Story — From the November 2016 issue

In This One

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In this one he’ll only have one daughter and no other child. In this one he’ll be divorced and his ex-wife will live in California. In this one he’ll live in a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan and not in a house in Baltimore. In this one no one will live on Riverside Drive or West 75th Street. In this one he’ll be a novelist who’s written only five short stories in his entire writing career. In this one he’ll have finished a novel a month or so ago after working on it for more than three years. In this one he won’t use the expression “or so.” In this one he’ll have a dog instead of a cat. In this one he’ll want almost desperately to start a new novel but won’t come up with any idea for one. It’s never happened before, not in more than fifty years of writing, and in this one he’s getting anxious that he’ll never come up with something to write again. In this one no one will go to a concert, recital, or opera, and no music will be played on a radio or CD.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae

Illustration by Shonagh Rae

In this one his daughter tries to fix him up with a woman about ten years younger than he with whom she’s become friendly at work, but nothing comes of it. They have lunch a couple of times, and in this one he finds her attractive but not interesting, and she tells his daughter she doesn’t find him interesting or attractive. In this one other people besides his daughter try to fix him up with women, but it never works out, mainly because neither is interested in most of the things the other is. In this one he doesn’t make a play for women much younger than he. In this one no one goes down with a ship in the North Atlantic or is killed by a falling tree or a huge chunk of concrete that comes off a building.

He doesn’t dream in this one, or if he dreams he doesn’t describe them. In this one there are no conversations in cars. In this one he hasn’t been a reporter or news editor or waiter or bartender or cabbie or artists’ model or gardener or luncheonette counterman or department-store salesman or middle- or junior-high-school teacher before he becomes an assistant professor. In this one he hasn’t made love for more than three years. In this one the last woman he made love to wasn’t his wife. In this one his wife doesn’t get very sick and no one he knows is dying or dies. In this one there are no funerals or memorials, and no one gets taken to Emergency in an EMS truck. Did he already say that? In this one he never says or thinks, “Did I already say that?” and right after it, “Even if I did.” In this one he’s not going to fall apart or cry or shout hysterically or drop to his knees and bang his fists on the pavement. In this one he’s not going to have any trouble with his memory and letter by letter have to go up the alphabet to get someone’s first or last name or a book title, and there’ll be no talk or thoughts of writers and books. In this one he won’t feel he’ll never have a chance to make love to a woman again.

In this one the last woman he makes love with is someone he was engaged to almost fifty years ago. In this one, after not being in touch with her for almost forty years and not even realizing she lives in the city and has for about twenty years, he bumps into her in front of a Rembrandt self-portrait in a Dutch gallery at the Metropolitan Museum. In this one they have dinner the following night, and after dinner she invites him to her apartment for a drink. In this one no one calls a drink like that a nightcap. In this one she says, while he’s finishing his second brandy and she’s nursing her first, “So, my ex-deary, care to have a go at it for old times’ sake?” In this one, though he knows what she means but wants a little more time to think about it, he says, “Excuse me, but a go at what?” and in this one he’s not going to use the expression “says” or “said something like.” In this one, what he says or said is just that. In this one he won’t wonder, for instance, if he’s using the word “expression” right or if it sometimes shouldn’t be called “phrase.” In this one she says, “Excuse me yourself, but what do I have to do, spell it out for you? I’m being open and honest and forward, and I deserve a mature and honest response.” In this one no one uses the expression or phrase “the least,” as in “the least I deserve,” or anything like that. “Sex. Act of love. Love act. Two bodies coupling,” she says. “You want to add to that, do. We’re certainly of age, but not beyond it, thank goodness, and because we both work out so much appear to be in pretty good shape for our seventy-plus years. You’re not in danger of having a heart attack, are you?” and in this one, because he’s used the word too many times too, there’ll be no mention of a stroke. “Spare me and yourself if there is that danger. If you simply don’t want to go to bed with me, that’s perfectly all right, too. We could still see each other as friends, but I doubt we would. And help me. You, having been a writer for so long and of God knows how many sentences and books, must know if I used ‘for old times’ sake’ correctly or if it should have been ‘for old time sake.’ ’’ “Whatever it is,” he says in this one, “and I have to admit that at the present moment I don’t know which is right, yes, I’d like to. Go to bed with you. Would love to, in fact,” and in this one he’ll use the expression or phrase “in fact” and the word “anyway” only once. “Anyway, one thing you should know is that I’m not sure I’ll be able to perform in bed all that well. I’m not saying I won’t, but there is that chance. It’s been a while. And last time — I should say the last three to four thousand times — was with my wife, whom I loved deeply and probably still do, and deeply miss too. That could affect my performance, I hate calling it, but you know what I mean. It’s possible I won’t even be able to get started. I’ve warned you, so please don’t criticize or blame me if it turns out to be a bust. If you’re still willing to go ahead with it, after that spiel, I’m game.”

In this one she gets out of the chair she’s been sitting in across from him. In this one he’s also in a chair. In this one there’s no mention of a sofa or couch, and he doesn’t sit on one next to a woman. In this one there’s a Hollywood bed with pillows on it against the wall, but she tells him it’s full of cat hair and is uncomfortable and he shouldn’t sit on it unless he wants to be brushing off his pants for the next two days or get them dry-cleaned. In this one there’s no kissing before they go into the bedroom. In this one the only time they kissed that night before they were in the bedroom was when they met in front of the restaurant, and that was on the cheek.

In this one she says after she stands up, “The bedroom’s through there,” and points to a short hallway. In this one she says, “Wait a minute. I’m not being a good host and I don’t want to rush you. Would you like another drink before we go to the bedroom?” He says, in this one, “I’d actually like to — the brandy was delicious — but it’s getting late and it might tire me and affect my performance, again, for want of a better word, so I won’t. What I would like is to clean up a little — wash my face and hands and brush my teeth. May I use the towel in the bathroom? And do you have a spare toothbrush?” “I have two,” she says in this one, “both in the holder, and you can use either one. Toothpaste should be in the cup there, and there are face towels on the towel rack you can use. Why don’t you go first?”

In this one, he goes into the bathroom and shuts the door. After he comes out, she goes into the bathroom and he goes into the bedroom and sits on the side of the bed nearest the door, waiting for her to come back. It’s been a while, as he said in this one, since he’s been with a woman for the first time — more than thirty years — and he’s not sure what he should do. Should he take off his shoes before she comes in? he thinks in this one. Also his socks? Should he put his socks, if he takes them off, in his shoes? If he does, he thinks in this one, where should he put his shoes, under the bed on the side he’s sitting on? Or should he leave them on the floor but not under the bed till he finds out which side of the bed she wants to be on? In this one he leaves his shoes on.

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’s most recent works of fiction are the novella Beatrice; Letters to Kevin, a novel; and the collection Late Stories. His story “Two Parts” appeared in the January 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

More from Stephen Dixon:

Story From the January 2015 issue

Two Parts

Fiction From the May 1996 issue

Shortcut

Fiction From the January 1995 issue

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