Answering Personals

Allegra Wong

The one I don't want has telephoned three times; the one I want has telephoned once. The one I don't want will wear Bermuda shorts, a sleeveless tee, sneakers, and wait for me at South Station so I can buy coffee at one of the kiosks there. The one I want will wear a Brooks Brothers suit and sit in his silver Lexus in Kendall Square prior to lunch at Café Aujourd'hui.  The one I don't want sells real estate, attends community college at night, admits he spanks, even humiliates, his dates; the one I want earned his doctorate from MIT, is an artificial intelligence engineer seeking to invest robots with eros, and murmurs my voice is his new sensory stimulus.

Both are married, in their mid-fifties, seeking clandestine love affairs, probably both are impotent. The one I don't want says his home and business are near Revere Beach, his name is Al, but he doesn't give me either of his telephone numbers.  The one I want says his home is in Wellesley, gives me his Cambridge laboratory telephone number, says his name is Colin Bradfield.

It is for the one I want that I purchase a lacy brassiere and camisole and plan my luncheon wardrobe. It is for the one I want that I buy another copy of Annie Ernaux's Simple Passion to offer as a present, decide to give away my next-to-the-last contributor's copy of the diarist's journal in which a selection of my entries recently has appeared. It is for the one I want, sight unseen, that I scrutinize my thighs, belly, breasts because for years I have longed for a lover, and as I watch my body in the mirror, the lover for whom I have longed acquires the voice of the one I want, and I ache to smell his breath, taste his skin.

I am frightened to step off the train, but I do, and I climb the subway station stairs into Kendall Square where street space, still  tight, lures lingerers, and the dark sweep of an old storied brick building is quickened, deepened by the smooth giantism of a contemporary one. The spring sky is gray, but couples are sitting at yellow cafe tables along the sidewalks, and I look across to the MIT Press Bookstore. There he sits in his silver Lexus pulled up to the curb. He waves to me!

I cross the street, slide into his car, I am in smoke, and he is in Paris blue tweeds, but instead of holding his hand, instead of kissing him as I had imagined I would do, I tell him my coming is a mistake. Later, in the darkness of Cafe Aujourd'hui, he sits close to me, spends time reading the menu, deciding what I should eat, talking of his artificial intelligence symposia in Paris and Kyoto, his robots' need for eros, and their dissatisfaction with just intelligence, architecture, and technique. All the time he's talking, he's punctuating his conversation with pauses, and in those pauses, he persists in asking about me. After lunch, I agree to walk with him along the Charles River lake district, where, nearly a century ago, kissing was punishable by a twenty-dollar fine. Lone paddlers canoe past, and I wonder was it like this in the beginning for Miller and Nin.

He drives me back to Kendall Square. Just before I hop out of his car, he clasps my shoulders and asks, "Could you learn to like me as a friend?" I turn away, head for my train, think I approve of this Colin Bradfield who tries to imbue robots with eros, this human being who is lonely like everyone else. I think that one day I might like to caress his face, kiss his throat, unbutton his Oxford shirt just a little, do whatever it is he wants me to do.

Allegra Wong lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Her short prose has appeared in Oyster Boy Review and 3rd Bed. Her poetry is forthcoming in Perihelion. She has one son.

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