Even before the taxi drove off, carrying Natasha away from me along with her Mama, I hailed another one. Dashing inside, “Quick!” I told the driver, as I pointed ahead. “Follow that car!”
Then, just before I had a chance to close the door, thump! Lana hopped in. With no apologies she landed in my lap, clutching what remained of the roses. She stuck her nose in one of them and sighed with misplaced gratitude.
“Oh what a lovely gesture!” she said. “Ryan never gave me flowers, not even on our first date, let alone on our anniversary, which happened the day he was drafted, so that to his relief, he had to miss it. He could learn a thing or two from you. My, what a gentleman, what a fine young man you are!”
I had not the heart to tell her that the flowers were not meant for her, exactly. The only thing I could do, as the car jerked into motion, was to ease her off of me.
“Oh, you don’t have to tell me. I know,” she said, with a sudden spark of intuition. “You bought them for that girl, that redhead! Don’t say no.”
“So cute, is what she is,” said Lana, with a shrug. “So I understand, but I can’t say I’m not jealous.”
“You shouldn’t be.”
Smelling the roses and raising them to my nose, she asked, “What about these? Are they mine, now?”
“Sure,” I said, as gallantly as I could, patting her hand over the broken stems. “You can have them.”
“Oh,” moaned Lana. “I would never have guessed it, looking at those muscles of yours. You have the most buttery touch.”
“I’ll make believe you meant to give me these flowers, if you don’t mind.”
For some reason she proceeded to tell me the whole story of how she had met Ryan. I could barely concentrate on it, because my mind was elsewhere. I was worrying that Natasha might slip away from me—this time forever—if the driver would fail to catch up to that cab.
Lana crossed one shapely leg over another, as if to pose for me, and went on with her account of things, which was becoming increasingly long-winded.
“A few months ago I went to a party,” she said, in her Russian accent. “I made sure I arrived fashionably late—well, slightly later than that—because what’s a girl to do if she wants to draw attention to herself?”
“Don’t ask me.”
Undeterred, she pressed on. “And as I entered, there he was,” she said, “standing sheepishly next to his boss. At the time he seemed like a shy, inexperienced young fellow, no, not his boss but Ryan himself, which may surprise you, because I can tell—looking at the pictures he has sent me from London—that nowadays he seems to be carrying on, with great confidence as well as vigor, with the ladies.”
“Oh, forget them.”
“Yeah. Drat those English ladies!”
“Amen,” I said, absentmindedly.
“So to make a short story long,” she droned on, “let me tell you about what happened at that party.”
I tried, for her sake, to show some interest. “Can’t wait to hear.”
“His boss, a fatherly, middle-aged man, took me aside to tell me what a fine boy Ryan was, and if I asked him, which I didn’t, we would make such a handsome couple, and perhaps, just perhaps, the most clever way to his heart was for me to show some familiarity with classical music, because Ryan was interested in it and was known to buy tickets, on a regular basis, for some God-awful concerts.”
I was barely listening to her and must have missed a few sentences. Outside, an invisible hand started painting forests of frost upon the windowpane, through which I could see torrents of snow flowing towards us, lit by the headlights of our cab. I spotted patches of ice here and there and hoped we would not slide over them.
“Don’t you worry,” said the driver, glancing at me through the mirror over his head. “You’re making me nervous, the way you bite your nails. Please, just sit back and relax, will you?”
Lenny in The Music of Us
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