Authors: Suzanne Finnamore
skates adroitly over the necessary facts of the narrator’s fractured youth, then cuts straight to the important details … silk, cashmere and anxiety.”
—The New York Times
“An enlightening glimpse into the time-honored transformation from rational woman to bride-to-be.”
—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
—The Plain Dealer
“Smart, good-hearted and marvelously witty.”
“Filled with clear-eyed insights and hilarious moments of truth.”
“Suzanne Finnamore has written for a true modern bride. For any single woman who has white-dress-and-veil anxiety, this book provides refreshing relief.… A charming, funny and delightfully realistic novel.”
is engaging.…[It] made me laugh out loud several times a chapter.”
—The Seattle Times
“It is comforting to read a book that looks at the real doubts women have when marriage comes after the breeziness of youth has subsided.”
is a spare, comic tale of prenuptial jitters.”
“Finnamore’s quick-cut prose style … boasts flawless comic timing.”
—The Boston Phoenix
“Finnamore is a terrifically funny writer and can turn a phrase on a dime.”
“Should be required reading for the someday-to-be-married. A delicious book.”
—The Tampa Tribune
“A witty romp.”
“A joy! The engagement lasts a year, and as soon as the ring is on her finger until two days before the wedding, it is hilariously miserable.… Intelligently done and very, very funny.”
“Finnamore’s energetically told story … should appeal to anyone who can appreciate a cool, clever intelligence capable of discerning the zaniness of the purgatory known as engagement.”
Suzanne Finnamore lives in northern California.
has been translated into six languages. It is her first novel.
FIRST VINTAGE CONTEMPORARIES EDITION, MAY
Copyright © 1999 by Suzanne Finnamore
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1999.
Vintage is a registered trademark and
Vintage Contemporaries and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Owing to limitations of space, all permissions to reprint previously
published material will be found on
The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:
Otherwise engaged / Suzanne Finnamore.— 1st ed.
Author photograph by Leslie Corrado
The female of the species is more deadly than the male.
e did it. I said yes and checked my watch. 7:22 p.m.
I sneak a pen out of my purse and write the time down on the palm of my hand, in what I hope is a nonchalant fashion. I am excited and at the same time I feel there is a possibility of an inquiry.
He didn’t kneel. It’s unlikely I would marry someone who did. From then on, I would live in fear of Whitman’s Samplers. Tandem bicycles. Someone who knelt would need me to give up my name and bake pies while his aging mother cried out in pain from the next room.
Exhilaration. Also something darker: a sense of triumph. It is primal, furtive; my ovaries cracking cheap champagne. I win. Those two words; that’s exactly how I feel. Happy, but not in an I Knew It All Along way. Definitely in a Contestant Who Has Won in the Final Round Despite Major Setbacks way.
And the Harvard professors who say a woman is as likely to be married after thirty-five as to be abducted by terrorists? May they fall into open manholes, where hard-body lesbians with blowtorches await them.
I am thirty-six years of age.
I need to write it all down. Exactly what was said, exactly what happened.
It all began Sunday morning. I woke up and heard him padding around the kitchen of our San Francisco flat: making coffee, unfolding his
New York Times
. Sun dappled the crisp two-hundred-thread-count cotton sheets. Outside the bedroom window, two finches nuzzled on a branch. In the kitchen, Molly O’Neill was freeing kumquats from their humdrum lives. At that moment I decided it probably wasn’t going to get any better than this. The free introductory trial period was over.
He brought in my coffee, murmuring the theme song from
“Goldfinger … he’s the man, the man with the Midas touch … the spider’s
He was planning his day. It was going to be a day like any other. It would be free of confrontation, conflict, or commitment, anything that could remotely lead to a subpoena. Michael is what his therapist calls change averse. The survivor of a bitter divorce, which he refers to simply as The Unpleasantness.
The day he had planned was going to include me, but it was going to revolve around him. Just a nice Sunday is what he would have called it.
It was my task to set the earth spinning the other way.
I took his hand, and said, “You know what?” Pleasantly, as though I had some interesting good news to share with him.
“You need to decide about us. Now.”
He tensed, his eyes flitting around the room. A paperboy caught in the grip of a mad clown.
There ensued a period of silence. He stared past my right shoulder, transfixed by a point just outside the present. He had decided to go blank.
I cataloged events for him, since he was so bad with time.
“We’ve known each other three years. We’ve been living together six months.”
I asserted that I wasn’t going to be like Gabrielle, the hair model who lived with him for four years and got the Samsonite luggage.
“I love you,” I said. “But I can’t stay in limbo.”
What’s wrong with limbo? I heard him thinking. Limbo is fantastic.
“Especially if we want to have children,” I said.
His face went white. He had understood that one word, “children.” Ten years ago his first wife, Grace, left him and moved to Vermont along with Michael’s three-year-old daughter, Phoebe. Every year, Michael cries on her birthday. Phoebe calls her stepfather Daddy, and Michael, Michael.
“I understand if you can’t move forward,” I said. Beat. Sip of coffee. Sad smile. “But I have to.”
I added that if he didn’t marry me, he would probably end up alone. A few meaningless and shallow affairs with a certain type.
“Users,” I said. “Women who don’t want a commitment.”
His face, I thought, lit up.
“An old man in a rocking chair,” I said. “Eating Dinty Moore beef stew out of cans.”
This is what he eats when I am gone. This and corn. Michael turned forty-four last July. Together we are about a hundred.
“We’re meant to be together,” I said. “But if not you, I’ll move on and find someone else.”
I wondered how many women were lying that same lie at that exact moment. In truth he would have to blast me out with dynamite, just like Gabrielle. Holding on to the front doorjamb with the tips of my fingers and screaming. Hooking my feet around the wrought-iron banister.
He said he would think it over. The fact that he had to think it over made me want to cry and break things. I looked out the window. The birds were gone.
“I guess I always knew it would come to this,” he pronounced, deadpan.
He slumped quietly out the door and I heard his motorcycle start up. I looked out the window as he drove away. He had his full-face Shoei helmet on. He looked like a large blue-headed beetle, moving away at high speed. The way he was going, one might think he would never return. But just like the little rubber ball attached to the toy paddle with a long elastic string and a single staple, he has to come back. All his things are here.
When he returned four hours later we both pretended it hadn’t happened. I roasted a chicken; we ate it in front of
. I commented on how fine Ed Bradley looked. How tall and sleek, like a panther. Michael is five foot nine, Caucasian. Serial dreams of being in the NBA.
The following day he left for an overnight business trip to Colorado. The timing was impeccable. One night to think things over, to imagine a world without a sun. That night he called me from his hotel in Denver, saying there was something he wanted to talk about when he got back. Code word: “Something.”
“Have a safe trip home,” I said. “Darling.”
I hung up and made reservations at the Lark Creek Inn in Marin. Chef Bradley Ogden, home of the eighteen-dollar appetizer. That night I sleep fitfully. I am what my mother used to call overexcited. I think about what if the plane crashes and he never gets to ask me. I will tell people he did, I decide.
I felt extremely focused.
The next day, Tuesday. He comes home around four in the afternoon. He actually runs to the kitchen, to find me.
He loves me, I am thinking. Also: Baby, you are going
We embrace. His skin feels cool, as though he had flown home without the airplane. He has on a thick moss-green plaid flannel shirt which he has purchased in Boulder, probably in a Western store with a wooden Indian outside. It soothed him, buying that shirt. I can see that.
At six we dress for dinner in silence. I watch him. And when I see him pull his gray suit out of the armoire, I know. It’s not his best suit, but it’s my favorite: single-breasted. With the suit, he puts on his black merino-wool sweater. Another clue. A simple shirt would’ve been one thing, or a black knit tee. The black tee would say, I’m sporty but not serious. It would say, I know how to wear a tee shirt with a suit, I’m a good catch. Try and catch me. The merino
sweater has a collar and three neat buttons. It says, I’m caught. And I’m taking it like a man.