The day had begun with Barbra, the cat, jumping on the dresser in her normal disruption; a swat here, a swat there, first nudging, then bunting, tubes of lipsticks over the edge and onto the floor with a clatter. Jessie opened her eyes, rolled onto her back and stretched before turning to look at her husband, shirtless and diagonal on the bed, like the way he cut his sandwiches.
He was a handsome man, a sleeping prince. How else could she describe him with his solid, symmetrical good looks? What was it about men in general, and David specifically? The muscle mass, she assumed, and its taut closeness to the skin. She watched his diaphragm rise and fall. It was as if his body had been chiseled from the smoothest marble and lovingly rubbed and buffed by a fine renaissance artist into timeless perfection. His wide shoulders curved gently, but with certainty, into biceps that even at rest, swelled. So unlike her own body which was altogether too fluid and malleable by hormones, water retention, and, as she now understood, the tentativeness of her own convictions.
Jessieís marriage bellied-up that morning, quite unexpectedly. Well, bellied-up may be an exaggeration since it didnít really turn over like some white-stomached whale that is rolled back into the sea after it jumps shore and dies for no apparent reason. Quick-sanded would be a better expression since the end of her marriage was quiet and irrevocable; a gravitational pull downwards, where a thick blanket of unbreatheable space engulfed her, and her marriage, into some vague but certain vortex until she, and it, were no more.
Hyperbole? Histrionics? Maybe.
It was a Sunday, their assigned day to relax and read the newspaper to one another. Movie reviews, stock quotes, and aloud ponderings of seven-letter words for inclement weather -drizzle, thunder. Interspersed among these, was their ongoing discussion of what color to paint the hallway. After six months they still couldnít decide. What impression did they want to project? Hallways, David had reiterated (and Jessie had agreed), were signature rooms, statements of character, like the front door, which had taken a year and a half to settle on--black raspberry, not quite red, not quite purple, deepened with a hint of dark blue undertone.
Jessie tried to recollect what he had first said that morning. Something mundane she was certain, some comments about the weather most likely. Was it raining? Was it supposed to rain? Did it rain last night? At which point she had probably turned the kitchen curtain aside and looked out. But the sun was shining. It was so bright, her eyes ached. That much she remembered, positively, for sure.
Jessie thought of leaning over and running her mouth across his chest, tasting his salt with her tongue. But David, unlike any other man she had ever known, didnít like anything that remotely suggested sex before either of them hadnít properly showered and brushed their teeth. The quick roll would have to be postponed until after breakfast or perhaps snuck in before the eggs were scrambled.
She denied herself and her appetite for the moment, rolled from the bed, plucked some clothes from the dresser, and headed for the spare bedroom.
They had set up the extra space as an exercise room. A Nordic track and stepper took up opposite corners. Double green mats lay in the center with three sets of hand weights at their side. Jessie closed the door tight to dampen the sound of the creaky hardwood floor. She then stripped off her nightshirt, straightened the towel she had left several days earlier, and positioned herself for twenty minutes of reps.
Lying naked on the floor, she ran her hand across her stomach. How flat and tidy her insides became with the help of gravity. She looked from the lower edges of her eyes and saw, between the slight mounds and undefined peaks of her breasts, an unencumbered view to her toes. She bent her knees, crossed her arms, and began with crunches.
At first it was easy, good form, even breaths, but after one-hundred and fifty, the burn settled in and slowly her form dissolved. She pushed forward for another twenty-five. Each curl slowly disintegrated, too high, too low. Her shallow breaths raced. Ten more, she tried, but quit at six. She stretched out and felt her heart pounding. Sweat dripped from her underarms. She rolled over, propped herself on her side, and began scissor-leg lifts.
Exercising had been an unnatural state for Jessie. Unnatural, boring, and time-consuming, that was, until she met David, who was an avid runner. Three years later, she now cross-trained with sixty mile bike rides, two mile jogs and, whenever she had a few extra moments, a hodgepodge of aerobic and muscle defining exercises. What she looked forward to the most, however, was when her workout ended, when her body gave up.
She rolled to the other side and began again. Her forehead was sopping; drips fell onto the terrycloth towel. She was going to push herself today since she'd had cheesecake at work on Friday. She had to keep reminding herself to align her back and not lean forward. Between each lift, she thought specifically about her body position and made minor adjustments.
Once finished, she steadied her breathing and slowly recovered. Soon, she felt invigorated and wiped the sweat that now covered her body. As her hands passed over her breasts, the tissue changed. Suddenly she had a naughty thought.
She stopped for a moment and listened quietly for David. She then imagined him coming to watch. How silly to be concerned or guilty. But she was a married woman, and it was not something she needed to resort to. Laying quietly, she breathed deeply, and thought of the ramifications. Would she tell him at breakfast? Present it as a hypothetical? "Honey, what if your wife pleasured herself while you slept?"
Jessie smiled at his possible reaction. Heíd crook his head to the side, take a sip of coffee and ask, "Pleasured? Do you mean jerked off?" And a conversation would follow not about the act, but what to call the act, "jerked off" being the point of departure; whereupon the question would arise if a woman could by nature, jerk off. Jessie thought about this for a moment-- semantics could be prickly.
She decided to forego any immediate pleasure, and took a steaming ten-minute shower followed by a twenty-second cold rinse to close her pores. She rubbed herself dry, then erased the fog from the full length mirror with the damp towel. Standing back, she appraised her body.
David and she did have some secrets from ech other. Did he have any idea that after she ate, her waist expanded two inches? Did he ever notice the occasional, corkscrew hair that she missed while shaving? Quirky habits lurked below the surface, awaiting their turn to reveal themselves. Jessie smiled and thought of the marriage vow . . . for better or for worse.
Running her fingers through her shoulder-length hair, she blew the wetness dry. She bent over, shook her head, and spritzed a light volume-enhancing spray near the roots of her hair. Once upright, she perfumed her brush and raked it along the underside of her hair near the nape of her neck.
David liked her natural looks, but natural was relative. The blond highlights in her light brown hair needed six-week touch-up, and her doe-like blue eyes, large and almond shaped, were more the by-product of smokey eye shadow and midnight liner, than anything she could have possibly been born with.
She pulled on a pair of faded jeans and tucked in a white, oversized, button-down shirt. The soft cotton felt comforting against her skin, and the clean smell cleared her mind momentarily of the never-ending rehash of her imperfections.
She padded down the stairs in her socks, careful not to slip on the gleaming, honey-colored steps.
They had decided to forego the honeymoon (a Winnebago rental and cross-country trip), to have all the wall-to-wall carpeting removed and the hardwood floors refinished. While she had always dreamed of traveling light with someone she loved and a 35 millimeter camera, David had convinced her otherwise, saying that floors, like walls, were canvasses, the basic building blocks for designing and defining a living space that went beyond the visual; a presence that was both seductive and strong, like white, straight teeth. Jessie didnít argue the point. How could she? The beauty of the floors provided not only tangible pleasure, but a solid foundation from which to build--the perfect metaphor of their marriage.
Jessie quietly opened the front door, collected the newspaper, and continued into the kitchen. She poured herself a large glass of water, set the table, and settled into her Sunday morning ritual.
David didnít cook, nor did he having much interest in cooking. That was her realm. So before breakfast, and while she waited for him, she reviewed the weekly food ads, checked the sales, and planned their evening meals.
Her eyes darted up and down the pages and in no time she had a list: Caesar salad, grilled salmon, pasta with broccoli; She then added jumbalaya with a question mark. (Shrimp and sausage were on sale, but she had been avoiding any dish with okra.) Underneath, she wrote Chinese take-out.
As she cut out the coupons, he stirred. Footsteps sounded overhead, a door opened, water rumbled through the pipes. She looked at the clock. Heíd be getting ready for his fifteen-minute run. She got up, cut two oranges in half, and got out the plastic juicer. His hurried steps lumbered down the stairs. She turned.
He wore a Notre Dame T-shirt and a pair of gray sweats. His hair was brushed back and slightly wet. She imagined that he had thrown water on his face after he had brushed his teeth, and with his hands still wet, had run them through his hair. As she squeezed the oranges, he sidled up behind her, put his arms around her waist, and kissed the nape of her neck.
"Looks good, smells good," he said.
His hand cupped her breast and a finger reached into the vee of her shirt. "Yeah, that too."
She turned to kiss him, but he stepped back.
"Gotta run. Howís the weather?"
She reached out and pulled the curtain aside. The sunshine was blinding. It was a beautiful, uncomplicated day.
He smiled boyishly with a wink and a slight grin. She handed him the small glass of juice. He swallowed it in two quick gulps, and before she could ask him what he wanted in his omelet, the door slammed.
She opened the refrigerator door and wondered what she should surprise him with. An omelet of course, but should she add capers, asparagus, onions? Or just stick with the spinach, portobelloes, and baby swiss. She pulled it all out along with the eggs, butter, and cream. Sundays were cholesterol days.
By the time David returned, she had the ingredients chosen and the table set.
He barreled into the kitchen from the back door, and while she set up the coffee, he did some cool-down stretches.
"Which route did you take?" David had several two-mile courses measured out.
He stretched into a lunge position and bounced on one knee. "Youíre not going to believe what I saw."
Jessie looked into his face. He had barely broken a sweat. His dark brown eyes wrapped around her heart.
"Down in the Dennyís parking lot there was this couple getting out of their van. Florida plates, bumper stickers up the wazoo. Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon . . . Get the picture?"
She nodded, and saw in her mindís eye two retirees who argued about directions and cuddled at night.
"Anyway, get this, their license plate said Bud & Jo." And he roared.
He reached over and grabbed a piece of cheese. "Man, is that tacky or what!"
It was tacky, she supposed, but an endearing tacky. "Sounds cute," she said.
"Cute? Are you serious?"
She sliced the mushrooms. "Well, I donít see the harm in it. I mean--"
"Jess, why would two people advertise their relationship like that. Whatís the point, except to look like idiots."
Jessie shrugged her shoulders as she whisked the eggs. "Were they an older couple?"
"Old enough to know better."
Jessie put down the fork and turned to him with feigned concern. "Does that mean I should forget about monogrammed towels for Christmas?"
He leaned up against the counter, and thought for a moment. "Initials are okay, I suppose, if theyíre done in private."
She wanted to ask him if he were serious, but instead she reached for his arm and drew him close. "Private? Like here?" And she kissed his soft, wet lips.
He stiffened and pulled away. "Listen, got to take a shower. Then maybe we can do it."
Jessie reeled back, feeling her smile fade. "Excuse me?"
"Come on, Jess, Iím all sweaty. Canít you hold off a few minutes?"
"I can hold off a lot longer than that."
His eyebrows rose, then his face tightened. "Fine," he said and he walked from the room.
Jessie grabbed onto the counter to steady herself. What had just happened? Not a fight or an argument, but something more disturbing, a foundational shift, a hair-line crack in fine bone china.
It was her own voice saying, for once, what she truly knew. They would never rent a Winnebago, or go on a cross-country trip, or have their names imprinted on a license plate. Barbra, as though sensing her distress, rubbed against her leg and purred softly.
© 2001 Linda Lavid
Linda Lavid works as a school social worker with the Buffalo Public Schools. She began writing ten years ago with the challenge of writing a novel. Her efforts have yeilded four manuscripts in various states of completion. She has better luck with short stories. Not only has she been able to finish them, but has also had them published, albeit locally. "A Father's Love", a story about sexual abuse, has been accepted for national publication by Haworth Press in a book titled "Life Stories in the First Person" to be released this spring. She hopes to complete her most recent novel "Hattie Moon", a cozy mystery with an elderly lady as a detective, by September 2001.
"Writing is a process. At this time, my main goal is to write the best I can and finish a novel".