In the winter of that year I had come into some money as my father had died. I had squandered too many evenings drinking alone, and I could no longer ignore the insistence of Pietro, the loud Italian with whom I lived, for a night out. Pietro was a fool but when he was drunk he was an honest fool.
“Where shall we go, Pietro?” I asked.
“Toad’s place. There are many women there!”
“I thought it was men you wanted.”
“I only want warmth, and noise. They have both there.”
“Bene — andiamo.”
For a moment we sat and drank rum and it was very friendly. The chianti we had drunk over dinner was heavy inside me. We had kept it too long and it had gone to pieces. When we arrived I felt cooked. We were all cooked. The thing was not to recognize it.
The line was quick. As we waited a girl squatted across the street and cried alone. I would have liked to hear her story but I could tell she sought to be apart. Inside was as Pietro had said it would be. Quickly I saw the woman I had met two weeks past. She was training to be a doctor, and her accent was Scottish and soft. I remembered her name: It was Millie. The rum made me bold, and I spoke to her.
“There is a nice village in West Haven and you can row out to the islands where the fishermen are and there is a restaurant on the biggest island.” I was glad because my voice did not falter. We did not go to West Haven but we smoked a cigarette outside and the cold was a relief on my face.
“You look grand with that cigarette in your hand,” I said.
“I see you staring at me often in the chem lab. Do you like me?”
“Yes. I do. Will you leave with me? I would very much like to.”
“You do like me?”
“Don’t keep on saying that.”
“This is a rotten game we play, isn’t it? You don’t have to pretend you like me.”
“But I do like you. Come with me. Please.” I pressed her hand.
“All right.” She put out her cigarette and kissed me but her lips were closed.
I know that the night is not the same as the day, that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day. But with Millie there was almost no difference in the night except her eyes were bigger. As we walked home she put her shoulder accidentally into a rower who was then very angry. She didn’t care because the night was so pleasant and she was so much herself, but he was red-faced and eager to threaten. I would have fought him and all that time in Baltimore had taught me how to stay on my feet, but I saw Millie only wanted to walk so I turned my back and rejoined her side. I saw the rower find his boys and they chortled a great deal, so I did not feel bad about Millie’s shoulder in his stomach.
When we came back I was not drunk but I was near vomiting. Perhaps because the wine was so rotten, but I had also put my hand on Millie’s midriff and it was warm and she had rested her head on my chest. I could not vomit because she would not kiss me then. I went to the bathroom and drank water from the faucet.
Afterwards we lay on the bed and I looked often at her hair on the pillow.
“The nights are grand,” Millie said.
“I don’t want you to go away to Vermont, or wherever it is you go.”
“I won’t ever go away,” I said. “I’m bored when you’re not there. I haven’t any life at all.”
For a moment I wondered if Pietro had gotten home safely. I last saw him wearing a garland of flowers, laughing hard and running fast because he had pried a wenzel from the hands of the team’s linebacker. But Pietro was fast when he needed to be and it was hard to hold him in my head for long with Millie beside me. I could hear her breathing when there were no cars and I listened closely.
She left early. A wine shop which was a restaurant in the day was open and I went in for some coffee. It smelled of early morning, of swept dust, spoons in coffee-glasses and the wet circles left by wine glasses. I saw my leg was bleeding.
“Your blood coagulates beautifully,” said a waiter. He was Italian.
I did not see Millie again because she went to Europe in February and never returned. Once that night when we lay next to each other she asked me if I loved her, and what I would do if she went away.
“What do you want to do? Ruin me?”
I do not think she wanted to ruin me, but that is what she did. When the Wednesday evenings came around, I would go to Toad’s place and look for other things to think about.