and isn't she just first class? (neonafterglow) wrote,
and isn't she just first class?
neonafterglow

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I had to write this a long time ago for my creative writing class, but I thought I'd just post it to see what everyone thinks. Looking back on this it seems a little cheesy, but I still like the driving force behind it, if you will. Yayness.



Whenever Adam left the bedroom, Marnie would try to leave a fingerprint. She would get up from bed when she heard his footsteps echoing down the hall, the soles of his feet pressing firmly into the bamboo flooring. The sheet from the bed tangled around her middle, Marnie would press her fingertip into the pooling wax of the candles he burned on the dresser or the dust that collected on top of the television. She’d leave these little smudges for his wife to find: the same lines and swirls that Marnie pressed against Adam when his wife was away.

She would return to the bed when she heard Adam coming down the hall again, glasses clinking together in his hands. He would always grab a bottle of merlot or pinot noir from the cellar to share with her in bed. Marnie would sip the wine he gave her with her fingers delicately wrapped around the stem, swirl it in her glass, try not to spill it on the sheets wrapped around them. Adam’s wedding ring gleamed in the dim candlelight of the bedroom, but his wife wasn’t going to be home for another two days and Marnie had left her fingerprints around, so she kissed him with a purple-stained mouth and wondered when it would be their bed their candles their wine.

***

They met because he always sat in her section at Monks Wine Lounge, and always came on the nights she worked. He was older, a sort of Paul Newman, with silver shining hair and a smile that wrinkled the corners of his eyes. He liked red wine more than white, and he would point at the flights of cabernet or a trio of wines from South America, tapping the names printed in the menu with his index finger. Marnie took the choices down in looping cursive, her heart racing when he brushed his fingers against hers as he handed the menu back.

He would always sit in the same place, at the table on the wrought iron balcony that hung over the sidewalk of W. 2nd St, every Monday and Thursday night. She began her shift two hours before Adam usually arrived, but Marnie always made sure to check her lipstick with the little mirror she kept in her apron pocket before she stepped onto the balcony. When he ordered she would lean her ear toward him, exposing her bare neck. She hoped her perfume still lingered there, hoped that her quickened heartbeat would invigorate the scent she put on before her shift started. He would lean into her also, his breath stirring the wisps of hair at her temples as the words rolled off his tongue: Beaujolais, cabernet sauvignon, Brunello di Montalcino.

On Adam’s sixth time at Monks, Marnie noticed the wedding ring encircling his finger. The little band of gold made Marnie’s mouth run dry, and she cleared her throat slightly to focus on gathering the glasses from his table.

“You’re married?” she asked. It slipped out, like an animal running for the door, when he smiled his crinkly smile and handed her a wine glass. His fingertips had transferred heat to the glass: the stem was warm to the touch.

His ring was flashing like a siren in the lighting on the balcony, but he quickly waved his hand, dismissing the idea like a fly. “Yes, I am, but I’m working with my lawyer to file for divorce. We’ve just lost that spark…” he said, his hand coming to rest on the curve of Marnie’s hip. She was still balancing his empty glasses on her tray.

Marnie smiled down at him, his hand warming her hip like it had warmed the stem of the wine glass. He kept his hand with the wedding ring on it beneath the table, where the white tablecloth shielded it from Marnie’s view. “I’ve got to take these back,” she said, and turned away from him, the heat from his palm left on her body like a brand.

When she returned he was gone, a crisp $100 bill left in the leather envelope along with his bill, though the total had only been $23.76 with tax. There, on the back of the receipt, Adam had scrawled his full name down with his phone number below it, the number stark black against the white of the paper. Marnie could see him walking across the street below: the ground was littered with autumn leaves, splashes of orange and red on the pavement. “Wait!” she screamed down at him, and he turned his head up to the balcony. She held up a hand, and as fast as she could in pumps, ran down the flight of stairs to meet him in the street.

“What is this?” she said, holding up the $100 bill, Benjamin Franklin staring blankly at her from the oval in the center.

“It’s payment for the bill,” Adam replied, his smile spreading across his face.

“I cannot believe this. I am not some---some prostitute or whatever you think I am, so you can just take this back,” Marnie said, shoving the money towards the center of his chest.
“Prostitute?” Adam laughed, hooking his fingers on the waist of Marnie’s black apron so she was pressed against him, leaning into him. She was sure he could hear her heart beating, it was roaring in her ears. “I was simply paying you for the lovely service you’ve given me over the past couple of weeks,” he grinned, and his crow’s feet crinkled by his eyes, his fingers still looped in the apron tied at her waist. “You don’t think I come just for the wine, do you?”

“I still don’t want that money, though. I don’t need it,” she said, raising her chin. The side view mirror of the BMW caught the headlights of the cars going by them: it was a distraction Marnie tried to focus on.

Adam placed his hands on either side of her waist, his palms resting in the curve between her ribs and the start of her hips, his fingers lined up alongside her spine. She could feel the metal of his wedding ring pressing firmly against her back, the little circle cooler than the rest of his skin. “Tell you what. I’ll take the money back if you let me kiss you,” he said, a smirk pulling up one side of his grin. He beamed like a Cheshire cat.

“Alright…” Marnie said, her breath gone, and he pulled her toward him, completely now, and met her lips with his. She grabbed onto his shoulders, steadying herself, anchoring herself to him with ten fingers. He tasted like cabernet. When he broke the kiss he was grinning, and she wiped a bit of cranberry color from the side of his mouth with the pad of her thumb.

“Bye,” he said, grinning in his Paul Newman way that made Marnie melt even if it was only in her peripheral vision. She walked back into Monks only to be set back into table-four-needs-tapas and 65° merlot, though all she thought of was Adam and his wedding ring and the number burning in her apron pocket.

***

Marnie shuffled the cards in her hands, the thick paper bending willingly underneath her fingers. She bridged the deck, letting them rise and then fall into place like soldiers. Marnie was always comforted by the familiar feel of her tarot cards: the muted color of the drawings on the opposite side, the messages given to her by the major and minor arcana.

The deck had warmed in her palm and was more flexible now: she shuffled them, quickly, the cards flying back into a neat stack, the edges of the old cards bent and rounded. She thought of the wedding ring and split the deck into fourths and took the top from each pile, setting it in a line on her bedspread before her.

What’s at hand: The Hierophant, reversed.

A Pope-like man wears a triple crown between two pillars. He makes a sign of peace with one hand, a scepter in his other. When reversed, expect to make things happen with attention to details. The act shouldn’t mean more than the result.

Past Influences: The Two of Cups.

Two lovers clink cups under the Caduceus of Hermes. Represents interrelation of the sexes. Don’t buy into social pressure.

Ponder this: The Three of Swords.

Three swords pierce a heart. Expect disruption, a removal, division. You have misinterpreted someone’s intentions.

Future Influence: The Hermit.

A man stands alone, head bowed. Break a habit. Get out of your rut. Break off ties you don’t need. Don’t let yourself get stuck with others’ expectations.

The phone rang, sharp and robotic sounding, and it drew Marnie out of her daze. She left the cards in formation. She cleared her throat and held the receiver up to her ear, laying back on her bed.

Bonjour, mon petit soleil!” Her mother’s voice rang out, French accent round at the edges. Her mother’s voice made Marnie immediately think of tending the garden together, out in the sun, the soil warm and moist and underneath her fingernails.

Bonjour, mama,” Marnie said, closing her eyes. “How’re you?”

“Good, good. Trying to get your father to stop working and just retire. We’ve got enough money, I tell him, but no. He’s addicted to the bureau. I even made murukkus to try to convince him to stop. Didn’t work, though, you know your father. But how’re things with you, hummingbird? Found a homme yet?”

Marnie stopped, placed her fingers on the smooth surface of her tarot cards. She opened her mouth to say something about Adam, but no words came out. She saw the gleaming golden band on the insides of her eyelids, imprinted there. She saw the ring even in her sleep. She didn’t know how she would explain to her mother that she was the other woman, the home wrecker. “No, not yet, mama. I’m working on it, though.” She heard her mother sigh on the other side of the phone. It made Marnie’s lip tremble.

“I want grandchildren, Marnie, before I pass. Your father does too,” Marnie heard her mother cover up the mouthpiece of the receiver for a split second, heard muffled voices in the background. “Your papa says he’s got enough money for a full, traditional wedding, too. All saved up.”

“No pressure, huh mama? Oh, shit,” she said, and hurried to finish her sentence before her mother could scold her for her dirty mouth, “I’ve got a shift in a half-hour and I’m not ready yet. Give my love to dad, mama. Talk to you soon.”

The phone felt dead in her hand with no one on the other end, the weight of the plastic unexpectedly heavy.

***

When his wife was out of town doing her photography work, he’d call Marnie and tell her to come over to his house, all the way over on the other side of town. He made her park down the street, never in front of the house where the neighbors could see her ’99 Jetta. She would knock quietly on the door until he answered, never feeling bold enough to push the door open herself, even though she’d been going there for five months. It felt odd to be in his house, the house where she’d spent so much time with Adam, with pictures of him and his wife plastered on the walls, covering the mantle, gathering dust on the end tables. They were kissing at their old house in Napa Valley where Adam owned his first vineyard; they were feeding each other cake, her veil cascading down her back; they were skiing together in Tahoe, snow glistening like sugar.

“You don’t seem like you’re divorcing her,” Marnie said one night, after they’d had a fight and too much wine from the cellar below them. She pointed a quivering hand at the pictures of him and his wife in their wedding clothes on the bedside table. Adam’s hair, in the photograph, was light brown. It had been twenty years ago.

“I am. I am. I’m working things out with my lawyer right now… Things are complicated. It’s not easy to just end a marriage,” Adam said, slipping his boxers on and standing beside the bed, his lips pursed. His eyes had a sort of wine-drunk sleepiness, the sharpness in them gone.

“I’m sick of this. Have you even told her that you want a divorce? I thought—” Marnie could hear her voice rising, the tone of it raising an octave. It had been far too long for the divorce to still be in the works. She felt cheap, used. Tears burned at the corners of her eyes: she wouldn’t let them fall over, wouldn’t let her makeup run or her face redden. She closed her fists tight, focused on breathing slowly and smoothly. She wanted a wedding, wanted her mother and father to be there, eyes shimmering with tears. Marnie wanted a traditional Indian wedding, in honor of her father, with marigold petals showered in her hair and henna painted delicately on the palms of her hands. She didn’t think Adam would want the same.

“I am working on it. Drop it, alright? Things are fine right now, why would you want to change them?”

“Fine? Fine? I have to sneak around! Park in the garage! Make sure I never leave my bras here, my underwear. I don’t want to be your mistress anymore. What happened to the divorce?” Marnie put her hands up to her eyes, covering them, trying to calm herself down. “I’m just tired of seeing that ring on your finger. It wears me out. Makes me feel dirty.”

“It’s all in the works,” he whispered, pulling her hands away from her eyes and holding them down, hostage. “And I’ll marry you after it’s all done with. Promise.”

Marnie nodded, though she could still see the pictures surrounding them, the pictures his wife took.

***

Sometimes she had to wear turtlenecks to cover up the marks he gave her, purplish-red like the wine she served him on Mondays and Thursdays. Adam would still sit on the balcony, even now when winter had begun. Their breath would rise in little puffs, hanging over them like the gleam of his wedding ring. He would kiss her, delicately, out on the wrought iron balcony with the people streaming below them, Christmas lights glittering in the puddles on the street. But as soon as someone would pass by inside the restaurant, or the waiter would come with Adam’s tray of brie and apples, he would drop her like a penny and wipe his mouth with the back of his hand.

That was the problem. She could always have marks on her: bruises from his mouth dotted her neck and her collarbones, marring the delicate skin. He never could have marks on him. He’d make her take off her cranberry lipstick now, saying how it stained the collars of his shirts and his mouth. Marnie wanted the deep red streaks on the starched white of his collar, wanted his wife to find them when she was doing the wash. But now, Adam made her rinse it off before they kissed, before she even had a chance to mark her territory.

When his wife was gone, Marnie would sneak into the master bath and leave one or two hairs on the surface of the counter, or change around how his wife’s makeup was arranged. Just little changes, like where the eyeliner was placed in the drawer, or moving the lipsticks all up, the waxy putty jamming against the tops of their cases. Marnie just wanted her to know, just wanted her to sign the divorce papers so then she’d be able to have a ring around her finger too.

That night, over tilapia and sauvignon blanc, Adam asked her if she’d ever gone to college. Marnie had: she graduated from UCLA with a degree in Anthropology. She said she framed it and hung it up in the office in her apartment.

“Why are you working at Monks, then?” Adam asked, the sharpness in his voice apparent. It was true: Marnie was verging on twenty-eight.

She bristled a bit at his comment, “I’m just stuck in a rut, that’s all.” She stabbed at her fish with her fork, took a tiny sip of wine, the bitterness mimicking Adam's expression and the hollowness she felt in discussing this particular aspect of her life. “I just… Monks is there, and it’s not like I need anything else to get by.”

Adam frowned, and for the first time, Marnie thought he looked old, his wrinkles dark and deep in the candlelight. “You’re just settling, then?”

“It’s not like I’m going to be working at Monks forever, okay? You sound exactly like my mother,” Marnie said, pushing her hair behind her ears. “I’ll get out of there eventually, do something with my degree. Now’s just not the time. Maybe after we get married things’ll work themselves out.”

Adam didn’t look up from his dinner. “Maybe you should listen to your mother. Get your life together.” He sipped his wine, swirling it in his glass, the golden liquid nearly slopping onto his shirt. “This has got a very grassy undertone, don’t you think? Very dry.”

Marnie put her fork down, watched his nostrils widen and narrow as he smelled the sauvignon. “There are other things to discuss besides wine,” her tone was sharp.

“No, not tonight. Tonight is about wine,” he said, and laughed, his eyes crinkling, though Marnie saw none of the Paul Newman resemblance that had made her fall for him in the first place.

***

One night, when the moon was obscured with gray clouds, the sky patchy, Adam knocked on Marnie’s door. It was only the third time he’s come to her apartment, and when she saw his silver gray hair through the peephole in her door, she hurriedly kicked the dirty clothes strewn around her floor into the corner by the potted plant.

“Hey,” she said, her head cocked to the side as she opened the door. She kept her body in the crack of the door, but Adam pushed through. His eyes were red-rimmed, his hair mussed, his tie sloppily undone. “What’s wrong?”

“She’s gone and divorced me. Divorced me. Turns out she’d been having an affair for a whole goddamn year. What a slu—”

“A slut? What does that make me?” Marnie asked, eyebrows furrowed together, arms crossed in front of her chest.

“Nothing, nothing. I just can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it…” Adam ran his hands through his hair: his hands were shaking.

“You’ve had too much wine, Adam,” Marnie said, pushing him into a chair she got from the dining room table. “Well, did you sign the papers? Is it final?” He was still wearing his ring; she’d never seen him without it.

“Yes, I signed them. I just—”

Marnie grinned, a smile spreading across her face, “You did? It’s over?” She pressed her lips against his. “Now you can take that stupid ring off, Adam. Throw it in the garbage disposal or something.” She slid the ring off his finger and threw it across the room; it hit the drywall on the other side with a satisfying thunk. It lay on the floor, catching the gleam from the lamp dimly, nestled in the carpet. Adam's eyes were wide and unseeing, a knot in his throat bobbing up and down.

***

Marnie sat in the empty house, the bamboo floors cold and unforgiving on her bare feet. It was weird being there without Adam, she hadn’t quite gotten used to it. The pictures on the walls of Adam and his ex-wife had been replaced by paintings Marnie had bought or pictures she’d taken on her trips to India, Switzerland, France. She cooked in the kitchen, left her bras around, dusted the places where she’d left her fingerprints before. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t quite get the feeling of Adam’s wife out of the building: it was like she had seeped into the ways, permeated them.

But now, Marnie had a homme to tell her mother about, and a platinum engagement ring that glittered when she took orders at Monks. Her mother could never know that she was the other woman--that this had all begun months ago when Adam lived in the house she lived in now, slept in the same bed with someone else. Her mother’s heart would break, and Marnie could never do that. She was going to get her Indian wedding, her henna, her coq au vin at the reception with champagne foaming over onto white tableclothes. That’s all she needed to get out of her rut.

Adam was always out late, saying he had meetings with the managers in Napa or with merchants importing his wine to France. One night, he came home smelling like Chanel. The next, she found a red stain on his white collared shirt.

Marnie sighed, pouring herself a glass of wine. She was alone in the house again. She didn’t know why she expected anything different.

Tags: story, tarot
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