Issue Twenty-Five - Winter 2015

The Cooling

By Lisa C. Taylor

We were having a heat wave, the kind that grabbed you in its jaws and shook you like I saw the neighbor’s dog do once with a rabbit. He’d snuffed it out, poor bunny. Even the clothes on the line seemed limp and perpetually damp. Six o’clock and neither of us felt like firing up the grill. I could barely muster the energy to throw together a salad, open a tin of tuna. Don went straight to the fridge, poured himself a cool one.

“Darlin’. Let’s forget supper altogether,” his hand around my waist. I was wearing a sundress but if I wasn’t self-conscious about the weight I’d gained from all the baked goods he’d brought home, I’d have been butt-naked. I wanted to climb inside that refrigerator, slip into the crisper. The hand on the waist was Don’s idea of foreplay. Subtle, I thought. But it had to be done.

I let him lead me into our bedroom, or boudoir, as he liked to call it. He’d just come home from work and though he worked in an office, he smelled like a combination of sweat and toner from the copying machines that he repaired. Estelle told me Michael’s scent made her hot. Sometimes he comes up behind me with that clean man smell when I’m roasting a chicken or whipping potatoes. It makes me want to rip off my skirt right then. You know what I mean?

I’d nodded as if I understood but I’d never liked the way Don smelled, even fresh from a shower. It was pheromones or something. Unfortunately my scent got a rise out of him every time. Now, with it hot as blazes, he steered me toward our brass bed and I was thinking, Thank God I’ll never have to do this again.

It was my Nanny, Truda, who told me to go with Don quick before one of the other ladies got ‘im. Nanny Truda was the one who bought me sanitary napkins, told me the facts of life, or at least her version of them which was that men have these fat stems between their legs that grown women like pushed inside their private place or woo-woo, which will grow big enough when they’re older. Lara Reingold must have grown her private place faster than the rest of us, I thought at the time, since she was pregnant at fourteen. I couldn’t imagine enjoying a fat stem of any kind shoved up my woo-woo, but what did I know? It wasn’t until Erik Stevens stuck his tongue into my mouth at the eighth grade semi-formal that I learned that my body could imagine doing things that previously seemed icky and possibly dangerous.

Don is a good boy, Nanny Truda told me, which meant he had no scandal attached to him yet. Paying job, nice apartment, and at thirty-one, he had never been married. Truda was sixty-seven now and a long-time widow. On Sundays, she went to church with Robert Mangold but that’s all I wanted to know about that. I don’t know if Truda ever let Robert push his thing into her.

It was a damn shame I’d just changed the sheets, even washed the duvet cover and ironed it. It was too hot for covers and Don was sure to leave spots. I was lying there, his hand snaking under my dress, his other hand unhooking my bra, and all I could think of was having to wash the cover again and just when was I going to find the time to iron; it wouldn’t lie flat unless it was properly ironed. Don kissed me, a sloppy wet one. I turned my face to the side, pretended I had something in my eye but really I just didn’t want him slobbering all over me.

“Maggie. You’re beautiful,” he said which was as romantic as it gets for Don. It basically meant, get that dress off so I can do ya. I glanced at the yellow Budweiser clock he’d bought at the flea market. 6:30. We could be done by 6:45, which would give me time to make the salad, even mince garlic and squeeze a lemon for the dressing. I could tell him over dessert, a vanilla bean gelato I’d bought at the Italian grocer. I rolled over onto my back, eased off the dress and panties, braced for entry. It reminded me of pilots announcing, prepare for take-off.

Thirteen grunting and sweaty moments later, Don rolled off. I had managed to slide the dress underneath me. I have better things to do with my time than laundry, like filling out the W-4 form to send to Whyte and Johnson for my new job in Maine. The stench coming off of Don was pungent as a hospital emergency room. Prepare for landing. Don smiled at me. “You’re a good woman, Maggie,” he said.

I grabbed another sundress from the closet because he’d gone and soiled this one with his jism, all crusty and drying. In the bathroom, cleaning myself up, I shoved over his electric razor, that lime-spice cologne that smelled like disinfectant, and an old copy of Sports Illustrated left by the sink. My new bathroom would have a pine chest of drawers, soft pastel towels, verbena and oatmeal soaps, and maybe some bath salts. I’d paint the walls a light green, stencil daisies around the window.

When I emerged, Don had thrown together the tuna salad, cut up cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives, drizzled all of it with olive oil. He’d done a decent job, I had to admit, even opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio because he knows I don’t drink beer. It was too hot to drink anything but water but I sipped tentatively. Maybe the wine would give me courage.

Outside the clouds were clumped together and there was an electric smell to the air. We were definitely in for a thunderstorm. I always thought that thunderstorms cooled things down but Don told me once that it was the cooling that caused the storm. Seemed fitting for our last night.

After dessert, we moved to the porch, the wind kicking up and branches flying against the screen. A clap of thunder startled us and we moved inside to watch the storm from our picture window. Don put his hand on mine, a gesture that had me worried. I hoped he wasn’t going to suggest having a baby or buying a house, or even a repeat performance of hump and grunt. It would make this harder.

He cleared his throat, unbuttoned the top button of his shirt, the one with ink stains on the pocket. God, it was muggy. I could almost feel steam coming off of him. He increased pressure on my hand.

“Maggie. We have to talk.”

Three years ago would have been better.

“I’ve met someone. I didn’t mean for it to happen.”

I snatched my hand back.

“You son-of-a-bitch! What the blazes are you talking about?”

“I’m in love, Maggie. We want to marry. We met at the gym. I’m sorry.”

I should have known something was up when he started working out on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I liked it at first because I had book group and choral practice. We were giving each other space to pursue our own interests, something Nanny Truda told me was important.

I pulled myself up straight. How dare he? I was the one with plans, the one offered the perfect job in Portland, Maine, a place I’d always wanted to live. There would be no way to get back my moment. He’d pushed me into the role of the injured and that was where I’d remain. All of our friends would side with me because I was, as he said, a good woman who didn’t deserve to be dumped by someone like Don. I stretched my sundress over my knees, slid to the other side of the corduroy sofa, grabbed the green velvet pillow and pressed it to my chest.

Don was doing the thing he does with his lip that I hate, kind of biting it and chewing on it at the same time. Another crack of thunder and flash of lightning. Then the lights went out. I wondered if Miss Buff Gym-Rat liked the stench of copy-machine toner. Maybe she thought it was manly. A laborer’s smell. All I knew was that he always had smudges on his white shirts and every week I’d bIeach them while he was out shagging that woman. What a fool I’d been. Let Miss Gym-Rat bleach and iron his shirts, wash and hang out his stupid boxers with the hearts and arrows on them.

“I’ll get the flashlight,” Don said, feeling his way though it wasn’t all that dark out yet. I think he just wanted to look as if he was doing something constructive.

“There’s nothing I need to see,” I said.

“C’mon, Maggie. It’s not your fault. You’ve been good for me. You’re a sexy woman. I’m sure you’ll meet someone else.”

I didn’t want to tell him that I was leaving him for a job, had fallen in love with a town and the idea of an apartment of my own. After college, I moved back in with Nanny until she introduced me to Don. A floral couch and dust ruffles on my bed, mauve dust ruffles, that was what I coveted most of all.

“Why did we have sex?”

“You looked so beautiful, standing there in your sundress. It reminded me of how you looked when we met. You were buying tulips for Nanny, had on a green striped dress and your hair was long, pulled back with a barrette. Little white sandals on your feet. I’m sorry that it isn’t enough anymore.”

I didn’t know if a man pushing his thing into my woo-woo would ever be enough. Donald Frederick Asher was chewing his bloody lip again and I seriously wanted to punch him in the mouth. The lights flickered and then came back on. A flock of geese honked overhead, the toy poodle next door started yipping, and I got a waft of that cool, fresh air that comes after a summer storm.

I still felt sticky. Did he plant kisses on Miss Gym-Rat’s face? Did she get wet thinking about the stink of chemicals that lingered on him? Maybe the lovers of trash haulers and septic tank cleaners got used to rank odors, associated them with love. Not me. I wanted a man who took his time, showered before coming to bed, pulled back the covers, and kept his damn tongue in his mouth until I was ready.

“I’m moving out the end of the month,” I told him. “I’ve been offered a job in Portland, Maine.”

Don looked at me as if I just made that up. Let him figure out what to do with the apartment, clunky furniture, puke colored sofa. Maybe Miss Gym-Rat would help him sort it out. Feather their love nest.

“I was going to give you the furniture. Heather has a furnished house and two kids, Darren and Patricia.”

“I don’t care if she has a pet boa constrictor and a McMansion in Yonkers. I’m only taking my clothes, books, and the cedar chest Nanny gave me.”

“What about the lease?”

“You’re the one who signed it.”

I stood up, moved toward the weathered porch. Bully clouds pushed off, revealing a sliver of orange moon and a score of tiny blinking stars.

Copyright 2015 Taylor