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Number Fifteen: Albert Einstein
Our second entry in the giant-head category. Although the bust is not original (those telltale seams), the hair certainly is. The Professor’s famously frazzled spikes are now thin lengths of rebar, twisted and tormented into shape. The green is a logical follow-up to Sinatra’s martini: a question mark, which affords an infinity of rebound angles.
Along the shorefront road between Point Brown and Point Damon sits the Shrimpboat, a deli that resembles somebody’s beach bungalow. The back view is toward Westport, a thin slice of land across the choppy gray waters of the harbormouth, but today the attractions are skyward, where an enormous stormcloud resembling a locomotive is making its approach.
David and Abbey have appropriated the windowside table, nicely proximate to a woodstove, bathing them in waves of warmth. They’re eating Ruebens and being disgusting, licking the juice from each other’s fingers. Abbey takes David’s index finger, gives it a pornographic suctioning and cracks herself up.
“We are so, so bad!”
“Yes we are.”
She makes another study of the stormcloud and goes all serious, leveling her eyes at him.
“Are we doing damage?”
He takes her hand and rubs the backs of her knuckles. He worries that he lavishes too much attention on these five digits, like a grieving father doting on the surviving sibling.
“No. I worry about Elena winning you back someday – and don’t even start with the reassurances, it’s just a thought. Pablo, hell, Pablo’s a marvel. He could survive anything. So I guess that leaves Derek.”
“But Derek adores you.”
“That’s just it. I’m cheating. I am the godmother of Derek’s writing. I have a shortcut to his heart. So he has to like me, even though I am cuckolding his mother. I know he’s brilliant, yada yada yada, but still, he’s a teenager, and his self-identity is still forming.”
David holds her hand to his lips.
“I worry about that, too. But Derek’s different. I saw that brainpower early on and I challenged it. I have raised him to seek out the dusty, seamy corners of truth, to accept the way the world actually is. If I revert to a façade marriage just to improve his memories of high school, he’s the first one who won’t buy it. Besides, I deserve you, you most certainly deserve me, and we do not always have to give in to the whims of children.”
Abbey sprouts a smile that morphs into guilty laughter.
“And thank the Lord for Jenny Felicetti.”
“She’s the best.”
Abbey takes a big bite of Rueben, runs a finger along the side and offers it up for a thorough licking.
“We are so, so bad!”
“But probably not as bad as Billy and Joyce.”
Billy stands on the balcony outside his room. It’s cold, but not raining, and he craves isolation. After so many years of solitary living, he finds himself joined at the hip, and he’s having a hard time adjusting. He hears the door slide open behind him but doesn’t turn. A hand wraps around his elbow and there she is, his recurring surprise. Her hair is parted down the middle, short, flapping to either side like the ears of a puppy-dog, the sheen of obsidian. Her nose is small for her face, her mouth a heart-shaped purse of red. The eyes are a novel he’s read hundreds of times. He has fetishized her features like lucky charms, and the process has begun to seem disrespectful. She speaks, a bashful whisper.
“Hi.” He kisses the heart-shaped lips.
“We get the room till twelve?”
“Yep. Tell me again.”
She snorts with laughter. “No!”
“I’ve told you a hundred times already.”
“Have you ever known a child who can hear the same bedtime story over and over?”
“Yes. And they’re obnoxious!”
“So I’m obnoxious. Tell me.”
She rolls her eyes, but the smile gives her away.
“I was in my apartment, Saturday morning, making a late breakfast. My brother knocked on my door and handed me a copy of Sports Illustrated. We read it together and I said, Bobby? Can I borrow your car?”
“Because he keeps an old Corolla around for emergencies.”
“Hey! Who’s telling the story?”
It’s always been Billy’s contention that Joyce’s playful swats are anything but. Sometimes, they leave marks.
“You are. Mistress.”
“Damn straight. So! I showered, packed up, Bobby drove me to his house and I took off. Somewhere around Marion, I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ For one thing, when it comes to driving I have no endurance. But I did the math, and I figured if I could squeeze out 200 miles a day I would make it by New Year’s. I took 40 through Albuquerque, and Phoenix, and Bakersfield, then I took I-5 all the way up through California, and Oregon, and up to Olympia. I drove 1300 miles along the West Coast, and the first time I ever saw the Pacific Ocean was a New Year’s morning, from this very balcony.
“So I did it. I got here for New Year’s Eve. I sat in the back row, because I didn’t want to distract you – and then you made your entrance through the back door, about ten feet away, and thank God you didn’t see me. You were so wonderful, even better than before. I think all those years of wandering have added a depth to your singing, and, well, I didn’t want to say anything before, but that band in Memphis was never up to your level. These guys, wow! Especially the pianist.
“And then you sang ‘That’s All,’ and I started crying. And I stayed in my seat until you were down to your last visitor, and I walked down the aisle. My legs were shaking. I thought you would see me and run away screaming. And then I stepped onto the dance floor, and you looked up and saw me. I will never ever forget that look.”
“And you love me?”
She rolls her eyes. “Oh. Y’think?”
“And you’re going to marry me.”
She laughs. “Ha! Is that an offer?”
By nature and habit, they are a pair of jokers. Billy works hard to assemble a serious expression.
Joyce stops laughing, and begins to cry.
At the moment that Gillian discovered the existence of a five-star restaurant up the coast – the Ocean Crest – a stopwatch began to tick in Thomas’s head. Whereupon Thomas demonstrated how a man stays married for fifty-plus years and, within the hour, called for reservations. They sit before the window, watching the fog snake through a hillside of Sitka spruce like a scene from the Ring Cycle. Gillian smiles and sips from a glass of 20-year-old port. The sudden burst of luxury makes her laugh. Roused from a deep thought, Thomas gives her a look.
“I’m sorry, dear. Did I say something funny?”
“No, Groucho. I thought something funny. Do you recall my proletariat phase? Late seventies?”
Thomas snickers. “Oh God yes. I would arrive home in my Brooks Brothers three-piece to find my wife dressed like Mao Zedong.”
“I was a godawful hypocrite.”
“Best-looking communist I ever saw.”
“Capitalist American pig.”
“But I’m glad you got comfortable with wealth. Because I never intended to stop making money. Ah, here be our elitist appetizers now.”
The waiter gives an interested look. He sets down a tray of escargot and gives a friendly smile.
“You know if you take things down to basic definitions, what you are eating are common garden pests.”
Thomas smiles. “Is there an extra charge for rationalizations?”
“Strictly on the house.”
“Tree-mendous. Have a mollusk, honey.”
Gillian watches the waiter go. “I could get to like it here. They’re quite witty, but they don’t make a deal about it.”
She forks a snail, chews it down and gives an expression of overwhelming pleasure.
“The bugs are delish, honey. So, Sir Thomas of Blaine, tell me a little something…”
Thomas responds like a good straight man.
“What’s that, Lady G?”
“Are we staying here?”
“We’re staying at the Shilo, dear.”
“I mean, here as in Ocean Shores. As in, not Baltimore.”
Thomas pulls the old lawyer trick of gazing out the window to give the impression of thoughtfulness.
“Would you mind if we did? Say, for the year? Get the golf course going?”
Gillian gazes out the window, too, for different reasons. To feel her place on the continent, to attach herself to the pull of the ocean just beyond the spruce.
“I do like it here. I like this odd little family we’ve developed. The one-armed poet, the seven-foot pianist, Shoeless Joe Saddle. It’s a charming little freak show. I would miss the family, the friends, Veronica, cousin Julia. But think of the stories we can tell when we get home! Let’s do it, Tommy; let’s have an adventure.”
She consumes another snail, dabs at a drop of butter on her lip.
“And let’s be certain to make regular stops at this restaurant.”
Jenny wears dark red lipstick, which makes the most of her porcelain complexion but also presents Derek with an irresistible target. Problem is, if he gives in and kisses it all off, he turns himself into a drag queen and forces Jenny into a five-minute reapplication.
Once he gets her home, of course, all bets are off. Jenny’s family lives in one of those big new houses near Point Brown, which adds to the sensation of dating above his caste. They slip into a shelter next to the porch – home to boots, jackets and lawn mowers – and he dwells on those lips for hours. (This also explains why Derek now gets erections from the smell of fresh-cut grass, a constant danger during P.E.)
Breastplay has become a regular attraction, and Jenny has taken to removing her bra on the drive home. Tonight, she raises the ante, removing her sweater, too. Fighting the anxiety of a sudden parental appearance, Derek takes turns suckling and squeezing her nipples, wondering if it matters whether he favors one over the other. One thing’s for certain: there is a direct neural connection between these two points and the rest of Jenny’s body. Five minutes in, she’s writhing like a woman trying to pull on a pair of overtight jeans. He’s hanging on for dear life when he feels her hand on top of his head, and realizes she’s trying to get his attention. He looks up to find her in a half-destroyed frazzle, eyes half-closed like Marilyn'’ at the golf course.
”I’m sorry. Is this too much?”
She takes a deep breath and bites her lip.
“It’s not enough. Derek? Are you a virgin?”
He has no idea how to answer, so he doesn’t. She smiles.
“I am, too. Would you like to… Would you like to…”
She gives him that slow-growth smile and he can’t feel his limbs.
“My parents are in Seattle for the weekend.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve been reading up. I think we can do this.”
Derek gives her a look of unbelieving gratitude.
“You are… you are…”
She laughs. “Oh, shut up!” She grabs his hand and drags him into the house.
Photo by MJV