Spring/Summer 2002

QW #52

James Tate


Maxine and I had been married for over a year before I finally met her brother, Todd. It was a second marriage for both of us and we hadn’t invited family to the ceremony. Still, in the course of the first year we had more than made it up to her parents, inviting them over to dinner at least once a month, taking them to concerts on the green in the summer. It’s not as though Todd lived in Baghdad or something——he wasn’t more than three miles across town. And he was my age, too, which for some reason made it even more of a curiosity.

I spoke to him on the phone a number of times, and he seemed like a pretty exciting guy to me, the kind of guy that is always stumbling into the center of the action. Just this year alone he was in the bank when it was robbed——one of the masked bandits even took a shot at him when he tried to trip the alarm——and he was in the disco the night it burned down. His accounts of these calamities and others never fail to rivet me, my life pales in comparison, as they say. But Maxine barely responds when I tell her of one of Todd’s adventures, and she never invites him over and we never visit him at his place. Todd keeps saying he will have me over, soon as he can find "a window of sociability." That always cracks me up. He’s some kind of investor, and that interests me a lot also. I think I know the type——brilliant, obsessed, but chaotic, the house always a mess with little mechanical parts spread everywhere. Of course he could never get it together to throw a proper dinner party, and maybe even his own family thinks he doesn’t have time for them, maybe they’re hurt. But he sounds like somebody I would like, I would probably forgive him his eccentricities and find his obsessions very interesting.

Maxine really annoys me sometimes when I try to get her to talk about Todd. "His life’s his own," she says, which is a very unsatisfying response. I don’t even know if he was ever married, things that basic. It’s true that when he calls he barely asks about Maxine. He will say "How’s Max?" but it’s clear in his tone that he doesn’t want to whole long story and will usually cut me off if I start one. "Gotta rush, something’s about to explode." Every family has its mysteries and squabbles, I figure it’s just a temporary thing. But I didn’t have many friends, and I already liked Todd, as I said before, just from our phone conversations. I could use somebody exciting like that in my life, not that I was unhappy. Our marriage had so quickly fallen into place that it felt as if we had always been married, which was good, but still I hadn’t been out without Maxine even once in the whole year.

I decided to take the initiative, even if it might be awkward at first, and just drop in on Todd at his place. I didn’t mention Todd in the note I left for Maxine on the kitchen counter, just "Won’t be home until late, I’ll get something to eat out, Love——."

"Todd," I said, "I’m Jake. Thought I’d break the ice..."

He looked mildly surprised, but put me at my ease right away. "Come in, come in, I’ve been meaning to...Hey, glad you came."

He turned off the television and invited me to have a seat, served me some iced tea, and we were off, like old friends.

"Jesus, Jake, I’ve got to tell you the damndest thing just happened to me. I was in the supermarket this afternoon, you know, sizing up some produce, polishing a couple of tomatoes, when this incredibly beautiful woman comes up to me and says, I swear it, she says to me, looking me right in the eyes, she says "I can polish better than that." And she invites me over to her place and, I swear, I have never been seduced like that in my life. This woman does a striptease for me that would have popped your eyes right out of your head. Jesus, was she built. And she did it all, you know what I mean, all and more."

You can read James Tate’s story, "A Window of Sociability" in its entirety in Quarterly West issue #52.