Saturday, May 25, 2013
Matchbook: A short story by someone who doesn't exist (In the category of Be Where You Are.)
The themes of peeing on churches and spurting will show up in next week’s blog post (although working those in just now fulfills my two technical obligations for this week). I got a good start on Dave and Mattie’s story, had a heart-to-heart with my muse (who is a real bitch) and we agreed where to go from there.
Then, true to form for me these days, crap got in the way of what I wanted to do. Today’s crap came in the form of a natural gas leak. At my house. I was hunting stink bug nymphs in my herb garden. They like the mint and oregano, the little fuckers. Instead of ripping out the entire garden (like I did two years ago), I’m trying a more surgical approach this year. As I was cutting out nymph-ridden herbs, I got close enough to the natural gas connection to smell it. Kudos to whoever decided to add the rotten egg odor to the natural gas product. Kudos to the gas company, Atmos, for sending someone right away. I do not fear an explosion tonight, but I don’t have time now to do justice to Dave and Mattie’s story.
I like Dave and Mattie. They’re good boys. They don’t mean to be bad, I’ve just drawn them that way. They deserve a few more hours of my undivided attention, and I will honor that.
In the meantime, deadlines loom, and I have promises to keep that will consume the rest of this weekend's writing time. So in honor of a gas leak, I present the short story, "Matchbook."
I wrote "Matchbook" in 1998 as a fictional work by a fictional character within a work of fiction, a murder mystery, which I also wrote. The victim in my murder mystery (called Litmus) is a writer; Reese Goddard has penned a collection of short stories that may hold the key to who killed her and tried to make it look like suicide…
“Matchbook” is one of Reese Goddard’s stories. I know at some level, it is also mine, but as I wrote this story, I wasn’t trying to write as Kim, I was trying to write as the fictional Reese… She’s a better writer than I -- fearless. Crazy like me, many of her fictional characters are writers…poets. She features their poems in her stories the way I feature her stories in my novel; the murder mystery contains the full body of her works. “Matchbook” is unique for Reese. It has no poems, but it was one of her favorite stories, and it is one of mine.
I love writing fiction. It’s like standing between two facing mirrors. It goes on and on.
It pleases me to give this one a venue while I spend a bit more time on the new piece, sorting out why Dave is spurting pee on the church and whether or not Mattie will get the nerve to call him out for it (" 'cause Hell might be real, dickhead!")
A short story by Reese Goddard
I will not be called these things, thinks Emaline Rizotti as her shaking hand dives into the pocket of her husband’s trousers. I will not be called adulterate, jilted, scorned.
But I am these things, she realizes, sitting back and dropping her hands in a motion that resembles surrender. The wool slacks slide soundlessly to the floor. What would another matchbook amount to?
More names come to mind for the mistress than for wronged wife. Emaline counts them like rosary beads: bitch, chippy, homewrecker, Jezebel, slut, strumpet, tramp, tart, whore. Emaline has a matchbook collection, which will number 59 when she retrieves the one she knows is in his right back pocket. And it, like each one of them, has pressed on the paper behind the matches, the print of her husband’s lover’s painted lips. Emaline now considers herself an expert at reading lip prints.
These are all identical.
Emaline detests this brazen woman who leaves her lips on these matches, like a brief fiery instance, a whiff of sulfur. She knows her husband, Roman Rizotti, does not realize these matchbooks are being slipped into his pocket. With the sureness of fifteen years of marriage, Emaline believes that Roman has never, will never empty his own trouser pockets before giving them to Emaline to be laundered. In this way, he will always need her.
“He may be an asshole,” Emaline says resolutely, “but he’s my asshole.” She nods with determination to her own reflection.
The next day, Gwen, Emaline’s therapist, says “Revenge is a perfectly natural response, but it would be more proactive for you to work through this anger to the next logical stage.”
“Murder?” Emaline feels murderous.
“No. And I wish you wouldn’t joke like that.” Gwen is a nervous, middle-aged, overweight woman with an unfortunate skin condition that leaves her face pocked and flushed like a ripe, bird-pecked cherry.
“I have 59 matchbooks now.”
“I thought we resolved your obsession with the matchbooks. Obviously, this mistress knows it is you who finds them. She’s goading you. You give her power....
Emaline interrupts, “I give her power over me when I obsess over her. I just thought it was interesting. I keep a journal every day that I started the day I married Roman. In fifteen years of marriage, he has taken me to exactly twenty restaurants on the occasion of fifteen wedding anniversaries, three children and two apologies for two love affairs. Lips is up to 59 different restaurants. Six are from Hawaii!
Gwen looks at her watch. “We’ll talk more about that next week.”
As the polished walnut door of her therapist’s office closes, Emaline says, “I want to go to Hawaii.” But no one hears her.
Somewhere in the darkest center of Emaline’s cerebral cortex, a rebellious cluster of neurotransmitters refuses to do its part in the production of critical brain chemicals. Emaline has no knowledge of it as she numbly boards the crowded elevator and descends to the marble lobby in the office building of her expensive and unhelpful shrink. Her thoughts at this moment are occupied with anger, frustration, rejection, and most frightening of all, indifference.
She says aloud, “What do you want to do today?” and ignores the others in the elevator who turn to stare. She refrains from answering herself out loud, deciding in silence to go across town and have lunch at the new Italian restaurant she had seen written up in the Living section of last Sunday’s paper. Then she’ll go to the travel agency that she thinks is near the restaurant and look into the price of a trip to Hawaii.
At the new Italian restaurant, across town from the office of Emaline’s therapist, Roman Rizotti sits and fiddles with the complimentary matchbook, poised open and ready to strike in the cut-glass ashtray. He untucks the matchbook cover from behind the matches and reads “Anthony’s Bistro” on the front. The color choice, olive green, fails to impress him, but the typeface is nice. His lunch date, Esereé, will want this one for her collection.
Roman does not understand collections. They accumulate. Roman’s family is the closest thing he has to a collection. Roman admits, as he twirls the corner of the matchbook on the tip of his finger, that he doesn’t understand Esereé either. She appears sincere in her claims that she does not want a commitment. Roman understands that he needs this most from Esereé, her lack of need for him.
Two blocks from Anthony’s Bistro, in the walk-in bedroom closet of Apartment 37, Parkview Heights, Esereé O’Leary chooses the red satin dress, sleeveless, backless, well above the knee. She’ll wear it with the open-toed leather stilettos dyed the color of maraschino cherries to match the dress. It is her lover’s favorite outfit. Her hair, a more intense shade of red, is pulled back; her blue eyes gleam back at her in the bathroom mirror. Esereé is going to be late for her lunch date, but her entrance will be worth the wait.
As Esereé applies lipstick, red as her dress, her shoes, her hair, she visualizes kissing his soft lips not so full, but not thin either and leaving her lip prints around his nipples, his belly button. Esereé knows that wherever she leaves her mark, a part of him stays with her forever.
Roman stands to greet Esereé as she winds through the tables. The red satin dress with the dyed leather shoes attracts Roman more than anything else on the planet. Like a living flame, Esereé flickers and undulates towards him. She greets him with her usual soft handshake, her rule — no kissing in public. Instead, he pulls out her chair, softly murmuring, “you look beautiful,” as he seats her.
They dine on a salad of shrimp and roasted red pepper, seasoned Italian risotto with fresh lobster, and broiled eggplant, savory with garlic and fresh oregano. Roman selects for them a Sonoma county Chardonnay. For dessert they share sweet pears in wine and lemon sauce. Esereé says, “The typeface on the matchbook is attractive,” as she delicately extracts the pack from beneath his napkin. “Olive would not have been my first color choice, though.” Roman smiles and takes her hand. “I knew you would say that.”
“Have I become so predictable then?” Her smirk excites him. He detects in her voice the tone of an unspoken challenge now accepted. “We’ll just see about that. Excuse me.” She slips the matches into her purse as she rises and glides off in the direction of the women’s lounge.
Emaline Rizotti feels better by the time she finds the restaurant, and to her delight the travel agency is situated right next door. She smiles as a parking space opens in front of her in the lot next to the travel agency. Everything, she thinks, is going to be just fine.
In Anthony’s Bistro, Emaline spots Roman immediately, always the pin to his magnet. He sits staring at an empty chair, but the place servings clearly tell her that her husband sits at a table for two. The maitre d’ is taking her in that direction, to tables further back in the room.
Roman sees her, too, as she draws nearer. He stands, fumbles with the napkin that has fallen off his plate and onto the ground in front of him.
“What are you doing here, Emaline?” He sounds defensive.
“I’ve come for lunch. Same as you, I imagine.” She glances at the nearly empty wine glass, a companion to the empty chair. She notes the lipstick, cheap slut red, and she recognizes the lip prints immediately. She can only hope that her reaction isn’t really the color draining from her face, even though that is how she feels.
Roman follows his wife’s glance. “I’m here on a business lunch.”
“Business, professor? During the summer?”
“I’m meeting with a journal editor about publishing a paper.”
“It’s one I’ve just started.” Roman feels like he is ten years old again. He hates explaining himself to her. The guilt, he decides, is undeserved.
“I don’t tell you everything I’m working on.”
“I see.” Emaline takes a long look at her husband. After fifteen years, his eyes are still her first attraction. Sea colors always, today they gleam green and amused. In stormy times, his eyes flash gray, cold, the muted reflection of sullen inner skies. He still steals her breath, makes her stomach flip flop. “I won’t keep you then.” Emaline turns and resumes following the maitre d’ to her own table.
Esereé dries her hands carefully, working the towel around the rings on her fingers to avoid spotting the satin dress. She scrutinizes her bared teeth, checking for pink strips of lobster claw, the red pepper strands of shrimp salad, oregano flakes. Her snarl becomes a smile as she takes out the bistro’s matchbook and sets it carefully beside the open tube of lipstick. Esereé O’Leary has a fire to start.
She purses her lips and blows herself a reflected kiss before she picks up the shiny gold-tone tube. The pristine red point, called Beyond Blaze, emerges perfectly angled. This angle, Esereé is careful to preserve as she slowly presses the colored cream stick to her lower lip. Smooth, the makeup slides like satin on skin. She applies the same even coating to her upper lip, and presses both lips together. Then she smiles again.
Taking up the matchbook, she bends the cover open, exposing its whitest interior. This she presses firmly to her own kiss. After she pulls her lips away, she notes the even imprint with satisfaction. Softly, she blows cool air across the mark so that it will dry before she closes the matchbook cover.
Roman is paying cash for the lunch tab as she approaches the table. His hand shakes as he counts the bills onto the small silver tray. They leave the restaurant not touching, but Esereé loops her arm through his as they start down the sidewalk, past the window that looks into Anthony’s Bistro, not seeing the angry red face of Emaline as she forks lobster risotto into her pinched, furious mouth.
Esereé decides to be unpredictable today, so she kisses Roman full on the lips as they wait for the “walk” sign to flash. He groans as she presses her full length against his, brushing against him, there, on the corner of Sixth Ave. and Westover St. She slides her left hand into his right back pocket, depositing her matchbook into the deepest corner.
Roman drops with exhaustion onto the queen-sized bed in his and Emaline’s master bedroom. Emaline is not home which surprises Roman. It is 5:30 p.m. He is punctual, as usual. His wife has never been unpredictable. It’s just as well Emaline is elsewhere, he muses. It saves the trouble of having to fake sincerity.
The lobster risotto is still with Roman, bulging uncomfortably into the waistband of his trousers. All this eating out in pursuit of a woman’s matchbook collection is making him fat. Funny, he giggles, he would have thought the sex would have worked it off of him. He loosens the button of his pants then decides to shower. He tosses the trousers onto the top of the laundry pile, removing his shirt and depositing it on the floor before stepping into the steamy spray.
Emaline is home by the time Roman emerges dripping and reaching for a towel. Emaline watches from the hallway, mentally brushing his wavy, dark hair, kept short — finger deep, the way she likes it. The hair that runs across his chest, down his stomach, is no less dark or wavy but sparser. It, too, is finger deep, the way she likes it. She hates how attractive she finds him, even now. She goes to the bedroom to retrieve what she knows will be in his right back trouser pocket. Her hand shakes as she slides the matchbook in her own pocket, and she attempts nonchalance, sorting laundry when Roman strolls in naked but dry.
“You’re behind on laundry,” Roman says as he reaches for briefs.
“I’ll put a load in now.” Emaline’s voice is glacial.
Roman does not think much about his wife’s tone. His mind is still on the third floor of the Parkview Heights apartment building slowly unzipping a red satin dress. The sound of Emaline’s car pulling out of the driveway gets his attention, however. Now where is she going? Who the hell is going to cook dinner?
Esereé checks the peephole carefully, recognizes Roman’s signature bouquet of perfect red rose buds and opens her apartment door. The FTD delivery person’s forceful shove into Apartment 37 surprises Esereé at first, but then she recognizes Emaline. She also recognizes insanity shining in the woman’s eyes. Astonishing, though, is the pipe wrench that connects with Esereé’s temple.
Emaline gazes on the prone mistress. More names come to mind: banshee, body, corpse, ghost, haunt, phantom, specter, worm chow; suddenly, Emaline likes her.
She removes the slender juice jug of gasoline from her deep coat pocket and pours out the contents, tossing the empty jug. It bounces off Chippy’s taut bottom. Emaline smiles and removes the matchbook from Anthony’s Bistro. Pulling off one match, Emaline strikes and lights the rest of the book with it. Before the torch can burn her fingers, she flings it in the same direction as the gasoline and the jug.
Things catch quickly. Soon Chippy’s scarlet locks begin to smoke. On her way out, Emaline pulls the building fire alarm, but she rides the elevator downstairs. She doesn’t stay to watch the arrival of the fire department. Later, she will regret that she missed seeing the kitchen window spew flames fifteen feet over the avenue, but right now, Emaline Rizotti has a plane to catch.