Read Close Relations Online

Authors: Susan Isaacs

Close Relations (10 page)

“¿Cómo está, Charlie?” she replied.

“Bueno, bueno,” he rumbled, still smiling, suave. “And you, Wendy?”

“Terrífico,” Wendy said.

“How are you, Marcia?” he asked, sounding bored.

“Fine.”

“Good. Glad to hear it.”

“Where do you two know each other from?” Wendy demanded.

I answered quickly. “The ‘73 mayoral primary.”

“Gotcha,” said Wendy. “And you two were waging your own sweet campaign. Oh, come on, Charlie, stop looking at me like I brought out some new and fascinating aspect of your personality. What do they say? If you laid your girl friends end to end…. Oh, sorry, Marcia. But listen, it’s no big deal and there’s been a lot of water under everyone’s bridge since 1973. Right? God, I was just out of high school in June of ‘73. Now tell, Charlie, when’s the great Mayor Dip Shit going to decide about the goddamn Shakespeare festival?”

I was able to continue smiling for another fifteen seconds. By that time it was Charlie’s turn to talk, and I proclaimed my need for a drink and got away. I tried to mingle with people at the bar, but as usual at parties where the socializing is vertical, my height proved a disadvantage. Being short, I could not spot allies in a crowd. And strangers reflexively treated me as a child, patting my shoulder as I passed, tousling my hair. Even though I was over five feet tall and had crow’s feet, bartenders often viewed my request for wine with suspicion.

People pressed against me, pushing me aside to get closer to the liquor. I was trod on, elbowed, felt up. I retreated, finally, to the ladies’ lounge and sat in a small pink chair with my eyes closed, so everyone would think I was being brave, suffering in silence from a tension headache or cramps. There was a strong but not unpleasant odor of floral room deodorant; it was like being smothered in bougainvillaea.

But at least I was safe from the pushers and the gropers and as far away from Charlie Basile as I could get without leaving the hotel entirely. He had, I observed, dropped his Spanish accent completely, now that there were few points for originality being handed out for being Puerto Rican. He no longer had to be friendly to everyone either, now that he was Mayoral Spokesman. And he didn’t have to play the exotic to get laid, as he once had.

“Mar-see-ah,” he had murmured, rolling my “r” and then running his teeth along the palm of my hand. “What you doin’ tonight after the Brooklyn debate? You goin’ home?”

“Yes.”

“No, you comin’ with me.” Then he bent down and kissed the nape of my neck, his thin dark lips warm and moist enough to send chills down my back and arms. “Hey, we’ll have some fun, Mar-see-ah.” As a preview, his hand reached in front of me and tweaked my nipple. “Lots of fun.”

But before we got to the fun, we spent over a half hour in the corridor of campaign headquarters, debating where to establish our pleasure palace. Each time someone passed, we’d stop whispering and emit a few loud sentences about “projecting an image of warm responsibility” before calming down to talk of our impending passion once again.

“Your place?” he asked.

I had to say no because I shared an apartment with two other women, both also divorced, who stayed in every night to wash their hair. Charlie’s apartment was unavailable too, because his wife was there.

“I didn’t know you were married,” I said.

“Yeah. But it’s not workin’.”

“I’m sorry.”

We agreed to meet back at campaign headquarters after the Brooklyn debate, around ten. A few minutes after midnight, I dashed in, having taken a rather frightening subway ride back to Manhattan because the candidates were still screaming at each other at eleven fifteen. Charlie jumped from the couch in the petition coordinator’s office and greeted me. “Hey, you know what time it is? Where the fuck you been?”

We did it on the couch. Charlie spread some mimeographed copies of the previous day’s schedule underneath me “so we don’t get come all over.” But Charlie couldn’t come. He pumped and grinded till after two in the morning. The schedule disintegrated with my perspiration, shreds of wet paper clung to my back and legs. At last, to my relief, he pulled out. “You’re too dry,” he complained. “No guy could come inside that.”

“Sorry.”

“S’all right. Just suck me off. Come on. I don’t have all night.”

Charlie was the twelfth man I slept with after my divorce. I’m not certain how many men there actually were before Jerry, since I stopped counting with Sheldon Glantz, number twenty-three, when it occurred to me that keeping score of lovers might be neither sophisticated nor amusing. Sheldon, who was counsel to the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, became passionate only postcoitally, when we couldn’t find my underpants.

“It’s all right, Sheldon. They weren’t such good ones.”

“Have you looked in the bathroom?”

“I wasn’t in the bathroom.”

“Let me check. Maybe they caught on my toe or something and I dragged them in when I went to wash off.”

“Sheldon, I’ll go home without them. Really, it’s okay. If you find them, you can just throw them out.”

His breathing was shallow and rapid, and his tongue kept darting back and forth. “I can’t have your underpants here.”

“Maybe you’ll find them in the morning, Sheldon. They’d just be here overnight,” I pleaded. I had put on my coat after a half hour of searching proved fruitless, and I felt dirty and sticky from perspiration and the residue of Glantz semen. “Maybe if you shake out the sheets.” I glanced at his tousled single bed.

“Oh, my God.” And then he wheeled around to glare at me, his Black Watch plaid bathrobe pulled tight around his lumpy body. “What kind of person loses their underpants?” he hissed.

Like Charlie, like Sheldon, my men were all government subsidized. This shtup has been made possible by a grant from the Department of the Interior. I was never forced into singles bars, into reliance on cousins to fix me up with their friend Harvey who had just gotten a divorce which wasn’t his fault. I met many men. Politics made bedfellows.

Barry and I separated in 1968, and after that, after having known nearly every whim and crevice of one man all my sexual life, I found myself ricocheting all over Washington, from bed to bed, then shooting up to New York, where I thought I’d find a comfortable, familiar world. Instead, there were more beds, more men. In one week, I slept with three different men named Norman. All were inept.

I exited marriage into a very different world from which I entered. In 1968, I found out, women were no longer wooed or seduced or flirted with or even whispered to suggestively. They were asked: You wanna? I suppose I did, for I often found my legs wrapped around a pair of meaty hips before I even had time to conjure up a compensating fantasy. You wanna? I guess so, for I became the easiest of lays, kissing and licking and stroking men so homely or boorish or dull that I would never have introduced them to even my most distant relative.

Some of the men, mainly the older ones, still observed the amenities. They would pledge a love that would last till eternity but which usually succumbed on the first Wednesday in November. “I know I said I loved you, Marcia, and I did—do—but I have to go back to my (1) family (2) law firm (3) old mistress who’s been threatening suicide and would leave a note. Look, you know I don’t want to hurt you,” explained (1) Vinnie Pinello (2) Bob Figueroa (3) Hal Moskowitz (4) Timothy Francis Xavier Driscoll.

A few saw little reason for even superficial gentility. Post fellatio, an assistant district attorney called me “Marion” several times and seemed annoyed when I insisted my name was Marcia. A vice-president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation said, “Boy, kiddo, do you ever got pudgy legs!” the first time I undressed. Oliver Murray, studying hunger in Manhattan on a luscious H.E.W. grant, began our evening by informing me how fortunate I was to be on the brink of a shattering sexual experience with a black man at the height of Afro-American Consciousness Season. In bed, though, he merely played piston to my cylinder, in-out, in-out. “I’m really not attracted to white girls.” Five more minutes of friction elapsed. “If I do go for white girls, it’s not for little blonds. But you looked so sad. You depressed or something?” In-out.

No one wanted to go to the movies anymore. Gentlemen callers no longer dined you, although they might wine you or offer a joint of marijuana as a kind of pregame warm-up. Hardly anyone told me I was cute, and few asked where I had gone to college.

I sensed a more comfortable, conventional world existed, but I didn’t know how to break into it. Cut off, alone, I saw men and women strolling through Georgetown, holding hands or carrying home a pizza made for two. But none of the men I met at work had time for these indulgences. Together, we would race along M Street, past the pizza carriers, and rush up to an empty apartment to have a quick half hour of sex before he would have to dash out for a cocktail party or dinner with a reporter or an evening of television with his family in Chevy Chase.

I had no real friends, because when I moved to Washington, my life had centered only on my job and Barry. Women did not flock to my side to be pals when I became separated. In fact, since most of the women I met had the same sort of professional and social life I had, all of us spent our late evenings plugged into hot rollers and douche bags; we were too tired, too frightened, and probably too competitive for confidences.

When I moved back to New York after my divorce in 1969, I saw my cousin Barbara, but she could manage only lunches. Her evenings were spent with her husband and sons. She offered to arrange dates for me with her husband’s colleagues, but for some reason I considered accepting a blind date with a professor of law more humiliating than going to bed with a walleyed, buck-toothed, second-string politician whose underwear was suspiciously gray.

Not all men were vile, of course. Arthur Golden, Deputy Police Commissioner for Public Information, was actually nice. He proposed on our first evening together. We were in his parents’ double bed in Flatbush. They were in Fort Lauderdale, looking at condominiums. “Let’s get married,” he said, as we lay side by side, the mahogany headboard having finally stopped its rhythmic slapping against the wall.

“No. No thank you, Arthur.”

“You didn’t like it?”

“It was fine. Wonderful. You were terrific.”

“So?”

“I just don’t want to get married again.”

“Why not?”

I wanted Jerry. I strode out of the ladies’ room and over to the small, horseshoe-shaped table which held the place cards. Jerry, I discovered, had taken care of himself, because only Morvillo and Magill remained under the M’s. I found myself, Ms. M. Green, Table 74, half buried by Mr. & Mrs. Stanley Golub. I tossed them aside and then, conscience-stricken, reached to retrieve their card. But I was unable to because a hand covered my eyes.

“Guess who?”

I knew the voice, naturally. “I can’t,” I lied. The hand pressed harder on my eyes, pulling me until my back leaned hard against a firm body. I smelled a strong musk cologne.

“Sure you can.” And he gave me a friendly reminder too; he leaned down and began to suck my earlobe.

“Stop it.” I leaned far to the left, but my lobe remained captive in his mouth. The suction hurt. “Please.”

Surprisingly, he let go, like a vacuum cleaner suddenly shut off, and my lobe, sore and wet, fell back into place. But my eyes remained masked. “I’ll let you go if you tell me my name.” Even Rumpelstiltskin had more class. “Who am I? I know you know.”

Partially because I knew the inevitability of my defeat and partially because I was curious to see how many people had witnessed my public earlobe assault, I said, “Lyle.” The hand drew away from my eyes slowly, traveled gently over my forehead, and laconically passed through the thick of my hair.

“I knew you knew,” he said, his voice silky with triumph. “I didn’t think you’d forget me so fast.” I turned and faced him. Lyle LoBello had learned a lot from James d’Avonne Gresham. He had learned to abjure polyester shirts. He understood that gentlemen do not wear tie clips. He no doubt bequeathed his gold link bracelet to his cousin Sal in Red Hook. But he was too neat, too well-packaged; he lacked the governor’s scruffy appeal. “Well, say something, Marcia,” he commanded, looking properly authoritative but a little indecently muscular in a perfectly tailored navy suit. “You’re the speech writer.” Even the black mole under his left (brown) eye gleamed at me, as though he had remembered to keep it polished.

“I’m sorry about the governor, Lyle. I know how close—”

“Thanks,” he said quickly. “So, tell me what you’ve been up to, smart lady. Life treating you okay?”

“Yes. Well, you know I’m still working for—”

“Marcia, you’re talking abc’s to me. Come on. The real stuff. Is Morrissey making you happy?”

I swallowed noisily, a little stunned that Lyle had been interested enough to keep track of me. “How did you know about me and—?” I began.

“Are you kidding? Jerry Morrissey’s an important guy. But you know that. Half the city owes him. Meantime, you didn’t answer my question.” He smiled. Lyle’s lips were heavy, the sort unimaginatively referred to as sensuous, and when he smiled his lips did not flatten entirely, but remained a little loose. Were he to have jumped and smiled at the same time, his lips would have jiggled.

“What was your question?” I asked, gazing at his mouth.

“Is the old mick treating you okay?” Lyle was good. He got in a good dig about Jerry’s age, thus spotlighting his own comparative youth; Lyle must have been a couple of years younger than I, maybe thirty-two or-three. And the question also showed how urbane he was by using the pejorative “mick” that the Irish sometimes use with each other and that anyone else but a very close friend is careful to avoid.

“Yes, thanks. We’re managing pretty well.”

“Pretty well?”

“Very well, Lyle.” He raised one eyebrow, skeptically, as though he had studied Charles Boyer movies. “Really.”

“Good. I’m glad.” We smiled at each other. I shot my eyes over his shoulder to see if I could spot a familiar face to rescue me. “He’s one hell of a guy,” Lyle said. I let my hand glide over my throat, nervously smoothing my skin. “One terrific mick,” he added, watching my hand.

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