Tuesday

THE ONLY REASON TO MARRY

Phayer met Miranda on an overnight Northwest flight to Tokyo, she a twenty-two-year-old stewardess with a severe learning problem and little more than a semester of community college, he a reluctant marketing executive of thirty-nine in his uncle’s hardware business. He had graduated with a B.A. in literature from Kenyon College and had vague notions of writing some day.
On the fourteen-hour overnight flight to Asia, it isn’t long before most first class passengers, stuffed with food, sodden with drink, pass into a nocturnal catatonia. Phayer, on the other hand, had been struck by the way Miranda’s navy blue rayon skirt kept riding up her thigh as she reached into the overhead bins for pillows and the like. So as the usual post-prandial stupor was descending upon his fellow passengers, he asked Miranda for her very best cognac. She declined his suggestion that she bring along a snifter for herself, but did say she would sit “for just a few minutes.”
There is a wonderful coziness in the first class cabin of a 747 late at night with almost all the lights turned off and the surprisingly gentle hum of the engines in the background. Phayer found Miranda easy to talk to, or rather at, for as he spoke she looked at him with the most attentive, admiring eyes. As soon as he finished answering one question – What’re you reading? – she would pepper him with another – What else has Updike written? – the kind of query that invites one to showcase one’s most passionately held opinions – No one is chronicling the second half of the twentieth century in America with his dispassionate honesty and insight. Or she would compliment him on his tie and shoes. The way his hair was cut. The hint of obsidian (Phayer’s word, not hers) in his eyes.
It wasn’t long before it seemed perfectly natural to reach over and take her hand. She held Phayer’s back with a great sense of – when he thinks back on it the word that most accurately describes the sensation is affection. Phayer had been expecting a sort of feverish lustful massaging, the kind that telegraphs a woman is quite willing to have sex with you, but what he got was more like warmth, gratitude even.
In truth, with his dark wavy hair streaked with a striking splash of silver, his confident air and extraordinary good looks, Phayer had grown quite used to women responding to his advances. It was most certainly why, hypothesized his parents and older sister with mounting frustration, he was nearing forty and still not married.
Somewhere up ahead a passenger hit the “call” button. Miranda got up, and when she returned it was with a newly opened bottle of 1972 Chateau Talbot. “I won’t hear from this gang again till we’re passing over Kyoto,” she explained.
After a glass of the vintage Bordeaux, her eyes grew watery, and her plump full lips looked moist and rubbery. Phayer leaned forward and pressed his mouth against hers, and again there was a sense of acceptance more than any great rush of desire. She had capitulated; and he got the feeling that had he nudged her so, she would have slid onto her back and let him lie on top of her. In fact, as their kisses grew longer and their bodies more entwined, Phayer, not a man easily discomfited, began to feel embarrassed for her. Perhaps there was some unwritten code among stewardesses that after midnight it was acceptable behavior to fuck a businessman in his seat as long as you believed you stood a realistic chance of marrying him.
He pulled himself from Miranda’s embrace and looked her straight in her liquid eyes. “Should we?” he asked.
She seemed to be thinking it over for a few seconds, then demurely nodded her assent. “Wait here for two minutes,” she instructed, “and go into the lavatory on the right.”
As he entered, Phayer’s heart leapt at the sight of the navy blue silk panties already bunched in a ball next to the sink. While he hoisted her skirt, Miranda unbuckled his pants. And when he lowered her onto him, everything about her body was soft and warm and pliable, all give, no resistance, as if she were trying to merge with Phayer, as if her greatest pleasure were to give him pleasure. He came quickly and she did not.
They repeated their lovemaking in that same bathroom once more, setting up the assignation with head nods and eye signals, Phayer's climax greatly enhanced with the excitement of ejaculating just as the giant jet liner touched down. As Phayer waited to deplane, he thought he saw the other stewardesses smiling at Miranda with an air of congratulatory complicity.

Phayer pushed his long legs between the cool, crisp sheets with a sense of delectation, his confidence in the cleanliness of the bedding adding to the pleasure. Would that the rest of the world were as anal as the Japanese. He was exhausted, deliciously so, and feeling, if not smug, self-satisfied. Yes, he had wound up in bed with stewardesses before. But tonight was his initiation into the mile high club, another important milestone on his journey to world-class swordsman.
He woke fifteen hours later, drew himself a bath, lit a cigarette, pulled “Rabbit Redux” out of his suitcase, and climbed into the tub. If anything, the sense of well-being he was experiencing as he dropped off to sleep had swelled overnight.
In an hour or so, he would be meeting Mr. Takahama in the Hilton coffee shop, where they would breakfast on bacon and eggs cooked as beautifully as in any Jersey diner back home. After breakfast, he would show Mr. Takahama samples of their new line of titanium wrenches, and Mr. Takahama would ooh and ah with delight, and then order a thousand dozen, perhaps more, this being the early seventies and the Japanese economy on a seemingly endless growth spurt.
But before that, he would simply relax in the tub, devouring his beloved Updike, luxuriating in the knowledge that beyond his avocation as lover of women, his profession of international businessman, he was above all a man of letters. Wit, poetry, his delight in the roll and tumble of language, the magic of the perfect word, this was what set him apart from all the other slick young businessmen in Meladandri suits who saw the world as their oyster as they flew back and forth between London and New York, Tokyo and Honk Kong.
Phayer put on his shoes, checked the supply of samples in his Coach briefcase, ducked back into the bathroom for a last minute spritz of Eau Sauvage, then stepped out of his room. He paused for a moment, for the door opposite him was opening, too. Out stepped a couple, the man somewhere in his fifties with the most wonderful crew cut of salt and pepper hair, the woman Miranda, both of them in navy blue Northwest Airlines uniforms with gold braiding on the sleeves.
Phayer froze, paralyzed. Miranda nodded matter of factly, just shy of a smile, then took the captain’s arm and proceeded down the hall. Phayer trailed them slowly, hoping the elevator would have spirited them away before he caught up with them. It had not.
The twenty-eight floor ride down to the lobby was both too long and too short. Clearly, Miranda was aware of him but did not look at him. And the contrition he longed for her to be feeling, the Hawthornian shame, was nowhere to be seen. The pilot was handsome, Mcqueen-like. Phayer glanced down at his left hand and, sure enough, there was a thick gold wedding band on his ring finger. He checked Miranda’s ring finger, just as he had the night before. Nothing had changed. It was ringless.
Slut, whore, vixen, concubine, minx, trollop, tramp, Jezebel, corva, puta – these were just a few of the words Phayer found himself silently screaming at her in a most futile effort to drown out this sudden and completely unanticipated onslaught of pain.

It took him several weeks, but eventually, by putting great pressure on his travel agent, he was able to track her down. He called her at home in Minneapolis and told her he was going to be in town on business and would love to buy her dinner at the best restaurant in town.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m flying back to Tokyo on the 27th.” For some reason, Phayer had not imagined she wouldn’t be available.
“I’ll come out a few days earlier then.” He felt desperate to keep her from reconnecting with his rival.
“What about your meeting?”
“I’ll just tell the guy I want to see him sooner. What do you say? Evening of the 24th?”
“I guess that’d be okay,” she said with, to Phayer’s ear, a decided lack of enthusiasm.

Too on edge to watch the news in his hotel room, Phayer arrived at the restaurant nearly half an hour early. He gave the maitre’ d twenty bucks for the table in the corner, furthest from the door. He sat with his back to the wall, affording him a view of the entire restaurant. He gulped down a Jack Daniels and ordered another, his eyes trained on the entranceway.
When she still hadn’t arrived by 7:15, thirty minutes late, Phayer phoned. A male with a slight Latino accent told him that she had just left the apartment. A few minutes later, the maitre’ d ushered a young blond woman in a white blouse and a black skirt toward his table. It took Phayer a moment to recognize her without her airline uniform. Her hair was looser, less coiffed. She had almost no make up on. It instantly made him want to sleep with her.
She apologized profusely for being late but offered no excuse. “That’s okay,” said Phayer, “Your, um, boyfriend told me you were on your way.”
She laughed. “That’s Raoul, my roommate. He’s a fellow flight attendant.”
“Oh,” said Phayer, trying to digest the information. This was years before the rise of co-ed roommates.
They had a bottle of Chardonnay before they ordered, then a bottle of Cabernet with dinner.
“Why don’t you come back to my hotel for dessert?” said Phayer.
“No, I’ve got to be up early tomorrow. I really should go soon.”
Phayer couldn’t bear the idea of her leaving. It left him feeling angry, aggressive, and he began probing her relationship with the captain. She was surprisingly unapologetic. “When you fly for a living, these things happen.”
“But he’s so old,” said Phayer.
“He’s very nice to me.”
“And it doesn’t bother you that he’s got a wife?”
“I’m sure she knows. It’s what happens when you’re married to a pilot.”
Phayer wanted to say, well, that’s disgusting. Instead, he found himself, quite without warning, declaring, “Well, I want you to be my wife.”
She looked at him askance. “I’m not kidding,” he said. “I want to marry you.”
“You hardly know me.”
“I can’t stand the idea of your being with anyone else.”
“I’m not sure that’s a very good reason for marrying someone.”
“It’s the only reason,” he replied fiercely. “What do you say?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do they have a Tiffany’s in Minneapolis?”
“They have a Shapiro’s.”
“Is it nice?”
“It’s fine.”
“We’ll go get a ring, first thing in the morning. A diamond. A big one. Anything you want.”
“Okay,” she said. “But I’m still not coming back to your hotel room.”

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