Conjunctions:48 Faces of Desire

Two Stories
The following appears with another Ducornet story in Conjunctions:48.

There are many reasons why I offer myself—in a manner of speaking—to a staggering number of young men, all Japanese. The divorce above all; the divorce that has so thoroughly exhausted me and, what’s worse, marked me with a chronic look of irritation so like Mother’s.
     Naked beneath someone else’s sheets, fogged in sorrow’s exhalations, I lie in silence, having made a vow despite my compulsion—Trixie would say my weakness—to demonstrate to those in my service that I am a democrat, a good sport—who never farts higher than her ass. I can, when I choose, banter with hairdressers, beauticians, waiters, and so forth, with genial wit and what is sometimes erroneously perceived as compassion. But not today. I am not here to entertain. I am here so that they will wipe that nasty look off my face.
     Mother and I are not “two peas in a pod”—although Rolph insists that this is so. I blame my current decrescendo on his mistake. And trust that the new Mrs. Rolph—whose current face is as bare of irritation as a new sink—will, like me, land up under a sheet sooner or later. (In this way a spa is very like the morgue.) 
     The spa’s regimen features roots, pernicious thimblefuls of raw clam juice, and a bitter tea. Purged of one’s terrible secrets, one is tossed into a miserable hut and thrashed. According to the celebrated doctor who rules this roost, a thrashing is just what the female deserves. And needs—if she is to be stricken of the mother’s hostility, the father’s ineptitude. To be released from the family’s burden of inevitable crimes. And there are felted rooms where one may give vent to jealous rage by slapping or stomping on a life-sized doll of wax, a beautiful doll—more beautiful, in fact, than our most hated rivals. Here one may commit lamentable acts either in privacy or among strangers, each one more repulsive than the next: hatchet faced, spindle shanked, squabbish, sore as crabs, starved—some howling or bellowing at the doll, others kicking it in the groin, this one rolling on the floor and humiliating herself at the doll’s feet, that one totally unhinged, jumping down its throat and snapping off its head.
     I understand the Doctor’s rigorous bitterness. Like Daddy, he too suffered a ruinous divorce. It is the spa’s success that has put him back on his feet. The book tours, the lecture series on PBS, the antioxidants marketed in pretty blue-glass bottles. Unlike Daddy and despite the requisite bloodletting, the good doctor is still thrashing. He has remarried, and the witty luxuries provided here are the indication of his ambivalence. After the thrashings, the rantings, the virtual murders, one is invited to soak in a tub brimming with warm cherry pie filling.


 



Mother has met the good doctor numerous times. Years ago, before she began to seriously grind her teeth and to sag irretrievably, the tabloids hinted at a romance. If pressed, Trixie will gleefully enumerate the Doctor’s many faults. She claims he is covered with hair—the sorry outcome of misguided self-medication. This, she says, is why he wears gloves, both inside and out, no matter the weather. But I have caught sight of him floating past in his white smocks and waffle-soled sneakers, and find his features agreeable. Like Rolph’s in the months leading up to the marriage, the Doctor’s expression is hopeful. This touches me, for despite my upbringing, I have never fully embraced Trixie’s fine skepticism, a brutal skepticism honed on Daddy’s irrelevance. (But for cash, Daddy’s place in our world was always obscure.) Yet, as a girl, when I saw Trixie’s face frozen in the custard of censoriousness, I cringed. However, having learned from Daddy’s repeated breaches of propriety that a husband is not to be taken seriously, I began to, and under Trixie’s guidance, give Rolph “the works.” Nothing, I told him, comes for free. A successful marriage, I was always eager to explain, is run like a successful business: the wife takes in more than she gives out. Buoyant with certitude, I was ill prepared when he eclipsed with the other woman to a place difficult to reach—New Zealand! A lawless place given over to eccentricities I was brought up to mightily distrust.
     But back to Mother. It must be said that Trixie suffers a curious contradiction of character. She is a moralist who uncovers the shameful wherever she pokes her abridged nose and, at the same time, she is a materialist who insists that anything human—anger above all—is natural. Her own mightily disagreeable nature, for example, her uninhibited complaints and vicious teasing, are all spontaneous, clever, and good. Yet the tempers of others leave them open to character assassination. In this way my mother demonstrates a callous disregard for the right of others to practice what she has, in the dark recesses of her heart, perfected.
     I do not follow in Trixie’s footsteps, not exactly, still ... Our marriage, Rolph’s and mine, was, as Trixie hastens to remind me, run on my terms. Of this I should be proud. As has been the divorce. Of this I should be pleased. In the words of my lawyer, the divorced husband is but broken meat and chaff. My bitterness is therefore unreasonable, as is the nagging fear—even as I soak in a tub of pie filling—that I have fucked up. And yet ... here’s the thing: should Rolph appear before me this instant in his dapper straw boater and yellow suit saying, “Damn it, Tootsie! Let’s pick up where we left off!” I would be unable to articulate the word yes. I would be unable to smile. This is the problem in a nutshell. Although I have spent many hours before the mirror willing my face back into vitality, it remains hideously entangled.
     Strange to tell it, I was once—and not very long ago, either—lovely to see. Youth accounted for it, and the fact that I embodied a moment. I looked remarkable in chinchilla shrugs and artfully shredded suede. I glowed in the sugary haze of an elusive ideal. Even my perpetual irritation, so like Mother’s, was considered stylish. And my murderous laughter, a razor rending the air—it, too, was very much appreciated.

Rikki Ducornet is a graduate of Bard College and a novelist. She is the author of Brightfellow, Netsuki and the essay collection The Deep Zoo (all Coffee House).