Authors: Sara Susannah Katz
He doesn’t say anything at first, just looks at me a long time in a way that makes me grateful for the dusky lighting.
“It was this weird historical anomaly,” he says, leaning forward. “Can you imagine a time when it was actually legitimate
to actively pursue another man’s wife? Among the aristocracy, this behavior was not only just condoned, it was actually expected.”
“Why expected?” I ask, trying to ignore the bird in my chest that frantically beats its wings against my ribs. This is an
academic discussion, I tell myself, and I am a student. In fact, I should probably be taking notes. I cock my head and try
to look studious. And I try not to let my eyes linger on Evan’s chest, broad and hard beneath his ribbed sweater…
Copyright © 2006 by Debra Kent
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First eBook Edition: May 2006
who brings me the beach.
It all begins with the beach, which means it all begins with my gracious, generous and beautiful friend, Alisa Sutor, and
her dear parents who have opened up their magnificent home to our forlornly landlocked group. I am grateful to Anne Fuson,
Nancy Barlow, Jennifer Forney, Ann Whitlatch, Lisa Deinlein and Kim Gibson, my companions for sunbathing and dolphin watching
and discussing the mysteries of Mormon underwear. I could not have made vital revisions to this book without Vicki Minder,
who taught me about desire and desirability. Much gratitude goes to my patient editors, Beth DeGuzman and Karen Kosztolnyik;
my brilliant agent Sandra Dijkstra; the talented Candace Decker; the gifted Lauren Robert; Linda Alis, who showed me how to
turn on the light; my mother Martha and my father Donald, a writer who left this world too soon; Hy and Sylvia Isaac; my friends
Donna Wilber, Lorraine Rapp, Lisa Kamen, and Jason Vest. I must acknowledge my treasured Indiana family, Andy and Jane Mallor,
Carolyn Lipson-Walker and George Walker, Julie Bloom and Richard Balaban. I thank my ex-husband and special friend Jeff Isaac
for his tireless encouragement, and my children Adam and Annelise for being funny as hell and great kids too. And I thank
Jamie Willis, artist, friend, playmate and partner.
t starts benignly. Mixing glass bottles in with the plastic, dropping a year off my age, fudging on my expense report. I download
Joni Mitchell off the Limewire, not just one song but a whole album. I stop correcting cashiers when they make mistakes in
my favor. I read a copy of
from cover to cover in the café at Borders, accidentally stain page 31 with coffee, and never pay for it, just put it right
back on the shelf and walk out of the store. By the end of the year I’m having sex with a professor of medieval literature
who thinks that my husband is a fool.
How do I go from
to good sex with Evan Delaney? I wish I could say I am pulled into this vortex of moral delinquency by some gravitational
force beyond conscious control, but that would be a lie. I know exactly how I got here.
This is our third trip to Frankie Wilson’s beach house on Ocean Isle in North Carolina. We call ourselves, with only a little
irony, the Beach Babes. All of us live in the same Indiana college town, in the same suburban subdivision, all are married,
all are mothers, all of us hovering apprehensively near our fortieth year. It is 1:34 in the morning and after too many Tequizas,
tortilla chips, and peanut M&M’s, it is time for the game Annie Elliot has named Dirty Deeds. I’d rather play Pictionary,
to be perfectly honest.
“I light the Candle of Truth,” intones Annie, lifting a lit wooden Strike ’Em Anywhere match to the thick celadon pillar.
The blue-gold flame swiftly engulfs the match head and races toward Annie’s fingertip but just as it’s about to make contact
with skin she drops it into a wet saucer where it lands with a satisfying sizzle.
Annie Elliot was the only neighbor in Larkspur Estates who marked our arrival with any fanfare. My immediate next-door neighbors
hadn’t even waved or lifted their eyes when our old blue van pulled up to the curb behind the Greenway moving van. The Skaffs
to the west kept on digging out crabgrass. To the east the Gilchrists continued hosing down the driveway though in truth there
was no dirt to hose away, just clean Irish brick the color of desert clay. Hosing driveways, I have since discovered, is a
popular pastime in Larkspur Estates, a hypnotic activity that holds homeowners in its sway for thirty or forty minutes at
a time, long after the work of clearing debris is done. It is like masturbation with no climax or reward except perhaps for
the deep black shine of the wet asphalt or, in the case of the Gilchrists’ four-thousand-dollar driveway, the glow of red
But Annie Elliot sprinted all the way from Azalea Lane to personally welcome me. Nearly six feet of lean muscle with merry
blue eyes and a smirky kind of smile, Annie had apologetically handed me a thermos of Starbucks coffee and a box of Little
Debbie snack cakes, explaining that she hadn’t had time to bake anything from scratch but thought it would be wrong to ring
my doorbell empty-handed.
“We moved here last year and nobody even stopped by.” She thrust the snack cakes toward me, Little Debbie’s cherubic yet oddly
authoritative young face grinning up at me. “I figured, if your neighbors are anything like the misanthropes on Azalea, you’ll
need all the friends you can get. And don’t worry about returning the thermos, I have a million of them. I buy them at yard
sales. Thermoses and picnic baskets. I don’t know why considering we never go on picnics. My husband isn’t a big fan of the
great outdoors. Last time we went on a picnic we drove out to Maplewood State Park and ate lunch in the van. My kids were
like, Mom, why can’t we sit outside in the grass like the other people? I said, Your father hates nature. You know that. Good
grief. Anyway. Welcome to the neighborhood.” She gestured toward the box. “I stuck my number in with the Little Debbies. Call
me when you need a break from unpacking or whatever.”
I did, the very next day, and we have talked almost every day since then.
Annie lowers her voice and assumes the exotic tone of a fortune-teller. “When the Candle of Truth is passed to you, please
reveal something you wouldn’t dare admit in any other context but this one.” The lush scent of sandalwood lifts and blends
with the briny air. “As always, nothing leaves this room.”
The room in question is a sprawling expanse of white pickled maple and white leather perched above the Atlantic Ocean, with
extravagant windows and two sets of sliding-glass doors that open onto a sun-bleached wraparound deck and the twenty-six evenly
cut cedar steps leading to the beach. A sandstone hearth embedded with shells and sea creature fossils sits at one end of
the room and at the other, an extravagantly large entertainment unit with the biggest screen TV I’ve ever seen, but why would
anyone want to watch it when the best view is right out the window?
The water is as black as the sky now, waves thwacking rhythmically against the hard-packed sand. As a landlocked Midwesterner
who must settle for Lake Michigan or, embarrassingly, the Big Kahuna Wave Maker at Willy’s Water Park, I enjoy no greater
luxury than these brief, voluptuous vacations at Frankie Wilson’s beach house. I love everything about it, everything except
Annie edges the candle toward Frankie, who is about to snap off the last of her New York Naturals glue-on French-tipped fingernails.
The pile of discarded plastic nails looks like a mound of onion slivers in the thin light of the dimmed-down candelabra.
“God, how I hate these things,” she says, prying off the pinkie nail and flicking it to the heap. Frankie’s real fingertips
are gnawed beyond the quick. They have the flat, pliable look of frogs’ toes. “Someone needs to make fake nails that don’t
make you feel like you slammed your fingers in a car door, you know?”
The first time I noticed Francesca Cavendish Wilson she was staffing the pop bottle ring toss at Twin Pines Elementary’s annual
school carnival. She had black curly hair and black eyes and she was wearing a black T-shirt that proclaimed in bright yellow
I EAT CARBS. SO SUE ME
. Frankie, I came to discover, is queen of failed business ventures such as her unself-conscious magazine for plus-sized women
(she misjudged her audience’s willingness to claim the title with pride), her disposable frying pan liners (which were great,
except for the bursting into flames part), and Pet Pebbles (like pet rocks but smaller).
I finally introduced myself to Frankie at the Cambridge County Women’s Leadership Club, a sort of alternative Rotary for “professional
gals.” Phyllis Bagley, president of First Cambridge Bank, had started the group because she was tired of being snubbed at
the testosterone-laden Rotary events. Bagley’s intent was to create a network of savvy businesswomen who could break the good
old boy tourniquet on this town. Unfortunately Bagley hadn’t realized that all the arteries of influence here lead to the
same hardened heart. This calcified organ wasn’t the university as many self-inflated academics would have you believe, but
Copley Machine Parts and its thirty-five subsidiaries, founded, built, and managed by fifty-three-year-old Arnold Copley who
has no heirs but many foot soldiers who serve on every significant board, foundation, commission, and council in the city.
It has been said that no new project, however worthy, will succeed without Arnold Copley’s blessing—and money. Phyllis Bagley
set out to disprove the theory. So far she has not succeeded.
I was plucking pale lettuce leaves from the lunch buffet when Frankie appeared at my side and heaved a fat slice of strawberry
cheesecake onto her plate.
“I only come for the dessert,” she said, ladling extra strawberry compote on top of the thick wedge.
She joined me at my table and I marveled at the unself-conscious way she enjoyed her food. She pressed her spit-moistened
finger to the plate to gather up the last of the graham cracker crumbs and bring them to her mouth.
At some point in the middle of Phyllis Bagley’s exhortations, Frankie passed me a note: “Do you have a kid in Twin Pines?”
Next note: “Me too. Where do you live?”
I took her pen and wrote: “Larkspur Estates.” I passed the pen and paper back and waited for her response, already burbling
inside because I knew I was making a friend.
“Me too! On Periwinkle,” she wrote. And then: “Do you hate living there as much as I do?”
I made a face and by tacit agreement we slinked out of the meeting room and regrouped at the Starbucks next door where we
spent the next hour drinking the house blend and complaining about our neighborhood.
Frankie stares into the flame and I can see that she’s sorting through her options. The last time we played this game she
admitted to spying on the housepainter as he played with himself behind the garage. He was on a lunch break and apparently
had packed a copy of
Great Big Butts
along with his tuna sandwich.
“Category, husbands.” She runs her fingers through her capriciously coiled hair. “Oh, boy. You guys are going to think I’m
“Nobody’s going to think you’re crazy,” says Annie. “Remember? No shame, no blame.”
Frankie darts her eyes to the vaulted ceiling and sucks in her breath. “I convinced my husband that Angelina Jolie is really
We stare and wait for details.
“Jeremy has always had the hots for Angelina Jolie. He thinks she’s a knockout. The boobs, the lips, whatever. Okay. So I
told him that my mother’s cousin Denise was the head surgical nurse during Angelina’s—I mean
—sex-change operation. I threw in a bunch of believable details—the name of the surgeon, the brand of collagen they used for
her lips, her first words when she came out of anesthesia.”