It was when I was visiting her that Rachel told me. We hadn’t seen one another in many years and to get me out of my routine, my partner José embarrassed me into spending the weekend with my sister. While I was looking forward to the visit, anxieties of leaving my animals and my writing for three days caused me to be nervous, to the point of experiencing agoraphobia. I didn’t want to leave, but José nagged, telling me that everything would be fine and not to worry. I finally relented and made my flight reservations. I asked Rachel if she wanted to come with me to a few museums, all in the neighborhood of her apartment, and she said she’d love to, so I went online and reserved tickets for the Jewish and the Frick museums, and the Rudolph Steinner Galerie.
The Jewish Museum was having an exhibition around the netsuke collection that had been the cornerstone of the book, The Hare with Amber Eyes that I had read a number of years before when it was first published. I always visited the Frick when in New York, and was curious now that its collections had been installed in the old Whitney Museum building, only blocks from Rachel’s apartment. The Rudolph Steinner Galerie had recently opened an exhibition of Fabergé that included several Easter eggs, and as I owned several minor pieces of Fabergé, I took pleasure when the opportunity presented itself of seeing more.
Aside from the museums and the Galerie, Rachel proposed that we have dinner at home with her youngest son and his family one night, and dinner with two of her friends, the other nights—in an Italian restaurant close to her home, Antonucci Café—interspersed with walks through Central Park with her dogs. If there was time, she also suggested we meet with a cousin several times removed, and also with her oldest son who had told his mother that he was anxious to become reacquainted with me. It sounded like a very full weekend ahead of me as I left home, my nerves trailing behind my car as I drove the interstate to the airport.
It was when Rachel and I were in the Rudolph Steinner Galerie that she asked me to remind her to tell me what had happened to her recently.
“Aaron, you’ll be amazed,” she clarified. “I don’t want to interrupt our enjoyment of the exhibit, but when we walk the girls in the park later, I’ll tell you about Rudolf Steinner.”
My curiosity was piqued, causing my mind to be distracted, speculating on what Rachel wanted to tell me. We continued walking from one piece of Fabergé to another, my appreciation for the Russian master’s artistry more attuned to the exhibit than Rachel’s whose interest centered around contemporary design. After spending more than an hour at the Steinner, we walked back to her apartment to get her dogs and walk them in the park nearby.
“Rudi’s grandfather escaped from Russia during the 1917 Revolution,” she began. “Aside from the Russian royal family, he had been one of the first collectors of Fabergé, and when he left Russia, he took many pieces with him. After he arrived in New York, he set up a gallery specializing in Russian art, the Fabergé pieces he’d taken out of Russia forming the core of what he offered.” While Rachel told me her story, Croma and Sage chased after the tennis ball she threw, and the squirrels that scrambled from tree to tree.
“I met Rudi at Penn where we were students in the liberal arts faculty. As we were both interested in art, especially art of the Italian Renaissance, we took a few of the same courses and often found ourselves studying in the library at the same time. So, we became friends.”
“Nothing more?” I asked, wondering what my sister’s definition of ‘friends’ was at that time.
“No, we compared notes, went out for coffee together; that sort of thing.” Walking along a path that led to one of the children’s playgrounds we encountered acquaintances of Rachel’s and stopped to chat.
“After graduating, Rudi returned to New York, to apprentice to his father who had taken over management of the gallery from Rudi’s grandfather, and I decided to move to New York to continue my studies for a Masters in Fine Arts at NYU. We knew some of the same people, so it was inevitable that we should meet from time to time.” Having reached the halfway point on the walk, Rachel called the dogs and we started back.
“Eventually, Rudi took over from his father and expanded the gallery to include Renaissance enamels and pieces of antique jewelry amongst other objets d’art. After graduating from NYU, I volunteered for various organizations that helped disadvantaged kids, not really using my MFA very much, if at all. Now Rudi and I would see one another at various charity functions, for he was a sought-after donor, and I was a member on several of the Boards hosting the events. Last year, I called him, to ask if he would allow members of one of these Boards, and an assortment of invited guests, to tour his gallery, and include being host to a dinner afterward in the restaurant situated next to his gallery.” As we were approaching the crosswalk, Rachel interrupted her story until we had crossed 5th Avenue with the dogs.
“He suggested we meet for lunch, to discuss my request….”
“Watch out, Rachel,” I held her arm, to avoid a collision with several schoolchildren who were just leaving a private school.
“Thanks. Rudi made reservations at this very tony restaurant in midtown.”
“Fashionable, Aaron. Where you live, such a place—not to mention the word—is not part of your life, I realize. Anyway, I agreed. When I entered the restaurant and looked around, I was a bit taken aback, that there was but a man—older, like Rudi—and a single woman—mostly young to middle-aged—at every table.”
“Did you find this unusual?”
“Yes. Restaurants, midweek in New York, are generally filled with an assortment of people, not just couples. Anyway, it was a very upscale place, one where I’d never been before, and on our table was a small vase of yellow roses, my favorite flower. We chatted about the various exhibitions then going on in the city, and I asked him about his gallery, and he asked me about the activities of some of the organizations with which I was connected. Rudi had pre-ordered our meal—which I found considerate—as well as a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne, also my favorite.”
“It sounds like Rudi had your meeting well thought-out.” Having reached Rachel’s building, we took the elevator to her floor, where she continued her story in her kitchen and made us tea.
“While we were having our appetizer—Beluga caviar on toasted brioche—he said,
“ ‘Rachel, when we were students at Penn, I wanted to ask you on a date.’ ”
“ ‘Why didn’t you?’ I asked.”
“ ‘In those days, you were very popular, and I didn’t think I had a chance.’ ”
“ ‘Are you saying, Rudi, that I’m not that popular, as you put it, now, because that’s what
you seem to be implying.’ I wasn’t trying to be coy, but I found the conversation a little odd, considering we were supposedly meeting to discuss his hosting a preview at his gallery, to be followed by a dinner in the neighboring restaurant.”
“ ‘You know that’s not what I meant,’ ” and he reached across the table as though he were about to hold my hand. By this time, the waiter had brought us our entrées—filet of sole in a beurre blanc sauce.”
“ ‘You were—and still are—extremely attractive; you realize that, don’t you?’ Fortunately, the sole was fileted, as I almost choked on his words.”
“ ‘I was shy then, and asking one of the most popular girls in the university to go on a date
“All that Rudi was saying was nice to hear, but I still was perplexed as to how it related to the purpose of our meeting.”
“And where it was leading,” I added, as I was wondering as well.
“Yes; that too. I didn’t want to interrupt his little speech, and possibly spoil my own agenda.”
“ ‘Now, however, things are different,’ ” he continued. “ ‘We’re both well on in years—although you, Rachel, don’t look any different from the girl I once knew at Penn.’ ”
“While his words pleased me, I was glad that we had moved on to dessert—crème brûlée, also one of my favorites.”
“ ‘What do you say to our picking up where we left off? I would very much like you to become my mistress.’ ”
“Now I did choke—on his words. Fortunately, I had yet to dip my spoon into the crème brûlée.”
“ ‘Rudi, first of all you’re married and I am in a long-term relationship.’ ”
“ ‘Let me worry about my wife. She is aware that I have a number of mistresses, here and there.’ ”
“If his proposal hadn’t shocked me, his last revelation killed my appetite. I couldn’t even look at the crème brûlée in front of me. Mistresses? He asked me to be one of his mistresses? What did he have, a harem?”
“ ‘Rudi,’ I looked at the man sitting opposite me, ‘I am honored by what you are asking me, but I really don’t think it would work, —at least, not for me, at the moment.’ ”
“ ‘Well, Rachel, I still think of you as the very lovely young girl I met at Penn, and I always will.’ ”
“Did he agree to hosting the party in the restaurant?” I asked, wondering if the main reason for their meeting had been lost in what Rudi had proposed.
“Yes. He was very gracious, saying he would, with pleasure. I’ve known Rudi for over sixty years now, and during all the years he has always been a gentleman.”
About the author
E.P. Lande was born in Montreal but lived in France and now lives in Vermont. He taught at l’Université d’Ottawa and has owned country inns and restaurants. Recently his stories have been accepted by a dozen journals including Bewildering Stories and Literally Stories.
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