Noe Valley Voice December-January 2010

Other Voices

selected fiction and poetry

Beauty and the Beast

By Mark Segelman

We’re flying to New York. When fate allowed us both to finish our big projects at the same time, we decided to embark on our first long trip together. Somehow, though, the planning process turned a week of inertia on Kauai into eight days in New York with a slate of activities as ambitious as the schedules we’d left in our offices.

Rebecca likes to fly but hates takeoffs, and she clutches my hand as we head down the runway, pumping it like a blood-pressure cuff. Once we’re in the air, she lets go and we fall asleep. We miss most of the in-flight movie, and we might have missed the end had it not been for some bumpy air over Indiana, which causes Rebecca to grab onto my arm.

The movie is a romantic comedy. Having slept through the obstacle that love is called upon to vanquish so that the film’s stars will be kissing or dancing or running off into a misty sunset when the closing credits roll, we enter the movie without headphones, just as the guy star is trying desperately to find a cab. He needs to get to the train station in time to convince the woman star that she must either stay there with him or let him leave with her. The woman’s face is stoically blank as he approaches, but her eyes freeze and her mouth stiffens as he begins to speak. He looks so earnest and contrite, the outer edges of his eyebrows droop as if they themselves are begging for forgiveness. And then her face begins to soften, and tears form in the corners of her eyes as if her resolve is, literally, melting. The woman manages a sad smile and moves to kiss him, and I’m sure I read in his eyes that he’s just promised that “it”—whatever he’s done wrong—will never happen again. The woman pulls away, beaming now and sniffling, and Rebecca squeezes my hand.

“That wasn’t so bad for an airplane movie,” Rebecca says.

“The parts we saw seemed okay,” I say, “but we missed the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ part, which might have been horrible.”

Rebecca stirs. “What? What’s wrong with Beauty and the Beast?”

“Oh, no, that’s not what I meant. I can’t wait to see it.” I remember, a moment too late, that we have tickets to see the live Broadway production on Thursday night. “I just wonder if this is one of those movies where a woman falls for some roguish bad guy and thinks that if she loves him enough he’ll stop being a bad guy. Those movies should all have sequels where the wom­an finally realizes that it’s not her fault that her beast didn’t turn into a prince, and the only thing she did wrong was believe she could change him.”

“Wow,” Rebecca says through a yawn. “You don’t believe that, do you? That most women fall in love with beasts in the hope of turning them into princes?”

“That would require me to believe that movies actually reflect real life,” I say, only now realizing that we could be heading for a discussion I didn’t want.

I’ve wondered now and then whether Rebecca fell in love with Brad because he was one of those beasts, or if he was genuinely nice while he wined and dined her all over San Francisco until one day he just woke up and decided to cheat on her. But I knew that no good could have come of any more of this; the safety of talking hypothetically would eventually give way to cases in point, which would lead to picking at scars. Fortunately, Rebecca’s head falls gently onto my shoulder and she drifts back to sleep.


New York City invigorates Rebecca, and she crams our days with lots of things to do. We dart from place to place, walking briskly for blocks or flagging down cabs with the tenacity of hungry wolves. Rebecca’s energy seems boundless as we shop, visit New York’s notable attractions, and dine at fashionable restaurants. Comparing the way Rebecca storms through Manhattan with how she wafts through San Francisco reminds me a little of the screen of my laptop computer, which is much brighter when the computer is plugged into a wall socket than when it’s running only on its battery.

As we ride in a cab back to our hotel on Thursday night after Beauty and the Beast, I say, “Hon, maybe we could just spend the day tomorrow sitting in the park or something.”

“Matt, this is New York,” she says. “There’s so much to do here, and never enough time.”

“I know,” I say. I kiss her. “But all this rushing around all day and dropping right off to sleep as soon as we get in, that’s what we’ve been doing at home for the last few months.”

“Maybe later in the week?” she says. “Tomorrow’s galleries are almost impossible to get into on the weekend.”

Our tour of the galleries is quiet. Rebecca has been a few steps ahead of me all day, dressed and sipping her coffee while I’m still in the shower, writing postcards while I try to gulp down a cup of hot tea, stepping off to look at the next piece of art just as I approach the one she’d been studying. We’re moving at the same pace, but it’s as if Rebecca has gotten a head start on this day and is refusing to relinquish it. Later, we eat sandwiches in Washington Square Park, where a stream of lunchers, students, and dog walkers provides enough fodder for small talk, but we seem stuck there, like an old car that whines loudly at the turn of the ignition but won’t start.


That evening, we have dinner at the very tony Neon City with some friends of Rebecca’s from business school. As we’re led to our table, Zoe apologizes for not being able to get reservations at the even tonier Avenue, just a few blocks away.

By the time our entrees arrive, Rebecca and her friends are comparing the perks of their jobs. Rebecca gets a new laptop every year, Zoe has unlimited use of a company car, Roger’s flown in his bank’s private jet, and so on. The biggest perk offered by my law firm to newer associates like me—free caffeine during all-nighters—shrinks by comparison, and I say nothing. Zoe’s husband, Tim, broadens the topic by observing that being a successful cardiologist means being able to eat at places like Neon City all the time, and comparative boasting ensues. Zoe and Tim rattle off an endless list of the top-shelf restaurants in which they’ve eaten in the past few months, while Roger and his wife, Angelina, nod like congregants.

I watch Rebecca, her eyes wide and her smile sublime, as if she can almost taste all that food, and I become a little sad because I know Brad would be smiling right along with her, and to me, all this food stuff just doesn’t matter so much. I think then that maybe Rebecca doesn’t want me, that what she really wants is Brad, modified so that he doesn’t cheat on her but as Brad as ever about all the rest of it, being at the epicenter of trendy living in lively cities like New York and San Francisco. And then I think of my little “Beauty and the Beast” tirade. I can’t say whether I’m a pre-made prince, but I know I’m not a pre-made Brad, and I wonder if what Rebecca really wants is to disassemble me and rebuild me as Brad but without the parts that broke her heart.

The evening ends with hugs and promises from Rebecca’s friends to visit San Francisco. Our cab ride back to our hotel is quiet.


At the hotel, Rebecca mentions that Zoe has given us her Saturday dinner reservation at the Big Apple Brewery, where Robert DeNiro likes to eat. I wonder aloud if we could just grab some pizza somewhere instead.

“Where’s your spirit of adventure, Matt? This is supposed to be a really cool restaurant.”

“I’m just tired,” I say.

“Tired of what?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Just tired. Tired of loud restaurants. Tired of trying to hit as many of the cool places as we can.”

Rebecca looks stunned. For me this is the same conversation we had on Thursday, after Beauty and the Beast. And then it isn’t.

“I’m tired,” I say, “of feeling like you wish I were Brad.”

“What?” Rebecca says, bouncing under the blanket. “You think I wish you were Brad?”

“I think that if you were here with Brad, he’d be taking you to every A-list restaurant in the city and you’d be loving it. I think you want us to be running off to as many Neon Citys as our stomachs can handle, when all I really wanted to do was spend quiet time with you, unwind, get some normalcy back into our lives.”

“Matt, this is New York. I thought we agreed—”

“I don’t need to go to the best restaurants in New York every day,” I say. “I’m okay with having an unglamorous job. Tonight at dinner, Brad would have been able to brag about piloting the corporate yacht. I saw the look on your face when I didn’t say anything cool about my job.”

Rebecca sighs. “Matt, I don’t want you to be Brad. This is crazy.”

I stop myself. Maybe she’s right. Maybe this is my issue. Maybe she doesn’t want anything from me, and the only person who’s disappointed that I’m not the Good Brad is me. And then—

“Look,” Rebecca says, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having money and spending it on things like great meals. That’s how I relax after a tough day at my office. This week, Matt, this is me unwinding. It happens that Brad liked to relax the same way.”

“Okay,” I say. “I understand.”

Rebecca kisses me on the cheek. “Okay,” she says. “I understand too.”


Our Sunday is subdued. After a day in Brooklyn, which includes a short walk in Prospect Park after brunch, we head over to the Big Apple Brewery, although we don’t see Robert De Niro.

On Monday morning, we fly back to San Francisco. During takeoff, Rebecca holds onto my hand loosely, but I can see that she’s anchored her other hand to her armrest. We sleep through the entire in-flight movie, rousing when it’s time to put our seatbacks into the upright position in anticipation of our arrival in San Francisco, although Rebecca drifts off to sleep again, missing a smooth landing. This time, we won’t hit bumpy air until after we land.


* * *


Marina resident Mark Segelman writes fiction and sometimes poetry, and works as a California state attorney. A Boston native, he is also a ukulele player and a cartoonist with his own line of greeting cards, Sparkdog Cards. “Beauty and the Beast” was inspired by his as-yet-untitled novel in progress. He has read a chapter from the same novel at Litquake’s popular “Barely Published Authors” event. Readers can contact him at sparkdog


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