does anyone ever miss Fallen Fruit?
Sam is in the Russian Team Room eating alone, which she rarely does. It happens that her mother, whom she had arranged to meet today, has had to cancel out, but Sam keeps the reservation for herself. She has always believed that eating out alone is a sign of self-assuredness; but she hardly feels sure of herself, and keeps glancing up around each page of The New Yorker she turns.
It could have happened that Kyle would enter the restaurant as she was glancing over one of these pages, but it happens not to be so. Kyle gets up to her table before she turns another page. She stares at the button of his shirt, follows the stitching up to the collar, to his narrow pointed chin, to his nervously smiling bottom lip.
Kyle and Sam had lived together for over a year in a townhouse in their hometown in New Jersey. This awkwardness between them was not something new.
Even when sharing their bed, there had been a sense of politeness hanging thickly over their relationship. It had been a tedious engagement, as far as Sam was concerned. Kyle had sworn that he loved her, and maybe he did. That's not for her to say. But she knew she hadn't loved him. She felt it for certain the morning of the pancake breakfast.
Sam was in the kitchen, opening a carton of instant pancake batter. Sam certainly could have made her own if she had wanted to, and had thought about it, but concluded why bother for a man who inhaled food so quickly he rarely noticed if it had died yet. A response to that might have been...because I love him enough to think he deserves special attention. That response did not occur to her, and Sam found that highly significant. She poured the pancakes, fried them, and served them with Karo syrup and sausage patties. While Kyle was sugaring his coffee, Sam called off the engagement.
Not entirely because of pancake batter. They were just the symbol of the recurring intangible problem -- whatever it was that made her stare at him like someone she didn't want to know when he was stomach down on the bedroom floor doing his morning push-ups. She took long walks alone and read the new novels, saw movies in the afternoons, and in general had been carrying on a side of her life she never considered sharing with him. When they made love, she enjoyed it and felt for the moment close to him. The closeness, she realized, was temporary.
The butter was melting on her pancakes; the square on top stayed cool and uniform. "I think we need to talk about some things," she'd said, not calling him by his name because she wasn't in the habit of it.
Kyle had looked over his fork. A dot of syrup was in the corner of his mouth. It glistened when he spoke. "What's the problem?"
In Sam's memory of it, Kyle had taken it well, and her memory isn't far off the mark. Of course he had been hurt, but as he had grown older, he had become grateful they had been spared the Big Mistake. Separation had put years in his face, which is what Sam first notices now. There are lines around his eyes and a whiteness in his eyebrows. He is thirty-seven or so. Sam can't remember anymore -- only that he had been born in March. The last birthday they’d spent together had been to Lake Placid, to ski.
She invites him to sit and he quickly orders a drink. He takes her hands and says, “It’s great to see you.” Letters have passed – more like postcards in envelopes – but even that had stopped three years ago. “I can’t believe we would see each other in the city---“
“When we never do at home,” she says, laughing.
“I hope we’ll see you this Christmas.”
“At Allison and Neil’s open house, sure. I’ve heard it’s absolutely—“
“Oh, incredible. It hardly looks like the same house since they knocked the walls out and opened up the rooms.”
“Did Alison get her library?” asks Sam. Already he is nodding.
“She did. It’s all refinished and the books are moved in. They’ve got wooden sculptures. They bought them through your friend.”
“Right.” He hasn’t stopped smiling. He looks comical with his new moustache, but it helps fill out his face. The moustache smiles too, turning up at the ends past his mouth, then puckering back to show his top pink lip. “God, Samantha,” he says.
Kyle had never called her Sam, and Sam liked tat about him. She had forgotten how she liked to hear him talk, how his eyes look right into the eyes of the people he is talking to, how he makes them feel he’s never heard anything so captivating as what they are saying. Whatever she was about to say to his “God, Samantha” is forgotten when she sees that the jewelry she feels against her fingers is his wedding band. “When did you get married?” is what she says instead, but it comes out in a cheerful tone.
“Last July, your folks didn’t tell you?” His expression does its best to apologize. “Your father was…”
Sam clenches her teeth. “Congratulations. Anyone I---“
“No. I don’t think so. She’s from Connecticut…” His voice fades without providing a name.
“Marriage looks good on you,” she says, but the smile is a strain to hold up.
Kyle is tearing his cocktail napkin into strips and rolling them into balls. “What about you?”
Sam smiles and bobs her head from side to side. She traces an initial into the condensation on the side of her glass. “No one you’d know.” Her eyes watch the trim around the top of the walls in the dining room.
“Well, that’s great,” he says, in the way children are praised. “And the business is going well?”
“Very well.” He gaze dives down into his. “So well I can afford to take a break over Christmas.”
His moustache tugs down, to show this impresses him. “That is well. Christmas should be your busy season.”
“So I’ll have time to travel. Maybe I’ll see you around town.” Nothing in her expression indicates that she wants the conversation to continue. She offers her hand to Kyle and dismisses him. “Give your parents my love.”
“Call me when you get in town,” he says.
“I’ll do that.”