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Zelda sits in a restaurant in Los Gatos, the walls lined with that Tuscan-looking plaster that may as well be constructed of dollar signs. She nurses a glass of Chablis as she listens to a woman at the next table speaking Mandarin. The woman’s sentences accelerate in the middle and end on long, almost sung phrases. Zelda hopes that her makeup is doing its job.
Towering above her, all of a sudden, is Roxy Alameda, in a navy blue knit dress. She smiles, and then stops.
“Zelda! What happened to your cheek?”
Zelda stands and gives Roxy a hug. They sit at the table. Zelda gives an embarrassed smile.
“I was beating the snot out of my boyfriend, and…”
Roxy gasps. “Did he hit you?”
Zelda laughs, then touches her wound. “No. I was delivering a left hook and I completely missed. My follow-through took my face directly into his elbow.”
“Well what got you so angry that you were throwing punches?”
“We were having sex, and…”
Roxy waves her hands in front of her face. “W-w-wait a minute. You were beating the shit out of Edward during sex? Why?”
“Because I fucking hate him.”
That’s the cue for the waitress to show up. Roxy smiles.
“I’ll have a Manhattan on the rocks.”
“Certainly.” Before parting, the waitress winks at Zelda. “I’m probably on your side.”
Roxy watches her leave, then returns to Zelda. “Why do you hate him?”
“Because I love him. Because he left me.”
“And… how long will this punishment continue?”
“As long as it takes.”
“That’s not how it works. Eventually you will have to forgive him or leave him.”
“I’d rather stay and make him suffer. How does a man disappear at the peak of a romance? A rare, beautiful romance.”
The waitress delivers Roxy’s drink. Roxy takes a sip and sets it down.
“Ah, bourbon. I could take a bath in bourbon. I want a pre-nup on this discussion.”
“Yes. I want you to acknowledge that I know more about men than you do.”
Zelda looks around the room. “It pains me to admit this, but… Yes.”
“Okay then. Edward seems much more comfortable in his own skin. And he has money now – correct?”
She folds her fingers. “It’s difficult for a man to accept love when he’s not feeling manly. I think he wanted to go off somewhere and get his mojo back. He certainly seems more attractive to me. Do you have a problem with him finding success?”
“He won’t even tell me what he was doing those three years.”
“Why do you care?”
“Because I was suffering those three years. I want to know what I was suffering for.”
“Do you think he was selling drugs? Working as a hired assassin? Get your head out of the moviehouse, honey. Maybe it involved lots of ass-kissing, or degrading labor. Maybe he’s embarrassed.”
Zelda crosses her arms and stares at the table. “How do I know he won’t disappear again?”
“He came back for you.”
“He came back for Jackson’s wedding.”
“Loyalty to a friend – yes, let’s condemn him for that, as well. Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy? I think you’re seeing yourself as a prosecuting attorney, and believe me, you don’t want to be in that position. And any man worth your time will not tolerate an eternal cross-examination. Or a left hook.”
Zelda speaks to her Chablis. “Says the woman whose husband was fucking around on her.”
Roxy leans forward, then stops, takes a breath, drinks her Manhattan. “Yes. How do you think I know all this? I had a man go bad on me. I conducted the cross-examination. For six months. Eventually, he confessed. I realized I couldn’t forgive him, so I left him. That’s what I’m saying. This in-between crap is exactly what will kill you. And tell me this, just a theory. I think you were indulging in a lovely little Mother Teresa rescue mission, and I think Edward screwed up your plans by growing a pair. Do you know how admirable it is for a man to go through what he did and still want to do the work it takes to rebuild his life?”
The waitress returns.
“Hi,” says Roxy, “I’ll have the mozzarella focaccia and baby greens. Zelda?”
“Pot-stickers and chicken salad.”
The waitress picks up the menus. “I’ll have these in a few minutes.”
They sit in silence. Roxy understands that Zelda is stewing and is happy to let her do so. A minute later, Zelda mutters something.
“Pardon?” says Roxy.
“Now I hate you.”
“Because I love you. And because you’re right. Probably.”
“I’ll take it.” She indulges in a long sip of bourbon. “So tell me, this hateful sex. Good?”
“Yeah,” says Roxy. “I thought so.”
Photo by MJV