I’m sitting outside on my deck in the early morning sun, smoking a menthol while I drink my coffee. I don’t smoke, and if I’m honest with myself, the cigarette has really ruined the taste of my espresso. Since Sara left, I’ve been doing this a lot. Doing things, I mean, that seem like they’re going to be really cool – like they’re going to make me feel really cool – but turn out to be, well, a disappointment. Take Ellen, for example.
My brother introduced us, which was probably a bad sign. (He never had liked Sara, pronouncing her ‘dry as a lawyer’s wet dream.’ Nothing was ever exciting enough for him, as witnessed by a trail of broken marriages and a missing middle fingertip, victim of his obsession with carnivorous fish.)
A mutual friend had talked me into a party on the east side – nothing wild, just the late young adulthood, early midlife kind. The kind of party I needed to ease me back into sociability. I sat in a corner, watching people drink lite beer out of paper cups, while a lone baby (the sole entertainment) bounced up and down in a primary colored plastic saucer, enthralling the assembled crowd.
Sara loved babies. Loved them so much in fact, I got sick of hearing about it. When you are, you know, of the Sapphic persuasion, the whole procreation thing is just so inordinately complicated. Birth mothers, sperm donors, gestational surrogacy. Whatever.
We would sit up nights, straight backed at the kitchen table, and discuss it until the sun cracked through the drapes and shot a shard of light between us. The best I could come up with, after all that, was a poorly disguised yawn and a specious offer to ‘investigate the cost of adoption.’
Darren rolled up to the party: late, drunk and uninvited. Ellen was draped over his arm. A thin gold headband encircled her frizzy squared-off hairdo, and her rosebud lips sipped at a menthol cigarette through an ivory holder. With her full sleeve tattoos, she put me in mind of a tribal Lillian Gish.
Darren winked at me, flipped me a stumpy bird, and left us together. After an awkward moment, punctured by the squeaking of a rubber zebra, Ellen flicked her cigarette ash in the direction of the performing child.
“Dear God,” she whispered, her breath hot in my ear. “I simply cannot stand infants.”
We hit it off.
The next Saturday morning found me relaxing in the tub, languidly relishing the memories of the previous seven nights, up to my neck in milk and honey. I was pondering the pros and cons (but mostly the pros) of getting my nipples pierced, when I caught sight of my lone toothbrush in its glass by the sink – and allowed myself the merest hint of a hope that it might soon be joined, on at least a semi-permanent basis, by Ellen’s. Babies or no babies, I just couldn’t help myself.
Then the screen door slammed. In the eerie silence that followed, I became slowly and painfully aware of the soft fizz of my bubble bath deflating.
She did leave me an opened pack of Kools, thrown on my pillow like a half-chewed mint. She took the ivory holder, of course. My brother says he saw her yesterday on one of his delivery runs – she’s the back of house specialist at Kidz Kottage. She didn’t tell him to say hi.
Whatever. It’s now eight-oh-four. Time to get ready for the nine-to-five. I’ve got a hollow, dry feeling in my chest, but I guess I can say one thing for that menthol cigarette. Unlike the coffee (a bitter Bolivian blend I’ve been drinking for years) – it gave me one hell of a buzz.