Sunday, May 1, 2011

ONE: Dinner Interruptus

“Has she said anything?”
“I’m telling you she doesn’t know.”
“And even if she does know, she won’t say anything because she doesn’t care.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“And neither do you.”
“I do. She doesn’t. She doesn’t know and she wouldn’t care.”
“Okay,” Les finally said, “maybe her pride would care or her vanity or whatever.”
“Well, my pride or vanity or whatever doesn’t buy it,” Diana said. "She knows about us and it pisses her off.”
They were in Diana’s apartment. She had made dinner to celebrate yesterday's final performance of the play he’d directed at the college. Les hoped they wouldn’t discuss Lydia. For her part, Diana had only recently taken to asking about Lydia. Not that she cared all that much, but neither Les nor apparently Lydia seemed willing to admit that there was anything to care about, that there was so much as a tiny blip in their marriage.
Ten days earlier this relationship had passed its sixteen-month anniversary and sixteen months seemed to Diana long enough for someone to recognize a blip. Seventeen months earlier one of the high school kids who worked part time with Diana at the Mellon Bank of Falkes Hollow--this all happened before Citizens took over the Mellon banks--asked if anyone would substitute for her at her weekend babysitting job. It was at the home of an acting teacher from the college named Lester Overchord, an ordinary guy with really intense blue eyes. Diana thought that acting teachers were thin gay men with fine bones and beautiful hands, not married men with two children and a wife, and since she didn’t know anyone from the college, she decided to get a firsthand look.
A week or so later, when she and Les were having sex for the first time, he told her that he knew it was going to happen the moment he opened the door to the substitute babysitter. Diana, who thought she was good at spotting the little leap of anticipation in the male heart and groin, had noticed only that Professor Overchord did indeed have intense blue eyes. But he had disappeared soon after answering the door and his wife had taken over. Lydia Overchord had black eyes that riveted without actually penetrating and in the few minutes during which she gave instructions about the children (she pronounced it chilldrenne), Diana had definitely felt riveted but unpenetrated. When two days later at the bank Diana looked up through her teller’s grille and saw the intense blue eyes, she felt the little leap in her own heart and groin. His smile suggested some secret she was challenged to discover. And she was not one to shrink from challenges.
After an unsuccessful semester and a half at Penn State, she had got a job at Mellon Bank and had moved out of her mother’s house into the little apartment on the third floor of a Victorian house on a street of many Victorian houses. There had been boyfriends, but nothing serious. Her mother had begun to fear that her daughter might prefer women. And while she was glad to be reassured that it was men Diana preferred, she would have preferred that they be unmarried.
             Les did not look like the man Diana had always imagined would lead her into adultery. That man had a body like muscled thunder and a fullback’s ass. Les was not a fullback and he was several years too old and a few pounds too heavy to do much thunderous rumbling. And his hair was not the mass of black burly curls that Thunder had. Tonight his thinning reddish hair took on the golden quality of other things in the candlelit room. His glasses reflected the little candle flames and his eyes glinted behind them.
At first, sex with Les had been ordinary with occasional bursts of energetic invention that gave her hope. Within a few weeks he was laughing and twisting and groaning and had come to enjoy burying his tongue deep between her legs, so that once in a while she actually did experience a little thunder in the heavens.
Lydia couldn’t possibly have failed to notice the difference in him over the past months. He had lightened up, he had discovered a sense of humor. He still had the intensity of a popcorn kernel about to explode, but now it was mostly reserved for his acting students, who experienced it as a mystical power that might miraculously be tapped if only they could discover the right chant, the right mantra, to unlock the genius teeming behind those eyes. 
In the candlelight Diana poured more wine. Les glowed. “We’re safe tonight,” he said. “Lydia thinks I’m at a post performance critique.”
Diana went into the little kitchen. “And she’ll be asleep already—ho ho—when you tip-toe into the bedroom tonight. Her back will be turned to you and she won’t move when you slip in beside her, careful not to disturb her untroubled rest. And tomorrow morning she will ask nothing about the post performance critique, she will ask only, ‘And what’s on your agenda for today?’ As for her, she will be playing tennis with Denise or shopping at the new mall on Harbour Road or perhaps going to see the head of alumni relations about working part time on the alumni news after all.” 
From the kitchen Diana brought a bowl of strawberries. Les was at the turret window where Diana had set up her easel. “What are you working on?” he asked.
“I’m tired of Grant Wood landscapes. I’ve decided to enter my Georgia O’Keeffe period.”
 “Flowers?” he said. “Or female parts?” He lifted the cloth from the canvas.
Neither. A week ago she had found a dead squirrel, had boiled it, cleaned it, dried the bones and mounted the skeleton on a board and then used it as a model for the weekend’s painting.
“It was easier than bagging a buffalo,” she said. “Or whatever, a steer.” And back to the kitchen. 
“Sweetheart?” Les said. “If we don’t finish eating soon, we’re not going to have time to fuck and if we don’t get to fuck I will be really and truly pissed off when I slip into my wife’s bed tonight careful not to disturb her.”
From the kitchen: “How can I help loving such a dickhead?” and then the phone rang.
“May I speak with Lester Overchord?” a woman’s voice said.
            Diana looked into the room to Les, who was staring at the painting. “Lester Overchord?” she said and he looked up like a startled rabbit.
“It’s an emergency,” the woman said.
As he took the phone he mouthed Lydia?, but in the panic of the instant Diana hadn’t registered the sound of the voice. 
“This is Les Overchord,” he said in as professional a tone as he could manage.
“Lester, this is Olivia Troute. Forgive me for disturbing you.”
Les could barely hide his relief. “Not at all,” and then immediately, How did she know where to call me?
“I called you at home and when I told Lydia that it was urgent, she suggested I try you at this number.”
“Of course,” he said, his voice sounding hollow and alien to his inner ear. Had she heard it as well?
“I am calling everyone to inform them that Moira O’Hare was found this evening in her dorm room--dead.”
“My God.”
“There were no signs of foul play.”
“She killed herself?”
 “Alcohol and pills of some sort.”
“My God.”
“I thought everyone should be alerted before coming to school Tuesday. There will be some aftershock among the students.”
“It will help that classes are over and we’re moving into reading week—“
“God, we don’t want anyone else—“
“No, we don’t. In any event, we may have to deal with emotional upset—“
“Yes, of course. Thank you for calling.” He replaced the receiver.
Diana was standing in the kitchen doorway.
“Moira O’Hare killed herself. She’s dead.”
“What? How? Who was that on the phone?”
“Alcohol. Department chair. And sleeping pills or something.” It was just last night that he had seen Moira.  “She stayed to strike the set, didn't she?”
“Did she go to the cast party? How did Troute know where to--?”
“Lydia told her.”
“Hah.” Then, “Who found Moira? Do they know why--?”
“I was rough on her during rehearsals,” Les said. “Especially the last few days with this crap about breaking up with Douglas when she freaked on us--”
“Bullshit,” Diana said. “Moira isn’t fragile—wasn’t….”
            Silence. Diana sat on an arm of the sofa. Les was standing at the turret window looking out through the leaves of the maple tree and down into the street. A car went by. He was trying to decide something: what to do next or how to sort through the situation or what he was going to say to Lydia or—
“When Caleb Deering finds out--” Diana said.
“Oh, Jesus Christ.”
“—he’ll make it all about him.”
“I hate that asshole.”

1 comment:

  1. Juicy start! Love the squirrel skeleton--creepy.