Marti’s apartment is in the same Peachtree Street building as Elton John’s. It has become such a landmark that now she doesn’t have to give Atlanta airport cab drivers a street number. She just names the building and they take her there. Although well grounded in reality in some ways, my girl is just insecure enough to crave that kind of cachet.
She has invited me over for lunch, which is being provided by Proof of the Pudding catering. The last time Marti cooked, George Bush-the-Father was president.
“Leave your shoes at the door, Hon,” she says. Instantly I know from the Miles Davis on her stereo that this meal will be more liquid than solid, at least on Marti’s part.
Miles slurs a blue note. Marti slurs a word. Misery likes company.
“It’s early for toddies, no?” I lob, as lightly as I can.
“Sun; yardarm; somewhere,” she tosses back.
If this is about what I think it’s about, I want none of it. I came into this world with but a few nursemaid chromosomes. Over the years, I’ve exhausted most of them, and now I have only enough left to care for a plant -- and a succulent at that. Definitely not enough to tend Marti through another heartbreak.
There’s a golden rule of friendship for women in their middle years and, if I can recall correctly, it goes: Listen generously, talk honestly, lend money for rent but not new shoes and take away her car keys after three drinks. Nowhere is it written that you must become an accessory to her bad relationship choices.
This latest married man who lives at a great distance has leeched her energy in that very particular way such men do. He has become more fascinating to her than flesh-and-blood lovers who live in her own sphere. He eats up her store of attention to persons right in front of her (such as me). He keeps her in a constant state of waiting.
I weigh and measure my own expenditures of time and love toward Marti: Large and manifold.
But now, next to him, this stranger, this intruder if I may say it, I am as interesting to her as long division.
Marti sets out two plates on her honed granite breakfast bar and, in her absent mindedness, two knives apiece. I go for the forks while she dishes out the catered hot black bean quesadillas with salad of arugula and romaine, toasted pine nuts and strawberries.
Miles is slurring more notes and I wonder why, in his later years, he remained an icon.
“He wasn’t even trying anymore,” I murmur, but Marti doesn’t hear. She’s half a continent away, wondering what the married man is doing right now, making small involuntary tapping gestures toward her cell phone as if, by morse code, she can will a text message into existence.
My appetite is gone, both for food and for Marti’s soap operas. It has taken me much time to arrive here and understand that there will always be “a situation” and we will always end up seated in a situation room. Sometimes it will be decorated as a restaurant, sometimes a bar, sometimes her darkened bedroom in which she sobs and I comfort. Change the wallpaper. Lower the lights. Bring in the clowns. It will still be life with Marti.
I push back from the sleek granite counter and find my purse and shoes. I whisper “Later, Darling,” and let myself out.
The elevator door opens and I slip in, ignoring the other occupant while catching a glance at myself in the mirrored ceiling. I look resolved.
The elevator music is “Tiny Dancer,” by Elton John. It occurs to me that the building management has arranged this on purpose, to remind visitors of their most famous tenant.
“Kind of an old song, eh?” says the short man in the large sunglasses behind me. “Bit tired of that one, to tell ya the truth.”
I smile, resisting the urge to turn around.
“Yeah,” I say, “but not to worry. It’ll stay a classic. The world is full of fragile women."