Esther finds Constantin, the simultaneous interpreter, much too short but overall finds him attractive. And he's clearly not American, because he has intuition. He realizes very quickly she wasn't a protégé of Mrs. Willard's and soon they were cracking jokes at her expense. As she's sitting with Constantin at the UN, she realizes the only time she was totally happy was when she was nine years old. In spite of all the fun-sounding things her life included after that, like sailing camp and dancing lessons, she wasn't really happy. She sees a Russian woman translating sharply and efficiently, and wishes she could trade lives with her.
As she's watching the translators and the diplomats debate, she thinks of all the things she couldn't do, like cooking. Her mother and grandmother would give her lessons but she could never remember what to do. She remembered a friend in college who instinctively would add ingredients to recipes to improve them, which amazed her. She didn't know shorthand either; her mother kept telling her no one would want to hire an English major. But Esther hated the idea of serving men in any way.
She also couldn't dance, wasn't athletic at all, couldn't speak or write foreign languages. The only thing she was good at was winning scholarships and prizes and that couldn't go on forever. She suddenly felt like a racehorse in a world without racetracks. She felt her life was branching out like the fig tree in the story she had read, and on each branch was a different choice. One fig was a family and husband, another becoming a famous poet, another lifelong travel and adventure. There were so many figs she couldn't count them all. She saw herself sitting at the base of the tree starving to death because she couldn't choose just one fig; she wanted them all.
Constantin brings her to a nice Greek restaurant which she immensely. She realizes her vision of the fig tree might have come simply from being hungry. She decides she will let Constantin seduce her. Ever since Buddy told her about the waitress she had been thinking of a way to even the score. She had almost slept with one other boy, named Eric, another Yalie who she met only because he'd been stood up by his date. They go out for coffee and end up talking very frankly about sex. Eric reveals he lost his virginity to a middle-aged hooker, and he'd found the entire experience boring. Esther wondered out loud if it would be different with someone you loved; Eric said he wouldn't want to anyone he truly liked to have to go through with that. She decides he's not the one to sleep with.
The more she thinks about it, the better she feels about her choice of Constantin. There also was the pleasant irony of Mrs. Willard introducing them. Esther thinks back to an article her mother sent her from Reader's Digest which argued for chastity for young women. Women should be pure until marriage, even if their husbands weren't; and there was no way to safeguard completely against pregnancy either. She thought the article was rather silly and didn't consider the feelings of the woman at all. She decided if it was impossible to find a pure man, why bother staying pure yourself? Just a few years before, virginity was very important to her, but now it just seemed silly.
They went back to Constantin's apartment, where they lounged around and listened to records. He said he didn't have a girlfriend, but all he seemed to want to do was hold her hand. They both finally lay down on his bed and fall asleep.
When she wakes up it takes her a while to remember where she is; she looks at Constantin asleep next to her - she had never slept next to a man before. She wonders what it would be like to be married to him. She imagines washing dishes and waiting for him to come home and tell her stories about translating at the UN. It seemed like a dreary life, but she knew that's just what it was like, because that's what Buddy's mother did. Once she visited Buddy and found Mrs. Willard had woven a beautiful wool rug by hand; Esther thought if she'd made a rug like that she would have hung it on the wall. But instead Mrs. Willard put it on the kitchen floor and in a few days it was dirty and indistinguishable from any other cheap doormat. She knew what men really wanted, despite their promises of romance, was to flatten women out like Mrs. Willard's rug. She suddenly remembered Buddy saying once she had children she'd feel differently, that she wouldn't want to write poetry any more. Esther begins to think becoming a wife and mother is like brainwashing.
She stares into Constantin's face until he wakes up; he asks the time and offers to drive her home. As they're getting ready to go, he looks over and runs his fingers through her hair, which gives her an electric jolt. Later, back in her hotel room, listening to the rain, her shin bone begins to ache and she thinks how it's Buddy's fault she broke her shin Buddy was also responsible for her broken shin. Then she corrects herself and thinks she did it on purpose to get back at herself for being such a heel.
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