This was how they got through the tedious moments of the writers' conference:
They had crushes. Each woman chose a man and they said to the others, "It's him. I
have a crush on him." Sitting in the auditorium, they pointed, slyly, underhanded,
tried not to make a spectacle of themselves, but often failed. They twittered and
giggled like the teenagers they no longer were. They brushed their salt and pepper
hair away from their faces. They smoothed their skirts and they uncrossed their ankles.
And the others in their small group groaned or approved of their choice and whenever
one of their crushes walked into the packed room one would nudge the other with her
elbow and say, "Look, there's your crush." At least once a day one would change the object of her attention. At least once a
day one would ask, "Aren't we a little old to be having crushes?"
Her crush had actually begun months earlier when, while cleaning out her desk
drawer, she'd come across an announcement of the poet's new work. He was much younger
than she and his first book was described as "superb" and "daring." She sat back in
her chair and she looked at his photograph, him standing, his back against a tree,
his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes gazing into the distance, and it made her
smile. Once, in junior high school, she'd had a crush on her Spanish teacher, even joined
the chess club to be near him. He'd had a kind face, dark eyes and a gift for language.
All these years later, she still remembered what he'd written in her year book: "What's
behind that quixotic smile?" She slipped the announcement back into the top drawer of her desk.
Not long after, she opened the catalogue for the writers' conference she planned
to attend because she was a writer too, though not a poet, and she read that the poet
would be teaching there. She signed up for a private meeting and when from the doorway
she saw him sitting in the empty classroom, tapping the edge of the table with his
pencil and looking out the window, she thought he looked even better in person and
she hoped it wasn't obvious what she was thinking. She told him about finding the announcement in her drawer and he smiled and he
asked her to read her piece aloud, the piece she'd chosen for him because it was the
closest to his work, without being poetry. "I like to hear the words," he said. When she finished reading she felt that something intimate had passed between
them and she wondered if he'd noticed it too, if he knew what they'd done, the reading
and the listening to words, and had it been as thrilling for him as it had been for
her? She hoped. She hoped. And then he said, "This is the character that interests
me. This one who has lines around her eyes. This one that's aging. She needs to be
explored." And though he said nothing wrong she realized she had given the poet the
worst piece to read after all. Later, when she was with her friends, she told them how he had put his arm around
her and walked her to the door. And they laughed and they said, "Way to go." And she
laughed. And she kept the rest to herself.
That night she dreamed she and the poet stood with a small group, his arm draped
around her shoulder, their bodies touching, and then he was gone. In the dream someone
told her he had called her and they gave her his number. And she walked, her cell
phone to her ear, past a pregnant woman and a fountain, but she wasn't calling him,
she was calling her best friend from high school for advice. If she called him right
away would he think her too eager? And if she waited until tomorrow would it be too
late? In the morning when she told a friend about the dream her friend said it wasn't about
the poet, not literally. She said, "Love is calling you. You should return love's
After that last reading at the conference her friends whispered, and pointed,
and dared her to go up to the poet to say goodbye, and she did. And when she walked
up to him where he sat on the edge of the stage, he stood and he hugged her. He said,
"If you see me walking down a street in your town grab me." And she said she would,
and she believed she would, and she smiled, and he hugged her again.