Al Evans was forty-eight years old, a bachelor, and he should have known better. He and Catherine Dunne sat on the sofa in his apartment on Walnut Street. She wore a demure beige dress with black sheer pantyhose. Her socks in her winter boots sat on the mat just inside the door. She drew her legs up under her and took the small, black velvet covered box Al held out to her. She had two teenage sons and a hopelessly alcoholic husband in Philadelphia. Catherine was staying in Pittsburgh for a short time with Al’s brother and sister-in-law. Catherine opened the box.
“Al, it’s beautiful.”
“It’s pure gold.”
He watched her face. She looked around the neat but sparsely furnished living room, then back down at the delicate heart and very, very thin chain set against the red cloth.
“I can’t accept this.”
She closed the box and put it on the side table next to her pack of cigarettes and roll of breath mints. She slid into his lap and put her arms around his neck.
“Let’s not think about it,” she said. “I told Holly I wouldn’t be back until later this evening. Let’s not think about anything at all. I just want to forget. Al, make me forget.”
“We’ll be sinful and happy.”
“We’re both adults.”
“We’re not hurting anyone if no one finds out.”
The next two days snow fell in gentle flurries. On the third day Al was invited to dinner by his brother and sister-in-law who lived in one of the best neighborhoods in the city. It was Sunday and an unexpected chance to see Catherine again. Everyone sat at the dining room table.
“Cathy,” Holly said, “would you like to say the blessing?”
“Go on,” Mark said. “You’re the guest, but I just can’t picture Holly as a barefoot hippie with flowers in her hair.”
“Well it was San Fran twenty-five years ago,” Catherine said. “At least Holly got her degree. I dropped out my junior year. But someone else had better say the blessing.”
“Let Uncle Al say it,” Nicky said. She was fifteen.
“He’s an atheist,” Holly said.
“No I’m not.”
“Are you an atheist, Al?” Catherine asked.
“Not at all.”
“He doesn’t believe in anything,” Holly said.
“Yes I do.”
“He’s all right,” Mark said. “I’ll say the blessing.” A few minutes later Mark said, “Cathy, you’re not eating.”
“I don’t seem to have an appetite.”
Al looked at her plate. He saw her glance up at the dining room wall clock. After dinner he finally got a few moments alone with Catherine down in the game room.
“I’m a guest here.”
“I want to kiss you.”
“Honey, please, not here.”
During the week, Catherine went three times to visit Al at his apartment. Al wondered if Mark or Holly suspected anything. Catherine had left her sons in the care of an aunt. If Catherine’s husband hadn’t gone on another bender Holly wouldn’t have invited Catherine to Pittsburgh and Al would not have been introduced to her. If snow hadn’t stranded Catherine downtown one day while she shopped she wouldn’t have accepted a ride from Al and wound up in his apartment. If over the years Catherine and Holly had not kept in touch Holly wouldn’t have known Catherine’s family had relocated from California to Pennsylvania to be near Catherine’s ailing parents; but Catherine had dreaded flying to Pennsylvania and she was also afraid to drive in snow. Any snow.
Al wanted to be able to kiss Catherine in front of Mark and Holly. He wanted Catherine to be able to accept any gift he gave her. He wanted Catherine never to have to leave Pittsburgh, again…
“When are you leaving?”
“I don’t want you to leave.”
“I don’t want to go.”
It was the following Sunday after the dinner at Mark and Holly’s. Church bells were ringing. Al and Catherine walked up the walkway of the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Cathedral of Learning of the University of Pittsburgh. The campus was deserted. Al wore his old army fatigue jacket with the yellow and black patch of the First Cavalry Division on the right shoulder, the horse’s head facing to the rear. Al’s gold captain’s bars, a pair on each epaulet, were only slightly tarnished. A brown muffler hung down from around his neck. He walked with his gloveless hands in the pockets of the jacket.
He and Catherine were bare headed, his closely cut hair thinning with lots of gray in it. Catherine wore sunglasses and kept pulling strands of her shoulder length auburn hair from across her face. She had on sleek black leather gloves and an ankle length dark brown mink coat. Her black leather boots were stacked mid-heels cut low just above the ankles. The boots looked expensive and very fashionable. Al heard water from the melting snow running into the sewers. The sunshine was harsh and all the hedges and the trees were bare.
“Then come back,” Al said. “Come back and marry me.”
They turned to the right and walked on.
“I make good wages,” he said. “The past ten years I’ve religiously saved ten percent of my income. I have a couple of investments. I’m sure your boutique would do well in Squirrel Hill or Shadyside. With our combined incomes the boys would have nothing to worry about.”
“And my husband?”
“Do you love him?”
A flock of pigeons flew overhead. She looked up and watched until the pigeons flew out of sight. She and Al walked down several steps, a thin black railing between them, and strolled to the left toward Forbes Avenue.
“We’ve slept in separate rooms nearly six years now,” she said. “Usually he’s drunk or hung over or just too damn sick.”
“Do you love him?”
“I did once.”
“Do you think you could love me?”
“You want all that responsibility?”
“Are you always so willing to risk what you have to get what you want?”
“What do I have?”
“It doesn’t feel like freedom.”
They faced each other and waited for the red light to change so they could cross the avenue; but the light seemed to be stuck. Catherine’s hair was alive in the wind.
He said, “I feel good when I’m with you. You don’t diminish me. You add to me. I want to be with you.”
She smiled up at him.
“What?” he said.
“You want to make an honest woman out of me.”
“Hey, that’s the kind of man I am.”…
On Monday Al took a sick day off from work. He had to think things through. He cleaned his apartment. It didn’t need to be cleaned. He had to think things through. That afternoon he phoned his sister-in-law.
“Her bus is scheduled to leave in half an hour.”…
Al parked the low slung red sports car and ran to the terminal. Passengers had not yet boarded the bus to Philadelphia. Catherine was not at the ticket counter, either. He stood in the main area and looked around. He felt panic rising inside of him. He strode into the women’s room.
No one was in the stalls and the three women at the mirrors above the sinks stopped talking and stared at him. “Get out of here,” one of them said to him. He ran out and ran to the magazine, paperback book and candy alcove. He started running toward the street doors when he saw her through the glass of the cafeteria. She sat at a little table, sipping from a white porcelain cup as she stared at nothing…
“Hi,” he said.
She looked up at him, and then put the cup down in its saucer. Three half smoked lipstick stained cigarettes were crushed out in the black plastic ashtray sitting on the table. A dull black purse with a long strap sat on the table. The purse looked to be made of soft, real leather. She wore an ordinary long coat. The small cafeteria was crowded. He sat down in the other chair at the table.
“You have no right,” she whispered. “You have no right.”
“You’re the finest woman I know.”
“I have a husband, two sons and a boutique to run. And if I’m the finest woman you know…What I did with you is adultery.”
“Darling, if I broke up my home it would always be between us.”
“We’ll make a new home. A much, much better home.”
“There’s more to life than love.”
“I won’t be back.”
The public address system began to announce the departure for Philadephia and all points in between. They sat looking at each other.
She said, “That’s me.”
She stood up and slung the long strap of the purse over her right shoulder. He looked up at her. He did not believe this was happening. It could not be happening. He stood up.
She said, “Al, I do love you. Heaven knows I love you. I’ll always love you.”