At 9PM sharp, per her instruction, Leo dialed the phone number Victoria had scribbled on the folded scrap of paper that afternoon. She answered the phone on the first ring. Her tone suggested anxiety, trepidation, anticipation, or perhaps a combination of all three. She told him she could not chat for long, as her relatives were discussing a matter of utmost importance with her at the moment, but, yes, she definitely would like to meet Leo for lunch the following day.
Leo suggested they meet at a dairy restaurant on 48th Street at one o'clock, and Victoria agreed. Leo was unaware of her observance of dietary laws or lack thereof, so he considered the dairy restaurant a safe choice. She readily agreed.
“One o'clock, then? Excellent. See you then”.
The sharp click of the phone line as her handset was placed in its cradle annoyed Leo for a moment, but he remembered she was staying with potentially intrusive relatives, and perhaps she would have surmised the less they knew of her activities, the better.
Leo approached the entrance of the eatery at 12:55. He did not wish to keep this lady waiting. He placed his right hand over his eyebrows to block the midday sun as he pressed his forehead against the pane glass window to have a look inside. As he did so, he heard the sound of a woman's voice behind him.
“I hope I didn't make you wait too long,” she said.
Leo turned around to face her.
“Not at all”, he replied.
“In fact, we are both a few minutes early. Why don't we go inside, then?”
Leo pulled the entrance door open for her, then followed Victoria inside. They found an unoccupied booth. Leo took both of their coats and hung them on the vertical rack adjacent to their table. The pair now seated, the waiter brought them menus.
“I hope my choice of this restaurant meets with your approval”, Leo began. “To be honest, I wasn't sure of your observance of dietary laws or lack thereof, so I figured the dairy restaurant would be a safe bet.”
“That's very considerate on your part,” she replied. “No, I'm not really observant at all, I'll eat just about anything, though I still harbor a distaste for pork and shellfish. My therapist tells me these are vestiges of my parents' conflicted attitudes regarding religious observance throughout my upbringing, though I continue to insist I just find these foods repulsive on their own.”
Leo raised an eyebrow.
“So how long have you been in therapy,then?”
“Three years. I highly recommend it. Many folks, especially those my parents' age, attach a stigma to the concept of psychotherapy. They erroneously think a person in therapy might be on the verge of an emotional breakdown, or possibly be incapable of as simple a task as tying one's own shoes. They don't see therapy as a way to attain self awareness and improve one's emotional well being.”
“If you don't mind my asking, what prompted you explore psychotherapy three years ago,then?”
“I'd say a series of events which ultimately led to my divorce, though unresolved issues existed before I even got married.”
“What sorts of issues?” Leo was intrigued.
“My parents were lucky to have gotten out of Europe in the late 1930's. They didn't have me until 1948, three years after the war had already ended. Still, the trauma of having lost so many relatives who couldn't get out took its toll. I believe my parents do care for me and wish for me to be happy, but they are unaware how their own fear and sadness have taken an emotional toll on me throughout my upbringing. I grew up in a relatively safe country, but in a small, insular community. Life choices were limited. By the time I was twelve, my parents had already formulated the plan of who I would marry when I reached the ripe old age of twenty. It was absurd. He wasn't a bad person. He came from a successful family, and, on paper, at least, they thought they were looking out for my best interests. The fact that there was no 'spark' between us, for lack of a better term, made no difference. .”
Leo took a deep breath.
“I can see I'm boring you, and perhaps I've gone on with my personal story for too long. How about you? How did the remaining members of your family survive, when did you come to New York, and how did you end up in the diamond business?”
“No, I can assure you, I'm not bored at all. I'm quite fascinated. After what I've lived through and seen with my own eyes, the field of psychology has interested me for some time.”
Victoria raised an eyebrow.
“Have you ever considered going into therapy yourself?”
Leo took another deep breath.
“To be perfectly honest, I have considered it at various points .”
“What stopped you then?”
“There are traumas I've lived through I'd prefer to keep buried in the past. At this point in my life I question the wisdom of dredging them up and I wonder if it would serve any useful purpose. At some point I might reconsider my point of view, but for the moment I think we should take a look at the menu and decide what we'll have for lunch.”
“I suppose I may have come on a bit too strong about this before we've gotten to know each other better and for that I do apologize. I just have such a strong opinion regarding the value of psychotherapy.”
“No need to apologize. “
Leo reached for one of the menus , opened it up, and placed it before her.
“See if they have something you might like, then perhaps I'll share my story with you as well.”
She managed a smile as she picked up her menu in search of an item which, as the Brits would say, might tickle her fancy.
As she perused the list of available entrees, Leo observed her with rapt attention. He thought of Marina, her whining voice and mood swings coupled with her complete lack of self awareness. Emotionally, Marina was a wounded bird. Leo realized that emotional state had manifested itself in other women he'd known before as well, from Leah to Dahlia, and, most recently, Marina. He visualized an ad he could have placed in the weekly personal section of the Daily Forward . 'Recently widowed man, 50 ish, seeks attractive woman in her late twenties or early thirties, wounded birds a specialty.”
As he now observed Victoria seated across the table , Leo knew this woman was different from others he'd known. She had been raised in an affluent home, but in many ways still a gilded cage. Her life choices had been limited. She had been pushed into a passionless marriage and tried to go along with her parents' wishes. Like Leo, she'd been haunted with the familiar refrain, “there has to be more than this.” Unlike Leo, however,she had sought professional guidance in a concerted effort to put her emotional life in order. He felt a strong admiration for her perseverance. Leo felt he was now navigating uncharted territory. It filled him with a mixture of dread and attraction.
“So, have you decided what you'd like?” he asked.
“Are the cheese blintzes good?”
“Cheese blintzes like these, I can assure you, you will not find in Montevideo, or anywhere else in Uruguay, I guarantee it.”
The two of them laughed. The ice had been broken.
Leo summoned the waiter to place their order.
Things were definitely looking up.
MEL R. FRIEDMAN spent his formative years growing up in Queens, New York. After graduating New York's Stuyvesant High School and CUNY's Queens College, he moved to Southern California, where he resides till this day. After joining the Wimpole Street Group several years ago, Mel began writing again after a long hiatus.