Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Profiles in String 23


40,868/50,000 -- though part of that is filler as I've been sketching out the final steps of the plot. 

I think this novel has jinxed my entire month of November. I'm getting to know some of the ER people by name, and Jack will have twin scars on his eyes. Bad bathtub. 

Darwin is out of town for his grandfather's funeral, and won't be back until the 30th. Please pray for the soul of Frank Ramirez.

...

   Emma loved getting ready to go out. The routine of picking clothes and applying her makeup always seemed to soothe her. Her eye for color and style was still strong when she chose to give it free reign. Now she threw open her closet and surveyed her options.
   “Now where are we going, honey?” she asked. 
   “We’re going to have dinner with Peggy Harriman’s nephew Martin. He had the little girl with the red red hair, do you remember? They brought us dinner on Christmas.”
   “Well, you don’t say!” she exclaimed. “That pretty little girl. Where does she live?”
   “With her father, Aunt Emma. Her father is Peggy Harriman’s nephew.”
   “I should call that gal,” she mused, poking at the clothes on the hangers. “What’s pretty in here?”
   “You always used to say that, Emma,” I reminded her. “Do you remember when I stayed with you and we would get ready to go out shopping, and you’d look through your whole wardrobe of stylish dresses and wonder what you had that was pretty?”
   “I guess I kept some nice things,” she admitted complacently, selecting a red sweater to go with her tan slacks. “Bring me that box, honey.”
   I handed her the jewelry box from her dressing table. She searched through it a moment and drew out a string of pearls. Laying it across the neck of the sweater, she smoothed the nacreous strand into a circle and tapped each pearl in turn, pressing her finger gently against the minute roughness of the surface.
   “Now I’m all set,” she told me, with a glint in her eye. “Wearing a nice outfit is like putting on armor. No matter what comes at you during the day, at least you look good.”
   “You always look good, Emma,” I assured her as I helped her into her sweater.
   “You go on,” she hushed me, but she patted my hand.
   Fortified against any occasion in her finery, Emma set her stylistic sights on me.
   “You should wear some color, honey,” she admonished. “The men like to see a girl who has some color.”
   “I was going to wear a black dress,” I offered. “Black is always elegant.”
   “Black is for funerals,” Emma sniffed. “Let’s go right over and see what you have.”
I watched with grudging curiosity as she pawed through my monochromatic closet. “Honey, all this black will wash you right out, with your coloring.”
   “I thought it made me look serious.”
   “It makes you look dead.”

   She emerged bearing the tea-length green dress I’d worn as Stacy’s bridemaid four years earlier.    “Now green is your color. Look how it brings out your eyes.”
   “Emma, that’s far too formal,” I protested. “We’re just going to Martin’s apartment. The nice young man, remember?”
   Emma patted my shoulder. “Even a nice young man likes to see a pretty girl.” And from the closet she pulled my black cardigan and hung it on the shoulders of the dress. “You put that over it, and pin up your hair, and you see if the nice young men don’t raise their eyebrows.”
   “No wonder you had to take up smoking,” I murmured, but I was surprised at the accuracy of Emma’s instincts. Stacy had chosen a dress with simple lines for her wedding party, and now, paired with the cardigan, the deep V of the neckline looked almost demure. 
   “Aunt Emma, you’re a genius,” I proclaimed. “How do you do it?”
   “Honey, that’s my job,” she said, picking up my hairpins and beckoning for me to sit on the edge of the bed. “Women pay lots of money to have someone pick their pretty clothes for them.”
   “But you did it for me for free.” I sat on the bed and allowed her to twist my hair up. “Thank you.”



   The city is old, and is always in flux. Seen from afar, an undulating blanket of trees pierced by innumerable steeples, it seems to have altered little over the years, but those of us who love it know better. Areas come into vogue and drop into disrepute. Acres of fruit trees or corn fields must make way for shopping centers and apartments; neighborhoods are built and demolished and revived. Emma’s home stood in a stately enclave, a bastion of good breeding regardless of the ravages changing demographics may have wrought all around it. Martin’s neighborhood was on the better end of regentrification. He lived in a townhouse set in a development that was constructed on the former site of blocks of crumbling apartment buildings. It was an aspirational address for young professionals who had not yet risen to the ranks of urban pioneers, or who were coming off their city loft days. Martin was in the latter category. 
   Grace answered the door when we knocked, her red halo of hair warmly backlit. 
   “Daddy, it’s the lady,” she yelled.
   “Let her in, then,” he called back.
   I escorted Emma into a tiled entryway and helped her wriggle out of her coat. Grace ran into the living room and returned with a well-preserved woman of indeterminate age whose pale coloring hinted at the genetic origin of Grace’s locks.
    “Grandma, this is the lady,” she insisted, tugging Grandma urgently. The grandmother offered her hand graciously.
   “I’m Janice Landry, Grace’s grandmother,” she said in a pleasant tone, quickly taking my measure with a practiced eye.
   “How do you do?” I replied. “I’m Emma Trapnel, and this is my great-aunt Emma.” Aunt Emma was delighted. 
   “How do you do, honey!” she exclaimed, squeezing Janice’s hand with genial pressure. “Sit right down and let’s put our feet up.” She turned to me. “Are those folks coming soon?”
   “No, Aunt Emma.” Janice was leading us into the living room and specifying the most comfortable chair for the purposes of settling Emma. “We’re having dinner with Peggy Harriman’s nephew, Martin. You remember Martin.”
   “You remember me, Aunt Emma!” Martin swept her from my hands and tucked her into the soft leather club chair. “This is a chair fit for a queen, so naturally it suits you.”
   “Oh, a nice young man!” she said coyly. 
   “And Emma! It’s been so long,” he said, sliding my coat from my shoulders. “I see you’ve already met Janice, Grace’s grandmother. She was just here to drop Grace off.”
   “I hope you have a lovely dinner,” said Janice to me, and though she smiled politely, I could see in her eyes the glimmers of a deep reservoir of sadness. She kissed Grace good-night and moved to the door, followed by Martin with my coat. They didn’t speak as he let her out, but she paused for a moment and touched his shoulder before moving out into the twilight.
   “Grace, why don’t you find your book and show it to Aunt Emma?” he asked as he came back into the living room. “Emma, what can I offer you to drink?”
   “Oh, anything,” I said, trailing him to the kitchen.
   “Let me rephrase that: what do you want to drink?”
   “I like a gin and tonic when I can get one.”
   He pulled bottles from the pantry and glasses from the cabinet and stacked them on the counter. To the collection he added a lime pulled from a basket of fruit.
   “I’m impressed that you keep limes around just to have,” I commented.
   “You’re not the only person in the world who drinks gin and tonic.”
   He pulled an ice tray out of the fridge, twisted it efficiently, and shook a cube loose. Plunking it in a glass, he poured our a measure of gin. As he concocted the drink, I perched on a bar stool and casually surveyed the room with a bit of the sizing-up technique Janice Landry had applied to me. Having grown accustomed to the jaundiced glare of Aunt Emma’s kitchen, I felt struck with snow blindness by the unsaturated light. It leached the color out of the cherry wood and stainless steel and flinty tile and left one with an uneasy feeling that precedes an interrogation. Either Martin hadn’t put his stamp on the room, or it resisted any attempts at de-neutralization, as it still maintained its designer sterility.
   “How long have you lived here?” I asked.
   “Two years.” He squeezed a section of lime into my glass, then dropped it in and handed it to me. “I’m thinking about buying a house now that Grace spends most of the time with me. This isn’t really the best place for kids.”
   “I can imagine.”
   He mixed up his own drink, and we sipped in silence. 
   “How has Emma been this week?” he asked.
   “She’s been normal. We didn’t do much.”
   “You learned about Howard.”
   “By accident.”
   We sipped.
   “What are you making for dinner?”
   “A cheese omelet, I think.”
   “You think? You don’t know already?”
   “I find myself struck by indecision in your presence.”
   “That’s not like you.”
   We sipped.
   “Would Aunt Emma like anything to drink?” 
   “She’d probably appreciate some water.” 
   He filled a glass and we carried it out to Emma, who sat content to let Grace show her various books and toys.  Martin glanced back toward the kitchen. “Do you want to go sit out in the back room?” he asked abruptly.
   “Let’s,” I replied, a shade too eagerly. We took our drinks and passed through the living room to a little nook in the rear, not much more than a curtained bay window sheltered in an alcove. Two battered easy chairs of the most comfortable variety provided a bit of privacy from the living room, and small lamp glimmered on a table tucked between them. 
  “Do you mind if I put my glass right on the table?” I hesitated.
   He scoffed and sloshed his down beside his chair. I slipped off my flats and curled my feet underneath me, while he hooked a small ottoman with his foot and drew it to rest in front of his chair. We looked out on the small fenced back yard and let the chatter of Grace and the murmurings of Emma wash over us.
   “You look different tonight, Emma,” he said. “That color suits you.”
   “It’s kind of you to say so.”
   “And I like your hair up.”
   “Aunt Emma should get all the credit. She did all the fashion work. She has an eye for that kind of thing.”
   “I hope she’s not the one responsible for that very becoming blush.”
   “Of course not. That’s the alcohol.”
   He grinned. “That’s my old Emma. I was starting to wonder if all the sharpness had drained out of you.”
   “Did you wonder that?” I studied my ice cubes in my glass. “You didn’t take any pains to find out this week.”
   “I took many pains this week, and every one of them was given to me by you. You’re exquisite in many ways, Emma, but I think what I admire most about you is your elegant ability to slip a knife into me and twist it before I even realize I’ve left myself open.”
   “And what’s fascinating about you, Martin, is your consummate skill in saying absolutely nothing while insinuating everything.”
   “It seems” he said, “that you find it difficult to tell whether I’m in earnest when I’m flirting with you. The answer is yes. I like to flirt, and I would be delighted if you responded in kind every time.”
   I hissed out a sigh and abandoned my chair in favor of the cool darkness by the window. “I don’t doubt that you like to flirt. I doubt whether you mean anything more than flirting. You seem to love the game for the game’s sake.”
   “I love wordplay as much as you do, Emma, even if your mastery of the art tends toward slicing rather than stroking. And yes, I love the thrill of the game. But is it so difficult for you to believe that I could love the game not for its own sake, but for yours?” 
   “I bet you say that to all the girls.”
He rose from his chair and took a step toward me, and I sought the protection of retreat to keep from dissolving under the intensity of his gaze.
   “Do you really mean that, Emma?” he asked softly. “Or are you still just scoring easy points?”
   “Daddy,” came a plaintive wail from behind us, “I’m hungry.”
   “Go watch cartoons, baby,” he urged, without turning around.
   “Martin,” I reproved, uneasy at having no escape from his nearness. “Your daughter wants something to eat. And Aunt Emma probably does too.”
    Still he stood behind me. I didn’t trust myself to try and brush past him back into the safety of the living room with its twin buffers of Aunt Emma and Grace. Then he exhaled suddenly and moved away. “Well, it’s good to know that at least some of the women in this room know what they want from me.”



   After this, dinner proved to be a fairly restrained affair. Martin was a surprisingly competent cook, dicing onion and whipping eggs with a vengeance and turning out a cheese omelet of a quality that ought to have delighted me after my months of wrestling with Emma’ vintage stove. But he was a perfect gentleman all through the meal -- all cordiality and deference. And when I bundled up Emma against the evening chill and hustled her to the car, he gallantly held her door open as I settled her in, and then went so far as to shake my hand as he bid me a pleasant evening. I stared at our clasped hands in disgust and admiration, and breathed a sigh of defeat. 
   “Fine, you win,” I said. “I can’t believe you stooped to such a dirty trick as this, though. I hope you’re ashamed of yourself.”
   “Every day,” he declared. Then he kissed my hand and sauntered back inside. I felt the familiar desire to throw my shoe at his head. Instead, I got in the car and drove home, surprisingly light-hearted.

4 comments:

entropy said...

I am so hoping that you give this a satisfying ending after all this. If you leave it as a cliffhanger, I will have the strong desire to throw a shoe at your head.

Can't wait for the next installment.

Suburbanbanshee said...

This is just so good!

No wonder the demon Titivillus is giving you so much trouble this month. He's just full of envy and horror about how well this is going. :)

If you get discouraged, read the literary bits about building a house or preparing a feast for other people, at the beginning of 2 Maccabees. It's inspired Holy Scripture, but nobody but writers and editors can understand just how inspired! So yeah, God agrees that it's hard work. :)

Suburbanbanshee said...

Oh, and seriously... I will pray for Mr. Ramirez's soul.

Jenny said...

Did this bump on the head also require stitches? Poor Jack!