Swallow by Tonya Plank

By SMW Staff

Anyway, two weeks after it emerged — “it” being the ball, as I’d call it, or the fist-ball, FB for short — I stole into the office library and surreptitiously filched the medical insurance directory, chose a random name under “mental,” and ended up with Dr. Ames.

Dr. Ames seemed decent. He didn’t mention semen or repressed memories, although he did elicit a clarification when I’d told him I was having problems swallowing: “Food, you mean?” He was fortyish, a bit pudgy, with a round cherubic face that emanated contentment like a white beluga whale. And he had an eye like Sartre’s — I always forget the exact term — lazy eye, deviating eye? I resigned to call it his “Sartre eye.” At first it threw me a bit because it didn’t seem like he was looking directly at me when he talked. Then, for that very reason, it began to make me feel more at ease. Like he wasn’t staring me down or sizing me up.

I told him about FB. It was a seemingly normal Saturday evening. Stephen had surprised me with a phone call from work. A senior litigation associate trying to make partner at one of the biggest firms in the city, the man was always at the office, and reminding me ad nauseam when I objected to full weekend hours, that they didn’t pay him half a million a year for nine to five. I wondered why he couldn’t ask them for a quarter of a million for a normal life, but, I don’t know, I guess I was young and naive and unschooled in the ways of New York meta-firms at that point. Anyway, he wanted to take me out for a nice dinner — nothing special; he was just in the mood for some “bistro” food, meaning his favorite, Cafe des Artistes, a capital-lettered entry in the Zagat’s guide, whose poshness sometimes unnerved me but that did have splendid food. He told me to wear a dress with a wide neckline or strapless; said it would nicely complement a “tiny little something” he just picked up for me at — Tiffany’s of all places.

I knew something was up. Stephen could have moments of ostentatiousness, but Tiffany’s was definitely out of the ordinary. So there I was, a tangle of nerves in a pink discount slipdress I’d bought at a Woodbury Commons outlet, sitting at our usual candle-lit table below a mural of a blonde Tarzan beating his chest for a naked blushing nymph, opposite my ocean-eyed, urbanely bald, chiseled-jawed former “judge.”

I’d met Stephen a couple years earlier, in law school. We weren’t students together; he was 37, 11 years older than I. At the end of my first year, I was required to give this horrendously nerve-wracking oral argument for my Appellate Advocacy class. I was a pretty hysterical wreck throughout my entire first year, throughout my entire time, at Yale. They wanted people other than the familiar profs on the mock judicial panels, so Stephen, who’d graduated years earlier, returned to his alma mater and sat as a “judge” on my “court.” Well, my trembling voice and jittery stance made it quite clear I was vomitously nervous throughout the entire thing. It didn’t help that I was assigned the conservative side, and had to argue that protestors against the NYPD’s treatment of African Americans didn’t have a Constitutional right to hold a candlelight vigil for a slain innocent suspect in a public park after dusk. Of course the whole panel was dead set against me. Not that I could blame them; I was pretty dead set against myself as well. But the “presiding judge,” one of our Family Law professors, didn’t have to heckle me so!

Afterward, Stephen went out of his way to approach me in the hall. Told me not to worry; I was simply on the unpopular side. But my analysis of the case law was quite astute, my marshaling of the facts cogent, my presentation very well-articulated; I just needed a little more confidence, and, would I like to go out for a drink so he could give me some pointers?

I found him brilliant. He had a spectacular education — Harvard undergrad, Princeton grad school, and Yale law. He talked on and on about John Rawls’ theory of justice, agreeing with the philosopher that if the makers of the social contract were hidden behind a veil of ignorance regarding their position in society, things would be much more egalitarian. And then he went on to deconstruct historian Joan Scott’s feminist deconstruction of the “equality versus difference” binarism, before launching into a comparative analysis of Catherine MacKinnon versus Drucilla Cornell on pornography. I’d just never met a man like that before who spent so much time ruminating, ideating, analyzing — especially about all of the same issues that had so intrigued me. Suffice it to say, not many of the guys back home were very intellectual. I’d learned so much in that afternoon just listening to him. And he kept telling me how intelligent I was and how extraordinary that Yale accepted me, and how I really owed it to myself to be so much more self-confident. He made me feel really smart, like no one, especially a man, had. I was lonely and didn’t feel I fit in very well at Yale. My closest friend and mentor on the gender and law journal, Samia, being older, was gone by my third year. Stephen became a big part of my life.

Back to dinner: after the waitress served us our Frangelicos, Stephen gave me my “little something” — actually two “little somethings” — the first was a red herring. I lifted the box’s velvet lid to find a very pretty strand of pearls. At full length it would dangle nearly to my midriff, but could be doubled to hit just above the breast and probably even tripled into a choker. He knelt next to me, cramped though we were at the Lilliputian table, tripled it around my throat and affixed the clasp. Then he told me to close my eyes, began kissing my neck and breathing lightly into my ear — slightly embarrassing given the crowd, but sweet. No one was paying us any mind anyway. Thought he was just about to start unzipping the silly dress, when I suddenly felt something soft and round and slippery skinned slide into my lap.

“Open your eyes,” he whispered.

I looked down to see a small, blood-red, leathery-looking — thing perched between my thighs. I just stared, unsure exactly what it was.

“Open it, honey,” Stephen laughed.

Oh of course; it was a case… and oh, in the shape of a heart, I now saw. I turned it around, fingered the crack, pried it apart, and saw the ring.

“Ms. Hegel, my beautiful, brilliant intellectual heiress,” he whispered in my ear. “Marry me.”