Sunday, November 25, 2007
This Takes Me Back
Dear readers: Today I'm posting the first part of "This Takes Me Back." The story has Coley in it from Something To Do In Bed as a main character-- a prequel of sorts to the novella. Thanks so much for reading!
This Takes Me Back
Anderson searches for his wallet while Coley stands in the doorway with a fake plastic brain attached to a piece of string tied around her neck. She taps her foot like a wife, although she is only his much younger girlfriend dressed up like Jackie Kennedy for Halloween: pink suit, pillbox hat, fake blood all down her front; and Anderson thinks how like her generation to cling to the excess and waste of the past, unable or unwilling to emulate any of the elegance without some theatrical sarcastic comment.
"Who are you supposed to be?" Coley asks, giving him the once-over. He picked her up on his way home from work and has been sorry ever since. They had planned to go to his law firm's annual Halloween party, a plan that Anderson has felt less and less certain of as the day approached.
She starts to pace around his den, a cavernous room with cathedral ceilings and big windows. Outside, Rice University stands in the muggy air, the place where Coley spends much of her time as a graduate student in anthropology and where Anderson used to teach a class in business law.
"Race Horse Haynes. That's who I am tonight." He is still wearing his suit and tie, not wanting to change after a long day at work.
Coley stops pacing and gives him a blank stare.
"The lawyer who defended Cullen Davis in that murder trial in Fort Worth. Millionaire. Murdered his wife and her lover."
"A lawyer going as a lawyer. How postmodern." Coley sits down in a big high-backed chair, crossing her legs, one swinging over the other, the chair's size making her look like a bloody little doll. "You're going to spend all night explaining," she says. On her little finger, she's twisting an amethyst ring, a small stone that matches the one in her nose.
"Well, your costume is obvious enough for both of us. I'll just smile and wave and somebody can shoot me in the head."
Coley holds up her index finger and thumb and mouths bang, bang.
Anderson tries to pinpoint when it seemed like things stopped being easy between him and Coley, and the best he can do is a dinner date a few weeks ago. He'd had to cancel a couple of dates with Coley, and when they did manage to get together it was late on a Saturday night. The restaurant they'd gone to was crowded and loud, a trendy place with a Southwestern motif. Fifteen minutes passed before a waiter took their order.
"So what do you want to do for Halloween?" Coley asked, looking at the menu that was full of strange-sounding dishes that would inevitably taste like Mexican food, but with some twist that was supposed to justify the expense.
"Nothing," he said. Last year, Coley had gone out with her friends for Halloween, leaving him to sit home and greet trick-or-treaters. He hated Halloween for the simple fact that it kicked off the holiday season, a particularly busy and stressful time that reminded him of Donna, his wife, who had died shortly after Christmas five years ago of thyroid cancer. He remembers her sitting by their Christmas tree, looking at the lights every night until she fell asleep. It was at those moments he felt he'd been as sad as he could ever be and for the first time in his life, he understood what it was to be depressed, not the way most people use the word, but the real meaning, to be pressed down without hope.
"Where are you?" Coley said, then sunk back into her seat, taking a blue chip from the bowl on the table.
"Sorry, I'm just so . . . "
"Tired. I know," she finished for him with a sad, resigned smile.
He tried to get back into the present. "Michelle wants to take this self-defense class. She's such the athlete, and she didn't get it from me. Maybe she inherited her mother's abilities." Donna had been a yoga instructor, perpetually young-looking and flexible. People had often mistaken her for Anderson's daughter even though they had only a few years of age difference between them.
"Self-defense is a good idea," Coley said. She was going about the business of systematically shredding her napkin, leaving her glass to make a ring on the table. "I was raped, you know. It was at this dinner party my parents were throwing. This one guy, I don't know where he came from, was there and watched me most of the night. Late in the evening I went into the guest bedroom with all the coats stacked on the bed to get away from the noise. The guy followed me, and when I turned to flip on the light, he put his hand over my mouth. Before I even knew what was happening, he was trying to put it inside me and I kept jerking around so he couldn't and he came all over my leg," Coley said, the story having a sort of flat hurried quality of a prayer repeated over and over.
"Some people say that counts as a rape, and some people say it doesn't. I guess it's the issue of whether or not it's enough to be touched or do you have to be penetrated? You're a lawyer. What do you say?"
Anderson felt a headache coming on, an intense shooting pain behind his right eye, but he knew he could not not respond to the comment, he'd have to do his best to rise to the occasion. At the next table, a couple were joking around, like some kind of horrible laugh track that didn't match the situation.
"Are you talking in the legal sense? It's considered sexual assault now, not rape. God, what a horrible story. When did this happen?"
"Way past any statute of limitations, I assure you. But I don't care about the legality. I'm talking on some other level."
"What level would that be?"
"Forget it," she said, and dropped the subject, the way a teacher might, frustrated by students that were trying, but missing the point. He looked across the table at her, noticing how tired she looked, the circles under her eyes deeper than usual, her short-sleeved black dress baggy in places. Anderson took her hand and asked her to go with him to the Halloween party, something he knew she wanted.
Now he has to actually take her to the party. As for his wallet, Anderson gives up on the den and heads for the bedroom, hoping he left it in one of his coat pockets. He hears his daughter Michelle and her friend Roger walk into the house.
"Why are y'all still hanging around here?" Michelle asks, a disembodied voice in the distance.
Anderson spots the wallet under a jacket on his bed. When he walks out, he's surprised to see Roger dressed in a silver suit, his face coated with glittery eye-shadow. Michelle looks plain in comparison, still wearing her clothes from dance class: the standard black leotard and pale pink tights, a black skirt tied around her waist, black jazz shoes on her feet.
"Who are you tonight?" Anderson asks Roger.
"Ziggy Stardust, but nobody could figure it out. People kept saying 'Are you an alien or something?'" Roger rubs his eye, smearing the glitter around.
"What happened to your party?" Anderson asks next, looking at his watch.
"That Ricky is a first-class harelip," Michelle says. "There were about five of us there, and he was trying to act like it was Studio 54 with his stupid fog machine, and I'm choking in the fog, going "Roger, where are you?" Then somebody brought out a bunch of beer and stuff and said, 'Let's get this party started,' and we were like whatever."
"I hope you weren't doing any of that." Anderson imagines Michelle with a bottle of Southern Comfort pressed to her lips, some horrible alcohol-induced coma sure to follow. He's never even seen her drunk, but it doesn't matter. He worries.
"Please. I have my lifeguarding test tomorrow."
"You ready for it?" He punches her softly in the arm, feeling like a parody of a good-natured dad, awkward around Coley and Michelle in a way that he's not when he's alone with either of them.
"I have everything down except the one save where you have to bring two people in at the same time."
"What's so hard about that?" Coley asks, even though she can't swim at all. Besides an ancient Jane Fonda toning tape, Anderson's never known her to do any sort of exercise.
"In theory they're clutching at each other." Michelle grabs Roger's head, demonstrating. "You have to separate them, get one to safety, then go back for the other."
"Let's say they were really far out. Isn't there any way you could carry both of them at once?" Anderson asks.
"I guess, but you'd have to be a lot bigger than me." Anderson thinks about how Michelle is already six inches taller than Donna ever was. She looks like Anderson, dark hair and eyes, but she inherited her mother's ability to accept harsh realities without bitterness.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day." Vincent Van Gogh
Drinking shopping suggestion: Pewabic Pottery
Benedictions and Maledictions