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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
After, in bed, she asked him a question about his language.
She asked him, “Does English have a term for a doomed love affair?”
He wasn’t sure, he told her, but a word like that did probably exist. Or it used to, and it had fallen out of use over time. He’d Google it for her later, he promised. She took his hand, pinched his wedding ring between her fingers, and spun it.
He asked her what Spanish people called a doomed love affair. When he did, her very brown eyes narrowed on his, searching. The hotel room was dead quiet.
“Oh, of course,” she said. “The term for this in Spanish is ‘desengaño.’ It’s a perfect term. You have the ‘des’ which means ‘unravel,’ and then ‘engano’ which means ‘lie.’ Beautiful.”
She sat up suddenly on the bed, knelt facing him, and hugged a hotel pillow to cover her nakedness.
“Do you not agree?” She asked.
“Agree about what?”
“That the term is beautiful.”
He grinned slyly and grabbed for the pillow, to snatch it, but she held on.
With his hand gripping the pillow, he said, “I don’t think it reflects my experience with doomed love affairs. The unraveling and lying, that is.”
“You have a lot of experience with doomed love affairs, then?”
He grinned again, same grin.
She laughed and said, “So a term must reflect your experience to be beautiful, yes?”
“Things are usually more beautiful then, yeah. And stop calling words ‘terms.’ Call them what people call them. Words.”
She lay down, spooning the pillow like a lover. He gripped the case tighter.
“You’re making me jealous,” he said.
“Ah,” she said. “That you have a ‘word’ for. Jealousy. At least English acknowledges that that exists.”
“You know, things that haven’t been named yet still exist. We’re just in the development phase of the word for doomed love affair. Plus, I’m pretty sure some philosopher said to name something is to destroy it.”
“I love how intellectual you are.”
“Gracias,” he said. “Now show your intellectual what that pillow is hiding.”
“No,” she said. “I want to be covered up right now. Give me something to put on.”
Not taking his eyes from her, he wiggled the wedding ring off his finger, and held it out.
He said, “This is as much coverage as I’ll allow. Ever worn one before?”
She let him slide the ring onto her middle finger and said, “No. I have not.”
Outside, in the hallway, a woman screamed something he couldn’t make out, and he heard her slam whatever doorway she was screaming from. Just from hearing her yell, he could tell she was pretty. For some reason, this unnerved him.
Then the woman wearing his wedding ring held up her middle finger, only her middle finger, and asked him, “How’s it look?”
So he said, “Better,” as he pulled the pillow out from between them, and threw it onto the floor.
Carmen Petaccio received his MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. He is from New Jersey.