Girl talk, written by a man; a very dangerous undertaking
This one especially is for my European friends. It’s almost ready. I’m still revising and editing it so please be patient. It’s not easy for a man, this man to be sure, to write really good women’s dialogue. The scene is a coffee shop where three awesome, take-no-prisoners, mature creatures of the female persuasion are discussing the new man in one of their lives. All in their forties, one divorced, the other two single by choice. I suppose I could copy Nin or James but plagiarizing them or any other author is not what I do.
Update: Sunday, February 9, 2014, 9:15 P.M. CST
Well, here it is. I wrote this scene more than a year ago and it’s undergone steady revision and edits since. After all, I’m just a stupid man struggling to write the way women think, the way they talk among themselves when there are no men present. Please tell me what I got wrong? Hey ladies, the Internet is anonymous so you can tell me the truth without giving away any of the sisterhood’s secrets. I’m a good writer so if I know what to fix, I’ll fix it. Enjoy.
G A B R I E L L E
Gabrielle Helm leaned over and rested her forearms on her quivering thighs and waited for the nauseous feeling to pass. She was absolutely certain if the dance routine Catherine Duvall was leading had gone on one minute longer she would have tossed her cookies. For the last half hour Catherine had those who had them switch to optional Latin-style ballroom shoes with 2-inch heels and suede soles and had them moving their hips in ways she never imagined a woman’s hips could move. For the last ten minutes, to blot out the pain, she fantasized moving her hips that way while straddling Freddy-pooh and she knew, beyond all doubt he would say he’d died and gone to heaven.
Catherine was a cruel, sadistic, merciless slave driver. Gabrielle couldn’t imagine a Marine drill instructor being any tougher, except the soft-spoken Catherine never shouted, never exhorted them with curses, kicks, slaps or insults the way she’d heard the DIs did. She just intimated them with her incredible moves and complex choreography.
Whenever Gabrielle wanted to punish herself for the sins of gluttony, sloth and indolence she signed up for one of these classes but this one was like nothing she had ever experienced. Four months ago eighteen of them had registered, paid the stiff enrollment fee and within two weeks the class had attrited down to ten. A month later two more joined them and these twelve survivors had all been diligent and enthusiastic exercise junkies, otherwise known as masochists. She wondered, for the umpteenth time whether all this pain was worth it, and then she remembered that since enrolling in Catherine’s advanced aerobics with jazz dance class she’d finally lost the ten pounds she hadn’t been able to lose since college. Now, at forty-two she was incredibly fit and looked better than she had ever looked in her entire life, thanks to Catherine and her thrice weekly killer workouts.
Gabrielle, or Gaby as she liked to be called, was a five-eight, athletically slender, ash blonde with striking green eyes. She was also one of Bend’s movers and shakers – she had an MBA degree in marketing and a B.A. in political science, both from OSU, and worked as a political fundraiser for the mayor, Jeffrey Boone, and she was particularly good at it. Mayor Boone, a partner in a Bend law firm and a two-term member of the Bend city council, wanted to be Congressman Boone or possibly Governor Boone and she was going to help him get there and looking good, which in her case was an understatement, didn’t hurt one little bit.
Her breathing finally back to normal, she walked to the table alongside the wall, removed the shoes and cracked a chilled bottle of water. She closed her eyes and pressed the cold bottle to her cheeks, then downed half of it before setting it down. She then used one of the luxury towels the club provided to blot the perspiration from her arms, neck and face, careful not to smudge her eye makeup, the only makeup she dared wear to one of Catherine’s classes. She’d done that just once, wore foundation and blush and it was a soggy mess well before the session ended. She thought about a shower but Catherine almost never showered at the club, since she usually rode her bike to the fitness center, and Gaby wanted to talk to her. She motioned to her friend Sharon Robinette to join her and she sidled up to Catherine, who was also drying her flushed, sweaty and makeup-free face. They waited patiently while she unpinned her longer-than-shoulder-length hair, made a somewhat successful attempt to dry it, brushed out the worst of the tangles and pinned it back up again.
Sharon wasn’t a Bend mover and shaker, at least not yet. Mostly she sold upscale real estate, very successfully, but without making a big deal about it. Originally from Sydney, Australia, she had recently become a U.S. citizen. It was her younger sister Jennifer who was the mover and shaker, or to be precise, it was her husband who was. He was Kenneth Lilja, currently Oregon’s congressman from the 2nd congressional district. Sharon may not have had Gaby’s political clout and influence – she wasn’t especially fond of her brother-in-law and made a point of not mentioning to anyone the identity of her famous in-law – but she more than made up for it with looks to spare. Several years younger than Gaby and shorter by four inches, with auburn hair, she was just as fit and attracted just as many envious looks from women and admiring looks from men, as did her friend.
“Got anywhere you absolutely have to be in the next hour?” Gaby said to Catherine.
Catherine glanced at the wall clock, saw it was 11:35 A.M. and said, “Nope, what do you have in mind?”
“A little girl talk. Let’s go have coffee at the new Starbucks on 9th and Greenwood. I’ll buy and it’s only a couple of blocks away.”
“Didn’t know there was a Starbucks there?”
“It just opened, where a 7-Eleven used to be. Perfect location; gets everyone coming into town on Greenwood.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you two there . . . in ten minutes or so.”
Catherine didn’t bother to change back into her riding duds, not for the three or four blocks to Starbucks nor the five blocks from the coffee house to her condo. When she reached the corner of 8th and Greenwood the eastbound traffic was heavy, a steady stream of cars and trucks, so she slipped in alongside the flow pedaling just fast enough not to wobble. Catherine ignored the whistles and the Hey baby, what’s happening. Once she’d made the mistake of flipping the bird to some redneck in a pickup truck and he’d stopped and got out and wanted to fight. The only thing that saved her was he couldn’t follow where she fled on the bike. Now whenever she was hassled she avoided making eye contact, kept her middle finger to herself and her mouth shut.
She glanced to her left and saw the familiar green motif and it came as a surprise because for nearly seven months, every time she’d driven to the restaurant from her condo, admittedly from north of Greenwood, she’d turned right at this intersection and had not noticed what was being constructed less than one block over. Good to know she had a Starbucks within walking distance of where she lived but in truth, with her espresso machine she could make coffee drinks as good as the Starbucks baristas could. When the last car passed her near 10th she crossed over and did a U-turn and came back the opposite way. When she arrived at the café she chained her bike where she was sure she could see it. The four outdoor tables under the green umbrellas were all in use so she went inside. The other women were already there, waiting for her, sitting at a table for four near the rear. She pushed her sunglasses up in the tangle that was her hair, ordered a Coffee Frappuccino and joined them but she asked them to move to a different table close to a window where she could keep an eye on her expensive bicycle. Gaby wasted little time; she began almost before Catherine was settled in her chair with, “So, tell us about your new accompanist?”
“Don’t have a new accompanist, at least not yet.”
“Catherine, I was there yesterday, at happy hour. I heard him play. In fact, I requested a Jimmy Webb song and he played ‘Highwayman’ for me. He’s fantastic, especially the way he makes a harmonica wail . . . and in case you hadn’t noticed, he’s quite the hunk. Are you saying you aren’t going to hire him?”
“It’s in the works but quite frankly, he’s an incredibly arrogant asshole and I’m not sure I can deal with all his bullshit.”
“What’s his name?”
End of discussion, that’s all she said and she busied herself with her frap. After a moment Gaby said, somewhat impatiently, “Come on Catherine, don’t make us drag it out of you . . . we want to hear all the gory details. For example, is he married?”
“Okay . . . he’s divorced, late forties, he’s not a professional musician . . . he’s some sort of computer consultant, has a hobby ranch somewhere in eastern Oregon and he travels a lot. Lydia Conti seems to know him well, his ex-wife too – her name is Madeleine, by the way, and she’s Spanish . . . or Spanish-Italian, according to Lydia – as I guess when they were married they lived somewhere in Deschutes County, near Bend but not in town, and they were regulars at the restaurant.”
“How long has he been divorced?”
“I think about four years.”
“Okay, so what’s the downside?” said Gaby. Sharon said nothing but was taking it all in.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a more arrogant man. Thinks he’s God’s gift to women and like a hound dog on the scent of a bitch in heat, is constantly on the make. He turns every question, every comment into an opportunity to hit on me. Do you know what that asshole said to me? He said I look like a fifteen-minute girl. Like a fool I asked what that was and he said it was a woman who craved sex every fifteen minutes, and the best match-up for one of those was an oral guy who knows how to play the harmonica.”
They all started laughing and Gaby said, “He really said that?”
“Yes, and he even used Taoism to explain the benefits of mutual oral sex . . . something about how exchanging sexual fluids enhances one’s ch’i.” Catherine couldn’t suppress a smile and then she began laughing. She pressed her fingers to her temples and rested her elbow on the table and laughed, uncontrollably, biting her thumb to keep from blurting out the sound of her laughter. Finally, when she again got herself under control she said, “I’m sorry. It was just so funny. Of course, at the time it came as such a shock that a man I barely know would speak to me that way, I was speechless . . . literally. Now, when I think of what he said I can’t help laughing,” and she again went into a paroxysm of laughter.
Finally, her laughing jag over, she said, “And I also heard all about how he uses the piano to hit on what he calls piano groupies. That’s what he was doing last night during happy hour, only I spoiled his act when I seated him earlier than he expected. What kind of fool comes to Di Giorgio’s on a Friday during pro-am without a reservation and then asks if he can play the piano? He didn’t care whether he got a table; all he cared about was getting access to the keyboard so he could work his game on some impressionable woman.”
“Ramona Gerry was coming on to him, right in front of her husband only she’s far from impressionable. She just likes to fuck . . . anything in pants.”
“But she’s married and he told me he doesn’t fool around with married women.”
“Do you believe him?”
“I’m not sure. He’s seen the ring I wear so he must think I’m married but he won’t stop hitting on me.”
“You aren’t married, are you?”
“No, I wear it at work to avoid being hit on. Mostly it works but some guys just don’t care. Nothing short of rude and crude will shut them down, and then they always get mean and nasty. Men are such pigs and the married ones are the worst.”
“How long have you been divorced?”
“It was in ’91 so . . . almost eight years.”
“Are you seeing someone, regularly?”
“Not at the moment.”
“Then I don’t see what the problem is? He’s single; you’re single. He plays the piano and the harmonica, brilliantly. How long have you been looking for a replacement for Eddie . . . two months, three months?”
“Four; damn . . . Catherine, you need him and from what I saw last night, he’s very attractive. Knows how to dress, has a good build, a ponytail no less; and you say he’s an oral guy – ooh la, la. Surely you know how to put someone like that in a box and keep him doing what you want him to do? After all, he’s just a stupid man and any man can be led around by his cock.”
“Except that’s not the way I want this to work. I want to keep my personal life separate from my professional life. I tried mixing the two, several times, and it doesn’t work . . . at least not for me.”
Catherine raised her coffee cup to her lips, shook it and discovered it was empty. “I think I need a refill,” as she stood. “Anyone else?” When neither responded, she said, “He did say something I can’t stop thinking about.” Slowly, she sat down and continued, in a voice so soft the other women had to lean forward to hear. “I can’t help thinking that deep down there just might be a somewhat decent human being under all his bullshit.”
She paused as if to gather her thoughts, then she said, “I was in his face about why he came to Di Giorgio’s last night and he admitted he plays in public places to meet women. He does it, he said, because after his wife divorced him, he discovered how effective it is. Unfortunately, so he said, most of the women he meets are married and cheating on their husbands. He said he never cheated on her and he wasn’t sure whether she had cheated on him but she probably had. She’s remarried now, but . . . so he said, he still loves her and would go back to her in a heartbeat if he could.”
“How long were they married; did he say?” said Sharon.
“Almost nineteen years.”
“Did he say why she divorced him?”
“Some sort of crisis, but he didn’t say what it was. He said he failed her.”
“He actually admitted he was at fault?”
“I’ve known a number of divorced men and it’s never their fault. It’s always the woman’s fault.”
“Like the one you’re currently dating? Down girl,” said Gaby. “Catherine has first dibs on this guy.”
“Stay out of this, Gaby. You heard her say she doesn’t want to mix business with pleasure.”
“What a bunch of hooey,” said Gaby. “Like the words the Bard had come out of Gertrude’s mouth, ‘the lady doth protest too much, methinks.’ If she hires him and they work well together, you can bet they’ll be sleeping together.”
“Hey, cool it, both of you,” said Catherine. “I’m not interested in him that way, so if you are, go for it. You just might be exactly what he’s looking for. Right after the divorce, when he first started hanging out in piano bars, he said he was not shy about getting it on with married women. If their husbands couldn’t keep them satisfied, they got what they deserved. That’s an exact quote, by the way. But, he said, eventually that got old and he stopped, but he still plays in places like Di Giorgio’s, hoping he’ll meet women who are quote, free to choose, unquote. That’s how he put it, free to choose.
“So, I asked him if he was just looking for the next Mrs. Ware and he said he wasn’t interested in ownership, just exclusivity. I asked him if he really believes he can have exclusivity without ownership and that’s when he said the thing I can’t stop thinking about.”
She paused for a moment and then she said, “he said . . . hang on a sec; I want to get this exactly right . . . he said ‘Ownership can be a straitjacket while . . . while exclusivity is a state of mind. We know ownership doesn’t guarantee exclusivity and . . . and with the right state of mind, it isn’t necessary.’ I’ve been there so what he said hit me where I live. Since, he said, he’d been so successful with married cheaters, I asked him why exclusivity is so important to him, and he talked at length. I won’t go into that, not because it wasn’t interesting, it was, but what was more interesting to me was this notion that exclusivity is more important than ownership.”
Again she paused to gather her thoughts and then she said, “I subscribe to several Internet sites where you can check text for plagiarism. As a writer, I can’t afford to let even a whiff of plagiarism slip into my work, even accidentally. So, last night I checked all of them to see whether he lifted those ideas from some book. I could find nothing that even comes close. So, I guess I’ll just have to give him the benefit of the doubt until I learn otherwise.”
They glared at each other, but neither Gaby nor Sharon had anything more to say. Finally, after Catherine had been silent for a moment, Gaby said, “Well kiddo, I sure hope you know what you’re doing. This Ware smells like trouble.”
. . .
The chime over the entrance door sounded its distinctive ringtone and they all turned to see the man who just walked in. They all craned their heads; sitting in front of a window they’d all seen him ride up on a bicycle, lock it in the bike rack next to Catherine’s and Catherine noted that he’d checked out hers. It annoyed her that without permission he’d bent down and manipulated the rear derailleur on her very expensive bicycle.
“Well speak of the devil . . . or if not the devil, a Willie Nelson wannabe,” said Gaby. “Guess who just walked in?”
Catherine noted Michael had swapped the Forty Niners cap for a red and blue paisley bandana tied around his forehead. He was still wearing black spandex cycling shorts and the blue and gold jersey, now with the sleeves pushed up revealing muscular forearms, and he had his backpack, really a book-bag made of black nylon, the kind they hand out at conferences to carry the swag, slung over one shoulder. His had JavaOne, Sun microsystems, ZD and COMDEX & FORUMS embroidered on the front. Standing up, free of the bicycle saddle she got for the first time a really good look at his legs and the bulge between them. An image of Nurayev at his best flashed in her mind’s eye. She felt the heat begin in her loins and spread upward until her neck and face were flushed. She dismissed it as a hot flash until she felt the familiar wetness between her legs.
To cover her discomfort she said, without being prompted, “We ran into each other on the Larkspur and I didn’t recognize him at the time but I watched him early this morning running sprints on the Senior High track.”
“Sprints? He was running sprints?”
“Yes, I watched him run three 220-yard sprints and he’s very fast for a man his age. I don’t know how many he ran but he was there before I arrived and was still there after I left.”
“He’s about our age, isn’t he? Early forties?” said Gaby.
“I think he’s older than us but I don’t know by how much.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! I do believe he’s got an erection. That barista has boobs out to here and he’s ogling her. And look at those legs,” said Sharon. “My God, he’s got beautiful legs . . . except for that scar. Well Catherine, you snooze you lose. I’m free to choose and I want one of those and if you aren’t interested, I sure am.”
Gaby now studied the man’s legs too and after a moment she said, “No, he’s not erect. It’s those spandex shorts. They have some sort of cup that holds his jewels in a tight ball . . . sort of like when a woman wears a bra with the cups one size too small. Like a male ballet dancer, right Catherine?”
“How would I know?”
“Come on Catherine, you’ve danced professionally. You must have seen lots of male dancers wearing tights that show off their equipment? I’ll bet when they pas de deux the girls grope the boys just like the boys grope the girls? I would.”
“I gave up ballet for jazz when I was seventeen.”
“Oh, why was that?”
“My toes couldn’t take the pounding.”
After a moment Gaby said, “I’ll be damned; he has the scars of a bullet wound on his left leg.”
Catherine too stared at Michael’s legs and wasn’t exactly sure to what Gaby was referring. “What are you talking about?”
“Excuse me for a moment. I want to be sure,” as she got up and walked behind the man, studying his legs from the rear, and covered herself by ordering refills for their coffees. When she returned to the others she said, “I’m sure. He has the scars of what’s called a through-and-through. Bullet went in the rear and came out the front.”
“How do you know what he has is from a bullet?” said Sharon.
“I used to date a cop in Phoenix. He had one too, only his was side-to-side. Trust me, I saw it close up, many times,” which made them all giggle like naughty schoolgirls.
“When I asked him why, at his age he ran sprints, he said when he was younger he’d had to do serious rehab to repair an injured leg. I assumed he was referring to an accident. He didn’t mention he’d been shot.”
“Let’s have some fun with Mr. Ware? Call him over and introduce us.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Put the SOB in his place, something you obviously failed to do.”
“Gaby, I’m still undecided about whether to hire him. Please don’t screw that up?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll have him eating out of my hand before we finish our lattes.”
Catherine now said, with steel in her voice, “Gaby, not one word about these notions of exclusivity and ownership. I don’t care what else you talk about, but not that. Gaby! I mean it, not one word.”
“Okay! I promise, okay?”
Catherine shook her head and wagged her finger at her friend, but said nothing more.
. . .
Catherine had already made eye contact with Michael and assumed he would come over to their table but she caught his eye again, waved and beckoned him to join them. She knew from personal experience Gaby could be hell on wheels and she briefly considering introducing them to Michael and then making some excuse to leave just in case Gaby made a butch of it. If she wasn’t there when it happened then Michael couldn’t blame her for anything Gaby said or did and she could always find out later what went down. But she was curious to see how Michael would react to being dismantled by Gaby. She could do it too, when the man deserved it, but she had never set out to be that deliberately bitchy, well . . . almost never. When he joined them he brought the coffees that Gaby had ordered with him. He set them on the table but remained standing, with Gaby on his left and Catherine on his right.
Catherine said, “Michael Ware, please say hello to Gabrielle Helm and Sharon Robinette,” and she gestured to each woman in turn as she said her name.
“Gaby,” as Gabrielle offered her hand. Sharon smiled but did not offer to shake hands.
Tyne took the woman’s hand, nodded at her and Sharon and said “Ladies.”
“Please join us?” said Catherine.
Tyne set his backpack alongside the chair between Gaby and Catherine and sat down, and he noticed almost immediately the woman was staring at his left leg. The hem of his shorts ended just above a star-shaped scar, shiny and hairless, the size of a quarter and up-close you could also see the white line from a surgical incision through its center. Without being obvious about it he rearranged himself to give her a good look. He wondered how she would resolve the dichotomy: curiosity about the scar and reticence about mentioning it. Most people who saw it starred but said nothing.
He decided to take the initiative, so he said, “Did y’all see how good our two bikes look together, Catherine’s and mine, side by side, like they were made for each other, like Catherine and I are made for each other, only she’s too fucking uptight to acknowledge what is otherwise an inescapable fact of nature? She thinks it’s wrong for a couple to perform together – that’s my take on the state of her world, by the way, admittedly after fewer than twenty-four hours, but I have a nose for these things, no doubt like the hound dog you guys think I am – but me thinks the music we’ll make together will be better, like the love we’ll make will be better when we remember the music, play it back in our heads while we’re doing it. The audience is merely a voyeur eavesdropping on the parts us lovers will let them see.”
Before any of them could say anything, maybe because he’d stunned them into silence, he said, “Of course, a pink bike, no a matte pink bike – someone suggested I should make lists and my latest says try to be less crude . . .” and he winked at Catherine when he said this, “dubbed Genesisters no less – mine is a Genesis, get it? – is so fucking dumb as to be offensive especially coming from Gary Fisher Bicycles. Gary is an old hippy with a ponytail, like me, and granny glasses, so he certainly isn’t chauvinistic but someone in his company, probably some marketing asshole sure the hell is. Had Catherine asked me for my advice I would have recommended the hardtail version of that bike but a Fisher full suspension is as good as that type gets and I suppose is easier on the butt, hers being so sweet.
“By the way, some folks call what I just said TMI but I know you gals were talking about me so I thought I’d get in some bullshit of my own, first, to sort of disarm y’all. Do you two ride,” and he gestured at the two women he’d just met, “or do you just boogie, with Catherine, that is? Perhaps we can all ride together?”
He looked for acknowledgement but got only bemused negative head shakes from the two women.
“Pity. Or perhaps I should join Catherine’s class? I’m pretty fit so I can probably keep up with y’all, once I learn the moves. I can’t remember the last time I was in the company of three stone foxes. Are all the others in your class as hot as you two?”
The three women were all exchanging knowing looks, like they were listening to the village idiot; either that or they were all trying to keep from laughing.
“My class is not open to men; we women have to have a place to get away from guys and my experience has been guys just can’t cut it,” said Catherine.
“Uh-huh,” and he nodded and again winked at her.
“Mike . . . may I call you Mike?” said Gaby.
“I prefer Michael.”
“Okay, Michael it is. I was in Di Giorgio’s last night, in the High Desert Lounge, during happy hour. You play extremely well. I particularly liked the harmonica solo you did on ‘Alfie.’ ”
“That’s what we call the piano bar,” said Catherine.
“Thank you. Had you stayed later you would have heard me do Carly Simon’s ‘Better Not Tell Her’ for Catherine. It has a Spanish guitar solo that I’ve adapted to the harp. I think you would have liked it even more than my ‘Alfie.’ ”
“I liked them both,” said Catherine.
“Tell me Michael, those three women that were sitting at the piano; were you hitting on them?”
Tyne glanced at Catherine, who returned his glance with a neutral expression. He looked back at Gaby and said, “The younger one, Cali or Kelly – there was too much noise in the bar to get her name – was an airhead; way too young for me. Mona, nice looking woman, good tits, was married and as Catherine probably told you, I don’t fool around with married women. Jane, the oldest was too old, so no, I wasn’t hitting on them. Now had you joined our happy little group, I’m sure I would have hit on you.”
“I was with my boyfriend.”
“I would have hit on you anyway.”
“Oh; he might have objected to that. Might have whupped your ass.”
“You think so, huh? Truly? ‘Cause I think it’s doubtful.”
“Well, if we ever come in again when you’re playing, better be careful. You are going to join Catherine’s act, aren’t you?”
“She hasn’t asked me yet and I’m undecided whether I want to work with her. She’s so fucking uptight she must have the biggest damn cob up her ass. I don’t think the chemistry between us is right.”
“That’s because you think your do-do doesn’t stink,” said Catherine.
Tyne started laughing. He couldn’t help himself. He laughed and laughed, tried to stop and couldn’t and his laughter was contagious, because all the women, even Catherine began to laugh too. When they finally stopped Tyne said, “That is priceless. My do-do doesn’t stink. That’s the best put-down I’ve heard in years, maybe ever. I love it . . . and her for having the stones to say it,” and he laughed again but only momentarily. He stopped laughing but he couldn’t stop smiling and several times in the next few minutes he covered his mouth with his hand and chuckled silently to himself.
“You play to hit on women, don’t you?”
“Nope. Takes way too much energy. I prefer to have women hit on me and yes, that’s why I play.”
“How well does it work?”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out, except don’t tell your boyfriend. He might whup your ass.”
“You’re really on a roll, aren’t you? One real slick arrogant smart-ass,” said Gaby. Catherine was having a hard time keeping a straight face. She was enjoying the barbed exchanges, could see Gaby was getting pissed and she was glad she hadn’t left. Michael, she decided, could take care of himself.
“Well dear, you bring out the best in me . . . or is it the worst?”
“Michael, Catherine tells us you are a student of Taoism. Is that true?”
Tyne smiled, patted Catherine’s arm and said, “Good for you, dear. I was hoping that discussion would . . . resonate . . . with you. I can see it did.”
To Gaby he said, “Not a student, per se, but some of the more lyrical passages seem to speak directly to me, especially those that deal with maintaining and enhancing one’s ch’i.”
“Such as . . . yoni worship. Taoism argues that it leads directly to longevity and vitality. I don’t really know . . . none of us do . . . how long I’ve got left but it certainly makes me feel like a twenty-year-old. When they elect me president . . . or better yet, emperor of the world I will issue a proclamation that every woman have a dozen yoni worshipers at her permanent beck and call. You would concur that that’s a good thing, wouldn’t you? Just think, no more wars, just lots and lots of yoni love. Except . . . and he shook his head in a show of dismay, “. . . except the yoni lovers would make war among themselves over the prettiest yonis. I could write a song . . .”
She didn’t let him finish; “Michael, isn’t yoni a Sanskrit word? And, if I’m not mistaken, isn’t Taoism Chinese? You seem to be confusing the Kama Sutra with the Tao. Only the dumbest of dumb piano groupies, the ones who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, will buy into your bullshit when you make that mistake, ya dig?”
“That’s very good. I’m impressed. Perhaps I have more in common with you than Catherine?”
“Not if we were the last two people alive on planet earth.”
“Probably the entire universe, right?”
“You got it, Ace.”
“Think of them as compatible metaphors except Taoism is much more ambiguous . . . perhaps that’s not the right word . . . more esoteric . . . more . . . figurative than literal. One would have to be a Chinese scholar and fluent in Mandarin to comprehend anything other than the English translations. Even yin and yang . . . and yin, the closest the Tao comes to the Sanskrit word for vulva, yoni . . . are difficult, almost impossible for an occidental to understand. Yin and yang can mean, metaphorically, whatever you want them to mean while yoni and lingam are unambiguous. And since Mandarin is not one of my languages . . .”
“Oh, which languages do you speak . . . besides trailer trash?”
He stared at her, intently, hoping to make her blink or look away but she didn’t. She looked back just as intently. What the hell is going on, he thought. Why is this woman so angry . . . or is it some sort of game? He looked at the other two women in turn and saw the same sort of smirk, as if they were both expecting some reaction, especially Catherine. Obviously, Catherine told them something about me and it’s some sort of test . . . or possibly this one is teaching her friends the proper way to handle someone like me. He decided to have some fun with them, so he said, “I’m wondering if interrupting is some kind of girl thing. My ex-wife did it all the time and it drove me up the wall. Last night Catherine did it a bunch of times and now you. The Guide says it should be nipped in the bud at the earliest possible moment. To her credit Catherine and I are working on the problem . . . sort of, and I guess now I’ll have to work on you too.”
“Guide? What guide?”
“Why, The Guide, especially chapter XII, Concerning girlfriends, wives and mistresses, and the proper management thereof.” It was difficult but he managed to keep a straight face by biting his lower lip.
“Liar, liar, pants are on fire. I don’t believe there is such a book. Who wrote it?”
Why Nicolò Machiavelli, of course, in . . . 1514 or ‘15, during that period after the restoration of the Medicis when he was sucking up to Lorenzo the Magnificent, trying to get back in his good graces. I got my copy in Florence on my last trip to Italy,” and he looked at Catherine and said, “it was during that bicycle trip I told you about.”
Gaby stared back and he could see he’d hooked her. He was sure she wasn’t buying what he said but she was at least temporarily without a comeback. He looked again at Catherine and then at Sharon and saw, what . . . amusement? . . . or something equally interesting. He loved fucking with a woman’s head and this one seemed to have promise, so he continued, “It was his companion work to The Prince, but much less well known. In fact, it’s only recently been translated from the Italian . . . La Guida. And chapter XII is, Per quanto riguarda fidanzate, mogli e amanti, e la corretta gestione della stessa.”
“You speak Italian?”
“My ex-wife is Spanish-Italian so over the years I’ve picked up some Italian. My vocabulary is somewhat limited but I can manage basic conversational speech, especially the kind that passes between men and women.”
“But I’m neither your girlfriend or wife, and certainly not a lover.”
Hmm, he thought, she speaks Italian. But how well? “Yet. And I think in this context amanti best translates as mistresses.”
Gaby’s eyes flashed, her lower lip quivered and then she pressed her lips together in a thin line, her anger, it seemed to him, ratcheted up another notch. She obviously does not like to be corrected, he thought.
“Yet? What the fu . . . what is that supposed to mean?”
“Ancora? Che cazzo è che dovrebbe significare? The Guide says it’s okay to say fuck. It says men should speak to women the same way they speak to men and women should be encouraged to do the same. The Guide encourages clarity in speech . . . for both men and women. Yet, or ancora . . . means you aren’t my girlfriend, wife or mistress, yet. I can’t speak for Sharon . . . yet, but it’s obvious neither you nor Catherine have ever been with an Italian man; neither of you have been properly trained. Best that that training commence immediately, so, in future, please restrain your natural impulse to interrupt me, especially when I’m about to say something profound.”
“Ware isn’t Italian. Isn’t it Irish?”
“Esatto, cara Gabrielle. But managing women is an Italian art form and I am a diligent student of the genre.”
He could see she was furious but before she could respond, he continued, “As I was saying . . . since Mandarin is not one of my languages . . . I chose to adopt yoni as my preferred word for pussy. Many women are uncomfortable, at least at first, hearing or using that word. I’ve not met one yet who was uncomfortable with yoni, but if anyone can teach me a Chinese word that is as evocative as yoni, I’ll gladly use it.”
“Which languages do you speak . . . other than Italian?” this from Sharon, her first comment since he sat down with them. He noted a lovely Australian, or possibly New Zealand, accent.
“Officially, Spanish, French and Vietnamese, the latter taught to me by the Navy and not because they wanted me to join the diplomatic corps. My Latin is very rusty, certainly no fault of the nuns at St. Ignatius. I also know some Gaelic, from my mother, mostly the greetings the Irish use when formally calling on a friend or neighbor.”
“Sharon, you speak Spanish, don’t you?” said Gaby.
“I’m a little rusty, too, but I can usually understand what someone says, if they speak slowly and distinctly.”
“Okay Ace, say something in Spanish . . . if you can?”
Tyne studied her face and holding eye contact, he said, “Okay . . . let’s see. It has to be in context, apropos of what we’re discussing.” He thought for a moment and then said, “I’m sure you’ll appreciate this: Usted es una mamá caliente, pero usted tiene la lengua de una víbora.” For Sharon’s benefit he spoke slowly and precisely, with his best Hispanic accent.
Sharon paused long enough to do the translation in her head and then began laughing. She went into the same sort of laughing jag that Catherine earlier had had. It took her several minutes to get herself under control, but even after she did, she could not help smiling to herself.
Tyne then said, “Catherine dear, I’ll bet you speak French, right?”
“Yes, French is my first language.”
“Here’s what I said in French: Vous êtes une maman chaude, mais vous avez la langue d’une vipère.”
Catherine made a wry face, as if Tyne had said something repulsive, and then she said, “What a weird accent.”
“It’s the accent of my French teacher, a woman born in Saigon. Talk among yourselves and satisfy yourselves that I said the same thing in both languages.”
Catherine conferred with Sharon but they kept their brief conversation private from Gaby. When they were done Catherine said, “They were the same . . . except . . . except your accent is like nothing I’ve ever heard before.”
“But you understood what I said, so it couldn’t have been that awful.”
“It wasn’t awful . . . it was just . . . it was just very different.”
“You’ve obviously never traveled to Vietnam, have you?”
There was a noticeable pause and then she said, “No . . . I never have.”
“Something about a viper?” said Gaby. “How is that in context?”
“Sharon dear, was what I said in context?”
Sharon looked off into the distance, pursed her lips, finally smiled and nodded her head.
“I could say it in Vietnamese too but none of you would understand. Oh, what the hell: Bạn là một . . . mama . . . nóng nhưng bạn phải lưỡi của một con rắn. Vietnamese is a relatively small language so if there is no suitable Vietnamese word, or one doesn’t know it, one simply inserts a suitable English or better yet, French word. Gaby dear, don’t you know any language other than English?”
“I’m fluent in German and nearly so in Italian. That’s how I picked up on the words in Spanish and French for viper. They all have the same origin. I also understood all your bullshit about this so-called guide, we all know doesn’t exist. You’re such an asshole; you made that up to screw . . . to fuck with my head, didn’t you?”
“Fucking with women’s heads is my favorite pastime. It’s never meant to hurt or do harm . . . it’s fun, although I can get mean and nasty, if the situation warrants mean and nasty . . . just like you, dear. Try this one on for size. Give me a sec to get the verbs right . . . Tu sei uno . . . hot mama ma si ha . . . ha la lingua di una vipera.”
If looks could really kill Tyne would now be quite dead. Gaby said, “Given half a chance I’d use it on your jugular.”
“Me thinks you’d use it on a different part of my anatomy . . . if you could.” He didn’t wait for the answer her angry face told him she was about to deliver. “There’s this great scene in Hombre, one of my favorite films, where Diane Cilento’s character says: ‘And if you’re wondering whether I’m carrying a gun, I’m not, my tongue is my only weapon.’ And Richard Boone’s character says, ‘And it’s deadly.’ Great scene. I never tire of watching Cilento in action. Her Jessie is a marvelous character. Gaby sort of reminds me of Diane. I wanted to use adder, to capture just how deadly Gaby’s tongue is – you are one hot mama but you have the tongue of an adder – but I couldn’t think of the Spanish or French words for it. There’s una culebra, but snake is too generic. I’m thinking maybe there isn’t one.”
“¿Cómo más agudo que el colmillo de una serpiente que es tener un hijo ingrato,” said Sharon.
“That’s the famous line from Shakespeare’s King Lear: ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.’ Una serpiente, that’s good but it too misses the mark, since Lear punished Cordelia for being ungrateful, but putting her husband ahead of her father is not the same as being deadly.”
“Comment plus nette que la dent d’un serpent, il est d’avoir un enfant ingrat,” said Catherine.
“There’s that serpent again, d’un serpent. I guess viper is most apt.”
“Where did you learn your Spanish? You’re accent sounds like northern Spain, perhaps Basque?” said Sharon.
“Yes, Raul and Olivia are both Basque by way of New Mexico. I have this friend . . . no, he’s more like my brother . . . and I wanted to speak with him, and later with his wife in their language rather than mine. I have a good ear for languages and I pick up the accent of whomever I’m speaking with if I spend any amount of time with them. Do I hear a bit of Oz in yours?”
“Yes, I’m Australian but I have dual citizenship.”
“Where did you learn to speak Spanish?”
“In Granada, at the university. I won a scholarship for a year abroad. I was working on my masters in political history at ANU in Canberra. My thesis was on fascism and I could have chosen to study in either Italy or Spain. I was most interested in Franco and the Civil War so I chose Spain and I liked it so well I stayed for an extra year.“
“I loved the month I spent in New South Wales in late ‘68 and early ‘69.”
“Really? Perhaps if you hook up with Catherine, I’m sure we will . . . we will run into each other . . . and you can tell me that story?”
“My goodness, I have something in common with each of you. How fortuitous it was to stop here this morning for coffee. I almost didn’t. Moving right along . . . regardless what you call it . . . yoni worship or goddess worship or pussy worship, whatever . . . it’s my point of view and therefore I’m free to pick the best of whatever philosophy appeals to me, ya dig? Even the early Christians, the Gnostics, called their religion Synesaktism, which means The Way of Shaktism, which is another term for Tantric yoni worship. Every culture expresses some form of that particular activity. If you, dear Gaby, had less anger and more wit you would appreciate what a good thing you have going. Forget the penis envy and cultivate your own stable of yoni groupies.”
“I need advice from you like I need a hole in my head.”
You could cut the sarcasm with a knife. For a moment all was quiet on the western front. In that moment, what novelists call a pregnant pause, despite Gaby’s hostility, he began to feel optimistic about this apparently chance meeting. The Australian woman had been more than civil. She had undoubtedly heard the same things from Catherine that Gaby had and it hadn’t poisoned her well. He was thinking a discreet follow-up with her might be rewarding. And Catherine too seemed to have mellowed. Her body language was much more relaxed than when she had fired her do-do warning salvo. Only Gaby, it seemed, had not been charmed. Oh well, he though, perhaps a sincere apology might still salvage the moment.
Finally, since no one else would speak, Tyne, looking intently in Gaby’s eyes, said, “Someday . . . perhaps you’ll tell me exactly what bad thing I did to make you so angry. Or was it something I did to Catherine? Whatever it was, I sincerely apologize.”
Before Gaby or Catherine could speak, Sharon said, “Yo podría estar interesado . . . si no es Catalina.”
He held eye contact with the woman for a long moment, his face as neutral as he could make it, and then he said, “Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Michael, that scar on your leg . . . it’s from a bullet, isn’t it?” this from Gaby, and her tone was even less friendly than before. Alas, he thought, my mea culpa didn’t work.
Well, she finally got to it. He was beginning to think she was going to let it pass; just busting his balls getting her jollies based on what she’d heard from Catherine. “You’re very observant. Yes it is.”
“I thought so. Well, either you’re an ex-cop; an ex-con or you got it serving in the military. Which is it?”
“Well, I’m not an ex-cop.”
“But you could be an ex-con? You certainly have the hairdo for one only I would expect to see tats too.”
“Could be I have them where they don’t show.” He sipped his coffee and studied her face, in silence.
“How did you get those scars? Inquiring minds want to know.”
“If I tell you, what’s in it for me?”
“You offering me some satisfaction? I’d rather have ch’i but I’ll settle for satisfaction . . . from you.”
“Not a chance.”
“What are you offering?”
“Nothing; the satisfaction I’m talking about is what comes from coming clean . . . being honest.”
“It isn’t being dishonest not to discuss with a perfect stranger something that isn’t any of her business. Now if we were lovers . . . I’d probably answer, reasonably truthfully, any question you asked. Are you auditioning for the part?”
“Not hardly; would you answer that question if Catherine asked it?”
“Maybe . . . but there’d still have to be a consideration. Why don’t you tell me, in words a six year old would understand, exactly why you need to know – that is, unless you’re just having some fun busting my balls?”
“You look like trouble, with a capital T and I’m concerned, for Catherine.”
“She looks like she can take care of herself.”
“She’s vulnerable . . . and we don’t want to see some slick SOB take advantage of her, now do we?”
“I guess where you went to school they didn’t teach that in debate you lose points when you resort to name calling. Let’s see; Ace, Slick, smart-ass, SOB . . . did I miss any? I assume you did go to school?”
“I have a B.A. and an MBA from OSU. Did you go to school?”
“I graduated from St. Ignatius High in Chicago.”
“Now why doesn’t that surprise me?”
“Before I answer your question, may I ask what you do?”
“I’m a political fund raiser. I work for the mayor.”
“His name’s Boone, right?”
“Yes, Jeffrey Boone.”
“And he’s a Republican?”
“Yes, he is.”
“And you’re a Republican too, right?”
“Duh; well it wouldn’t really work very well if I was a Democrat, now would it?”
“I wouldn’t know, having never been a political bag man . . . or is it bag woman, when a woman does it? No, bad analogy, since a bag lady is a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart and scrounging for spare change.”
“We’re all waiting for an answer.”
They stared at each other for a full minute and then Tyne said, “Did it ever occur to you that I might not relish tearing the scab off something I’ve tried to forget, with the likes of you?”
“Nice try Ace but we’re still waiting for an answer.”
“I can see you’re the ringleader here but you’re all in this together?” and he twirled his finger to indicate he meant all three of them. He saw Catherine close her eyes and thought he saw her shake her head no, but ever so slightly; perhaps he only imagined it . . . or was hoping she wasn’t? The other woman, Sharon, sipped her coffee but he thought he saw the trace of a smirk hiding behind her cup – an expression that could mean almost anything.
“I’m waiting for an answer.”
For the last several minutes he’d been studying the three women, comparing their physical attributes, which were prominently on display inside their revealing shorts and jog bra halter-tops. They were all mature women; in their forties or close to it. All were very lean and fit looking, which figured since Catherine taught an advanced aerobics class and these were obviously two of her students. What puzzled him was that Gaby, to a greater extent but Sharon too had very large breasts, high and full and voluptuous, Ds for sure, while compared to them Catherine was flat chested. Well, not totally but her breasts were much smaller, no larger than Bs, and they didn’t exactly sag but they didn’t stand at attention either, the way the others’ did. And then it struck him why that was.
“Well Gaby, I’m a fair guy so I’ll make you a deal, since we’re discussing scars. You tell me all about those two little scars on the underside of your tits and I’ll tell you about mine?”
A slight tightening of her jaw and pressing her lips together in a thin line were her only reactions. “What makes you think I have scars like that?”
“Come on girl, you’re almost as lean as a runway model and from the looks of your ankles you’ve always been lean. You’re too lean to have tits as big as those,” and he pointed at Gaby’s breasts. “They’re surgically enhanced or I’ve never seen a pair of plastic tits.”
“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“Don’t I? Well, there’s one way to prove who’s right and who’s wrong. Unless of course you don’t really want to know how I got mine?”
“I don’t have to prove anything to you.”
Tyne stared at her for a moment and she stared back, her eyes fixed on his. She was good but Tyne knew he was better at the eyeball-to-eyeball game, and he’d seen something, a very slight flutter of her eyelids when he’d used the phrase plastic tits. Slowly, without taking his eyes from hers, he took out his wallet and counted out ten, twenty-dollar bills and said, “Two hundred bucks says you’ve got those scars.” She didn’t budge so Tyne took out his checkbook and a pen from the backpack and wrote out a check to Jeffrey Boone, Committee to Reelect, for two thousand dollars, signed it and placed in on top of the stack of currency and said, “For your boss’ reelection and all you have to do to earn it is prove you don’t have those scars.”
She tried to stare him down and when she couldn’t she said, “You sorry son of a bitch,” and then she slapped him.
She rose from her chair but he stopped her from leaving by touching her forearm, ever so gently, with just the tips of his fingers, and said, “Sit . . . please; you’re going to want to hear this. By the way, that was a pretty good slap. You get one . . . and only one, for free.”
She stared at him with a look that could kill, and then she sat.
“Well Gaby dear, you had your chance to make some rain for Boone and you blew it, but you’re just wetting your fucking pants to know whether I’m a felon or not and far be it from me to disappoint you. Give me your hand.”
When she made no move to respond he said, “Give me your fucking hand. I promise I won’t hurt you.”
She finally offered him her right hand. He grasped it, tightly enough so she couldn’t pull it free and pressed her fingers against the scar on the back of his leg. “It’s a souvenir from Southeast Asia. Here’s where the bullet went in,” and then he pressed her fingers to the front of his thigh and said, “and here’s where it came out. As you can see, it’s a coward’s wound. I got it running away, just as fast as my little legs would go but obviously I wasn’t fast enough. The man, or boy, or woman . . . whatever . . . who shot me, an unsung and unlamented NLF soldier, was a pretty good shot and lucky for me he wasn’t a better shot. Perhaps I should have zigged right instead of left or if the A-1 pilot that deep-fried him extra crispy had arrived sixty seconds sooner I might not have been wounded at all. He was unlamented because there isn’t much left after a napalm barbeque.”
She pulled her hand away and wiped the perspiration from her palm on her shorts and gathered her purse to leave.
“You don’t have to leave; I’m leaving. Have a prior engagement and can’t be late.” Tyne put the money and the check in his wallet and said, not looking at her, almost as an afterthought, “Good Republican that you are, I’ll bet Kissinger and Nixon were your heroes?”
“Kissinger certainly and Nixon before Watergate . . . but Ronnie Reagan is my real hero.”
“Ronnie huh? That figures.” He now turned to her, looked her straight in the eye and said, “Well Gaby, when it’s my turn to run the world I’m going to haul that fucking Nazi Kissinger before the International Military Tribunal at The Hague for what he did and try his ass as a war criminal. Most, if not all Republicans aren’t much better. Scratch a Republican and under the skin you’ll find a fucking fascist. For my part, I regret deeply that I was involved and had I known then what I know today I would have burned my draft card and taken the consequences. And as for you, a little while ago I gave some thought to asking you to return with me to my motel, since Catherine is playing hard to get and won’t. Quite possibly you would have said yes. But my dick leans too far to the left to ever fit comfortably inside you. Here’s a flash for you lady: it’s none of your fucking business how I got those scars; you dig? Now if you ladies will excuse me, I need to go put on some cologne or deodorant to mask the smell of my do-do.”
He left the coffee house and was bent over unlocking his bicycle when Catherine jerked his arm so sharply he had to stand to face her to keep from falling backwards.
“How dare you speak to Gaby and me in front of Sharon and those other big ears that way? I want you to get your ass back in there and apologize to her.”
“She asked for it. I tried to get her to leave it alone but she wouldn’t. That bitch doesn’t care about my scars and how I got them; she was just trying to put me down, probably because of things she heard about me from you. You’re the one who should apologize, for sharing what I told you in confidence with them.”
“I didn’t tell her about your scars. She told me. She and Sharon both saw them when you walked in.”
“I don’t give a fuck who saw what. I’d sooner cut off my leg than apologize to that fascist cunt, and my advice to you is to leave it alone.”
“Gaby is no fascist and I’m really starting to wonder if you’re playing with a full deck.”
“You are huh? Well I don’t owe you an explanation any more than I do her or anyone else but I’ll tell you this much. You’re probably old enough to remember: Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? And: One, two, three four! We don’t want your fucking war! Well, after I finished rehab and left the Navy in ’71 I returned to Illinois for my senior year, and what I heard was: Baby killer, baby killer, how many babies did you kill today? I’ve never felt as isolated and alone as I did that year and I came that close,” and he held up his finger and thumb to indicate a very small space, “to eating my gun. Now leave it alone.”
“ Look, I’m sorry you had to serve but she didn’t send you and neither did I. If you don’t go back in there and apologize, then we’re through before we even get started.”
“So be it but the shame of it is, no one sent me. I was so fucking stupid I volunteered. Let’s skip the 2 P.M. meeting,” and as he said this he rode off without looking back.