What I Did for Love

by Lorna Garano

Even in August, when Anna stayed in her bathrobe and slippers for most of the day, she wore bangle bracelets that made a jangly noise when she moved her arm. Steven heard it when she opened the door for him. It was a womanly sound, he thought, so unlike the belching and heavy footfalls he had come to associate with Nancy.

            “Champagne in the afternoon. What could be better?” Anna said as she glanced at the bottle of Cook's in Steven's hand.

            The hem of her green kimono dusted the floor, which went from the linoleum of the kitchen to living room's oak boards. Steven took two glasses out of the cupboard next to the sink. When he joined Anna she had spread out on the couch and one of her broad, nightgown-sheathed legs hung off the side of it. Anna had gained weight in the last few months, but Steven didn't mind. It gave her more of a chance to show off her natural grace.

            Steven opened the bottle and the cork flew across the room.

            “Martin will think I've had a party,” Anna said.

            A pang of regret seized Steven as soon as he bent down to pick up the cork. Now Anna had a better view of the bald spot that claimed more and more of his hair, like some invading army burning its enemy's wheat fields.

            Anna's long, outstretched leg left a little room at the end of the couch, and he could have squeezed into it. He imagined her putting her feet on his lap and then him cradling them in his calloused hands. He imagined her feet were soft and that if he closed his eyes and caressed them they would feel like a woodcarving brought to life over days of patient work.

Steven's work boots were caked with mud, but he found no traces of it on the floor. When Martin came home he would find no evidence of him. Steven took comfort in the thought that he was evading Martin, even though Martin had come home and found he and Anna together many times and greeted Steven warmly, sometimes even talking about another plumbing job at one of his firm's new building projects.  

            “This summer's almost as hot as the ones back in North Carolina,” Anna said.

Anna's father had been a part-time farmer and a university professor—a professor of astronomy—and she liked telling people this.

“‘Might as well be on Venus,' my father would say.”

            “It's why we start work so early in the summer,” Steven answered.

            “I've always been a woman of the seasons. Summer is for lingering, for thinking of music you'll sit down and compose in the fall. Did I ever tell you it's why I chose to teach? So summer can be summer.”

            Steven smiled. No one thought like Anna. For Nancy, summer was just a time of year. It was when you could hang the laundry on the line instead of throw it in the dryer. She wouldn't have understood. She would have smiled politely if she were here and then said something cutting when they were back home together.

            Anna lifted herself up to take a drink of champagne and then lay back down. Even with the overhead fan and the drawn shades the air was so heavy that it was like a third presence in the room. Steven felt the flush on his face that began with the start of work each morning and only cleared away after dinner when he sat in his own living room watching TV with a floor fan pointed directly at him. He closed his eyes and took a sip of the champagne, its sweetness a comfort against the heat.          

            The doorbell rang. Steven looked at Anna to see if she would move. “Would you?” she said.

            When he walked to the door he realized how stiff with sweat his jeans were.

            Through the screen door he could see the dark head of one of the Cambodian girls whom Anna taught music to at St. Mary's High School. Her sister and mother waited in the white Mercedes parked in the driveway.

            “Is Anna here?” she asked. She held an envelope with “Mr. & Mrs. Martin Beechum” written in calligraphy on it.

            Steven opened the door to let her in and it was then that he noticed the LP tied to the mailbox in front of Anna's yard.

            “Sandy, what a nice surprise,” he heard Anna say as he walked out.

            He nodded at the Mercedes and the mother waved at him.       

            As Steven walked back to the house with the record in his hand he saw Anna hug Sandy and watch her walk back to the Mercedes.     

            “A Chorus Line!” Anna said. “Finally. I donated my copy to the school this year. Didn't think this would ever arrive,” she said and tore open the cellophane it was wrapped in.

            “When Martin and I saw this in London we said we only see it London from now on. That's how good it was.
            She placed the record on the turntable and a few hisses emitted from the speakers. It was too loud for Steven's taste, but it didn't matter because he could see how happy it had already made Anna.

            Da da duh dum dum dum. The music started and Anna lay back down on the couch, smiling.

            God, I hope I get it. I hope I get it. How many people does he need...

             “I remember those days. Auditions. A mix of excitement and pure terror.”

            Steven started to say something, but Anna closed her eyes and widened her smile in a way that made it clear that she wasn't listening. A torn-open envelope sat atop the invitation that the girl had delivered. Anna and Martin were cordially invited to a fundraiser for the Southern Connecticut Committee to Reelect Ronald Reagan. Steven looked over to be sure that Anna's eyes were still closed and he slid the envelope off the invitation. Dinner was $100 a plate and there would be a raffle of a portrait of Reagan.

            He imagined himself telling Nancy about the fundraiser that she was not invited to. She had “fallen for” the president, Steven had often said to her after one of her tangents about how he was going to lead the country back to dignity and self-respect. When he was around Anna he thought this way.

      As the songs went on Anna became more restless. She bounced her foot up and down and mouthed along to the words. In the middle of One she started singing along softly. One, singular sensation every little step he takesOne smile and suddenly nobody else will do. Steven felt his insides tighten at this. He was sure Anna would have noticed the change in him if she had taken her eyes off the ceiling. She sang along with a low voice until the song wound down and sometimes she popped up her index finger at the word “One.”

     Then a whispery voice came from the stereo. Kiss today goodbye, it intoned. Anna leapt up. She turned up the volume and sang along at full voice. The gift was ours to borrow, she swept her arm out in front of her when she sang this and smiled at Steven. I can't regret what I did for love. The singer elongated love longer than Anna. Point me toward tomorrow. Now Anna held out both arms with her palms up and her eyes looking out as though searching for something beyond Steven, beyond their little town. Her kimono had loosened and Steven could see the tops of her small breasts. Won't regret, can't forget. Anna kicked out her leg. A tendril of hair fell out of the clip that held it back and spilled down in front of her face. She blew it out of the way and then tucked it behind her ear. She looked at Steven and they both laughed. A chorus began to sing Can't regret, won't forget what I did for love.

     As Steven looked he felt his body loosen and lighten, as if some internal dawn had risen.

     Anna sang louder, trying to cast her voice above the singers on the record and her eyes brightened.

     Like Steven, she was lost in her own impenetrable happiness.