When I awoke the next morning, there was a warm, unfamiliar presence in the bed. I opened one cautious eye.
Fred. Right. Fred had often asked to be let up on the bed, but Brian always said no. During the times when Brian had been away for extended business trips, I had not given in because I knew that Brian would be back and Fred would face even more disappointment. Last night, Fred got the invite.
As a sleeping companion, Fred was commendable. He didn’t snore. His legs didn’t twitch. When I snored, he didn’t shake me on the shoulder and insist I turn over on my side. He didn’t steal the covers or get up three or four times to pee. He didn’t fart and stayed on his side of the bed. He had it all over Brian.
I smelled coffee and knew that the previous day had not been some bizarre Kaftka-esque nightmare. Brian, in the twenty years we had been married, had never made the coffee.
I got out of bed and stumbled across the hall to the bathroom. On the way back, I caught a glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror beside the dresser and almost had a stroke. I looked awful. My first thought was, God, no wonder he left.
I forced myself to take another look, then began to process my figure logically. I usually didn’t look this bad. My eyes, for instance, were only bloodshot because of all those Carmichael Martinis. That was also why my skin looked so pasty, except for the red splotch on the side where the sheets had bunched up beneath my cheek and left an imprint. Normally, my hair was carefully brushed, not sticking straight up on one side.
I squinted. A few years ago, my eyelashes completely disappeared. They could be coaxed back with two or three applications of black/black mascara, but without that, my face looked lash-less and bland. Not quite this bland, but still.
I pulled back my lips in a forced grin. There was not a forest of pine growing between my teeth after all. It just felt that way. The Carmichael Martini again.
I threw back my shoulders. I had always been proud of the fact that I had only gained ten pounds in twenty years of marriage. Of course, redistribution had become a bit of a problem. My arms were not sleek, but rather rounded, almost puffy. But then, Liz Taylor, in that scene in A Place in the Sun, where she first meets Monty Cliff playing pool, and she’s in that gorgeous white dress with her arms and shoulders bare, well, her arms aren’t very buff either, but you don’t even notice because of all that cleavage. I’ve got cleavage too, but, without proper support, my breasts sag so badly that unfettered, my nipples hover about four inches above my waistline. I’m naturally short-waisted, by the way, but it’s still a pretty impressive drop.
My thighs rub together. And my butt wobbles.
I stepped back from the mirror, hoping that a little distance would improve the situation.
But I clean up well. I had a head shot done a few years ago, for a conference or some such nonsense, and boy, did I look good. Black and white, with the light just right on my eyes, which are, with enough mascara, my best feature. My cheekbones looked sculpted, my chin and jaw line firm, my dark hair beautifully styled, my smile seductive. Almost Ava Gardener. That old-fashioned, glam look.
Not that morning, however.
19 Jun 2011 Leave a Comment
When I awoke the next morning, there was a warm, unfamiliar presence in the bed. I opened one cautious eye.
27 Mar 2011 Leave a Comment
Mona’s daughter, Miranda, has decided to expand her mother’s dating pool, and so Mona has agreed to meet with Jack, one of the summer people, whose brother Mona has known for years.
Jack and I had arranged to meet at a great little place on the bay where, if you were lucky enough, you could sail your boat up to the dock and walk up to your table. I drove, of course. Jack, apparently, flew.
He was just were he said he’d be – at the bar. He may have been there for days, because when I approached him, he had to squint at me for several seconds before recognizing me. He grinned broadly, began to slide off the bar stool, and slipped down to a heap at my feet.
Not an auspicious beginning.
But I was willing to assume the best, so I helped him to his feet, directed him to a small table overlooking the bay, and even held his chair for him while he cautiously sat himself down. I sat across from him, face carefully arranged, and said hello. He squinted again. Then looked out over the water.
“If we sit here, I may get seasick,” he said slowly.
“Seasick? But we’re not on a boat.”
He nodded at this piece of information. “That may be true, but I feel like I’m on a boat. Can we sit on the other side?”
This proved to be an exhausting exercise, because aside from navigating through several closely grouped tables, we also had to avoid getting run over by anxious waitresses carrying trays laden with food and drink. When we finally got to another table, safely away from the sight and sound of water, he squinted again, looking equally distressed.
“We’re not near the water,” I pointed out.
“I know. That’s not the problem. We’re too near the parking lot.”
The spot between my eyes started to burn. “What’s wrong with the parking lot? Do you get carsick too?”
“The fumes,” he explained. “I don’t like the fumes.”
“Do you want to go and get a table inside?” I asked.
There may have been a little something in my voice, because he looked suddenly hearty and eager to please. “No, not at all. This is fine. Drink?”
He waved his hand frantically in the air until a waitress hurried over. She was smiling at him like he was an old friend. Which, as it turned out, he was.
“Maggie, honey, how are you?”
“Oh, Jack.” She giggled. “I heard you were back.”
“Just this week, honey. Give me my usual, and whatever the lady wants.”
The lady wanted to get the hell out of Dodge, but I asked for a club soda.“I’m driving,” I said to Maggie, by way of explanation. Then I turned back to Jack.
“So, I guess you’re a regular here?”
“I live here.”
I laughed. “Really?”
“Yep. Really. In the spare room over the kitchen.”
I stopped laughing. “You live over the bar?”
“Yep. Have for years. Could stay with Bobby, of course, but he doesn’t like me smoking pot with his kids around, so it’s just easier to stay here. Maggie there? She’s the owners’ daughter. She, well, kind of looks after me when I’m here.”
“Does she now?”
Maggie returned with my club soda in what looked like a giant water goblet. Jack had something in the same sized glass. Clear, on the rocks. I stared as he took a long gulp.
“What is that?” I asked.
He frowned. “And ice.”
“A classic,” I said.
He grinned broadly. “I find the simple things work out best for me. I don’t like a lot of stuff, you know? Stuff crushes the creative mind.”
I saw the straw and grasped at it. “Yes, Bobby says you’re an artist. Do you paint? Sculpt?”
“Right now, I’m working in what I like to call mixed media.”
“How interesting.” Here we were, having a real conversation. I felt a little proud of myself. “Is it difficult to get the supplies you need here on the island?”
He waved his hand. “Nope. That’s the thing. I’m using local material.”
I tried to be encouraging. “Such as?”
“Well, last night I found three dead jellyfish and a great piece of driftwood. As soon as everything dries out, we’ll see what develops.”
Maggie had hurried over. Probably in response to his expressive hand-wave. He looked at me. “Want to order some dinner?” he asked.
Dear God. No. “Not right now, the club soda is just great. Maybe in a few minutes.”
Jack winked at Maggie, who trotted off. He grinned at me again. “So, you’re a writer? I knew I felt a spark. All those times you’d come in for shrimp specials, I knew you and I had more in common than preferring cocktail sauce over tarter. A fellow artiste, you know?”
I swallowed club soda and nodded. “Oh, yes. Absolutely. So, where do you teach?”
He shrugged and drained the rest of his gin. I wondered why his speech wasn’t slurred. While he was managing to sit relatively upright, I noticed that his left elbow kept slipping off the table. “I’m kind of between positions right now,’ he said.
“Oh?” Well, no wonder. “Are you looking for another job?”
“Well, the thing is, most schools want a drug test.”
“Yeah, like, who the hell cares what a person does on his own time, right? So, I’m going to wait things out for a bit. I haven’t told Bobby yet, but he’ll let me stay the whole summer, I’m sure. May even work through the winter. I bet this place is something in the off season.”
“I bet.” I had always imagined the whole of Long Beach Island to be something of a ghost town in the off season, but I kept my mouth shut.
“But enough about me. Heard you were getting a divorce.”
“Yes. I am.”
“That sucks. Unless it was your idea, of course.”
“No, it wasn’t my idea, and yes, it does suck. But it’s been really hard on my daughters, so as much as I hate to cut this short, I should get home. They get a little needy.”
“Of course. Understand perfectly. Let me walk you to your car.” He stood up.
I could see my car from here. Less than two hundred yards away. The path was free of physical obstructions, not too sandy, and in a fairly straight line. How much trouble could he get in?
19 Mar 2011 2 Comments
They both came to meet us as we came around to the back yard. Scott, very short and bleached blond, kissed me on both cheeks. “I love the idea of you two dating,” he gushed. “Even if it is just for practice. You’re perfect together. Really. My blessings on you both.”
Steve, much taller and also bleached blond, rolled his eyes. “I can’t wait for the he-said, she-said. You both need to report in tomorrow. Mona, you come early for coffee. Doug, sometime after lunch.”
I looked at Doug. “Did you tell the whole block?”
“I posted it on the community bulletin board.” He laughed and wandered off, returning with two tall drinks, colored bright pink and tasting of rum. We sipped and scanned the crowd. Scott and Steve tended to invite anyone they happened to meet, not just the usual suspects, so there was always someone to giggle about.
Doug spotted her first, and whispered wickedly in my ear. “Look. It’s Our Lady of the Bodacious Ta-Tas.”
“Oh my God,” I whispered back. “And I think they’re real.”
I recognized her as the woman renting the house at the corner. Her breasts were stupendous. And I am a keen observer of breasts. Since I’ve spent so many years writing about them, frantically searching for the right adjectives and, in some cases, adverbs, to describe them, I’ve become an expert observer. In fact, for a heterosexual woman, I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at and thinking about women’s mammaries. But this woman was off the scale.
They started about four inches below her chin, jutting out like the prow of a ship, then cutting back in about three inches above her belt buckle. She was showing ample cleavage, enough to reveal not the perfect rounds of flesh so easily identified as silicone, but the soft, undulating skin that God alone can create.
She glanced our way, must have seen us staring, and waved before working her way through the crowd to where we were standing. I imagined that, in her head, each step was accompanied by a little brass band playing ‘ba-boom, ba-boom’.
“Hi,” she said breathlessly, “I’m Vicki Montrose. I’m renting the Keller place. You’re Mona Berman. I love your books. I can’t believe I’m meeting you. I’ve never met anyone famous before.”
I tried to look modest. Doug tried to look anywhere but down the front of her shirt. “Thank you, Vicki. It’s nice to meet you. This is Doug Keegan. He lives right next to Scott and Steve. He’s famous too. He invented Death Ride 66. Ever hear of it?”
She turned to Doug, forcing his eyes up. “Yes. My sons play it all the time. It’s terribly violent, isn’t it?”
I could see the strain of his keeping his eyes on her face. “Yes. But it made me a lot of money. You should have your sons come over. They can test Death Ride 2000. My own boys are loving it.”
She fluttered a perfectly manicured hand. “Oh, they’re staying with my mother this summer. I’m going through a divorce right now. I feel the need to be alone. I have to try to gather all my inner strength and focus on healing. It’s been a terrible ordeal.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said instantly. “I know how you feel. I’m going through a divorce myself.”
She had very pretty blue eyes that widened and filled with tears. “Isn’t it terrible? The feeling of abandonment and isolation? I’m completely at a loss. How are you coping?”
“It’s getting easier” I sighed, and took a long drink.
She got a little closer. “So, tell me,” she murmured. “What are you doing for sex?”
I must have looked a little taken aback, because she suddenly fluttered her hand again. “I’m only asking because, well, your books, and everything. You must be very enlightened about sex. Open, you know. Free. I’m going crazy, myself. Especially when I see happy couples together. All I can think about is – ” she lowered her voice, - “you know.”
“No, I don’t know,” Doug said innocently. “Tell me.”
She ignored him. “I mean, how will I ever start even dating again? It’s a cruel world out there.”
“I’m practice dating,” I said, taking another gulp of my drink. Pineapple and cranberry. Very refreshing.
She looked interested. “Really? With who?”
Doug smiled. “With me. If you like, I can book you for next Thursday.”
13 Mar 2011 2 Comments
Here we are again, another sample Sunday, another excerpt from Better Off Without Him. Mona Berman, having been left by her husband of 20 years, is spending the summer as usual with her three daughters down at the Jersey shore. This summer, however, her daughters have decided she needs to start dating again, and have a very specific plan in mind.
You would think that there is nothing in the world more embarrassing, not to mention humbling, than taking dating advice from your teen-aged daughters.
Well, there is.
Try taking fashion advice from your teen-aged daughters.
Jessica struck at the kitchen table. “What are you wearing?” she said around a mouthful the chocolate Pop Tart that was her breakfast.
I was peeling an avocado. For my lunch. It was, after all, past noon, but the girls and I are on a very separate dining schedules during the summer. “What am I wearing when?”
“Tonight. With Mr. Keegan. He’s a very young-thinking guy. All his other dates have been twenty-something, so he’s used to fashion-forward women.”
“Are you suggesting I’m not fashion-forward?”
She looked at me with skepticism. To be fair, I was wearing khaki walking shorts with very frayed cuffs and a navy T-shirt that said “Republicans for Voldemort”.
“Black would be good,” she said. No surprise there.
“I’m not going to a funeral,” I pointed out. “Besides, wearing black may suggest a pre-assumption of a dreary experience. I’m trying to be optimistic.”
“You could wear my black pencil skirt. With high, spiked heels. And a red camisole. I could lend you the whole outfit. I even have some great necklaces.”
Perfect. The Goth-Whore look. “I’ll think about it,” I promised.
Lauren was next. She came in a few minutes later from her tennis game with Devlin Keegan, all glowing and sunny. She swigged from her water bottle and eyed me critically.
“You look good, Mom,” she said at last.
I was folding towels at the time. My “Republicans for Voldemort” shirt was covered with lint. I sensed a trap. “Thanks, honey.”
“Maybe it’s time for a haircut,” she said.
“I just got it cut two weeks ago,” I reminded her. I had it cut pretty short, as a matter of fact. Brian always liked my hair long, down past my shoulders, which required constant maintenance. This summer, I decided I wanted something easy, and I’d gotten it. All I needed after a shower was a half-teaspoon of hair gel and a few licks with a comb.
“Well, then maybe you should let it go all curly. Kind of an afro. That would be different,” she suggested.
“Yes, it certainly would. Why do I need to be suddenly different?”
“For Mr. Keegan, of course. He sees you all the time. You need to, well, surprise him.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“So, what are you wearing?”
“Jess suggested a black pencil skirt, red camisole and spiked heels.”
Lauren shook her head sadly. “She’s so lame. You’d look like a hooker. That’s too much of a surprise. How about a twirly skirt? And that pretty pink ruffle blouse you bought last week?”
I took a deep breath. Next, she’d be suggesting white gloves and poke bonnet. “I’ll think about it.”
Miranda, coming in from the beach that afternoon, took the most direct approach. “Mom, we really need to bring you up to speed. You’ve got four hours until your date. Let’s go out to Bay Village and see if we can find something that makes you look like someone other than a forty-five-year-old mother of three who hasn’t had a date in over twenty years.”
“I’m not buying a new anything for this.”
“Mr. Keegan sees you almost every day. He knows all the clothes in your entire wardrobe. Don’t you want him to think you’ve made an effort here?”
“Jess wants a black skirt, red cami and heels. Lauren wants a junior-league prom skirt and ruffles. Those are two looks he’s never seen.”
She chewed her lower lip. “Well, wear hot pink. It will show off your tan. A skirt would be good, you’ve got nice legs. And open sandals, cause your feet are pretty. No panty lines, okay?”
“I’ll think about it.”
In the end, I actually borrowed Jessica’s skirt. On her, it hung down around her hips and ended mid-calf. On me, since we’re built very differently, it settled right around my waist and came just above the knee. Hot pink sleeveless linen shirt. My tan did look great. Also hot pink sandals. As for my hair, I used Lauren’s mousse and put a diffuser on the hair dryer, creating a halo of soft curls instead of my usual slicked-back hairstyle. Why not?