Douglas and Marilyn had been lovers long ago, when they were both newly-hired professors in the art department at the local university, Marilyn in painting and sculpture, Douglas in photography. Their love affair was brief, intense, and left behind a hardened foundation of friendship, annealed in the fires of lost passion.
Both had gone on to other relationships of various durations and types, but neither had ever married. Douglas had spent years abroad on various fellowships and exchange programs. His photographs of celebrities in England in the 1980’s brought a kind of fame and fortune, though he seemed none the worse for it. Marilyn’s large paintings kept her closer to home, although she also found time to travel, spending time in Washington DC, New York, and Brazil.
Marilyn and Douglas had crossed paths on their travels several times, but only once had they rekindled the flame, with comically disastrous results. They met completely by chance in Vienna. Both were there to catch connecting flights to somewhere else – Douglas back to London after time spent in Greece, and Marilyn on her way to Switzerland from New York. Separately, they had each fallen in love with Vienna and booked an extra day between flights there. Both loved to walk the open-air markets, and they ran into each other at a booth that served freshly-roasted nuts.
Whether it was the happenstance of the encounter, the brisk cold air of winter imbued with the aroma of roasting chestnuts, or the enchantment of a Viennese December, upon meeting one another both found themselves overwhelmed by lust. They greeted one another with a long hug that turned into a passionate kiss, and then by tacit agreement they sought to leave the market and go to one or the other’s hotel room.
Douglas’s hotel was the closest so they made their way through the falling snow to its front door, and then up the narrow stairs to his room, without saying much. Few more words were spoken as they stripped off their damp woolen clothing and fell into the big bed, crawled under the down duvet, and gave themselves over to the joy of reacquainting their hands and lips with one another’s bodies. Their lovemaking became an exquisite mix of familiarity and newness, of safety and thrill. It was so delightful they continued until both fell fast asleep, exhausted.
Of course the wake-up call that had been so meticulously scheduled to ensure Marilyn had plenty of time to get ready for her flight to Zurich occurred right on time. But it rang the phone in her empty room. When she finally woke in Douglas’s arms, tangled in Douglas’s sheets, her airplane was already taxiing for take-off. Her first instinct was to blame Douglas himself, but of course that would be ridiculous. Certainly she had enjoyed their passionate interlude as much as he did, so much she neglected to consider the morning-after consequences.
Douglas tried to reassure her – flights from Vienna to Zurich were commuter options these days, and there would be several more available over the afternoon and evening. If rescheduling were a matter of money – she was still an art professor, after all, and he had spent years making money – of course he would pay.
But for Marilyn, it wasn’t the money and it wasn’t even missing her long-anticipated appointment with the Swiss arts organization that had offered her a grant to paint her murals in high-profile places like the Zurich airport and the Hauptbahnhof, where millions would see them every year. Another flight would be inexpensive, although money was tight. Appointments could be rescheduled, although this one would not be available for at least another year.
Marilyn looked at Douglas, still naked, his handsome face holding an expression of such sheepish concern over the problems he’d caused her, and began to laugh. She laughed at the absurdity of her now fifty-something body being overcome with lust; she laughed at the complications a one-night stand could still cause; and she laughed at her own disappointment at potentially missing a chance at fame.
Marilyn laughed, and Douglas laughed too, and their friendship, sans any more attempts at physical passion, reasserted itself. They were forever grateful for both the pleasure of the one-night stand, and it’s jarring them back into knowing they were meant to be fast friends, forever and ever.
The following year Marilyn sent Douglas an email from Zurich: “Got it! Look for giant squids on the airport wall on your next trip!”
Douglas bought a ticket to Zurich just to see them.