Freedom was what the man wanted most in life. A man wants his freedom. Terra couldn’t for the life of her understand what she was doing to make him unfree, but finally if only to keep him from going over and over the point again, and then again, and forever, she’d simply granted him: his freedom. It had taken their judge less than half an hour to peer out over his glasses and hand down the decree. Peter wanted the four-wheel, and she even granted him the apartment as they only rented it anyway; she didn’t want alimony, and so he granted her a settlement and his sports car.
This had all been to a woman who still considered wearing a sack over her head so she wouldn’t have to hear, “Hey, red!” or “I’d rather be dead than red on the head.” The sports car was red too. Peter had deposited the title and keys into her hand, “You ought to get out and have more fun, anyway, Terra. Besides, publicizing all those other people and products like you have to at work, you probably should go ahead and show yourself off too, sure why not? The keys in her palm, his hand warm over hers, “Work my way to the top?” she inquired?
He’d followed her all the way to the car, explaining that a divorce decree was not some sort of verdict on behavior. It was a declaration. Its words continually reminded her of a child’s taunting, “Not my fault.” “Well, not mine either!” Well, whose fault was it then? “Nobody’s fault.” No fault.
“Quack!” One of the ducks disturbed her reverie. It had a dark green head and was seemingly quite pretentious about its feathers. It even went so far as to nudge her hand with its bill in search of more food.
“Hey!” Terra waved it away, but then called to the others and threw the rest of the seed out over the lawn. Feeding the ducks was her only obligation now. “Hey, Miss! Missy, Miss!” She’d been one of those again for a whole month now. After three years, she suddenly owned this small house located at the edge of her old hometown, one she’d be able to meet the payments on. She now had her own backyard, a grassy hill sloping down toward the lake, the lady and some ducks she guessed must belong to a neighbor or that night club across the way. Maybe the ducks belonged to no one in particular. “Quit following me!” She grew irritated at the one who’d nudged her. “See? No more.” She held an empty hand out to the duck, felt foolish, turned and slid through the glass doors at the back of her house. The most the ducks wanted in life was to be fed.
Peter had shown up on the front steps not even a whole week after their divorce, “Terra, would you open the door? C’mon, are you listening?” Then childish or not, she’d wanted to stick her tongue out at him, or rather tap on a window until he turned to look into it, and then stick her tongue out at him. Of course, she hadn’t. “Poise,” some of the photographers she worked with commented on what they’d liked to term her “self-control” and “self-possession.” After she’d lost her forever-present ten extra pounds, they’d even begun to encourage her further. “So why aren’t you our model, oh long and leggy wonder?”
“Lady’s got more brains than that!” Clay, the manager of the ad agency she worked for had kidded with all of them and then playfully tugged at a few strands of her hair. “Besides, would you look at that? This girl won’t even smile for this nice man.” Terra had decided to encourage no man with whom she worked.
“Terra, it’s me!” Becky’s voice seemed to jump out at her this evening over the phone.
Rebecca, her friend from before she’d grown up, gone off to college, and then gotten married. Terra wanted very much to be alone with her friend this particular evening. Off in one of their little girl hiding places, like behind the bushes once growing alongside her parents’ garage. Terra wanted to share secrets, not that she had any right now. She just longed for—closeness, she guessed.
“You don’t have to come if you’re not up to a night out yet,” Becky was saying though. “I know you said you were feeling a little out of it the other day, but I thought we could go . . ., un-oh, hello? Did we get cut off? Hello! Terra, are you still there?”
“I’m still here. Go where?” Fixed in one place, Terra thought she felt like some piece of furniture right now, and she watched the blue bedroom seem to float around her. When she slept alone now at night, she often felt as though she were sinking to the bottom of a cool, bright lake. She had become a stone.
“Pay attention!” Becky laughed. “That club over there, right across the lake from you. You can probably see it right now, kid. Okay, one more time now, listen. The five of us thought we could meet up at 7:00 p.m. Lana Woods and Deanna, I know you remember them, and then there’s a new girl I work with named Mary who’s coming along too, plus you and me. That’s five of us; does that sound good?”
“7:00 p.m.,” Terra repeated. Just a glimmer of herself reflected in the glass doors, and yes, she could see the club from where she stood. The Tropics, The Gardens, or The Tropical Gardens, something like that. The ducks spread out in a “V” out on the lake, they seemed to drift through her reflection and yet toward the club, and Terra felt suddenly as if her body were becoming liquid. “Becky, you know I look just like a skeleton or something right now!” she answered. No longer like a stone then, Terra felt she’d grown light again. Every morning when she woke her body felt like this, like a helium balloon threatening to rise through layers of blue, and then bluer air. Her mood would swing from one extreme to the other, and it frightened her.
“So wear a lot of make-up!” Becky offered triumphantly. “Or big fat clothes. No one’ll notice.”
Terra smiled at the receiver, “Guess I’m not used to a big night out on the town!” Singles, but she could imagine girls crowding in around her to chatter, chatter, chatter, and men who would take her in hand, and then hand her around the dance floor. Carry bits of her away in the palms of their hands. Peter had taken so much of her away. Terra welled up inside.
Becky broke the silence. “So I’ll come by for you, but then I want us to drive up and let everybody see me in your car, okay? Big somebodies!” Her friend teased her.
“7:00 p.m.,” Terra repeated, catching sight of her own red hair bobbing up and down because she was nodding at the receiver; she’d been going to go the whole time.
And Becky repeated, “The five of us.”
So, Terra was ready at 5:00 p.m.
Becky, on the other hand, popped through the door at 7:30. “You look fine! Really good, Terr.” Her friend hugged her.
Drawn into heavy scent and then released again, Terry faltered. Musk. Terra felt like a caricature of her former self, all pale and most of her clothes swallowed her up these days. She’d ended up losing a lot more than her worrisome ten pounds. Her bust was the only part of her that hadn’t shrunken, and she’d had to change tops three times. She felt top-heavy.
Becky’s hair was light and feathery, not long and thick like Terra’s. No, Becky’s looked like a little boy’s these days, and it was platinum and shiny because her friend had lightened her hair. Becky waved a cigarette around and talked easily, her voice the one thing she’d never had to work on. Husky, yet Becky’s voice lilted around a room, right now mentioning something about Peter, and then just as easily dismissing him as “a thorn in your side,” before bouncing on to another subject.
No, Terra thought, smoothing her skirt, not a thorn. The sensation along her face as if it lay in the hollow of Peter’s shoulder. Peter Pan, she thought. That’s who Becky was reminding her of—her girlfriend poised on the edge of the sofa talking away, eyes off to the distance as if she might take off any second. A pixie face and sharp features that didn’t really fit the voice—so deep it surprised people. Becky in the department store where she worked, one of the girls who demonstrated toys at Christmas time, and so she’d set off the cars, music boxes, robots, the new dolls that walked, talked, and sang for the customer deciding whether or not to buy. Her friend loved gadgets, and Becky’s eyes wide the fascination, the customer would actually have to nudge her, “All right, Miss, I’ll take it.” Usually have to repeat, “Miss, I’ll buy it.”
“Hello, do you still live in there?” Becky had leaned forward and was looking into Terra’s face, and then she smashed her cigarette out and settled back deep into the cushions on the couch. “Be sure and bring along a sweater, Terr.” Becky lit yet another cigarette. “That club is so air-conditioned; it freezes you to death inside. No kidding.” She exhaled, “No need to worry though; we can be late. The others always are.”
Terra handed her friend a vodka screwdriver and made an effort at conversation. “I guess I don’t know Mary.” She felt proud she’d remembered the right drink. She mixed herself a gin and tonic; she thought, so much cooler, and icy.
“You remember Lana though!” Becky grinned and then struck at the air with curled fingers like claws, “Hssst!”
“I remember Dee,” Terra smiled. The girl that had looked like one of those pictures of the little girls that mothers like to hang in their daughters’ bedrooms when they were small—a girl in a bonnet and wisps of not-quite blond hair falling out from under it, and Deanna had been all kitten face and soft mascaraed green eyes.
“Terra, I’m sorry. Really, I am.” When she’d been sweet sixteen, Terra’s own dear Dad had absconded to parts unknown with another woman, and Deanna had cried about it with her. Dee, who’d never even had a father, at least not one that anyone knew anything about. A white cat, such smooth paws.
Terra threw her ice cubes into the sink. So maybe it was just like her mother and every other woman had always been trying to tell her—that men simply did not care about who they hurt. The truth was they didn’t even stop to think about it. Men could walk away from absolutely anyone and everything, never remember and never feel badly about losing all the good times. About losing.
“Did you give him a good one?” Becky peered over her shoulder and into the sink, and Terra laughed. At closer range though, she did notice the marks were still there, faint along Becky’s chin and cheek. But now each scar was covered carefully and completely with a natural color, then the base cream, a face powder, blush-on, and Terra could even imagine the bright lights that surrounded make-up mirrors, and her friend as if bent toward one, intent that each and every mark disappeared.
“Well, here’s hoping you gave Pete something to think about,” Becky downed her drink, grabbed her purse and turned, posed, ready to go. Peter Pan again. “Takes a while to get over them I guess. We’ll just go catch some new ones, okay? Ready?”
Becky was bouncing so Terra half expected her to go up on her toes. She flipped a light off though and threw a sweater over her shoulders. “Bye, house,” she called softly, not wanting Becky to hear and think that she might indeed be going completely off the deep end.
“What? You afraid of the dark, little girl?” Becky was already down the walk and to the car.
Terra hurried to catch up with her. It was her mind; if she could just stop her mind from going over and over these things. It didn’t help, she reasoned. It wasn’t as if she was going to get to go back and change something, make things come out differently.
Out on the road, Becky began, “I’ve got this problem, Terra.” She lit a cigarette, threw her match into the ash gray, and then looked out the window a while before she went on. “I was worried, so I thought maybe I’d bring it up with you.” Becky paused again and fidgeted with her nails.
Terra waited. She breathed more easily now and listened to herself breathing. Dusk. Two little girs as if playing hide and seek at this time of night, chasing after one another, breathless. “Bee, bee, bumble-bee, all still out, come in free!”
Becky started up again, “You were married for three years, so I thought you and Peter, I mean I guess you probably had different problems along the way. And well, with sex too.” Her friend spoke quietly, but made a point of turning to face Terra, “I mean everybody does.” Becky looked down at the cigarette she had balanced across her index finger and stopped talking again.
Terra considered the fact she hadn’t been all that experienced when she’d married, and Peter had been so secretly shy, but good-looking enough so he could pass himself off as hard-to-get. A buyer, that’s what Peter was, after all. Out scouting the highways and byways for antiques, artifacts, paintings, and city streets too, for the same. At parties too, he’d sat back and watched.
His friends, “Oh, his old ‘I can take it or leave it’ routine.’” Then they’d teased her, “But for a girl like you, sweetheart—a soft touch.”
Other girls had often eyed Peter at a party, out of the corners of their eyes. The men too. Still, all of them had looked at her too when she’d come through a door, first without him, and then always with him. On display. It had only made Terra nervous when Peter had first begun looking at her, catching her looking at him. Being with him, at first, had always made her feel as if she were taking a test. “So how come the red hair, but I don’t see a freckle on you?”
Her friends had only encouraged the relationship. “Oh Terra, since that last break-up he had, with we won’t mention who, you’re good for him. Best medicine in the world.”
Later, teasing with either camp, Peter had always snapped his lighter shut, laughed, and hugged her to him. “She’ll straighten me out and make me live right.” He’d pat her hip and kid her about that ten extra pounds. Still, he swore he preferred classical lines.
“I’m thinking of going to a shrink,” Becky said now, tapping her ash and then rolling her window down before gazing out again. Her legs crossed, she was swinging the other one back and forth, back and forth. “There’s something wrong with me.” Becky’s blouse shimmered.
Terra had finally grown afraid to touch her husband. His back to her, solid, and the white of their sheet grown unearthly because this street light outside the window had persisted in glowing and glowing all night long. Peter’s breathing regular; she’d known he was just pretending. So, what should she do? Just get up? No, then he’d feel guilty. Lie perfectly still? It had seemed no matter what she tried, he still thought their conversations, pass times, making love to her, all had grown boring. She was the dull one, of course. Peter, should I stand on my head? She’d even asked him once.
Terra touched Becky, and so her friend smiled up a second, then picked at non-existent lint on her chocolate-covered skirt; her shiny blouse, all candy stripes. “I can’t . . .,” her friend’s face drained of it color.
Terra asked, “What is it?” She’d so wanted to be a good wife, and she’d so wanted Peter to love her for it. They’d been married for God’s sake!
“Terra!” Becky’s head bobbed up and she motioned with her cigarette, “Turn here. Just park over there beside Lana’s car, okay. She’ll want to see your fancy sports car.” Becky threw her cigarette out the window and straightened her skirt, ran a hand down the smoothness of her hose.
Terra remembered standing in front of their full-length mirror on the closet door. “Well, well, deep as a well,” and she’d tried to see what was down behind her own eyes. A problem evidently deeper than anything anyone could see. “Peter, are you sure we couldn’t work this all out? What is it? Please tell me what it is.” Goddamn it all to hell. Becky so thin now too, like a twig. Those wonderful little white pills she knew Beck took. Terra had watched the models she worked with, some of them who would stand right in front of the mirror while they swallowed them, as if the weight were going to drop off right before their very eyes. Then those very same eyes would dart around the room and into others’ faces, had they been seen? Then eyes back to the reflection in the mirror again. They so anticipated a sudden transformation into beauty.
“Becky . . .,” Terra started to remind her that she hadn’t finished explaining her problem, but her friend was out of the car and gone. She did a quick check over her own face in the rear-view mirror, noted her eyes looked like dark pools, and so she looked away again, to struggle up and out of the car. Another thing she hated about it was that it was so low to the ground. She tried to soothe her own conscience. She’d listen closely, and maybe next time, she’d manage to say the right thing to her friend.
“Terr, you’ve got your I.D., right?” Becky leaned back out of the club’s swinging door.
Thinking the door was going to catch her full in the face, Terra dodged. “Becky, we don’t have to get drunk, do we?” She stopped right inside so her eyes could adjust to the dark, and so she could listen for the door’s “whoosh.” She didn’t want the thing smacking her from behind either.
“Hi, there!” He greeted her.
Terra tried her best to smile for a man by the door who stained her hand with ink, today’s date. He had large shoulders and wore a plain, very white t-shirt. She avoided his eyes, because he seemed to be trying to look into hers, but then she realized her own mistake. She’d worn black, and so the soft light rushing up to her, from head to toe, it probably appeared that perhaps her whole body was missing. She just had hands and a face, and glowing hair, of course.
“Well girls, how are you this evening?” The waitress bobbed up in front of them. A girl with short, brown hair, lips the color of plum, “Why Becky, we haven’t seen you here in such a long, long while!”
“Oh, I do limit myself to once in every 24 hours!” Terra’s friend waved a finger in the air as if in proclamation, and she and the waitress laughed together. Terra followed them toward a table, keeping track of Becky’s body directly in front of her own, and not looking directly toward either side. The bar at her right; to the left, tables and then the dance floor. Noise and people.
Becky slowed to her side to whisper, “Remember Sarah Cloud?”
A Bible was what Terra remembered. Sarah Cloud had always carried one to school, out in plain sight on top of all of her school books, and so the boys in the hall catcalled after her, “Hey, sweet thing!” This just seeming to make Sarah tilt her nose a little higher, and then the girl had seemed to swing her hips maybe just a bit more proudly, and so then some joker always catcalled something like, “Lay down that good book. Boys, if we could only get her to lay that book down!”
Meanwhile, Becky was explaining in whispered snatches all about what had happened. “Married Mitch Little, President of the Young Christian Alliance, one child now, but “divorced and has worked here ever since.” Also, Terra’s friend managed to fish her cigarettes and a lighter from her purse as they walked.
Terra inclined her head toward the girl that dodged easily between stray chairs, and Becky nodded affirmation. Terra felt her own eyes then growing very pleasantly wide.
“Hey! Hey!” Becky called and waved to the others; the light hairs along her friend’s arm glittered under the dim lights. Sarah, the waitress, had tight brown curls that frothed over the nape of her neck, and a faint line of perspiration glistened along her face.
Lana wore lavender.
Terra could picture the way her own fingers could cradle a face, set it for a camera just so. That was her job, and at the end of a nod of her head, “Snap!” The photographer’s portrait usually turned out right, all ready for whatever caption. Whatever ad.
To Be Married. Miss Lana Woods, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Woods, to Mr. Christopher Frey of Boston, Massachusetts. Mr. Frey is a graduate of Harvard Law School. The couple will make their home in . . . .” Lana looked like a girl who’d be used to sell the rings too. Engagement rings, diamond rings, wedding rings. Gold rings.
Now she raised one finger from the rim of her glass, “Terra, long time no see.” A salmon-colored nail looked perfect. Filed, shaped, and absolutely unchipped.
Perfect hands and perfect nails arched over a steering wheel, Terra remembered, Mrs. Woods’ fingers had worn ring after diamond ring from Lana’s father. “Call me when you’re ready to come home now, girls!” Those rings had sparkled in Terra’s high school days. “Being with the young keeps me young!” Lana’s mother had always been the one to chauffer them all around, all except for Becky. Still, Becky’s left-out voice had always remained determinedly cheerful, “See you tomorrow, Terr!”
Lana, who would have shaken her head in Terra’s general direction back then, “Well, Becky shouldn’t eat so much chocolate then!” This had been by way of explanation for Becky’s former isolation.
There’d be a twitter from other girls in the car, and someone who’d always comment, “She just shouldn’t eat. Period.”
“Girls!” Mrs. Woods would shake her head too, in reproof, as she peered into the rearview mirror. “I wonder, has she been to see Dr. Mitchell, Terra? He’s awfully good with weight and acne. I’ve heard the right antibiotic can stop those eruptions in their tracks!”
“Pimples, mother.” Lana had corrected, but mother shot her daughter a pointed glance, and so the girls in the back would somehow manage to keep from laughing.
“Hi, all!” Tonight though, a studiously good-looking Becky repeated her greeting and kissed Lana hurriedly on top of the head. Lana’s chin-length hair had always been cocoa rich, though now it was frosted and creamy, like the swirls in a marble cake.
Terra remembered how the old hometown had once buzzed at the Lana’s wedding announcement, “Well, where do you suppose the girl met an Ivy Leaguer?” and “Oh, his father’s got some business deal goin’ on with her dad; you can bet on that. Their parents got ‘em together, I’d bet anything.”, and “Eighteen years old and that girl is gonna be set for life! Goddamn.”
“Terra, this is Mary Wright, the girl I work with.” Becky went on with introductions. “Mary, do you remember Terra Lawes?” Becky handed Lana a cigarette and then lit it. “The band hasn’t started yet. Good!” She pulled out a chair, set it so that it faced front, and tossed the order “screwdriver” toward Sarah, all without taking her eyes off the band now in the process of setting up.
The Chessmen was the name Terra could see sprawled across the drum. One of the players, the one in white slacks with dark, curly hair and a moustache looked in their direction. Becky ducked her head, Terra thought, still like a shy little girl.
Terra finally noticed the girl to Lana’s right. Mary, limp brown hair to her chin and bangs, an oval face. In both black and white, she reminded Terra of a nun. Lana was beside Becky , though she kept her back to the band, and Terra chose a seat across from her. “Oh, I remember you,” she lied to Mary and ordered a gin and tonic.
The player in white smiled toward them again and then went back to fiddling with his microphone. Becky continued to watch him, and though Lana didn’t turn toward Becky, her eyes twinkled, “Such a little groupie, our Becky is. Just sits and dotes.” Lana had finished her drink and nodded toward Sarah for another. “So how’ve you been, Terra?”
Terra was surprised to feel how pleased she was to see Lana, “Just fine. Thank you.” The way the girl seemed so always in place and without effort. Her face, clothes, voice, and Lana’s eyes sparkled no matter what. Very nice, the way each of her lashes curled, the way her lips puckered in amusement. At everything.
A pair of legs in white slacks sauntered up behind Lana, and the girl lay her had back against them. Terra saw they were the same legs Becky had been watching, though her friend didn’t turn to acknowledge the band member now. His fingertips through the swirls, the man stroked Lana’s hair.
“So when are you going to start?” The girl, Mary asked, her face turned up and hair, shiny clean.
Terra noted—shampoo, baby shampoo and soap commercials. Again, job thoughts intruded.
“In just a minute,” the band member laughed easily and Lana chuckled with him. “Hold your horses.” He stroked in front of Lana’s ear and then behind it.
“These things happen, dear.” Lana’s mother’s voice came back.“If Lana or I either one can be of any help to you, to you or your mother, or if you’d like to talk anytime . . .,” Mrs. Woods’ fingers had emerged from the hair at the nape of Terra’s neck. Diamond rings had dripped filaments of red and gold, and teenaged Terra had groped for the car door handle and finally escaped. Everyone knew Lana’s dad, Mr. Woods, that he slept with everyone but Mrs. Woods. Maybe her own mother, newly a divorcee because Terra’s father had left. Terra hadn’t been sure. The man’s own little game of goddamn chairs for all she’d ever known. No matter, Mrs. Woods fingers had simply arched, tensed over the steering wheel as she and the other girls had pulled away. No one wanted to be held by super-mom.
Her daughter’s hands now unadorned, Terra new Lana would’ve smiled now if anything had been said about that moment. The girl’s hand up from the rim of her scotch and water, one nail under another and scraping outward, the softest friction, Lana had been known for the remark,“Alimony? Well, one does have to pay for one’s mistakes, doesn’t one?” Lana’s face was frozen. DIVORCED AND BACK. No more ivy leagues.
“Well, hello there!” The band member nodded in Terra’s direction.
Her cheeks warm, Terra realized she must’ve been staring.
“Terra, Rod. He’s lead singer for The Chessmen.” Lana caught at his hand, “Rodney Dennis. I say it’s a stage name.” Her eyes sparkled.
The two laughed and Rodney cocked his head playfully at Terra before looking down toward Becky, who had finally turned to grin up at him.
Her friend’s eyes scanned over the leader’s face, so Terra tried to notice it also, the man’s long lashes and dark eyes, the shaggy moustache and full lips.
Before Terra had married, she’d had to listen to the same remark over and over again from men. It even haunted her dreams, “I’ve always wanted a redhead.” Full lips now hovering above her own. She was so painfully conscious even now that her hair spilled down her cheeks and Mr. Rodney Dennis kept glancing over at it. Exotic, some Oriental rug draped against a white backdrop. At least, Peter had put a stop to all that. An end to men searching for a “red bush.” Having a husband had done that for her.
A man asked, “Would you like to dance?”
Mary’s hand froze on her glass. Terra could see each of the girl’s fingers beginning to turn distinctly paler.
Lana took an ice cube into her mouth and rolled it underneath her tongue. Up and then down along her cheek, under her lips.
Terra looked up.
The man was tall and dark, rangy with his shoulders thrown back. A shirt of checks and buttons. She smiled politely, even tilted her head.
That day that Peter had visited, not two weeks after the divorce, he had knocked and knocked at her door, growing more and more belligerent and she’d watched from the window, explaining to what was left of him in her own head. “It’s not as if I threw you out, Peter. Really. I’m just not letting you in. Do you hear me? I will not let you in anymore.”
Lana bit into her ice cube.
The man’s slender fingers already at the back of her chair, he began to pull, but “No!” Terra realized her answer had been much too suddenly and much too loudly, and so she added, “Not right now.” She tried to smile and added, “Please. Thank you.”
Nothing in the man’s face changed. He kept his hand on her chair. Lana’s eyes sparkled and she smiled. Frosted lips.
“Oh, Joe! We don’t want you carrying her away already. Not when I haven’t even had a chance to talk to her yet!” Deanna’s voice came from behind. Deanna saved the day. A tiny figure in bright yellow, Terra thought the kitten girl looked like a daffodil right now.
Joe’s chin jerked up in the direction she came from, the beginning of his smile already evident.
Terra tried again then, saying, “In a while,” and Joe did smile down at her then, though he nodded rather sharply and went away. Rod let out a low whistle. Sarah sat another scotch and water before Lana and then stood and waited.
Deanna tossed her purse onto the table, winked at Terra and sat down beside her. “I’m warning ya’ll not to go to the bathroom. It’s so crowded in there now, there’s a line out to the goddamned parking lot!”
Mary stated, “I hate him,” and then lifted her glass in the direction in which Joe had gone, “Terra, my husband.” Mary didn’t drink, but instead touched her glass to her face, as if she could hide the fact she was about to cry, “Isn’t he a prize?”
Lana tapped Becky’s shoulder for a cigarette, and Becky supplied her with one, teasing, “Next time, I’m gonna bring you a whole pack, a whole one all to yourself, little girl. Would you like that?”
Lana’s lips puckered as if in a kiss in response. She blew out her match.
“Mary, would you look at this?” Deanna pointed directly at her own right breast. To a spot soaked in water, evidently because she’d been trying to rub a stain out. “Do you know what I can get that out with?”
“It’s nice; why not leave it in?” Rodney Dennis leaned over Lana’s head to inspect the breast. Deanna, once the winner of a famous marathon along with Ted Hodges. A marathon to see how many times a couple could do it in one night, and Terra was tempted to asker her even yet, “How many times, Dee?”
“Kim got mad and threw her blueberry yogurt all over me.” Deanna turned to Terra, “Kimberly’s my daughter.” The girl also reached across the table to give one of Mary’s hands a squeeze. “Me and Mary, we’re the two mothers.”
Terra could imagine some curly-haired little girl as if on a greeting card, a child in snow white and flannel, and a silly candle glow around her head. Deanna had always prattled things when she was happy, things like “Seven of them is what I would like. Too many too hold. I did ask Ted how his cat could have seven all at one time, but he just said, “Well, seven times, Dee. How do you think? Seven times!”
“Could I get a whiskey sour?” Deanna asked Sarah.
Sarah took down the order. “If you promise to drink the thing and not just sit there playing with the cherries.”
A sharp dip in the middle of Deanna’s upper lip was accented when she laughed. My valentine. When children slept, they curled into a warm ball and supposedly sailed off in a cup. Deanna, this Deanna had delivered a child. Terra wondered when the sea began to erupt beneath children, dreams become pieces of the imperfect past breaking up to the surface. In dreaming, when did one become an adult?
Lana took money from her purse and motioned toward Mary’s also empty glass, “Sarah.”
The waitress let her eyes rest on Mary’s mouth a moment before guessing, “Slow gin fizz?”
Terra could see the faint traces of red over Mary’s lips too. Strawberry jam. Sarah was off.
“Joe hit me,” Mary began. “In front of our own son, the man stood there and hit me! That’s when I told him I was going to leave him.” Her eyes flashed toward Rod “Well, you wait and see if I don’t.” Mary leaned toward Terra as if confiding, “I’ve already got Johnny staying over at Mom’s. He won’t dare go near him there. Joe’s afraid of my mother.” Mary finished triumphantly and sat back in her chair, arms folded across her chest.
“Well, ladies,” Rod straightened. “I’m really hurt you haven’t noticed, but my band’s beginning without me.”
Terra looked up at him before she thought, but then she lowered her eyes again quickly.
Mary said, “Joe’s just jealous. He follows me now everywhere I go.”
Lana sat forward in her chair, looked over Mary a moment before she covered the girl’s hand with hers and spoke very deliberately, “He can’t hurt you in here.”
“You won’t let him?” Mary’s voice was rising.
Lana shrugged and sat back in her chair, “We’ll call the police.”
“Well, catch you all later,” Rod moved off toward the front.
“Where is it you’re staying?” Terra suddenly imagined Mary and her husband Joe, plus a little Johnny dressed in his sleeper pajamas, the kind with the feet in them. They were all crowded into a trailer, that’s where she and her divorced mother had lived in the past. Terra’s mother who had taken only one personal item from the house after the divorce—a very breakable, she had claimed very valuable, statuette of a man in a ruffled collar, his partner in a ruffled skirt. The two miniatures had danced the minuet. Terra could just picture Joe and Mary’s trailer crowded into the middle of a trailer court. It was swollen with yellow light.
“Believe it or not, she’s still staying with him,” Lana shot Terra a pointed glance.
Sarah swept up with another drink for each of them, and then was gone. Mary looked deeply into hers first, but then took a long, slow drink, her lips coming away from the glass wet.
Terra could picture Peter’s well-shaped hands; she could even see the watch he wore but never looked at, right above his left one. “What time do we have to be there, Terr?” Her own husband had certainly never slapped her. “What time is it, anyway?” He’d just taken to ignoring her. She’d begun to feel as if she didn’t exist.
“Oh Mary, I know how it can be with kids. It’s hard to just go out and get a divorce.” Deanna took the girl’s hand in both of hers and rubbed it. “Ben’s been real good about his support payments and all, so I know I can’t complain. I guess we finally just figured we shouldn’t have gotten married so young, but we were in love. You can bet nobody told us to do anything different back then. Why everybody just loved the idea! Anyhow, I think ‘too young’ is what Ben thinks too.”
“Well, I think we know why Dee-Dee’s is Ted’s favorite girl.” Back in the day, Lana had known such remarks wouldn’t bring a response from Deanna, and Terra had known she must say such things just to get to Ted, the rich boy Deanna went with then, one of the ones who hadn’t married her. He’d worn white tennis shorts, and he even let Lana get away with calling him Teddie, although he’d hated it. He’d also let Lana insult his girl too, and he’d hated that too, he’d told Terra. Terra had seen Ted’s eyes move over Lana though, much like she knew the guys at the studio now did when they had to lay out a full issue with one model, or plan their whole ad campaign around someone more high-priced.
Professionals, they looked for a certain angle, a certain shot. Even back in high school, Ted’s eyes had moved over every inch of Lana, even as he put his arm around Dee’s shoulder, fingered the narrow strip of lace at the sleeve of her blouse, the lace touching her bare arm. If he couldn’t have one girl, he’d have another. Deanna’s lips, the bow on a birthday present.
Now, Lana swept up her arm and included them all in a toast, “A la gay divorcees!”
“I may not be divorced yet, but . . .,” Mary lifted her glass also. She hadn’t cried after all.
“Oh, you just cancel out Beck here,” Lana motioned toward Becky with her glass. “She’s never been married at all.”
“Nor kissed!” Becky scooted her chair around and contributed.
“The smart one,” Mary remarked.
Deanna said, “Mary, now listen, you’ll have to have a way to get money. Can you do anything?”
Mary looked down into her drink again. “You went to college, didn’t you Terra?”
“She did; this girl absolutely did!” Becky threw an arm lightly around Terra’s shoulders.
Uncomfortable, Terra tried to listen to Rod singing.
Mary’s brown eyes went almost liquid, “Well, I think that’s something, you going off and doing that. I really do.”
Terra pretended she didn’t notice Mary’s hand as it tentatively inched across the table in the direction of her own. Rod caught Terra looking at him and smiled down.
She’d first heard the remark from this friend of Peter’s who’d been flirting with her at a party. “What’s Peter need with another woman, when he’s got one like you at home?”
That simple an answer? All that time and worry over why her marriage wasn’t working, following Peter around the house and begging him to talk to her and then keeping up a brave front at work, all smiles and breezy times. Terra still thinking, but shouldn’t she have been able to tell? Their whole relationship down the drain, just because of another woman? That’s all; that’s it? “Peter, are you leaving me for another woman?” She hadn’t finally been so very ashamed to ask it. She’d been more ashamed of herself—she who’d thought their problem must be so much more complex. Why, what a silly goose she was!
Of course, then she’d been insulted because he’d replied, “You know, Terra, it’s women in general.” He’d told her it wasn’t that he wanted any particular one of them. A roving eye evidently. Red rover, red rover, send anyone but you right over. Terra had still tried to reason that maybe they should stay married; after all, men were just like that. But no, that’s what Peter meant when he’d said he wanted his freedom. All this talk about freedom, he must have his freedom. Why she thought she’d somehow been stopping him from doing great things! Terra had been so disappointed. She was so disappointed in her ex-husband.
“I’m divorced too,” she answered, because Mary was still waiting for her to say something about her college education.
“Hey you guys, isn’t anyone here interested in a little dancing?” Becky pantomimed a dance move. “You know, what we came here for?”
“I’d like to dance,” Mary answered.
“Becky, show the girl a good time,” Lana was prompt.
“Mary, this is important!” The outline of Deanna’s lips went straight, and she sat up. “Divorced or not, Ben and me are gonna see that little Kim gets raised right! One thing I know is, he’ll do anything for his child.” Deanna leaned forward, “But I think Terra would back me up on this if you don’t believe me, that a girl has to sit down and think, just like a man has to, Mary, and she’s got to figure out what do do with her life.”
Mary didn’t respond. Becky directed her cigarette toward the ash tray again, though there were no ashes attached.
Lana slid her nail around the rim of her glass and then picked it up. The ice cubes rattled. “So what did you decide?”
“All set now?” This time his body was looser, and one hand awkwardly at his hip, Joe smiled down at Terra. His mouth wide and his hair, very shiny black; in high school, the boy who smoked cigarettes on the back lot. Illegal. Terra felt sorry for him.
“Joe, why don’t you leave her alone?” Mary’s voice threatened to soar over the music.
“So who asked you?” Joe’s response was prompt. “Why don’t you leave me alone?”
Mary closed her eyes.
Joe waited for Terra, who suddenly couldn’t remember when the last time she danced was. She wasn’t sure she knew how anymore. Then what in the world are you doing here? She felt she couldn’t get up unless he pulled her up though. If she moved, she would surely slip and she would fall.
Still married and doing her work after she was home from work; armed with cans of polish, she’d sprayed and wiped at the face reflected in every surface. In every shelf, plate, table, and in a trophy or two. Peter and his tennis. Dust the winnings off. Herself in white, hair fiery blooms around her face, and she had taken her first step down the aisle.
“Beck’d like to dance, Joe.” Lana turned her eyes all the way up the man’s body. A fringe of dark lashes. “She always wants to.”
Terra was suddenly aware that no one was breathing, much less moving. The fullness of Mary’s lips and face, down into her waist, and then out again. A statue. Mary sat motionless.
“You still want to dance, don’t you?” Lana actually nudged Becky with her foot, she who sat with her back to Joe and her eyes on the band.
“Joe?” Terra rose and caught at his sleeve first, then Joe’s arm. It was warm under her hand. At least she could get him away from Mary. What had happened was that both she and Peter had attended some banquet together, and they were both bored. That was when, of all times, he’d finally managed a “Will you marry me?” Then she’d been able to just nod, an “okay.” She’d loved him and so that had to be her answer. That’s what couples did back then.
“Ready to go?” Terra asked Mary’s husband.
However, Joe turned away from her, and he turned to face Lana.
Terra held on to him. She’d always been ashamed that she had screamed at her husband, screamed like a banshee maybe, hair flying, but hadn’t Peter realized that though she was saying “no” to his behavior, it was a “yes” to their marriage. After her years of answering, “Well, I don’t know” or “Whatever you want” he’d finally enabled her to decide and say “yes.” But then there was her husband, the guy who had to make the “right buy” in order to please somebody, everybody else. Well, there she’d been, the one person to whom he was allowed to say “no.” She didn’t rule him; he had to be rid of her to be free.
Mary sighed, “Joe, for God’s sake.”
Deanna jumped in, “Joe, don’t make me go get Ben.” The girl watched his face a moment, but then she rose and disappeared across the dance floor.
Lana had not moved. Nothing in her face moved now. She waited for Joe to.
“The manager said to set everyone at this table up again, orders on the house!” Sarah swooped down into the middle of all of them and smiled, “Joe, you at this table too? Well, what can I get for you then?”
The band turned its strobe light on, and Terra felt the whole room slip then. Flashes of black, white, even yellow, and she clung to Joe, except he’d changed into Becky.
Her oldest friend had moved between she and Joe, and Becky had hold of the man’s arm now. Terra had somehow gotten hold of hers.
Joe refused to look at Becky though. Granite. Still, Lana sat looking back at him, and Mary bowed her head. Sarah shouted, “The usual for you and Beck then?”
Joe very suddenly then directing his gaze down at Becky, his face going sad. Liquid brown eyes that matched Mary’s actually. Becky let him go then. She shrugged and let her arms dangle. Joe took her quickly at the elbow and snapped her around, and Becky was pulled away or she let go of Terra, one. The strobes flashed off and on.
Terra sat back down. Hard.
“Are you all right? Terra looked up, but Sarah, pad in hand, was leaning over Mary. “Are you all right?” The waitress had to reach out and shake the girl by the shoulder.
Mary then took to covering and uncovering her already closed eyes with her hands.
“I’d better take her to the little girl’s room” A glimmer moved then in Lana’s eyes, but she sat her drink down and helped Mary up.
Lana winked, though Terra couldn’t believe her own eyes. Waves of dark and light were flashing across the girls’ face. The dark lashes and china cheeks like on a baby doll made to say, “Momma, Momma.”
She could hear Lana’s mother as if remarking, “Well honey, you just had to show him he couldn’t treat you that way. I guess we showed him. Yes, we did.”
Terra could guess about Lana’s divorce. Lana could probably now honestly say, “So now my daddy loves me.” What he says now is, “My little girl’s got a head on her shoulders. I swear if she didn’t take that Ivy League boy right to the cleaners!” Terra could picture Mr. Woods chuckling, “Have to admit she takes after the old man, after all. A smart girl.” He’d wink.
Terra watched shadows wash up under Lana’s eyes. A trick-or-treat skeleton.
“I tell you, Terra, it’s like this every night.” Sarah seemed to be directing her comments to somewhere above Terra’s head. “I don’t know how I survive.” Sarah shook her head. “Except the place’d fall down without me.”
Terra’s hair was too hot and too heavy, and she wondered what the waitress was busy writing down on her pad. She tried to see Becky and Joe in the crowd on the dance floor, but couldn’t make them out. They seemed to have disappeared.
“That’s really somethin’, isn’t it?” Sarah nodded toward her drink. A tropical drink in a wide-mouthed glass, a fat glass heaped in fruit.
“What is it?” Terra glanced around the table and saw one new drink at each place, plus a couple of empties at Becky’s, three more half-empty glasses at Mary’s, a few or so empties at Lana’s, and two half-filled at Deanna’s and her own. Plus this new one. “I didn’t order this,” she started, but Sarah had already disappeared.
Terra finally sat alone. The effect of the strobe light was that everyone around her was being slashed into pieces. Again and again. Arms and faces without any legs, a pair of legs with a face or a chest. Even just a piece of chest, moving, moving. Terra began to gather the empties up into one place.
“Afraid Sarah’s not in charge of pickin’ up the place!” The man in the clean, white t-shirt laughed and so the white stretched across his shoulders. Someone turned the strobe light off. The bouncer who’d been by the door grinned, pulled a chair out, and sat down. “So lady, you need some protecting?”
“No, not from me she doesn’t!” Rod came up from out of nowhere. His white shirt speckled in silver, light in the dark, the band leader glittered.
“I’m not there,” he smiled as Terra squinted toward the band. All shiny white teeth below his shaggy moustache. Grabbing the back of a chair, he turned it toward him and shoved it underneath his legs. “Some numbers I just insist they have to get along without me.” Rod rested his elbows on the back of the chair, put his head in his hands, and looked at her.
“Well, it’s good I’m here to protect her from the both of you!” Deanna joked and sat down also. “Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of these two innocents!” The girl snorted.
“Dee, I’m only obeying your orders! I tell ya, I couldn’t do one thing to please the woman when we were married either!” The bouncer put a large hand over his heart. His green eyes crinkled. He had thick blondish lashes, just like Deanna’s, and very shaggy blond hair.
“Oh, Ben!” Deanna lit a cigarette, “You’ve always pleased me. You’re one big pleasure.”
“I know,” he grinned.
Deanna tilted her head and smiled, but she blew a smoke ring at her ex-husband.
He blew her a kiss.
Rod laughed and then spoke to Terra, “You’re not drinking your drink.”
Terra picked up the swizzle stick.
Deanna peered through the smoke. “Well, what happened to the big ta-doo? Did we miss something? Is that Becky out there with Joe then?”
“The others are in the restroom.” Terra thought her voice had come out too high, and she could feel herself beginning to blush. Red rover, red all over.
Rod smiled at her, “Girls always go there together.” He asked, “Do you dance?”
Becky was suddenly back, “Oh, hi guys.” She kept her face down, and stood searching through her purse. The stripes in her blouse shimmered. “Excuse me,” she gave up the search, threw her purse over shoulder, and headed in the direction of the restroom also.
After watching attentively, Ben turned and said something Terra couldn’t hear to Rod.
Deanna signed, “Oh, cut it out. Both of you. If you can’t think of something nice!”
Ben tilted his chair back and rocked. He looked toward Rod. “I have nothing but great respect. The greatest.” Rod glanced off in Becky’s direction, Ben coming, “So Joe won’t be any more trouble tonight. He’ll get pacified, so to speak.”
Deanna kept her eyes, mouth, her whole face carefully directed only at her ex-, not Becky. “Well, they say experience is the best teacher.”
“Touche!” Ben nodded, and then seemingly as an afterthought, he laughed.
Rod raised his eyebrows.
Terra got up to follow Becky, but his hand flashed out to stop her.
“I’ll be right back!” She offered quickly. “You know, just been afraid to . . .”
“Go all by your lonesome?” Rod interrupted her.
He was holding her hand, and his shirt white and silver, his dark hair and the darkness of the room too warm, his shoulders; Terra walked away. The door said LADIES, and the glare of the fluorescent light on the other side made her wince.
Becky was leaning back against the wall, arms crossed and head cocked, and she motioned to Terra to stay quiet. She was eavesdropping, and no mistaking Lana’s voice from behind the partition separating the lounge area from the sinks and toilets.
“So, Beck owes you that much, right Mary? No need to get upset about things and make so much over them. God knows, she won’t.” Lana laughed, “Joe’s not some sort of reptile after all, and he’ll give her a good toss.”
Terra heard Lana throwing make-up paraphernalia into her bag.
She went on, “And, the girl’s had worse, after all. Dry your eyes. I’ll drop you home. If you’re lucky and she keeps him busy, he may not even come by tonight.”
“Well, I haven’t had worse!” Mary answered, “Or better for that matter. I can just see it if I went off with somebody. I’d really catch it then.” Then she spoke quietly. Wistful. “How’d you meet Rod, Lana?”
Lana stopped throwing the make-up paraphernalia.
“You’ve always been the lucky one,” Mary went on. “He’s really good-looking, I think. I’d like to know what it’s like . . .,” Mary left off and laughed nervously. “Is it serious between you two or is what you have just a thing?”
Becky made a face at Terra.
Lana laughed, “Ever listen to the radio, Mary? All about ‘the trick is not to care,’ or some such thing. Anyway, there’s a trick.”
“No!” Mary protested. “They say just to pretend. You’re supposed to just pretend not to care.”
Lana took her time in answering, “Whatever.”
Mary went on, “It doesn’t take any genius to see my marriage is pretending for real. Never has been any good, long before any Beckies, except for when our baby came. Maybe then. Joe did seem to love the baby once upon a time. Maybe . . . would you just look at my hair? I never can get it to do what I want. I might as well give up on it. Lana, I’m afraid of going to court and all.”
Lana snapped her purse shut, “Believe it or not, so was I.”
Becky leaned quickly back over Terra’s shoulder and pushed hard on the restroom door. It made a louder “whooshing” sound this time, and then she called, “So what’s been going on in here? Aren’t you two pretty enough yet?” She faced the two gaily, and Terra followed.
At first, the two just turned their gaze toward Becky’s reflection in the mirror. Finally, Lana nodded but looked over at Mary, “Ready then?”
“Stunning,” Becky told them about themselves. She put her purse next to Lana’s on the edge of the sink, Lana’s gliding down and into it. “Oh Lana, you missed Rod. I guess he must’ve been on break. I don’t know, though; it seems a little early for a break to me. Did he say, Terra?” Becky pulled her makeup bag and cigarettes out, and then pointedly smiled over at Lana who’d moved away from the mirror. “Anyway, you missed him.”
Lana retrieved her purse. “Well, he’ll have to catch me the next time around then, I guess.” She said lazily.
Becky held her hands out in front of her and then brought them closer to her eyes. She examined her nails, but said, “Whatever.”
“Time to go, Lana.” Mary headed for the door. “Rod’s probably wondering where in the hell you are.” She turned back, “Becky . . . .”
“No problem,” Becky interrupted her. She finished lighting a cigarette before smiling up at Lana first, and then at Mary.
Lana smiled back.
Mary’s hair streamed limply down her cheeks.
“Well, “ Lana raised one eyebrow, “Back into the fray.” She took Mary at the elbow and steered her out the door.
“We’ll be out in a minute!” Becky called after them.
Mary answered something, and Lana didn’t answer.
The two gone, Becky turned back toward the mirror, and Terra turned with her. She had an impression that she wouldn’t see faces, but some shiny, brittle surface would simply be where their faces were meant to be.
“Hey, best friend; big brown eyes or not, you shouldn’t just stare at people,” Becky laughed. “You have to snap out of it.” Her friend laid her cigarette on the edge of the sink and touched up her face with powder using both a small compact mirror and the larger one on the wall. She made a face at herself in the small one and cackled, “Poor Joe, an off night.” Then back up and into the larger one, “However, between you and me, and advising from personal experience—nothing gained for you is nothing lost.” Becky snapped her compact shut.
“I’m gonna be the princess this time, okay Terra?” Two little girls in grown-up’s clothes in dresses much too long and heels much too high. “Terra, I wanna be the pretty one, okay?” Their ankles bent.
“Lana and Joe,” Becky laughed again. “Miss No Blow meets Mr. No Go. Did you know the drink you had at the table, that tropical special, is the one Rod usually orders for Lana?”
“What? Well, I thought he was going with her!” Terra snapped. She thought that sounded as if she were in middle school. Terra asked, “So Lana took on the whole East Coast and really raked in some alimony in her case?” She didn’t like it that her voice sounded bitter to her.
Becky glanced up and over into her reflection. Then she began doing her eyelashes. She stroked upward. “She was married to him over ten years. All I really know is we heard all about it when she got whisked away in the man’s bright shiny sports car, but now, you coast up in one of your own from ole’ Pete. Don’t tell me life isn’t like a soap opera. It goes on and on.”
Terra thought up a saying, a caption of her own for women pictured besides fancy cars. If you can’t make ‘em stay; make ‘em pay. That would put a thought or two in a guy’s head maybe.
“Not that you’re like her. The poor little rich bitch.” Becky took out a tube of lipstick and rolled it up. “I don’t know, though. Lana never talks much about her divorce, and she never, never talks about her marriage.”
“A bad secret?” Terra asked, feeling softer inside.
“Personally, I think he broke her in two.” Becky began to outline her lips so she had to pause between phrases. “Literally, I mean. Anyway, the way she works it now is men have to spend money just to get to her, pay for the privilege up front, so to speak—in one way or another, i.e. the expensive fancy drinks and/or more.”
“Have to have money to make money?” Terra ventured, and Becky laughed.
“Well, I think Lana does treat them better if they stay around a bit. Still, you’ll bet Mary’ll get her pound of flesh too, with a knife to his throat or a posse of her vigilante relatives if Joe isn’t careful. No matter how he acts, Ben’ll probably die when Deanna gets married again. Not that he’d give the whole thing another try, but I’d lay my money that he’ll try and bribe her not to marry. She won’t take the money, of course. Now me, why I know the meaning of a good time. Means let ‘em sneak out and get away with blowin’ all that money. Just make sure they spend it all in one night, your night.” Becky grinned, “Terra, you’re not being smart, or you’re too smart in the wrong kind of way. I think a guy would have to watch what and how, even why he spends around you. Moral little bitch, aren’t you?”
Terra thought of the day Peter had come to the front door, how he’d rattled the knob, “Look Terra, you still have the keys to my apartment, and I want them back, okay?” She’d guessed he’d had to work up his nerve to then level his voice through the door at her, “My keys.”
If Peter had hated her for becoming his wife and thanking him for the privilege, he hated her even more for the way she’d just let him divorce her. She knew she’d lost him for good when she’d opened the front door and simply deposited the keys in his hand. She wasn’t going to fight for his private amusement. She would not need him; no more drama.
She had not been up nights scheming that she was going to invite him into her little doll house. “Want to share pickles and ice cream?” asked the spider of the fly. As an ex—wife, she hadn’t sent him back to go and made him start all over again. To top things off, she wasn’t even going to check up on him, wasn’t going to go through his pockets or read his address book, never sneak into his apartment to spy on his exciting life. Her outlaw of a husband. No punishment or punisher for his sins. She’d let him off scott free; let your own conscience be your guide, little boy—if you have one. No one to blame but yourself. He’d never forgive her for reasoning like that.
“You’re too nice for me, too good,” he’d told her that before the divorce.
Now Terra asked Becky, “Remember how in high school everyone always wanted to be the girl the guy sang songs to?”
“Be his guiding light?” Becky stood straight and put her hand over her heart, “Make him admit to the heart he didn’t know he had?”
Terra was careful to look away from Becky, and away from the mirror, “Be his inspiration, his muse, I think they call it.”
“So then Mr. Right can warm you up, calm you down , turn you on, or I guess if you’re a good little girl, he’ll reward you. Crown you, and rags to riches, up you go.” Becky poked at Terra’s ribs with the lipstick tube, “The game being, guess what mood Mr. Cool is in now, what mood he’ll be in tomorrow, guess, guess, guess.”
Terra tried to smile.
“Know what Cleopatra guessed?” Becky winked at Terra in the mirror. “I read this book while you were away at college. It said Miss Egypt had herself rolled up in a carpet and presented to Caesar. He’d been trying to take over her country, and I guess then, Antony came later to do that too. Anyway, for one or the other of them, she had herself presented in a carpet, and then her slaves kind of rolled her out right at his feet, BUT EVEN MORE IMPORTANTLY, she was wearing red lipstick, or whatever it is they used back in those days.” Becky leaned close to the restroom mirror to touch her nail to her lips, to wet them. “The story is that this red mouth she’s got on is supposed to be the sign back then that Cleo can give one fantastic blow job.” Becky lit a second cigarette and swirled it around like a magic want, “And poof, you guessed it, then old Caesar or Anthony fall head over heels in love.”
“And they lived happily ever after?” Terra asked.
Becky lay her cigarette down on the sink alongside her first, burnt out one, “Terra, I can’t come.”
Hearing more that her friend’s voice had ceased, rather than what she had said, Terra brought her comb to a slow stop. Becky looked way. Terra reach out with her other hand.
“Oh, now. I’m not coming on to you. Nothing like that!” Becky rolled her eyes and moved away. “Let’s not get too friendly in this instance.” Her girlfriend leaned back against the sink so that the cigarette smoke rose beside her. “I have tried, Lord knows. Tried and tried. Different positions and men, everything you know, but I can’t. I just don’t know how, I guess. I don’t know if maybe there’s something wrong with me. Maybe I’m built wrong . . . or psychologically?” Becky had to stop.
Terra could suddenly remember exactly how her husband looked now—her husband’s blue eyes and the length of his brown hair, his arms, the way he felt underneath her hands, and she could almost see the lines of his body, even though she imagined him usually in a shirt as she always liked to picture where his shirt sleeve ended, and then his face alongside hers, and her nose touching his check, his smell. His hers. “You have to trust someone,” she volunteered, but added, “Especially when you first try.”
“Have to find your g-spot?” Becky picked up her cigarette and crossed her arms over her chest, so the smoke rose in between them. “Well, apparently, guys don’t know the difference anyway if you just flail around a lot.” Becky looked at the ceiling. “At least, I don’t think they do. You can ask anyone,” and she kept looking at the ceiling and blew at the smoke rings rising over her face. “Do you have to be with the same person a lot? Nym-pho-ma-ni-ac, I think they say is more my style.”
Terra wanted to be careful. She tried, “Beck, if you go talk to someone, and I’ll go with you if you want, you know it could be a lot of things, or a combination. If you can’t afford a counselor, I could get . . .”
“I’ve heard psychiatrists just sleep with all their patients,” Becky said, and she kept looking at the ceiling. Then there was silence between the two of them.
Peter’s eyes had turned deliberately away from Terra after she’d given him back his keys, after she’d handed them through the front door. “You’re just getting to be a real bitch, you know that?” He’d sworn at her. “You’ll live up to your name yet, Ms. Redhead, the temper and all.”
She hadn’t answered him. She knew good and well why he’d shown up on her doorstep. He’d missed her or was curious anyway, and she’d waited for him to admit feeling something.
He’d just changed his tack to kidding though, “It’s not as if we’re strangers. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be friendly, Terra. C’mon, have a heart.”
Terra had felt then as if all the blood in her body had been drained out of her, but then had come back up, a flood through her temples. She’d slammed the door in her husband’s, correction, her ex-husband’s face.
Becky did reach out and take her hand then, and she grinned clownishly, then made her face into a child’s glare, “Now don’t you tell anyone. This is a secret.” She laughed ruefully and looked at the ceiling again. “God, don’t tell anyone. I told one guy once, and believe you me, he wore me out trying. The old marathon runs.” Becky squeezed her hand, “Now if you don’t want Mr. One and Only, Lana’s one and only, maybe he—“
“Stop it!” Tera yanked her hand back. The muscles in her own arms were tense, and her blue veins showed underneath her thin skin. “You’re supposed to be with someone you care about, someone who cares about you, Becky.”
That did sound way too sweet, sugar candy wrapped in cellophane sweet, like the bride and groom on sugary wedding cake. Snap the pictures; fill that wedding album up. In the guest line then, grasp the groom’s hand and give him your congratulations. He’d won his bride. Take the bride’s hand on her big day; wish her happiness, a new life. She’d made a good catch. Jack Sprat could eat no fat; his wife could eat no lean. Big, fat, and wide already, brides plainly should not eat. If they grew at all, they’d take up too much space in the groom’s life.
Becky said, “Terra, I went out with Peter once.”
Terra loosened her hold, “I know.” She was lying, and she considered that perhaps her friend might know she was lying.
Becky pulled her hands free and turned toward the mirror again. “Not after you guys had gotten serious or anything, just when you’d first brought him home.” Her friend’s voice fell, Terra thought quite undramatically, in and around the bathroom fixtures. “Couldn’t get him away from you, though.” Becky pulled a brush through her short hair. Hard.
Terra thought if the truth be known, she no longer cared about all that ancient history. She shrugged. What she maybe would have minded was the initial asking and accepting, the need for strategy on Peter and Becky’s parts. Terra tried to smile, but couldn’t. She did manage to swallow her voice. Becky might be trying to hurt her, cause a separation between them for a convenient amount of maneuvering or involvement time.
Becky eyed her, “Listen, about our male lead out there . . .”
“Don’t worry about it. I don’t want him,” Terra said. She fished through her purse and brought out her car keys. She was conscious of the smell of metal on her hands, but her friend’s face did then light up.
Becky touched cologne to each wrist, and then behind each air. “Giving me the keys to the car isn’t such a bad idea. Now we can even get to my place. Rod has to share his van and his room with his band!” Becky wagged her eyebrows up and down, “And a girl does have to draw the line somewhere!” She touched cologne to Terra’s face, a hand at each cheek, “Terr, are you all right? Can you get a ride home with Dee or somebody, and then I’ll just trade you cars tomorrow?” Becky cocked her head, “See, maybe the man’s aura will do it for me. Leader of the band and all.”
Terra nodded. Her only obligation, except work, in her present life was to feed the ducks.
“So are you coming?” Becky threw her make-up articles into her bag. “No pun intended.” She reached up and tugged at a strand of Terra’s hair.
“Just give me a minute,” Terra smiled again. She was glad when her friend turned away.
Becky gave herself the once-over in the mirror, pulled her blouse straight at the shoulders, grabbed her purse as it leaned into the sink, and brushed her cigarette butts and their ashes to the floor, leaving two burned-in rings behind. She said, “Well, if at once you don’t succeed, then try, try again. Wish me luck.” However, she stopped half-way out the door and ran her fingers along its edge, “Terra, I’m sorry about your divorce.” Her friend stopped to play with the door catch, “And you don’t really need to do anything to your face. You’re pretty as always.” Then Becky left her. The door went “whoosh.”
Terra felt as if she were falling backward.
She didn’t have to look up into the mirror. She could hear it crackling all around her head. Her hair, static. An electric halo. “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all?”
She turned away, walked into a stall, and she closed the door.
The lights in the restroom blurred into yellow stains. All the men at work so eager now to lean her a shoulder to cry on, poor baby. She felt very sorry for herself and so did they, and you bet she could work her way to the top of the company, all right, if she wanted to. Everyone rushing to her side to save her, except her once-upon-a-time husband who was rushing away to save himself or save her from “the likes of him.” Red hair spilled down over her black skirt. If one more man tried to save her, she would surely die in the attempt.
Before court, Peter had accused her, “Look at you, you’d do anything to stay married to me, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes!” She’d told him the truth and she still saw nothing wrong in having told him the truth, though he turned away from her in disgust. She’d spent her whole life wanting to be married and she’d been relieved when she’d finally let herself accept a proposal. Besides, she’d been lucky to get someone like him. Her parents hadn’t been crazy about him, but they’d went along with the whole thing. Closed in by the four yellow bathroom walls, Terra sat carefully, very still.
When Peter had visited that night, everyone would have been shocked by her behavior then. After getting the door slammed in his face, Peter had stalked off across her front lawn. “All right, Terra. If you insist on acting like a child then!” He’d climbed back into his four-wheel drive and slammed his door after him. People wouldn’t have believed their eyes, to see her leaning out over the window sill, red hair flying, “I am not a child, and this is my property. Do you hear me? You’re trespassing. Do you know what I mean? It’s mine!” Terra had even pounded her fist into the window sill. What a sight!
She’d figured after all, might as well make both of them glad he’d divorced her, because it was going to be that way whether she liked it or not. He could be the bastard then, and she would be the bitch. He’d suspected her character all along, hadn’t he? Suspected her of all sorts of things He suspected her of lying in her bed at night designing little schemes to keep him happy and to, therefore, get her way. Well, no man in his right mind would put up with that kind of nonsense, and especially not in his own house! Not to mention, by God, if he said he wanted a divorce, he wanted a divorce.
Of course, even now, he still probably thought he had to be careful. Very probably, as his now ex-wife, Terra would still lay awake at night, sticking pins into maps up all over her bedroom walls. Why, she’d just have to figure out a way to get that man back. A woman’s fault was, she always had ulterior motives. That was male thinking, wasn’t it?
Wives, the enemy or the heavy load. Peter must call the shots. He would be rid of her, one way or another. No matter whose fault, he’d won his way, and she’d lost him. She lost. So there.
So here I am, Terra thought. Girl in Bathroom.
“Perfect!” She imagined Clay, her manager, delighted at catching such a seedy shot. “No let’s not ruin the pose. Don’t breathe. We want to get a close-up on those circles under your eyes.” He’d shoot her picture then.
Clay wouldn’t approve her caption though. Not the right appeal, Girl in a Restroom. He’d call her position “resting.” Girl Resting. Terra could suddenly picture something a little different, could picture her own head bowed, her long red hair woven in and through her clasped hands. Girl at Rest. Clay would love it. Picture-perfect, a perfect failure.
Some girls hit the restroom door, and Terra heard more trooping in behind them. The girls giggled, “The throne room.”
Suddenly, there was a jiggling at her door. “Terra, are you in there?” She recognized Deanna’s shoes in the open space underneath. Crushed leather. Comfortable.
“Listen. Mary’s decided she better get Joe on home. Becky, Lana, and Rod are still at the table though. Becky said maybe you needed a ride home though. I thought you drove? Something wrong with your car?”
Her divorce was NOT no one’s fault. It was not nothing. Not just another step in the journey of life. Her divorce seemed everybody’s fault. That what she’d wanted most in life or was raised to want was that which evidently these days could never be. No, her husband thought he’d be happier roaming. What man wanted a home? Best to conquer the wilderness or get the bad guys. Hell, be a bad guy. That would be fun, according to him.
It had been funny really that both she and Peter had actually gone in the same car to their divorce proceedings together. Then not realizing afterward, she’d automatically taken off toward home, while her husband had stood there on the courthouse steps. He’d snapped his lighter shut. He was a success, a free man. He’d been stranded in a parking lot. Terra’d had to swing back to pick the man up.
Now, she hiccupped. Life was stupid.
“Doesn’t make a bit of sense, does it?” Deanna actually sat down on the floor and leaned back against the door. “You know,” her friend struck a match, “I’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of bathrooms.” She passed the cigarette under the door, and Terry took it. “Tell me how to help. What would your mother have done, finding you locked in the bathroom?” Deanna asked.
Terra concentrated on managing the cigarette. She inhaled. Her mother, tall, silent, a white-gray woman with hair that matched her wide, gray eyes.
“I could just crawl in there with you,” Deanna seemed already halfway between a roll and a crawl. “That’s what my mom woulda done!” The girl’s hands came under the door, twisted around and backward.
Terra caught herself beginning to smile. “Mine would’ve knocked quite politely at first, or rang a doorbell.” She got herself up and unlocked the door. The lights in the foyer were too bright though, like spotlights or floodlights when she opened the door. She winced.
“You’re kidding,” they both said at the same time.
Deanna was down on her hands and knees in front of the door. She held a hand up, so Terra gave her a hand. The girl grimaced as she rose.
“I know,” Terra took a swipe at her own face, and make-up came off on her hand. “A sight for sore eyes, aren’t I?”
Deanna chuckled. “Listen, I’m ready to face the world if you are,” she held the restroom door open. “You don’t have to go by the table for anything do you? Why don’t we just leave and go on home?”
The lines at Deanna’s eyes crinkled, “Would you like to go by my house and see my little girl?”
Terra made herself think of her own house across the lake, its windows both open and shut, half-way open, half-way shut, and she’d left a light on for herself. Then she could walk through the door of the restroom. The houselights had been turned down some but a large silver ball revolved over the dance floor revolved. A pattern of lights skimmed the surface.
“Don’t expect my house to be much now,” Deanna was warning. “And Kim’s just your ordinary, everyday kid.” Terra kept her eyes on Deanna’s same old heart-shaped face, her tear-drop eyes.
Deanna continued to speak. “Just don’t say anything to her Dad about us goin’ by to pull his child out of bed, okay?” Dee nodded toward Ben who sat perched on his high stool by the door. “He has to stay and close up,” she commented.
The red exit sign vibrated over Ben’s blond head, and pieces of the red were carried out into the room by the revolving ball. The man sat, arms crossed over his chest, but watched the three others—Lana, Becky, and Mary, left at the table.
Terra noted that Lana did not look toward Deanna and her. She kept her eyes on the two in front of her, her fingertips at the tendrils of hair straying down the side of her face. Her lips puckered, she was sucking on ice. The girl had Terra’s sweater pulled over her shoulders. From between Lana and Becky, Rod did see Terra and Deanna, and he waved. Then he sat back, one extended white leg in the direction of Lana, the other Becky. Terra thought, a wishbone. Then Becky waved, smoked and waved. Her oldest friend sat swinging her leg.
“Sometimes I wish I could wear a sack over my head, you know.” Deanna interrupted her thoughts.
Terra was surprised, “So people couldn’t see you?”
“No,” Deanna replied, “So I wouldn’t have to see them.” Her voice sounded strained.
All those childhood games. Set the table, and Terra remembered, teeter-totters on the grade school playground, always jam-packed at noon recess. Load them up on each end, but the point was to achieve a perfect balance. Then though, someone would always move too much. Terra made a bee-line for the exit door across the room.
Speckles came across Deanna’s face because of the crystal ball turning overhead, and Terra saw specks all over herself too. The two of them leaving side by side as if skating across the surface of a different kind of lake. Terra shook her hair out over her shoulders so that it crackled.
“Is your work interesting? Sounds like it, but do you ever just not want to show up in the mornings?” Deanna sighed. “I’m just a stay-at-home, Mom, but I have to get up and drag Kim along with me to the market tomorrow.” She smiled softly, “When Ben visits, he does check the refrigerator to see if I’m feeding her right. Of course, he always needs a beer too.”
Terra thought the girl must be reading her mind. Rise and shine, up for work and the old routine again. Her life now that she wasn’t married. Erase her face tonight and touch it up tomorrow. Show up and show off. Look good, be indispensable, and so forge on ahead. That’s what she’d have to do tomorrow. She didn’t feel like anyone just because she had a job though. Certainly not anyone important anyway.
“Night ladies,” Deanna’s former husband spoke without looking at his ex-wife.
The shadow in the face alongside Terra’s own went deeper. There were caves in a woman’s face.
Then, the plunge through the door, and because it blew off the lake, the air outside was a cool breeze. Moonlight rippled across the surface of the water, and below it, there was a darkness that had no bottom.
“Damn,” Deanna said. “Now I know I parked that car in this lot somewhere. I swear, I’ve lost it again.
Terra looked over at the face looking back into her own—like her own, except Deanna was dishwater blonde. A good thing, Terra remembered, to go exploring with childhood friends. She ventured, “Oh, we can’t be that far away from it. Which way should we turn?”
Light, mass, distance, the speed of light, frame and a sequence of photo frames. Expansion and dimension. She was wondering if she could put Deanna’s face to work. This face was not a mask though; it was a companion’s face.
“We can’t be lost,” Terra simply refused to believe it. Maybe she’d ask if Deanna could have a job where she worked tomorrow.
Dee laughed now, “Terra, do you see it? Are you dreaming? Where are you?”
“Right here,” Terra answered, “but I’m still looking. Keep looking.” The cold air felt bracing, and she stood tall to scan the lot. “I see it, Dee. Our way outta here.”