River House Home - Refrigerator
"Less than This " by Vanessa Wells
Less than This
He put his hand between her shoulder blades. He could feel her breathing. Quick, short breaths. Fingers dance up her neck to her hair. In the little house by the sea.
“Honey, do you need a ride to Avis in the morning?” My wife, Madeline yelled up the stairs.
“Yeah, babe. Can you take me to Hertz though? They’re running a deal.” I called back.
When I walked in the kitchen, she was spooning mashed potatoes onto two glass plates she had just bought that were blue and shaped like seahorses. A halo of lamp light fell over the island where she worked.
“Smells good. Is it Mahi?”
“Nope, halibut steamed with a little bit of dill and garlic and a couple slices of butter.”
“Sounds good. Can I set the table?” It had been a week of my best behavior.
“Sure.” Her smile was timid.
We sat down at the table.
“It’s going to be so lonely here without you.” She said to me in a syrupy voice.
“It’s only a month, Madeline. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Her lips turned up a little and I felt guilty. We had only been married seven months. But I knew I had to go. After dinner I cleaned up the kitchen and settled in the den with Madeline.
As I sat down next to her, I pulled the small box from my pocket and handed it to her. Her cheeks reddened as she looked up at me. She opened the box and gazed at the necklace. Clasped to the necklace was a small egg made of white gold.
Madeline wrapped her arms around me and kissed my nose first, then my mouth, then my neck. I hugged her back.
I felt giddy, not because of my wife’s embrace but because of where I would be that exact time the next night. I would be with Eva in Jacksonville for an entire month.
I fell asleep on the couch and woke up sometime around three in the morning. I tossed and turned, pulling the blanket up to my eyes trying to fall back asleep. I tried imagining Eva and what she looked like the last time I saw her. I thought of every curve and every line, what she did with her hands when she laughed. Usually that image would drift me back to sleep. That particular night though, it filled me with immediate anticipation and I was in the shower by three forty-five. I left Madeline a note and called a cab that took me to Hertz. I left Atlanta. On my way to Eva.
Opening the door, green silk cascaded down to her elbows and knees. My eyes burned from lack of sleep. The dim beach cottage was welcome respite from the bright sunlight. Eva had a single window in her place and she kept it covered with a black linen sarong. I stepped inside and she closed the door behind me.
Candlelight poured out of every corner of the single room house. She didn’t say anything. She grabbed me. Held my spirit with her tongue, drank me sufficient quick quiet left me sprawled on the floor mats panting like a thirteen year old boy who just discovered the art of masturbation. Tiny eggs made of white gold flickered like liquid all around.
I woke up in the same position at three in the afternoon the next day.
“Quentin, I’m going out for awhile. There may be some pasta in the cupboard and maybe some fruit. I think there is a mango in there that I bought last week, if you are hungry.”
Eva kissed my forehead and left the shack letting the screen door bang behind her. The open door filtered hot sunlight and the scent of magnolias filled the room. I was covered in four thousand flowers as I looked around the room seeking the eleven months of Eva I would never know. Looking at her photographs around the room sent waves of regret and elation through my skin. Eva was seventeen years older than me. I looked at an old photograph of us at the pier. She must have been my age then and I couldn’t have been twenty.
I went for a swim. In the surf, I could feel every ounce of me alive. I had been looking forward to this. Even at my wedding, I spent every unoccupied moment thinking of Eva. If Madeline knew it would probably destroy her. But then maybe not. Girls like Madeline drink cosmos, drive convertibles, and settle for Mr. Wrongs so they can send out ivory wedding invitations embossed in baby blue to other women they talk about when you get them drunk. She would bounce back. I shook off thoughts of Madeline and dove into a wave. As the sun set, Eva returned and walked along the shore until she saw me. She swam out.
Grabbing Eva, I pulled her underwater. We swam inside and out of each other’s skin. Sand and bubbles a tiny crab pinched my toe as I watched the moon rise as Eva’s heart exploded one thousand and four times. This time she laid limp and soaking wrapped in my arms as twelve eggs floated in the blue and twilight around us.
Seven days later, small white gold eggs lined the tops of picture frames and decorated the old trunk that served as a coffee table. Each one lay on a small pillow of grey silk. Each time she finished with man, whether me or any of her lovers, she washed each egg in salt water and then soaked them in lavender oil. She dried them with fine linen and gave them one drop of tea-tree oil a piece. Finally, she laid each on its silk.
I hunched over the little stove stirring powdered cheese into the macaroni. I had spent almost three weeks working from my laptop and living in the little beach house with Eva. My wife called every evening to say good night and ask how the writing was going. This year it was easy to lie to her but what about next? And the year after? I didn’t like lying to my wife but I knew I would always spend my Mays with Eva. I had spent every May with her since I was sixteen.
“I supposed I’ll ask.” Eva smoked a cigarette. “How is it being married?”
“I ‘spose it’s good. Madeline is a good woman.” I replied. Not now Eva not her only you a month of you…
Handing her a bowl of macaroni I settled down next to her, took the cigarette from her lips and finished it.
“What about you, Eva? Have the last eleven months been miserable without me?” I grinned trying to leave the subject of my marriage.
“As miserable as can be living steps from the ocean.”
“I envy you. You love your life.”
As I collected the empty bowls, I could feel Eva’s eyes on me.
“You are getting a bit round around the middle, Quentin.” She teased.
“My weight is up a little. You still love me though.” I turned around.
“Course.” She lit a cigarette. “I wouldn’t have married you though; you’re too young for me.” She was being coy. I hate coy.
“I would leave her. For you. I will stay here and give her the house and live in this place forever, Eva.”
“That will never work. This is what we have, what we’ll always have. Nothing less,” she stood behind me now with her arms wrapped around me.
“Never anything more,” I replied.
“You are very right, Quentin. Madeline is your existence and I am your life. That’s the way I like it and that’s the way I will keep it.”
Later that night, lying together in the tin bathtub next to the stove, as I washed her, I pressed my fingertips into her inner thigh and noticed the skin wasn’t as soft as the year before. It seemed to pause as if it were trying to remember something. A shudder ran through me. My mouth went dry and something started buzzing in my ears. Her leg submerged and the feeling dissipated.
I pressed between her legs feeling every wrinkle. Soon, I felt it. Hot and fluid at first and as I pushed farther into her, solid complete cool as I slipped out. It slipped out after. And another. And one more. Then the last. Four glistening eggs of white gold floated in the water. We held each other in the darkness for awhile. She rose to complete her ceremony and I went to bed.
“Sleep well, Eva.”
My sneakers crunched the sand. The back of my neck tingled as the sun rose over the ocean. I was in Hannah Park when I decided to turn around. I thought of the way Madeline kissed my shoulder every morning. I kept running trying to keep the image of her flannel pajamas out of my brain.
“How was your run this morning?”
Fanning away the heat, Eva sat on the front porch.
“Nice. Hotter toward the end.” I picked a tangelo and began to peel the skin. “What do you think about heading to Gallagher’s tonight?”
“Sounds great. They have a fantastic new bartender named Shelly and that man you like is playing. What is his name? Fin something? Cander?
“His name’s Eoin Cander. Let’s go, it’ll be fun.”
I tossed the peels in the side yard and went in to take a bath.
Later that night, we walked to the Irish pub, Gallagher’s. Eva wore a long skirt, a sequined tank top and a blue hair band. Her lips were painted pink and I noticed clumps of make up on her eyelids.
“Order me a drink, love. I am going to use the little girl’s room.
I didn’t order any drinks. I followed Eva into the ladies bathroom. There was a lock on the knob. I turned the lock and lifted her skirt. We both spent minutes focused on satisfying one another.
We waited. Nothing. Not a fleck.
I stood awkwardly in the tiny stall that had a stench I hadn’t noticed before. My eyes moved past Eva’s mop of gray and on the empty wisdoms etched in the dirty green walls. “Davis is a lousy lay.” “Michelle loves to suck”—
“It’s never happened like that. Quentin…” eva’s small voice trailed off.
I saw an old lady. With wrinkles and gaps of age around her teeth. Gums too red. Breasts that didn’t seem to settle in her tank top.
“I’ve got to take a leak.”
Clutching her purse, Eva headed back to the bar. I left the women’s bathroom and went into the men’s.
I stood over the sink for ten minutes. Splashed cool water on my face, the back of my neck, let it run down my throat. Clean. The stench assaulted my nose. My head was a bubble in a haze.
Down the dingy hallway, I caught glimpse of her. She took my breath. Not like the thousands of encounters we had experienced since my sixteenth birthday, when her son Ronnie gave me surf lessons and she invited me inside for lemonade. Not like every single May of my adult life. She was an old lady hunched over a bar stool in a smoky pub drinking a manhattan and smoking a cigarette. She was yellow.
Chills began at the base of my spine and ran in every direction from there. Eva raised her head. Timid like Madeline, only more so. She seemed meek, smaller, bonier.
“Quentin, love, I’ve ordered you…”
I walked past her and left the bar.