That Final Push
I’m making a commitment! I’m going to finish that final third of the third (and final) draft of my novel. I’m giving myself one month to get it done. So I’ll probably be posting a little less often here, as I try to write something there.
I thought I would share with you the beginning of my novel – I’m hoping you’ll think it’s worth my time and yours.
Back in my twenties, I was married for a while.
I remember one day. We’re having a cook-out in our backyard. My husband is standing at the barbecue with a long fork, and he’s laughing. I see him in an apron, but that must be my imagination. Two other couples are over. The men are standing in the charcoal smoke, and the women are lounging in those long webbed chairs that you can buy everywhere, even the drugstore. We are all drinking pina coladas, which is the only thing I have learned to make in the blender that Aunt Lorraine gave us as a wedding gift.
I remember that one day. It was the only day I thought it was nice to be married.
When we finally decided to divorce, the discussion went something like this:
What’s-His-Name: “Marsha in Payroll has much better boobs than you. I think I am going to live with her instead.”
The actual conversation was a little longer than that. It lasted three years. But it was basically the same conversation for the whole three years, except that I didn’t say my line until the last day.
I found I didn’t miss him at all. And I was glad that I had been married, for two reasons. First, because I get to use the phrase “my ex” in a sentence once in a while, which makes me sound like I am full of life experiences.
More importantly, I kept the house. I paid him for his half, or rather, his equity, which was about three tenths of one percent. I like my house. It’s small but with lots of windows and even a sunroom in the back. It’s very cheerful, especially without him.
Once my ex was gone, I didn’t have much money, but over the course of the next several years, I replaced every stick of furniture we had bought. So everything is mine, and there are no sweaty marks anymore. I never saw a man sweat like he did. It’s funny that I never noticed that when we were dating. But after we married, it was uncomfortably clear that every place he sat was always damp. He’d get up from a chair and the upholstery or the wood or the leather or heaven help me, the vinyl, would be wet from his sweaty butt. I began to avoid the places he liked to sit. I replaced throw pillows on a monthly basis. When I went to my sisters’ houses, I would wait for either of their husbands to get up, and then I would jump into the empty seat like I was playing musical chairs. I wanted to see if all men were as sweaty, but no. It was just mine. I replaced our mattress the day he moved out. I paid extra for same-day delivery. The things he didn’t touch much were a lower priority, but eventually, even the lamps and the draperies went. I repainted too, as he often leaned against the walls.
I lost touch with my ex-husband very quickly, but I heard from Carol at the supermarket that he and Marsha didn’t last long. I think he was on a holy quest for stupendous knockers. If I ever needed to get in touch with him, say if I needed an alibi for back in the 80s, like for the Wells Fargo robbery or something, I think I would look in Las Vegas.
Considering how broke I was when we divorced, I now I have quite a bit of money, even though I wasn’t in cahoots on the armored car robbery.
I’m no miser. In fact, my sister Mary Ann says that I spend money like a drunken sailor. She means that I pay too much for a haircut. Mary Ann gives me one of her disapproving snorts when she sees me right after a salon visit.
“I look as good as you; in fact, I look just like you,” she says, “and I go to Cut’N’Go. Eight bucks and out the door—and no tipping.”
Mary Ann doesn’t look just like me. She looks like my mother, who went to Cut’N’Go for about forty years. I think that a really good hairdresser would not be working at Cut’N’Go, but would work in the classiest salon in a very rich town, where one makes good money plus big tips. So I drive to West Hartford and empty my wallet.
And good shoes too. I’m not talking designer shoes that cost more than your mortgage payment. But I won’t look like Payless. I have nice clothes, an account at the dry cleaner where they know me by name, a BMW, and real china and silver.
So it’s as surprising to me as it is to Mary Ann that I have found myself at fifty with a huge nest egg.
Not having children probably accounts for a good deal of my accumulated wealth. I had no sneakers or braces or video games or college tuitions. Then of course there’s my job.
Just like that guy—who someday I’ll look up—said, it’s amazing how successful you can be by just showing up. I wasn’t rushing off to PTA meetings or basketball games or school plays, or worrying about whether little Tiffany was letting the neighbor’s boy look up her dress. I didn’t have doctors’ appointments every week or someone down with a cold or giving me one.
So I was at work every day. I met every deadline, and I had time in the evening to straighten up my office and make sure I was prepared for the next day. That’s all it takes. Most people’s lives are such a mess, and their attention so scattered that just being reliable is enough to make you shine at the office.
I turned fifty the first Friday in April. The night before, right after work, I went to my hairdresser’s.
“Instead of just getting rid of the gray, let’s do something fun,” I told her.
“I can cut it so that it brings out your curl just a little more. A little wild.”
“Wild. Yes, yes, yes. And how about some highlighting? For drama, you know. Not subtle.”
“Really?” she asked.
Oh, really. I left that place looking ten years younger and full of drama, and not subtle.
I stopped at Monty’s, about three doors down from the salon. This is where I have always bought my clothes. They’re nice; well-made; classic. I walked in and looked around. The spring season was strong for pinstripes and sweater sets. Every season at Monty’s is strong for pinstripes and sweaters sets. I walked out.
Next door is a store called, simply, ‘Lovely’. I’ve stopped there once in a while. The clothes there are mostly imported from India and Mexico. They are gossamer, beaded, feminine. I had never tried anything on in that store. But I’ve let the delicate material run through my fingers.
“Hi,” said the salesgirl, “I’m Miranda”. She was about twenty. With her emerald green dress Miranda was wearing four necklaces, seven bracelets, earrings like chandeliers, and a little red jewel glued to the middle of her forehead. She wore sandals, and given the cool weather, socks decorated with purple cats.
“You look great,” I said. “I want to look like the fifty-year-old version of you. You know, not trying to look like a teenager, but looking sort of like an artist.”
“Right this way,” she said. “Have you come to the right place! I know exactly what you need.”
And she dressed me in a tiered skirt in gauzy Indian cotton, made from three shades of royal blue, the deepest at the bottom. There were little mirrors and wooden beads embroidered into the hem. She added an aqua tee shirt.
“That’s all you need in the summer,” she said, “with a turquoise necklace. For now, you need to add a sweater.” And she brought me a plum crocheted sweater, with silver buttons shaped like tiny animal crackers—a lion, a giraffe, an elephant.
“Adds a little whimsy,” she said, as if the ruffled skirt with mirrors was a bit too staid.
Miranda disappeared again, and a moment later returned with her triumph. “Here’s the necklace I had in mind.” And she fastened it around my neck. It was a triple strand of turquoise and silver, randomly-shaped beads born to dance together.
She sold me a couple of wooden bangles and a big silver watch. She threw in some tiny turquoise earrings “on the house”, but of course I had already spent more than a week’s take-home.
“Shoes,” she said. “Look, no offense, but you said you didn’t want to look like a teenager, so although you can wear sandals pretty soon, right now you just can’t add socks like me. Go next door to Griswold’s. They’ve got brown leather boots in the window… lace-up. Go right now, in this outfit, and come back and show me.
“Wow,” she said when I returned wearing the entire ensemble, boots included. “You’re pretty tall, and now you look leggy too. You can really carry this off. You look like an artist.”
“Or a dancer.”
“Or a poet,” Miranda laughed. “What are you, really?”
“An accountant,” I said.
“Not any more.”
And she was right.