1. Westport, Connecticut, A Christmas Party, December 21, 8:45 pm
Pushing his hair back out of his face, he was checking himself out in the darkened window. A snowflake of frost spidered itself onto the glass. He was hot from jalapeno martinis; his wife’s Connecticut blue eyes held him like a leash. The party murmured like the tower of Babel. The Christmas tree shimmered. A young hottie in blue-green sequins drifted mermaid-like across the party. How he longed to hear her say come live with me and be my love. Her Victoria’s Secret breasts, her oceany allure. The blue glass collection on the sill quivered with the high pitched ruin that vibrated out of his solar plexuses. He decided to pat her naiad ass so softly, so prep school politely, wife-y would never know. How he loved being naughty and how being naughty loved him. He stared into the Yule log and it cracked open his vanity. It stoked him when disaster winked at him. The partygoers could all read his narrative: See the Williams marriage fall apart. Yet, he liked to think of his wife at the end of the party smelling of toothpaste and anti-aging serum curled up in bed next to him, her cold feet between his shins—a hundred white Christmas lights up his spine—so cold they were ready to catch fire.
2. Lemon-Lyme Inn, Lyme, Connecticut, June 19, 3pm
What a piece! He thought of a fortune cookie fortune he might write:
He who attends his boss’ wedding shall yield a thousand cherry blossoms in bounty. An embossed invitation: Welcome to eternal spring and all her goddesses more fruitful than all the blondes in Bendel’s at lunch hour. She—imagination—made permanent. Last night, he had dreamt of her Ledean body rising like the sudden quadrupling of pure cash. What was happening to him? He was psychic gaga over this chick. What narration and consolation to be this unhinged. The certain heaven and life everlasting of the greenback, and now this—five-foot-two-eyes-ofblue. Her daddy on the Fortune 500, that postulation of power. And now the night coming down on him like the pearly gates of her perfect, plump mouth. For this no witchcraft could undo him; he is prepared by all rights, the rights he has been endowed with by Shearson, Lehman, American Express Trust Management. The inner workings of fate have given him this opportunity to jet set himself about her boudoir in randy
boxer shorts made of silk—oh, he hopes. Her tresses and distresses hung out a window to dry in his sun. The mercy of cash accounts. The might of his fixed-up flesh. To breed, finally, to breed his name. Yes, he will be her priest and her vanity. Little kitten draw near, he purrs, the claws of his mind, the vodka tonic of his blood.
3. Border’s Books and Music, Cherry Street, Burlington, Vermont, February 14
She was reading People in Borders and he was looking at a copy of Nascar Today, when he spotted her with her own thermos coffee and thought her audacious. She was dreaming of porcelain veneers and Lasik eye surgery like she had seen on TV. They were talking about it in People and she wondered if she had a boob uplift and foil highlights if she might look like someone important enough to be more than a secretary at a real estate firm where the boss wore his pants too tight in the butt. He wondered why she looked so dreamy—did she have a secret love? Would she love a man disfigured as himself? She was thinking of how her boss might look better with a tummy tuck and Botox and liposuction. Glancing at an article about the President at the Indy, he thought how he himself had always been shy as a Sunday morning with women; he wouldn’t walk up to one now, even in the steamed milk heat of the espresso café. He thought she looked professional in those sheer panty-hose, the way they made her legs glimmer. He thought of pulling them off very carefully; as carefully as he had pulled the pin out of the grenade. Before he lost his hand in Iraq. Before he had seen her, the book of his life open for reading, so high class, yet off the shelf.
4. LaGuardia Airport, July 15, 4pm
He was on his titanium cell phone at gate three of the American Airlines terminal, when she wondered how to get the impolite ticket agent to seat her next to him. Usually she was between the two largest people on the flight; there was no way of saying it nicely. He looked like a guy she wouldn’t have to skirt around the issues with. He was typing something into his laptop and commanding his universe through the thin sheaf of metal at his ear. She was tired of her fiancé’s tenderness. To be with an animal like this guy, someone who wouldn’t let a deal lie fallow. Her wish would be to drop all initiatives into his lap and see him produce it all into a magic orb, all that is possible. Her jet-lag exhaustion unnerved her. Still, she wanted to travel straight into his micromanage
ment through the thin internet cable of possibility. Good fortune had thus eluded her. Tick-tock. She felt it would forever elude Thomas at home with his art auctions and Eighteenth century furnitures and homemade jams. So unlike this man, his sturdy, Italian leather wingtips enduring all marches. Lately, she understood what it meant for one to want to enlist in an army, to be under command. With her wishing, she pressed her sexual everything against his flat screen to deposit there in the gigabytes, to pop open like an advertisement. Just then , his green eyes surveying the world for just the right kind of legs.
5. Intersection of Severance and Blakely, May 15, 6pm
At the Intersection of Severance and Blakely Roads on a mild midday in May, he looked up from the car radio he had just turned to “All Things Considered.” He was playing his usual game in traffic—guessing the names, occupations, and ideals of each car’s driver, depending upon the car they drove. She had come up slowly in the other lane, which had briefly moved like the air after a storm. Then it was bumper to bumper, again, and to her his look was like the release of the flow of traffic once everyone got past the ambulance. She hoped she didn’t have her mouth open—she hated the way that looked. Her beauty made him think of himself—what did he look like, was he too much a geek in his old beat up blue Volvo? Suddenly his conscious ached him like a charley horse— was he really deserving of anything as good as her stares, considering what a cad he’d been to all the secretaries in the Diversity division of the School of Arts and Sciences? He valued human rights right up to the point where the back of the secretary’s shoulder touched his index finger during a demonstration of how to hang the Gay, Lesbian,Bisexual, and Transgender banner in the front office. He thought to turn his head away from her car window, but instead blew a kiss toward her Beemer, but suddenly traffic moved like a sexual release. She passed him in the left lane, her bumper sticker saying “I support our President George W. Bush.” A lifelong Democrat, he thought it odd, but it gave him such a hard-on he later thought of the Viagra commercial that warns to see a doctor if erections last more than four hours. In the morning, he promised himself to email an I SPY into the local arts paper, just in time for Spring, to launch all his most exciting and exotic indelicacies.
6. Chez Lui, Market Street, January 21, 9 pm
At the English department dinner at the French Bistro on Market Street for the Fancy Critic, he went berserk and thought of jacking off in the
leopard skin men’s room. His chubby wife, the department chair, lingered in a circle by the other tenured, while the skinny, buzz-cut lecturers felt sorry for themselves at the other side of the table. The bread was still hot and through the red napkin of the breadbasket a sourness evaporated into the air. By the purple velvet curtain to the door he saw her enter on high-heeled boots, a modern concubine. Her jeans were all sway. Her ass was all splay. The eyes of his wife circled him as if watching a plane land. He would have to remain as calm as a runway. Her boots were gold and glittered like a certain academic pornography he thought charming. In another era, she’d been mistaken for hooker, but he knew that was a thousand dollar coiffure. He knew about coiffure, French things like Derrida. He was a film scholar and wore black throughout the Nineteen-Eighties, and played in improv in college. Mother had left him enough to get by on the interest and he was going to Europe in the Spring by himself. He was going to deliver a paper on Adorno that no one could understand. His wife had gotten very fat by nervously eating Milk Duds as he talked incessantly about Jonathan Cutler and semiotics. But, by the window, an illuminating streetlight became the mystery good boot woman’s aura. She crossed her legs so elegantly she emanated the very phrase Saks Fifth Avenue. When he looked at the gold boots, a lot of gibberish wrapped itself around his mind—his mouth dropped. He pretended to listen to Professor Nobody next to him talk about the Fancy Critic’s conceits and rhetorical positions. When she looked at him from the far corner of her table, her eyes lifting over her Wall Street Journal, he felt his father’s heart attack inside his own heart, inside his own chest. To everyone else he looked disinterested, pompous, maybe even foolish. Three feet away at table 4B he looked extravagant, old school, a crotch to which the top of her lovely golden boot might curve against.
Elizabeth Powell’s first book of poems, The Republic of Self, won the 2000 New Issues First Book Prize, chosen by CK Williams. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, The Green Mountains Review, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. She teaches at the University of Vermont.