One warm evening in August, I was on the back porch, drawing in the twilight, when the phone rang inside. A few moments later, George poked out his head. “Phone for you, Malcolm. Says his name is Davenport.” Despite my resolutions, my heart leapt and I got to my feet — the phone cord didn’t reach further than the kitchen — to take the call. Mary Kate was washing up from supper, and gave me a worried look as I picked up the receiver.
“Malcolm Carmichael,” I said.
“Malcolm, it’s Oliver. I’m in Chicago for a few days and I’d love to see you.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” I began.
“Just for lunch,” Oliver said. “I’m going back to Louisville tomorrow afternoon. I’m not even alone — there’s someone I want you to meet.”
“A potential employer.” I sighed heavily and he said, “I know you said you don’t want my help, but at least meet the man, Malcolm. Hear him out. I think this position would suit you perfectly.”
“All right,” I said. “Thank you, Oliver.”
“Though I still wish you’d let me take care of you.”
I removed the phone from my ear a moment, and when I put it back I said, “How’s Elizabeth?”
There was a pause. “Pregnant.”
“Congratulations,” I said sincerely. There was no stab of jealousy like there might have been four months ago. They had found their own way to make their marriage work, and it was no longer any of my concern. “Where do you want to meet?”
“My hotel is downtown — Palmer House. You’ll love it, it’s like a work of art.”
We agreed to meet in the lobby at noon, and to eat in the Empire Room, the hotel’s main restaurant, and we hung up. Mary Kate was still washing the dishes, so I went to the sink to dry them and stack them in the drying rack. “What did Oliver want?”
“He asked me to lunch. He thinks he’s found a job for me.”
“You already have a job.”
“Just summer school,” I said. “It’ll be over in a few weeks, and I haven’t found what I want to do next yet.”
She handed me a wet plate and I swiped the towel over it. She was frowning, and I said, “Out with it.”
“You haven’t found what you want to do next because you’re looking for something perfect, which doesn’t exist. No job is perfect.” She paused, washing a glass. “No lover is perfect, either.”
I dried another plate. “I’m not looking for perfection.”
“Really? You’re not holding everyone to an impossible standard?”
“That’s not fair,” I said.
She leaned her head on my arm. “Sorry. Sorry, love. Whenever you go out you look so hopeful and then you come back so depressed. I have no idea what goes on between men –“
“Basically the same things that happen between men and women.”