The Girl Needs to Be Kissed
Ned wrote BOIL on his hand, but he forgot to look at his hand. Why was Isabel making excuses for her husband? Ned was late; he got to the restaurant after dinner but in time for dessert. Did he order eight-layer or eight-year-old cake? Was there such a thing as eight layers? The cake was striped with cream filling—that much Isabel saw, and she saw the greedy way Ned ate, very fast and self-deserving. He didn’t cut off the shelf of frosting to save for last. Cake was cake; he would have another piece if he felt like it, and he felt like it—and he did! Amazing! Ned ordered a second drink, and not long after, a third. He was talking about Stahl and all the big-shot, lit-man Stahl had done for him with Lime House Stories when the waiter brought Clive his brandy. Isabel held out her hand for it. May I? she asked. Just a sip?
Outside the restaurant, when Clive crossed the street for a taxi, Isabel wondered just how tall he was.
Six-four at least, Ned said.
Ned was five-eleven; she was five-four and so was her mother—more or less—and Ned’s mother, how tall was she?
Pet was very tiny; five-one, and that was stretching it. She hated the fact of her size. One of her theories was that women over five-ten never get into trouble but hold their own and go to good colleges.
Ned’s near and sour breath appalled her.
Do you mind if I open a window?
The driver was on the phone speaking in a furious language, and she was glad to get out of the cab while she could, away from the close, coarse—too mortal—smells, his and her own.
If a street had seasons, White Street was early spring, too colorless, hardly sentimental, no budded touches, nothing risen but March, secular . . . evaluated by possessions and they, Isabel and Ned, had possessions. In the White Street loft the oven hood shone holy, but the rest of the space was dark, and when Ned knocked his hand against the wall for more light, Isabel moved out from under it to the kitchen sink and ran cold water over her wrists. Too much wine, she said, and felt the water’s sting.
The next day, charmed, everything looked new to her. Isabel had hoped for this much, also the cessation of hunger. Relief not to be hungry at all but rather pleasantly distracted by the body’s other parts. Nipples, for example, hers prickled, and she touched herself and leaned into the corner of her desk, and she played—the way she remembered as a kid, skipping little words over the placid future: ram, cat, slut, cunt. At work on the corner of her desk—if Clive were only a woman was a thought.
Clive had kissed her at the Chester-Harris wedding, had pulled her up against the old club’s coffered wall in a gesture to save her from the press of the tuxedo crowd when his intention was to kiss her—and he did. You look like a girl who needs to be kissed, he said, and Clive kissed her again, and when he found out she was married, he was no less amorous. You led me on, he said.
Real excitement at a wedding at last!
After lunch—skipped—Isabel stood in the long window at the magazine’s offices and looked at her reflection: pretty, when not distorted, much as she would hope to look when being nasty to Ned. Waste of time to be mean, surely, but when had she ever been wise? She had kissed another man, not her husband, at a wedding, which was not a big deal, except that she had kissed this same man again, with clearer intentions, last night, and these plans did not include Ned. She was disappointed when Ned arrived, but she liked this phone call.
You forget I’m at work, Ned.
Was he trimming his nails as he talked to her, she wondered, and then, off the phone, what had they said or agreed on? She couldn’t remember, so distracted was she first by her reflection and now by the hot spots in the making high inside her legs. Once home, she chugged down her pants and saw hives. Just when the possibility of being seen again had presented itself, these hot, dime-size pustules—pink, ugly, itchy—had come out high on the inside of her legs. Fuck. Fuck me.
The hives shamed her and she scratched them until they popped, like blisters, with warm blistery water inside. She felt ugly. Felt even uglier later, when Ned, not for the first time, sat on the edge of the bed and said, You’re going to have to be the initiator.
O, so bring out the three-prong speculum, the ratchet mouth gag, the dittle kit, the forceps.
You look like a girl who needs to be kissed.
She was that girl; she admitted it freely!
But Clive Harris did not call, and Ned had called to say he’d be late. So was it any wonder she got sick? Here again were the near-dead, weird days when she lived as in a closet in her migraine hell: her bed, a box of rags; her heart, a corner, spooky. Sometimes Ned crossed the room; then the room emptied of people and she shut her eyes and saw a trillion pink dots—flashes of colors that made it look pinkish inside, which was also the inside of her brain, not the clay, gray, ridged outside, but inside with alleyways in all directions. If she thought too long on it, Isabel felt sick but when she opened her eyes, she felt sicker.
Clive? The curtains in the bedroom were drawn, and she was speaking softly from her bed.
My God, this phone is heavy.
Isabel, he began, but she had to hang up, and when the phone began to ring again, she pulled out the cord.
There was weather outside and she asked Ned to describe it.
Milky sunshine, he said.
That’s what I heard on the radio this morning.
My skull, Isabel said, it feels vacuumed.
Good-bye, so long, I’ll see you, I’m off.
If she were to ask him to stay, she believes he would. Ned? she calls out, and again until she is sure he is gone.
This time—but what time was that?—she answered the phone and listened to Clive’s gentleness. He asked about Ned.
Oh, come over, come over and look me over the way you did. If only she knew what to say. The phone was in her hand. Was that all? Would that be all? Now when her body was ringing, why weren’t they making plans for the future?
The actress used her hands to convey Mary Tyrone’s suffering.
My heart goes out to Jamie. He’s the sufferer; Edmund can write and has this thing with his mother.
After the play, Ned gave Isabel his handkerchief, and she used it and said, Oh, that was sad, that was stunning, that was terrible. Families. Oh, god! Her ankle twisted and she almost fell but he caught her up.