Chapter Seven — Marriage
When I woke in the morning, we were stretched out side by side in my narrow bed, holding hands, the marble knight and his lady atop the tomb. Shouldering each other aside the better to spring into the afterlife. In the morning light I could give his beautiful body the attention it deserved, tracing with my fingers the snail tracks of my own slime. So sharp, so hairless, so spare; all bone, like the curve of a boat. So glad he was still beside me, proving it hadn’t been wishful dreaming. I know it’s traditional for the male to skulk away unless awakening on his own terrain: then it’s her turn. It’s a skulking race; last cadet through the door gets punished. Glad we didn’t have to play that game.
I needed to see just how he’d act to adjust my own grip on reality. Trevor usually has a firm attachment to the stuff. Had we become surgically sealed conjoined twins, pasted romantically together; or could I unstick myself and make it to the bathroom? I found it easier to wake him up.
“Go to the bathroom for me,” I moaned.
“Are you awake?” His hand tightened on my thigh as if to prevent escape, but he spoke guiltily; a sentry accused of leaving his post. Sleep was a crime. He sat up so fast he tore a hole out of my side.
I had other questions. “What time is it?”
“Seven. But there’s no court today.”
He fell back, remembering. Our hips barely fit on the narrow bed; easier if I twist sideways; pulling myself out of the frame. His eyes searched out the absent pack of Camels. I raged inwardly at the notorious distancing technique.
“You regret it,” I accused. It was my fault; I hate having no escape hatch. Never enter a room that hasn’t at least two doors. Says Oz.
But Trevor gifted me with the rarest Trevor smile, years falling away to the unselfconscious glee of childhood. What a different face he had then! Nobody meeting him now would recognize him. He maneuvered an arm behind my shoulders and drew me to him.
“Au contraire,” he asserted. “I’ll never be sorry again.”
Glad, glad, glad. Guilt is sick-making, a most unpleasant feeling. I’ve gotten this far pretty much guilt-free; relief to return to the edenic state. Trevor tells me what I should worry about. I mean, it’s not like we’re related or anything.
“Don’t squeeze,” I said. “I have to pee.”
He ripped off the sheet so fast my breath went with it; he tossed it to the farthest corner. Suddenly the room was just a bed full of naked people.
I clambered awkwardly over, as he doubtless wanted, sensible of his perusal.
“Don’t ever wax your beautiful pink fur,” he chastised.
“What? Not even in bikini season?”
Crazy talk. I’m not going to the beach looking like a radioactive gorilla for him or any man.
“It’s such an astonishing color,” he said. “No painter could do it justice. It’s like a sunset.” He corrected himself. “Maybe Raphael.”
He followed me into the bathroom. I tried to close the door on him.
“Amscray.” I share this antiqued white emporium and its massive Victorian fixtures with Shelley. She could show up any time.
“Oh, relax,” he said, striding to the mirror, “I won’t peek.” Sniffing, commented, “I smell like a girl,” and grabbed my washcloth.
There’s a fair amount of “clothes-optional” casualness at our end of the house – Oz calls it “the nude beach” but we don’t usually pee in front of each other. But you know what men are like. Whip it out at any opportunity.
Handy thing to take to a picnic, as the old lady said. Fortunately Trevor made so much noise splashing water over his head and shoulders that I was able to go.
“This is a horrible bathroom,” he said, flicking me away from the toilet with his wet towel. “Hasn’t been updated since the nineties. And I don’t mean the nineteen-nineties.”
He was at least well behaved enough to lift the toilet seat up and to put it back down again.
“I thought you only liked houses where everything is original,” I challenged.
Oz rhapsodized routinely about the majesty of Vermillion; it hadn’t been ruined (the last owners were too poor.) He liked showing off the spur marks of British soldiers on the wide wooden floor boards; the diamond scratchings on the mullioned kitchen windows, the fact that the logs holding up the whole thing up in the basement still wore bark. Think of it! Three hundred year-old bark full of three-hundred year old worms.
“One is deserving of a decent style of comfort,” said Trevor. “Without submitting to brick-face and shag.”
He means kitchens and bathrooms with all the latest gizmos. Skylar’s bathroom had been redone at least twice in memory, Jake’s and Trevor’s once. Skylar needed a Jacuzzi because she played hockey and Jake and Trevor needed one because men don’t know how to clean themselves. And Jake is at constant risk of sex injuries. I almost gave him some.
“I like old things,” I said. I have a magnificent Victorian claw footed tub with its own copper boiler.
“What’s that, guvnor?” said Trevor. “Can’t hear you through your tongue stud.”
There’s the old Trevor. Miming the swollen-lipped, twisted-tongue diction of the deaf mute and pretending that it’s me. Throwing in a cockney accent for no reason at all. When in fact it’s a point of pride with me that no one can tell about my piercing. Not by ear.
When he returned to the bedroom I was trying to squirm my way into a t-shirt. He put a hand out to stop me.
“What are you doing? Don’t.”
“I thought I’d get us some breakfast,” I said. “Aren’t you hungry?”
“Yes,” he told me, “But not for food.”
Before breakfast would come again, so would I, and many times. He was kissing my neck now; erecting all the tiny hairs and making them sway to his baton like an orchestra conductor.
Afterwards we subsided blissfully against our sticky sheets, stickier even than the hottest Virginia summer when koi boiled in the pond. He lay between my legs, stroking my glistening pudenda.
“I don’t think you should ever get dressed again,” he said.
Uh oh. Don’t like the sound of that.
“You’re right,” I teased. “If I show up naked in court, of course they’ll Oz go. Why didn’t we think of this before?”
He sighed as he rolled over. “You’re such a buzz-kill.”
“Well, I hate it when you act like I’m your prisoner.”
“Who ever acts like that? I’m your prisoner.”
“No, sir!” I saluted him. “I insist on surrendering to you, sir!”
He jostled me, laughing. “I haven’t left my senses, if that’s what’s worrying you. I’m trying to leave something on the plate for the other guests. I know you’ll get married someday.”
I pulled back haughtily. “Poets don’t get married.”
“They do. Again and again. And when you do…I’ll give you away.”
All this sex was making me giddy. I mock-gasped, “You’ll tell?”
No shaking his seriousness.
“I mean I’ll be there for you. I want you to know, I’ll never stand in your way. This is about what you want. What you need. I’m not going to let this…” sifting pink fur through his fingers…” ruin your life.”
Sex ruins people’s lives? Lament of the deflowered. No more flower. All gone.
“I knew it,” I said. “I knew you wouldn’t respect me in the morning.”
He seemed not to recognize my teasing.
“Not true.” He flew up against me, chest to chest, a man in the bed where only boys had been. “You can’t help but worry this will change our relationship and I’m trying to tell you, nothing ever can. You’re not just safe with me, you’re invulnerable. Nothing can touch you. Solemn promise.”
Strange Jesuitical rationales. Everything had changed forever and only a dummy wouldn’t see it.
“I trust you utterly,” I harrumphed. “When do we eat?”
“In a minute. I need you to write to Sunstroke U.”
A little creepy, don’t you think? He’s so determined! Brings out the bull headedness in me.
“I don’t have a computer,” I balked. “The police took them all.”
Oz said Lenny Bruce died from an overdose of police. I could see what he meant. I’m surprised Homeland Security didn’t get involved. They took Oz’s Koran, a personal present from His Majesty Moulay Hassan Deux, King of Morocco, plus the priceless eighteenth century de Sade annotated by the Scary General himself. If we ever get it back it’ll be covered in day-glo fingerprint powder and human yum-yum juice. Oz says that to the cops sex itself is a crime scene.
“You’ll be needing a laptop anyway,” Trevor told me, “And probably a car. You and Shelley can use it while you’re here, and then when you go to college, you can take it with you.”
I was impressed. He wouldn’t give Fayette a friendship bracelet and I was getting a laptop and a car after one night’s tumble! Of course as head of the family he’s supposed to take care of me, but it did feel kind of uncomfortable getting all these things after sex. Although honestly, the perfume I got before. Did it make a difference that I hadn’t asked for them?
“What if Oz isn’t acquitted?”
I whispered this forbidden worst-case scenario. Because then we wouldn’t get Colleen’s estate.
“I swear to you he will be,” Trevor said confidently. “He’s innocent.”
Glorious having the kitchen to ourselves for a long, leisurely breakfast. We made eggs, bacon and toast; Trevor fried tomatoes; a heart-stopping feast. Unlike Trevor, I leave nothing on my plate for the next person. Fuck ‘em, I say. Besides, I usually am the next person, and as I think I said before, I am uncommonly hungry.
“Oh I’m going to be a fat little poetess,” I hummed, blissing out. “Completely spherical.”
“Greed is a great quality in sex,” said Trevor. “Don’t lose it. Now that I’ve finally experienced someone who has it besides me, I have to say it seems essential.”
Another peek into a different Trevor.
“So…. how long have you thought about doing… what we did?”
He shrugged. “Forever. I used to pretend Fayette was you.”
“Really,” I was amazed. I felt almost sorry for that bitch Fayette. I wonder if he told her he keeps that Arthur Rackham print beside his bed because the redheaded sprite looks just like me.
“I bet you say that to all the girls.”
He closed his eyes, the better to reminisce.
“There was one day in the swimming pool that I especially remember. The first time you wore a thong. You were thirteen. I was nineteen.”
I remembered too.
“The pink bikini,” I said. “I never did get up the nerve to wear it away from home.”
Never did. Buttocks are just too problematic, and in looking over my shoulder into the mirror, I thought I spied some extra pairs. I recall noticing Trevor noticing me, and it gave me confidence, especially coming from his hard athleticism. I recall his chest hypnotically shiny with the water streaming down it. We were both in slow motion, then. He seemed like a grown up man, diving and diving. It occurred to me now that he was showing off. Showing off for me.
“You didn’t do anything about it.”
“Who says?” He sighed. “I ravished some poor unsuspecting girl.”
And I knew who she was! Betsy Urquhart. In the pool house, while I listened. I had been jealous of her too, because she had real breasts with little pointy ends to snare Trevor’s full attention. What if I drowned without him there? His hands were all over her; she glistened like a mermaid.
“Not that she was any competition for you,” Trevor finished.
“Do you think she knew?”
“Probably could tell something was off. But it always is at that age. Take it from me, the teens is a desert to crawl through. Emerge alive on the other side and it’s a miracle.”
“Thanks for telling me,” I said. “I have two years to go.”
“I was thinking about men,” he said, then, because of Jake, “Sentient men. God only knows what girls go through.”
I wasn’t willing to let him off this delicious hook.
“I don’t believe you really felt that way about me.”
But he was thoughtful. Remembering.
“They could always tell I was pining for somebody,” he recalled thoughtfully. “Alexa used to tease me about “the one that got away.” Fayette called me “The Man Who Wasn’t There.”
Alexa…what was her last name? She was an import he met at a Washington youth leadership conference and took to the Napier senior prom. Colleen gave her Skylar’s room to dress in; I discovered the erotic thrill of voyeurism as I spied her preparations. Men should realize that when women anoint their bodies they’re imagining other hands, so dressing is an act of masturbation.
Alexa too was my exact opposite …tall, calm, soignée. Watching I became frecklier, stubbier and snottier. What sane person would trade that goddess for a dappled, scruffy little tagalong?
But even if Trevor was rewriting his own past, maybe we have to, since life is only understood backward.
After breakfast it was up to the Children’s Attic to drag down the Christmas decorations. It’s called the Children’s Attic because it can only be reached by the sort of miniature door usually encountered in fairy tales. I guess in the old days servants were a race of miniature people, probably growing more and more stunted through abuse and starvation until extincted, like pygmies. Poor Colleen complained about their absence. She ended did most of the work herself.
Vermillion is a cool old house, no question. Living in the midst of all that history is wonderful and we’re all very fortunate, yada, yada, yada. But when Trevor got the termite bill I thought he was having a coronary. At twenty-five! Let’s face it, at least a third of the rooms are unlivable at any given time, and when it finally dawns on you how expensive historically-certified non-leading plasterers, beveled glass restorers and boutique carpenters are, drywall and vinyl siding start to sound pretty good.
When I was growing up, the thing I liked most about living here was that it never mattered what the weather was like. Plenty of places to play out of sight of the grownups. Those dynamics of interior play – (The French Resistance versus the Columbian Guerillas; the Stupids versus the Smarts) — stand us in good stead now when we can’t step out of doors without seeing statues sporting telephoto lenses. Not the effect Colleen was going for.
It also meant that if you ever needed to be really alone, it was easy enough to arrange, although I must say Trevor showed a psychic ability to locate me when he needed to. Big Brother Global Positioning. Still, he would retreat when I yelled, and he never gave my hiding place away.
I’m ready to move on. It’s not like it’s some ancestral estate. We’ve only lived here fourteen years. There are other cool places in the world – such as the rafters of Paris or the dockside of San Francisco. I don’t mention these heresies to Oz, or even Trevor. They both act like a pair of vampires forced to seek the magic dirt every evening. Masculine blindness is akin to gambling; when the stakes keep doubling, they only want it more.
We sent the decorations down in the dumbwaiter that used to be my favorite hiding place (I was the only one who could fit inside) and suggested trying Oz’s recipe for Tom and Jerries but Shelley said we’d get salmonella. Neither of the Stupids were any fun. Jake said an international murder trial is an ideal opportunity to throw out all the crappy homemade ornaments from our childhood and buy less shame-making things. I think the whole point of Christmas tree decorating is laughing at the old stuff. (I decorated a carrot with glitter!) I whispered to Trevor that we should have Christmas alone next year but he said that isn’t Christmas.
Trevor defended the gaudy, glitter-soaked paper chains I made when I was five and what he says, goes. Arguing, too, is traditional at Christmas time, especially with two Memory Keepers together in the same room. Maybe trying to recapture the past is always a bad idea.
Dealing with Trevor’s groceries was another level of scary. First, he totally forgot cat food, but perhaps it doesn’t matter, since either they have gone completely feral or the neighbors are feeding them. Oz kept them from the vet, fearing if they got fixed what would they have to live for? Probably they prefer it outside; we can hear them in the bushes, the sounds of breeding and fighting are virtually indistinguishable. Shelley says maybe they attack trespassers. It’s a charming thought.
What he had bought were huge bags of rice and beans and potatoes and onions like we were getting ready for the siege of Stalingrad. Food in its raw state needs so much preparation. Who has that kind of time any more, especially when you have to rest up for more sex?
When it was time for dinner, of course no one wanted to cook. That’s the thing he didn’t buy. Colleen’s recipe book is in some kind of shorthand – I doubt even Skylar could make sense of it. I pulled out Mrs. Beeton because at least she’s always good for laughs – (my favorite recipe says “Take a trout from the tank and stun it with a bat” — now that’s freshness)– but I didn’t want to cook either. Plus no trout to hand, not in the milk, not anyplace. It’s a whole lot easier to just collapse in front of a movie with a nuked pile of chicken, but I couldn’t talk Trevor out of a full-blown dining room meal with six kinds of forks. At least we made our own barbecue sauce out of lime salsa, pineapple marmalade and ketchup and it turned out to be pretty good, with the worthy assist of a Riesling Sylvaner from Oz’s cellar. Wine upgrades any event. Trevor brought up extra bottles to put in the fridge, including a bottle of Tattinger, though it’s plenty cold down there. But there are spiders. I didn’t ask him what the champagne was for. I thought I knew.
I soaked the labels so I could enter them in Colleen’s wine book. That’s a tradition I’m happy can get behind. All the great celebrations are in that book, menus, seating plans, thank you notes. Sometimes she added photos and other mementoes if she had the time.
Dessert was cherry vanilla ice cream; no Moolage bars for Brontë, alas. Away at college, he hadn’t noticed my taste upgrade to diet cappuccino. Oz says we always want what we can’t have. Or maybe he said we only want what we can’t have. Anyway it seemed heartless to complain when Trevor tried so hard.
All and all, a superior weekend. Considering. At any rate I’m spoiled for honeymoons. One is all you ever really need. Maybe one is all you can stand. The only rule we used was that the Desires of the Other are sacred. Mostly I want to experience everything and he wants to do everything to me so I’d say we’re well-matched. The worst moment came when he tried to talk me into moving into Skylar’s room, because not only is Skylar’s bed bigger but she has her own fireplace. And a private bathroom. No Jake, no Shelley.
I hated agreeing to a situation where returning to my own room would seem like an act of secession, but I knew if I fought, I’d lose. Serves me right for making such a big fuss about letting go of the past during dining room versus coffee table debate. (I lost that one too.)
My feeble revolt was why not his room; he ruled that flatly out. And why, do you think? Not because of Jake in the bathroom, but because it was the room he and Fayette shared. “Ruined by post-coital tristesse.”
A new word on me (Trevor is full of them) but when I asked for a definition, he said, “Buyer’s remorse.” Kind of funny considering he bought Fayette “consumables” only; never any valuables. Subtly reminding her she’s a consumable, I daresay.
So, out of arguments as usual (force majeure) I grudgingly schlepped my stuff over to Skylar’s. It was kind of a painful admission that childhood was over. She would not be coming home. But because of all her mother’s decorating Skylar’s stripped-down boudoir had a hotel-like quality that made making it ours so much easier. No tristesse in sight. So far, anyway.
On Sunday morning, after a breakfast of Trevor’s only specialty, egg foo yung (which seems to be an omelet with salad in it) Trevor forced all of us to go to church. Trevor loves church.
When Jake wailed, “I just hate all that fucking dogma,” Trevor said, “It all comes down to love, bro. Read the gospels. You’ll see what it’s all about.”
“Well, I’m down with that part of it,” said Jake.
“I hate the way those hypocrites stare at us,” Shelley protested, but she was already dressing. She knew when she couldn’t win.
“We’ve got to go, to help Oz,” said Trevor, and I understood what he meant, in spite of the fact that to Oz religion is at best an adorable antique folkway, and at worst, a bizarrely murderous superstition. He was prone to shouting out, “The king must die!” when he was supposed to say, “Hallelujah.”
I don’t like church either. I think it’s a conspiracy to ruin spirituality the way marriage is a conspiracy to ruin sex. Colleen said, “Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
The people in the sin hospital didn’t appear to know that they were sinners. They stared at us so much it was like that scene in Village of the Damned where your mind is a brick wall crumbling brick by brick. I survived by thinking possessively and pleasurably about Trevor’s body beneath his clothes. My body, now. The first male body ever to belong to me. After church old Mrs. Urquhart came over and said comforting things about how Oz couldn’t possibly have done it and how everyone envied his relationship with Colleen. The whole time she was talking I was thinking of the things Oz said about her, that she was a “carpetbagger” and that all her taste was in her mouth. She didn’t know about that. It’s a benefit of having your foster-father on trial for murder that people stop asking you to smile. Don’t say, “Why the long face?” They expect you to be miserable.
After church Jake wanted to go out to eat but I couldn’t bear being looked at one more minute, so we compromised by driving to Wal-Mart where you can buy the boxed macaroni and cheese Jake loves and will eat by the gross, just so long as it’s mixed with garlic and sour cream.
Trevor was the commando we sent in to do the dirty while Jake and Shelley huddled in the Lexus faces averted, so no one would think they ever shopped at Wal-Mart.
When Trevor came out, he had an extra bag he refused to show me. A present. A consumable? No. I thought it might be a cookbook since everyone had been so rude about poor Mrs. Beeton, but when we were alone and I unwrapped it, it turned out to be queen size white flannel sheets covered with hearts for Skylar’s bed. They really did look kind of sweet with the white canopy and all that mosquito netting. Our own private world.
We brought in personal items to home-ify the place, but inevitably got into yet another argument about decorating. Trevor’s tastes are rather staid; “beauty” is “symmetry” in his book. He claims he can prove this. I rushed into the argument all unprepared (which you should never do with him) insisting its just the opposite. Beauty is surprise. Shock, even. You should be all stirred up, not soothed.
Fortunately champagne is the adult’s Band-Aid; blesses the boo-boos and makes them go away. Holding teetering glasses, we collapsed exhausted into the oyster satin wing chairs on either side of Skylar’s gas fireplace. Press a button and the logs are roaring. I noticed Trevor didn’t argue for old-fashioned values here — who wants to haul logs up three flights of stairs? Even if you have a dumbwaiter (which is really too small, you’d have to cut the logs to bits) it would get messy. I gobbled the damn champagne, trying to feel I was gaining a new room, not losing an old one. It’s like going away to school, isn’t it? Changing old things is much harder than getting something new entirely. Somehow you want to believe the past exists somewhere, and it just doesn’t. Some things are gone for good — like Colleen — and it just seems so brutal. Maybe it’s time for me to cultivate an artistic detachment from possessions. It’s going to be hard when I’m so greedy and I want everything. This is why couples go away for the honeymoon. If they tried merging their pasts at the same time as their bodies there would never be anything but divorce.
Of all the Goddamned things, Trevor wanted to talk about the trial. As if it wasn’t coming soon enough.
“The worst hasn’t even happened yet,” he said glumly, as if my mother’s long-ago death couldn’t possibly be the worst. So what could it be? Would they produce those letters Oz wrote to the local paper, calling the police Nazis for interfering with our underage drinking parties?
Trevor topped off our anti-depressants. “Craig says they’re going to play the gay card. It’s so horrible I haven’t told Jake.”
I groaned. It’s a basic tenet of Oz’s philosophy that everyone’s “polyamorous”. I’ve never felt even a flicker around girls, but Oz says lacking a mother has made me too masculine. He said ultimately it’s a good thing because writers have to be “coldhearted” in order to “pare down”. But enough about me. The question before us is how to explain that Oz took the rugged camaraderie of all-male societies and up-down hierarchies just a little further than a Virginia jury might be comfortable with. No use appealing to their respect for the ancient Greeks. Oz’s taste for soldiers would not look good in open court.
“It’s irrelevant,” I moaned. “What does it have to do with anything?”
“Craig says you can rely on the state to throw all the muck they can dig up, and in seventeen years there’s plenty of muck in anyone’s life. They’re making it a motive.”
Oz likes muck — because of its fertility — and says people fear the primitive because it reminds them of being out of control. But the point is that Oz would never trade Colleen’s home-making competence for having some macho schoolboy around 24-7, nor would he want to live in a society exclusively of men. He’d hate prison.
“ Colleen knew all about it,” I protested. “It’s the opposite of motive.”
Trevor seemed surprised. “How’d you figure?”
“Well, she was tired of sex. Wasn’t she? Going through menopause? ”
“Maybe. But she was still jealous.”
“Who could be jealous of hired escorts? Oz didn’t bring even any of them home. I used to think it would be better if he did find a nice boyfriend with some domestic skills. Give Colleen a break.”
Trevor laughed out loud. I had cheered him up, anyway. He looked at me fondly as if my naiveté was just too, too adorable.
“But Brontë, he needed four hundred dollar an hour hookers for his “specialized tastes”. Wouldn’t that make you jealous?”
I considered. The problem was S & M. Colleen was not into that and Oz was. I wouldn’t be with a guy whose tastes were so different. Certainly I knew what jealousy was. It meant you didn’t want to share. Colleen just did not seem to me like a jealous person. She shared everything with everybody. She put up with so much.
I tried organizing my thoughts but realized I was just too drunk. Trevor can argue when he’s drunk; I can’t. I’m out of my league. What would I do, for instance, if Trevor suddenly developed a fascination with threesomes? That’s the chic thing nowadays; even though Trevor is just the last person on the planet you can imagine splitting his intensity in half. Never say never. So what would I do? Well I would back off, because it would be a totally different deal.
Colleen liked the way Oz was. Lots of people did. He was too big to be confined to just one person. Testosterone poisoning makes some men want sex that’s more like fighting, but not that many women are into the rough stuff. If they are, it usually means they are suffering from testosterone poisoning too. Colleen was too tired all the time. She used to fall asleep over her computer. Just thinking about it made me yawn. I was the tired one now.
Trevor picked me up and carried me deep into the mosquito netting. “Time for bed, sleepyhead.”
Like so many people, what he said was not exactly what he meant. As he undressed me, he was facedown in my belly, kissing it. I was almost not in the mood for sex; my mind was so full. It required a special adjustment. Trevor used to be an Eagle Scout. He knows how to be patient. He can start a fire from practically nothing. Starting without so much as a spark, he soon rewarded both of us with a satisfying blaze.