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FICTION
When One Door Closes
Ellen Bloomenstein

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Morning is a most unkind time. All the glitter and glamour of the evening, even the stunning baubles of the night are unveiled in the rising sun. Diamonds turn to glass, glass turns to sand – like Cinderella and her horse-drawn carriage – now merely a pumpkin and some mice. It’s all evident, all the imperfections revealed, the naked, the raw. The raw face that meets another raw face.

That’s how it was this morning: I woke up raw in Ben’s arms, makeup smeared, dry mouth, stale breath (likely). At first I thought I was dreaming, so I cleared my throat. Ben turned on his side. I pinched myself and indeed it hurt – more evidence that this was real life after all. “Hey,” he said.

Let me back up.

Two days before I had been let go from my job as a Copywriter.  My job was like endlessly polishing a plain stone and trying to turn it into a gem – ha! Actually, I was forever going over words in my head to describe the clothing for Heartlend’s, a retail web site and catalog: A great strapless dress for sunny days into sultry, warm evenings. Or even for a pair of socks: the perfect touch for under your cuff. The words would race through my head all day at work and I would attempt to pluck the perfect words one by one and line them up into a sentence. And not just any sentence, but a sentence that had a little string of blinking lights flashing: Buy me, buy me, buy me now! Some days were not as easy as others, that was when I would go to the thesaurus or the dictionary and refresh my brain. The process would start all over again: plucking words one by one, one by one. I thought I was good at what I did – wrong – ha! I had never met the likes of the woman who replaced my boss.  And within days of her arrival, I was let go.

 

Tanya was a regal looking woman in the tradition of women who resembled men:  Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, even Diane Keaton. Tanya had strong, masculine energy and unlike the gracious manner of the stars I mentioned, she funneled her energy into gratuitous nastiness.  

That day she sniffed the air then said, “Follow me.”

Walking a couple of paces behind her, we landed in a conference room with a large plank of a wooden table -- unforgiving and formidable, studded with black leather chairs. She motioned for me to sit. I sat across from her.  I had submitted my resume to her as was directed the day she started. I had also showed her my portfolio – she had given me no indication of what she was thinking. 

Sitting across from her, I took a deep breath. She then launched into a diatribe about how this was not my first job since college and certainly my resume spoke volumes about my professionalism, experience and expertise – none of it evident in my current work.  “And you made a dreadful mistake. I went over the catalog you proofed and you neglected the P that goes before small, medium and large when we write about plus sizes.  How could you do such a thing?

 

I read the writing on the wall – I was let go the very next day: “I’m afraid we don’t have a budget that allows for you to remain in our employ.”

So, here I was bereft of a job – and in the arms of a man who had told me he could only like me as a friend.  How had we managed to get from point A to point B this time? It seemed unlikely that it would ever happen.

 

Ben was unlike any guy I had known before. He was kind and strong. A real departure from all the skinny, nerdy arty-types I usually got interested in – men with egos as large as their talent was small. My ex-husband had been such a man, skinny, nerdy with a huge ego which meant that mostly what he thought about was himself – he came first.  Other people, including me, were considered last. The only thing he had in common with Ben was that he five years older than me. I had reached the age of forty-six much to my chagrin. I hadn’t planned on being that old – but as my mother has always said, the alternative of not gaining another year is not aging at all – and that would be death.

So here I was age forty-six, spending all my free time with a man who told me that he could only be my friend.  About two years ago, he confessed to me that he had a fear of falling. All sorts of falling: falling down, falling from a mountain, falling from a building, falling from grace, falling in like, falling in love.  A perfect combination of agoraphobia and barophobia. A fear of not only falling but a fear of how the pull of gravity associated with falling was so terrifying.  He could only have casual sex with a stranger. Strange as that was, there was no fear associated with that – he was safe from falling. If he never got too close, he would never risk a fall. 

If only I was that safe too.

Ben was a round man with deep black hair mixed up with white strands and penetrating brown eyes. He wore his hair past his shoulders, practically to the middle of his back and it was thick and wavy. He reminded me of one of the three musketeers – somehow alien to the present time; he had no concern for current fashion or trends. He would wear a white button front shirt, slightly dirty with a pair of khakis, nameless black sneakers with a leather fanny pack strapped around his waist and he’d be dressed for anything from a dinner out to a day lounging in front of the flat screen. Clothes for him were simply what there was to cover up your nakedness in – not a statement or elevation of the body.

I could picture him vividly in a white ruffled, yet slightly dirty shirt and swashbuckling, brown suede knickers brandishing a sword – ha! He would be featured in a black and white movie with the other musketeers, but up-to-date enough that there would be sound.

And speaking of sounds, it was then that Ben spoke: “You never drink, what happened to you last night?”

“Oh,” I said, aware suddenly of a massive headache coming on. I unraveled myself from Ben’s arms, realized that I had on an oversized t-shirt, so I wasn’t completely in the buff and trotted off the bathroom to retrieve some Advil.

In the bathroom, I stared at my makeup smeared face: dreadful.I downed two Advils with a big gulp of water taken directly from under the faucet of the sink. What has happened to me?  I took a tissue and wiped under my eyes so at least I no longer resembled a raccoon. I quick brushed my teeth. I looked at myself again and thought of Tanya: dreadful, simply dreadful.  

Then I thought of Ben in my bed -- strange.  Ben and I were like brother and sister.  We had been friends for four years. I thought I had a crush on him right away, but it wasn’t reciprocated. He told me he could never return the feelings. So, like time chipping away at an ancient marble statue, my feelings slowly came down, chip by chip, chip by chip.

There were times I tried to talk to him and wished that he would get over his fear, but he would just greet the conversation with an incredulous, “Really, you feel that way?” or a belligerent shrug, “I don’t feel that way at all.”

I had resigned myself to being his sister and never becoming closer than that.  The thing was I genuinely liked him as a person. He was an Astronomer and when he told me about what he did he said, “I am forever fascinated and haunted by the falling of the planets seemingly into one another and in and out of orbits with the small amount of gravity that exists in space, the planets are forever free floating – so stunning and beautiful.”  

He taught Astronomy at Columbia University. I loved the way he’d talk about the planets: rings circling them, blazing heat and tumultuous quakes and sudden hurricanes. He loved the stars: he would speak endlessly about Orion the Hunter, Hercules, Corona Borealis, Sagittarius. If we were outside at night he would point out their locations and recite the myths and stories surrounding the flickering of those magical lights in the sky. 

Actually, the first night I met him at the club where my friends and I were singing Karaoke, he told me the story of Orion the Hunter.  Some mutual friends had introduced us and since I hadn’t really dated anyone since my divorce, I was hesitant at first, but Ben was so charming that little by little he won me over. He offered to drive me home that night, since he had driven in from Connecticut. He had parked his car on the street and as we got in he said there was something he wanted to show me. We drove to Central Park.  He parked the car, Ed Sheeran played on the radio: I will love you till you're seventy…while we stood up in the center of his car coming up through the sun roof and gazing up at the sky taking turns with his binoculars while he talked about the magic of a red moon.  It was August, “What an incredible star the sun is, It’s going to be a scorcher tomorrow,” he said. 

Magic.

Then reality set in: the many awkward nights, when, at the end of the evening, I thought there, might be a goodnight kiss and was met instead was a gruff, “See ya’” or “Night.”

 I tried to hug him once when we were standing on the sidewalk outside my apartment house looking over at the skyline at Roosevelt Island; he patted my back as I circled him with my arms. Yes, he patted my back like I was some little puppy or the way you might console your little sister.  Ah well.

 

It was uncanny that Tanya had replaced my boss.  Chrissy, my former boss had been a very upbeat and enthusiastic champion of all the Copywriters that worked under her. She took special pains to make sure we were happy and enjoying our days with Heartlend’s.  There were five copywriters in all and we worked on our own as well as together collaborating as a team. 

The problem was that Chrissy never got officially promoted to run the department.

The Creative Director had quit several days before I had started, about four years ago. Chrissy took the helm of the department, unofficially – she was never even named, “the interim Creative Director,” but she performed all the same duties.  Unfortunately she was simply a Copy Manager, so, when they hired Tanya as the Creative Director, the first thing she did was fire Chrissy and it was with a very heavy heart that we all said good-bye to Chrissy. Good-bye Chrissy. Ah well.

Tanya conducted interviews with all the Copywriters and it was clear we were being tried by fire for our livelihoods. That’s when I had presented my resume and portfolio to her. That was when, a day later, she had let me go.  

But, oh the clothes: the tons of clothes that we examined and wrote about. The racks of clothes, more clothes and yet even more clothes. The romancing of the copy to sell the clothes. The trends. The endless reels of Bill Cunningham online discussing the latest clothes and trends.  How we gathered around, gasping at the butter-soft Rick Owens white leather jacket that cost $20,000 and how Francie, the woman who had an office next to mine, tried on that jacket, stuffed her hands into the pockets, circling and twirling around our desks modeling the jacket for the whole office to see. Or the time, that Michael, the one male copywriter slipped on a boxy Marc Jacobs floral dress on over his button down shirt and corduroys and how Clarissa, the Senior Copywriter had pulled a lipstick from her purse and had filled in Michael’s lips with that glaring red balm. She then snapped several photos of him on her iPhone. Yes, oh, the clothes. Those clothes. It’s probably what I will miss the most: the endless clothes.

 That was Heartlend’s, the company we all loved and worked for. Yes.

“Thank god it’s Sunday,” Ben called over to me.  “When did you get canned again? Was it just this past Friday?”

“Seriously?” I asked, leaning against the side of the door frame while taking in an image of Ben, lying down with his right hand propping up his head leaning against my pillows. “Seriously?” 

“Yeah, seriously, you just got canned on Friday, right?”

I knew everything would come undone on Friday. I knew in my bones it would be the end. The day had started with a ferocious rain storm. Water pooled at the curbs and I tried desperately to dodge the puddles, unsuccessfully might I add, as I stepped into the bus. I was wearing black leggings and a blue t-shirt with a cardigan that had a butterfly pattern – all soaked. I felt a sense of foreboding when I left my apartment – dressed and ready for a newly uncertain day at Heartlend’s.

I was still dripping wet when I arrived at the office.  I was greeted by Tanya: “Follow me.”

Evidently I would not be “following her” any longer.

“So, come here,” Ben patted the side of the bed.

“Oh, okay,” I got back into bed. Ben put his arms around me.  It was confusing, I thought I had been waiting for this day for the past four years – it’s just it felt so strange. Was I someone who loved the chase more than the actual reality of two people together? Or was it that since I had been a sister to Ben for so long, it was hard to adjust to something different. Was this something different? Was it different? Had he allowed himself to fall?

“Ben,” I said, “I’m sorry.”

“What are you apologizing for?”

“I just don’t know how this all happened – “I cleared my throat and in an unintentionally deep voice I said, “Actually, what happened?”

“We sang our hearts out at Karaoke – we both got drunk as lords – especially you. You completely shocked me, I never even saw you drink before – Then we came back to your place and slept in your bed – that was really all.”

“Okay. So, we didn’t –you know—“

“No. But we did sleep in each other’s arms.”

“That’s nice.”

“Yes, it is nice.”

He wrapped his arms around me. “Ben,” I whispered, “Are we falling?”

He smiled and in a very quiet voice said, “I suppose, in a manner of speaking we are,” and before I knew it, we had both dozed off, falling into a deep, dreamless sleep. 


Ellen P. Bloomenstein lives in NYC with her favorite person, her boyfriend Adam. Armed with an MFA in Poetry and Fiction from the New School, her work has appeared in many journals and websites including Rosebud, Zeek, Good Foot and Referential. She has self-published a novel and novella and currently works as a Fashion Copywriter.