It was a lazy Sunday morning. My wife Ellen and I were finishing
our coffees while reading sections of the New York Times, which we subscribed
to although we now lived in a suburban section of Sacramento, capital of
California. The doorbell rang. Who can that be? said Ellen.
Ill go see. I opened the door. It was Dennis
Crown, showing up as usual with no warning.
I have a meeting in San Francisco tomorrow so I thought
Id stop by and see how you guys are doing. I hope its not a bad
No, come on in. Its Dennis, I called out to
She came out to the hall and Dennis gave her a big hug and a
kiss on the cheek. Youre looking as pretty as ever, he said,
as he always did. As she always did, Ellen blushed.
I should explain that Dennis and I had been room mates at a New
England college about 20 years ago, something I always thought was due to a
clerical mistake as I was a scholarship student and he came from a wealthy
family. After college wed gone our separate ways, I winding up as a civil
servant and Dennis as a kind of dealer who traveled the world obtaining art
objects for wealthy clients. Every now and then, as now, hed drop in
We returned to the living room. Ellen made some fresh coffee and
Dennis filled us in on his adventures since wed last seen him. As well as
being rich, he was handsome and charming. His stories always involved clever
doings to get some precious art object as well as a beautiful woman hed
get involved with. The women were always alluring but in the end hed
leave them no matter how much he was attracted to them. His latest adventure
had been in Russia and, if you believed him, he barely got away with a famous
painting before the KGB nabbed him, helped by a beautiful woman called
Titiania. Hed been sorely temped, he told us, to take Titiana back with
him; hed really fallen for her. Its sad. She was the most
desirable woman Ive ever known. But you know how much I value my freedom.
I cant be tied down. I suppose Im a confirmed bachelor and will end
up all alone. I sometimes envy you two. Your life may be, well, predictable but
you have each other.
You meant to say boring, didnt
you? I said.
Dennis just laughed. He asked about our son and daughter, now
both in college. When they were younger, hed always brought presents for
them. Hard to believe theyve grown up, he said. I
dont suppose Ill ever have children either. He put on a
wistful look. It was my turn to laugh.
Eventually we arranged for Dennis to stay over for two nights.
Hed go to his San Francisco meeting the next day, Monday. As it happened,
I also had a meeting, at the Sacramento airport hotel, on Tuesday. Hed
take Ellen out to lunch and shopping, he told her. Then hed have to
leave, flying to Hawaii. And he meant to take us out to dinner that night. We
could name our restaurant. There was no question Dennis brought a little
excitement to our predictable suburban lives.
When we prepared to go to dinner I noticed that Ellen had put on
a dress; she usually wore a shirt and jeans. She had also put on more make-up
than usual. You look very nice, I told her.
Yes. What do you mean by that?
Nothing. Lets go. Dennis will be waiting.
Dennis of course told Ellen she looked beautiful. All during
dinner, he directed his attention to her, asking her preferences as to the menu
and the wine, complimenting her taste. I put it down to his automatically
exerting his charm on any woman within his range. When we returned and were
going to bed I remarked that Dennis was outdoing himself tonight.
What do you mean?
Well, all of that telling you how beautiful you look, how
great your taste in wine is, how he wished hed met a woman like you
earlier, you know, his usual charm offensive.
I thought he was being very nice. You could use a little
of that charm yourself.
Come on. Do I have to smother you with complements all the
Some of the time wouldnt be too bad. Anyway,
lets not quarrel. Its too late.
Quarrel? I didnt know we were having one.
When I returned from my airport meeting the next afternoon I saw
that Denniss suitcase was in the hallway. It appeared that he was ready
to leave. Dennis and Ellen were in the living room. He was holding her hand.
I have to catch an earlier plane, he said to me. We were just
saying good-bye. I have a taxi coming.
I see, I said. Then it hit me, the way Ellen was
looking at him. I knew theyd been together. My heart dropped.
Ill help you with your bags, I said.
Once outside I put down the suitcase I was carrying. The
desolation Id initially felt had been replaced by rage. Dennis faced me
with a questioning look. I hit him as hard as I could in the jaw. He went down
to the ground. I think you know what thats for, I said.
He was rubbing his jaw. Im sorry, he said.
All my fault. It was only that one time. You dont know how sexy
I went back inside, still in a rage. It must have showed on my
face. Whats the matter? asked Ellen.
You know, I said. Dennis. How could you?
I dont know. It just happened.
She held her harms up in front of her face, as if to protect it
from my hitting her. I could easily have done so. Then, in a minute, my rage
vanished and I saw Ellen as Dennis must have seen her, lovely and desirable.
No, I didnt ravish her right then and there, nor did we have make-up sex
later. It took us a long time to work things out, but in the end we did.
As for Dennis, for a time he seemed to have dropped off the
earth. Then perhaps six months later we received a call from him. It was from
Russia. He and I spent some time saying sorry to each other, he for Ellen and
me for hitting him. Then he said, Maybe when you hit me it knocked some
sense into me. I went back to Russia to get Titania. Were getting
married. And were going to have kids.
Ellen and I looked at each other and we both laughed.