He stares at himself in the mirror, pulling at the flesh beneath his left eye with his index finger and glaring as if daring himself to flinch.
She splashes and bustles in the bathroom, a tempest of water, towels, creams, and sprays.
He turns up the music. Nat King Cole singing “You Stepped out of a Dream.” He grimaces and releases his eye, noting how long it takes the skin to return to its starting block.
“When are they getting here?” she shouts from the bathroom.
“When is that?”
He looks at his watch. “Seven minutes.”
“Shit! I’m not even close to ready.”
“Don’t worry, they’re always late.”
He groans and sits on the bed, unbuttoning his jacket. She Herself, of course, doesn’t realize they are always late because She Herself is always late, the Queen of the Distracted Haze. She was bad enough fifteen years ago when they moved out here. Now, with a decade and a half of Los Angeles and more dollars than he wishes to count disintegrating in her slipstream, She Herself is a queenly anomaly, a rapidly moving body that is always running behind.
“Yes,” he says. “They are. They are always late. If they say 6, then they’ll be here at 6:40.”
She sticks her head out the door and grins girlishly at him, though the effect is handicapped by the fact that she looks like a lopsided Marcel Marceau in her striped dress and only one eye done.
“What if they planned on coming at 5:20 so they’d actually get here at 6?”
She Herself frowns, looks down at the false eyelash in her hand. “Why?”
“Because that would require planning, forethought— ”
She shoots him that look, then disappears into the bathroom.
He looks at himself in the mirror again. “—consideration for other people.”
“What are they picking us up in?”
“The Planet Smasher, I suppose.”
“The big Cadillac.”
“That’s not an SUV. It’s a galactic battleship. I expect to hear the music from Star Wars every time it pulls in the driveway. It takes two minutes just to look at the whole thing.”
“I think it’s nice.”
“Go to hell.”
He looks out the window, half expecting to see Joel and Suzy toodling up in their behemoth, on time just to prove him wrong. Joel waving a meaty hand, his easy face splitting into a veneered smile.
He senses a faint twang and, still staring out the window at the spot where the battleship isn’t, tumbles down the barely submerged swamp paths of dread that end in images of She Herself and Joel laughing at some inside joke, her freshening Joel’s drink and lightly touching his wrist with one of her long, delicate fingers as she asks him about some glamorous client. The sound of her laughter ringing like a hundred champagne glasses at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
He returns to the mirror. He is aging. He doesn’t mind. At least not in the suit and with neatly trimmed hair. In the mornings in his pajamas, seeing his reflection sitting on the toilet in that mirrored marble-and-fresco bathroom she commissioned from some Pompeiian contractor, that’s a different story. Sad, paunchy, spotty old bastard sitting with his pants around his ankles and a cat twining between them. His hair sticking out on the sides like Grandpa Munster.
He refolds his handkerchief.
The suit is a trusty Gieves & Hawkes. Saville Row. Not too trendy, not too conservative. Not too expensive, not too cheap. Right in the middle. Lean where it should be, broad in back and shoulders. He cuts a mean silhouette.
She Herself steps out of the bathroom. Now she wears a red dress.
“Is that them?”
“I heard something. Is it them?”
“That was a traffic helicopter. I can see how one might mistake that for the Planet Smasher, but I promise you’ll know it by the sound of its thrusters scorching our yard.”
“It may evaporate your lap pool.”
“That would be rude.”
“Yes. The stripes seemed too casual.”
“It’s an outdoor wedding.”
“I do. Mostly.”
She gives him a quick, appraising look. “You look nice.”
“Thank you, darling.”
She returns to the bathroom.
It is a lovely late summer afternoon and the sky is just fading into a light purplish blue. He takes in a deep breath at the open window and releases it with a contented sigh.
There is something in these moments, when the light angles through the backyard just so and the temperature and smell of the air cooperate, that swells his chest and brings a deliriously happy, melancholy, nostalgic lump to his throat. It conjures a memory he can’t pin down—an amalgamation of many moments, probably. Images and scents that are muddy but perfectly preserved. Prehistoric insects in amber. Fireflies blinking in tiny, blurry streaks under the trees. Himself in a linen shirt, sweat drying as the heat lifts for dusk. A beautiful girl laughing, wearing a sun dress like the ones they used to wear. Glasses of white wine. Then a restaurant, dark and cool against the hot afternoon. Again, the beautiful girl. Music. A band in a courtyard.
The rush of images always ends with mild surprise at the realization that the beautiful girl was She Herself. The image of her in that sundress at twenty-three, the image of her now in the evenings in her nightgown, leaning forward to rub lotion on her legs—these things heave into his vision and he melts. Even at dinner parties, where he watches her laugh and tell stories while he feels the simultaneous urge both to kiss her cheek and smash a glass against the side of her head, even then he loves her with a gravity that staggers him.
Mar 30, 05:21 PMPurchase or Subscribe to Slake: Los Angeles
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