F.A.Z.-Column by Emanuel Derman : Meetings with Remarkable Women

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The drape of life on a white silk blouse Bild: picture alliance / landov

Less pain, less pleasure: How could you decide to leave the man you are happy with to return to your ex-husband? An occassional conversation with a Silk Woman and a Wool Woman.

          4 Min.

          The late flight I boarded for Europe took off precisely on time. I sent one last email before they closed the airplane doors and commanded me to switch off my phone. The flight assistant collected the glasses of water, orange juice, and champagne. I looked around me.

          (Deutsche Übersetzung: „Jetzt sitzen wir hier, und das ist eigentlich gut so“)

          To my right across the aisle was a good-looking woman in what I estimated to be her late fifties: full-bodied, hair streaked blond with touches of grey, a white silk blouse with a few buttons open at the top tucked into dark tight intense indigo denim jeans that were longer than capris but shorter than pants, ankles and calves exposed. She took off her espadrilles and pulled on a pair of navy airline tube socks, and then began to rub some cream from her bag onto her face and hands. I glanced at her. She looked up and met my eyes.

          “Would you like to try some of my cream?” she asked. “Pardon me doing my toilette in public. It’s very dry on planes, bad for your skin. It’s good for anyone.” She was foreign, somewhere in Europe.

          “Sure,” I said. “Thanks.” She squeezed a drop into my palm, and thereafter I smelled of roses.

          Immediately to my left was a woman too, forty-five or fifty at most, less elegant and less well kept, more crinkles at the sides of her eyes and more vertical lines on the upper lips, and yet, despite them, clearly younger looking. She wore a practical navy woolen sweater and grey woolen skirt.

          The Silk woman immersed herself in an Ian McEwan novel, pausing every few pages to pull out her iPad Mini and tap some notes into it. The Wool woman took out a German magazine and paged through it listlessly, then began to watch a movie.

          Two hours into the flight the pilot announced that we were going to make an unscheduled touchdown at Goose Bay: no emergency, a “minor” problem with the airplane electrical systems, nothing to worry about, but regulations required that we have it repaired before proceeding. We landed without incident and were informed that we had to stay the night at the airport hotel and resume our flight in the late morning. It was an unexpected adventure, a previously deserted hotel on a deserted airport late at night, that led to passenger commiseration. A few hours later the two women and I found each other in the bar, where we sat down together and drank good Scotch and cheap Nachos. They had stayed open late  especially to accommodate the influx of passengers.

          “I don’t know either of you, really,” said the Silk woman after a drink and a cigarette and some mutual explanations of background and reason for travel. “But here we are and actually that’s good. We’ll never meet again, most likely. So let me tell you something. I’m about to make a big decision and I need to talk to someone.” We look appropriately serious and nodded.

          “I’ve been living apart from my ex-husband and family for ten years. My children are grown and out of the house, though they were still at home when I left my husband.”

          “Why did you leave?” asked the Wool woman.

          “I don’t know, I had felt empty for a long time,” she said. “Never could put my finger on it. Then I became friendly with a man I met at random. We seemed to be in tune in some different special way. It was exciting, and he was serious about me. I’d never felt anything like that, couldn’t imagine anything like that could happen to me. I had everything, you know,  a woman could want, I told myself. A model marriage, a good-looking reliable man, a concerned-about-me man, actually, nice children, a comfortable – more than comfortable actually – lifestyle. But suddenly something had moved inside me. One thing led to another. One day I picked up and left.”

          “Why did you do it?” asked the Wool woman.

          “It was an absolute necessity,” the Silk woman replied. “I couldn’t do otherwise.”

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