BY JANE MANKIEWICZ
KATE MET PHILIP EARLY ONE EVENING IN THE WINter of 1975, on a train going from Princeton to New York. She was sad and wanted to sit alone, but the train was too crowded, and when she sat down next to him all she thought was, Please let this guy keep reading and not talk to me.
Kate had gone to Princeton to visit her grandmother. She and Kate had the same birthday; Kate was twentytwo and her grandmother eighty. Kate loved her very much, and this weekend was the first time Kate saw serious signs of old age. Her grandmother seemed terribly weak, and more than a few times forgot what she was saying before the end of a sentence. Kate worried about her living alone, and didn’t know how much to tell her mother, who was living in Arizona and happy for the first time in years. She was coming east for a visit in the spring, but before that she was going to Cuba, and Kate didn’t want to spoil the trip.
The only place Kate ever really stopped thinking was in the movies, and she was planning to go directly from Penn Station to whatever movie started soonest.
A few minutes into the ride she began to relax a little. She would be in the movies soon, and later there would probably be a decent movie on television, and she didn’t have to go to work the next day—Washington’s Birthday. As the train slowed for the first stop, Kate took off her jacket, lit a cigarette, and wrote “Orange Juice” and “Phone Bill” on her hand. She realized that the man sitting next to her was saying something. She looked at him.
“Paper would be even better,” he said. He was big, with fairly long, straight, thick gray hair, an enormous moustache, and bright green eyes rimmed with navy blue. The only time Kate had seen eyes anything like them was in children’s drawings.
“It’s a habit,” she said. “I’ve done it since first grade.”
“When was that? I mean how old are you?”
When she told him, he told her that he had a son her age, and one a couple of years older.
“Two kids?” Kate said.
“Five. I had to lend my oldest daughter my car for her driver’s test tomorrow—usually I drive in. But she said her mother’s car has bad karma and she’d never be able to parallel park in it.”
Kate thought of her father—he lived on Long Island with his new family and she never saw him. He had been a good driving teacher, though. He’d say, “I trust you, Baby,” and read the Times or the Racing Form. Kate made the mistake of telling her mother and from then on the driving lessons were given by her, hands gripping the dashboard, foot pushing a non-existent brake, with frequent “Oh, my God!”s. Kate made a lot of jokes about her father, and often told people he was dead, but she missed him—she had always missed him.
The man was talking again. “Have I lost you? My name is Philip Davison.”
“No. Why do you come to the city so often?”
“I teach at Princeton,” Philip said, “but this year I’m teaching two seminars at Columbia. So I come in Sundays and go home Tuesday night. You?”
“I pretty much stay in the city all the time,”Kate said. “I work in a drug-counseling center, for kids.”
“Tell them where to get good stuff, right?”
“Right,” Kate said. She didn’t want to talk about her job. She wanted to hear about his family. She asked the age of each of his kids—the youngest was a seven-year-old girl, Katherine.
“Is she called Kate? That’s my name.”
“She’s called Katherine and she looks a lot like you. Is your real name Katherine?” He looked bored.
“No. Kate. Why?”
“My wife’s name is Katherine too. She’s called Kath. She’s five years younger than I am.”
“How old are you?”
“Forty-eight. I usually don’t like answering ten thousand questions, but I guess on trains I don’t mind so much.”
“Good,” Kate said. “What do you teach?” (Art history.) “Where do you stay in New York?”
“I’ve got a small place on 86th Street, just off Amsterdam. I’ve been doing this since September and so far the only furniture I’ve got is a coffee-maker and a clock.”
“A clock-radio or just a clock?”
“Radio,” Philip said. “Jesus.”
“I live two blocks away from you. Down,” Kate said. Maybe she would get to be friends with the whole family, go there for Christmas, use his car to get her driver’s license renewed, maybe move in and commute. He was talking again.
“I said”—he was enunciating very carefully and had his hands cupped around his mouth—“I said, would you like to have dinner with me? You could continue this interrogation for an hour or so, make some notes. Maybe let me ask you a few hundred questions.”
THEY HAD DINNER THAT NIGHT AT THE OYSTER BAR and met in restaurants every Monday night for almost two years, except for a few times when there were problems in Princeton. After dinner they went to a movie, or sometimes a play, or to hear some music. Many nights they drove around the city for an hour or so in his small blue ear. Philip drove fast, they played the radio loud, and Kate loved it. They covered a lot at dinner, enough so that even Kate was happy just to be quiet and watch the city flash by.
Philip parked his car in a garage between their two buildings. He always walked her home, but he would never come in. He would wait while she unlocked the lobby door, give a two-fingered salute, and say, “See you.”
They talked about almost everything: his family, her family, work, friends, and the things Kate usually covered up with jokes. He said life was too complicated. She said she didn’t think it was. Kate planned her weeks around their evenings, but he called her late in the day each Monday to ask if she was busy.
For a while Kate kept on seeing Nick, someone she worked with. They’d been going out for a few months, but now everything about him irritated her. He didn’t read anything, and he used every piece of sixties jargon ever invented. Sleeping with him made her lonely; she tried not to mind that she couldn’t fall asleep the nights he stayed over. Still, she was surprised and hurt when, two weeks after he and Kate split up, he had a new girlfriend and tried to persuade the Drug Center to hire her. She phoned him sometimes, in the middle of the night, and hung up when he answered, or stayed silent while he said, “Hello? Hello?” in what Kate liked to think was a panicked voice.
She confessed her telephone harassment to her friend Ellen one afternoon at work.
“He always cared about getting his eight hours,” Kate said.
“He also cared about you,” Ellen said.
Kate called Philip’s house when she knew he wasn’t there, asking for whatever child she knew was away from home. She thought that by hearing the various voices (she wasn’t interested in the wife’s, she told herself) she’d get some concrete stuff for her Princeton fantasies: perfect father, perfect family with a jumble of happy kids, lots of white. Philip had told her there were two dogs—an old cocker spaniel and a young mutt—but she never heard barking in the background.
“It’s great having all those kids, right?” Kate said in the beginning, at O’Neals.
“Yeah. Probably sick, though, the way I think about it. I mean, it’s just so reassuring—all those legs and arms.”
“THE MAN SLEEPS IN THE CITY PART OF EVERY week,” Ellen said one Sunday a year later. She was helping Kate paint her apartment. The two rooms had needed painting since Kate moved in. One Monday, at Aunt Fish, Kate had asked Philip to describe his house, room by room. When he told her there was a screened-in porch with a whitewashed floor and white furniture (Kate was sure he and his wife made love there whenever it was warm enough and all the kids were out), she decided to paint her apartment.
“Do you want to go to bed with him?” Ellen said.
“Irrelevant. He’s a complete family man.”
Kate told Philip all about the Center, from the office politics to the desperate looks in the kids’ eyes; about each of her friends; about college in the Midwest and her (now muted) political activism; about the boys she had been involved with.
On their second or third Monday, Philip told her that he hadn’t been able to look anyone in the eye until 1964.
He talked to her a lot about painting, about Masaccio and Titian and Poussin, and he brought slides for her to look at. Once she said she wished that they could go somewhere more private, that she could see the slides in better light.
“You can see just fine,” Philip said.
Kate liked to hear about Pascin, liked to see the slides, and liked to hear about his suicide.
One night Philip talked for hours about Caravaggio. Kate had never heard of Caravaggio. A whiz kid, Philip said. Employed by the papal court by the time he was twenty. Grew up poor, got rich. Only one problem, aside from the fact that he loved very young boys (“So did the popes,” Kate said)—drinking. He picked fights when he was drunk. Then one night he almost killed a man.
“Where?” Kate said.
“In a bar.”
“No. I mean, where did he stab him?”
“You want to hear this or not?” Philip said. “You’ve got to stop reading the Post.”
Kate smiled, embarrassed. In her fantasies all his children had his green-and-blue eyes.
Philip went on. Caravaggio had plenty of powerful friends, and he was pardoned. Pardoned but warned: It happens again and you’re out of here. It happened again. A year later, he killed a man. Stabbed him. (“Probably near the heart, but I don’t know,” Philip said.)
Caravaggio had nowhere to go. He island-hopped for a while, and did nothing but paint—ferociously. (The painting Philip liked best from those years was one of the Madonna as a prostitute.) Then he went to Naples. Things were okay for a few months, then he started a huge fight with a bunch of thugs. Nobody was killed, but after that they were out to get him. The night his face was slashed, Caravaggio decided he had to go back to Rome, even if he’d be thrown in jail. (“He wanted to get to Rome in, uh, a day,” Philip said.) He made it onto a ship, but was arrested and hauled off—mistaken arrest, for once, but by the time he was released the boat had sailed. Everything he owned was on it.
“Jesus. How could he—”
“Just listen,” Philip said, leaning forward to light his cigarette with the candle on the table. “When he got out of jail, he had malaria. Dragged himself to a beach, near Grosseto. Sick as hell, desperate, completely alone. He died there.”
Then Philip told her that the Pope had issued a pardon a few days before Caravaggio died. He never knew.
Sometimes when Philip went on too long about paintings within paintings, Kate pretended to listen and thought about Caravaggio dying, fighting off mosquitoes on the beach.
Philip drank three or four Cokes at each dinner, and whenever Kate offered him some of her wine he refused. Many of the stories he told her about things that happened in his twenties and thirties ended, “Never would have happened if I’d been sober.”
“Were you in love with your wife a long time before you got married?”
“So I’m told. I mean, yes. Order some dessert. This dieting is stupid.”
“How much does your wife weigh?”
“Jesus,” Philip said. “Let’s get out of here—we’ll drive to Brooklyn.”
ONE SNOWY MONDAY JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS, Philip showed up at the Center. He came into Kate’s office.
“What are you doing here?” she said.
Before he could answer, someone barged in with a stack of papers. When she left, Philip said, “God, I love women in jeans.”
“That’s why you like me, then,” Kate said.
“I guess,” he said. “So what’s going on here—just a lot of shooting and snorting?”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m a Coke addict. Take a break and come have a drink with me.”
“You came all the way downtown for a Coke,” Kate said. “Did you take a cab, or what?”
“You’re in serious trouble, kid. There are so many possible questions and you want to know about transportation.”
“Are we having dinner tonight?” Kate said. It was disorienting to talk to him in a place without waiters.
“I guess. Sure. Meet me at Marvin Gardens at seven?”
“Why don’t I cook us dinner? I can, you know.”
“Too much trouble. See you at seven?”
“Okay. Philip, I was wondering—maybe we could drive to Princeton? I’d like to see where you live.”
“Much too icy,” Philip said. “I’ll leave you to your junkies.”
The woman who worked in the office next to Kate’s came in and said, “Who was that great-looking guy?”
Nick came in and said, “That’s really good—parents are starting to come in.”
In Marvin Gardens, Philip said, “Is it too much to ask that someone take our order?” two minutes after someone had.
“What’s wrong?” Kate said.
“Nothing. What could possibly be wrong?”
“How are things at home?”
“Fine. Erie’s got ten thousand kids coming over tonight; it’s his birthday.”
“Where? I mean, what part of the house?”
“Oh, Kate, I can’t take all that stuff tonight.”
“Okay. So tell me what’s wrong. I usually tell you.”
“Nothing. Just that my life is Scotch tape.”
“What the hell does that mean? Anyway, your life’s great.”
“Tell me, then,” she said.
“It’s too complicated. Eat your dinner.”
After dinner, they drove toward Long Island on the expressway.
“Not exactly scenic,” Kate said. “Are we going to drop in on my father?”
“Very funny. I just want to drive, and I knew this road would be clear.”
His children had given him a tape deck for his car on his last birthday. Kate looked through the tapes and put on Carly Simon.
“How about something else?” he said. “That’s too sad.”
“I don’t even like it,” Kate said. “But it’s what you always play.”
“Put on Elvis’s Greatest Hits, okay?” he said.
They listened to the tape without talking. When it was over, Kate didn’t reach for a new one.
“What do you mean, Scotch tape?” she said.
Philip slowed down, then swerved off at an exit marked Little Neck. After he had made the turn, he said, in a furious voice she had never heard before, “Just what would you think if I told you I sleep with every woman I can get my hands on?”
Kate didn’t say anything for a few minutes. Then she said, “I’d be very surprised and extremely insulted.” “Insulted?”
“Oh, come on. Letting me think you were the husband of the century.”
“You’re really a jerk. Don’t you know what not making a move on you means? Once I sleep with a woman I treat her like dirt. And about being surprised, just where the hell do you think I am on Sunday nights, and why do you think you’re home by eleven every week, and why. . .”
“Who?” Kate said, looking out her window.
“Christ,” Philip said. “I knew this was a mistake.”
“Well,” Kate said, still looking away from him, “you can get your hands on me.”
“Katie, it’s not what you want and it’s not what you need. And if it did happen, which it’s not going to, you wouldn’t get one answer to any of your goddamned questions.”
“It is what I want,” she said.
He didn’t answer. On the expressway, heading back, there was silence until they got near the city. Philip reached for a tape and started to put it into the machine. Kate knocked it out of his hand.
“You think I’m a bastard, right?” Philip said.
“I’m not ugly,” she said.
“I think you’re beautiful. And I think you should get more than Monday nights, and lies.”
“I’m not beautiful, and I’ve been getting Monday nights for a long time, and plenty of lies. So I’m used to it.”
“I’ve never told you a lie,” he said. Kate thought of Nixon. Philip’s voice was halfway back to normal. What had changed, and how could she get him into bed?
It took a week. It was snowing again—hard—and they were the only people eating at Broadway Bay. He talked about his classes. She wondered how many students he’d slept with. In Princeton, too? Where?
Waiting for the check, Kate said, “Please come over for a while.”
Philip looked at her, then down at her mostly uneaten chef’s salad. “Look, do you want to get a neurotic lover or keep a pretty good friend?”
“You’d be getting an extremely small slice, and all the things you like about me would change.”
“Not necessarily,” Kate said. “You probably don’t even know most of the things I like about you. Do you love your wife?”
“I don’t love anybody,” Philip said.
“Bullshit. You love your kids.”
“Yeah, but that’s easy.”
When they left the restaurant, it was snowing so hard and there was so much wind that it looked like the snow was snowing up. Kate said she’d like to walk for a while.
“Is the walking me home part over?” she said.
Good, Kate thought. Next step is getting him inside. And afterward he would still be her friend, would still answer her questions. She would give him all the freedom there was, and he would fall in love with her and stop seeing all the other women. He probably thinks that they all want to marry him, and after all she’d told him, he had to know that Kate wasn’t about to marry anyone for a long time.
They made love for hours, with almost no talking. At one point Philip said. “Incredible. But definitely a mistake.”
“Not a mistake,” Kate said, and thought, Two wasted years.
She was almost asleep when she realized he was out of bed and picking his clothes up from the floor. Her heart was pounding, but this was the time to start showing him there were no strings. She kept her eyes half-closed and watched him get dressed. He had the most graceful body and the most beautiful back she’d ever seen.
As Philip was tiptoeing out of the bedroom, Kate sat up and said, “See you.”
She couldn’t get to sleep for the rest of the night. At six she got up and went to work, even though the Center opened at nine.
FROM THEN ON, SOMETIMES THEY WENT OUT TO dinner, or driving, but usually they went right to bed. Kate always unplugged the phone when he was with her.
“What if one of your kids calls your apartment?” she asked one night.
“Don’t have a phone; only means trouble. I use pay phones—I’m weighted down with dimes.”
Philip never stayed the whole night. Kate didn’t ask him to, though she thought about how nice it would be to wake up one Tuesday and find him still in bed.
True to his word, Philip stopped answering Kate’s questions, and she asked hardly any. Once, when he’d taken a shower at her apartment, Kate told him he smelled great and said, “That peppermint soap lasts a long time.”
Philip slammed his fist into his hand and said, “I knew it. You’re storing all these things up to use.”
“To use? To use for what?”
“I don’t know. That’s the problem.”
After they’d had a particularly good time talking or driving, Philip would get somewhat rough in bed. Kate fought back, and often ended up with bruises, but they weren’t serious bruises and were usually gone by the next Monday. Sometimes she was sorry to see them fade.
A few times Philip stopped by Kate’s office. Once he told the receptionist that he had some wonderful hash to unload. Nick overheard and asked Philip how much he was selling it for.
Ellen was against Kate’s seeing Philip.
“So you’re making no demands—big deal. What’s so great about showing someone he doesn’t have to give anything?”
“Philip gives,” Kate said.
“I’m not talking about sex. The choice in the world isn’t just between someone like him and someone like Nick.”
“Philip cares,” Kate said, “and I know what the choices are.”
“What about Wednesdays, not to mention the other five days? And what about being in love with someone who trusts you so much he won’t give you his phone number?”
“What about the other days?” Kate said. “And he doesn’t have a phone.”
Philip couldn’t stand taking anything from Kate. Before, if she read a book she thought he’d like, she lent it to him. Now he avoided touching anything of hers—except her.
“It’s really a terrific book—take it,” Kate would say.
“I’ll buy it.”
He liked most of Kate’s records, and as soon as she got home on Mondays she put a stack on the stereo, ready to go. They were usually the same ones—an old Jesse Fuller album Philip loved, Emmy Lou Harris, Willie Nelson, some Dylan, some Beatles. But sometimes she added ones she especially liked, at the top of the stack. One night she lay listening to Jesse Winchester.
“Christ, Katie,” Philip said, sitting up. “If you’ve got something to say, just say it.”
“You were dreaming,” she said. “Go back to sleep.”
“Is that what you listen to all week?”
“Occasionally. He’s not bad. Why?”
“Sure. Not bad. ‘Third-rate romance . . .’ ”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” she said. “I didn’t even think . . .” “You thought,” he said, climbing over her and picking his clothes up off the floor.
Kate got out of bed to let him out. The door had to be locked from the inside or with a key, and Philip wouldn’t take a key.
THAT MARCH, PHILIP TOOK KATE TO A YOUNG PAINTer’s gallery opening. It was very crowded, and neither of them thought much of the paintings, so they left after a few minutes and went out to dinner for the first time on the East Side. There was finally no more snow or ice; they were both in a good mood. The spring break at Columbia was coming up, and Kate had thought she wouldn’t see him for a couple of weeks, but Philip told her he’d be coming in—he had work to do in the city. At dinner they told each other lots of not particularly funny jokes.
After dinner they walked up Madison. For a few blocks they had their arms around each other, then Philip pulled his away. “Someone looking at us could come to a very false conclusion,” he said.
“That we’re in love?”