Well, you'll have words to say to me, I'm sure, but I assure you that I'm in total control of the situation, so keep your spinsterly & ungenerous platitudes to yourselves. (Although I don't mean that, really, because I want comments all the time.)
I went to Eunice's stupid dinner with stupid Stephen just to get her to shut up about it, and I went looking ugly in the most studied way anyone has ever looked ugly since the days when princesses smeared themselves with pitch in order to avoid an unsavory marriage. I didn't want Stephen to think I was dressing up for him. I put on a pair of capri-length stretch pants that the IR had purchased early in her pregnancy, so they pouched oddly at the stomach, and a billowy hot-pink T-shirt from some Walk For Breast Cancer, and a pair of aqua flipflops with a Coca-Cola logo on them, and I put my hair in this weird side-ponytail. So basically I just looked how I looked junior year of high school.
I showed up at Eunice's full of bitterness, rolling a metal thumbtack in my mouth and thrusting it between my teeth as I waited on her porch to be let in. Stephen was there already, drinking gin and looking rakish. "Hi," I said, and then starting talking rapidfire to Eunice and her roommates about everything I could think of, and commenting loudly on the persistently grown-up elegance of their apartment, and yet when we were sitting down to twice-baked potatoes and green beans & a roast of some kind and a wine that looked like it had been kidnapped, Stephen made disarmingly adorable comments to the whole time which could not go unanswered by chatterbox me: stupid references to dirty classical myths and hypothetical lives you could live in Atlantis and how everyone with red hair and freckles is related to the Neanderthal, and how when he was a kid he got stung by a bee and opened his mouth so wide to wail about it that three more bees flew in and stung him on his lip and the inside of his cheek and his tongue. THis had happened to my best friend when we were kids, and also when I was a kid I saw this crippled bumblebee walking around on the ground looking sick and fat and furry, and I stepped on it and a long pink tongue unfurled like a party favor from its proboscis, and also three times in my youth I stepped on bees so that the arch of my foot was erased with swelling, and now I can't go around barefoot in the grass anymore, even though I love it more than anything. And how could I not chime in with these stories, especially when they were met with such delight & interest? By dessert we were still talking about bees, only the conversation had digressed to questions about Napoleon & recounting of fables and a deconstruction of Russian fairy tales with bees in them. Eunice grinned like a madwoman, and when I noticed that I shut up and became businesslike and helped make all the coffees, adding mathematically perfect proportions of milk and sugar.
But this afternoon when Stephen called and suggested we go to the park and have fun I said yes. I was drying dishes and looking despondently at the second chapter of my erotic fiction epic, and it was a beautiful day. I gave up the leggings and put on some quilted yellow satin shorts and a white linen halter top, and I met Stephen at his house and we made calimochos or whatever they're called: coke and terrible red wine mixed together in the Coke bottle. The MB taught me how to do it, having spent a year as a Moorish spectacle in Spain. We took them to the park and swigged from the Coke bottle as we walked, under trees and through fields, on swingsets, in front of the bird sanctuary. Finally we were tired and sat facing each other against a twin pair of trees, the world golden and rippling with heat and drunkenness.
"You have a nimbus around you," Stephen said. "What can you say about a girl that means she's like the sun? Can you say anything? I mean, if I wanted to pick someone from mythology. I guess, it is the east, and Juliet is the sun, but that's stupid."
"That is stupid," I said. "Number one, it's stupid, and number two I'm not breaking from any window, I'm just sitting here, and anway it's stupid, number three."
He grinned and threw something small at me and finished what was left in the bottle. His mouth was vaguely purplish and his eyes were hazy and sweet. I thought how it was odd for him to compare me to the sun or whatever when he didn't think I was beautiful. Then I said, "Did a bee really sting you on the mouth?"
"Yeah, and in my mouth too," he said. "It fucking hurt."
"Well," I said, "Where the bee sucks, there suck I," and I leaned forward and kissed him and he kissed me and he said,
"That could have been a lot dirtier."
And I laughed and threw some small thing at him and winked.
So, who knows.
So I had a birthday on Sunday, which began with my customary breakfast of a single eclair, eaten after a long, rapturous turn on the swings, watching my legs extend themselves into purple shadows on the sand and feeling my arms get all sweaty in their chains. I had cleaned all the rainy Saturday before, arranging medicine bottles in closets and hanging exotic red-and-gold curtains made out of a couple of saris, so I felt inclined to be indolent & mostly solitary on my birthday. I talked to my parents on the phone & thanked them for their gift of half of a Loeb's Classical Library & bouquet of blue iris & huge orange daisies, and Mother sang while Daddy played the harmonica. And the MB sent a crate of pomegranates & instructions on making pomegranate chicken.
In the afternoon I walked alone in a polka-dotted dress and a pair of T-strap shoes to the local movie theater, and it was a wet-looking but clean-feeling afternoon with a green park in it and prematurely-lit lamps and the smell of afternoon tea in the air and I felt awfully good about the birthday, and I told some of the people I met on the street that it was my birthday, and they appreciated it. Afterwards the evening was too beautiful to stand, with secret corners of houses full of tiny pansies, and lit windows, and I almost didn't want to go to my birthday dinner with the IR and Eunice and Lillian and Cromwell and French Jennyfer and Polly, but of course I did. I wanted to go to the Asian restaurant where you can look at people in the restaurant from the bathroom, but Jennyfer convinced us to go to this mosque that is actually also a restaurant and teahouse, so we all sat on cushions against a blue-and-white-tiled wall in a vast, blue-and-white-tiled room & ate those Moroccan dishes with prunes and pine nuts and other vegetables in them, and lots of couscous, and afterwards sat around drinking tiny glasses of mint tea and eating baklava in a different room, & grew languid and satisfied.
At one point we were so relaxed that Eunice asked me why I wouldn't see Stephen. Apparently he had asked her to put in a good word for him.
"I mean, I don't know what happened between you guys," she said, "but really, I'm totally sure it's a misunderstanding. Stephen is a really, really great guy. I mean, if I didn't work with him, I'd date him myself."
I suppressed the uncharitable thought that sprang unbidden & unjustified to mind, which was that if I'm not beautiful enough for Stephen, Eunice most certainly wouldn't be. I said, "I don't know, Eunice. He's pretty lousy."
"Well, would you at least come over sometime when he's over and kind of give him another mini-chance? He's really such a cool guy."
"Eunice, even the thought of him makes me uncomfortable and weirdly sick, and you know that's unusual --"
The IR leaned forward over her enormous belly and said, "Fuck that shit, Nonnie. What's happened to you, you some kinda pussy?"