“Blow jobs, honey.”
Daphne Temple said it from the next massage table in the Indonesian Treatment Area of the Spatini Teabar at 1700 Periwinkle Way #5 on Sanibel Island. The #5 stood for the fifth business unit in Jerry’s Shopping Center.
“Lots of blow jobs,” she repeated.
Kak tried to concentrate on the pressure of the massage therapist’s hands on her shoulders. It helped distance her from Daphne’s babbling. The shot of Bitter Truth Apricot Liqueur that Kak slipped into her steaming Gunpowder Osprey tea a few minutes earlier didn’t hurt either. That bottle of orange liquid was still half full in her backpack. It was as close to a bachelorette party as she’d get.
“True story,” Daphne continued. “All the other girls in the neighborhood were driving SUVs. I started to feel silly in my LS. You know what I mean? I was practically the only one driving a sedan. Every time we stopped in the street to say hello I’d be looking up at them. They’d be looking down at me. Right down their noses.”
Kak couldn’t help asking. “You’re having issues with driving a Lexus?”
“A Lexus LS sedan,” Daphne corrected. “Anyway, when Bobby gets home I ask him if we can trade it on the new Lexus LX.”
“That’s an SUV?”
Daphne paused long enough for a sigh.
“Anyway, he’s like ‘no’. I’m like ‘why’. He’s like ‘we’re upside down on the sedan as it is so we’d have to roll that into the loan for the new vehicle’. I’m like ‘I’ve been upside down with you plenty, babe, so let’s go ahead and roll it’. And he still says no to me. No. Can you believe it?”
“Well. Sort of.”
“So,” Daphne continued, “I blew him every night for six weeks until my new LX arrived. Impasse resolved.”
Kak waited for the mental picture to fade. “I’m not sure that would work on Philip.”
“Trust me, honey. Forget about his stomach. The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his cock.”
Evelyn Temple’s voice broke in from where she and Stammer were getting seaweed facials. There hadn’t been room for all four women to be together for each of the luxuries they were experiencing. They’d paired off this way at Daphne’s insistence and to Kak’s relief.
“Daphne,” Evelyn said, “I think that’s enough blow job talk about my sons. What do young women today talk about when they’re not giving my sons fellatio?”
“Um. We talk about sitting on their faces.”
“Of course. Never mind.”
Daphne stifled her giggling in her elbow and Kak snickered as silently as possible herself. It’s okay to laugh, she told herself. There had been so little of it in the last year. It’s okay to enjoy the time left.
“Just saying,” Daphne whispered from the next table.
Kak let herself fall into the glow of the Himalayan salt lamp beside her and imagined it. Christmas morning ten years from now. A brownstone on the Upper West Side. Philip sitting on the couch, sexually fulfilled, watching the kids unwrap presents that would challenge their young minds because they’d be smarter, naturally, than Daphne’s kids. Kak would apply a thin coat of balm to sooth her chapped lips and bring Philip his coffee. Out the window, on the curb, a new Land Rover gleamed in the morning sun, the spoils from sucking Philip dry since Thanksgiving. She didn’t know why she imagined a Land Rover but there it was, wrapped in a red bow, sunrays bouncing off the finish. Happy holidays.
She shook the image out of her head. To her disappointment the massage was over, leaving nothing but the liquor-spiked tea to distract her. She downed it quickly, anticipating the rush of alcohol into her bloodstream as Evelyn and Stammer came in fresh from their seaweed facials.
“And there it was,” Evelyn said, holding her phone in front of Stammer and herself. On the screen, her latest Facebook post showed an ivory colored seashell sitting on the sand. Nut-brown spots stood out on the gastropod’s rich finish.
Evelyn admired it, her angular features drawing attention to bleached teeth that gleamed under a perfectly chosen shade of brunette hair. Her tall, slim figure was stained with a perpetual tan. She missed nothing and she knew it.
In contrast, Stammer had allowed her hair to go white. Kak approved and considered her mother an attractive woman. But here, a full head shorter than Evelyn, she was pale, plain, dumpy and embarrassed. It struck Kak as odd that Stammer could feel that way and at the same time believe her daughter would fit into this world without chaffing at its restraints.
“I’ve searched for years, you know,” Evelyn went on, positioning the phone for Stammer to see. “Finally. A junonia. Scaphella junonia, to be precise. Named after the Roman goddess Juno.”
“Beautiful,” Stammer said.
“Juno was the goddess of marriage,” Evelyn said, beaming. “I can’t think of anything more appropriate this week.”
“She was also a moon goddess,” Kak said. “Waxing and waning. Growth and decay.”
Something about the word decay stiffened Evelyn. She touched her neck lightly with her fingertips. It pleased Kak to turn it on her. It didn’t last. Evelyn interrupted her thoughts, as happened so often.
“Where is the little apartment you and Andrew are moving into?” Evelyn asked.
“East 33rd Street.”
Evelyn had a knack of making her disapproval clear by suggesting it might be the first time she heard a thing. She knew the plan very well. She just didn’t like it.
“Andy wants to walk to work,” Kak said.
“Andrew wants to walk to work,” Evelyn almost repeated. “And what will he do in the winter? Will he skate to work?”
Kak ignored this.
Evelyn switched her focus back to Stammer. “Anyway. There it was. On the beach in front of me. The gods leave treasures at some feet and trash at others. They’ve always left the most fortunate baubles at mine. The trick is to snap them up quickly before they’re swept away by the next wave. Kastle knows what I mean.”
Kak resisted being drawn into Evelyn’s observations, as if the two of them were in some way alike. That in marrying a Dr. Temple, Kak had cracked the same code Evelyn had deciphered years before when she’d married Philip’s father.
“I haven’t had. Any luck,” Stammer said, oblivious to the double entendre in the collection of shells or husbands.
“I’ll take you this week,” Evelyn said. “I have a new spot.” She lowered her brow. “And you’ll be sworn to secrecy.”
You were supposed to laugh at this. Daphne and Stammer complied. Kak only smiled. She had a secret, too. It pleased her to imagine Evelyn’s stunned expression the next day.
“What’s that thing you always say?” Daphne asked, giving Kak a quick nudge. “It’s better to have a destiny collecting shells? I forget.”
Kak disliked being prompted but it was too late. They were all waiting now.
“It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire,” she said. “Robert Louis Stevenson wrote it.”
“Nonsense,” Evelyn said. “If you’re born a millionaire you can go to the beach whenever you please.”
“I think what Kak means,” Daphne said, “Is that—“
“It would be better,” Evelyn said, “to have both.”
Spatini’s spray tan technician stepped into the middle of the group, unwittingly rescuing Daphne from the silence following the rebuke.
“Who’s ready for some color?” the technician asked.
“We’re off,” Daphne said, pulling Kak behind her. She winked at the massage technicians, jabbing her thumb at Stammer and Evelyn. “They’re all yours.”
At the tanning station Daphne decided on the Playboy bunny logo just above her left hip bone. This would be accomplished with a sticker applied to Daphne’s skin, to be peeled off after the tanning pigment was airbrushed onto her.
The spray tan technician showed Kak stickers that would leave silhouettes of Mickey Mouse, a shamrock, a palm tree, sunburst, peace sign, smiley face, alligator, skull and crossbones, and a lightning bolt. Nothing matched her mood. How did one choose a symbol for depression? What was the fitting symbolic epitaph to her life?
“Do you have a raven?” she asked. It could have been the perfect private joke. A delicious oddity for the next day’s news. The tech showed her a flamingo, as if the fact that both a raven and a flamingo were birds was significant. Kak passed.
Now, 364 days since Langone and five days before the wedding, she still had the problem she woke up with in the critical care unit. She placed a fingertip over her motionless heart and traced a path to her shoulder, down her arm to her hand, and over the pale line left around her finger where the engagement ring prevented the summer sun from tattooing her skin. A reverse tattoo, actually. The mark of a committed woman. A woman spoken for. Occupied. Reserved. Claimed. Since the night in Langone she’d slept without dreaming, eaten without tasting and fucked without feeling. Worst of all was the writing. Nothing came. Not a word. And none of her usual tricks worked.
Once she realized she’d slipped from acceptance to depression her task had been clear. Get back to acceptance. That was where she needed to end up. The defibrillator incident had been a miscalculation. A premature reaction to the shock of acceptance, pardon the pun. Once she could regain acceptance and get acclimated to it, she’d told herself, her heartbeat would return. Writing would return. Life would return. That had been her theory anyway.
But she hadn’t been able to do it. No matter how agreeable she was, regardless of how readily she accepted every circumstance and person around her, she remained mired in the depression that had overtaken her since Langone. Worse, a certainty had taken hold inside her. It told her that if she walked down the aisle in her current state it would cement her in place. For the rest of her life.
So she made a pact with herself. Get back to acceptance before the wedding. “Or else,” she said out loud.
“Or else what?” Daphne asked, from behind her magazine.
The technician began coating Kak in practiced strokes.
“They’re not so bad, you know,” Daphne said.
The implication caught Kak off guard.
“I know the look,” Daphne said. “I saw it every day in the mirror. You’ll get used to it.”
“Get used to what?”
The word itself settled onto the exchange and silenced them both as the technician systematically worked her way up Kak’s torso.
Daphne seemed to read the discomfort this caused. “Because we’re all settling,” she continued. “Like, in the best way. You know? Marrying Bobby is the best decision I ever made. Did I give up some things? Sure. We all do that. But having security with a man that loves me for the rest of my life? Being settled? Like that? It’s nice not having to worry.”
“What if I need to worry?”
The technician told Kak to close her eyes and mouth for the neck and face application.
“Then go ahead and worry, I guess,” Daphne said.
Three minutes later Kak stepped out of the booth, a bronze statue of her previous self. Daphne stepped in and the technician worked her way up, finally reaching Daphne’s neck. Kak had waited all day for this. At the technician’s instruction, Daphne closed her mouth and eyes. When she did, Kak slipped on her shorts and top, shouldered her backpack, and walked out the door.
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