Jerome Turken

Miss Miller found her car keys on the floor right outside the door to her apartment.  Having spent the past half hour looking for them, it was now unlikely that she would get to the beauty parlor on time for her 10 AM appointment, and Lily was such a fanatic with time.  Driving there she was hoping Lily wouldn’t kick up one of her full-blown fusses and refuse to take her altogether.  The summer vacation was coming to an end and Miss Miller was anxious to take care of the last of the items on her ‘to do’ list before the start of the new school year.  There were only the haircut and the optometrist to pick up her new reading glasses.

After her failed effort this summer she was looking forward with some relief to getting back to her classroom.  She enjoyed teaching kids, she had a natural affinity for it.  How many times her principal, Mr. Reilly, had remarked, “You’re a jewel, Miss Miller.  I wish they were all like you.”  And she’d bet that if there was a children’s vote for the best liked teacher in the school she’d win it every year.  She had a way with kids, a kind of inherent rapport with them.  She was recognized as the best reader of stories in the school, in the whole district in fact.  She had a knack for injecting life into her readings, a gift for dramatizing in a way that kept the kids enthralled.  “Oh, Miss Miller is reading a story today!  We want to hear her read.  Please!  Please!  Read us a story, Miss Miller!”  And when she smiled and selected a book: “Yay!  Hurray!”  To see those sunshiny faces raised in open-mouthed anticipation filled her with pride.

Yes, she could read a story; but her great ambition was to write her own, and to see them placed on the shelf among the others.  And this summer she found that it takes much more skill than she possessed.  Somehow her words didn’t seem to convey quite what she had in mind, skirted an idea or feeling she was trying to get at.  They just seemed lifeless and flat.

Her friend Sally thinks she has a screw loose.  “I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish,” she said last spring.  “You can at least give yourself a month vacation, for crissake.  Come on, come with me to Rome.”

“I can’t,” Miss Miller had said.

“You can’t, you can’t!” Sally said.  “You’ve been pinching your brain so long with that stuff, don’t tell me it won’t be a relief to get your ass pinched a little bit.”

“Oh, stop it,” Miss Miller said.

Even before opening the door she could hear Lily yelling:

“You’re the one who’s stubborn, not me!  Look, do me a favor, Mrs. Belsky, don’t pay me, okay?  But I don’t want to see your face here again, okay?  I don’t need your business.”  She glanced at Miss Miller.  “You’re late.” She turned back to the woman.  “Look, Mrs.  Belsky, I mean it.  If you want one of those wasp’s nests held together with gook balanced on the top of your head you should have found someone else to do it.”

Mrs. Belsky was a rather heavy‑set woman of about fifty or so.  “Will you calm down, Lily?” she said meekly, opening her bag to pay.  “Why do you get so excited?  All I said was, a friend of mine told me hairdos like this make you look old, that’s all.  I didn’t say I agree with her.  I’m leaving the money on the counter.”  She left

Lily had already gone back to her work station.  As she was toweling the woman already in the chair she looked at Miss Miller. “I was ready for you at ten o’clock.  Where were you?   Sit down and relax.  This is just a wash and

set.  Fifteen, twenty minutes.”

It was a small shop with three work stations and a small waiting area up front with a few chairs and a small table scattered with magazines.  Miss Miller picked up a Cosmopolitan and flipped through the pages.  Flat‑chested pan‑bottomed young thinnies with black lipstick, clad in stark black ware with big gold buttons, standing in concrete‑colored corners.  Necklines just low enough to reveal unpromising little hollows.  Another article on breast cancer.  Another article on erogenous zones.  Another article on what men like.  The anatomy is in vogue and fragrance is your ticket to romance this month.  She closed it and tossed it back on the table.

Miss Miller paid little attention to tickets to romance and the allure of fashion, but she did mind her health and physical well-being.  Her figure was a bit more full than trim, and she took care to keep it so.  If her skirts got too tight she made sure to cut down on her calories.  She checked her weight every few days on an expensive bathroom scale.  Fruit and vegetables were important, not too much of that rich saucy stuff, and definitely avoid junk food.  She jogged every day for at least two miles.  Also important were posture and tone, which she maintained with a daily regimen of calisthenics.  All and all she thought of herself as sound and sober.

“Miss Miller!” Lily was at the cash register arranging the bills in the drawer.  Her customer, having just paid, was putting her change in her handbag.  “Take a seat in my chair.  I’ll be right with you,” she said.

Miss Miller seated herself and gazed in the mirror opposite her.  She had no delusions about her looks.  She was well aware that appellations like beautiful or pretty or even seemly were not meant for her.  It wasn’t that any of her individual features were outsized or disproportionate in any way.  It was just that altogether she was simply plain-looking, and she would be the first to admit it.  She had two vivid memories to corroborate this conception of herself.  When she was six or seven her aunt Henrietta, comparing her to a cousin, remarked, “She’s brilliant, but she doesn’t glow like Alice,” a designation that stuck with her through the years: she was brilliant without glowing.  Later in high school a boy behind her in the hallway yelled, “Hey, beautiful!” and when she turned in reaction to his loudness, he made a face and said, “Not you.”

She didn’t think it important to alter her appearance in any way with cosmetics.  She was of the opinion, in fact, that overdone (and she had a very narrow limit for overdone) they rather uglified a woman.  She did use at times a light application of lipstick, and kept her hair on the short side, but not for the sake of style or appearance.  It was just that, at the beginning of one summer a few years back she had it cut short for comfort, and she simply developed a taste for it that way.  It did prompt an occasional comment.  One of her colleagues at school opined that it looked little girl buster brownish, whatever that meant.  It was often remarked that she had a nice kind face, which was born out by the fact that strangers often singled her out on the street to ask directions, and that gave her a degree of gratification.

“You want my opinion?” Lily said, returning to her station.  “Let your hair grow out a little.  Let me just give it a little trim and set.”

“Oh, Lily, you know me,” Miss Miller said.  “I like my hair on the short side.”

“I think you’re crazy for wanting your hair cut any shorter than it already is,” Lily said.  “You sure you want to do this?”

“Positive,” Miss Miller said.  “You know, ear lobe length.”

The woman on the middle chair spoke: “One of my boyfriends thinks I ought to cut my hair short to show more of my neck.  He says my neck is too lovely to hide with hair.”

Miss Miller’s eyes shifted in the mirror to the women.  She looked about forty and at the moment was getting something applied to her face, closely attended to by her beautician.

“Really?” Lily said.  “Hey, Margie,” she called to the beautician.  “Do you see anything special about Mrs. Levy’s neck?”

The woman seated in the end chair with her hair enclosed in a drying contraption turned to look.  Her worker grabbed her under the chin and forced it back.  “What do you want to do, pull your hair out?” she said.  “I told you not to move.  Now sit still.”  She approached Mrs. Levy and looked at her neck.

“What’s your expert opinion, Isabel?” Lily said. “Would you call that a lovely neck?

“So so,” Isabel said.

“A neck connects the head to the body, is all I can see about a neck,”

Margie said.

“And how about you can put necklaces and chokers around it?” Isabel


“And how about it’s the place that some gazooney always picks to give

you a few hickeys?” Margie said.

“And how about everyone going back to work?” Lily said.  She placed her scissors a bit above the fringe of Miss Miller’s hair to gauge the line of cutting.  “I think I’m going to wet it a bit.”  She dipped her hand into a small pan of water and sprinkled Miss Miller’s hair.

Miss Miller was amused.  She knew that this little interval of decorum was not going to last too long, not with these three glib veterans of salacious banter, and not with this juicy morsel so available to dig into.  And she was right.  After a few moments Lily herself broke the silence:

“So you got a boyfriend,” she said.  That’s interesting.  Do I know him?”

“I doubt it,” Mrs. Levy said.

“You’d be surprised who I know,” Lily said.

“How would you know him?”  Mrs. Levy said.  “He lives in Manhattan.”

“Oh, wow,” Lily said, looking at Margie and winking. “Manhattan.  Real hot stuff.  He must be cultured.  Is he good in bed?”

“He’s terrific,” Mrs. Levy said.

“Really?” Lily said.  “What makes him so terrific?”

Mrs. Levy didn’t answer.  Miss Miller guessed it more likely that her story was more an out and out fabrication than true, and that now, backed into a corner, she was, if not exactly daunted, at least reluctant to proceed.  It was going to be interesting to see how the three would try to draw her out, and how Mrs. Levy would respond.

“She lost her voice,” Isabel said.

“His technique,” Mrs. Levy said.

“You hear that, Margie?” Lily said.  “This boyfriend of hers has good technique.”

“Does he know the one where he dives off a ladder?” Isobel said.

“Oh, that’s an old one,” Mrs. Levy said.  “It was going around the neighborhood when I was sixteen.”

“Did he ever do the one with the marbles?” Isobel said.

“Marbles?” Mrs. Levy said.

Margie started giggling.

“He puts five big marbles in his mouth,” Isobel said, “and then keeps putting them in there and taking them out with his tongue.”

The three hairdressers burst out cackling.

“This is some conversation,” the woman sitting in Isobel’s chair said.

“All right, all right,” Lily said.  “It’s time to get back to work.”  She looked at Miss Miller with compressed lips and raised brows.  “Now you’re sure you want to do this?  I mean, I think you ought to think twice before you cut your hair shorter than it is right now.  It might be a very huge mistake.”

“Do it,” Miss Miller said.

“All right,” Lily said.  “Just don’t hold me responsible for how you’re going to look.”

Miss Miller placed her finger adjacent to an ear lobe.  “I want it cut to


“It’s your funeral,” Lily said, and in the mirror Miss Miller watched her

cut air with the scissors then take the first cut.  As she watched Lily work her eyes kept skewing in the mirror to poor Mrs. Levy, who had obviously gotten in over her head with these three crackajacks, and must now be at least a little unsettled, but was doing her best to look composed.  Her face was getting the full cosmetic treatment, which revived in Miss Miller’s mind the idea of glowing.  Mrs. Levy wanted to glow.  When Miss Miller first heard her aunt Henrietta announce that she didn’t glow like her cousin Alice, she speculated, with her tender young mind, that there must be something special about certain faces that caused them to give off light.  The moon glows, candles and lamps glow.  But it soon dawned on her that what her Aunt Henrietta meant was that Alice was pretty, therefore she glowed, and if she lacked a glow then she wasn’t pretty.  She remembers spending long juvenile hours drooping in the gloom of this deficiency, but sooner or later setting her mind at ease in the consolation that she was at least brilliant.  Over the years this conception of herself went through a series of modulations.  She could not call to mind any flashes of clarity, there were no eurekas! or ahas!  She simply recalls that when she was very young she was sure that having a glow was superior to being brilliant, and at some point around puberty they became equals, just as in chess a knight is equal to a bishop, or a Ford car is just as good as a Chevrolet or NBC is practically the same CBS.  Being brilliant was just as good as having a glow.  And in her junior or senior year in high school she distinctly remembers already knowing that if she had to choose between glowing and brilliance, she would choose brilliance.  About that time she also evolved enough faith in brilliance to establish in her mind doubt that glowing is important at all, and in fact to get a bit droll regarding that quality.  For instance, in certain company she would bandy around the jokey aspect of her aunt’s remark, and to throw out quips, such as: Well, if a girl wants so much to glow she can coat her face with a layer of luminescent paint and walk around some dark neighborhood.  Or she can attach little lights to her hair and illuminate her head like a Christmas tree.  Or button a flashlight between her breasts, with the beam directed on her face.

Miss Miller was watching Margie apply the finishing touches to Mrs. Levy’s face and stepping back to observe, much as an artist might apply the last few dabs to his painting, when her attention was claimed by Lily’s voice.

“Well?  Do you want to look at yourself?”

Lily was holding a hand mirror for her to see the back.  She put a finger to her ear lobe.  Exactly.

“Put a barrette on each side,” Lily said, “and you look like a prematurely

developed twelve year old girl with a Buster Brown.  Why don’t you go all the way with a row of short bangs.  You’ll look like a little chinee girl.”  She stepped back a distance. “It could be worse.”

Isabel leaned over to Mrs. Levy. “If you got the same cut,” she said, “this Manhattan boyfriend of hers will be able to see your neck from all angles.”

The three hairdressers laughed.  Mrs. Levy forced a smile.

Miss Miller was still looking in the mirror.  “It’s just right,” she said.  “Just how I want it.”

“I’m glad you’re happy,” Lily said, her own face showing a certain

amount of pride in her work.  She moved to the front of Miss Miller and stared intently at her face.  She seemed to be studying it.

“What?” Miss Miller said.

Lily didn’t answer.  She moved a small portable table that contained utensils and cosmetics beside Miss Miller’s chair.

“What are you doing?” Miss Miller said.

“This will be gratis,” Lily said.

“Now Lily, please,” Miss Miller said, leaning forward, both hands on her towel to remove it.

Lily gently stopped her by putting her palm on the back of her hands.  “I want to try something,” she said.  “I won’t do anything radical.  It’s just that you’ve been coming in here for three or four years now, and every time you come in I say to myself, this girl needs a little something and I know exactly

what it is.  Do me a favor and let me see if I’m right.  Now just sit back and


The last thing Miss Miller wanted was to appear brusque with Lily.  She spurned her advice once today and the second time she wouldn’t get away so easy.  Lily doesn’t take kindly to her council held cheap.  And she already boiled over once today and could still be primed.  Anyway, whatever Lily does can be removed the first chance she gets.

“All right,” Miss Miller said.  “But please don’t pile it on.”  She sat back but she didn’t relax.

“What’s the matter, you lost faith in me?” Lily said.  “I’m just going to put a bit of light in your face.”

It didn’t take too long, less than ten minutes.  She looked at herself.  There was a bit of eye shadow, little dark lines extending the reach of her eyes, her brows had been plucked a bit and darkened, and a light application of lipstick that was a few shades darker than what she usually used.  She had felt her cheeks being brushed, what did Lily use?  She put some light in my face.  Do I glow now?

“Well?” Lily said.  She must have seen hesitation, or indecision or something in Miss Millers face, because then she said.  “All right, don’t answer.  Just go through the day normally and see how it feels.”

“All right,” Miss Miller said.  “I will.”

“You’re going to turn some heads today,” Margie said.

Turn some heads.  Standard salon flattery.  How many heads had Miss Miller turned so far?  Two that she was aware of, maybe three or four.  But the one she wanted most to turn was cemented rigid in its socket.  That was the head of Bernard Mandel, her lover in the 5th and 6th grades without him having an inkling of his status.  Yes, she was in love with Bernard Mandel, the smartest kid in the class, A’s in all his compositions, one hundreds in all his tests, winner of all spelling bees.  Big words gleaned from the dictionary will impress him, she thought.  Bernard, do you think today will be inordinately cold?  Look at Tanya, how disconsolate she looks drinking her milk.  I think making us stay after school is not only fatuous it’s exorbitant and preposterous too, don’t you?  Static in his ears.  When Miss Harris called on her to read her prize winning composition on Madame Curie, she  was sure his eyes would find her.  She kept furtively glancing at him.  His eyes were glued to the picture of George Washington on the side wall.  Graduation from P.S. 168.  Autograph books.  She wrote in his: For you my heart is full of admiration dot dot dot and more.  He wrote in hers: Best wishes in your future endeavors.  Her heart dropped, took a bounce and dried up.  Where are you now, dear, dear Bernard Mandel?  What are you up to?  How about a cup of coffee one of these days?

It had gotten warmer.  The sun felt good after the chill of the air‑conditioned store, but then on her way back toward Main Street she began to feel a bit sticky.  And the glare was bothering her eyes.  She crossed over to the shade.  A short distance in front of her a woman came out of Woolworth’s holding a large package in one hand and with the other dragging a little boy about three who was trailing along in a reluctant little keep‑up trot.  He was

twisting one way then the other, his little head working like it was on a swivel to look around and see things.  Except nothing directly in front of him seemed

to interest him. He had on a little striped baseball suit with short pants

that reached his lower calves and a shirt that looked like a tucked‑in nightgown with “Yankees” lettered in front and a huge number 7 in back.  His cap, black with the orange NY logo, covered half his ears.  It had a long peak and was tilted too far down so that he had to keep straining his head back to see under it.  His mother kept up her swift pace, yanking him forward when he offered too much resistance, or right off the ground and dropping him beside her, which he somehow managed to accomplish upright like a cat, going right into his little keep‑up trot again.

“Come on, walk straight, Jimmy!” the mother yelled.  “Look where you’re going!  Don’t you know you have to look where you’re going!”

They stopped at a doorway with a sign on the wall beside it that said PEDIATRIC CENTER.  The woman rang the bell and waited.  As Miss Miller passed them little Jimmy, his little head twisted around, was staring at her from under his hat with bulging eyes.  She waved to him.  When she turned back to take another look at him his head was swiveled in her direction, his eyes still bulging.  Another head turned!  Little moments.

In college there was Michael, who she had formed something more than a friendship with.  He was short and slight and had red hair.  When they first met his head was at least already oriented in her direction.  He was sitting opposite her in the college library with a pile of open books on the table in front of him, writing into what looked like a two foot by two foot artist’s sketch book.  He was humming and talking to himself and making all kinds of noises, turning pages, moving the books around, tapping on the table with his pen and what not.  It was annoying, but something about him told her she’d better not ask him to quiet down or look askance in any way.  But when he yelled out, “You sonofabitch!” she looked up.  He was holding his pen six inches from his eyes and glaring at it like he was ready to destroy it.  “You undependable sonofabitch!”  More for fear of violence than out of generosity she said, “If it’s out of ink I can loan you one,” and she gave him the pen she was using, the only one she had.  He gave her a strange stare, as if there were some ulterior motive behind her offering, and went back to his work without a thank you.

“Why do you use such a big pad?” she blurted out.

He looked at her for a full half minute before answering.  “For room to jot down fringe ideas to the main ones I’m concerned with at the moment, and I need everything on one page to see overall aspects, all right?”

Immediately she acquired a deep affection for him.  “That’s so admirable,” she said.

She doesn’t remember exactly how, but sitting there at the same table, he working, she watching, they got the idea of each other, and established a rapport.  They’d meet almost every day and take walks and often eat lunch and dinner together.  Their relationship consisted mostly of heavy discussions, or more accurately monologues by Michael.  He talked, she listened.  He was brilliant.  He would launch into some a subject—injustice in the world, truth, beauty, objectivity, subjectivity, transcendentalism, Kenya—you name it.  He knew his Spinoza, atomic physics even.  He would roll along on something and soon go off on a tangent, then move in circles, then alter his course, make a few detours and end up somewhere in New Guinea or something.  He could cover twenty-five subjects talking all night.  He was slight but he had a reputation for ferocity.  He once demolished some big wise ass who tried to push him around, attacking the fellow with such fury that he required hospitalization.

As the days passed something about him started up some strange mechanism in her that she didn’t even know existed.  He stimulated her physically.  She wanted to go to bed with him.  Maybe it was his raw drive, his fiery approach to things that excited her.  When he got going on something he literally blazed, you could almost see his eyes ignite.  That was attractive to her.  One evening, sitting in the park listening to one of his fiery monologues she leaned over and kissed his cheek.  He screamed at her.

“Why the hell do you have to get complicated!”

“I’m not getting that complicated, Michael,” she said.

He got up.  “I’m leaving!” he said.  “And don’t follow me!”

She sat there watching him recede.  She never saw him again.  A girl in one of her classes told her that she heard a rumor that he went to Iceland to be closer to the North Pole because he has a theory that the earth is going to start evaporating at the equator.  And she circled her temple with her forefinger.

A single chime sounded as she went through the doorway.  Behind a

high counter in the rear of the waiting room a carelessly pinned‑up tangle of brown hair rose and the face of the bespectacled young receptionist appeared.

“Hello, Miss Miller,” she said.  “Have a seat.  Dr. Mazor is with a patient.  He won’t be long, a few minutes.”

Then there was Leo.  He was the cellist in a pick-up string quartet featured at Lake Kuala House, a resort in the Adirondacks that Miss Miller selected for a two week respite during her first vacation as a school teacher.  She reasoned that the music would draw a more cultured crowd, and a more cultured crowd would not be overly concerned with “glow”.  She was anticipating at least a decent confluence of compatible men, but found that most of the guests were older married couples.  There were six single women—she counted them—amongst whom she gauged herself to be the youngest and, using her aunt’s standard, to have less lack of glow than four.  As for single younger men, there were only two, who quickly connected themselves to the two women with the most glow.

After dinner drinks were served in an adjacent lounge while, on the nights of the performances, the dining room was cleared and chairs set up for the audience.  Miss Miller couldn’t get over Leo.  He was short and paunchy and had a mane of gray hair coiffed with waves and a fringe of bangs.  He was the showman of the quartet.  In the more sprightly prestos he huffed and puffed, struggling mightily to keep up.  When playing a solo in a slow movement his vibrato was so excessive that it choked all beauty in the sound.  He’d close his eyes and wiggle and sway, caressing the instrument and gliding the bow as if he were being sent to heaven on a wave of ecstasy.  After each performance the musicians would mingle with the guests in the lounge. Watching him as he moved amongst the guests Miss Miller had noted that his legs were extraordinarily short and bowed; his upper body contributed to most of his height.  And he had a sidewise rock when he walked, which gave her the impression of an ape foraging in the jungle.  But his company was always in demand by the guests.  It was as if they gleaned a measure of importance by virtue of his spending a few minutes talking to them.  For some reason Leo decided to mingle with Miss Miller.  He approached her table and in a manner of lofty condescension said to the woman sitting next to her:

“Excuse me, can I sit here?  You can sit over there.”  He pointed to an empty place on the next table.  “I want to talk to this girl.”

The woman didn’t hesitate.  She quickly got up and moved.  Miss Miller was flattered in a way.  This important man, whose company was craved by so many people had selected especially her to spend time with.  He took her hand and looked into her eyes and said, “You’re special.  You were looking at me.  I saw you looking at me.”

“Yes, I was looking at you,” she said, and thought: How could I have avoided it.

“You must be a musician?” Leo said.  “Are you a musician?”


“Then you’re an artist, am I right?

“I’m a school teacher,” she said.

“A school teacher?” he said.  “That’s all right.  Where?”

“In the Bronx, New York City.”

“No kidding, The Bronx?” he said.  “I know the Bronx.  You like nature?”


“I know a good spot for nature,” he said.  “Tomorrow morning we can go

for a walk.  You’ll see plenty of nature.  Meet me in the sun room tomorrow morning ten o’clock.”  He stroked and fondled her hand paternally.  “All right, so it’s settled for the walk.  You’ll enjoy it.”  He left her and joined the other musicians at their table.

They met the following morning after breakfast.  He led her along the road to a path into the woods, talking all the while about himself.   When he was in his prime he could have been a top notch virtuoso, but he chose a life of chamber music.  You should have seen the way agents were clamoring to get him as a client.  He was his favorite subject.  Walking along the path he went on and on about himself in tedious self-praise, while Miss Miller, hardly listening to him now, was actually enjoying herself with the sights and smells of the forest.  Suddenly he stopped talking and ducked into a little clearing off the path and out of sight.

“Leo?” Miss Miller called.  She got no answer.  With some trepidation she went into the clearing.  He was lying flat on his back.  His eyes were closed.  She approached him warily.  “Leo?”  He didn’t answer.  Did he pass out?  She kneeled and extended a hand to give him a nudge.  He opened his eyes and took hold of her hand and yanked her down on top of him.

“What are you doing!” she said.

“You don’t want to?”

“No!”  She easily freed herself and got up and walked back to the hotel.  For the rest of her stay he ignored her, and she kept silent about the incident.

Click! click! click!  Heels in the corridor approaching from the examining rooms in the rear.  A buxom woman with a round, heavily made up forty‑fiveish face drifted toward the waiting room.  She had jet black flowing hair and a little snub of a nose whose nostrils looked inflamed.  She was wearing a huge pair of glasses with black plastic frames that glittered with brassy trim.  Almost on top of her was Dr. Mazor, a slight man in a trim dark gray suit and yellow vest with thin black cross stripes.  He had a longish, fleshy nose and a mane of graying hair and was going through all sorts of motion.  Taking quick, foreshortened steps he appeared to be curling and fluttering along behind the woman like the tail of a kite.  He was still talking to her, his voice high‑pitched and finicky, as if he were saying, chp chp chp.  “Yes, yes, I’m sure you will be happy with them, you look gorgeous in them, absolutely stunning.”  Chp chp chp.  Now there’s a woman for you.  Snuffs up flattery like a duchess, with that tiny nose of hers.

Dr. Mazor turned to Miss Miller with an ushering arm extended. “Come, Miss Miller.”

As Miss Miller stepped in front of Dr. Mazor she felt his hand on her back.  “This way, dear,” he said.  He guided her into a small room in the center of which was a narrow table with a chair on either side and a three‑sided mirror on top of it and bid her be seated in the chair facing the mirror.  Her glasses were already resting on the table beside a card with a few paragraphs of print.  He picked up the glasses, a plain pair with smallish oval lenses in a dainty silver‑colored frame, and gingerly put them on her face, jiggling them around a bit to test the fit. “They have to be fine tuned to your face, of course,” he said, “but first let’s see how you read with them, shall we?”  He picked up the card and handed it to her.  She read the four passages of progressively smaller print.

“Very good,” Dr. Mazor said.  “Now we must adjust them to the geography of your face, so to speak, make sure they rest comfortably on your nose and ears.”  He gently manipulated the glasses around her face again, sizing the fit up with his expert’s eye.  “Fine tune them, so to speak.”  As he removed the glasses Miss Miller again felt his fingers graze her ear lobe and neck.  With his small pliers he made a few adjustments, then put them back on her face, again grazing her ear lobes and neck.

“Would you mind a compliment?” he said.  “You look beautiful in those glasses, absolutely stunning.  Look at yourself.”

“Why thank you,” she said.

“Let me give you a case,” he said.  He opened a drawer on his side of the table and as he withdrew a case he fumbled it and it dropped to the floor.  He looked down, then bent down to get it, shoving his chair back.  His head disappeared as he leaned under the table to retrieve it.  More than a few seconds passed.  She drew her knees together and stood up.  He backed out from under the table and brushed the case with a tissue before handing it to her.

As she moved toward the doorway he jumped in front of her and executed a chivalrous half‑bow, extending his arm for her to proceed before him.  But he was taking up the whole doorway.  She stopped in front of him and gave him a look.  He backed up.  She passed him and he followed her down the corridor to the reception desk, his tiny steps audible too close behind her.  Did Lily’s treatment give me a glow that lures insects?  Is he going to goose me?  At the reception desk the receptionist already had her bill on the counter.  Miss Miller took her check book out and wrote a check for the balance.

“Thank you,” Dr. Mazor said.  “I think they’re absolutely perfect, but if you feel the least discomfort with them, the least dissatisfaction, don’t hesitate to call me. Please.”

Walking along Main Street a beautiful antique necklace caught her eye in the window of Lowenstein Jewelers.  It had filigreed links of white gold or platinum set with sapphires and small diamonds.  The price tag said $18,500.  Now how would her lovely neck look decorated with that?  Will it boost the glow donated by Lily?

Mr. Lowenstein, a plumpish middle-aged man with a short, neatly trimmed black beard, came out of the store and proceeded to peruse the display of items in the window.  As his eyes darted from item to item he was talking to himself as if giving himself instructions.

“I have to change a few things,” he said.    He started back inside then paused to observe Miss Miller admiring the necklace.  “You are admiring my crown jewel, I see,” he said.

“It’s exquisite,” Miss Miller said.

“Look at the workmanship.  This is not white gold.  This is platinum.  Each diamond sixteen points.  All identical, you could look with a glass.  Eight facets individually cut by an expert.  The sapphires are not just sapphires, you know.  They are from Ceylon, the choicest of the choice.  They are what you call asteriated sapphires.  You know asteriated what it means?  Star sapphire, you heard of it.  Of course you heard of star sapphire, who hasn’t?  Aster, star, you see?  Look it up in the dictionary.  If you hold it up to the light and jiggle it around you’ll see the stars how they sparkle.”  As he looked at her his expression changed, as if he thought of something.  “You know?  You can do me a big favor.  Since I got this on consignment a week ago I’m itching to see it on the neck of a nice woman like you.  Would you mind to put it on and let me see how it looks?  Would you do me that favor?”

“All right,” she said.

“Come,” he said, leading the way into the store.  He took a chamois from a drawer and took the necklace from the window.  “A beautiful piece.”  He placed it on the counter and switched on a light overhead.  “Why don’t you put it on?” he said.  “Don’t drop it.”

She took it and tried to open the clasp.  Mr. Lowenstein’s hands encompassed hers, as if to catch the necklace if she dropped it.  As he watched her struggle with the clasp he closed his eyes and dipped his head. “It has a special safety lock that you have to know how to do it,” he said.  He took the necklace from her hands and with a little tricky manipulation opened it and handed it back to her.

She put it on her neck, but couldn’t clasp it.  “Would you?” she said. Mr. Lowenstein stepped behind her and clasped it.  She looked into a large mirror on the counter and centered it.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

Mr. Lowenstein was looking at her with a beaming smile.  “Beautiful is not the word, miss.  It is stunning!  Absolutely magnificent!  And on a lady like you it looks twice as good.  Ten times as good.”

She looked at herself in the mirror.  I gained a few more watts in glow. This requires a gown really.

“If you’re interested I can make some movement on the price,” Mr. Lowenstein said

“It’s beautiful, Mr. Lowenstein, but I really don’t think it’s for me.”

He dipped his head in a pleasant little gesture, smiling.  “Not for you?  Who else could it be for, madam?  But, I understand, of course I understand.  A piece like this you don’t buy in a day, and you don’t sell in a day.”

“Thank you for letting me put it on.”

“Please, miss, it was my pleasure,” he said.  “And you did me a big favor.  Please come back.”

An  oppression of hot, moist air enveloped her as she entered the street from the air conditioned store, and in a few minutes she was already sweating.  And the makeup on her face felt pasty now.

She stopped at Spiro’s Market to look over the fruit on display on his outside stand.  His prices were high and he was such a bleating goat but his produce was always good and tasty.  She filled half a bag with small yellow plums and half a bag with cherries and went inside to pay.  The young helper was at the register.  Spiro, who was at the side arranging some pineapples, turned and saw her.  He selected a pineapple and came over wiping it in his apron.

“Hello, miss,” he said.  His face was shaven but charcoal tinted, and there was a darker crease in his chin.  “I didn’t see you for such a long time.  Where you been?”  Already he was looking her up and down with that wise‑guy smile on his face.  “Take a pineapple, you’re going to like it. Did I ever tell you wrong?  It’s sweet and juicy, just like you.  If you come back and tell me you didn’t like it I’ll give you double refund no questions asked, that’s how good they are.”

“All right,” she said.

He looked her over again as he put the pineapple on the counter.  “I

ain’t seen you for such a long time,” he said.  “You look good today.  You should come more often.  Don’t be such a stranger.”

I look good today.  The high priest of lechery offering unction to my glow.  She paid the kid.

Lunch.  Where?  She walked east on Main Street. Closed a few months ago, that nice little coffee shop on the corner of James Street with the tasty tuna salad sandwiches.  Lease expired, rent doubled.  Now we have a video store.  We have MacDonald’s, we have Dunkin Donuts with their hollow one‑piece, unmovable plastic tables and chairs.  She decided on Billy’s café at his boat yard where there will be a nice breeze off the bay.

Driving there along Middleneck Road she felt a sudden twinge in her chest, just as if she had heard a scraping noise in her living room and turned to see a rat skulking in the middle of the rug.  Mr. Markham had barged into her mind. Of the four or five possible heads Miss Miller had turned, his was the most surprising and least welcome.  In her second year as a school teacher, her assistant principal, who she adored, was promoted and replaced by this Mr. Markham.  Just when she was getting comfortable in her new position.  Measured, methodical and covert was Mr. Markham’s style, slow and mechanical his physical bearing—he moved as if worked by gears and pulleys from a control panel somewhere.  On his first day on the job he arranged a meeting with the teachers under his purview and stood there in front of them with a solid, thickset body that seemed crammed into his suit, his eye sockets deep and shadowed, his face blemished with scars and lesions from a past case of acne, and he charmed them by gratuitously declaring in his sonorous, slow-paced voice that he’s their superior, and he expects his wishes to be carried out promptly and efficiently.  Which moved one of them to whisper: “Where does he keep his whip?”.

Mr. Markham was rigid in his demands.  It was difficult to make suggestions or discuss ideas with him.  If you went up to him to make a suggestion he would glare at you with eyes that looked like little dark stones, and give you a dismissive answer: ‘That’s not necessary, just stick to standard procedure.’  Or, ‘That serves no purpose.’  Or, Forget it, it can’t be done.’  Suspicion and distrust were ingrained in his temperament.  He prowled the hallways and slipped unexpectedly into classrooms on the lookout for transgressions.  His behavior certainly made Miss Miller’s day less enjoyable, but not intolerable.  She knew her job and she did it well; she  got used to Mr. Markham’s ways and abided his proclivities; it was just part of the job.

But after a few months she began to suspect that he was watching her especially.  Too often would she notice him in her vicinity.  In the hallways, while she’d be leading her class downstairs for lunch or at the end of the day, he would appear to watch them go by.  Or lined up waiting for the bell ending the school day to ring she would turn her head and see him standing at a distance in a spot that a few seconds before was unoccupied, staring at her.  Several times, while writing something on the blackboard, she would turn back to the class and there he would be standing in back of the room.

One day, reporting for work, she found a note in her mailbox asking her to report to his office after dismissing her class.  What malfeasance had she committed, she wondered.  But to her surprise he was very cordial.  The first thing he did, looking at her with those intense dark eyes, was to swear her to secrecy.  He had this grand plan and he selected her to work out the details and to help him carry it out.  It will structuralize, as he put it, the whole hodgepodge of education.  He was not ready to make his grand plan public.  Right now, he knew, there would be plenty of resistance to anything so revolutionary.  At the moment it consisted of eight words: Get the children into their best pigeon hole.  Miss Miller tried to decline, claiming lack of experience.  But he insisted: Oh no, oh no.  He had observed her.  He had seen her work.  She was exactly the person to work out the details and organize it, put its intricacies into a form that the education community would appreciate.  When they passed in the hallway afterward, he’d have a shifty look of recognition on his face, as if they were members of some secret society.  Further meetings with her were arranged by notes in her mail box.  He’d have her be seated beside his desk in a chair close to his and at every meeting he’d claim to have explored a new approach.  He talked excruciatingly slow in single discrete words that did not seem to enter his head until a few seconds after the previous one was spoken.  She almost never could make sense of what he was saying.  She was sure he was making things up as he went along.  He’d pause with his head lowered as if he were thinking out the next word, and she’d get the feeling that his eyeballs were stretched up to their limit, to look at her legs.  There were times when he would sit there like that, not speaking a word for maybe a minute.

It went on like that through five meetings.  When she got there for the sixth and last, the window shades were drawn and the room was in semi-darkness.  The expression on Mr. Markham’s face terrified her.  Trickles of perspiration were running on his pocked face and he was just sitting there

staring at her with a loony smile, his dark, stony eyes twinkling.  Abruptly he leaned over and put a heavy palm on her knee.  She sat there paralyzed for a few seconds then jumped up and blurted out: “Mr. Markham, I just know I’m not qualified for this assignment.  I really think you’d be better off with someone with more experience.”  She excused herself and fled from the room, with her mind already made up to get through the remaining month the best she could then leave that school.  She left the city altogether and found her present position on Long Island.

Miss Miller parked in the lot between Billy’s and a small slip he owned where he rented space for a few boats.  In the café she ordered five cold shrimp, a cup of clam chowder and a coke to go and went to the ladies room where she also washed her hot and sweaty face free of the makeup.  With the food she walked to a little cove down the road where the natural shore line began again, and sat down on a bench shaded by a high clump of brush.

The cooler air coming off the bay was welcome relief to the hot and muggy town.  The water was lively today, undulating with glistening peaks and lacey flicks of foam.  Here and there beyond the promontory were white dabs of sales, and a scattering of double arcs of gulls were flapping and gliding above the water.  A gull landed and walked about in front of her, then suddenly in a flutter of wings lifted a few feet off the ground and disappeared into one of the thicker patches of grass near the top of the bank.

A powered boat puttered past her a short distance from the shore.  A woman on board waved to her and she waved back.  As she sat there watching the boat go by she recalled another time watching another boat go by.  For her ninth birthday an uncle had taken her along for a weekend at a cottage he rented for the summer at a lake upstate.  Sitting on the grass watching the boats cruise around the lake she was feeling sorry for herself and resentment toward her uncle for his not having a boat to take her for a ride too.  A small boat went by with a couple and a girl about her age—she could still picture them in her mind.  The girl waved to her and she waved back, on the verge of crying for envy.  How she wished she was that girl.

In the distance, walking toward her along the shore, a young couple came into view, wading a little way into the water.  The boy’s pants were rolled to his knees and the girl had her dress pinned a few inches above hers, and both were carrying their shoes.  The boy was talking to the girl with a playful smile on his face.  Just before the curve of the cove straightened with the main shore line, some forty or fifty feet from where she was sitting, the girl came out of the water and sat down against a rock on the sand and the boy followed and lied down with his head on her lap.  She started to play with his hair and said something to him and waited for a response with a pretty close-lipped half-smile.  He threw back his head and looked up at her, also smiling, but did not speak for a few moments, then said something, a few words.  The girl raised her eyebrows and cocked her head a bit, a shade of amusement now in her smile, and gave his forehead a little thump with her middle finger.  He grasped her hand and held it.

A gull appeared from the patch of grass—was it the same one?  It kept walking around the sand, approaching at nearer distances this time, until it came within four or five feet of her.  She moved her food closer and ate with her arms encircling it.  She saw movement in the corner of her eye.  A soft, fluffy, light brownish ball the size of a small grapefruit came rolling out of the sand and down the bank.  Not rolling, running!  Two more appeared right behind it, all three running down the bank.  The first two disappeared behind some brush, but the other had stopped just short of it and was still visible just on the edge.  She got up and walked toward the water a little way to take a look.  There was the gull.  They were her three chicks.  They crowded around mother gull, their beaks agape, their tiny red gullets at the ready, scrambling and squeezing to get closest.  Were they hungry?  The mother kept fending them off and pacing about the sand, looking this way and that.  The chicks scrambled about by themselves for a few moments, separating to investigate the ground or take little tentative runs then coming together again, until one of them approached the mother once more, the other two immediately following, and again the mother moved free of them.  Suddenly in a flap of wings the mother went into her pre‑flight run with the three chicks following after her with all their might, their momentum taking them in her direction for a few seconds even after she left the ground, then without slowing down all three veered left as if in formation and arced around in the opposite direction and scurried back up the bank, a panic‑stricken cluster of brownish fluffballs, and vanished in the same patch of sandgrass they had wandered from.

Miss Miller’s heart dropped.  Did she leave them to search for food?  She walked back to Billy’s.  Three boatmen were sitting at the only occupied table chatting over their food.  She ordered five more shrimp.  Billy put a frying pan on the fire and picked the shrimp from a small tub on ice.  As he was about to put them into the pan Miss Miller said:

“Would you happen to know if gulls prefer them cooked or raw?”

Billy looked at her fisheyed.  “Gulls?  Jeez, I don’t know.”  He called to the table with the three men: “Anyone know if gulls like their shrimp cooked?”

“They like them steamed,” one said.

“Naa,” a second said.  “They like them better poached.”

“They go for soft shell crabs too,” the first one said.  “Sautéed in a

light sauce.”

“They like french fries too,” said the second one.

“With salt and ketchup,” said the first.

“Gulls will eat anything,” the third man said, “but I’m pretty sure they prefer their fish raw.”  He seemed of a different cast than the other two.  While they were wearing typically soiled work clothes with tool-pocketed belts, he was dressed in fairly clean khaki pants and a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves.  After the chaffing from the other two Miss Miller appreciated his straightforward courtesy.

“Thank you,” Miss Miller said, smiling.  She looked at Billy, who had been listening with a gently amused smile on his face.  “Give them to me raw.”

“Don’t mind these jokers,” Billy said, reaching for a paper plate.  “They don’t mean nothing.”

“I’ll take five raw clams too,” she said.  “Can you open them for me?”

Back at the bench she left the food on the ground in front of the grass where the chicks were and waited for their mother to come back to feed them, worried that other gulls might get to it first.

A loud whoop of laughter came from the boy.  Miss Miller watched the couple embrace and kiss, then walk along the shore toward her, the boy’s arm fast around the girl’s waist, her head tilted to his shoulder.  As they passed, both had almost identical expressions of dreamy‑eyed serenity.  They walked up the sand bank on to the road that way.

The mother gull had not returned and Miss Miller was getting concerned that other gulls might get to the food.  After a while a gull did land between the food and the brush, and Miss Miller held her held her breath—yes, it was the mother, the three babies immediately rushed to her.  The mother edged in her direction fluttering her wings.  When the chicks followed she turned on them and herded them back a way.  Was she agitated because of her?  Better get out of here and leave them alone.

Passing Billy’s on her way to the car the same three men came walking out.

“Did you feed your gulls?” one of the clever ones said, turning to the others with a half‑wink.  He was doing all kinds of tricks with a toothpick in

his mouth.

“I did,” she said.

“Did they enjoy the meal?”

“They sure did.”.

“What are you going to give them for desert?” the other clever one said.  “Billy has some delicious apple pie.”

“What’s on the menu for tomorrow?” the first clever one said.

“They’re going to be there at the same time waiting for you,” the other one said.  “They’ll be awful disappointed if you don’t show up.”

The courteous one had been standing by shaking his lowered head with a little smile on his face that seemed to mean, They just keep going, they don’t know when to stop.

“Oh, I’ll be here tomorrow,” Miss Miller said.  “Look for me.  I’m going to bring them a roast leg of lamb and a platter of potato pancakes.  Have you any idea what kind of salad dressing they go for?”

The two clever ones burst into laughter.  “Why don’t you ask them?” the first one said.  “You look like you talk their language.”

The courteous one waved his hand at the other two in a gesture of dismissal.  “All right, all right,” he said.  “That’s about enough.”

The two other men walked back to a sailboat they were working on at the slip, but he stayed facing Miss Miller as if he has something more to say to her. But he couldn’t seem to get his voice going.  As the two stood there facing each other in awkward silence Miss Miller noted his lean body, thinning

reddish blonde hair and ingenuous look in his dark blue eyes.  She marked


as shy and rather likeable.

Finally words came out of his mouth.  “I just wanted to say, well, you were a butt for those guys, but for me … well I … I mean, that look of urgency in your eyes about those chicks just … I mean, I really admired that.  To me it was beautiful, you just … I don’t know, you just seemed to glow.”


“That’s right,” he said.  “To me you were just glowing there.  I admired the way you held your own with those guys, the way you …  Look, that’s my boat they’re working on.  They’ll be finished in about a half hour then I’m taking it for a little sail around the bay.”  He paused.  She waited for him to go on.

“And?” she said.

“Well … I mean, would you like to come along?”

“I’d love to,” she said.

“Great!” he said.  “That’s great!  Would you like some wine while we’re waiting?  Billy has a very decent house wine.”

“That would be nice,” she said.