Morgan Salech’s my best friend, although we didn’t start off that way. We began seeing each other in university and everything was going great until one night that ended our romance.
That date marked the clear dividing line in our relationship.
What happened was simple, but unexplained. Morgan confessed she loved me and I froze. I don’t know why I did, or why I couldn’t recover, but after that night, I stopped asking her out.
Strangely enough, we continued talking to each other in classes and eventually just ended up as ‘best buds’.
But that night and our disastrous date were never mentioned again.
Fast forward five years and Em and I are still together, yet living apart. Neither of us dates anyone else, although occasionally Em will bug me about asking someone out.
“You need to fall in love, Evan.”
I immediately go on the defensive.
“Yeah, well isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black—what about you? You’re not seeing anyone either.”
Em puts on that haughty look she uses to dismiss my best arguments.
“Really Evan, I’m a woman and able to handle my needs—I don’t need someone to fulfill me.”
“Oh, and I suppose I do?” I retort hotly.
She arches an eyebrow as if to say, do you doubt me?
“I know you Evan Logan—and you are definitely not fulfilled.”
“So what do you suggest? Oh wait—I’ve got it. Let’s go on eBay and see what’s available.”
“Yeah, well that’s one thing you won’t find by on-line shopping—kind of like this loft I got you, when you were wasting your money on a dismal flat and renting commercial space for your artist’s studio.”
She was right. Em has great taste in architecture—just poor taste in men.
I try a different tack.
“Well, if you’re so good at knowing my tastes and anticipating my needs, maybe you should pick out a chick for me.”
“A chick?” Her voice goes up. “What decade are you living in Evan? Are you still reading Mickey Spillane?”
“Hey, Mike Hammer wasn’t all bad,” I grin.
She throws up her hands in despair. “Oh, you’re impossible.”
I get up from the couch and make us tea. Fussing with the rituals of tea brewing calms us both down and distracts me from feeling I’m under a microscope.
By now, Em’s cooled down a bit and has curled up with a pillow on her lap, her legs tucked under her on the couch. In her tight jeans and red sweater she looks sensational, but I try not to focus on that.
“Look,” she says reasonably, “you like my taste in art and architecture, so why don’t you let me pick a girl for you?”
“What—just like that? How do you intend to go about doing this—are you planning on interviewing candidates?”
She smiles. “Not exactly—as a matter of fact, I’ve already spotted a girl who’d be perfect for you.”
“You have—where did you meet her?”
“At The Wunderbar Café.”
“What! Where is this place?”
“It’s beside the college where I take cooking classes on Tuesday and Thursday nights.”
My jaw drops. She’s been guarding her secret for months now, and had me figuring she was dating somebody else. It adds up though—she’s a vegan and health food nut, so taking a course in cooking is something she’d do.
“Okay, so why do you think this girl would be perfect for me. What’s she like?”
Her face brightens.
“You’d love her, Evan. She’s dark and mysterious and has a penchant for dressing in vintage clothing from the Thirties – You’d also like her accent—it’s not British, but formal and different from the way most girls speak.”
Funny, but this chick sounds exactly like Em—but I don’t dare say that.
I am intrigued though. I serve Em her tea and hand her a hermit cookie. “What’s her name?”
She bites on the cookie and grows pensive. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know her name?” I ask incredulously. “Okay, well where does she work?”
“I don’t know that either,” she says nonchalantly.
“Well, what exactly do you know about her?”
She stares out the window, a far away look in her eyes.
“Mmm, let me see. She has impeccable taste in clothes and speaks very nicely—Oh, and she’s beautiful.”
I try not to get irritated.
“Where can I meet her?”
“I already told you. She’s there on Tuesday and Thursday nights at The Wonderbar Café. She’s got this kind of Sylvia Plath vibe going.”
I roll my eyes. “Have you seen photos of Sylvia Plath?”
“I’m talking about her soul – she’s got this confessional look in her eyes and seems very dream-like and abstracted. I think she’s ethereal.”
I shake my head, exasperated. “And why would I like that?”
She lowers her eyes. “It’s what you used to see in me, Evan, before our ‘disastrous date’ ruined you for all women.”
I put my hand affectionately over hers and whisper, “Aw, c’mon Em—let’s not go over past hurts.”
She withdraws her hand, using it to push back a stray strand of hair. Her chin is thrust out, but trembling. She turns her face away from me, but I swear I saw tears. When she turns back to face me, her tone is brusque and businesslike.
“Look, we agreed I’d scope out some ‘chicks’ for you and I did—so you need to hold up your end of the bargain.”
“So, you always see this chick—er, girl there?”
“Tuesday and Thursday nights—after cooking classes.”
I’m still trying to process this. “You take cooking classes?”
“Yeah, I do. You got a problem with that?”
I soften, “Naw—what you do is up to you—just seems out of character or something.”
“Right—and you really know me.”
“Okay, okay—sheesh. Don’t go all weird. I didn’t mean to come off like a wise ass. I’ll go and check out the place and let you know.”
“Yeah, do that,” she says, getting up and putting on her coat.
“I’ll drop by there tomorrow night and tell you how it goes.”
“Sure.” She’s poker faced and inscrutable.
I watch her head down the stairs on her way out into the night.
Women are so damned unpredictable. You never know what they’re thinking.
The Wonderbar Café—sounds like a dive.
The Wonderbar Cafe is a bit of flotsam and jetsam Time washed up and forgot on a downtown Toronto street.
I walk in the doors and step back into the past eighty years or more.
The owner is an older woman named Madge that everyone seems to know.
She puts a vinyl Decca record on the turntable and the hiss of the static and the lilt of the music transports me back before the War, to a time before life became so complicated it lost its joy.
The ambience is Thirties or Forties—Gatsby and Hemingway, and Zelda with a cigarette holder sitting in one of the window booths—except, its not them sitting there tonight, but the girl Em mentioned—and she’s breathtaking.
It’s uncanny though how this girl resembles Em and yet has this air of mystery about her. Em was right—it’s as if Sylvia Plath walked in and took over her body, and all I can think of is that I want to sit down and talk with her.
Amazingly, that’s exactly what I do. I simply walk over to her booth and say, “Do you mind if I join you?”
She looks around the diner at all the empty seats and I’m expecting her to say no, but she surprises me by saying softly, “Sure—why not?”
I sit opposite and can’t take my eyes off her. Everything about her is wild and untamed as a pale moon racing through a windy night.
I’m Evan Logan,” I manage to say.
“Althea Vickers,” she smiles.
“Do you live around here?” It’s a dumb question—sort of on the level of, do you come here often? But she accepts it at face value, and without even a hint of smirk, replies, “I live in a brownstone building on Bond Street.”
I’m staring deep into her eyes and for a moment get lost in the maze of her. I see her in the lobby of a brownstone building with an oak-paneled elevator and lobby, and art-deco chandeliers and sconces.
It suits her and she doesn’t look at all out of place in that place or time—or here, for that matter, in Madge’s Wunderbar Café and Diner.
“You’re a dreamer, aren’t you?”
Her question brings me out of my reverie. I feel flustered and embarrassed.
At that moment, the phonograph plays a scratchy vinyl record. A male singer is crooning the lyrics to a wistful song:
Gone is the romance that was so divine.
’tis broken and cannot be mended.
You must go your way,
And I must go mine.
But now that our love dreams have ended…
What’ll I do
When you are far away
And I am blue
What’ll I do?
What’ll I do?
“Its sad, isn’t it, Evan? Such a sad song. And why would people want to hear it?”
“It helps, I suppose, to put into words those difficult elusive feelings.”
She looks at me with compassion. “You have trouble with that, don’t you—putting elusive feelings into words?”
The song lyrics interpose again, like an iron alphabet clouding my mind, obscuring her face. I shut my eyes trying to wall them out.
When I’m alone
With only dreams of you
That won’t come true
What’ll I do?
When I open my eyes, Em is there—sitting in Althea’s place.
“Em?” I’m dazed and feel drugged.
“I hope you don’t mind, Evan. I came by after my class to check in on you—I was just going to pass by and go home, but saw you sitting here all alone. Did you get stood up?
I smile ruefully. “Not exactly. I met her, but she wasn’t what I was looking for.”
“Really? When I first saw her, I thought she was perfect for you.”
I get up, slide into the booth beside her, take her in my arms and kiss her.
“How could she be perfect for me, Em? She’s not you. All I ever wanted was you.”
She smiles at me, eyes moist and shining.
“All I ever wanted was to hear you say that—and to tell the truth, if you didn’t, I don’t know what I’d do.”
© 2014, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.