Friday, February 27, 2009

Miriam Part Three

"Yes – er, that is, you play beautifully, as you always have", Miriam said, dropping her eyes from his and looking nervously around the room. They were alone, weren't they? She felt like she should say something else, but didn't know what. Josh's fingers swept over the keys with effortless skill, and the haunting melody filled the room.

"That – what you're playing – it sounds familiar", Miriam ventured. "Have I heard it before?"

"I doubt it", Josh replied, then corrected himself, "but then, maybe you've heard bits of it. I just made it up tonight, but it contains themes I've used before."

"Yes, I can see that", she replied. "It's very beautiful."

"Thank you", Josh nodded slightly and played for a bit more. "So – how have you been?"

Miriam dropped her head and smiled. She should have expected that – it was the perpetual "Josh question". Almost every meeting, phone call, letter, or even e-mail would include that little question; so casual yet so probing. How had she been. How had she been? Let's see, Josh – how long has it been? Years now? A lot of water under the bridge, a lot of distance between her and – oh, just about everyone. Lots of acquaintances, lots of cards in the box on her dresser, lots of memories that blurred together, lots of faces but no names to go with them, lots of meetings but few friends, lots of parties...

"Fine, Josh, I've been fine", she answered. "It's – I'm a little tired these days, but otherwise I'm doing well. And – and you?"

"You're looking good", he volunteered, his hands still sweeping across the keyboard. "Nice dress."

"Thanks. Nick got it for me, and since he brought me here, I thought I'd – you know, wear it", she answered. It was a nice dress, but in Josh's presence she was suddenly conscious of how short it was, and how low the neckline was cut. It certainly complimented her dancer's legs and the trim figure she worked so hard to maintain, and she could always tell that male eyes were watching her every move when she wore it. It certainly was sexy. Sometimes men would come and – talk to her. And keep looking at her. It was attention, but – they weren't the nicest men.

"You've always looked good in red", Josh continued.

Looked good in red. Yes, she did – everyone told her so. But then, she also looked good in white. Even more people told her that, especially when she wore the white dress that Josh had gotten her years ago. It wasn't at all like this red party dress – it was more a cool weather dress, with long lacy sleeves, a tea-length skirt, and a beautiful collar that framed her long neck. She'd joked with Josh about his taste running toward Victorian wedding dresses, but there was no denying that it made her look and feel more feminine and beautiful than anything else she had. When she wore that dress gentlemen would open doors for her with a little bow, and women would come up to tell her how beautiful she was, while Josh just looked on and smiled. Goodness, she hadn't worn that dress in years. Just last month she'd spotted it in the cleaner's bag at the back of her closet and had taken it out. Why was she still keeping it? She pondered donating it to St. Vincent, but she just – couldn't. She'd hung it back on the bar.

"Thank you", Miriam answered, tugging at her hem just a little. "I – thank you." The silence fell between them again, full of the melody and so much more. "How have you been?"

"I've been well", Josh said lightly. "Here and there, plenty to keep me busy, of course. You remember how it was."

"You always managed to make time for me", Miriam said, startling herself. Why had she said that?

Josh looked back at her with one of his small smiles. "It's easy to make time for the truly important things."

"Miriam" is a short story by Roger Thomas, author of The Last Ugly Person: And Other Stories

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