Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Contessa

This is an excerpt from a short story I'm working on, published in Savage Stories

Junior saw her the first day of the seminar and made sure to get a seat directly across from her. It was a seminar on the plays of Harold Pinter. Junior was the English Department's only Woodrow Wilson Scholar. He also had a special grant from the Creative Writing Department, so he didn't really need to work. He could be a TA, but why? It cut into his free time. He had a William Morris agent--had since he was eighteen. First story he wrote got published in a collection of the Best Short Fiction, 1966. He's been writing and trying to find a better place to sleep. He doesn't worry about the deadline for a collection of stories, he writes fast. But he does need a place to flop. He also needs some blow.

Junior doesn't have to say a word in this seminar. The famous playwright is teaching. They drink beer together in the afternoon. They laugh together at the foolish things these Mormon kids say in class. They dish babes. The famous playwright has a new lover every semester. He's been married to the same woman almost thirty years. Imagine that. He has a son he doesn't talk about much. The famous playwright likes to gamble.

Junior starts to think of the beauty across from him two nights a week for three hours a night as The Contessa. He starts referring to her as The Contessa. Pretty soon other men are calling her The Contessa. She is the most vocal and confident of the students. She is prepared and perfectly willing to take on the Mormon grad students full frontal. The Contessa makes it easy on the famous Playwright. He only has to get her started and she runs the seminar smoothly. Soon there is a regular Tuesday night beer drinking group that takes the seminar into the late night. She is often there, sitting beside the famous playwright. Her name is Judith, but he finds himself still talking about her when she isn't there, as The Contessa. Judith doesn't seem to see him. He wonders if she's this semester's lover. He also finds out that Judith is married.

One early afternoon Junior pops his head into the famous professor's office on his way out for an afternoon of shooting smack. But his famous friend invites him to go have lunch with him, "My treat," he says. Junior is disappointed that his high will have to be postponed, but smiles and says, "Sure, thanks."

Strangely the famous playwright takes them downtown to a nice little hole in the wall restaurant called, "The Beanery." It's packed. They stand outside and chain smoke, waiting for a table to open up. It takes almost twenty minutes. But once seated, he sees The Contessa walking toward them smiling, with menus in hand. Her hair is twisted into a loose chignon at the nape of her gorgeous neck. She is tall, willowy, graceful, olive skin, dark hair. She's wearing a long skirt and sandals with straps that wrap around her ankles. She has beautiful feet. Is she wearing a bra or not? He's not sure, and so makes a study of watching her across the room. She is flawless and usually a bit aloof, yet now, oddly warm. When she approaches a table she's smiling, she seems patient, bends over a menu to point things out. She makes notes, smiles, turns away, and the smile is gone. What remains is a fierce, strong, beautiful woman in motion. Focus is what you see when she's not smiling. She comes back to take their order and calls them by name, "Junior, Henry, who let you boys out?" The famous playwright beams and says, "It's like a visit to Greece, and then having Melina Mercouri waits on you at a small cafe." She smiles and says, "I think more Anna Magnani, but then, who am I?" Junior blurts out, "You're The Contessa." She looks at him then and says, "Junior have you decided what you want?" He leers at her and says, "I'll have a Rose Tattoo." She turns and says over the shoulder, "Play amongst yourselves, and when you're ready to order food, let me know." The smile is gone.


Ingrid said...



Utah Savage said...

Ingrid have you read the four stories making up the Junior and judith blue series?

Ingrid said...

Utah..I just saw your message on the austin permie (I've been such a slacker on that site)..
email me at and tell me in more detail what you would like, envision, hope etc...

hugs, gotta go to tend to my lil' miss 'thang'..[g]


DivaJood said...

"Play amongst yourselves, and when you're ready to order food, let me know."

Great line. What a put down.