (edited here, for clarity):
"Jonathan Canter Is a retIred attorney; widower; devoted father and grandfather (sounds like my obit); lifelong resident of Greater Boston; graduate of Harvard College (where he was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon); fan of waves and wolves; sporadic writer of dry and sometimes dark humor (see "Lucky Leonardo" (Sourcebooks, 2004), funny to the edge of tears); gamesman (see "A Crapshooter’s Companion"(2019), existential thriller and life manual); and part-time student of various ephemeral things."
The Deb and Lucky are available on Amazon. The Crapshooter is available by request to the author in exchange for a dinner invitation.