Miss Jones

“I love what you’ve done with the place,” he said as he stood in front of a large poster of Che Guevara in the apartment that they used to share.

She scowled at him from the table where they were eating dinner.

“Fuck you,” she said. “I asked you over here to talk business, not interior design.”

“Right,” he said walking back to the table. “Business. That’s an ironic way of putting it coming from you.”

“You know what I mean?” she said.

“Speaking of business,” he said as he sat down. “Did you make any money from that yard sale of all my stuff you put on the sidewalk?”

“You’re lucky you didn’t wind up on the sidewalk,” she said.

He smiled at her. Her stern look was softening, the way the pitch dark of night inexplicably brightens at dawn. It doesn’t happen all at once, but it is inevitable.

“I am,” he said. “Thanks for having me over.”

“Well,” she said. “I don’t want to go to war with you.”

“Good,” he said. “We don’t want another Battle of Zama.”

She laughed.

“Zama?” she said. “You’re no Scipio, my love. Think Cannae.”

He took a sip of wine. Their eyes locked and he could see a terse smile dawning at the ends of her lips..

“Yes, honey,” he said. “When it comes to you, I am always Varro.”

Now her smile widened and spread to her eyes which were shining with satisfaction.

“I always told you,” he said. “I wasn’t ready for all this. I love our girl. I love you. But it doesn’t fit.”

“You’re either throwing yourself into something or you’re quitting.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I feel like I need time to catch up.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” she said. “You don’t need to catch up, you need to grow up.”

“I’ll go to Seattle, I’ll see what I can make happen there,” he started.

“And then?” she pressed. “Then what?”

“Politics,” she said. “I’ve already got inroads there. I’ll run a campaign. It makes sense.”

“Poets, priests, and politicians,” she said, letting her allusion hang in the air for a minute.

“Words?” he asked, raising his glass again. “No. Wine is all I have. Will your love ever be mine?”

“Shut up,” she said flatly. “You’re probably right. Liars make great politicians.”

When he arrived, he carefully loaded the CD player while she started dinner and now Art Tatum’s ensemble was playing Have You Met Miss Jones?

“Hey, let’s talk while we dance,” he said. “I love this one.”

He stood up , throwing his napkin on the seat of his chair, holding his arms open.

“You are such a moron,” she said. “No. I’m not going to dance. Sit down.”

She kept drinking her glass of wine. He stood there smiling stupidly, looked at each other for a moment.

“Oh fuck! Fine.”

As they waltzed around the tiny kitchen, he tried to pull her closer. She pushed him away.

“Now this is a date,” he said. “What were we discussing, again?”

“Oh, I think it was about what an ass you are,” she said. “And how you lied to me — and your kid.”

“Yeah. Right. I lied. Yes. I did.”

He managed to spin her around once.

“I am sorry,” he said. “But I was just lying because you shouldn’t have asked. Why mix the kid into any of that. I just thought we had a deal.”

She stopped dancing and put her finger under his chin.

“A lie is a lie. You are a liar. Just tell the truth. And there was no deal.”

She sat down.

“Even she knew that,” she finished.

“Alone on the dance floor again,” he said. “Hmmm. Maybe there’s someone else around here.”

He opened a closet and pulled out the mop and started dancing with it and stroking the its head like it was hair.

“Nice to meet you, Miss Jones,” he said to the mop. “Oh, yes, I was in love once. But she didn’t love me. She said I was a liar and an asshole. She hates me now.”

He twirled the mop around.

“What’s that?” he asked the mop. “Oh sure, but I’ll never love anyone like that again.”

As she watched him, she started to laugh, and unable to resist the joke and him, she stood up and grabbed the mop from him.

“Excuse me, Miss Jones, was it?” she said looking at the mop. “Don’t you have some homework to do?”

She dropped the mop and draped her arms around him.

“I never should have let you in here, Dad.”

“Well, Mom. We went and had a kid together. Now, you know, here we are.”

They kissed each other just as the saxophone flared up. And they keep dancing until the song ended.

She reached between his legs and grabbed him hard. He winced a bit. She tightened her grip.

“Yes, here we are,” she said looking him in the eyes. “Whatever happens I’m not going to let you hurt our girl. I expect follow through. Or I hurt you.”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I know. Now ease up.”

She let him go, just as Check Yes or No started to play. They sat back down at the table.

“We said this way might work out better,” he reminded her. “Then maybe later, you know.”

“Maybe later, what?”

“We’ll get back together.”

She stared at him and he stared back. Neither of them was sure whether any of this was a good idea. But they knew the friction between them, the heat and the light, was too much for their girl. Just then the little girl emerged from the hallway rubbing her eyes.

“Oh sweetie,” she said, getting up. “Did we wake you up? Let’s go back to bed.”

“Let her come over here a minute,” he said. The little girl walked over to him and he took her on his lap.

“Are you staying over, daddy?” she asked.

He looked over at the woman with the answer, and she stood there looking back at him. Their girl’s question hung between them, silently. Her face had softened but still had steel behind it. In that moment they knew each other and themselves. 

“Well, that’s up to mommy, baby,” he said glancing back at her.

She looked at him and shook her head. Then she mouthed the words, “I hate you.” “Sure, baby, we’ll all have breakfast tomorrow,” she said lifting her off his lap. “But now we all have to go to bed.”