I am wearing a black silk chiffon frock, it caresses my body like a loving hand. My waist length hair is held at the back of my neck with a jeweled clasp. The small marble topped table in front of me holds an opened bottle of champagne and two hand blown tulip glasses. Only one has been filled. I sip from it and smile a cat’s smile. There is a movement behind me and a single perfect rose, fragrant and white, is placed on the table. Then the tall Man with dark hair takes the other chair and pours himself some champagne. He raises his glass to me as a toast, smiling.
“Had I known you would be this lovely, I would have left early to be here,” he tells me. I believe him because I want to, and we become engulfed in each other’s eyes.
I am still smiling a cat’s smile as my drooling toddler staggers up to me and buries the fountain of youth in my green print dress. The cat’s smile turns to a sigh as romance fades and love takes over. The tall Man with the dark hair and liquid eyes will have to wait in my dreams while I wipe the baby’s nose and prepare lunch.
As I make cheesy toast and scoop applesauce into a bowl, the dark haired Man comes to me again. His eyes are gentle. The warmth he radiates is palpable. There has never been a brittle silence between us. He has never been angry with me for being late or putting the first dent in his new truck. I have never felt hurt over a forgotten birthday or affection neglected.
I clean the shredded toast and gobs of applesauce from the floor, smiling the cat’s smile again to think about black silk chiffon. There is nothing practical about it. It falls in layers like petals, each edged with rows of tiny iridescent black beads so that it clings instead of floating. It doesn’t keep me warm and if it became soiled the washing machines at the Laundromat would destroy it.
The women I know from the Laundromat would love to see such a dress and delight in the dark haired Man who makes me melt. We are strangers, most of us, who serve each other as back fence therapists. The safety of relative anonymity gives us the freedom to tell one another things about our lives that our husbands and lovers would never guess. Our perspectives are feminine as we discuss our bodies and dissect our relationships with a frankness which often embarrasses the occasional man who wanders into our part of town in search of cleaner clothes.
We are not whiners, seeking any opportunity to snivel and complain, laying blame for our mistakes on the nearest party. Generally, we are adult women who make rational decisions and are in control of our lives. Or as much in control as anyone really can be. Like the mothers of our ancestors, we gather at the place of purification to remove the soil from our laundry as we air our souls and shake the domestic dust and crumbs from them.
My friend is a sturdy, large boned woman. She is pretty, but she has grown up thinking she is unattractive because she is not frail and small. The black chiffon would not suit her. She is shaped like a goddess, full bodied and strong. Her ex-husband and former boyfriends have told her she needs a diet, but they are glad to stay for supper if she’s cooking. Or the night, if she’s willing. As I load the washer with towels, napkins and tablecloths, I ask her how she has been doing.
“What about that boyfriend, the one who came calling with steaks and wine, but never went to the movies?” I ask.
“I’m gonna call him tonight. I’ve been thinking about it. I know he’s shy and doesn’t know how to treat a woman, but that’s no excuse. He never went out with me and I even told him I’d like to. It’s not that he can’t afford it, either! So, I’m gonna tell him that I can’t find time for a man who doesn’t like me enough to take me out. I deserve better!”
Her voice has the tones of an oboe, rich and resonant. I cheer her on and wish her luck as I load work pants into one washer and diapers into another. What she wants is a man who will let her be beautiful and take pleasure in it. I doubt she has found the words for it yet. “I deserve better!” is adequate for now. I have not told her about my dark haired Man.
The laundry finished, I do my usual circuit through the grocery store and then go home. I realize that I rarely go anywhere else.
The tall Man says my name and I turn. He touches my cheek with his long graceful fingers, brushes my lips with his thumb. My lips part and he smiles, knowing that his touch sends electrical tremors all the way down to my pubic bone. Every time. Music starts and we dance, his arm around me, a pleasant tension rising as we move together, embracing and yet barely touching.
I hear a bass note go – flat. The apple blossoms in my hair begin to smell like impure methane from partially digested refried beans. In my confusion, I look for his face and find the clock by my bed reminding me that breakfast and lunch boxes and the dishes from last night await my attendance. I evacuate the bed, wishing once more for a self-contained-breathing-apparatus built into my pillow.
The next time I am at the Laundromat, I arrive in time to hear a small pinch-faced woman with scraggly strawberry blonde hair say, “…so I says ‘Listen, honey, just cos you got it up don’t mean I did!’.” The other women are laughing sympathetically.
The speaker has borne four children to three men in ten years. The oldest is usually in school and the youngest clings to her like human velcro, grimy and wet at both ends. The twins are nondescript whining preschoolers who continually nag her for candy and sodas. She has no time or energy for the luxury of beaded black chiffon.
I can see the current sentiment is running high in her favor. Their fight this morning had been precipitated by a back rub her latest live-in had asked for and gotten. The quarrel had escalated from his next demand and her response.
Brushing dark brown hair from her eyes, a medium sized young woman who wears long skirts and Berkenstocks, comments, “Ya’know, seems I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t touch my husband without him taking it as an invitation to poke me! It’s not that I’m not interested, but god! I wish that sometimes he’d touch me with something besides a stiff prick”!
There are murmurs of sympathy as the other women load dryers and fold their clothes. We recognize our common plight and are strengthened by the knowledge that we are not alone.
We have heard the story before in many versions. Country and Western lyrics are full of both sides of this tale of mismatched loving. It is an uncomfortable reality blown into distortion by printed media and television soap operas, laden with synthetic romance and exaggerated disasters. People who follow such things tend to forget their own simpler lives are significant, too. Growing accustomed to our discomfort, we allow it to become the norm of our lives, or spin our wheels, trying to make our own existences bigger and more important as compensation.
I think of my own bed and wonder what I can to do make love happen once more. Not having to meet an early school bus might help, and not waking in the night to deal with a damp and hungry baby – or a chance, now and again, to feel beautiful in beaded black silk chiffon.
I feed dollars into the change machine as I bring these thoughts into the conversation at the Laundromat. The quarters ring in the cup at the bottom. The women around me seem to be singing a familiar song, their voices blending in harmonic chorus, saying, “It’s nice to be admired and appreciated. To see that my Self and my efforts have more value than a convenient solution to a cold bed, dirty dishes and the laundry.”
So involved are we with our song that a new voice surprises us, coming from an older woman with short gray hair and a color coordinated red polyester slack suit. She has been waiting in her motor home while the machines run their cycles with her vacation laundry.
She pulls her husband’s shirts from the dryer, shakes them and puts them on hangers, saying, “There is more to love than the obvious, or we wouldn’t continue doing these repetitious chores which are so dreadful that many men can’t bear the responsibility for them. And there are the children…”
“…and there are the children.” The chorus swells with agreement. The older woman continues.
“It is the small considerations which make love grow; the tender touch and the loving smile, a pleasant surprise when you least expect it, that keep you there for someone when it’s anywhere else you’d rather be.”
She is right and we all know it. We are left with little else to say.
On the way home, the tall Man asks me what I want from him. He holds my hand, stroking it, feeling it, turning it over to examine the palm as though it is a rare treasure.
“Don’t leave me,” I reply. “Stay with me always.”
His laughter is low and comforting. “How can you imagine it?” He asks, “I don’t exist without you.”
I smile a cat’s smile.
Avery Milieu circa 1996
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