Find My Soul, Please
by Lawrence D Weinberg
I Wrote Find My Soul in the Fall of 1993. It is my most recent story. I don't know when I last edited it. Consider it a work in progress.
Michael was lucky to find a parking space only thirty feet from his front door; it was almost 11:00 PM. As he parallel parked the car radio played a commercial, "Be young have fun drink Pepsi." Michael thought about how he was still young but he couldn't remember the last time he had fun.
Michael inhaled and smelled his new car smell. His China Berry tree air freshener sat, unopened, in the glove compartment because Michael wanted to enjoy the new car smell as long as possible. Michael kept the engine running while he sat in his car listening to the radio. Most of Michael's friend's bought BMWs when they received their offers at law firms. But, Michael wanted to save money in order to pay off his student loans and start the important work as soon as possible. Michael's grey Cutlas Sierra was the first car Michael had ever bought new.
Michael opened his briefcase to make sure the Pitsco file was there. Intellectually he knew it was, he'd checked when he left the office and again when he started his car, but Michael wanted to be sure anyway. Michael turned the engine off and reached to the floor of the empty passenger seat and grabbed The Club which he locked in place. He stretched his lanky body after getting out of the car. The cool autumn air reminded him that he couldn't allow himself to be tired yet, the Pitsco memo needed polishing. A neighbor passed by Michael as he entered his apartment building. He'd seen her several times before but never introduced himself. Tonight, he noticed that she had beautiful jet black hair. "Hello, I'm Michael Davis, apartment 17F. I've seen you in and out. I think we're on the same floor."
"Jennifer Smith, 17A. I see you keep late hours too."
"I'm a first year associate. We're essentially slaves and they try and kill us before they consider making us partners. Where are you headed out to at this late hour?"
"I'm an insomniac so I often go up to No Exit or the Heartland Cafe and listen to whatever band they have there; just so I'm not alone until all hours of the night."
"When I'm home, I'm generally up till two or three, either reading cases or making dinner. So, if the El ever stops going to Morse I would appreciate the diversion; I often get so wrapped up in the problems I get at work that I forget how rational people think." Michael wondered how her hazel eyes could be so alive when she didn't sleep. He had to fight so hard to look attractive with only four hours of sleep per night. She made it look so easy. Michael was jealous.
"Thanks for the offer, Michael. I'll keep it in mind." Jennifer said as she continued down the steps toward the train station. That man had a beautiful, strong jaw, but he's got to get himself some better lines, or at least a good nights sleep.
Brave woman to go out on the train alone after eleven, Michael thought as he watched her walk to the El stop. She looked back at him when she was halfway down the street and gave him a tiny smile which Michael couldn't see but he could almost feel as he noticed her body language. "I'll see her again," He quietly whispered to himself as he let the door to their apartment building shut and turned toward the mailboxes.
Michael smiled as he saw the airmail envelope, a letter from Kevin. Kevin dropped out of law school in the middle of his second summer. He was working for Smith, Cobb, and Fitzpatrick, a "hoity toity" firm out in Manhattan. Kevin didn't like it and decided that he wasn't going to spend the rest of his life a slave to some firm. He dropped out of law school and bought a Harley Davidson. Kevin used war guilt to become a German citizen, got a European Community passport and rode across Europe taking odd jobs. Michael unlocked his door and tore open the letter. Kevin usually sent postcards when he entered a new country, something interesting must have happened. Michael kept the postcards taped to his refrigerator. Michael felt the delicate, international airmail paper crinkle between his fingers. He began to read.
I've never been one to waste words and talk around subjects so sit down. My mother died. She had an aneurysm last June. My dad didn't track me down till a couple of days ago. I'm sitting shivah in Maryanna's apartment in Budapest. I think I wrote you about her shortly after I arrived in Hungary. She's being great. When I told her, she not only found the nearest synagogue, but she went out and bought The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning so she would know what I'm going through. The Jewish community in Budapest is small, and I hadn't really explored it, but they are being wonderful. They arranged for meals and the minyin. And not one of them has mentioned the fact that Maryanna isn't Jewish.
It's strange suddenly confronting my Judaism again. But, when my mother died I didn't know how else to mourn. Maryanna covered all the mirrors and the shul provided me with a short chair to sit on when visitors come. It's incredible how the community has come to my assistance. I think that if I'd been in Ohio and I'd had to confront Rabbi Fine and my parents friends I could never have mourned in any Jewish way. But, so far away I don't know how else to mourn.
I'd appreciate it if you could go out and see my father if your firm will let you get away for a weekend. He told me that he's keeping up, but I need to know the truth. He liked you back in undergrad when you came out to Ohio for Thanksgiving. I think it's probably because you were the only friend I made at Northwestern who was Jewish. I'd appreciate it if you went to see him.
Take it Easy,
Michael couldn't remember the last time he stepped foot into a synagogue. He no longer allowed his father to force him when he went back to Shaker Heights. And Kevin was having a minyin at his girlfriend's apartment. If he went to visit Mr. Weiss his father would want to make a shivah visit with him. Michael looked at the postmark. The week of mourning was over. Mrs. Weiss was long dead. Yisgadal v'yiskadash sh'mei...
The doorbell rang. It was 12:15. Michael got up and walked down the hall to open the door. It was the woman with the jet black hair. "Hi, how can I help you?"
Jennifer thought that she'd made a mistake. Michael seemed so inviting earlier if a bit shallow. She just missed a train and puttering around her apartment was annoying, why not. She didn't want to spend the night thinking about Steven. But now Michael didn't seem to want to see her. Another person, man, pretending to be open while they really were locked in their closed, comfortable world. She wondered how to get away with her dignity in tact. "Hi. I missed my train so I thought I'd take you up on your offer, but you seem..."
"Sorry. I just. . . Come in. Please come in." Michael's flirting mechanism took over. "I was just so overwhelmed with joy at seeing you that I was unable to present you with common courtesy and pleasantries. Please pardon your humble servant's rudeness. Won't you please come in. I am truly... Please come in I could use some company." Michael swooped his arm and bowed as deeply as his back would allow him.
Jennifer eked out a cautious "Thank you" as she wondered if something was up with Michael, or if he just couldn't make up his mind about her. He seemed a bit shaken. Was he nervous? He didn't seem the shy type. She thought that maybe it would be better if she spent the night reading or watching television, but if she stayed at home she knew that she would wind up thinking about Steven that night. So she followed Michael down the hallway of his apartment to his living room. Jennifer made herself at home on his futon as he asked her if she wanted anything to drink. "Tea please."
Michael wondered if he owned any tea. He searched through his cabinets and found a tea bag left over from his father's kosher meal on his last visit to Chicago. "I only have regular. Sorry, I'm not an herbal kind of guy." Michael couldn't believe he could say something so lame. He was not in form tonight. He needed to buy tea. Women like tea. He wrote it on his shopping list. Michael shopped in bulk the first Sunday each month. Perhaps he could borrow some tea or pick it up at the deli down the corner from the firm in case the woman with the jet black hair came back. He put up the tea pot which his mother gave him when he went off to college.
Jennifer liked Michael's living room. It was a bachelor's apartment, toys on his coffee table, black cover on the futon, but, most of the furniture matched. Jennifer began molding the little triangle magnets into a sculpture of a bird. She admired his roll top desk, which reminded her of her father's, though Michael's was cedar not oak. A letter, of thin airmail paper lay on the floor near the chair.
"Where did you get the airmail paper?"
"What?" Michael replied as he walked into the living room.
"The airmail paper," she pointed to the floor. "I spent a year in France and I write a number of my friends there. I've looked all over for airmail paper because I write long letters and it's senseless to pay extra for the postage."
"Oh, I got a letter from a friend who uses it. I don't write many letters so I've never looked, sorry."
"Where's your friend?"
Michael miss heard her, "We grew up together, actually in neighboring towns. Growing up we didn't know each other well, but we went to college together and then law school together and somewhere along the line became best friends." The kettle began whistling so Michael left the room. He went out of his way to pick up Kevin's letter and put it in his shirt pocket. The woman with jet black hair asked for milk for her tea.
Michael watched as she removed her teabag with her spoon and gently wound the string around the bag to drain the last bits of tea essence. He poured himself a glass of Chivas and then went to the kitchen to get ice. Jennifer placed the drained teabag on her saucer as Michael took a sip of his drink. The woman with jet black hair took one and a half teaspoons of sugar. My God, thought Michael, there has got to be a way for me to find out her name.
Since people usually asked Jennifer why she took her tea with milk, she anticipated the question and told Michael that she spent the summer after her junior year in Ilford with her former boyfriend and his Aunt and Uncle. "His Aunt was the one of the sweetest women I've ever met. She not only made us lunch to take with us, she would quarter oranges, and start the peel down each one like my mom did when I was a kid. I knew London inside and out. My favorite times were lunches by Lord Nelson's Column. We couldn't get work visas like we'd planned, so we spent the whole summer getting to know London. I'm a museum person and he was a club person so we compromised by seeing everything. It was one of the best times of my life. I love traveling."
"What happened between the two of you?"
Her beautiful smile turned into a very serious look that refused to be sad. "It ran its course and ended." Michael felt that he'd asked a bad question. France, England, she traveled. Kevin loved to travel. Kevin was traveling. Kevin was living his dream while Michael was slaving at a firm. Michael tried to shake off his thoughts about Kevin. Kevin was in Hungary. Mrs. Weiss was dead. Kevin was sitting shivah thousands of miles away. He would never taste Mrs. Weiss's cheesecake again. The Budapest Jewish community was supporting Kevin. He had to go out to Cleveland to pay a shivah visit to Mr. Weiss. But, the week of mourning ended three months ago. That meant spending a weekend with his father. The woman with jet black hair was in his living room. Michael needed to focus on her.
"My friend Kevin was in London last May. I've never been out of the country, except Canada and I once spent spring break in Cancun. But, most people don't count that. I mean Canada's attached and Cancun is basically an unincorporated Club Med. Not a foreign nation but a place to go and relax, where a man and a woman can run on the beach, swim together by moonlight, forget the worries of work. It's so hard to capture that escape from the monotony of life without a catalyst. But." Michael paused as he looked more intently in her eyes. Michael's lines weren't up to par, Mexico as an escape ground for lovers; his lines were not materializing in his mind. This woman was too intelligent to fall for such a pedestrian approach. She must want someone. Why? Who was this woman that chose tonight to enter into his life? "But, escape can't truly be captured alone at home or away. One person needs to chase the relaxation while the partner waits and catches it in a net. Then the two of them can slow roast it and enjoy its taste together." Michael decided to stop talking, the lines were definitely not coming. Let her talk. Ask some questions. Have you ever been out of the country? "What do you do to relax?"
I fuck total strangers. Jennifer didn't say it and it wasn't true, but she almost felt it for a moment. She chose that night if not Michael for very specific reasons of her own. "I paint. My dad gave me a paint set for my eighth birthday. I never stopped. It's the only way that I can relax without someone else to hold the net. You have a strong jaw." God Jennifer your lines are as bad as his. Why are you doing this? He's cute and seems to mean well. It's been ages. Don't lie to yourself Jennifer you know why you're here. The question isn't why you're here in Michael's apartment, it's what are you going to do while you're here? And, how big of a mistake will it turn out to be? "I'd like to paint your portrait. Would you wait while I run down the hall and get my paints?"
"Sure." It was almost one AM. Michael still needed to edit the Pitsco memo, but sex always came before school, why not before work?" Michael ran to his bedroom and grabbed his flannel pajamas from underneath his pillow and threw them into the hamper. He made sure no clothes were on the floor or underneath the bed. Michael realized that he was starving. "Christ, I haven't eaten in eight hours!" Michael placed cold spaghetti in his microwave as the doorbell rang.
Still angry about so much Steven dialed Jennifer's phone number. She wasn't home. He didn't know why he called. They hadn't spoken in two years. But it was exactly two years. Two years to the date when Jennifer found out the he slept with Eileen. Jennifer left. No fight. She packed up a few boxes and moved into her own apartment. Steven tried to find her phone number but didn't until six months later when he was already in another relationship. Steven dated after he and Jennifer broke up, but no one ever was the same. It sounds so banal. No one was ever the same. Some women were more beautiful. Others better in bed. Others funnier. But Jennifer had a live quality about her that no one before or after her could even approach.
"Jennifer it's Steve I just want to talk. It's been a while. I'm still at the old number give me a call." The message was flashing on Jennifer's machine when she picked up her paints. She ignored it.
Jennifer set up her easel and paints in Michael's living room. Michael took bites of spaghetti in between brush strokes. The woman with jet black hair was not hungry. She gracefully dipped her brush in the oils and then her hand would disappear behind the easel. Michael caught her name, Jennifer Smith. It was written on her box of paints.
Jennifer's hand trembled slightly. Not enough for Michael to notice, but just enough to make her lines just a bit off. She wanted to capture his jaw. Michael had a very strong jaw. Steven's jaw was so weak. Usually a man's strongest feature is his eyes, but Michael's, though his eyes were cute, almost but not quite captivating, were so tired. Jennifer sipped her second cup of cold, weak tea.
She looked so fragile behind the easel, holding the cup and pressing it gently to her lips. Michael wanted to kiss her. Michael always wanted to kiss women, but at that moment Jennifer became a person to him. A person he wanted to know, a person he wanted to kiss. He stood up from the futon as he put down his glass of Chivas. He stared at Jennifer and wondered why she was here in his apartment. He wondered if she worked. He wondered where she worked. He wondered if she wanted him to kiss her.
The woman with black hair put down her cup of tea. Jennifer slowly walked toward Michael. He leaned toward her as if he were going to kiss her. Jennifer raised her hand and moved it palm forward as if to push Michael away and then gently ran her fingertips down Michael's chest, barely making contact with the material of his shirt and lightly scratching his buttons. Michael moved his lips up to Jennifer's but did not press them together. He gently traced her lips with his and then put his arms around her and embraced her as he kissed her.
Kevin's letter crinkled in Michael's pocket. Poor Kevin, alone in Hungary, sitting shivah with no Jewish community. But Kevin said the community there was wonderful. But Kevin was no more actively Jewish than Michael. Their Judaism was always there, a backdrop to their secular existence, but didn't have any tangible effect on their lives, except when one of their parents visited. And now Kevin's mom was dead. Michael imagined Kevin on one of those short stools he remembered his dad sitting on when his granddad died. Kevin was retreating into tradition since he was too far from home to do anything else. Yisgadal v'yiskadash sh'mei...
Jennifer thought Michael was an amazing kisser. His passion was controlled but constantly pressing. He had amazing concentration and responded to slight movements in her mouth and body. It was so long since a man knew how to respond to Jennifer's body. She wasn't sure how or why she thought Michael would know how to respond to her, but she must have chosen him for a reason. It wasn't just because it was that night. Or was it a lucky guess? Who else could she be with?
Michael's alarm clock went off at 5:30 AM. Michael remembered no sleep, but he must have fallen asleep for at least a moment since the woman with jet black hair, Jennifer, was gone when he hit his snooze button.
Adrenaline hit him. The Pitsco memo. Brent needed it on his desk at eleven. Michael tore out of bed and put up a pot of coffee. The light was still on in his living room. "Aaaa!" Michael screamed and swallowed a mouthful of toothpaste when Jennifer walked into the bathroom. "Sorry. I thought you left. I mean I thought I was alone. I mean I'm not used to people walking in on me in the bathroom."
"I couldn't sleep. Sorry I scared you. I was reading one of your collections of Coleridge."
"It's okay," Michael breathed a couple of times. "Make yourself at home. I uh, I need to get ready for work." Michael spit out the remaining toothpaste. Focus. A hot shower cleared his head but was unable to calm his nerves. Pitsco meant over $10 million in fees per year and he risked it to get laid. Not that Jennifer wasn't amazing, from what he remembered. It was just stupid. And now she was still in his apartment, reading, not even tired. Pitsco, focus.
Michael sat in a towel in front of his Mac. He gave his old Mac Plus to charity and bought and Powerbook 540 when he got his first $2,000 firm paycheck. The Pitsco issue was clear, he'd spent an hour on it the night before honing it before he left work. The problem was whether or not the loophole he found in the negotiations section of the contract would be applied in court. If he could make a convincing argument he would earn a bunch of brownie points. It was a bit of a stretch in the contract and in the law, but if the argument was sound he'd look clever, if it won in court or not. But he couldn't just point the loophole out and let someone else craft the argument. Seeing it isn't enough, you have to use it. You have to use it well. He could hear Dr. Dickinson's voice. "Any lawyer can argue a decisive point of law or a point of fact and win. Any lawyer can effectively argue an obvious point that other lawyers miss. However, a truly novel argument is a useless argument if it cannot be seen to fit within the reasonable bounds of the contract and the law. It's the really clever lawyer that notices the weakness or strength that no one else sees and presents it so well that it seems obvious."
Michael wanted to make his loophole obvious. He had a couple of precedents that worked okay by analogy. The question was presentation. He wanted his memo to be placed verbatim into Brent's brief, god what a coup that would be.
"What are you working on?" Jennifer thought Michael looked so sexy sitting there in just a towel, his body still half wet, his hair slicked back with a tiny bit of gel. She remembered feeling his chest on top of hers and wanted that feeling again.
"I've got to finish editing this memo for work. It's for a client that trying to get out of a contract because it can make an extra $15 million dollars if it devotes its resources differently. But, unfortunately the people who they're screwing won't see reason and won't settle. So my job is to teach them a lesson, that they should have settled. And the way I'm doing that is by reinterpreting a clause about renegotiation. If I do it well enough I'll earn lots of brownie points. If I fuck up I'll never see a deal over ten million."
"Why is it a important to see a deal over ten million?"
"That's how you make partner." Partner? I don't want to make partner. I want to pay off my loans and work for the American Friends Service Committee. What am I doing? Kevin would laugh at me; two months into work and I'm already thinking about making partner. "Jennifer, I'd love to talk but if I don't get this done I'm toast. Not just toast, burnt toast, really blackened burnt toast." Michael remembered how hungry he was. He remembered Kevin's maxim - Must eat, must sleep, must not die.
"Oh, well, I made breakfast if you want." Jennifer walked out of the room. What an ass. She couldn't believe that she slept with him. She muttered to herself as she ate, "And I was just beginning to feel like a virgin again. God damn you Steven."
Michael grasped his forehead in between his hands. Jennifer, Pitsco, Kevin, Mrs. Weiss. It all whirled through his head. He needed to apologize. His stress was his stress. Jennifer voluntarily walked into his life, but that didn't give him license to dump on her without cause. He chose not to edit the memo last night. He focused on the screen of his laptop, then continued editing the Pitsco memo.
Dressed in a dark blue pinstripe Brooks Brothers suit and white button down pinpoint oxford sans tie, Michael walked into his kitchen. Jennifer sat at his table wearing one of his oxfords, eating scrambled eggs, reading the New York Times. He held in his hand, behind his back, a pink, plastic lily from his cocktail table. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap. I'm just not a morning person."
Jennifer took the lily and pretended to sniff it. It was a sweet gesture, but what lay behind it? Who the hell was this guy?