con • di • ment
a substance such as salt or ketchup that is used to add flavor to food.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Latin condimentum, from condire ‘to pickle.’
See also PRESERVE (VERB), CONSERVE (VERB), SOUSE (VERB).
Peggy saw The Graduate for the third time the other week. She told Stan that over the phone, after he asked about her day.
(The first time he ever asked her how her day had been, back when their after hours calls began, her response had been to laugh. “Absence really has made the heart grow fonder, huh?” she said, to which he replied, defensive and amused: “I’m making conversation here!”)
“Ahhh. Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.” A pause while he cleared his throat. “You blocked? Hoping for some creative lightning to strike via the silver screen?”
“Yeah,” she said. “And I like the movie.”
And then he told her that the movie had made him sad, but also not sad, because Anne Bancroft, and her legs, and she had listened while he rambled (primarily about Anne Bancroft, and her legs), more to the tone and the cadence of his voice rather than his words.
She smiled contently to herself and let him talk.
Peggy stays at the bar. So does Stan.
The sun will eventually set and when they leave, they will leave together and the city will be dark.
Pete had left after Stan had moved to a booth and then Ted had left, but not before asking Peggy if she was coming. She wasn’t.
Stan sits alone in a booth with his beer. She knows; she looked.
She could get up. She could ask him, “What happened to your friend?” her tone deliberately light. He’d see through that -- he’s more perceptive than she gives him credit.
“Gone,” he’d say, maintaining eye contact, not yielding. A challenge.
“Can I sit?”
And he wouldn’t say anything, he’d just grimace, that familiar begrudging gesture of whatever you want.
Behind the bar, a glass shatters when it hits the floor. Her attention snaps to that, and she’s back at the bar and she hasn’t moved at all.
She drinks the second rye Ted ordered her and she doesn’t move. She doesn’t get up and she doesn’t question a lot of things. She chomps down on the ice from her glass and the chill forces its way down her spine. She thinks about the loose button on her coat, knows she won’t fix it tonight. She thinks about the work waiting for her on her desk back at the office, rolls her neck first and then her shoulders, decides she’ll think about that after she finishes her drink, crunches another cube of ice between her back molars, shivers.
Here’s the thing:
CGC lacks the landscape of personality SCDP had. She learned that immediately. Or maybe it wasn’t the landscape that was wrong, but her. She had thought what she wanted was an untethering from her history, a clean slate, fresh start, all those new beginnings cliches rolled into one and manifest in this new job.
What she found was that fresh starts are often lonely.
She takes another sip of her drink, watching the bartender clean up the broken glass. She thinks Stan’s still sitting behind her.
In fact, she’s pretty sure of it.
Peggy has a pack of cigarettes on the bar top at her elbow. She’s had the same pack for over a month now, preferring to bum her cigarettes off of others rather than smoke her own.
Stan approaches and sits down next to her at the bar, replacing Ted. “And then there was one,” he says, faux-ominously. She offers him a small smile; he doesn’t reciprocate, and she feels her own sluice off her face into something close to a sneer. He smiles at that and she looks away.
They sit in silence for what feels like too long to her. When she finally glances at him, he’s looking at the pack of cigarettes on the bar.
He sighs heavily.
“You fucked me. And you didn’t even have the decency to buy me dinner first.” There’s no malice to his voice, but then, she doesn’t think she’s ever heard true malice buried in his tone. Petulance, sure. Surliness, discontent, aggravation -- all of the above. But there’s always an element of laziness to him, even and especially his anger. It’s not apathy, because he cares -- if she’s learned anything about him, she’s learned that much -- but it’s like he decided a long time ago that he didn’t have the energy for true spite and fury.
That, or he really does smoke too much grass.
Stan reaches over, takes a cigarette from the pack on the bar in front of her, lights up with his own lighter. “Figure at the very least you could provide me a post-coital cigarette.” He exhales in a cloud of smoke. “Good for you too, babe?”
He says the word babe like any other four-letter word, an impish (familiar) grin threatening.
She doesn’t say anything but she watches him inhale.
He gestures towards her nearly empty glass with his cigarette, smoke trailing in its wake.
“He knows your drink order, huh. Ted.”
Peggy looks at his face quickly and then away. She realizes this implies she has something to hide so she looks at him again. She gives the glass a quick shake. “Rye on the rocks, hardly a challenge to anyone’s memory.” She swallows down the watery residue from her glass. “Besides, what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” he feigns innocence. “Just an observation from the peanut gallery. The Greek chorus to whatever tragedy you’re in the process of performing.”
Peggy rolls her eyes. She wants a cigarette too. She wants something to do with her hands. Instead she catches the bartender’s attention, holding her empty glass up and says, “Another round,” including Stan in her request for more.
There’s a lot that she could tell him. But she won’t, she thinks, in the name of professional weakness. She could tell him that she told Ted no at first. That she thought about him, heavy with guilt but not so heavy she couldn’t bear it.
She’s found there’s a lot that she can bear. She's not going to tell him about that either.
“I could buy you a burger,” she says finally. “Lots of ketchup.”
His beard hides too much of his face and it’s difficult to gauge his reaction. He finally snorts; the bartender places their drinks down in front of them, foamy beer sloshing over the side of his pint.
“Lots of Heinz, you mean.”
When she left SCDP, she figured she had left him, too.
She was wrong.
There is no point in their shared history she can pick out and say, “There. That’s when we tied ourselves to each other.” Because that’s what all relationships are anyway -- a lot of knots, a lot of tangled emotions and experiences.
But she could hazard a guess.
He called her first. Back when she had started at CGC he had called her. His voice had been so familiar, mocking yet good-natured, and for the first time since leaving, she let herself consider how much she missed it all.
“How much groveling would it take to drag you back to the homestead?” he asked on the heels of an unflattering story about Ginsberg.
She had laughed. “I’m happy here,” she said and mostly meant it.
He laughed. “I’m telling you -- I’m not above begging.”
They’ve moved from the bar back to the booth he was occupying before.
“Don had me working in a goddamn bunker on this.” Slight upward tip to his lips. “Ginsberg was going fucking nuts. Totally thought I was working on like . . . a super soldier robot for the government, ‘the cure for the common communist.’” He sighs and laughs at the same time, stubbing out his cigarette. “Best week of my life.”
Peggy watches Stan’s fingers, still pressing down on the butt of the cigarette into the ashtray, stray wisps of smoke still escaping.
“Sometimes I miss it,” she says and her voice sounds very faraway.
He looks up at her sharply, a mean grin ghosting over his lips. “Save the sentiment for after Cosgrove murders us all. I expect a fine, fine eulogy from you. Unless,” he adds, mouth twisting, “you decide to aid and abet one Kenneth Cosgrove in my demise.”
Her mouth goes sour. “It was business, Stan. It wasn’t personal.”
There is a pause, and Stan considers his beer instead of her. “You know, people only trot that line out when they know the exact opposite is true.”
“Don’t be a girl,” she snaps, smiling. Stan raises his eyebrows at her.
He shrugs. “Sometimes I forget.” It’s all he says.
He looks at her before turning his attention back to the beer in front of him. “We’re not playing for the same team anymore, Champ.”
“Does that make me your Benedict Arnold?”
“Nah. I’m pretty sure that role belongs to me.”
“Hmm,” she hums. “Yeah. Feeding intel to the enemy camp.”
“Speaking of, I should probably check you for a wire. Enemy camp, and all that,” he says with a dramatically pointed expression, like one of those bumbling cops on TV.
“That just an excuse for you to feel me up?” She means it as a joke, and so does he, but his expression has gone that much darker, like he’s thinking about it. Imagining his hands under her clothes, seeking her out, her flesh versus artifice.
“You know me -- always looking for that window of opportunity.”
For a single beat, he is unbearable. Maintaining eye contact with him is unbearable. She doesn’t look away and either does he, and it’s like they’re back at the Waldorf again, back at the start of each other, trying to see which one of them is going to jump first.
This time, it’s her. She clears her throat, averts her gaze, and takes to her drink.
“How’s Abe doing?” Stan asks suddenly, leaning back heavy on his side of the booth.
“I don’t want to talk about Abe.”
He leans forward again, his elbows braced against the edge of the table, hands clasped around his beer. “Okay. So no Abe. I’m also thinking no Sterling Coop gossip, considering how well that played out last time. We could talk about Kenny." He sighs wistfully. "I really thought he was gonna give up the milquetoast act and go full beast on us.”
She smiles small, lips pressed together. “I didn’t know you all were going behind Kenny’s back.”
“And I didn’t know you were going behind mine.” He takes a long pull from his pint. “Cyclical conversation,” he says, gesturing wide. “Let’s not do that.”
It’s strange being this physically close to him after so much time apart. There’s a table dividing them, but it reminds her of all those days and nights spent working opposite each other. There’s a lot you don’t necessarily remember wrong but simply don’t remember about a person at all. The way he fidgets, his fingers in constant motion, like he’s itching for pen or pencil, something to keep his hands and mind occupied. How his mouth shifts tightly up and to the side when he’s unsure whether to smile, what he means to say. The way he watches her -- critical but oddly kind, like he can’t wait to pick her apart but expects to find all the things he likes.
She gets that faraway look to her for a beat, unsure where to steer the conversation. “Abe was telling me the other day, about the whole Penn Central thing, how it’s . . . emblematic of monopolistic tendencies in an untethered capitalist -- ”
“I thought we weren’t talking about your Abraham,” Stan interrupts, studying her carefully.
“We’re not. We’re talking about what he told me.”
“I don’t want to talk about the railroad,” Stan says.
“What do you want to talk about then,” she asks, her voice not just quiet but young sounding to her. He’s still looking at her, and she thinks he’s had too much to drink because his face is open in a way she doesn’t know what to do with. Maybe that means it's her who has had too much to drink. There’s nothing romantic in the way he’s looking at her (she refuses to see that), but there’s a whole lot of undisguised . . . something there. Want. She thinks it’s want.
(And here’s the thing: it’s not one-sided. Under the table, she presses her thighs together, her knee knocking against his in the process.
It feels good, she decides, to want something. Someone. Whatever. His knee presses against hers again and this time, she calls it deliberate -- though on her account or his she’s not ready to say.)
He was right when he said this was a cyclical conversation. It is. They keep coming back around to the points they thought they other had abandoned. He keeps coming back around.
Even through her pantyhose, through his slacks, his knee feels hot against hers.
“You know,” he says, eyes flitting between her eyes and her mouth, “we do miss your . . . distinctly feminine presence around the office, fangs and all.”
“We,” she repeats softly.
“Me,” he says.
“Yeah?” she says.
“Yeah,” he says. She bites her bottom lip; he doesn’t blink.
She stifled a yawn when she picked up the phone. The first week of December and it was snowing again in earnest.
“How’d you know I’d still be here?” she asked after he greeted her with, “Burning that midnight oil, huh?”
“Lucky guess,” Stan said.
“You guys slammed over there?”
“Eh, no more no less than usual. Working at the mercy of Czar Draper. How’s life on the other side of the Wall, comrade?”
She snorted. “Busy.”
“And cryptic,” he teased when she didn’t elaborate. He sighed and it stretched into a yawn. She could hear the sound of clothes and papers rustling on his end. She pictured him sprawled out on the couch in the lounge and knew that she was right.
“You know what I could go for?” he said, voice scratchy. “Some pork . . . fucking egg rolls.” There was a brief pause. “And a blowjob.”
She laughed loudly. “Not sure who’s still delivering this late. You might have to hold out till tomorrow.”
He chuckled. “Too bad you’re no longer a mere desk away,” he said faux-longingly.
“I don’t have any egg rolls,” she said after a beat, and then she listened to him laugh.
They finish their last round of drinks.
Peggy wipes her palms on her thighs under the table.
These are the things she is thinking about:
Whether Ted expected her back at the office by now. What Don would say if he was here and hadn’t left. Why it matters what Don would have to say about any of this, about anything about her. What would happen if she slid around to the other side of the booth -- if all of Stan ran as hot as the leg pressed against her own beneath the table. What it means that she wants to know.
“I’m gonna -- ” she points in the general direction of the restroom. “I’m gonna hit the washroom, freshen up. Before we . . . head back,” she trails off.
Stan follows her, crowding her space as she turns the knob and opens the door.
“What are you -- ” she asks, turning around to face him, leaning heavy on the door. She can hear her pulse in her ears.
“It sounded like an invitation,” he says, just enough hint of lechery blended with humor to read as familiar. His face goes serious just as quickly.
“Tell me I’m reading this wrong,” he says. Her mouth feels dry as she steps aside and he steps into the bathroom with her.
He locks the door.
And then they just stand there, facing each other in the small bathroom, a stalemate like anything else between them.
“Are you still mad at me?” she finally asks quietly.
“I’ll get over it,” he says, his voice a low rumble. He takes a step towards her.
There’s something bravely deliberate about the way he touches her face. His fingers skim the side of her cheek, his thumb passing over her chin, like he’s marking her for memory. She’s drunk, but drunk in that way where she’s filled with a belief of how anything is possible -- the sort of drunk when she usually gets her best work done.
Stan’s possible, but then, he always has been.
When he kisses her, it’s nothing like when he kissed her back at SCDP all that time ago. For one thing, he has a beard. For another, the kiss is that much harsher because he means it that much more now (she thinks, assumes, she’s drunk and all things are possible, even and especially this).
For another -- she kisses him first.
She bridges the gap, she kisses him, tentative and open-mouthed, sucking lightly on his bottom lip, his hand still on her face. He makes a deep, guttural noise, almost a growl, and fits the curve of her jaw in his hand and he kisses her back.
When Abe kisses her, it’s like he’s trying to share something with her, a secret, an emotion, and this is the only way he knows how to get his point across to her. Peggy rarely gets the point.
Stan kisses her like all he wants is to get inside her -- all force and wet tongue, a single-minded drive comprised solely of want.
Infidelity, she’ll find later, is easy -- like a dirty secret she has always known.
Later. She doesn’t consider it until later, it’s that easy at the time. Abe as afterthought.
She thinks that makes disloyalty natural for her. Stan would probably agree.
His hand is hot on her hip, making her breath stutter despite herself.
Everything about the way they are kissing each other is filthy -- rough and noisy, with obvious intent. His other hand grips tight along her neck, dragging down her body, hauling her tighter against him. She gasps, sharp and desperate, which makes him grunt, press his hips against hers.
Clumsy, she hits her knee hard on the toilet paper dispenser, winds up half muttering, half moaning, “ow,” into his mouth.
“That was your knee?” he mumbles, entirely unconcerned. She doesn’t answer, pulls at his loosened tie instead. She pulls too hard and his fingers dig in against her hip, his breath rushing out against her lips. She pushes his blazer off his shoulders, leaves it crumpled on the floor, while his fingers stumble over the buttons along the front of her dress.
His mouth tastes like beer, like the cigarettes he smoked out at the bar, flat and oddly familiar. He tastes the way most men she’s fucked have tasted -- the beer interchangeable with something harder. She can taste the saltiness from the peanuts he ate at the bar, and he’s licking into her mouth like he’s trying to taste her too.
He’s loud, keeps groaning, making these low appreciative humming noises in the back of his throat as he kisses her. She can feel him hard against her, and that makes her feel hot, like her skin is too tight, like she’s already regretting the fact there’s no way he’s going to be able to touch every part of her right now. So she grinds down on his thigh between her legs and he grabs at her ass under her dress, his mouth going slack, bumping open against her chin when he bucks his hips back against hers.
He’s thought about this; she knows that much about him. So has she: there’s the ugly secret.
It makes sense, she thinks, head fuzzy, distracted, that of all places they’d do this here. There’s nowhere else for them to go, not together. His apartment would be a commitment, would imply more premeditation than she is willing to lend this, and her apartment is impossible (it’s a lie to say she doesn’t think of Abe until after because she does, she thinks of him here, thinks of him walking in on them, how Stan would be the one to speak and not her, an ill-conceived quip that does nothing to mitigate the fact he’d still be inside of her; the thought makes her flush and she doesn’t think it’s with shame).
Stan’s hand slides high under her dress, fingers gripping tight around her thigh before dragging farther up. His fingers pluck at the waistband of her pantyhose, the sink pressing cold and hard against her back, his patience quickly waning.
“Like Fort fucking Knox, Jesus Christ,” he mutters before finally ripping them down the center seam; she bites down on whatever sound was tripping its way up her throat, clenching hot and empty between her legs. “Should be marketing these as goddamn chastity belts.”
“Those were new,” she says. He ignores her, his hand covering the crotch of her panties, stroking her through them, the cotton soaked and she flushes when he pushes the fabric against her, lines creasing around his eyes like he’s somehow just proven a point and he likes that.
“I like a woman who likes practical underwear.”
“Shut up,” she pants.
He watches her face when he pushes her panties to the side and touches her, her hips rolling forward into it. He makes wide circles with the pads of his fingers, and she hears herself say, “More.” His mouth trips up in an almost derisive smirk before he increases the pressure, his breathing labored, though not as much as hers, her grip white-knuckled against the edge of the sink.
He rubs at her roughly before sliding his fingers inside her, her hips canting towards him, breath catching in her chest. It’s more than the novelty of fucking someone else, she thinks, having someone else touch you. It’s not just someone else -- it’s Stan.
Her hands tremble when she reaches for his belt. She’s too far gone to feel embarrassed about it and he’s too distracted, his hips jerking when the side of her hand brushes against the front of his slacks. His fingers slip from her, leaving her wet and empty, and his nose bumps along her cheekbone as his hands join hers at his belt.
He’s thick in her hand (but what isn’t thick about him? Body, skull, makes sense his cock is too). He has the kind of body that at one point was probably super fit (high school -- when she first met him all she could see was varsity football) but has gone to seed, though not entirely. His arms are still strong, she can still feel some muscle, and he lifts her easily up against the sink and countertop. Her legs wrap around his hips, and he’s already rubbing himself against her. She grabs at his chest with this choked-off sounding groan stuck in her throat when his cock passes over her clit. She thinks he says her name, he says something, and then he’s pushing into her.
He moves slowly at first, a croaking, “Oh, Jesus,” from him. It sounds too close to tender and that frightens her, makes her dig her nails into his shoulder, makes him hiss and push in deeper. She was stupid not to ask him for a rubber, but he feels good inside her, hot, stretching her, making her ache. She’s already thinking how she’ll feel this tomorrow, feel it in her inner thighs, the way the muscles are stretched. The thought makes her twitch against him, and he exhales like the start of a laugh.
Peggy catches his eye. He’s still rolling his hips, shallow thrusts that are making her own respond of their own volition, but she wants more.
“Are you going to fuck me, or what?” He finally laughs, breathless and winded, the sound fading out as he slams his hips against her. He fucks her hard, the counter making rattling noses under them, Peggy dragging her fingers through his hair, his mouth open against the column of her throat.
She’s getting that desperate feeling tripping down her spine, settling low in her gut, making her clench around him, tip her head back, mouth open but silent. She can hear him mutter, “fuck,” at the hinge of her jaw, almost reverent, losing the rhythm between her legs.
She comes like that, surrounded by him and his voice in her ear.
“Is this going to be . . . we’re okay?” she asks, smoothing her hair behind her ears.
Stan’s mouth cracks into a crooked smile and he readjusts his belt. “Sure, why wouldn’t we be?”
They leave together and then go their separate directions -- Stan to SCDP, her to CGC.
Peggy pulls her coat tight around her as she walks, her pace brisk. The night is cold, the smell of snow on the air, and she blinks up at the sky, sees only towering buildings, bright lights that make her blink.
She walks. She walks and she thinks about all the things she has been trying not to think about. The button on her coat, now hanging by a thread. Abe. Abe at their apartment. Abe waiting. Stan’s voice on the phone. Stan’s voice in her ear.
She thinks their story would have always ended up this way.
Ended is the wrong word to use, makes her feel tight in her chest. Not the end, but a wrench, a fork in the road. They were always going to meet this fork in the road and there was only one path they would ever take: this one.
Maybe tonight didn’t have to end like this -- that’s not what she means. She means generally: he was always going to fuck her and she was going to want it. Maybe today she could have gone back to the office with Ted. Maybe in three days’ time one of them would have folded, called the other after their respective offices had gone quiet and they’d already opened the bottle, flicked the lighter, picked their poison. It would’ve been her first. She would have been the one to call him and when he answered, she would have been the one to say, “don’t hang up,” and maybe, “please,” but probably not, “I miss you,” and definitely not, “I’m sorry.” He wouldn’t hang up. He’d play tough, he’d aim for mean, but he’d get bored, and sitting alone -- her office, her window at her back, her city waiting -- his voice, low and heavy, would wash over her and the word she’d want to use for it would be warm.
And eventually there’d be a bar, a bar a lot like this one or maybe this one exactly, and they’d drink (because they had a bad day, because they had a good day, because neither of them is ever going to say, “I miss you” outright), they’d drink too much and they’d get sloppy with each other and that night would have ended same as this night.
She’s not entirely sold on the objective truth of it, but she believes it, and that’s enough. That’s enough to make it true.
She heads back to the office. When she arrives, she'll be missing a button.
“Are you here for an affair, sir?” the Room Clerk asked Benjamin in The Graduate.
Peggy had laughed at that scene.