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July/August 2018

What did we talk about, Laura and I? Mel Newman, a fellow at my firm, a bachelor like me and a man devoted to the skirt chase, showed up one Christmas at an office party with a (for him) rather unattractive woman. I didn’t ask him what was going on, though someone else did, and he reported to me that Mel said the sex with this woman wasn’t much but the conversation afterwards was terrific. With Laura both the sex and the conversation afterwards (and before and at every other time but during) were damn fine. We not only had our work in common as a subject, but she was that rare woman who not only appreciated but told jokes — and told them well, with appropriate accents when required. She had a brother who played freshman football at Yale, and so she knew about and could talk sports. She was knowledgeable, bright, witty. The flow of our talk was always interesting. We could also manage stretches of silence when together, which I took to be a sign of a deeper rapport. Laura Ross, I came to conclude, possessed a man’s mind in a woman’s body, not a combination one came upon everyday.

Laura also passed the travel test. Toward the end of the first year we were keeping company we went off for a two-week holiday in England. The male fantasy for travel, if I am any measure, is to leave O’Hare Airport with nothing but the clothes you are wearing, your airline tickets in your jacket pocket, and an American Express Card in your wallet. Travelling light is the name of the fantasy, and it is of course never fulfilled. The female travel fantasy, I have always assumed, is four steamer trunks that would include everything but two sets of dishes.  On picking up Laura in a cab on our way to O’Hare, I was surprised — and much impressed — to see that she had brought along only a single suitcase, and this rather smaller than mine. What was more, throughout the two weeks of our trip she never looked less than her elegant self. Laura Ross, no doubt about it, was an extraordinary woman.

In London, we stayed at a hotel Laura knew called Durrant’s in Marylebone. Just right, too, comfort and convenience without glitz or staggering expense. On our third day we drove up to Oxford, to meet for lunch with a former teacher of Laura’s at Wellesley who had married an Oxford classics don. She and Laura had stayed in touch over the years. The woman — Arlene Davidowitz is her name — was warmly welcoming. When Laura had left the room, she told me that Laura was one of her most memorable students, and even now couldn’t help regretting that she hadn’t done a PhD in French, her major at Wellesley. “She was a natural,” Professor Davidowitz said. “Her accent was flawless. She had no trouble with the most complex texts. Ah, me, to wring a change on George Bernard Shaw about teachers, ‘Those who can, won’t.’”

We next drove to the Cotswolds, then up to Harrogate, where Laura had a friend, Annette Satersfield, a physician who specialised in thoracic medicine. They had met on a Swan’s cruise to the Greek Islands taken four years before. Annette Sattersfield must have been 6'2" or more, with a charming English accent. She was ten or so years older than Laura, and had never married. The Wellesley teacher, the Harrogate physician, Laura was obviously someone who kept up with friendships, and was herself liked by serious people. Winning traits, these, or so I felt.
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