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Authors: Consuelo Saah Baehr

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BOOK: Nothing To Lose (A fat girl novel)
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The apartment was a mess. Drawers were open, silverware all over the floor, books pulled from shelves. The small portable television was near the door. She hurried back down the stairs.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said simply. “I’ve been robbed. I’ve never been robbed before. I’m not even sure what I should feel. It’s awful to see your things all over the floor…some stranger just going through everything….he could have been there…maybe he is…”

He waited for her to finish. “Is there someplace you can spend the night? I don’t think you ought to stay here.”

“My parents live in Queens,” she looked around and rubbed her fist against her teeth.

“Why don’t you stay on my couch for the night? It’s so late. There’s really nothing you could do tonight anyway. The police wouldn’t come for at least two hours and you’d be up all night.”

The invitation was so unexpected it left her dazed. Sleep in his house? She wasn’t prepared. Everything was moving much faster than she had imagined. The possibility of being near him almost obliterated the shock of the robbery. What a bizarre evening.

As they drove to his apartment, she remained perfectly still. If she breathed too hard, she would break. She looked closely at his profile to see if he was annoyed. Why did she feel so guilty? She had been robbed. It was too late to go to Queens or to call the police. It was he, not she, who suggested they go to his apartment. She tried to settle down and not act grateful. Dear god, don’t let me say anything that sounds grateful.

His apartment was in a very well maintained reddish brown house on East 91st Street between Fifth and Madison. There was an iron grill over the door, the top half of which was made of beautifully etched glass. He had a key for both doors and after he opened them and they stood in the tiny vestibule, he spoke for the first time.

“My roommate might be entertaining someone. I think he mumbled something to that effect this morning. So…let’s take a deep breath and we’ll just go in.”

His roommate, Arthur Lewin was entertaining a tall, giggling strawberry blonde. On an ashtray between them was a decorated ceramic smoldering pipe. The blonde was heating up, too. She kept plunging into Arthur Lewin’s chest with each wave of the giggles.

“Come on, come on,” Arthur urged her in a businesslike voice, “we’ve got to get a hold of ourselves….Oh, hello, Harald.” He tickled the blonde under her arms and under her breasts. With each wriggly move, the blonde’s skirt rode higher on her hips. “Your hair’s longer than your skirt,” chastised Arthur Lewin.

“Hello Harald,” mimicked the blonde. “Oh, god, look at me,” she was having the time of her life. She rose, turned her skirt around. “I’ve got to pee. Where’s the john?”

April was surprised this was the blonde’s first time in the apartment. She seemed so at home. Arthur took her to the bathroom and returned to stoke his pipe in preparation for her return. He seemed in no hurry to consummate anything, as if he were waiting for a boost in energy. He pushed the pipe toward Harald. With an elaborate sigh, Harald sank to the floor, folded his legs under him and reached for the pipe. “It looks as if it’s going to be a long night,” he said.

He patted the place beside him on the floor and motioned for April to join him. Then he took a long drag of the spoon/pipe, closed his eyes and waited. He passed it to her and she put it to her lips, took a tiny, tentative drag. She held the smoke in her mouth for a moment and let it out. Maybe she’d go crazy? The blonde was back, cuddled into Arthur Lewin’s chest and it was April’s turn in the bathroom.

After urinating, she inspected his toothpaste – Crest; his deodorant – Mennen; his remedies – Contac, Bufferin, Robitussin, PedOgene Crème, a fungicide for athlete’s foot.

Harald had once again taken possession of the spoon/pipe and was dragging on its stem. He replaced it on the dish, stretched out propping his head against a chair and placed his arm companionably around April. “Don’t expect anything normal from those two,” he said and closed his eyes. His fingers were idly massaging her shoulder. She was almost in his arms. She closed her eyes and placed her head against him. “Swonderful,” he said.

By the fourth drag, he was moving in slow motion with a dreamy look in his eyes. He traced her face with one finger, around her eyes, down the length of her nose, around her mouth, “…crystal streams…” he said dreamily as he returned to her eyes, “…so clear, I can see way down…so far down.” From her chin he went to her neck, rubbing the small bones at its base as if they held special meaning. Arthur and his date began a wobbly waltz right into the bedroom. When Harald reached her breast, April twitched and began to tremble. “You’re cold,” he said with extravagant concern, as if someone had died. “Here, I’ll warm you.” Everything was done in slow motion with a benign smile. After the seventh? eighth? drag, he was in a swoon of desire. She tended his body with total concentration, kissing and caressing it. “Sweet…” he repeated as he circled her breasts…”so sweet.” She opened his pants. “ Aaaaaah,” he said. She opened his shirt. He had a small pattern of hair that went from his chest down….down.

She had daydreamed everything but his ardent attention to her body. He was totally occupied while she remained vigilant, committing it all to memory. Her inclination was to feel powerful. He had been satisfied, exhausted, spent. He slept peacefully beside her, his gently muscled tennis arm grazing her breast. She was thrilled to guard his sleep until, she, too, succumbed. In the morning, his head looked large, his face pale with sleep. She wanted to make a tremendous sacrifice for him. Give up something important, endure pain. Something to show the grandness of her love.

In the days that followed, she knew total happiness and it pushed away everything else. She had been made to love him and the idea that he might begin to love her, too, took her breath and memory away.

Was she supposed to wait for him after class or pretend nothing had happened? During the break, he leaned close to her and whispered, “We’ll have a bite at Oviedos later.” She thought of the kisses to come while he explained the mechanics of puts and calls to his attentive audience.

Oviedos was a small Mexican restaurant on 14th Street that served well-seasoned vegetables mixed with small amounts of meat.

“They use meat as a condiment,” he said approvingly. He was against big slabs of meat? Well, so was she. After dinner and two margaritas that tasted like lighter fluid, he kissed her and held her to him with one arm around her neck. She knew at that moment that it was going to be all right. She didn’t move as they sat in the booth side by side. She could smell ironed cotton and new wool and new perspiration. She would remember that smell forever.

When they were studying Vanity Fair in high school, April’s teacher had told them that a fall or rise in social standing in Europe sometimes occurred in novels as a matter of good or bad luck, something that couldn’t happen in America. April disagreed. The luck of being in Harald’s class twice each week had a lot to do with his falling in love with her.

If she had gone to a gypsy and begged for the secret to his heart, the gypsy would have said to let him play Svengali and show a willingness to be formed by him. He had a lot to teach her and she was grateful. His parents, while not rich, had made the best choices for their means. All of April’s alertness and good sense couldn’t substitute for thirty years of soccer camps in Kent, Connecticut, clothes by Brooks for Boys, the right idea of himself, the right mother (trim, gracious, no bad language or bad grammar). Harald still had friends and clothes from college (Dartmouth). He still wore some of his soccer camp shirts and his college pullovers. He knew how to pick good movies and good restaurants. He was very interested in food and April took a cooking class with two girls from Massachusetts and learned how to do seventeen things to a chicken breast, to stuff a veal shoulder and to make a roux.

“That old Protestant know-how, the luck of the draw, that old Wasp magic.” This was Sylvie’s assessment when April spent an afternoon with her old friend three weeks before her wedding day. “What about mumsy and daddy?”

“His mother made roast beef au jus and carrots julienne, so she can’t be totally against me,” said April.

“Hmmmmmm.”

“What does that mean?” She knew what it meant. They were both thinking that her own parents had never invited anyone to dinner who wasn’t related. At the dinner table, they didn’t discuss news events or politics. They told each other what the druggist said to the woman and what the woman said to the druggist, what dead animals were on the road, who had to have their teeth pulled. Harlan and Bernice both used syntax that would now embarrass her. He don’t know; he come home; I never heard nothing about it and it don’t matter.

“But what’s he like? You haven’t told me what he’s like.” Sylvie was leading the conversation to safer ground.

April thought a moment. “If he were in a war,” she said carefully, “he would do the brave thing but he wouldn’t get killed. It just wouldn’t happen. He would be respected by his men and he would personally visit the widows and present them with the flag.”

“Sounds a little cold to me,” said Sylvie.

“Oh, no. Not cold. Reserved, maybe.”

“It sounds wonderful.” Sylvie was uncharacteristically serious. “I wish you the best.” She sat back in her chair smoking furiously and squinting at April. “April Taylor finds love in the big city. You owe it all to me, too. Who practically yanked you out of the bowels of Queens, huh?”

There were some things about Harald she decided not to tell Sylvie. He hated bad language. He hated synthetics. And he hated his father. When he told her his father was a judge, he added quickly, “It’s not a particularly illustrious place on the bench,” lest she become too impressed. Harald’s father was a family court judge who, in custody fights, often awarded the children to the father. The most celebrated case involved a lesbian mother who appeared with her lover on Channel 13.

Once, a father in Judge Tierney’s court had cried out during the hearing. “You can’t deprive my boy of his Daddykins!” When the ruling came down in favor of the emotional father, the press tagged him Judge ‘Daddykins’ Tierney.

Harald’s dislike of his father saved them from a large wedding and prenuptial dinner where the in-laws would have met. April was grateful. She knew Harlan and Bernice would feel awkward with the Tierneys. A judge? My god!

They were married on the tenth of May. In the two weeks before her wedding, April was too nervous to eat and lost another eight pounds. At 145, she was at the lowest weight of her adult life. Her face was beautiful. Greenish-gray eyes had become important in her newly slim face. She appeared taller than her five feet five. Harald chose her wedding dress, a short silk jersey sheath with a slightly bias cut flare at the hem, simple and dramatic. Her hair was parted in the middle, pulled back severely and covered with a tulle cloche. She looked like a medieval woman of mystery. Another judge, a friend of Harald’s father performed the ceremony in the garden room of his parents’ Larchmont home. A string quartet played Bach.

Chapter Four

In September of 1976, Sylvie married a lawyer ten years her senior and went to live in Ardsley-on-the-Hudson. She said her mother didn’t mind that Spencer was an Episcopalian. Sylvie was a new woman. She had straightened her frizzy hair and wore it pinned in the back in an untidy knot. She dressed in the kind of reversible skirts and jumpers advertised in the back of the New York Times Magazine. It was as if she had become a nun without taking the vows of chastity or poverty. Spencer Straight was loaded.

April had been married three years and found it was a full-time job being Harald’s wife. She took a current events course at NYU from Imre Nagy’s cousin and learned about Red China and the Middle East. She was able to contribute provocative sum-ups that spiced conversation. The Soviet Union would one day come to the support of Israel, she told the lawyers and brokers who came to dinner. Red China would court the US and then use it shamelessly for its own purposes.

Marty Bell continued to give her work, entrusting her to conceive and write a complete campaign for paper plates and cups that resembled real china. Her first ad in the series – Wedgewood Paper Dinnerware, including a great little cup that keeps cold things cold and hot things hot – improved sales by eleven percent.

On days that she went into the offices of Bell and Adonesio, Harald brought home two portions of the plat du jour from Stella and Stanley, a tiny catering shop near their apartment: stuffed cabbage or veal marsala or filet of sole Veronique. He also made the salad and set the table and they mentioned this proudly to their friends.

Everything seemed joyful that third year but then, without warning, the bad news began piling up. At the end of June, April’s mother went to the hospital to have her gall bladder removed. After the operation, Bernice looked awful and had no strength. The doctor assured them it was a normal aftermath. He was the philosophical type. “Such an assault on the body,” he said. “Cutting, invading.” On the fourth day, a Dr. Greef called her at one o’clock in the morning and told April he had very bad news. She thought it was a crank call. A joke. The doctor said he didn’t want to call her father who was at home alone but he would tell her because someone was with her. Her mother had died. He said her heartbeat had become incompatible with life. “What the fuck do you mean?” she said startling herself and the doctor. “What the fuck does that mean?” She needed something medical. She couldn’t stand all the metaphors.

BOOK: Nothing To Lose (A fat girl novel)
2.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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