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Scarlet Mantle Goes to Goodwill

by Marina J. Neary

part 3 of 4

All the reasons to be late for a job interview

Pregnancy did wonders for my body. All women should be perpetually ten weeks pregnant. My stomach sunk in from numerous fits of vomiting, and my breasts doubled in size. When I stepped out of the shower, Bailey dropped his toothbrush in the sink and rinsed his mouth in a hurry. The look in his eyes told me that we were both going to have a late start that morning.

“Don’t you move,” he whispered, wiping the toothpaste off his chin.

“What about your interview in Manhattan?”

“Not until 9:30.”

“Well, you better get there early, before your aftershave wears off. The position is worth 75K.”

“To hell with it! If they want me that badly they’ll wait.”

He grabbed me by my wet hair and threw me on a pile of moldy towels. That was his idea of “rough and dirty.” I could tell that he expected me to be shocked and thrilled, so I let out a few fake gasps.

Bailey made love without grunts or grimaces, which I appreciated more than he realized. He went about his business silently, with a straight face and his jaws locked. He calculated the frequency and the depth of his thrusts with scientific precision. His puritanical work ethic revealed itself in everything he did: computer programming, graphic design, making love. Every activity he engaged in had a detailed protocol. Results guaranteed, or your money back.

I loved the smell of toothpaste and aftershave, the smell of a mid-level professional.

Short shallow orgasms kept rolling in like junk mail. Pictures from my erotic past flashed before my eyes. I was thinking of the night at a jazz club when Amy and I sandwiched a chocolate saxophone player on a pool table. I was also thinking about my friend Josh who shaved his legs and anointed his already greasy head with coconut oil. He and I spent the summer of 1997 copulating on a golf course where he worked as a caddy. Josh told me I was his last heterosexual passion, his last attempt at living a life that his synagogue-going mom would approve of. I don’t know why I was thinking of all those people. I suppose, it was because none of them could compete in efficiency with Bailey. My marriage to him was the fattest checkmark I put on my sexual resume.

At quarter to nine, he rolled off of me. I helped him put on his necktie and fixed his hair.

“Go get them, kitten,” I said. “And remember: ask for 90K. Cause if you ask for 75K, they’ll offer you 60K, and you can’t afford to sound cheap and desperate. Also, tell them you want an office with a window and your own water cooler. You are the king of graphic design, and this is the least you deserve.”

Bailey kept nodding and humming. He knew I was right. And I knew he would follow my orders.

That morning I put on a low-cut blouse to flaunt the love bites on my neck and stepped outside. I could feel September sunlight in my lungs, in my hair, even on the bottom of my eye sockets. My butt cheeks jiggled lightly under my favorite skirt that was a little too short and transparent for the office, but I didn’t care. In a few weeks summer would be over, and my belly would start swelling.

Progesterone surged through my veins, bringing tears to my eyes. It was one of those rare but dangerous moments when I caught myself thinking that life was generally bearable, and humanity deserved a few kind words. Pregnant women shouldn’t get sentimental in the middle of a four-way intersection. I heard a few car horns and even a few curses. It all sounded like music to me.

My euphoria ended as soon as I walked into the office. I knew immediately that something terrible had happened. My boss ran past me without scolding me for being late. Normally she would pull me over and tell me that my outfit was “so 90s” before shoving a pile of paperwork into my hands, but this time she did not even notice me. My coworkers crowded in the conference room. Someone was sobbing in the kitchen.

“What the heck...” I mumbled, looking around the empty office. “Are we having more lay-offs?”

Chelsea, our receptionist, dropped her clipboard and rushed towards me.

“My Gosh, Rinnie doesn’t know yet. The Arabs whacked us! Pentagon is on fire. New York is on fire. Everything’s on fire.”

She clung to my swollen breasts. I glanced over her shoulder at the TV screen, just as the north Tower collapsed.

A small volcano of corn flakes and skim milk stirred inside my stomach and erupted all over the back of Chelsea’s new blouse.

She recoiled from me.

“Rinnie! What gives? Way gross...”

I felt so guilty before Chelsea. There she was, clinging to me for comfort, and I ruined her blouse.

She squeezed my head between her hands and shook it as if it were a piggy bank.

“Rinnie! You don’t get it, do you? We’re dead meat.”

I dropped my purse and just stood there, with my arms dangling, licking my lips, while Chelsea went on squealing.

“My God, this is way tragic. It’s like... There are people there, and stuff... You know... Oh, Rinnie, I so have to clear my conscience. I always had a secret crush on Bailey. I totally made a pass at him at last year’s Christmas party. Remember, the one at Misty’s house? I always thought he was way too hot for you. I even fantasized about all sorts of horrible things happening to you, like car accidents and ovarian cancer. And then, I stole a handful of gum drops from your desk drawer! I don’t even know why I’m telling you all this. We’re so dead!”

She squatted and clutched her fists at her crotch, like she really had to piss.

I figured I would slap her before anyone else did.

“This is for touching my stuff.”

I didn’t know what I was saying. The office furniture started spinning around me. The water cooler and the coffee stand blended into one dark ring.

Chelsea rubbed her cheek.

“I totally deserve it,” she murmured.

I sensed vaguely that I was supposed to hate someone, and Chelsea was the only person in my sight at the moment. I wanted to wrap her stringy mousy hair around her neck and strangle her. After all, she was the one who made me look at the TV screen.

All things had an end: gum drops, my decadent childless youth, Western civilization...

I rushed to call my mother at her music studio. She picked up after the first ring.


She sounded like an elementary school teacher who had just caught the class bully by the ear.

“No, Kitty-Cat... It’s your daughter.”

By the way, Kitty was not a diminutive of Catherine. My mother’s real name was Antonia. Kitty was her persona: a mysterious, elusive creature who periodically used her daughter as a scratching post for her claws.

“Evan hasn’t called?” I asked her.

Evan was my mother’s second husband. When I turned seventeen, he legally adopted me just so I could get on his insurance plan. He even paid my kooky biological father three grand in cash to relinquish his parental rights in court. Evan had that endearing chivalrous streak in him. He was one of the few genuine, honest people in New England, which is why he never succeeded in business. He worked in the north tower as a repairman and was familiar with every outlet on every floor. He knew how to make a fishing lure out of a piece of foil, how to assemble a perfect airplane model, how to satisfy his wife in bed.

“Kitty-Cat,” I repeated, feeling that the phone was about to slip out of my sweaty hand. “Please tell me that Evan is coming home tonight.”

“Relax, he’s alive. Unemployed but alive. He went fishing. The blue striper season is coming to an end, so he decided to take advantage of the nice weather. He’s in the middle of a lake right now, with his headphones on. He probably hasn’t heard yet what happened.”

Proceed to part 4...

Copyright © 2009 by Marina J. Neary

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