Scarlet Mantle Goes to Goodwill
by Marina J. Neary
|part 2 of 4|
The red button
On the night of our one-year wedding anniversary, while my Irish Chieftain was snoring on the couch, I was in the bathroom pissing in a plastic cup, trying not to stain my new silk blouse. My fingers were trembling from an escalating suspicion that my days as a yummy jailbait had officially ended. I was going to be a Working Mom, with cracked nipples and formula stains on her business suit. Those tiny pink plus signs never lie (at least that’s what the box says).
I did not want to wake up Bailey. There would be many sleepless nights ahead of us, so I let him snore for another hour. He looked like a golden retriever in his sleep, with his mouth open and his eyelids trembling. He did not suspect that an avalanche was about to fall upon his disheveled blond head.
At quarter to seven, I scratched his prickly cheek.
“Rise and shine, my Knight in a Sweaty T-Shirt! Time to get up and max out our credit cards.”
No matter how gently I tried to wake him up, he jumped with a savage cry, tossing the pillows onto the floor. It took him a few minutes to realize that he was in his own apartment, on his own bed.
“I dreamed I was sitting in a trench,” he muttered, rubbing his eyes. “I ran out of bullets.”
Bailey always dreamed about war, even though he never served in the army. He watched many war movies as a kid.
I scratched him behind the ears.
“Whom were you fighting this time, Bailes? Germans?”
“Nope, aliens. I blew their heads off. They squirted goopy green stuff all over the field. Then my gun ran out of bullets. It was surreal.”
“Sounds awfully Freudian to me. I’m talking about the gun. Now get off your skinny rump and make yourself pretty. I’m starving.”
Bailey spent forty minutes in the bathroom, shaving and grooming. He wanted me to be proud of him. Finally he emerged with nicks on his chin and clumps of gel in his hair.
“How do I look?”
“Intimidating. People will look at us and wonder what a stud like you is doing with me. You should be dating models and ballerinas.”
He blushed like a twelve-year old girl.
“You’re just saying it.”
“You’re right, I’m just saying it, Bailes. I don’t mean any of this. But we’ve been married for a whole year, so I’m officially excused from giving you compliments. Be grateful that I at least try to extend our honeymoon. Most women gain ten pounds in the first year of marriage, and the only thing I’ve gained is a 401K plan.”
Bailey had nothing adequate to say, so he grinned and scratched the tip of his nose. At his age he still got excited when a woman gave him a compliment, even if the woman was his own wife who was being sarcastic. He was easy to please and eager to please in return. He still believed in God, in aliens and leprechauns. His innocence was disarming. That night I felt especially guilty, because I had a secret. I had my bomb ready for launching and was just waiting for the right moment to press the red button.
We were sitting at the restaurant, with a candle burning between us. I could tell that Bailey regretted ordering a duck. He just tore it apart with a knife and smudged the grease all over the plate. A few times he brought an empty fork to his mouth and licked his lips with a fake moan.
“Mmm... I just love French cooking... Mmm-mmm...”
I could tell he was dying for a burnt burger on a soggy bun, a tray of fries, a soda and an apple pie, but he was ashamed of his plebeian tastes. I decided to put an end to this torture and pressed the red button.
“Bailes, I have a present for you.”
He rubbed his hands.
“Goodie... When do I get it?”
“A few months from now. It’s not ready yet. It should be ready by April.”
“Is it that silver sword from the Scottish catalogue?”
“Actually, it’s a little more... Organic. With a heartbeat.”
“Is it a kitten?
“Is it a puppy?”
“Larger. Much larger.”
“Why can’t I see it now?”
“It’s really well packaged.”
His hand shuddered and released the fork.
“Please... Tell me it’s a puppy.”
Under normal circumstances this male slow-wittedness would have amused me, but after weeks of subtle nausea and headaches I was like a slinky waiting to pop. “Okay, it’s a puppy, an enormous, hairless puppy! Happy now? Stop rolling your eyes and eat your duck before it gets cold. You’re paying $25 for your entrée. May as well enjoy it...”
But Bailey didn’t care about his duck.
“How did that happen?”
“Gee, maybe we should rent The Miracle of Life. Obviously your middle-school bio teacher did a piss-poor job.”
Bailey continued shaking his head like a dog after a bath.
“I still don’t get it. We were using the calendar!”
“Obviously,” I said, shoving a sprout of steamed asparagus into my mouth, “we were using the wrong calendar. I told you to get the one with daisies and guinea pigs on the cover. But no, you got the one with naked chicks and hung it right over our bed. Serves you right, old letch! You’re thirty-three years old, and you still have the tastes of a frat boy. Do you know what Jesus Christ was doing when he was your age? He was preaching on the mountain and dying on the cross for idiots like you, and you sit in front of your Macintosh all day long. Now, if you don’t eat this stupid duck, I’ll take it and shove it up your—”
The waiter approached us with a pitcher of iced water.
“Every zing alright, no? Some zing wrong wi zi duck? Madame Griff?”
“The duck is fabulous,” I replied through my teeth. “Monsieur Griff needs a lesson in biology. His parents didn’t teach him where babies come from.”
Bailey threw his napkin on the floor and dropped his head on the table.
“I give up,” he muttered. “Science works against me.”
Those were the last words he said to me that night. We walked home on different sides of the road and took different elevators to our apartment. The next morning we went to different churches. He went to St. John’s Catholic church in downtown Stamford, and I went to St. John’s Episcopal church on the west side. When we reconvened at home a few hours later, he presented me with a decapitated rose.
“Sorry for being such a jerk.”
I took the rose and proudly stuck it between my swollen boobs.
“Your mama sleeps with Arabs, Bails.”
The detriments of having gay friends
The hardest part was breaking the news to Amy-Leigh. Gay rights activists can argue that lesbians, especially of Hispanic stock, make most fierce and devoted mothers. That girl ruined the entire theory. She grimaced as if she had just swallowed a mouthful of bleach.
“I knew it would happen sooner or later. You married people are disgusting.”
“Oh, cut it out, will you. It’s not disgusting. It’s natural.”
“Exactly! That’s why it’s disgusting.”
“How do you think you got here?”
“Like I had any choice! My parents didn’t ask my permission to screw without rubbers. I tried aborting myself in the first months. I even tried going into fetal distress. But the good doctor slit my mother’s stomach open and pulled me out.”
I forgot to mention that Amy-Leigh hated everything natural. She only wore clothes that said 100% polyester on the tag. Even her underwear was polyester. She put three bags of artificial sweetener into her artificially flavored coffee. She scorched her hair with florescent dies, because she hated the color she was born with. She wore emerald-green contact lenses and painted her lips black. The very notion of a woman having an unprotected Norman Rockwell acceptable intercourse with a man appalled her. That pretty little cocaine-filled head that I cradled in my lap so many times generated one unique abomination after another. Her latest dream was to give birth to a kitten or a puppy. She even searched for a doctor who would implant a feline embryo into her uterus. She simply couldn’t reconcile with the fact that her best more-than-friend was carrying a human child.
“This is the end of us, Rinnie,” she said and brushed her hands against her plastic miniskirt. “You’ll get stretch marks and flabby boobs, and we’ll have nothing to talk about. You’ll put on thirty pounds, cut your hair, start wearing khaki shorts and drive a minivan.”
“Not necessarily,” I replied defiantly. “It doesn’t have to end this way.”
“Oh, it always ends this way! Figures, I meet this cool European chick, totally let my guard down, let her borrow my Annie DiFranco albums and play with my cat, and she ditches me for Mr. Square-Pants. Oh, I hope you get stretch marks all over your body, on your neck and behind your ears too! I hope your dear husband runs away with a choirboy. I hope your little spawn turns gay. I hope your whole family turns gay and wears polyester.”
Copyright © 2009 by Marina J. Neary