Archive for October 21st, 2010


Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Installment 6

Susan was in a snit. She marched into her kitchen, her Jimmy Choo’s announcing her arrival before the Brazilian prep cooks even heard her customary string of curse words. “Which of you assholes left the dumpster open?” she sputtered, her accusation as sharp as the aluminum edge of a Number 10 size can of Roma tomatoes.  “For chrissakes, if we get another visit from the Health Inspector, I’ll have all your butts deported!”

It was almost impossible to run a restaurant these days, between the stupid lowlifes who worked for her, to the upstairs condominium owners who hated having a restaurant in their building, (until they wanted a reservation for Saturday at 7:30). And the customers were even worse. “Everybody thinks they’re a chef,” she fumed.  But most of all, Susan hated slovenliness. Finding the dumpster half-open ruined her day just as much as feeling a thin sheen of grease left on a table top, or some idiot forgetting to dead-head the geranium pots on the sidewalk patio. Incompetence made her ballistic. In a funk, she strutted to her office in the back of the restaurant, wondering why was never once had she come in to her restaurant and found everything the way it should be. What was wrong with these idiots?

“She looks like an ugly Chihuahua when she’s angry, “ muttered Santos, the head prep cook, stifling his snorts of laughter with the back of his hand, and imitating Susan’s prance in his chef’s clogs. “Aiiiiie!! She’s such a bitch, but she signs my checks…” he finished, going back to hacking up heads of romaine with a cleaver, little laugh tears caught in the crinkles of his eyes.

Susan always parked her car in the same spot in the back alley behind her restaurant, right next to the dumpster. She hated the smell of the dumpster, but she liked the convenience of being two steps away from the back door kitchen entrance – rather than having to walk though the front door where all of her customers could gawk at her – especially on the days she was on her way to the salon instead of coming in with her roots glowing gold. When she wanted to make an entrance, she certainly could. Today was an especially stressful day. She had one hour to make sure that everything was under control before she started getting herself ready for Belinda’s big do. They were sold out for the evening with normal reservations, plus two huge graduation parties booked in the private rooms. One group was a family from New York; The other, a family of Saudi mega-zillionaires in town to watch their little princess graduate from B.U. (If her family could see their little princess on the other nights she came in to Bistro Susan, with her coked out eyes like pinwheels, her Haitian boyfriend, and her clothes covering less than the new platinum and diamond Pathek Phillippe her grandmother was giving her as a graduation bauble.)

Where was her fucking GM, Jeffrey? What a flamer! He should have known to be here early today to go over the menus with Susan. He knew she wasn’t going to be around to back him up tonight. Likely, he was still in La-la land with redheaded bartender he hired for her impressive professional resume. If those losers in the kitchen screwed up tonight, she’d send them back to El Salvador or wherever they came from so fast their checks wouldn’t have time to clear. Susan had exactly forty-five minutes before her hair appointment to make sure everyone understood exactly how much pain there’d be if tonight went off the rails.

A quiet knock at the door. A shy waitress poked her head in. “Excuse me, Susan, but there’s a customer who insists on speaking to the owner…” Susan snarled, but she flipped open her compact and re-applied her lipstick. She had to make the best of it. She wasn’t up for seeing her public just now, but angry customers come first, especially when your GM isn’t on hand to run interference.

The waitress waited in the hall, and led Susan over to the table. From his back, Susan could only see the outlines of a tall man, in good shape by the look of his shoulders. As she rounded to the front of the table, she saw it was Alain. Unmistakable after what? Twenty years? Of all the gin joints in all the world…


Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Installment 5

Jack was already reading the new New Yorker, half way through Talk of the Town, when Mavis walked into the therapist’s office. Neither of them were late, but Jack’s extreme punctuality always made Mavis feel harried, as if some gremlin had messed with her watch while she was sleeping, turning it back or forward, randomly, five minutes or ten minutes just to screw with her head, so that she was never quite sure that she knew the right time. She used to think that Jack did it just to drive her insane like the creepy husband in Gaslight. That explanation evaporated when he’d moved out.

Out of habit, she leaned down to give him a kiss right on the center of his perfect part. “Hey, Honey,” she said smiling. He nodded, keeping his eyes on the magazine. She still liked the way Jack looked when he was all dressed up in his suit. Clean and unfussy. Buffed shoes, sharp crease, shirt and ties with just enough ambition to show he appreciated design. And never those silly ties from the Andover Shop with rows of martinis or dancing tennis racquets. In contrast, Mavis felt she was a fashion mess. She never got it quite right. When she played it safe and wore all black the like the chic New York women do, she thought she looked like she could be at a funeral in a minute’s notice. Maybe she could be a professional mourner instead of a writer? It would definitely be a more dependable source of income.

“Did you talk to my sister today?” Jack asked, precisely folding his magazine in two. “She seems fried by the stress of putting on this party.”

“I talked to her. She’s okay. I think it’s the whole getting-ready-for-Nepal-thing that’s making her nuts. She wants to go, and she doesn’t want to. Depends on the time of day and whether she’s found someone dependable to pick up the David’s dry cleaning while she’s gone for three weeks,” Mavis said. “The party is the least of it.”

Mavis wasn’t willing to get into anything controversial – like Jack bringing his current girlfriend to Belinda’s party — before the two of them even sat down in Dr. Ennis’ beat-up leather chairs. It seemed an infringement of the rules of couples counseling. Her timing was prescient.  A breath later, and the outer office doors opened as a quiet couple exited, heads down, avoiding all eye contact. Two layers of doors protected the entrance to the office; she presumed they were to shield patients in the waiting room from marital eruptions in the inner sanctum.

Dr. Ennis always needed a minute or two between patients. To decompress? Call his Oriental rug consultant? His analyst? So Jack and Mavis waited calmly, oddly without any tension. Mavis’ tried to maintain the belief that Jack would get over it. He’d have the girlfriend for a while, maybe even move on to a second starlet with another pair of exceptional breasts, but he’d get tired of the disorientation of life as a gay blade. He was a tidy man. The kind of person who painted the outline of all of his tools on a peg-board so that everyone knew exactly where to replace the odd hammer or wrench they’d borrowed.  It might take a year or two, but he’d be back.

Jack and Mavis had been married since before he started law school, even though she didn’t like it, she was branding his “current living situation” as a mid life crisis. She’d had her a sort of crisis of her own when she gave up her “real” job and went freelance. (Though she acknowledged that was different than shacking up with a boopsie, But whatever. ) Mavis was working hard to master the correct attitude, trying not to be resentful, staying calm and supportive so that when he did come back, there wouldn’t be a lot of shrapnel to pick out of everyone’s psyche. So far, it had been five weeks and four days since Jack moved out, if you counted the day he packed everything he “needed for his new life” into to his silver blue 350 SEL, including his golf clubs and two sets of skis.

Dr. Ennis was ready for them. Courtly as ever, Jack held the door for Mavis. She sat down near the tissue box. Just in case. But she didn’t really have to worry. She’d bought the waterproof mascara that Susan had recommended. She could weep an ocean and still not look like a raccoon. After all, she had other things to do today. Like finding something to wear to Belinda’s party tonight.

Jack, settled in his chair, crossed one tassel foot over his knee, and began. “She has no right to muddy my relationships with my family!” he raged, red spreading up his neck from his cobalt blue button down shirt.

Dr. Ennis smiled. “Something new?”


Thursday, October 21st, 2010


David took the pillow off Elena’s mouth. She was still laughing, log rolling back on forth on the bed, propelled by the energy of her stifled hilarity. Her hair had tumbled into ringlets and wavelets, jet black against white hotel sheets. “The look on your face….” She couldn’t finish, her speaking ability taken hostage by another fit of laughter. David was not so amused. He’d jumped a foot when the cell phone rang. Hadn’t he turned it off? In some dumb moment of nooner high spirits, one of them must have hit the “on” button.  “Gotcha!” Elena shrieked before calming down enough to stroke his cheek. “Did you think it was your mommy calling?”

If there were ever a mood-breaker for an afternoon tryst, this was it. David’s nerves were fried today, crisply sautéed with a hint of guilt and a sprinkle of sex drive. He shouldn’t be here in this hotel room with a senior member of his management team. Never, was closer to the truth, but today was an especially bad day. His wife’s birthday, and in less than six hours from now, he was due to give a heartfelt toast about how much he loved her, and unveil the slide show, which would be a version of “This is our life,” the fairy tale of David and Belinda.  And here he was in bed, in a hotel room a few miles from home with another woman.  He excused himself to go to the bathroom, carefully wrapping the sheet around him to mask the fact that the phone call had come at the worst possible moment.

Elena’s good humor had deflated too, faster than the foam on her morning cappuccino. With David in dispose, she had a moment to collect her thoughts. Did she want to be here? Did she want to nuke her life by sleeping with her new boss? She hadn’t meant to. She wasn’t a bimbo – (although, come to think of it, there were a couple of very smart bimbos in her B-school class). She wasn’t even a blonde hottie. For god’s sake, she had two master’s degrees! Why wasn’t she smart enough to see that getting involved with David was a fast track over the cliff? How had it had happened, she wondered?

They’d been working together on an acquisition– a very promising company in Silicon Valley, and Elena was the staff person, but David had been extremely present in all the negotiations.  He’d come to the meetings in California, and sat with the lawyers in New York. The deal was going very well. A few nail biter nights, but the sale was scheduled to close in thirty days. Elena had worked well with David. He’d complimented her on her creativity and her toughness, and she’d basked in his approval, dressing progressively more carefully for each subsequent meeting, hoping to make a good impression on him with her style as well as her substance. She’d bought a new black suit at Valentino or Newbury Street to celebrate, the skirt a bit more form fitting than her usual cut. Was it her imagination, or had David broken out a whole new tie collection too?

On the last trip together, over dinner in San Francisco, a sudden charge flashed between them. Elena felt as if a cone of silence had descended over their table.  They’d had a nightcap in the hotel bar. David had talked, a little tinnily, about his kids and about Belinda, saying nice things, the kind of things Elena wished she had a husband to say about her. Neither of them had said anything, but the offer hung in the air like a cigar ring.

David came out of the bathroom. Already showered, wearing a towel.  He sat on the edge of the bed, kissed her hard, almost forcing the blood out of Elena’s lips. “I don’t know where this is going,” he said. “But we’ll have to follow the road.” Elena, cocooned in the down duvet, began to tremble.  A sharp chill turning her arms to gooseflesh. “Wear something quiet tonight,” he said as he reached for the door. “I wouldn’t want anybody to talk.”


Thursday, October 21st, 2010


Getting off the phone with Belinda, Sergei was a very happy man. So pleased with himself that he almost forgot to get off at the next exit on the turnpike. He was on his way to another conquest. The sure sign: she’d invited him to her fiftieth birthday party. Belinda would die when she saw him in his new suit. Anthony, his tailor, had that Italian sense of style and fit. And at fifty-one, Sergei still had that soccer star build. Even though women always told him he looked better naked, he knew he  “cleaned up” well.

If he could, Sergei would have given himself a high five. He hadn’t felt this good, this potent, since he made the Soviet Olympics soccer team in ’76. This gambit, giving house call massages had been a brilliant professional move.  For someone like him, a product of rigorous Russian sports training, it was a breeze. Good money. Great money, honestly. Easy work, nice surroundings, and very appreciative clients. Especially the women.  Oh these American women. Seemingly demure, but willing temptresses after a session or two.  The morning sessions were luckiest for him. He’d give their husbands a massage before they left work, and then take care of the women.  Many were just at that cusp, where they were starting feel a little shopworn, and were susceptible when he told them what good shape they were in, what good shapes they had overall.

He’d used the golf club’s membership roster as a start. A year into his mobile massage business, he’d developed a very busy practice. So far, he’d never lost a client. And, as far as he knew, they were all satisfied customers. When the men were on the table, he cranked up his former jock persona, talking sports and listening to their professional dilemmas. As a side benefit, Sergei was learning a lot about the American art of the deal. His friends in the Russian Mafia found many of his tidbits very useful. With the women, he listened carefully too. They told him everything. About their husbands, their wayward kids, spats with the girl friends, and their fears about their looks, their health, their careers, and whether or not their husbands were cheating. He became the best listener in Boston, a safe and sympathetic ear, and the women loved him for it.

Belinda was different, though. Sure, he’d like to sleep with her. But he also liked her. Liked talking to her. In fact, when he gave her a massage he found himself telling her more about his life than she did about hers. Like, Sergei, Belinda was a good listener. He told her about his problems with his daughter who he hadn’t seen in two years, his girlfriend and her stepson — how her ex-husband was stalking their new house. He’d even talked about his sister, Anya, living now in Washington D.C. with her American husband and teenage daughters, who was so disappointed that Sergei hadn’t been able to save money and buy a house, “like a real American”. Belinda always made him coffee after her massage, and he tried to sip it as slowly as possible to draw out the conversation. To Sergei, Belinda was pure honey. It was hard to give her a massage without letting it tilt to the erotic. Did she have any idea how hard he got?  He’d miss her when she was in Nepal. Three weeks. Her appointments were the highlight of his week.

Sergei had offered to come to her house at noon, and give her a massage before her party, but Belinda was too busy, didn’t have the piece of mind for it today. Maybe he’d call David? David seemed very stressed, and a late afternoon massage with Sergei might do him good.

David’s cell phone was ringing – Belinda had warned he might not be picking up yet. David sounded breathless when he answered the phone. As if he’d been running.  No. He didn’t have time for a massage this afternoon, although it sounded good. Tomorrow maybe? If Sergei had an evening opening? Sergei clicked off. Had that been a woman’s laugh in the background? A full, throaty woman’s laugh?


Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Installment 2

Tuesday morning at 10:00, when the truck with the party rentals backed into the driveway, Belinda was still in bed, a little weepy. Not sleeping really, but holding still enough to confuse anybody who peeked in her door. She might not get up at all today. She might stay sunk in her high-thread count sheets, steeping herself in a cocktail of comfort and dread. “Maybe if I stay quiet, they’ll go away.  And if I don’t answer the door for the caterers, they’ll go away too. I can sleep and sleep, and then it will be tomorrow.” She wasn’t feeling good about the party now at all. David had been so sweet, planned the whole thing for months, all by himself, really. He’d used some new software he’d bought to made a slide show of her, with baby pictures, photos of her at summer camp, the two of them in college, all the way through the kid’s birthday parties and the summer vacations. He hadn’t let her see it yet – but the kids said it was terrific.

Last night, it felt funny in the house. David had come home distracted, weary and sad in a way she’d never seen in twenty plus years of marriage. He’d offered barely a word beyond the necessary at dinner, and then gone in to watch Red Sox alone. This morning, he was out the door before six, for an early meeting with a board member. Did she suddenly look old to him? Now that she was actually turning fifty? She couldn’t blame him. She felt old, and ugly too. The dress she’d chosen for the party was too filmy and flirty for her. Too pink. What had she been thinking when she bought it at Saks?

Her cell phone rang, vibrating off the night table. The party rental guys needing direction about where to set up the tent.  Up, and out, back into the doing of the day. Susan pulled on yoga pants and t-shirt, calling out  “Down in a minute. “ Then, another call. From Jack, her older brother. He’d left his wife, which was not news. But he was calling to say that he was bringing his new thirty-two year old girlfriend to the party, which was bad news. “No way, Jack. It’s too much. Mavis is coming too, you know,” Belinda said, “And your kids. The last thing I need is a confrontation at my birthday party, you a-hole.” Jack did the predictable thing and said that if he couldn’t bring Christina, he wouldn’t come either, and thanked Belinda for being “so supportive” before hanging up on her. Question: why do girlfriends always have names like “Christina?” Belinda shrugged as she walked out to the backyard. At least the sun was shining, one less thing to worry about on what was shaping up to be a stressful day.

The tent was gorgeous. Big, with white peaks, reminding her of the tents the English kings set up for battle on the banks of the Irish Sea. Maybe the party would be fun. Wonderful fun. She’d call David and tell him how excited she was. Surely, he was out of his meeting by now.  Hmm, his cell didn’t answer. Odd; he always picked up her calls now he’d programmed it to ring “Puff the Magic Dragon”. Okay, she’d text message him instead – Alexis had just shown her how to do it on her new Blackberry. David would be impressed that she’d mastered it so quickly. But still, it was odd that he didn’t call her back…another call. This one from her massage therapist, Sergei. He was coming tonight to the party tonight too. Maybe inviting him had been a mistake given the odd vibes in their last session, where Sergei had spent half of the time working on her  “glutes”….


Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Introducing: Susan, Belinda, David, and Elena

Inspecting her manicure at a stoplight, Susan noticed some funny discolorations on her right hand. Thinking them small bruises, she pressed on them with her finger. Nothing. A small burn in her gut told her that her forty-nine year old hands were beginning to betray her. Incipient age spots. How was it possible that a woman who people regularly mistook for a taller version of Meg Ryan, a regular at Pilates and the weight room at the club, could have age spots? She’d get the dermatologist on the phone at the next light. He was on her speed dial. This unsightly, unnecessary blemishing of her perfect patina could not persist. She would not allow it. After all, wasn’t she the “most” successful restaurant owner in Boston? She would not be old, or at least allow herself to look old.

A little worried, she checked out her roots in the rear view mirror. A slight darkening at the hairline? She’d call Marjo from the office and see if she had an opening for a foil at 3:00, after the lunch rush. Let’s see. If she was in by three, and out by five, she could still get to Belinda’s 50th by 8:00. That was important. Belinda, her best friend from, well, from whenever, was the first of them to hit the big 5-0. Her husband David was throwing the party, and had given his adored wife a gift of a trip trekking in Nepal. Belinda had been talking about wanting to do something adventurous, itchy to “test herself physically and spiritually on her own” for the last few years. Ever since Alexis went off to Bard. Now that Greg was leaving for college in a year, (if he could actually remember to go to geometry class instead of toking up at recess!), Belinda would have lots of time on her hands and she wanted to re-direct her energy, channel her Qi, before she fell under the steamroller of Empty Nest Syndrome.

Susan stopped on Newbury Street and bought the cutest Kate Spade cosmetic case as a going-away/birthday present for Belinda. Away in the wilds for almost three weeks, Belinda would need to take a lot of product with her. Where would she find straightening balm in Katmandu? Susan would never go some place where you had to worry about finding good product. What would be the point? The only men you’d meet would be furry, smelly, backpacker types. Hardly anyone who’d make a decent third husband. But Belinda was Belinda, and had the perfect life. She had adoring David. Whom she married two weeks after graduation from Wellesley, and then he got rich and became a “factor in the community.” And the kids, the nice house, the boat, and the new house on Nantucket. If she didn’t love Belinda so much, she could envy her. Still, Belinda could afford to lose a few pounds. “I bet she’s crept up to a size twelve by now,” Susan mused. “At least in pants.” But Susan would never mention that.

David was pacing in his psychiatrist’s office. He’d been asked to sit down. Twice actually. But he explained to Dr. Maggiano, that he was too edgy, he needed to burn off some of the nervousness by tracing patterns with his feet on the border of the doctor’s oriental rug. Was it a Kerman? From Turkmenistan? David couldn’t seem to remember which one featured the ziggurats as part of their tribal design. His mind was chocolate pudding today. David’s dilemma: He’d had an affair last night with a woman in his office. It wasn’t just someone in his office, although that would be bad enough. It was in his office, on the couch where he’d had the three Wall Street analysts sitting earlier in the day.  David didn’t consider himself a “player”. He wasn’t one of those guys who surreptitiously skip out on his wife for a little fling here and there. He wouldn’t do that to Belinda. Besides, where would he find the time? He’d started his company right out of MIT, and it grew faster than he’d expected. And then there were the kids, and the boat, and the family trips, and all those community events and boards. Okay, he’d had one or two moments on business trips, of the sort of what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas variety, but Elena was something entirely different. He thought he might be in love.  It was awkward that she was coming to Belinda’s party tonight. “I wonder whether she’ll wear underwear?” he said out loud, surprising himself and Dr. Maggiano.

David Loves Belinda

Thursday, October 21st, 2010