Saturday Single No. 50

Originally posted January 12, 2008

It was a snowy late afternoon in January 1975, and I was at The Table in the student union at St. Cloud State. Most of the folks who spent their between-classes time at The Table had already headed out into the snow. The only other regular remaining was Laura, a woman who’d joined us that autumn after moving to St. Cloud from a city about sixty miles north.

I don’t recall what we were talking about that afternoon. It could have been my health – I’d been in a serious auto accident the fall before. Or we might have been discussing her progress in disentangling herself both legally and emotionally from her marriage to an abusive husband (a circumstance commonly mentioned today but one that was not much talked about in 1975). Whatever it was, we were intent on the topic. I knew, however, that it would soon be dinnertime at my parents’ house, and I needed to either go home or call them to say I wouldn’t be home for dinner.

My guess is that we’d been discussing her dilemmas, as I remember reading on her face that she was not keen on the idea of making her way to the house a few blocks away that she shared with, oh, maybe ten other women. So I dug a dime out of my pocket, walked to the phone on the wall a few feet away and told my folks to set another place at the table. We bundled up and headed out to the parking lot, where we cleared about three inches of snow from my car, and then we drove to the East Side.

I think my folks had met Laura before, most likely at the hospital after my accident, but even if they hadn’t, they greeted her warmly, as I knew they would. I don’t recall what we ate, but it was a pleasant meal. As dinner ended, Laura suggested we go for a quick drink at the Grand Mantel, the downtown bar where we and our friends frequently gathered. Sounded like a good idea, I told her, but there was still three inches of snow on the sidewalks – adjacent to the house and along Kilian Boulevard – and it needed to be cleared.

She offered to help. So we bundled up and spent twenty minutes shoveling snow, with the streetlamp on the corner casting a honey-colored glow onto the sidewalk and the street, onto the snow on the lawn, onto the snow that continued its leisurely descent to the ground, and onto us. When we were finished, we got into my old Falcon and headed across the river to the Grand Mantel, where there were only a few other folks taking refuge from a snowy January evening.

I don’t remember what we talked about as we sat there sipping drinks – Scotch and water, if I’m not mistaken – but we likely danced around the topic of whether the two of us were ever going to be a couple. I was still fragile in all ways from the auto accident, and she was still linked – however tenuously and unhappily – to another. So I’m certain we talked of other things and left the heavy issues to resolve themselves. But there was no denying the attraction.

Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song” played on the bar’s sound system. She said, “That’s from the record I gave you, isn’t it?” I nodded. She’d given me the Roberta Flack album while I was homebound in November. “The other song is on there, too, right?” And I nodded again.

She took a fountain pen out of her purse and grabbed one of the napkins on the table, with one of the four quadrants displaying the Grand Mantel’s name and logo. Carefully, she wrote on the napkin the opening words from that other song:

“When you smile, I can see
“You were born, born for me,
“And for me you will be do or die.”

She blew on the napkin to dry the ink, then folded it and gently tucked it in my shirt pocket. Not much later, we bundled up, and I took her to her house and then made my way home. I put the napkin in a shoebox I used for keepsakes, where it still is today.

The wish written on that napkin never came true. Laura and I remained friends through our college years, and we’ve seen each other occasionally since, but not in the last ten or so years. I still have the Roberta Flack album, and I listen to it sometimes. All of its songs are in my mp3 collection, and one of them popped up the other day, spurring these memories. No, it wasn’t “When You Smile.” It was, however, one that was equally appropriate, and it has a better groove.

That’s why “No Tears (In The End)” is today’s Saturday Single.

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