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Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey Read Online (FREE)

She took a sip from her drink. “Bill apologized to me later. And he broke with Norman. Or he said he did. There were nights, later, nights when I wondered, when he didn’t come home, or came home drunk, nights when I lay, still, waiting, eyes open in the dark.”

She paused. Raised the glass then lowered it. “Years passed,” she said. “Years passed, as they do, and Bill and I got married.” She laughed. “Got married. I want to say that if he hadn’t apologized, if he hadn’t stopped seeing Norman, I wouldn’t—but I can’t because that’s not how it happened. Bill was a copy editor, then he was an assistant editor, then he was an editor, a senior editor, editor in chief. I was a secretary at an ad agency and then I was an assistant copywriter and then for a long time I was a full copywriter and then I was head copywriter and I had my own office. No kids. Bill wanted them and I didn’t care one way or the other but it just never happened. We kept trying, a year, two years, three, and then we stopped trying and then Bill got a twenty-two-year-old pregnant, so I guess the problem was me. There was a quickie divorce, out of state, and then I went back to my office.”


The woman shifted in her seat. “I wasn’t,” she said, “you know, I wasn’t going to do this interview. And then last week, Thursday, I got the paper. The Times. And I read, I was eating my half a grapefruit, drinking my coffee, and I read that the man who hired me, who promoted me, who gave me my office, was a—” She paused. “Was a rapist. That’s what the women say. Four of them. His assistants, assistants I remember, young girls, bright girls. That on business trips he told them to come to his hotel room and that in the hotel room he poured them drinks. That they said no but that it didn’t matter, he didn’t listen. The same story, with slight variations. One of them had bruises. One of them, a different one, went to the police, but it was a couple days later, she’d taken a shower. The detective she talked to said after seventy-two hours there wouldn’t be any evidence left, told her to go home. I read this and thought, I was older when these assistants were hired. I thought, He never tried anything with me. I tried to remember, were there times when he called his assistant into his office, kept the door closed too long. When he asked his assistant to stay late. But I couldn’t remember. Couldn’t remember anything I would swear to.


“You know, Adele stuck to the story about falling on glass for the first few days, and then she changed her story and said Norman stabbed her and then, then”—the woman was pointing a finger—“then she changed it back. The grand jury indicted him anyway.” The woman smiled. “Indicted him even though she said she was too drunk to remember what happened, that she and her husband were ‘perfectly happy together.’ ” The woman made air quotes with one hand. “And good for them.” She laughed. “He ended up pleading out, third-degree assault they called it, gave him five years’ probation. He spent a couple weeks in Bellevue, this was before the indictment, but she wouldn’t sign off on shock therapy. Of course she was trying to protect herself but then everyone blamed her anyway. Norman’s mother, his friends, the entire quote-unquote literary establishment. They didn’t divorce, not officially, until sixty-two. I remember knowing this—reading it, or maybe someone told me, you know how gossip gets around—and thinking I should look her up and say something, something like I’m sorry. It’s too late now, of course. I never spoke to her again. Really,” she said, “what I’ve always wondered is whether they got the blood out of that dress. It was a lovely dress, scoop-necked with a plunging back, long and fitted but not tight, like liquid, skimming the surface of her body, and probably ruined, what with it being velvet and velvet being so hard to wash, so hard to mend, at least if you’re trying to do it properly, if you’re trying to do it without leaving a seam.” The woman sighed. “I think that’s all I have to say.”