Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 8: TRENTON, NEW JERSEY (Part 3)

3

Richard and I make our enchanted, abbreviated love as often as we can, building a catalog of safe places where we can linger without fear of discovery. Our favorite is the graveyard behind St. Mary’s. We trek to the farthest corner, to the section reserved for the nuns and priests who served the parish over the years. We encamp under a headstone and embrace, clinging to each other and our special summer. We joke the nuns under us, for we always choose a nun’s grave, watch us with envy, regretting the pleasures they sacrificed in exchange for an eternal bliss we’re both not certain of, agreeing it’s better to have it here and now.

Suddenly I am in the backseat of the DeSantis sedan, snuggling as best I can manage with Richard under the surveillance of the rearview mirror, pulling into the entrance of Rider University.

I’ve seen photos, but being on the campus and knowing this will be Richard’s home for four years, and in a year mine too, takes my breath away. Really, for a moment, gazing at the red brick buildings, at the small city of learning, I cannot breathe. Richard senses the hitch in my chest and acknowledges my excitement with a bolstering squeeze. I nod and smile, but my stomach turns, for it strikes me that I’m driving into my worst nightmare: girls slightly older than me, most prettier than me, more stylish than me, and with countenances speaking of seductive intelligence certainly surpassing my own materialize everywhere.  I keep the brown tide sloshing in my gut down; what I don’t need now is an embarrassing display of my insecurity. Richard is staring at me. I detect curiosity in his arched eyebrows.

“Nervous,” I say, and the admission pacifies my stomach.

“Hey, I’m the one who should have the jitters.”

He holds up a shaky hand. I grab it and squeeze.

“Thanks,” he says, “I’m calmer already.”

Mr. DeSantis parks in the lot behind the Student Union. We go in and his parents buy us sodas and we leave with them to explore the campus. It’s a surprisingly large and circumnavigating on foot takes more than an hour. We stop in the library and the size of it overwhelms me. I have never seen so many books under one roof; the library in Creek Falls holds maybe five thousand volumes. We finish at his dormitory. The dormitories, he tells me, are named after successful graduates who have donated to the school. His is Olsen Hall and he is in the A section. We climb three flights of stairs and find his room at the end of the corridor farthest from the communal bathroom.

On the way up I saw lots of girls, and now as we walk down the hall for a closer inspection of his room, I hear girls’ voices. Richard informs me the dormitories are coed, but not to worry. Girls and boys live on different floors. In Olsen A, girls are on the second floor, girls sandwiched between two floors of boys. He acts as if I should be reassured. My stomach troubles me again.

He wants to stroll the campus with me, but I’m too unsettled, too worried, too obsessed with the girls on the second floor. I mention it’s time we help his parents, who are at the car removing Richard’s bags from the trunk. He jokes they’re probably having the time of their lives, happy to be ridding themselves of him. I suggest we take a look at the second floor.

“Good idea,” he says. “Get a look at where you might be living next year.”

The floor is a duplicate of Richard’s. Young women are everywhere. Parents accompany the women. Younger men are with a few of them. But most—pretty and apparently unattached—are the young predators who disturb me. They’re not here as much for a traditional education and a diploma as for a man and a wedding ring, I think. I am terrorized by the idea any one of them could and would steal Richard from me. I might trust Richard, but I also know he is a boy and susceptible to determined women. I’m desperate to concoct a way to bind Richard to me, to transform the beautiful girls into anathema in his sight.

I take Richard’s hand, lead him off the offending floor, up the stairs, and into his room. I check the door for a lock and push in the bottom. I don’t feel entirely secure, but I am on a mission to strengthen my relationship with Richard, to insure it will survive the nine months he will be away from me.

I say coyly, at his bed, sitting on it, patting the mattress. “I’ll miss you, Richard.”

He sits next to me. He kisses me. I begin to unbutton my blouse. He covers my hand with his.

“What are you doing?”

I respond by playing with the button.

“You don’t want to do this,” he says.

I nod that I do.

“I don’t,” he says, removing his hand and standing.

“Why not?”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong. I do. I really do. It’s not easy saying no. But not here and not for your reason.”

“My reason. My reason is I love you.”

He shakes his head and sits. “Stop with the button. Your reason is you don’t trust me. No, no, don’t say anything. Don’t deny it. I can imagine what you’re thinking.” He points at the floor.

“Richard, I’m not—”

“Babe, I’m not blaming you for not trusting me. I mean, not entirely trusting me. But you don’t have to worry, okay. I love you. And I don’t want you doing anything you’ll regret.”

“I won’t—”

“I’m Richard, Babe, the guy you’ve been dating for nearly two years, the guy you’ve shut down half a dozen times. It’s my turn now,” he says.

“You don’t want to?”

“I want to, more than anything. But I won’t. I can read your mind, Babe.”

“Don’t say what you see there, please.”

He opens his arms to me. “Come here.”

I slide close to him and he embraces me and what suffuses me is faith. I can trust Richard in the Olsen A den of lionesses.

As he kisses me, the doorknob rattles.

“Richard?” his mother calls.

Richard shrugs, goes to the door and lets his parents in.

“We didn’t mean to disturb you two.”

“We’re done with our goodbyes,” he says.

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Beguiled by Wealth

The Locals

By Jonathan Dee

A very rich man, Philip Hadi, decides to make the small New England town of Howland, situated in southwestern Massachusetts, his family’s permanent home. Though something of a gnomish fellow, he possesses a feature which at once puts the locals off and thoroughly beguiles them. That something is his fabulous wealth and how he uses it to exercise his will over the town. And how he inspires a man, Mark Firth, to dream big and go for it with foreclosure purchases and renovations, in other words, house flipping. The point of the whole thing boils down to pathetic irony, for everything hoped for and promised devolves into the opposite.

The novel opens in New York City immediately after 9/11 with the first-person account of a grifter flummoxed by the general feelings of bonhomie and unity among New Yorkers. This, he grumbles often, is not New York. He cleaned up suing the city when he drunkenly walked in front of city bus. Promptly, he lost his winnings to a bigger grifter, an investment swindler, making him part of a class action suit. Which introduces readers to the central character of Jonathan Dee’s The Locals, Mark Firth, who is a small time contractor in Howland, also robbed by the investment swindler. By the end of the opening pages, Firth returns to Howland, once again raked over the coals of life, the victim of identity theft. Mark, oh Mark, you indeed are a mark, borne out by the balance of the novel.

Life in Howland is none too good. As with the rest of America at the time, fear consumes people. Even the Philip Hadi types, a Tom Wolfe “Master of the Universe,” are taken aback, which accounts for Hadi’s resettlement in Howland. Beyond that, though, Howland is a town in economic trouble. Mark, while better off than most, finds himself among them, with work scarce, his credit destroyed, and his marriage to Karen shaky, partly as a result of the financial swindle. Hadi proves a godsend, providing Mark with plenty of work and money to fortify the millionaire’s house against the fearful shadows of imagination. Rubbing elbows with Hadi plants in Mark’s mind the idea of possibilities. Here’s the thing about realizing financial possibilities: you’re lulled into believing the good times will go on forever. Then something like 2008 happens (the bookend of the novel).

Back to Howland. Taxes are rising and the populace isn’t happy. So when Hadi tells the locals he knows a way to treat them to more services and reduce their taxes, they make him First Selectman (mayor in New England parlance). And he delivers, covering a huge number of expenses out of his own pocket, while cutting their property taxes. Not to put too fine a point on it, they trade the American myth of rugged individualism for a few pieces of silver. Not everybody misses this. Mark’s brother, Gerry, for instance. He works in a real estate firm, which he hates, and from which he is fired. On the q-t under a pseudonym he rabble rouses about independence in a newsletter that not many read, until he becomes a pawn in a small-town political coup, exasperated when Hadi decides it’s safe to return to the city, taking his support of the town with him.

Mark, Karen, and Gerry are but three of a cast of small town characters, all with his or her own sets of problems and axes to grind, including Mark and Karen’s preteen daughter Haley, and their sister Candace, who manages to lose her teaching job, end up as librarian/social worker, and functions, to her unhappiness, as the caretaker of their ailing parents.

There’s more, but this is the gist. You’ll find much truth here. If you are from a small town, you may recognize how well Dee captures its essence. And while this all may sound a bit downbeat, Dee manages to find enough humor to prevent readers feeling too miserable. Many will find the novel a fair assessment of America life, of fears and hopes, in the first years of the 21st century. w/c

Making Choices in Nazi Germany

Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives

Karin Wieland

If Karin Wieland’s dual biography does nothing else, it vividly illustrates that your choices do make a difference.

In the case of Marlene Dietrich, her move to the U.S. and particularly her active support of the Allied war effort enhanced her reputation, even when some of the films she made were not the best.

By contrast, though Riefenstahl proved herself a prodigious filmmaking skill, she achieved her greatest successes by dubious methods and in the service of the greatest evil in a century that witnessed a good deal of murderous events.

Regarding Dietrich, you could admire her talent openly and happily, whereas you might concede Riefenstahl’s talent, but given the subject and the service to which she put it, a qualifier must follow any positive comment. This is not a biography devoid of a viewpoint, being very much black and white in favor of Dietrich.

Worthwhile for those interested in early filmmaking, Nazi Germany, and, of course, the actress and the propagandist. While the book includes an assortment of photos, a wider selection keyed to some of the events covered would be appreciated. Includes footnotes, a brief reading list, and a helpful index. w/c

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 8: TRENTON, NEW JERSEY (Part 1 and 2)

1

It is a few days after the 4th of July, the middle of summer and already I am lonely. I am missing Richard, though he and I are together every weekend, and often a couple of nights each week. In September, Richard leaves for college in New Jersey, where he will study business. He has professed his love for me and assured me nothing will come between us. He has everything planned, he’s told me. I will follow him down to New Jersey and attend the same university next year. I’ll study to be a teacher, which is what I want; teaching is my choice; taking my degree at the same university as Richard is our mutual idea. We will be together for three years. When he graduates, we will get engaged. When I graduate, we will marry.

I should be very happy, but I am apprehensive.

First is the separation. Since the day I met Richard at the bus stop waiting for Number 13, he and I have never been apart, not for so much as a couple of days. Richard and I have been one, and to not be one, to again be separate people, unsettles me.

I have no worries about myself, of what I will do alone. No boy at Creek Falls High School compares to Richard. During the years we have been a couple, no one but Richard has attracted me. Before Richard, boys never seemed particularly interested in me. After Richard and I began dating, boys noticed me. Once, I would have reveled in the attention; but no longer, not with Richard as my boyfriend.

My second concern is that Richard and I have never been completely intimate, though we have been on the borderline. Closest was the past 4th. We were in my bedroom. My parents were miles away, outside town at my aunt and uncle’s place, a small ten-acre farm, traditional site of our big family barbecue. Richard and I began the day there. I introduced him around, almost like table visits at a wedding reception, except we weren’t carrying a cookie tray, and I was only imagining what my wedding might be like. Richard was tremendous: social, gregarious with my aunts, thoughtful and respectful with my uncles, endearing with my little cousins. He consumed huge quantities of potato salad, more hamburgers and hotdogs than any boy ought to; gulped a six-pack of soda; and managed to play a full nine innings of softball with the family, our traditional men vs. women contest. At six, I feigned illness, an upset stomach. Everybody kidded it was Richard who should have the stomachache, and he took the ribbing with grace and charming humor. He offered to drop me at home and everybody commented on his consideration and manners in allowing my parents to stay and enjoy the evening.

My house was silent, still, and thick with noiseless summer air when we entered. Upstairs was different. The windows were open and through them we heard the night’s breeze rustle the trees, almost symphonic, low and dreamy, like Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s nocturne. The breeze through the window was moist, palpably ripe, in addition to melodic. In my bedroom, I lowered the venetian blinds and drew my curtains before switching on my bedstead lamp. Richard snickered at my bed, and I admit it had crossed my mind that he might. But it was a gentle and loving little chuckle, uttered with a tugging hug. It was me, he declared, me because I was a princess and deserved that accoutrement of royalty—a canopy bed.

Richard proved himself a tender and respectful lover, who settled for kissing and fondling, though he might have gone farther with me. We were on my bed for more than an hour, under the deep blue canopy dotted with pale blue five-point stars, the edges outlined in silver thread. They sparkled in the low lamplight. Richard insisted we keep the lamp lit; part of the pleasure, he said, was seeing, and, of course, he was right; seeing intensified each kiss, each caress. I believed I could never tire of gazing on Richard or listening to him, or the sensuality of his hand stroking and petting me. He imagined us in an enchanted forest, a strange and wonderful reserve for young lovers, where we could read our future written on the silver undersides of star leaves arched over us. Traced on the constellation I saw our life together, long and fulfilled.

Richard is a romantic and I love him dearly for it.

But his wondrous trait is another of my concerns, and really the crux of my vexation. Everybody yearns for romantic love. Angie and I surely do, and I think we are like everybody, or at least we are like most girls, except Rosemary. Angie and I discuss the subject a lot, about how we wish our lives will turn out. And invariably it resolves to life with loving partners who remain romantic until death parts us. Maybe ours is an unrealistic desire, but we indulge in it and believe, for us, it is possible. And with Richard, I am more convinced than ever.

Yet college, Richard away, adrift, and romantic by nature—I fear it portends trouble for me. Richard, I’ve come to believe, is a boy who cannot live without a girl. The moment he sets foot on campus, the touch of his toe on the ground will announce his presence to every girl at the school. It will be as if an electric current of desire radiates through the earth and enters each girl through her feet, is absorbed by her blood, and flows instantly to her heart; she will know he is on campus, available to her, and in need of her.

2

Richard and I are driving around Creek Falls, aimlessly, no destination in mind, just to be together. I’m leaning on him, head is on his shoulder, and I feel his every movement as he steers the car and navigates corners. Richard doesn’t own a car, which is why he gets his rides from Bobby. However, Richard is a charming boy—a young man, I should say, nearly in college. He has exploited his skills to win over my parents, and my father has allowed him to use our car, acceding to Richard’s argument that he would be off to college soon and he and I won’t have much time together, which makes me happy, since I don’t like Richard being beholden to Bobby McFarlane. My parents have come to respect my love for Richard. Angie has chortled over this and eyed me with undisguised envy, for she has never dated a boy her parents have found suitable.

Richard plays the radio loud, and tonight he’s cranked it higher than usual. I reach and lower the volume until we barely hear it above the wind whishing by the open windows.

“I’m a little worried,” I say.

“Don’t worry even a tiny bit,” he says, glancing down at me, running his eyes up and down me, smiling. “We’ll return your father’s car to him good as new. Better than new because I’ll stop by the Robo-Wash on the way home.”

“I mean I’m worried about us, about you going away and what will become of us.”

“You know what will happen. We’ll go to school. We’ll graduate. I’ll land a good job. And we’ll get married when you graduate. We’ve talked about it.”

“I know that’s what we’ve said. But it’s the first year, when you’re … when we won’t be like this.”

“Babe,” he says, the first time I notice he’d developed the habit of referring to me as his baby, or babe, and I love the endearment, “I’ll be too busy studying. You know me, Babe, I’m a worker. Nose to the grindstone and all that.”

He glances at me and sees he hasn’t allayed my concern.

“I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you drive down with my parents and me? You’re going there anyway next year. It’ll give you a chance to scout out the campus.”

“Really, your parents won’t mind?”

“Hell, no, excuse my French. They adore you, Babe. They think you’re the reason I’m going. You know, you kept me on the straight and narrow.”

Let’s Intellectualize a Story to Death

Zero K

By Don DeLillo

The big idea in this novel focusing on cryogenics, life, death, and rebirth is certainly sufficient to draw many readers to at least sample the first few pages. Some will find DeLillo’s prose styling arresting, others will forbear the stultifying language (in a novel partly about language defining life) in pursuit of this cryogenic hook, and many others, probably the majority, will take a pass.

The storyline is pretty simple. You have a super rich father, Ross Lockhart, whose young wife, his second, is dying. Turns out he is the major investor in a cryogenic project, Convergence, preserving people in a special facility located in a desolate area of the Asian continent. Not just a freezing center, it’s an entirely new culture in which participants commit themselves to returning cured and healthy to build a new, better world, one eschewing the many horrors of current civilization and expressing their new ideas and approach in a unique language. While preparation of his wife for freezing takes place, he, though a healthy sixty, contemplates joining her, becoming something of an advance guard of believers who take the leap, leap death, leap into the future. Sounds like a cult, in this case a cult of aesthetes, the idea further reinforced by the appearance of frozen bodies as art. Is Ross merely trying to escape his mortality, or are he and his compadres on to something? Go figure for yourself.

His son Jeffery, mid-thirties guy ambling through life, is a fellow of the here and now (indicated by his detailed descriptions of minutiae) and due to the terrible way Ross treated his first wife, Jeff’s mother, he’s none too fond of his dad. Nor does he appreciate his father’s meddling in hooking him up with super wealthy jobs. Jeff has a girlfriend, Emma, divorced from her husband, who lives in Denver with their son Stak. Stak is something of a wild child, a young teen who wants and seems to run his own life. You get the impression that the Emma-Jeff relationship lacks passion, but then it might just be the overall tone of the novel, a bunch of words and ideas lumped together and devoid of any real passion, like the Convergence dugout in the desert, another sterile place.

Some reviewers called this DeLillo’s best novel, an achievement of sorts. There are many, especially fans of his earlier work, to wit White Noise, who will disagree. Of interest to some, but a trial for most primarily because it intellectualizes mightily and delivers little. w/c

Women Exerting Their Independence

Little Fires Everywhere

By Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere may be one of the best novels you read this year, and certainly the best about women exercising control over their lives while rebelling against societal strictures. It also may be one of the best novels using place as a character, here as a contrast to the untidiness of human life.

Ng takes great care to provide readers with a strong and clear sense of place. The place is Shaker Heights, Ohio, a well-to-do suburb of Cleveland. Shaker Heights as a planned greenbelt town dates back to 1909. It was and is a highly organized community governed by strict rules regarding nearly every aspect of the standardization of neighborhoods and structures. According to her biography, her family moved to Shaker Heights when Celeste was ten, and she graduated from Shaker Heights High School before moving on to Harvard. If there was ever an example of a hometown serving an author well and being incorporated into a novel almost as a character, this is it. Shaker Heights represents an ideal, well ordered, structured, affluent, a manifestation of the American Dream. That real life rarely measures up to the dream and seems to fit into a place like Shaker only with much shoehorning comes through loud and clear, and might be taken as a subtext of the novel.

The time is the late Nineties (implied by characters’ music choices, TV shows, and the like, until Ng explicitly sets the date late in the novel). The novel opens at the end, with the Richardson’s house burned to naked brick and rafters, and with a Richardson daughter missing. The story unfolds in the past, when Mia Warren and her teen daughter Pearl rent an apartment in a two-flat owned by the Richardsons. The contrast between Elena Richardson and Mia Warren is about as stark as it can get. Mrs. Richardson is married to her college love, who is a lawyer; Mia is unmarried. Elena Richardson works for a small Shaker newspaper, an accommodation to establishing a family and living in Shaker Heights; Mia is an artist, employing photography and montage techniques. Elena grew up in Shaker Heights and wanted to live nowhere else; Mia is a nomad, pulling up stakes every few months. Elena has four children, Trip, Lexie, Izzy, and Moody; Mia has only Pearl. Elena and Izzy are in constant conflict, primarily because neither fully understands how much each means to the other; Mia and Pearl live generally harmoniously together.

Mia, while a well regarded artist who sells her creations through a gallery in New York, hardly gets by on her work. To supplement her income, she works variously as a waitress, cleaning woman, and the like. Elena, who prides herself on providing a helping hand to deserving people, and who sees value in Mia’s talent, takes her on to work part-time in her home. Meanwhile, in school, Mia becomes friends with Moody and ends up spending much of her time in the Richardson home. For the first time in her life, she finds a welcoming home in which she feels truly comfortable. That stands in contrast to Izzy, who finds no welcome or comfort in her home, but who does find it with Mia, when she volunteers as Mia’s assistant. Unlike Shaker, you see, the relations of people living in it become messy pretty quickly, especially when unexpected romantic attachments develop among the teens.

Even more, Mia Warren is a woman with a past, which Ng relates in some of the novel’s strongest pages. Suffice to say that her past has a significant bearing another bit of central action in the novel. This involves the adoption by Elena’s close Shaker friends, the McCulloughs. They have tried for years to have children, finally turning to adoption. At it for years, they finally have the chance to adopt a child left at a local firehouse, and they grab it. It’s a Chinese baby they name Mirabelle. Then the baby’s mother, under the guidance of Mia, emerges to reclaim her child. A court battle ensues that raises elemental questions about motherhood. You will find yourself in the position of the judge, torn between both sides.

These then are the barest of the novel’s bones, but none of its humanity, and certainly not a drop of its wonderful nuance and tone. And the tone, here Ng possesses a special talent, indeed, for from the beginning it’s as if an old friend has put an arm around you and softly tells you a story about a town that looks perfect but which is filled with disturbing conflicts, with life altering decisions, with crushing sadness for some, but with new hope for others. Highly recommended. w/c

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 7: WAIKIKI, HAWAII (Part 5)

5

Commotion wakes me up. It is room service wheeling in a table. Richard enters from the bathroom. He is shaved and dressed. He accepts the bill, signs, and closes the door behind the bellman. I know I am awake but the glimpse of the bellman makes me doubt it.

I ask Richard, “Wasn’t he strange?”

Richard’s picking at the toast and fruit on the table, half listening to me. “No,” he answers, “strange how?”

“Oh, the uniform, I guess.”

Richard lifts the covers off the plates. “These scrambled eggs look good. You ready for breakfast?”

He wheels the table to the bed. I perch on the edge and Richard pulls up a chair. We face each other, though I am a bit higher and look down on him and the table. He pours us coffee. I sip my juice. He begins on his eggs. Warmth suffuses me. Here we are having a new experience, a first experience together, and the coziness I feel is happiness and endearment for him.

Another new experience for both of us is the airplane ride. La Guardia is confusing but we manage to check our luggage, two of mine and one of his, and get to the airplane. We sit side by side and I am in the seat next to the window. Richard says, “This will be fun.” However, there is a falsetto in his voice that hints me he is afraid. He grasps my hand and squeezes and I wonder whether he is offering me solace or seeking it for himself. I settle on the notion it is a little of both. We are indeed a couple. Takeoff, our very first ever, is harrowing: the speed, the swaying, noises like the plane is about to breakup, the sensation of being airborne without any connection to the earth, all nearly overwhelm us and definitely shred any sophistication I might be pretending. Once the clouds are below us and the sun shines bright yellow, we laugh at our silliness. When the flight attendant asks if we would like a drink, we eagerly respond “Yes,” and consume a couple before landing in San Francisco. By the time we arrive in Honolulu, we are old hands at flying and barely flinch as the airplane’s wheels screech under us.

We take a cab from the airport to Waikiki and the fare surprises us. In addition to our first airplane ride, a taxicab ride is rare for us. Actually, after Richard pays the driver and we have exited, I confess it is my first time in a taxicab. When you’ve lived in Creek Falls your entire life, except for college, where you’ve resided pretty much on campus, you don’t have need for taxis.

We enter the hotel and I am enchanted. I selected the Royal Hawaiian because I wanted a special place for the first days of our marriage, a setting steeped in romance, and the hotel doesn’t disappoint me. I immediately fall in love with its oddly blue façade that blends with the clear blue sky and the ocean behind it, so it’s impossible to distinguish the three from each other; with its old-world charm; even with its slight aroma of fustiness. How many couples exactly like us have consummated their marriages here.” Now I am eager to settle in our room and take Richard in my arms. I glance at him expecting to see my excitement reflecting back at me. He catches my gaze and smiles weakly.

“Smells funny,” he says, “kind of old, like somebody died in the lobby.” He notices emotion welling in me. He laughs. “Only joking, Babe. The place is great, really tropical.” He gives me a squeeze. “Beautiful blue Hawaii.”

We check in and a bellman shows us to our room. When he leaves, I begin unpacking. Richard, who is behind me, touches my shoulders and turns me. He says, “It can wait. We’ve got more important things to do.” He leans into me. Gently, he kisses me. I drape my arms over his shoulders and he pulls me close to him, a snug melding embrace, never letting up on the kiss, burrowing into me. I have loved the way Richard kisses me from the first. He starts with a soft brush and slowly applies more pressure until I think I can’t endure more and then parts my lips with his tongue and slides into my mouth, not deeply, not aggressively, but tentatively, as if at any moment he might withdraw, and he has me yearning for him to thrust deeper, and finally, when he does, I melt. He removes his tongue from my mouth and brushes his lips along the high bone of my cheek up to my ear. His warm breath enters me and mingles with and amplifies the flame he has ignited in me and I have only one thought, to undress.

Richard is clairvoyant. “I want to take off your clothes,” he breathes. My throat is thick and scorching and I can’t nudge a word through it. Languidly, I nod, and instantly his hands are on the buttons of the summer shift I’m wearing. When he’s unbuttoned me, I attempt shrugging off the garment, but he moves his hands to my shoulders and holds it in place. He turns me. He eases the shift off my shoulders and it glides down me and settles in a puddle around me. He kisses my neck. I push against him, offering more flesh to his lips. He brings his arms under mine and cups my bra-encased breasts. I want him to free me, to hurry up and do it, but he lingers on my neck. Only after I’m squirming and moaning does he pull his arms from under my mine and moves up my back to the clasp of my bra. Deftly, he undoes the two hooks and delicately guides the bra off my shoulders. He releases it and it floats down, settles in the puddle.

He steps back. I turn and he stares at me intently, and I prickle with discomfort. It’s as if I am on stage, under a bright spot; I have lines to deliver, lines I’ve memorized and spoken over and over to ensure I would not forget them at the crucial moment, and I have forgotten them.

“Babe, you’re beautiful,” he says, “more beautiful than I dreamed; and I’ve dreamed so much of you and me like this.”

The urge to seize him and pull him down onto the bed and make love to him is nearly irresistible, but as I lift my arms to act on my desire he reaches up and begins unbuttoning his shirt, and I see he is fully clothed and I am the one almost naked. Desire becomes embarrassment, and in an instant, as he’s peeling his shirt from his shoulders, lustful desire again. He undoes his belt, removes his trousers and his underwear in one motion and his socks too and flings the ball of clothing somewhere; I don’t know where because I can’t take my eyes off his chest, fight to focus my eyes on his chest, not allow my eyes to drift.

Richard, naked Richard, embraces me. He is hot and moist. The air in the room is tropical and close, almost wet. He covers my mouth with his, pressing the full length of himself against me. We stick together as he dances me backwards to the bed, and when my legs touch the mattress, he urges me onto it. We unglue and I sit. He kneels. He stops kissing me, leans back, and hooks his thumbs on the elastic band of my underpants. He pulls them down my legs, over my feet, and off. I attempt to scoot back on the bed. He clamps his hands on my legs and shakes his head. He opens my legs and runs his tongue up my thigh.

Time drifts as Richard absorbs me completely. I think only of him, of this hands, his mouth, his penis, his motions on me, against me, in me, and after a while I am free to release my passion; I wiggle and groan and clutch and squeeze and writhe; Richard smiles and finally grimaces; and when I glance at the window, I see the sun is setting and it is early evening, dusk, the room is blue; we’ve been in bed the entire day, drifting in and out of the day; not even in the bed, for we never pulled down the counterpane, just twisted and rumpled it. Both of us are moist, covered with lovely, glistening sheens of sweat; and in the deepening blue light we glow young, healthy, with a lifetime of this glorious romping ahead of us.

Richard asks, “Hungry?”

For an instant, I don’t know how to answer him. No, I am not hungry for love. I was hungry, but no more.

“Dinner?” he prompts, laughing at me.

I nod.

“You or me first?” he asks, pointing at the bathroom.

“You. I want to lie here for a while.”

He hoists himself over me, slowly descends onto me, and kisses me long and hard, as if he plans to start over. Then he pushes off.

The room in the dusty blue of approaching evening, and the fulfilling residue of our lovemaking, the pleasant weary after-effect of straining under Richard, all have me in a serene reverie. I lay my head on a pillow and it invites me to doze. But I don’t want to sleep; I don’t want this blissful interlude to end, to relegate this delightful time just yet to jumbled memory.

I rewind the day. I marvel at Richard’s expertise. He knew exactly what would excite me. He knew everything about making love, and I, with no experience, knew nothing, but what I’ve read. Richard is a kind, considerate, and wonderfully expert lover, I chant to myself. As I do, “expert” grows into a giant. I wonder how Richard acquired his skill. Experience is the answer that makes sense. He has made love before. But boys are different than girls. They make love. Many are indiscriminate lovers. It is the act they crave and that excites them. The meaning of it is lost on them until they are older, Richard’s and my age. I’m almost convinced, except … except I expected him to be rough, his attempts to satisfy me amateurish, his movements shy and tentative. Yet, he was smooth, bold, commanding, but tender, too. He understood my carnal cravings better than I did; more, he revealed them to me, and kindled within me a longing to satisfy them every day of our marriage.

My misgivings of yesterday reemerge; ugly, poisonous weeds resistant to eradication. And the most virulent of them is Julie. I know everything about Julie. Probing her life was my personal business, and I was as relentless about sniffing out her miscreant deeds as a southern bloodhound snuffing the dust in pursuit of a criminal. She was tall and beautiful. She possessed flaming red hair; not dull red, near red you might mistake for brunette; but hair the shade of fire, startling tongues of the stuff. Her eyes were green, and her complexion was fair, yet not the least bit transparent, not the skin through which veins showed; she was creamy and alluring. She was slim and athletic. When she graduated, she was captain of the swim team. She was smart, too, academically successful without much effort. She majored in English and minored in economics. She even found time to participate in the university’s theater program and managed a starring role in a drama in her senior year. What distressed me most … Julie was an ideal. I think I disliked her most for this. She was desirable and irresistible, qualities I envied.

I admit I was merciless about her with Richard, when he was away at Rider and I was in Creek Falls. He phoned me weekly. Most of each conversation was reassuring romantic massaging. However, periodically, I slipped in a question about Julie, whether he saw her on campus or talked to her. He assured me repeatedly the incident in the catacomb wasn’t what it seemed, and he avoided Julie. Occasionally, I’d add a question about the girls on floor two of Olsen A, which elicited laughs from him, as if I was nuts to imagine they could interest him. None, he professed, held a candle to me. I always hung up reassured, until the next week.

When I began classes at Rider, I kept a watchful eye on Richard. Most of the time we were together. Though we shared few classes, we ate and studied together. In my freshman year, I made lots of friends. By second semester, I had a cadre that would look out for my interests. Rarely could Richard engage in an activity without details getting back to me. I even befriended Julie, happier to have my enemy by my side than roaming free. By these means, and breaking up with him and taking him back, I reassured myself of Richard’s fidelity.

Yet, here I am, on my honeymoon, after making love to my new husband for the first time, on the brink of a long, fruitful, loving, and passionate life together—here I am doubting him again, because he proved himself too consummate a lover, as if his passion for me is insufficient to account for his performance. I hurt at the suspicion he honed his talent in Julie’s bed, and perhaps in the beds of unnamed Olsen A girls.

Now I find myself embittered, aching to confront Richard as he comes out of the bathroom.

But he is ebullient, and he’s adorable, wrapped in a sky blue towel, beaten pink from his shower. He kneels on the bed, arches over me, leans down to me, and lightly kisses my lips. Can he taste my bile? “No, he deepens the kiss. He smells fresh and sweet, Hawaiian fruity, like a pineapple. His presence and attention wipe my mind clean of suspicions and acrimony; I’m warm again, and I raise my arms to embrace him. I should push him away, but I am compelled to pull him onto to me, to merge him into me. I love him, and the loved are worthy of forgiveness.

He yanks away, leaving me excited and yearning.

“Better get going, Babe,” he says, hopping off the bed. “Let’s see a little of Waikiki before dinner.”

Reluctantly, I roll off the bed. Standing, Richard’s stare reminds me I am naked. I flush. He throws a hand over his eyes and laughs. He comes to me and cups my face in his hands.

“You’re beautiful. I’m so happy you married me.” He brushes my lips with his and I don’t feel exposed anymore. “Go,” he commands and lightly pats my rear. I trot into the bathroom.

Steam roils above me, curling to the ceiling and the mirror fogs, except where Richard earlier cleared a spot to shave. He’s a neat man; he stores his razor and shaving cream in his kit. The tub is clean. He must have wiped it down. Considerate, too, he’s left me plenty of towels. I decide I need to soak, to have hot water, almost unbearably hot, leach the last of my melancholy, the last of my distrust.

I crack the door and shout, “Richard, I’m taking a bath.” He doesn’t respond, or maybe he doesn’t hear me. I shut it and draw my bath. While the tub fills, I shave my legs at the sink with Richard’s razor.

I haven’t worn a stitch of clothing since Richard undressed me hours ago. I marvel at my immodesty, how little it troubles me, as I test the water with my toes. I am not a woman to prance around naked, yet, here I am in Hawaii in a hotel with a man, and he is just beyond the door that I’ve left unlocked in case he might not have dressed and wishes to enter and repeat our lovemaking. I am amazed with myself as I settle into the tub. The water heats me. Beads of sweat sprout on my forehead and my upper lip. I am comfortable, more comfortable than I have ever been and I wonder how my life could be better and why I worry so much.

I am in the tub for a while and it is very quiet, the only sound the burble of the water around me when I shift. Then I hear creaking and I glance at the door. The doorknob is turning, rotating very slowly, tentatively is how I perceive the movement. I’m amused. Richard might be shy about entering the bathroom with me in the tub. I close my eyes and smile, and as I do I hear the door open, followed by light footsteps. I open my eyes, expecting Richard.

“I have something for you,” says the man dressed in garish blue, topped oddly for a bellman by a fedora. He shocks me and I slide down into the tub, nearly submerging myself, grateful it is soapy and opaque. He has snapped the brim down and tilted his head. Only his mouth is visible. In his hands is a dress, a bright blue cocktail dress. I should be on the verge of screaming, but, instead, I am strangely calm. I ask, “Is it from my husband?”

“Yes,” he answers. His voice is raspy, his reply gurgling, as if riding to me on a wave of phlegm, a voice at once alien and familiar.

“Please leave it on the hook on the back of the door,” I say. I am relaxed, but why I should be, I can’t explain.

He obeys my instructions. As he leaves, he says, “Your husband asks you meet him on the green in the front of the hotel.”

I listen for the room door to latch. I wait a moment before climbing out of the tub.

I dry myself quickly. With the towel around me, I peer into the room. It’s empty. I’m not relieved because I’m not worried, only curious why Richard would have someone, a man, deliver the dress. I don’t believe Richard expected the man to present the dress to me while I was in the tub. Richard probably expected I would be finished, perhaps even dressed. The surprise is rather nice, very thoughtful of my new husband.

I carry the dress into the room and lay it on the bed. Such a sweet gesture, but I’m not fond of blue. I can’t recall whether I ever mentioned this to Richard. I suppose he should be a bit intuitive about my color preferences, as we’ve known each other quite a long time. I hardly ever wear blue. And when I do, it’s usually a dark shade, very muted, certainly not the color of a dazzling summer sky, the hue of the dress on the bed.

But it is a gift, and thoughtful of Richard, so I can’t complain and can’t not wear it.

It’s cut lower than I am accustomed to. I put it on and examine myself in the mirror. While it may not be my favorite color, it does flatter me. I wonder if Richard sees something in me I’ve never recognized in myself.

I leave the room excited and happy.

As I exit the hotel, I see Richard. He’s on the far side of the circle formed in front of the hotel by Don Ho Street. I wave to him and he waves back, urging me to hurry up.

I start toward him and he does the most peculiar thing. He begins walking up Don Ho Street without waiting for me. I call for him to stop but he walks away faster. I don’t know what to make of his behavior. Maybe it’s part of whatever surprise he has planned for me. I walk as fast as I am able to catch up to him.

I pass out of the circle and continue up the street. Ahead, Richard turns onto Royal Hawaiian Avenue. As I step onto the avenue, he disappears. I see him one minute and the next he is gone, vanished. But people don’t evaporate. He must have gone somewhere. The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center is here. Maybe he ducked inside. Maybe it is part of the surprise, a game he’s expecting me to play, that he’ll tease me about later over dinner.

I am so engaged with the mystery and speculation over his disappearance it is not until this moment I realize I am the only person on the avenue. I spin around searching for people, but there is not a soul.

Except for a car, a car idling noisily in the intersection with Kalakaua. It’s bright blue, a match for my dress, and the only car around.

As I stare, the car suddenly roars to life and begins accelerating at me. I’m frozen where I stand next to the shopping center, immobilized by both the advancing car and the complete void of people, feeling trapped. I’m on the sidewalk and next to me is a concrete wall.

I look around, hunting for a place where I can duck into, a place where I can feel safe. As I turn back, I see the car is nearly on me, and worse, its left wheels have jumped the curb.

I scream for Richard. I sense a tug at my arm, a mild pain, a weird sensation of an object in my arm, something small and metallic. I rub my arm and there’s nothing but my bare skin numbed with goose bumps.

I cry for Richard as I turn and run, and I continue crying for him as the car scoops under me; as I slide along its dented hood and hit the windshield; as I roll over and see a man laughing at me, a man in blue like the one who delivered the dress, his face reticulated behind the spider-webbed windshield; as I surf over the roof, down the rear, and off the trunk onto the sidewalk.

Lying on the sidewalk, I watch the car speed onto Don Ho Street toward the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and as my eyes are shutting people materialize, including Richard, who waves at me, not to come to him, but to bid me farewell.