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What Nadia Means

The concurrently best and worst feeling I’ve ever felt involves watching a female cry.  I learned this at a young age, the time when anyone who knows anything about love learns what he knows.  At ~ what was I, ten? ~ I had a girlfriend.  But then Connie Newhouse gave me a valentine.  We had to give one to everyone in class, the teacher said, only Connie had written, “I really mean it” inside mine.

So Connie and I kissed, actual lip contact, at recess, when my girlfriend ~ and I completely forget her name ~ caught us and started crying.  Like a ball-peen hammer between the eyes an epiphany hit: I had power over this girl, the jilted one.  It felt good.  But it also made me sad, to know that it was a power to deny someone.

I said you learn at a young age, but you learn and forget, and go on living your life and you hurt people, and the sensation comes back.  Always too late.  She’s out the door, hurt, sobbing in a Toyota and unable to get the key into the ignition, and you think, “Oh, I meant this much to her.”  You had assumed you meant to her what she meant to you.  Revelation of the imbalance spawns the concurrent thoughts: “How could you?” and “You could have used her for more.”

If you’re lucky you get a second Connie Newhouse, a woman who intrigues you like none-other, but in that very intrigue, reminds you, you must hold some currency to deserve such intrigue.  She at once threatens and empowers you, and for a rare moment, you are operating at full awareness.

Audrey was pretty.  Amazingly pretty.  Maybe the prettiest girl you can imagine.  But then again, that’s not a big deal.  Let me tell you, being good looking helps you get beyond the looks.  You date some stunning women and they bore you.  So you begin to look for more.  Well, Audrey had more.  She was magnetic.  She drew you in and consumed your attention.  Almost childlike how she was always pretending to be something, which I guess explained her attractiveness.  Unpredictable, like a child.  Any Sunday, fully-clothed afternoon in the park could turn into an adventure.  She always wanted to make-believe we were anything from spies to restaurant critics.

So one day I initiated.  We were watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and there’s that scene where Jimmy Stewart is trying to fashion Kim Novak into the old Kim Novak character who supposedly died, and they are at a high-end store where you ask for a type of dress and models come out to show you all the variations.  You’re in a private room, and it’s like this fashion show just for you.  I asked if stores still did that.  Audrey said she thought some did, downtown, for the very rich.  So I suggested we pretend to be filthy rich.  We could go and act pretentious, and maybe even buy one of those dresses, because we could put it on a credit card and return it next week.

She went for it.  We were giddy with anticipation as I put on a really sharp suit but without a tie, and she donned a nice dress and pretended I was so common.

I guess I took a cue from the film.  I decided to treat Audrey not like someone I knew, but like someone else I’d like her to be.  Some mammoth force from the past I was trying to resurrect.  We got to the store and she began to admire a dress, blue and glittery, and backless but in the front it came up very high around the neck, which I actually considered remarkably sexy.  But I found myself instantly saying, “no.”  I wanted something black.  Off the shoulder.  She can wear a scarf is she gets cold.  Audrey protested, but I was surprisingly short and pointed out, “Who’s paying for this?”  I took out cigarettes, the expensive French brand I bought on the way over, even though I knew they wouldn’t allow smoking in the store.  The saleslady asked if I “minded,” and I produced an irritated scowl.

Audrey liked the first black dress they modeled, so I dismissed it.  The model vaguely approximated Audrey ~ tall, dark hair.  I presumed that intentional.  The whole process felt almost royal, as if Audrey were given a double so she could see herself without the bother of changing her own clothes.

“You smoke?” I asked Audrey while fumbling with the pack.  Audrey doesn’t, but by the rules of her game she could do whatever she liked.  She shot me a quizzical but disappointed look.  Probably believed I’d broken character, paused the game to ask about her character.  So I clarified:  “Cause I don’t like women who smoke my cigarettes.”  It occurred to her that maybe we were not a rich couple, but rather rich strangers.  Or a rich man and a desperate woman.

“Nadia used to smoke,” I told her and looked across the room, locking my eyes on the crown molding so as to appear lost in something far away.  “But always her own.  Benson and Hedges.”  Audrey appeared to dismiss this ephemeral “Nadia” but a pause, more a tic, a staticy glitch, revealed she registered it.  She confirmed that she did not smoke.  I suggested she try.  “It draws attention to your hands and to your lips.”  I took her hands in mine.  “Anyone with elegant fingers can only benefit from smoking.”  She wanted to practice and reached for the pack, now in my breast pocket.

“No.  Buy your own.”

“You’ll buy me a two thousand dollar dress, but not a seven dollar pack of cigarettes?”

“Principle, darling.”

A new dress arrived and it had a strap over one shoulder but not the other.  It was horrible and I said “absolutely not” before the model even fully entered the room.

Did she know what Nadia means?  It means “hope.”  In Russian.

Somehow she read my mind.  “Do you think I want to hear about Nadia?” Audrey said.

I said, “Nadia would listen to me talk about you.”

Silence for a long time.

“Did she look like me?” Audrey asked.  Not really.  “Do you want me to look like her?”  Not really.  “She had a black strapless dress?”  No, she had this self-conscious thing about her shoulders.  Thought they were too bony.  “You’re not using me to remember her?”  No, I want you to make me forget her.  “So why this talk of Nadia?”  It’s the only way to make a subject tiresome.  Silence, on the other hand, equals mystery, equals infatuation.

New dress.  Short.  Completely off the shoulders.  Would look great with pearls.  “You have this in her size?” I asked.  “Yes, of course.”  I told the lady, the hostess or service attendant or whatever, to set Audrey up in the dress, to take her over to lingerie and get the proper undergarments, to get a string of pearls, and to put it all on my charge card.  I made a point of telling this to the lady, not to Audrey.

“You’re buying this for me?”  We both had a suspicion the game would fail, or we’d be called out. We’d go home empty handed, not even something intended for return.  But I was shooting the moon.

“Yes.  Don’t disappoint me.”

“Like Nadia?”

“Nadia rarely disappointed me.  Only once, really.”

“What’d she do?”

“Don’t ask me.  Just don’t every do it.”

“How can I not, if I don’t know.”

“Asking is half the problem.  Don’t you know me?  Know me better than she did.”

Audrey could tell the act was through, that there really was a Nadia, even if not by that name, but she also knew that to ask would mean to lose.


Martin Brick’s fiction has been published in many places, including The Beloit Journal of Fiction, Vestal Review, Pindeldyboz, and Sou’Wester.  He was raised in rural Wisconsin, but currently reside in Columbus, Ohio.

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