Going Back


Do you remember that coat you used to wear?” I asked. We sat in the Tap Room booth. It would be quieter there than in the Greenhouse.

“Coat?” We were drinking our Bloody Marys.

“It was darker than everyone else’s.” We all wore what were called storm coats, gray, with fur collars. Maybe they weren’t fur—who knows? There did not exist a soul who would have cared if they were.

“Oh, yes. It was a dusky blue.”

“Yes. Now, we were driving down Bascom hill after this movie from Russian history, you were wearing the coat, and you said to me the actor who played Marshal Kutuzov, he was superb. You know? Then I crashed the car. Remember?”

“Russian history,” she said.

“Yes, and then, you know, right before graduation, you came into that little reading room in the Union, you know—”

“Yes, the little reading room.”

“—and I was sitting on this couch, and you sat down and you had The Fountainhead , Ayn Rand, remember?”

“Well . . .”

She seemed warm and friendly, seemed awfully nice, was soft-spoken and well spoken, smiled easily—and was probably, I decided, thanking her lucky stars she’d ruled that we meet in a public place where the Princeton lacrosse team doubtless could be relied upon to appear and rescue her from the maniac of a lifetime ago. I talked about her sorority sister Ginny, how I used to ask her out.

“She was my roommate!”

“Really. Did she marry her doctor? Did they ever get up to seventeen thousand five hundred dollars a year?”

Miss Clark —Mrs. Something Else, as now she styled herself—gave me a look from eyes set behind glasses now. “At Christmas I get one of those letters that bring people upto-date. They live on the West Coast, have loads of children, and in every letter announce the birth of another grandchild.” Good Lord. Tough to visualize pretty and perky Ginny as a matriarch.

“Now, Weezie—”

“Weezie! Nobody calls me that except for one woman I know. She asked me, ‘Didn’t anyone ever call you Weezie? I’m going to call you Weezie.’”

“So am I. Now, Weezie, you seem very polite—you’re a credit to the old U.W.—and you’re working very hard not to make it clear that you don’t remember me in the slightest, isn’t that right?”

“Well . . .”

“Don’t remember the reading-room chat, don’t remember the car crash.”

“Oh, but I do. My back still hurts.”

She was grinning. It startled me that the golden girl from yesterday had a sense of humor. “I want,” I said, “to read you something that’ll perhaps make everything clear. This is from the introduction by Anthony Goldsmith to Flaubert’s Sentimental Education , London, 1941, edition.” I opened a notebook in which I’d written the quote—and found in the dim Tap Room light that I couldn’t read my handwriting. People who graduated from college forty years ago will run into reading problems in poor light. “May I borrow your glasses?” She handed them over.

“Please remember that my intensity was somewhat less than Flaubert’s. But the tone is right. You understand? Goldsmith says: ‘The image of Elisa, la toujours aimée , perpetually haunted his thoughts, and he once described her as the woman who had “ravaged his life.” . . . This curious unfulfilled passion was in fact Flaubert’s own romantic illusion. ... It was Flaubert himself who, forced by his inner nature, invested her with ideal qualities and made her typify the perfections of his youthful fantasies.’”

I took off the glasses. “You are my Elisa.”

We had been together for perhaps twenty minutes. “Well, there you are,” I said. There had been no change in the pleasant, interested expression on her face. “Now, I don’t know the first thing about you—never did. Begin at the beginning.”

“I’ve been thinking it’s about time someone came and interviewed me,” Miss Clark said.