The Eye of the Goddess
The next morning, we were consuming a late breakfast at Gilda’s. Carlotta, alas, was nowhere in sight. A passel of bourgeois ladies at the next table were conducting a debate about who among the latest crop of pop singers merited the label “diva.”
“Well, what about Melissa Etheridge then?”
“No, no. Melissa’s more of a rocker. For ‘diva-ness,’ you have to have a certain level of showbiz refinement, like...”
“Yes! Or Celine Dion. Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, that type.”
“What about Barbra?”
“Dahling! Barbra invented ‘diva.’”
Hessie could take no more. She made a beeline to their table and, with the approximate tone of an airline stewardess, delivered the following:
“Hi. I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation, and I just wanted to throw in my two cents. ‘Diva’ is a term originally created to describe, literally, goddess-like operatic sopranos. I might add that opera is unimaginably difficult to perform. To compare opera singers to the list of guitar-strummin’, shower-singin’ butt-shakers you have just described is like comparing my eggs Benedict over yonder to an Egg McMuffin. Thank you for your time, and please... have a delightful breakfast.”
Hessie departed as quickly as she had come, leaving a cloud of stunned silence in her wake. Finally, one of the divettes was heard to say, “Well, that was interesting.” They then discussed the latest offering from the Oprah Book Club, “The Tree, the River, the Shrub.”
Sadly, Hessie had to leave right afterward, to Portland and the Rimsky-Korsakoffeehouse – the usual problems with barista turnover. Carlotta arrived a few minutes later, delayed by some ill fortune at the auto shop – but of course she had actual work to do, so I figured I’d best forfeit my table to the lunch crowd. (Besides, my paranoia had grown in the night, and even Carlotta, with her mile-high legs, seemed like a potential rival.)
I spent the rest of the day simmering on full brood, using my vast visualization skills to picture Frosty in various positions with luscious women. This was exactly the kind of thing I never had to worry about with George, and Lord, did I hate it.
I gambled on the beach. I knew full well I might run into them there, but I craved the auditory massage of water hurling itself forward. Under a fog of jealousy, I found myself looking down at the ground with each step, noticing small things in my path. The sand, for one, was light enough that it would gather at the tip of each invading roller, leaving tiny ridges, a linear diary of the tide. Later, I passed a man with a silver beard and jogger’s build, standing over a dead seagull atop a small rise. The man’s expression was strangely vague. I couldn’t tell if he was sad about the seagull, scientifically curious about its demise, waxing philosophical about the life-and-death cycle of nature – what? Typical of a man to be so fucking hard to read.
After an evening of weepy Puccini in the listening room, and a decent night’s sleep, the fog of jealousy had thinned, and I could even carve out peepholes for myself. But I was still feeling guarded. When I met Frosty at noontime, he seemed as distracted as I was. We greeted each other and headed off down the beach with very few words.
The days of royal crescents were gone, our treasure points whittled down to nubs, the rocks reclaimed by the ocean. We passed the afternoon with few discoveries – until we reached that same spot on Hotel Row, where the point remained remarkably intact and populated. Climbing the peak, I found a lovely green bottle-bottom with stitchings along its edge.
“We won’t be giving that to Frosted Glass Woman,” said Frosty.
I answered in a perfectly vague tone. “I am not yet a convert to your religion, Frosty.”
“That’s okay,” he said. “Mine is not an evangelical cult.”
Fuck him and his humor, I thought. Here I was seeking open flesh for the incision, and he wouldn’t cooperate.
All the way back, I followed twenty feet behind, frustrated that he wasn’t responding to my distance. But it did give me time to think – mostly about the previous afternoon’s phone calls. Calling on the boss, I was greeted with the usual blissful assurances.
“Sandy, really. I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but what you’re doing up there on that beach is far more important than any petty inconvenience on this end. Believe me, I know – if you don’t stay up there till you’re just dying to come back, these conflicts will eat you for lunch on a daily basis.”
What a wonderful man I worked for. And what marvelous lies he told. I got the truth from Shanili, packaged in that wonderful sideways phrasing of hers.
“Mister Conowith is having much trouble, Sandra. The company is very much wanting that he should do something about your... situation, and he is, how would you say? He is like a man on a busy freeway, trying to stop large trucks by throwing pebbles at their tires.”
“Not only that,” she added, a touch of embarrassment in her voice. “I myself... I am missing you very much.”
That last part got me. The thought that someone placed beneath you by the crapshoot of corporate hirings would actually miss you. That Shanili was a prize.
Even so, that was much easier than talking to sister Meg, who listed the many ways my nieces were being tortured by my absence, and made me promise to come home for Thanksgiving. She tormented me further by describing the costumes Maisey and Tanner were wearing for Halloween. They had developed this odd fixation with psychedelic rock, and were going as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
For dinner, Frosty warmed up some leftover Chinese beef and broccoli. I tried not to consider the other female lips that may have touched it. I held off until the persimmon pudding, when questions began to leap from my mouth with the subtlety of bullfrogs.
“Is this glass-collecting stuff going to go on forever, Frosty? You have to do something... real after this, don’t you? And what are you going to do with all that glass, anyway? Don’t you eventually have to put it to some kind of use? And another thing I’ve been wondering – how the heck do you dress the way you do? Is there a dry cleaner around here, or do you iron your shirts with… stones warmed up by the campfire?”
My onslaught was met by a long silence, after which Frosty turned back from the stove, ladle in hand, and asked me a single, brief question.
“Are you done?”
We exchanged an uncomfortable stare, after which I gave him an even briefer answer.
Frosty, finished, er... frosting my pudding (with praline sauce, damn him), and set it before me.
“A common female technique,” he said. “Never ask the central question. Much better to unleash a cluster-bomb of wholly unrelated questions, in the hopes that the pivotal answer will be flushed from the shrubbery with the rest of the pigeons.”
He placed his hands on the table, attorney-like.
“Now. Would you like me to actually answer all these picky-ass interrogations, or would you prefer to get to the friggin’ point?”
“Okay, Frosty.” I took in an Eskimo breath and set my jaw. “Have you been fucking around?”
“Well, there!” He slapped the table and smiled. “Was that so hard?”
He stood and went to the stove, taking his good time dishing out a saucer of pudding for himself, then returned to the table and began eating.
“You’ll excuse me,” he said. “But I get the feeling I’ll need the strength. Now, tell me this. Without naming names, may I assume that you’ve been warned of my evil ways from someone in town?”
“May I further assume that I’ve been painted as something of a Don Giovanni? Dipping my pen in many inkwells? Leaving young milkmaids sobbing at the altar?”
“In so many words – yes.”
“Okay. In that case, let me begin by describing my actual sexual practices, and I will let you decide what’s what. If it doesn’t meet with your expectations, that’s fine. They are – like most things about me – rather eccentric.
“Now. Living the odd life that I do, I am sorely lacking for what you might call... sustained contact. People come to the beach, they stay a few weeks, they’re gone. I’ve learned to enjoy them while they’re here.
“I also, understandably, am taken to be something of a mystic – although I am uncomfortable with that term. Really, I just do what I need to do to get by. Nonetheless, this ‘mystic’ quality seems to attract a certain type of woman: between forty and fifty years of age, completing or just past her child-bearing years, feeling dispossessed by life and searching for new ways of looking at things. This is what I provide.
“I will not soften this up for you – sex is often part of the bargain. You will have to admit that, when handled with a certain degree of affection and tenderness, sexual intimacy provides a wonderful healing power.”
“Yes,” I said, through gritted teeth.
“Hang with me here, Sandy. I’m almost to the good part. These relationships don’t tend to last, because these women all have lives they need to get back to. Occasionally, however, I do manage to maintain long-distance friendships, and occasionally those friends do return for visits. But each time they leave, I offer the same caution. I am what you might call a serial monogamist. This is not inspired by some profound moral code, but rather from the basic impression that to divide one’s sexual focus is to strip it of all its magic and mutual respect. Besides, you women are hard enough to figure out one at a time.
“So now – to the endgame. These last two visitors were, indeed, women with whom I have slept in the past. But not this time. Because you, dear Sandra, are my current one and only.”
He was getting there, but “My Current One and Only” wasn’t the Broadway musical I had in mind.
“But wasn’t there...” I started, stopped, and then started again. “Besides just being available, and present, at that moment... was there, is there, something special about me?”
Frosty fished a piece of brown glass from his pocket and rubbed it between thumb and forefinger. He aimed it in my direction and answered.
“I generally accept the visitations of women the way I accept the pieces of glass swept into my path by the ocean. It’s a passive existence. Women come to me, needing something; I provide them with bright images and solace. In return, I receive the comfort of female companionship, the pleasures of sex, and a welcome respite from a lonely life. But I never took the trouble to actively pursue them. Until you.”
“Until me?” I said. “I find that hard to believe.”
“The blue piece is one in a million, you know. There’s something about the structure of cobalt glass that causes it to break into very small pieces. You just don’t find them that large and that perfect. I found that piece at the bottom of a cliff one day. I called it the eye of the goddess, carried it with me every day for six months. The moment I saw you, it was no longer mine.”
Shit. He had thrown me to the mat one more time. I am putty, I thought. Modeling clay, molten glass, waiting to be blown into small, cute animals and sold at Disneyland. I fought back the lump in my throat and eked out a question.
“Lights. Inside your head. To the practiced eye, Sandy, your radiant power is as visible as a beacon ten miles out on a clear, dark sea. I had no choice.”
The nerves at the back of my neck were shooting off like fireworks, and the muscles in my limbs went limp. The passion boiled through my body like steam, but it came out unexpectedly. I placed my hands on Frosty’s chest in preparation for the goddess kiss – then thrust my arms forward as hard as they would go. Frosty fell flat on his butt, inches away from the fire. He looked up at me, simultaneously stunned and amused.
“You fucker!” I growled. “You’re not off the hook yet. You told that goddamn gorgeous story to every woman who touched your dick!”
I paced like a caged tiger, trying to understand what it was I was asking, why I was being such a glorious bitch (and enjoying it so much). I aimed a kindergarten teacher’s finger straight at his nose.
“Show me something you haven’t shown a single damned one of them.”
Frosty scrambled to his feet, a look of thrill flashing through his eyes.
He pulled me along the dark road, up to the ranger’s cabin, where we ducked through an ivy-covered gate to a metal shed. Frosty pulled a key from his pocket and undid the padlock, swung the door open and yanked a light-string. My gaze was met by what I would guess to be one hundred white, five-gallon buckets, each of them marked with a large G, B or W.
“My God, Frosty.”
He shuffled to the rear wall and dragged out a single black bucket, placing it at my feet and popping off the lid, one small section at a time. He lifted it with a flourish, exposing five gallons of midnight sky.
I woke up halfway through the night, Frosty’s breath at my shoulder, a full moon poking stars through our macrame ceiling. I rubbed my eyes and tried to recall the dream I had just interrupted, a pair of great horned owls, silver-feathered, on a beach composed entirely of cobalt blue sand.
Photo by MJV