Monday, February 27, 2012

“Women and Men (Both Little and Small)" by A.M. Taureau

Underneath us Los Angeles is a peach-white blur, with the shadow of the plane growing and shrinking in shaky rhythm. In the middle of the endless low landscape is the laughable downtown, near a ridge of almost-mountains that give the Hollywood sign a place to sit. The shadow of the plane gets darker, more defined, more stable, larger, stretches out indefinitely, and then Mike kisses me and we land.

Once we are on the ground and outside the airport, the city loses its peach softness, and becomes stark and white, its shadows harsh.

“Happy?” Mike asks me, and I nod. We are happy to get away, happy to meet up with his old mentor Ray, who is going to introduce us to his newest wife, before they embark on a yearlong trip around the world. Mike and I travel well together; it should be us taking this sort of trip, but we both have mid-level jobs, able to accommodate a short three-day trip from San Francisco, but not much more than that.

I’ve only met Ray once, about six years ago, when Mike and I first started dating, and Ray came out to visit. He was in the midst of his second divorce then, and after he left Mike told me that Ray’d been uncharacteristically quiet, that he was usually dynamic, but I had liked him all the same. He’d treated us to nice restaurants, and had danced with me when we went to places where people danced, since Mike doesn’t. I learned how to rumba from him, a skill I haven’t used since.

At the hotel, they are already there, waiting in the lobby, and Edison hugs us through the introductions. She wears diamond earrings shaped like starbursts, and smells like coconut sun cream. She is even younger than me, though Ray is older than Mike by twenty years, and Mike is older than me by two.

We go out to dinner that night, to a restaurant with thick white linen tablecloths and valet parking, and then shopping the next day. Edison helps me pick out a dress almost like the one she wore the night before, which I admired. “This one,” she says, without hesitation. “This one will suit you better; it complements your coloring,” and I buy it, without even checking the label.

“You have to take it back, Grace,” Mike says, sprawled out on the bed that night, when he sees the price tag, but I convince him to let me try it on for him, and when he sees me in the dress he capitulates, admitting that Edison might be a good influence on my wardrobe, but I should look at price tags next time she takes me shopping.

I say, “She should take you shopping,” and instead of laughing he raises an eyebrow, looking thoughtful.

The hotel has a pool, though there is the beach just across the street, and Edison and I stretch ourselves out in the deck chairs. She is more tan than I am, despite the fact that we live in California, and they have come from Philadelphia. I go to the hotel store, and buy a sunscreen with a lower SPF; it amazes me that in Los Angeles one can still buy tanning oil. Edison rubs the thin lotion on my back while the men swim laps.

That evening Mike dances with Edison, while I dance with Ray.

“What’s your first stop?” I ask him, the hem of the new dress fluttering against my legs with the wind of our movement. Edison is wearing another beautiful dress, a silver one that makes me feel dowdy and too tall, though she answers my compliments with her own.

“We fly to Hawaii on Tuesday,” he tells me. “Then after about a week there we’ll hitch a ride on a friend’s sailboat, to Australia. Then Indonesia, and Vietnam, maybe.” We switch partners, and Mike and I sway back and forth, trying to remember the name of his former coworker, the one who transferred to Australia three years ago.

It is while we’re leaving, and Ray is helping me on with my coat, that he dips his head and lightly touches his lips against my shoulder absentmindedly as he is talking to Mike.

“Oh my god,” he says, when Mike coughs, and looks back and forth between us. “I thought she was Edison. She has the same dress, I think.” We all laugh about it, and then Mike makes a big show of helping Edison on with her coat. For the rest of this last night we go back and forth like this, jokingly, with Mike bringing Edison drinks as Ray gives me a shoulder massage and calls me “honey.” While we are in the ladies’ room together, Edison lets me try on her diamond engagement ring, which turns out to be too small; even her fingers are delicate, while mine are the same size as Mike’s.

We fly back early the next morning. They drive us to the airport in their rental car, and as Edison hugs me goodbye she presses a bag into my hand; inside is the dress from the night before. “I won’t have any need for it again on this trip,” she tells me, “and when we get back we’ll be trying for a baby.” I smile and thank her and congratulate her, and board the plane, watching the city dissolve back into softness below me, straining to catch a glimpse of the vivid blue ocean that stretches between Los Angeles and Hawaii. When we reach San Francisco again, I often try on the dress, but I can’t make it fit just right, and I never wear it out.

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