“What are you searching for, Ben?” He turns around. She’s standing next to the door, against the wall.
“Why, y- you…” he stammers.
She swaggers towards him. Three, four steps? Suddenly she’s standing in front of him. “You didn’t lose your tongue, did you?” Before he knows what’s happening she’s put her right finger behind his ear, draws a line till under his chin. She knows it drives him crazy. It did years ago. Some things never change.
“Well? Don’t hear anything…” Her finger planted in the hole under his chin he tries to lower his head, but can’t. He realizes he’s never been able to decide whether her irises were green, or rather brown. She’s wearing eyeliner.
“Tell me, honey, are you still able to handle a real woman?” Her face almost against his, her nail digging into his chin’s flesh. Foul breath. Anchovy, sauvignon blanc. Baileys maybe. Baileys is her weakness.
“You shouldn’t drink and drive, Marjorie. Not when Lily is in the car.” Is that his voice he’s hearing?
“Did I ask you anything, darling? And, by the way, isn’t that how you prefer them? Drunk?” She puts a step back, looks down. Unbuckles his belt.
“Nice belt. A present from your Holland Queen, I suppose? Good taste. This skin must have been worn by some animal on the verge of extinction. Some iguana of whom there are only ten left? Just a wild guess.”
“It’s painted kangaroo.” He feels guilty. Purgatory passes his mind again.
“Come here then, my painted kangaroo,” she says, tearing him down.
Not even twenty minutes later, lying on his back, arms wide open, panting, scarcely realizing what’s been happening, he hears voices, then the engine roar, the Volvo driving away.
The next day he and Rebecca are heading for a restaurant a friend of her has been recommending. A Japanese Latin fusion place at the outskirts of The Hague, on the way to the Scheveningen beach. It’s Saturday; as there was an international congress going on, every single hotel in the town center happened to be fully booked. He was glad to have found a small pension that’s a ten minute walk from the beach, posting up a last free room.
On his screen it had looked rundown, but when he tugged at the old bell and was standing in the hall, an old fashioned beeswax smell entered his nose, leading him back to years long gone, holidays at the coast, he had been eight, nine maybe. With his big toe and the side of his right foot his dad had drawn a deep furrow in the sand, of about four yards, and then, thirty meters further, another one, smaller, maybe two yards. His socks were the posts. Then they had been kicking the ball to each other. Dad told him he was quite a goalkeeper; but on windy days, when he couldn’t catch the ball he had to run for almost a mile to finally draw level with it and stop it. Once the wind had been too strong and the ball had been lost. When he finally came back, panting, dad already had found an empty place at a terrace on the dyke and was emptying a pint.
“It’s probably blown to the south of France, kid. Into the Pyrénées. But not over it.” He’d tried to imagine this. All these balls lying at the foot of those mountains.
She’s coming back from an appointment in the hospital, things had to be checked, not about the baby but apparently she might be the bearer of bacteria, quite contagious although harmless to the child, if it was confirmed she would have to undergo the delivery in complete isolation. She’s brought a big suitcase with her, as if she’s leaving for a long holiday. He’s lying on the bed, watching her fumbling through the dresses and skirts. She’s brought a blue knee long skirt, tight, when she appears from the bathroom she’s arranging the straps on her shoulders, she asks “It’s as if i’m not pregnant, isn’t it?” Thrusting out her belly, mustering herself in the mirror, then casting a questioning look upon him.
“I said to the doctor it isn’t normal, my belly being like this and I being three months pregnant, but he said it is normal, but I think it isn’t, I mean three months! What do you think? Is it normal or isn’t it? Be honest.”
“I’m always honest, darling, you know that."
“Don’t make fun of me, Ben. Try to be serious, if only for once.”
“I am darling, I am. I’m no doctor though. Let’s see if I can feel anything.” He’s standing behind her, his hands holding her belly.
“He’s sleeping,” he says. She turns around indignantly. Waving her curls. “No really,” he adds, “I just know he’s there, - I mean I can’t feel his breath or his heart thumping, but he’s there, yes, he’s there.”
“Why do you think it’s a he?”
“It isn’t,” he says. “Actually it’s a she. You told me it was, didn’t you?” Light cough. She told him weeks ago, the evening she was thinking it was growing too fast. The fear of breeding a monster. “I just didn’t want to tell you yet, but now that you’re asking: yes, it’s definitely a she. She’s sweet. Oh man, is she sweet. She’s so sweet.”
“Don’t exaggerate, Ben.” She’s combing her hair. “I’m sure it’s a girl,” she says. “You know that. I asked the doctor not to confirm though. I want it to be a surprise. Sort of, anyway. Because I already know. I even decided upon her name.”
He nods. He knows that, if he would ask her about the name, she would never tell. So he doesn’t ask. Instead he’s moving towards the bathroom.
“Don’t you want to know her name?” she asks.
“Only if you want to tell me,” he says.
“You bastard,” she says. “Now go on, have your shower. If that’s what you want.” He closes the bathroom door.
“It’s Julie-Amber,” she shouts.
“It’s a nice place,” he says, when he starts the car again. He’s pointing at the hotel. They drive to the restaurant. She’s bent over her mobile. She’s answering messages.
“Yes,” she says, casting a quick glance up the façade, “yes, looks fine.” She’s quite tense. She’s changed outfits. She’s wearing a black and white printed frock now, tight fit, stretching over her upper legs. Low plimsolls, the tagged strings very white, new. They have announced twenty-five degrees and more, a high summer evening. Inside the restaurant it’s hot.
He has a red wine, a Brunello. “I can’t have wine, sorry,” she says, sipping on his, “for the baby.”
“It’s excellent,” he says, “- with an acid touch. I like that.”
“Even a bit sour,” she says, tasting again. She drinks the glass halfway. “I had a pickled herring yesterday. I never ate pickled herring in my life and now i had one.” It’s as if her eyes are asking, Can you believe this? He’s looking at her, into her eyes. Her eyes cold and pretty and tired.
“There’s nothing wrong with a good pickled herring,” he says, pouring another glass. He’s thinking about what happened yesterday. He doesn’t exactly feel at ease. He wonders about what Sister Celia would have thought of cheating on your mistress by making love to your wife. Could this be interpreted as adultery, too? Maybe kind of. Then it would be regarded as a mortal sin. Damn, Marjorie… He’s looking at Rebecca, she’s got a cold sore on her lip, he only notices it now. It makes her look vulnerable.
On the other hand… Technically speaking it certainly wasn’t. What would catechism say about it? Would his sleeping with his own wife, yesterday, add to the number of years he’d have to spend in Purgatory? Or would it, on the other hand, improve his position? It’s still his wife, after all. Divorce hasn’t been declared officially. But, if so, why then did he feel guilty? Rebecca is grabbing his hand, is looking at him. Would she know? One can never be sure about what women were aware of. She smiles. The smile of the pregnant woman who knows everything. When Marjorie was pregnant of Amber the gynaecologist said she was made to give birth. Couple of days before delivery she asked him to make pictures of her, naked, sitting on the bed. Her breasts huge, strong, ready. Afterwards they made love. He was acting so carefully she was giggling all the time. “I don’t want my dick to touch my unborn daughter.” He hadn’t been joking.
“Is something wrong, darling?”
(to be continued in couple of days)
(Photograph above by Richard Tuschman, from his ‘Hopper Meditations’ series. More about him soon. Read also our Sunday Sept. 15th post about Hopper interpretations on Instagram - @UntitledXXI - and Facebook.)
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