inches from love

I was casually browsing an on-line art site one cold, wintry evening in late November, killing time till the pizza arrived, when I happened upon an artist whose images engaged me as few do, enough that I was moved to send her an email saying so.

“Why, thank you,” she replied. “I love to be found engaging—or even found at all, for that matter—there are so many of us out there peddling our pictures, these days.”

“I know—I’m a picture-peddler, myself,” I replied, and I sent her a link to my site, which she loved, and which I loved her loving, and one email led to another, and another to another, and before the week was out, we were back and forth several times a day, about art, about all manner of things. There was an easiness about it—like we were old friends—and the more I heard from her, the more I wanted to.  

“I imagine you speaking with an English accent,” I wrote.

“As it happens,” she replied, “I’m recently back from three weeks in London and still talking with a bit of an accent, or so I’m told. And writing with one, too, apparently. But, no, I’m Chicago-born-and-bred and, till the Oprah Show shut down in 2011, was Chicago-employed, as well. I was a researcher on the show.”

She’d loved it there, she said, had never worked harder nor had more fun. Set suddenly adrift, she’s flown to Toronto one weekend on a whim and was still here, “though, sometimes, just barely,” she added, “I’m a Chicagoan at heart.”

I asked if Oprah was the same in person as on TV.

“Even more so,” she answered.

And I asked if she agreed with Oprah that we’re all here for a purpose?

“I’d find it much easier to think so, were I Oprah,” she replied.

I loved what she had to say and how she said it and, by now, had grown convinced I loved everything else about her, too, and was fighting the impulse to tell her so. A couple of times I came close but lost my nerve.

Then, late one evening, in a now-or-never moment, I summoned the courage to flirt. Actually, it was more an act of impulse than courage and, as soon as I hit the ‘send’ button, I wished I hadn’t. But, minutes later, she flirted back and, in no time at all, as though a floodgate had been lifted, we were professing our love for one another and were hungrily impatient to be in one another's arms. It happened that fast.

She wrote, the next day, that she could neither eat nor sleep for imagining what lay ahead.

“Same, here,” I replied. “Last night I watched Seinfeld reruns till well after sunup, then forced down an order of Chicken Teriyaki in the Yonge/Eglinton food court just to have eaten something more than an apple and a few handfuls of popcorn.”

“I’m thinking we should meet sooner than later,” she wrote. “What are you thinking?”

“The sooner the better,” I answered. “How about lunch tomorrow?” I suggested Grazie and a time and place to meet.

“Perfect!” she replied. “Can’t wait!”

There’d been something gnawing at me, something I’d been putting off doing and took no pleasure in doing now, but now was the time—I ended an out-of-town relationship that, for too long, had been sapping my spirits. I freed myself for whatever lay ahead.

I needn’t have rushed. What lay ahead was reality, which, the next day, as she walked toward me in the parking lot where we’d agree to meet, doused the flames of passion and silenced the choir and, as I was handing her the single rose, I was wishing I wasn’t and could tell she was wishing the same. Sticking to script, we hugged, but the hug we’d been so looking forward to was more a collision of body parts than a hug and, when we drew apart, the rose lay trampled-upon at our feet.

“Oh, dear!” she said, and, stooping to pick up the rose, burst out laughing, which, for a moment, took me aback. But only for a moment. She had a laugh you couldn’t help laughing along with and I was ripe for a good laugh. That I wasn’t entirely sure why we were laughing didn’t matter and, for my liking, it ended all too soon.

Catching her breath, she withdrew a packet of tissues from her coat pocket. “Sorry about that,” she said.

I dismissed her apology. “I should be thanking you.”

She smiled. “Some are offended. I’m an inappropriate laugher. Can’t help myself. Mary Richards at the funeral for Chuckles the Clown—that’s me. It runs in the family.”


She was blotting her eyes with a tissue and handed me a couple, as well. “I imagined you taller than me.”

“So did I,” I said, standing my tallest.

Even then—standing my tallest—she had me by a good three inches, which, with little beating around the bush, we agreed was an issue, and we might well have decided, right then and there, to call the whole thing off. The way I was feeling, that would have been my preference, anyway. But I didn’t say so, and she said she was starving, so we stuck to plan and, while there’d be none of the imagined hand-holding across the table or any of that, conversation, from an awkward start, became easy and fun, and the linguine with shrimps was the best either of us had ever tasted, and our waiter couldn’t have been more congenial nor the atmosphere more festive and, by my last sip of wine, I was having second thoughts about this height-difference thing and wondering if she was, too. Seated, it wasn’t so pronounced.

“Given your height,” I said, “I’m surprised you didn’t ask me mine.”

“I was loving being in love and didn’t want to risk it,” she said, “and I’m taller than most of the men in my life, so it was a very big risk.”

We were waiting for the bill.

“You seem a genuinely happy person,” I said.

“I am—most of the time, anyway.”

“Have you a secret?”

“A secret? Happy genes—that’s my secret, I suppose. That, and making sure I always have something fun to look forward to.” This weekend, she said, she and a girlfriend were treating themselves to an evening of Cirque du Soleil. In a couple of weeks, she’d be off to Costa Rica. She loved to travel—often took her paints along.

When we left Grazie, it was snowing heavily and slippery underfoot. I offered my arm and we made our way carefully along the street and across the lot to where she’d parked her red Mercedes. As she settled in behind the wheel, I circled the car brushing snow off its windows and, when I’d finished, she thanked me and said I was a good man.

As she turned the key in the ignition, I told her how good it felt to be talking down to her. She laughed, blew me a kiss, and I haven’t seen or heard from her since.