Chapter 7: WAIKIKI, HAWAII (Part 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.
“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.