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The 47th

We sat at a bar which was a couple of blocks from the party because we were early and didn't want to be in the first wave of people who showed up. He eyed a lone girl who propped up her neatly tousled head on a slender white arm. She wore a sleeveless silky dress with strappy platform sandals, and her nails were painted some dark shade. It was difficult to tell in the bleak light. She sighed a couple of times, glancing toward the door whenever it opened. She was one of those faceless pretty girls who populated the area, and for all her lack of uniqueness, he fixated on her.

"She's not your usual kind," I said.

"No," he said thoughtfully. "But she has a wanting look, don't you think? She looks unhappy. I think she would like another drink."

"Maybe she's going to the party."

He studied her. "No, I don't think so. I've never seen her before at anything we've attended. Also, her style. It doesn't have any... flavor. She's not like you and me. But you've given me a fantastic opening line."

He slid over several stools to reach her. She became aware of his presence and turned to him with a face as clean and blank as a marble statue's. "I just wanted to know, are you by any chance going to Bob's party up the street?"

"No," she said in a frosty voice. "I'm waiting for a friend."

"Oh, I see. Boyfriend?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be nosy. The only reason I was asking is because I'd like to buy you a drink, and if he's the jealous type it probably wouldn't be such a good idea. For you as well as me."

"No thanks. I don't think you should buy me a drink."

His back was turned to me, but I knew he was putting on his soulful look from the way his head tilted. "No strings attached. Really."

"Then why give me something for nothing? Are you acting out of charity?"

"I thought you'd like to tell people tomorrow that you were here at this cheesy bar and some guy brought you a drink. You'll have a story to tell for other people's amusement. To brighten up their day. Maybe no one else went out tonight. Maybe they want to know what they're missing. And then you tell them about me buying you a drink, and they look at you in awe because you have the voice of authority because you're a pretty girl, and they think, `maybe if I go out tonight, I'll meet a nice guy or girl and buy them a drink, and maybe they'll be my soulmate, the one kindred spirit I've been searching for all this time.' See, even if nothing ever happens between us, if we never see each other again in this life, you may help implement change in someone else's life."

She gazed at him with the stupefaction of a deer in the path of a speeding car driven by a drunken teenager. "You're full of shit."

"I am sincere in every way. I have no intention of picking you up. Your martini glass is nearly empty, you seem impatient that your friend is not here yet, and another drink seemed to be the logical move."

"I can buy my own drinks," she said, annoyed. "I don't need someone to buy them for me."

"All right. I understand. Now tell me, why are you being so unfriendly to me? You can be truthful. I'd really like to know."

She sneered and gave me a contemptuous look. I didn't look away, and eventually she blinked and refocused her attention on him. "You don't get it, huh? I don't want to talk to you or anybody. Most people would leave me alone after I said I was waiting for a friend. You are just a freak. Besides, you're with her. You're probably looking for some weird sexual thing."

"Well. Thank you. Even though I said there were no strings attached to this drink I would buy for you, you refused."

"You're a liar, that's why."

"You don't even know me, and you think I'm a liar?"

"Why else would you want to buy me a drink?"

He gave up then. I saw the tiny exhale of breath that caused his shoulders to slump ever so slightly. He turned to me and said, "No luck tonight, my friend. Shall we move on to the real party?"

I nodded my assent and smiled at the girl. She seemed almost sorry that we were leaving. "Sorry," she said to him, turning her head to watch the door. "I'm not that kind of girl you can buy."

He shrugged and sighed.

"That's quite a girl," I said as we were walking through the door.

He said in wonder:

"That's the kind of girl."

She intrigued him. That was his declaration. It's terrible grammar. It leaves you with the question, "the kind of girl that...what? What were you going to say? What do you mean, that's what you meant?" It was a statement of, if not approval, scientific interest.

It was a pastime of his to begin conversations with strangers to test them and see how far they would travel with him. She was lacking in logic, this girl. Her thoughts were disordered and her conversation repeats of tv show snippets. She had no intellectual life, and this was what interested him most.

"So what are you thinking?"

"She's just one of many women I will encounter all throughout my life. I will offer to buy them a drink, or prop open a door if they're carrying bags of groceries, or offer my seat on the bus. They will look at me in contempt and not understand it's imperative for me to be civil. They will think I'm after them for prurient reasons. She didn't have the mechanisms to break away from her notions of the relationship between men and women. I offer to buy her a drink, she refuses because she thinks she is required to trade sexual activity for a five-dollar drink. I hope she thinks more of herself than that."

"She was being self-protective."

"Someone with her delicate look, you know, what the magazines call `gamine', and she's hard. The meanness of her character will manifest itself when she's older. Everything will be a slash on her face. Hard wrinkles. Thin and ungenerous lips. Eyes that are so slitted that they block out the rest of reality she won't deal with."

I tried not to smile. "Don't you think that's a little harsh? I'm not sure what I would've thought if you approached me like that."

He threw his arms open. "But you, my dear, wouldn't have said I was full of shit! You have intellectual curiosity and the ability to see the good in people. You would've accepted a drink but politely refuse anything else. You would've acted the way people are supposed to act."

"See, you're biased because we're friends."

"I can't win any arguments tonight, can't I?" he said belligerently.

I laughed then. I don't always approve of his judgements, but he was good for a laugh or two.

Gradually we could hear the music and voices of the party wafting through the warm night air. He quickened his step and grinned at me. "Not for us, her life. We can see the possibilities in living. We take risks!"

"I hope this party won't be a crashing bore like the one last night," I said.

"That's what I mean, we take risks! How are we to know if this party's going to be wonderful or deadly? This is how everyone should live."

"Enough," I said. "I need a drink."