Matters of the Flesh

 

        She is golden, long-legged and covered with row silk. She thinks she wants her bikinis to be almost non-existent because all her girlfriends want them that way.  She collects post-cards of young men in tight jeans, whose bare shoulders are dusted with light.  She thinks nothing of riding in the back seat of the van and openly seeking out the eyes of men in the passing cars only to giggle if they turn their heads to catch a glimpse of her.

 “ Mother, can I ware your white, silk jumper?” she asks.

 “What jumper?”

 “The one that doesn’t fit you around the waist any more.”

          She comes down wearing the white silk and high, gold sandals.  She is so beautiful I can’t stand to look.  We were all like this once.  Young, cruel, and unaware.

***

           We arrive late.  The sun is already bowing towards the yellow hills but the pool is still in its sizzling light.  The house is full of people, most with frosty glasses in their hands, some already well on their way with the social anesthetic.  I’m trying to remember the invitation.  Is it Mark’s B-day?  No, it didn’t say so.  I decide not to ask.  If he didn’t mention it perhaps he’d rather forget the occasion.

She nimbly glides through the crowd smiling and nodding her head.  She is heading for the sliding French doors and on to the patio.  The younger crowd, the next generation is hanging around the water.

“What would you like to drink, Joyce?” Mark, as a gracious host, wraps his arm around my waist and leads me to the bar.  I’m suddenly aware of a small roll of fat at my waistline, right above my girdle.

    “Just a club soda over ice, dear.”

   “Trying to be a good girl on a diet?”

           Mark’s friend Jack comes to the bar and holds out his empty glass.  His gait is a bit unsteady.  There must be something to the common truth that small men can’t hold much liquor.

***

             Through the beveled glass of the French door her image is split.  I see two or at times three of her.  She is in her bikini, the almost non-existent one.  Who is it next to her?  Cliff?  My God, has he grown!  He leans protectively towards her just like last year when on the crisp April snow he was teaching her how to turn her skis.  His body casts a large, shapely shadow on the sparkling water in the pool.  He is tanned, very tanned.  The skin on his shoulders is smooth and warm in the sun.  His body must be smooth and warm all over.  I can fill it against my belly and breasts.  I’m freezing in this air-conditioned room in the little halter number I’m wearing.  My nipples harden.

    “How is biz?” asks Jack.

    “Business is a little better, thank you.  How about you, Jack, how’s Dolly?”

            “Overweight.  She is going to the fat farm again next week.”  He takes a drink.  “You should meet Ian,” he says.  “He is in construction, hotels and motels, you know.  Mark should introduce you.”

“I’d have never thought of that,” says Mark.  “See what a lousy host I am!  You’re right, buddy,“ he gives Jack a slap in a shoulder, “They would need a lot of pictures an artwork in hotels.  You could get some business through him, Joyce.”

***

           Three men and Mark’s wife, Joanne, are standing at the French doors.  Through the glass they are looking at the bare young bodies by the pool glistening in the sun.  Their gliding eyes stop at the wide yellow mat.  She lies there next to Cliff. Her golden body swallows the sun.  She is flashing her silver shades.  Her thighs drawn up and slightly parted.  Beautiful praying mantis…

***

   “Joyce, this is Ian.”

           I turn.  He looks straight and almost forcibly into my eyes, my face, my head.  His look is so intense I can feel the touch of his eyes, ice blue, almost transparent.  I cannot sustain his glance, my eyes slide down, linger on his lips.  His lower lip is fleshy and moist.  Suddenly I’m thirsty but I put my glass down and extend my hand.  He takes it and does not let it go.  His hands are warm, dry and pleasant to the touch.

“Mark tells me you’re an art dealer.  Is it fine arts or decorative arts?”  We play introductory word ping-pong for a while and he lets go of my hand.  The closeness is broken and I look away.

***

          She is on her stomach and holding up her hair away from her shoulders.  Cliff straddles over her and carefully puts suntan lotion on her back then on her legs.  The men at the window follow the motion of his hands with their eyes.  From time to time they take little sips from their glasses which Mark makes sure are full all the time.

***

           Ian hands me my glass of club soda.  Slips his arm under mine and squeezes it lightly.  We walk towards the piano bench and I can feel his warmth again.

  “… and hotels, do you decorate hotels?”

          We talk about business, and how it affects our lives, and what our lives are like.  It’s easy.  The bench is small and we touch each other all the time, and I feel his breath on my neck.  We both look up to the staircase.  Dolly had too many marguerites.  She has slipped off the steps and she is crying unable to get up.  Joanne is trying to help her and looks pleadingly at me.

“I think, I’m needed,”  I tell Ian.  He wants to help too but I decline the offer.  I feel a little embarrassed.  Watch my club soda and don’t go away for heaven’s sake,” I say.  He laughs.

***

             We haul Dolly’s plump body away into the bedroom and heave her onto the bed.  She lies still while we look for a pillow and a blanket.  Suddenly she jumps and runs unsteadily towards the bathroom holding her hand clasped over her mouth.  She does not make it.  Greenish and yellow vomit makes a path on the plush white carpet all the way to the bathroom.  Dolly is throwing up into the white marble sink now.  She is crying and her mascara is running and smeared on her fat pink cheeks lined with wrinkles.  She has lipstick and vomit on her designer dress.  She is six months older than I am.  At least I’m not as fat and drunk.   I can’t stand looking at her any more.  I lean my forehead against the window overlooking the pool.

***

           The water in the shallow end of the pool is almost the color of the vomit.  Cliff has dozed off in the sun.  His long, blond hair falls over his still childish face.  She rises gently from the yellow mat not to wake him up.  She puts on her gold sandals, picks up her white silk jumper and goes into the house to change.  Meanwhile Dolly is helpless and crying.  Joanne and I wash her up; take off her dirty dress and slip.  Her body spills out of her lace brassiere and the girdle that is definitely two sizes too small.  Joanne’s robe is too small, too.  It does not close in the front.  We help her onto the bed.  She lies listless and heavy.  In the closet mirror I can see her enormous thighs barely covered by Joanne’s pink robe and the black, gaping space between them.  I think of Jack being crushed between those thighs.  I stay with Dolly while Joanne go to get her a Tylenol and a glass of water.  When she comes back Dolly is already asleep.  Muffled, broken snorts escape from her open mouth.

***

             Someone has turned on the lights in the pool.  The music is on.  Blue dusk has settled in the trees and around the walls.  It is beginning to creep towards the water.  The air conditioning is off and part of the crowd has already spilled out onto the patio and around the pool.  Caterers have rolled out the tables with food.  The hum of conversation seems louder than before.

My glass stands lonely on the piano.  The ice has already melted.  I walk over to the bar for a refill.

“Mark tells me you know where Dolly is.”  Jack is making a deliberate effort at speaking slowly; he’s had too much to drink, too.  I think of Dolly snoring gently in the big empty bed and Joanne spraying “Glory” on the vomit on her white carpet.

  “I think she’s in the bathroom, Jack.  I’m sure she’ll be right out.”

***

           She stands at the edge of the pool.  The pool light glows from under the water surface and illuminates her long legs in golden sandals.  Her skin is slick, brilliant in the turquoise light. Ian is leaning intently holding her hand.  He is playing with it.  She is relaxed and laughing.  She opens her hand for him spreading her fingers.  His index finger is outlining her palm and gliding in and out between her fingers.  It settles in the nest at the base between her middle and her fourth finger.  Than his other hand closes over hers and traps his index finger between hers.  He pulls her forward gently and buries his face in her hair, whispers something… She suddenly pushes him away and loses her balance.  He is still holding her hand while she pulls him behind her.  They both fall into the water, suffused with turquoise light.  She gracefully twists underwater and dives deep, surfaces at the steps.  The white silk clings to her body.  She has no bra and just a part of small lace panties underneath.  She is naked in the wet, clinging silk.  She is beautiful emerging from the water, arms raised, twisting her hair.  Someone begins to clap.  Now everyone is clapping, and she does not seem embarrassed at all.  She strides through the parting crowd towards the house, cool and composed.  She doesn’t even turn to look.

Ian stands in the shallow end of the pool.  His hair is flat against his skull and I see that he is bolding in the middle.  His Ralph Lauren shirt is stuck to his thin body.  It outlines a round belly the size of a small watermelon.  I turn around and go back to the bar.

      “Give me a Johnny Walker on ice.”

      “I thought you were on a diet,” says Mark.

      “To hell with diet,” I say.  The scotch feels burning cold going down.

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