IT WAS FEBRUARY THIRTEENTH, AND LEGAL SEAFOODS was crowded on Friday night, but the five members of the Hot Flash Club were given their usual table tucked away in the far corner of the restaurant where they could chat without being overheard. They settled in, ordered drinks, glanced quickly at the menu—by now they all knew their favorite dishes—then leaned forward.
“Faye, you’re here with no neck brace or crutches!” Alice observed. “How are you?”
Faye lifted a languid hand to rub the back of her neck. “I get twinges from time to time. And I think my chances for a speed-skating career are pretty much over.”
“But you can always do yoga,” Shirley reminded her cheerfully.
Faye flushed. “I
I’ve gained weight. Give me a break! I was hardly able to move for a month. I still have to be careful.”
Shirley blinked, surprised at Faye’s belligerence. “I didn’t mean— Yoga’s not about losing weight,” she said softly.
Brightly, Marilyn asked, “So, Faye, have you been able to teach your art therapy classes this semester?”
Faye shook her head. “I had to skip the winter semester. I can hardly teach if I can’t stand up or move my arms. And I hear the new art teacher is doing beautifully. I doubt if The Haven will need me again.”
The other four women exchanged worried glances. Faye, being
“Of course The Haven wants you to teach again,” Shirley rushed to assure her. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Faye shrugged and said nothing.
Polly sagged in her chair, nearly ill with guilt. Obviously Faye was depressed. The whole Carolyn–Aubrey– Valentine’s Day dinner arrangement had to be part of the cause. Could Polly bring this up now?
Alice turned to Marilyn. “How’s your mother? Did she want to join us tonight?”
“She’s fine. And there’s an old movie on television she wanted to watch, thank heavens. I mean, I adore my mother, but it’s nice to get away from her now and then.”
“Are you managing to have any time alone with Faraday?” Shirley asked.
Marilyn folded her napkin in careful little pleats. “No, and I’m glad. I know I’m using my mother as an excuse to avoid talking with him about this marriage business, but I do have to decide about Ruth, that’s the most important thing right now.”
“You’ve had her with you for two months,” Alice pointed out. “How’s she doing?”
Marilyn frowned. “Well, you’ve seen her. She gets words confused now and then—”
“But so do I,” Polly interjected.
“—and she forgets what she’s doing sometimes—”
“So do I,” Shirley said.
Marilyn nodded. “I know. I do, too. Sometimes I have to make a note on a piece of paper and carry it with me from one room to the other. Otherwise, I’ll get distracted and forget what I came in for.”
Alice laughed. “I hear you. The other day I was on a tear, looking for my reading glasses, and all the time they were on top of my head. I said to Gideon, ‘Good grief, Hon, how are you going to know when I’m senile?’ ”
“Exactly!” Marilyn agreed, then said in an irritated tone, “Oh,
!” She unbuttoned her cardigan and tore it off.
“Hot flash,” Polly said sympathetically.
Marilyn nodded and fanned herself with the menu. “What were we talking about?”
“Your mother,” Alice reminded her.
Marilyn shook her head. “I really don’t know what to do. I love her so much, and most of the time I enjoy her company. Plus, I feel obligated to Sharon. She’s taken care of our mother most of our lives. It really is my turn now. And I don’t think I can just dump her into an assisted living facility because she’s forgetful and deaf.”
Shirley chuckled. “Speaking of deaf, let me tell you what happened in Star’s yoga class yesterday. Star had some new students, older people bused over from a retirement home, seven really cute little old ladies who want to stay limber. They’d never taken yoga before, so this was their trial class. So Star put them up front and went through the poses slowly, telling them not to strain themselves. You know the routine. So she had them all seated with their eyes closed, and she said slowly, ‘Feel your breath.’ And one little old lady yelled, ‘Feel my breasts? What kind of class
When their laughter died down, Alice pinned Marilyn with one of her no-nonsense glances. “But if you didn’t have to think about your mother, would you marry Faraday?”
“Honestly? I just don’t know.”
“Did you talk to him about the sex thing?” Alice demanded.
Marilyn blushed. “I tried to. I mean, I sat him down and told him how I felt, and suggested he get something like Viagra. He had that deer-in-the-headlights look. Trapped and tortured! Why is it so difficult to talk about this with men?”
“Because we don’t want to hurt their feelings,” Alice said. “Men’s egos are so fragile. And their private parts are so private. Women are used to having their reproductive organs plumbed and scanned and inspected, not to mention expanded to give birth. We
to be more practical, less sensitive about it all.”
“You know, Hugh’s a doctor,” Polly said. “And he’s in his sixties, and has no hesitation about using an erectile dysfunction medication from time to time.”
“Does it work?” Alice asked.
“Very well,” Polly answered, blushing. “So, Marilyn, what did Faraday say after you suggested Viagra?”
Marilyn looked exasperated. “Nothing! He said absolutely nothing! Or, rather, he said there was a show on
right then that he wanted to watch. So we watched television, then he kissed me politely good night and left.”
The waiter brought their food. For a few moments everyone was engrossed in tasting and exchanging bits with one another. Alice and Shirley, who were sitting the farthest from each other, didn’t offer to give the other a taste of their dishes, which made Marilyn and Polly exchange nervous glances, while Faye continued to seem lost in her own private world.
“So, Faye.” Marilyn turned to her friend. “How is Laura these days?”
Faye lifted her head and forced a smile. “She’s well, thank you. She’s very good about e-mailing me daily. Lars’s parents are staying with them while they look for a house in San Francisco, so they take care of Megan every afternoon. That gives Laura a chance to nap. And Evelyn—Lars’s mother—loves to cook, so she’s been preparing dinner for everyone. Laura tells me she feels rather spoiled.”
Alice tried to cheer Faye with her question. “So what are you and Aubrey doing—” She saw Polly shaking her head in rapid but slight little movements, as if she’d suddenly developed a Katharine Hepburn–like palsy, but didn’t interpret the message in time. “—for Valentine’s Day?”
Faye’s lower lip quivered. “Aubrey’s been invited to his daughter’s house for dinner tomorrow night. Carolyn’s sister and her family are visiting, and she wants them to have a family get-together.”
“Well, that sucks for you,” Alice said bluntly.
“And for me, too.” The hell with it, Polly decided suddenly. The Hot Flash Club’s first rule was, after all, “Don’t let fear hold you back.” Shoving her plate to one side, she rested her arms on the table. “I wish the rest of you could help me out here. You know I met Carolyn at The Haven. I got close to her during the time she was freaked about Aubrey’s weird quickie marriage. And then I was with her when she had her baby. So she thinks of me as a kind of surrogate mother, and I have to admit I like that a lot, because my own idiot son and his demented little flying-nun wife won’t let me see my own grandchild. But I have no designs on Aubrey! What am I supposed to do? Carolyn invited me to dinner there tomorrow night, to her freaking
dinner, and I said I’d go, even though—”
Marilyn cut in. “But what about Hugh? Don’t you want to have dinner with him?”
“Of course I do!” Polly replied. “But Hugh’s
are having a family Valentine’s Day dinner with him, all the grandchildren, and oh, yes, let’s not forget, helpless little size-six Carol, Hugh’s ex-wife. I don’t understand these young mothers. Why can’t they let us alone?” She leaned across the table and put her hand on Faye’s. “Faye, I’m not romantically interested in Aubrey. You’ve got to know that. And Aubrey adores you. You must know that, too. I would love to find a way to straighten this tangle out.”
Faye gave Polly her best smile. “That’s very nice of you.”
“But how?” Polly asked helplessly.
“What about talking it over with her?” Shirley suggested. “Take her out to lunch and get it all out in the open.”
Alice shook her head. “That won’t work. Carolyn’s a determined young woman. Strong personality. Used to getting her own way.”
Marilyn looked thoughtful. “Stalactites.”
“Oh, boy,” Alice said. “Here we go.”
Marilyn shook her head impatiently. “No,
Think of caves, stalactites, stalagmites, some as much as several yards long, and all formed by the slow, patient, steady dripping of high-lime-content water.” She brightened. “Or, think of tiny grains of sand, which the sea has—”
“We get your point,” Alice interrupted. “You think Polly and Faye should just remain firm and relentless, reminding Carolyn that Polly is dating Hugh and Faye is dating Aubrey.”
“Slow and steady wins the race,” Polly mused, nodding.
Alice added, “Yeah. Polly, maybe you could invite Carolyn and her husband to dinner at your house, with Hugh there, so Carolyn could get to know him, and see how much you two like each other.”
Polly nodded. “I guess you’re right. I hate confrontations, anyway.”
Marilyn grinned. “Did you know that in some caves they’ve discovered stalactites that drip sulfuric acid in a kind of mucusy glue? They’ve named them
Alice pushed her plate away. “Thanks for presenting us with that image during dinner.”
“Good,” Shirley said mischievously, “maybe you won’t gain weight tonight.”
Alice glared at Shirley and bit her tongue. She was doing her best not to be a total bitch about Shirley giving all that money to Justin. Shirley ought to reciprocate and get off her back about her weight.
Defiantly, Alice said, “Maybe I
Because I’m going to order a big, fat chocolate dessert!”
APRIL FOOL’S DAY
MARILYN AND HER MOTHER SAT SIDE BY SIDE ON THE sofa, both in quilted robes, their feet cozy in quilted slippers. They were watching one of Marilyn’s favorite movies,
I Know Where I’m Going,
made in 1940, starring Wendy Hiller as a saucy city woman trying to get to a private island off the Scottish Highlands. It was in black-and-white, slow-paced but infinitely charming, and when Marilyn curled up in bed at night, she often sent herself to sleep on fantasies of meeting the male lead, Roger Livesey. Actually, it wasn’t the actor she wanted to meet but the slow-smiling naval officer he played, and since modern science posited that there were an infinite number of worlds, Marilyn allowed herself to believe, deep in her heart, that in one of those worlds she could meet just such a man, tall, gentle yet rugged, with laughter dancing in his eyes and a Scottish burr that would flutter a kilt.
“That was lovely, dear.” Ruth folded up the scarf she was knitting—it was already about seven feet long, but Ruth didn’t seem to notice, and Marilyn didn’t want to deprive her of the familiar pleasure knitting brought. “I think I’ll retire now. It’s late, isn’t it?”
“Almost ten o’clock,” Marilyn told her. “Here, let me help you up.”
Marilyn held out her arms. Ruth fastened her bony hands on her daughter’s wrists, and Marilyn lifted. Ruth grunted with the effort of getting her body up on her spindly legs.
“There!” she said triumphantly. “Let me catch my breath, and then I can make it on my own.”
Marilyn handed Ruth her cane, and after a few moments, Ruth tottered off down the hall to the bathroom. Marilyn watched nervously, glad that the rented condo was so small, Ruth didn’t have far to walk from room to room. Marilyn put their cups in the dishwasher—they’d been drinking Postum, a drink Marilyn had forgotten existed until her mother’s arrival. She wiped the kitchen counter one more time and plumped up the sofa pillows. Her briefcase was in her bedroom on her computer table, which was squeezed up against her bureau. She scarcely had room in her bedroom to turn around, but she wanted to keep the dining area free for meals with her mother, and she couldn’t concentrate on her work with her mother in the room, anyway.
“All right, dear,” Ruth called from her bedroom door. “I’ll say good night now.”
Marilyn went to her mother and bent to give her a kiss and a hug. “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed-bugs bite.”
Ruth patted Marilyn’s cheek. “You’re a good daughter.” She went into her bedroom, shut the door, then opened it again and stuck her head out. “A jumper cable walks into a bar. What does the bartender say?”
Marilyn grinned. “ ‘I’ll serve you, but don’t start anything.’ ”
Ruth laughed, blew a kiss, and closed the door.
Marilyn got ready for bed herself, wondering when Mother Nature would finally blow winter away and let spring arrive. She turned on her electric blanket and bedside lamp, then went around the apartment, double-checking that the kitchen and living room doors were locked and all lights were off. In the hall she paused, quietly opened her mother’s bedroom door, and peeked in. Ruth lay tucked beneath her covers like a little doll, snoring gently. Ruth was never bothered by insomnia or hot flashes ruining her sleep, one good thing, Marilyn supposed, about old age.
In her own bed, Marilyn shoved her pillows into comfortable lumps for her back and neck, picked up her book, put on her reading glasses, and found her place on the page.
Then she heard pounding at the front door.
She frowned and took off her glasses, as if that would improve her hearing.
Her heart fluttered. Who would come around at this time on a weekday night? Dear God, she hoped it wasn’t Teddy—had something happened to Lila or the baby?
Too alarmed to pull on her robe, she flew to the door and opened it.
Faraday stood there, handsome in his camel-hair coat, but red in the face and reeking of alcohol.
Faraday swept off his tartan cap and waved it as he bowed. “I have come to make love to you.”
“Faraday, have you been drinking?”She stepped back, allowing him to enter.
He pulled her to him. “Yes, I have indulged in an aphrodisiacal libation, and more, my dear, much more.”
“What do you mean?”
Faraday chuckled maniacally as he gripped her wrist and towed her toward her bedroom. “I mean, Marilyn,
I have finally committed the daring deed you have so often obliquely, and gently, propelled me toward.” He removed his coat and gloves and dropped them on a chair.
“I don’t understand.”
Faraday took Marilyn in his arms and bent to kiss her. He had always been a wonderful kisser. But no matter how inventive, patient, or persistent Marilyn was when they tried to make love, “Little Johnny Jump-Up,” as Faraday called his penis, had failed to rise to the occasion.
Marilyn let Faraday lead her to the bedroom and watched him pull his thick cable-knit sweater over his head. She knew from experience not to let her body get excited, because that always led to frustration. Still, she was fond of him, so she lifted off her nightgown and slipped between the covers.
As Faraday, naked now, slid in beside her, she said, “We should be quiet. I don’t want to wake my mother.”
“Ah, my darling,” Faraday whispered, “I don’t make promises I can’t keep.”
“You’re speaking in riddles tonight.” Marilyn snuggled next to him, enjoying the animal warmth of their touching bodies. His thighs and torso were warm, though his hands and face were still cold from the winter air.
“I mean,” Faraday whispered, drawing his fingers lightly down Marilyn’s body, “I did what you’ve been wanting me to do. I saw a doctor, who prescribed a helpful medication, and I took it just before I came over here. I’m good for four hours.”
“Oh, my!” Marilyn reached up and stroked his bristly bearded jaw. “Faraday. How sweet of you!”
“Have to say,” he continued, “I’m a little concerned about it. Just a
I mean, there are side effects . . .” Turning his head away, he belched discreetly. “To build up my courage, I, um, imbibed most of the scotch you gave me for Christmas.”
“What side effects?” Marilyn nuzzled his neck.
“Heart attack. Sudden death. Stroke. Irregular heartbeat. Increased blood pressure,” Faraday recited glumly.
Marilyn raised herself up on one elbow, looking down at him with concern. She put a calming hand on his hairy chest. “But, Faraday, surely those are very rare occurrences, or the FDA wouldn’t allow the drug to be sold.”
“I suppose—” A ferocious yawn swallowed the rest of the sentence. “ ’Cuse me. Still, there’s no guarantee something won’t happen to me.”
“I think you’re very brave.” Marilyn moved her hand down his belly.
He chuckled. “You wouldn’t think that if you’d seen me guzzling down the scotch. Oh, yes, and I took a few Valium, too.”
Alarmed, Marilyn drew back. “Oh, Faraday, that wasn’t wise!” He would have to spend the night. She couldn’t allow him to drive home with all those soporifics in his system. Her mother wouldn’t be too shocked, seeing him there in the morning. “I feel so guilty,” she told him.
“Now, now. That’s not at all how I mean you to feel, my dear.”
“Hush now.” He silenced her with a long, amorous kiss.
Marilyn returned his kiss, hugging him tightly against her. She could feel his excitement rising, hard and long, against her abdomen, and her own heart began to pound in anticipation. The alcoholic fumes from his mouth were distracting, however; she was almost getting drunk herself, simply from inhaling his breath.
They arranged themselves together.
“Why, Faraday, I think it’s working!” she whispered.
Faraday pushed himself up so that he could look down at her. “G-g-good.” The word came out in a mumble. His face, always ruddy, was paler than usual, and his eyes weren’t focusing correctly.
Suddenly, his mouth fell open. His eyes rolled up like a couple of struck billiard balls, disappearing beneath his eyelids. He let forth an enormous snort, shuddered all over, and collapsed on top of her.
Dear God, Marilyn thought, has he had a heart attack?
“Faraday?” She shook his shoulder.
Faraday sputtered, spraying her face, and began to snore loudly against her neck. His enormous torso sagged heavily against her as his breathing deepened. His beard and mustache scratched her chin and cheek.
“Faraday? I can’t breathe.” Marilyn tried to shift him, but he was a deadweight. “Faraday!” She panted, sucking in small gasps of air.
Faraday snored away, his lips smacking, his alcoholic breath streaming into the bedroom like a really bad air freshener.
Marilyn was five seven and weighed 120 pounds. Faraday was six three and weighed 230. She was strong enough, but he was so very large, and heavy, and limp.
Grunting, she pushed up with her legs and arms, straining to topple him off her, but he was as leaden as a fallen tree. She couldn’t budge him.
was having trouble breathing.
What could she do?
She could call for her mother. But did she want her mother to see her like this, pinned beneath a large, hairy man like a chicken beneath a big, red bull? Absolutely not! Besides, Ruth wasn’t strong enough to lift herself out of a chair, so how could
help get Faraday off Marilyn?
Sucking up every ounce of strength in her body, Marilyn bucked and heaved one more time. In vain. Faraday’s breath sputtered against her hair. She was wheezing like an asthmatic as she strained to pull air into her lungs.
All right, Marilyn said to herself. Let’s look at this sensibly. Faraday was bound to wake up sooner or later. Could she fall asleep until he did?
a little voice inside her screamed,
The truth was, she was getting scared. More than scared—she was on the verge of real panic, that horrible claustrophobic sense of desperate helplessness. Her left leg spasmed with cramp.
Twisting frantically, she tried to scoot out from beneath Faraday, but she was too weighted down. Frightened now, she began pounding on his shoulders and back. Faraday twitched, spluttered, and moaned, but slept on.
Tears welled in her eyes and rolled down toward her ears. Her sinuses filled with mucus and she couldn’t even blow her nose, which was quickly becoming clogged. A feeling of suffocation overwhelmed her, increasing her sense of panic.
What on earth was she going to do?
Turning her head, she saw her phone on the bedside table. Stretching her arm out, she could just grasp it. She pulled it toward her.
911? Oh, Lord, how embarrassing, plus EMTs would make so much noise and wake her mother.
Who else? Who lived closest to her? Alice, who was strong! Fumbling, one-handed, she knocked the phone off its cradle. Straining uncomfortably, she punched in Alice’s number, then brought the phone to her ear.
“Alice, it’s Marilyn.”
“Are you okay? I can hardly hear you.”
“I can hardly speak,” Marilyn squeaked. “Listen, could you come over here right now? And tell Polly or Faye to meet you? I’m in a predicament. Faraday’s passed out on top of me, and I’m trapped! I don’t want my mother to find us like this. Besides, I can’t breathe.”
Alice sounded wary. “This isn’t some kind of weird experiment, is it? Or a joke you’re pulling on me?”
“Honest to God, Alice, I’m trapped and nearly smothered. Please come
“I’m on my way. I’ll phone Polly from the car.”
“The key’s on top of the lintel,” Marilyn gasped. “Be quiet coming in, if you can. I don’t want to wake Mother.”
For the next twenty minutes, Marilyn labored to breathe. She developed a rhythm, putting both hands beneath Faraday’s shoulders and heaving him up a few inches, using that release to inhale deeply. But her arms trembled with the effort, and soon she had to let him drop back down. She tapped his face. Lifted his eyelids. He snored on. She called his name. She pinched him, hard. Nothing worked.
At last, Marilyn heard noises at the front door. Alice and Polly burst into the room, accompanied by a surge of cold air. Alice’s fur coat flew out behind her as she stormed in. Polly whisked off her wool cap and mittens and tucked them into her parka pocket.
When they saw Marilyn and Faraday, Polly’s hands flew up to her face in alarm, but Alice smiled.
“Glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Marilyn wheezed. “In the meantime, I can’t breathe!”
“You take that side, I’ll take this,” Alice directed Polly.
They stationed themselves on either side of the bed. Alice grabbed Faraday’s shoulder. “You shove while I pull,” she directed Polly. “On the count of three. One— two—three.”
Marilyn pushed upward with her hands. They shifted Faraday a few inches, but his body was so limp, he landed back on Marilyn like a two-ton beanbag.
“Ooof!” Marilyn huffed as his body hit hers.
“Okay,” Alice said. Quickly she removed her coat and rolled up her sleeves. Polly did the same. “On the count of three again, and this time, we’re going to give it our all. Ready? One. Two. Three!”
Grunting with exertion, the three women shoved Faraday’s warm, limp body. With a sucking noise, he came free of Marilyn and fell on his back, flopping down like a deflated plastic raft.
Marilyn scrambled off the bed, grabbed her robe, and yanked it over her naked body, taking huge, grateful gasps of air.
“He’s a fine figure of a man, isn’t he?” Alice remarked admiringly as she drew the covers up over Faraday.
“He’s a whale,” Marilyn puffed. “I’ve got to pee.”
“I’ve got to laugh,” Alice said. “I’ll go in the living room and stuff a pillow in my mouth.”
“Are you okay?” Alice asked when Marilyn entered the living room.
“Fine. Just embarrassed. And terribly grateful—I think I could have died!”