Paul had his hopes set on Catherine. His desire for her love and affection was strong to the point of obsession. If he could be the wind nothing would have pleased him more than to run his wind breeze like fingers through her hair and caress her cheeks. Not that Catherine really encouraged him affections. I think the most dreaded curse I woman can utter to a man is “Let’s stay friends.” In the beginning I tried to warn him but some people can’t take a hint even when it is delivered by a two by four. This would be love affair began about ten years ago when we were out of college and living in the city. Paul was a structural engineer working for an architectural firm and I was an electrical engineer working for one of the local television stations. Neither one of us could afford a three bedroom apartment, not that we needed that many rooms for ourselves but single apartments were as scarce as hen’s teeth. So Paul and I, along with an acquaintance from the television station (he was a copy writer) found a three bedroom walk-up in a not so fashionable section of the city. Beggars and not very well to do young men must take what they can afford.
The social scene for us low men on the totem pole was limited. Gala’s were for the more established men and women, those with more fashionable addresses and incomes to match. Paul’s firm was having some sort of celebration, something to do with winning the contract for the new addition to one of the major Art Museums and for some reason I found myself with an invitation to the posh gathering. I would believe that someone had confused my name with one of the “personalities” at the television station (our names were similar but not exact) and no I had a free “meal ticket”, all the champagne and scotch I could drink. I rented a tux for the evening and since Paul was expected to be part of the “help”, we went together. Like all young men we had our expectations of a grand and glorious evening. There would be excitement and celebrities and music and booze and fun and gaiety. Well, two out of six ain’t bad if you’re a baseball slugger, celebrities and booze, even if it was the cheap stuff, the booze I mean. For Paul, it was like walking into Valhalla. Catherine was a young assistant to the curator in charge of the eighteenth century period of fine arts. If i recall correctly she was about two years our senior and cut an impressive figure. That long black gown gave her that slimness that actuated her height like a tall willow reed next to a pond. The long blonde mane she wore with that slight bit of fullness and touch of curl gave her appearance a most appetizing and elegant arrangement. I had the distinct impression that she was use to driving men mad and Paul had that look.
Paul was pressed into service to explain the plans, entertain the wishes of the public, for this was a most civic affair, and generally station himself at the model. For this service he was granted on glass of champagne and one orderve. But I could tell that he was captivated by Catherine. I mean, who wouldn’t. On the other hand I was free to roan in search of future contacts. The station personality with whom I was confused did not show, something about a live broadcast for some great news event of little consequence. It was most embarassing to be led up to the dias and have to explain that I was not he, that bright shining personality, but an electrical engineer of no account. After that I was shunned in general. However, Catherine saw the humor in the situation and lent her beauty to the beast, as it was. She asked me to escort her around so as to ward off the married wolves. Thus I had the envy of almost all males including those whose wives had accompanied them. The next morning’s papers were full of speculation as to who was this unworthy person. And I had not forgotten Paul. We drifted over to his station ans she engaged his services to explain the project. Paul was practically beaming with pride as he explained the structural engineering of this modern embarrassment to architecture. Well, yes, I have never liked the modernist or extreme modernist designs. But that is neither here no there.
As we walked around the floor interacting with the myriad of public guests of various stripes Catherine and I talked a little about who we were and what brought us to the big city. Her voice had that sultry quality, almost Lauren Bacall in register and phrasing. “I come from a family that has always had an interest in the arts. I double majored in art history and English literature, that’s how I landed this job with the help of my father’s contacts. Father teaches art history at Amherst and my mother is a writer for Reader’s Digest. I write some of the literature for Dr Bigelow, the kind that goes to the museum’s patrons and the societies that sponsor exhibitions every year. It’s really very dull work and even duller partons and social matrons.” I told her that I write a little, mostly non fiction technical work, but every now and then I attempt a bit of short story fiction. “Other than that, I’m a rather dull man.” Catherine laughed at that expose. Along about eleven I excused myself from her company citing the need to start work early. “We’re installing new equipment for remote broadcasts. I think the first one will be at the opera.” She was impressed by that knowledge and smiled as I left.
Paul came in about one that morning and promptly woke me up. “I’m in love, I’m in love. For the first time in my life, I’m in love. And do you know who my object of affection happens to be? That beautiful and gorgeous woman, Catherine! Think of it! I’m in love with a vision of loveliness, a goddess.” My own opinion was that it was not love so much as another four letter word we used to use to apply to our affairs in college. After half an hour of such declarations of madness I kicked him out of my room. I needed my sleep, not his attempts to justify a little chit chat. As I drifted off to sleep Paul was still dancing around like the proverbial schoolboy. My alarm went off all too early that morning but I quickly got dressed. Paul had dropped off to sleep on the couch, still dressed in his tux. Oversleeping was his affair, perhaps his boss would take last night in consideration.
Being the junior engineer, I was given task for all the remote broadcasting set-ups and even became the impromptu sound engineer. The only advantage was that I had one or two days off during the week. The disadvantage was that being a “professional” I wasn’t paid the high union scale nor the overtime that went with it. But there was the promise of advancement in the industry and even opportunities in other industries. Thus began my weekly foray into the world of art. The city had quite a few museums dedicated to art and science. The Soho section was home to numerous galleries for art and antiques, a taste I had acquired from my mother. Not that I could afford much in the way of objects d’art, but I could look. One day in a small gallery I bumped into Catherine, literally. I did not see her nor expected to see much of her in my limited social circle. “Hello, Bill. What brings you here?”
“It’s my day off and I usually spend my time visiting these galleries or museums. Aren’t you working?”
“Actually, I am. Dr Bigelow sends me out to scout the galleries for new talent. This piece, for example, has promise. What do you think?”
I replied, “I don’t think much of the more modern examples of art. I think I’m stuck in the eighteenth and nineteenth century as far as style. I suppose that makes me seem a bit stolid in your eyes.”
Catherine smiled, “No, not at all. I’m a bit of a throwback in my field. But I just can’t afford a few million for a good collection. Why don’t you come to the museum next time and I’ll take you on a private tour and we can lunch with one of the patrons. I’ll tell them you’re a critic and they’ll pick up the tab.”
“Sure, how about next Wednesday?”
“Fine, it’s a deal.”
“By the way”, I continued, “we’re broadcasting La Boheme next Saturday, the opera’s premier. Care to sit in the booth with me? All the tickets have been snapped up, not even standing room.”
“Why Bill, that’s a great idea. I’ll be there. Where shall I meet you?”
Saturday evening came and Paul was at home. He had been moping around lately as if the world might come to an end. I had not seen Paul look quite so dejected since the home coming queen rejected his offer of a date. “What’s the matter Paul, why so glum tonight?”
“I tried to ask Catherine out tonight, you know, that real nice blonde who works for the art museum? Well, she said she already had plans for the evening. Bill, I’ve been trying to get her to go out with again for a month now.”
“Suppose I’m to blame for tonight, she’s going to the opera with me tonight. I’ve got the broadcast to do tonight and I offered her a seat in my booth. I am sorry to steal your date.”
Paul looked at me with questioning eyes. I knew what he was thinking, how did I rate. “Look, the premier is sold out. You have to have money and connections for tonight or know the recording engineer. That’s all. It’s not like we’re sitting fifth row center.” My explanation didn’t have quite the effect I expected. He was downcast now as if I had punched him in the stomach. “Hey, maybe next time. Why not ask her to Sunday brunch? Tell you what. I’ll ask her to brunch tomorrow and you show up with me. How’s that?”
“Yeah, ok…yeah, I’ll tag along.” Paul sounded unconvinced and not particularly happy.
I had not told Paul much about my relationship with Catherine. Just a friendship, nothing special. We meshed well during the outings to galleries and antique stores. She was a beautiful woman but she never evinced an interest in me as anything more than a friend and perhaps a convenient friend, at that. I never took it for more than that. she struck me as a woman who might marry one of those partons of the museum, perhaps as a trophy wife. Not that Catherine was a shallow person but that she seemed to know her “worth” in the world. So the opera passed in the usual way. I was preoccupied more with the recordings and any possible problems, both visual and aural than I was with my companion. Those close to the booth must have been smug with the knowledge that I had a beautiful woman dressed in a costly evening ground in my booth. Most recognized her from all the other functions she attended for the museum. I think I detected a touch of envy from a few of the men. After the performance as I was gathering up the equipment with the help of one of the union people, I mentioned the possibility of having brunch the next forenoon. “Why Bill, I’d love to. Where shall we meet? Wait a minute, I know. There’s a little cafe on Third Avenue, Le Aurora Cafe. It’s a marvelous place.” I didn’t mention bring Paul along.
Paul and I found a nice table located outside. The sun was warm and the light breeze brought the sent of jasmine from the tree next door. I though I detected a bit of disappointment in the eyes of Catherine. “I hope you don’t mind, Catherine, I invited Paul to brunch with us.”
“Oh no, not at all.” Catherine was very good at not skipping a beat when faced with a change in plans. I think she practiced that social manner. Paul started to ask questions of her. How did she enjoy the opera? What did she think of the engineering booth? And so forth. I tried to quickly attract the waiter and get our orders started and have the coffee refilled. Catherine was parrying his questions like a fencing master parrys with rapier. I stepped into the conversation.
“Catherine, what new exhibits are coming up this month? I was hoping for something from the French period, maybe Carrot, for example.” She shifted the conversation into art and the doings at the museum. I was surprised that she could hold forth so long and so well. Then the food arrived and she could fein the need to occupy herself with eating. After the meal she had another cup of coffee and then announced that she must go. I got up and said something about needing to get myself a paper. I met her at the corner briefly.
“Sorry about Paul, I didn’t know. It won’t happen again.”
She simply said, “It’s all right. I’ll see you Wednesday if you have the day off.” I nodded in response. Then I walked back to the table with the Sunday edition in my had.
“What we you and Catherine talking about?”
“Oh, that. Nothing special, just a new gallery that opened last week. She wanted to know If I had seen it.”
Paul looked at me suspiciously. “Are you dating her?”
“No, just sometimes I run into her at one of the galleries or antique stores. That’s all. I’ve never asked her out, really, except for last night at the opera and that was hardly a date. Just a professional courtesy.” Paul turned and walked away, lost in his own thoughts. I could have sworn I saw one or two tears in his eyes.
After that Sunday Paul never mentioned Catherine by name again. About two weeks later Catherine told me that Paul had succeeded in getting her alone. “It was such a terrible scene, really. He was so insistent. Kept saying how much he loved me and wanted to be with me. Begging me to love him, be with him. He wants me for his wife! Imagine that! What a contemptible fool!” She calmed down after a few minutes. “Bill, I hate to speak ill of your friend but he won’t let me alone. Please don’t take this the wrong way but Adrian Bolton, that nice society lawyer, well, he talked to Judge Deavers and now there is a retraining order against Paul from bothering me. Oh Bill, I just didn’t know what else to do. Can you forgive me?”
“Catherine, it’s not my affair. I don’t know what’s come over Paul. You know, the first time he met you he said he was insanely in love with you. What can I say?”
Two months later Paul moved out of the apartment. He had found another job in a different city a thousand miles away. That was the last I ever saw of him. Like the wind, perhaps his love, as it might have been, moved on across the land. Three months later Catherine had announced her engagement to that not so young social lawyer, Adrian Bolton. She still works at the museum but I seldom run into her in the galleries or antique shops. I did meet Catherine’s replacement as Dr Bigelow’s assistant. I bumped into her in that same gallery, she was looking for the next artist for the museum’s modern wing. Short and cute with medium brown hair and a pleasant face and sturdy body. We had a cup of coffee together. Irene doesn’t sparkle like Catherine does, but I prefer her down to earth style.