A little Lolita turns gracious Grace an unusual green
“He doesn’t even realise he’s being inappropriate, that’s how thick he is! The idiot sends out all the wrong signals cos he’s so eager to be liked,” Janet was complaining about her husband Dan. Grace noticed how much her friend’s mouth reminded her of her dog Ripper defending his bone. Janet’s eyes were as wide as saucers, her nostrils flared, and Grace caught sight of some spit flying through the air, hopefully not into the guacamole they were making. Grace suppressed a rising giggle. She thought it was ridiculous how her usually unflappable best friend always turned into a crazed banshee whenever jealousy got the better of her.
Grace and Janet have been best friends for more than thirty years, since they were flat-chested middle-schoolers nursing crushes on high school boys they watched from a distance. On nearly all accounts, Grace considered Janet one of the most even-tempered and sound-minded people she knew. The two ladies understood each other well, but there were certain things about Janet that still puzzled Grace, like how she could be so suspicious about her husband Dan and other women. From what Grace observed, Janet and Dan, who’ve been together for almost thirty years, look like a loving couple, and Dan certainly seems devoted to Janet. She couldn’t quite understand the rationale behind her friend’s anxiety.
Tonight, Grace was throwing a dinner party, and had Janet in the kitchen with her preparing the food. She needed more avocados, so she inspected the batch in the wicker basket on the counter, picked up a few from the top of the pile and gently pressed their rounded bodies to feel if they were ripe enough for the guacamole. “Too hard, might be bitter. Too soft, will be bland, like baby food. Ah, perfect,” she muttered, half to Janet, half to herself. She selected the ones that were ripe in just the way she needed them to be.
As Janet raved on about her husband’s bad behavior, Grace nodded attentively, shaking her head now and then, but she had stopped listening. She didn’t much enjoy these diatribes that Janet was prone to, and didn’t want to add any of her own opinions, as she knew joining in would only encourage her friend’s fury. So she filtered Janet out, and listened to the commentary in her own head instead.
“A good avocado is like a husband at his prime,” thought Grace, sinking her serrated knife into the firm flesh of a perfectly ripened fruit. “In the early years, he’s hard like a man should be, but a little bitter as he’s forced to lower his guard for the woman he’s just allowed into his life. Once he surrenders, he relaxes and becomes satisfyingly tender and sweet. Soon enough, everything becomes too damn sweet, cloying and mushy. ‘Morning, my darling’, ‘how was your day honey’, ‘you look gorgeous in that dress’, day in, day out, the mealy courtesies of marriage.” Grace thinks her husband Bryan has gone too soft. Soft around the waist, soft in the head, slack in the sack. How did the mysterious, handsome man she fell in love with become just another family member she had to take care of every day?
Grace twisted the two halves of the fruit, separated the flesh from seed, then dug her nails under the scaly skin and pulled it away from the green meat. She diced the avocado into half-inch cubes, so the dip would be chunky the way she liked it.
Marriage, she thought, had saved Bryan from becoming as useless as the overripe avocados that she threw into the bin. It was she, his ever-capable wife, co-breadwinner, mother to his son, attentive daughter in-law, best friend, confidante and household-administrator, who kept things fresh, who brought colour to their sepia-toned, middle-aged existence. As she pulverised the avocados, she thought how much she was like the giant fork she was using, crushing fruit that would otherwise putrefy and become inedible, turning it, like she did Bryan, into that tangy, crowd-pleasing Mexican dip that worked for almost any fiesta.
Grace put three trays of her signature vegetarian lasagna into the oven. Her dinner guests would be arriving soon. She was grateful that Janet, who showed up with her daughter Mia, had arrived an hour before the other guests. Grace was glad to have Janet by her side at such parties. As always, Janet would help set the table, refill the glasses, chat with her guests, and quell the pre-party social anxiety that Grace still felt despite years of playing hostess-with-the-mostest. Grace thought it was a little rude of Mia not to be in the kitchen helping them. Though she would never be so discourteous as to mention it, Grace felt that Janet hadn’t done as good a job raising a child as she had. If her son Toby were with them, he would most certainly be making himself useful. She had always thought that Janet was a little lax, and had spared the proverbial rod one too many times with Mia.
As she chopped her tomatoes and red onions, her attention returned to Janet, who was suspicious that her husband Dan was having an affair. This was the third time this year Grace had heard the story. Same plot, different dame. A few months ago she was upset about some woman Dan was spending too much time with at work. Today, it was the lady who cuts his hair. Grace felt that at this stage in her life, after being married for so long, Janet really ought to be rid of her insecurities.
Both in their late forties, Grace and Janet had done well in their respective careers. Grace was an attorney, and a partner at a successful law firm, and Janet, an ophthalmologist with her own practice. Their marriages had lasted longer than many of their mutual friends. They had healthy, well-adjusted teenage children. Janet had Mia, and Grace had Toby, who was now studying linguistics in Boston. They both lived in large, ranch-style homes that were impressive enough to be featured in Architectural Digest. They had personal trainers, went for daily yoga classes at the country club, and had figures that still turned heads. Though if those heads looked closer, they would no doubt notice the fine lines around the women’s mouths and eyes, and their veiny hands.
Grace grabbed some lemons from the refrigerator. As she closed the door, she saw Bryan sitting on the couch, talking with Mia. She watched Mia tap Bryan’s forearm. A gesture of friendliness, Grace reasoned, not uncommon between old friends. “But Mia hardly knows Bryan. He’d only met her on a few occasions, a long time ago, when she was little,” thought Grace.
Mia had spent the last five years at the Santa Catalina boarding school in Monterey, and had recently moved back home to attend college at the Art Institute of Colorado. Grace hadn’t seen her in a while, not since she was an awkward, buck-toothed, thirteen-year-old. The girl sitting a few inches away from Bryan did not look awkward at all, and she must have had help from a really good dentist. She looked a little older than her seventeen years, and was very attractive. Long, tanned legs, dark, waist-length hair, and a shockingly pretty face, with something a little lewd about it, perhaps the feline shape of her eyes, or the golden, petal-like sheen of her skin. Her slim but slightly fleshy figure was not quite girl, but not fully woman either.
Janet was pouring an assortment of liquids and fruit chunks into a punchbowl, and still babbling on about the hairdresser, something about “vulgar heaving boobs”, but Grace had tuned her out again. She was observing Bryan. From where she stood, he looked younger than usual. She thought he appeared a little caffeinated, his eyes particularly expressive. Grace’s gaze shifted to Mia, and she observed that the girl was looking at Bryan in a way that made her prickle. Her eyes moved back to her husband, and for the first time in a while, she noticed how sturdy and well built he still was, for his age.
Grace moved her chopping board, the lemons, and the bowl of diced avocadoes to the end of the kitchen counter where she could get a better view of the couch. She now had her back to Janet, which was perfect, as her friend’s tirade was becoming a real bore. Her eyes homed in on the interaction taking place on the couch. Grace noticed that Mia wasn’t wearing a bra. She saw Bryan give the girl a light pat on her shoulder. Mia laughed and jiggled a little. Bryan laughed. Mia was looking at Bryan with widened eyes and dropped jaw, a child delighted by a tall tale.
“She’s probably seen him on TV and thinks he’s a big deal cos he’s the weatherman for the Chanel 4 news. If only she saw the gross liver spots on his back. Doubt she’d be fluttering them lashes then,” thought Grace.
Bryan made a gesture that looked like an imaginary chokehold. “Hah! Bet he’s telling the little missy about the time he got assaulted by looters while reporting on Hurricane Katrina. How many times have I had to listen to that one. Show-off!” Grace clucked, but continued watching them.
She saw Mia reposition herself, lifting her legs up onto the couch, then crossing them in a limber half-lotus pose. Her denim micro-shorts rode high up her thighs. Grace thought those shorts looked an awful lot like the type the girls on West Colfax Ave wore. Then Mia leaned forward like an attentive student, and the top of her flimsy, pink-coloured blouse slid down to reveal the shadowy valley between her pert breasts. Mia tilted her head to one side, nodded, then tilted it to the other side. She opened her mouth to say what looked to Grace like a “wow, really?”
“What a bimbo! Surely Bryan won’t lap that up?” Grace followed her husband’s eyes as she squeezed a lemon, digging her nails deep into its waxy rind. “What are you looking at now, honey? Are you having a peek up those cute little micro-shorts, or down that blouse, you perve?”
Mia raised her arms above her head to tie her hair into a high ponytail. She arched her back, proudly thrusting out her fine tits. Her nipples rose, and Grace could see a sliver of smooth, taut midriff.
“My god, that girl could be in a porno!” thought Grace. Bryan looked towards the window, but didn’t move away from the couch like Grace thought he ought to. “What do you think you’re doing Bryan? Are you just going to sit there? Can’t you see what she’s doing, you old fool? She’s teasing you!” Grace’s pulse quickened.
Mia was now taking out a book from her satchel, which rested near the foot of the coffee table. It looked like a high school yearbook. The nubile thing sidled up close to Bryan and opened the book to share its contents with him. They sat inches apart.
A lump formed in Grace’s throat. “Don’t you dare disrespect me like that, you little floozy…” She felt short of breath. She thumped a lemon against the chopping board to loosen its pulp, split it with single blow of her knife, then squeezed the juice into the avocado and tomato mixture. As she whipped the ingredients together, she craned her neck to get a clearer view of her husband and her friend’s daughter.
Janet came over and handed her the salt. “Go easy on it, Dan has hypertension,” said Janet putting a spoonful of the almost-ready guacamole into her mouth. “Maybe you’re right, maybe I’ve got this hairdresser all wrong. Sorry for unloading. Oh Grace, I don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes. Dan loves me, I know he does. He wouldn’t cheat. He’s a good man. Why can’t he just be more sensitive, you know?”
“What was that?” Grace replied.
“Hello? Earth to Grace. Did you hear anything I said? What are you looking at?” Janet followed her friend’s line of vision towards her daughter. “Isn’t she lovely? She’s grown up to be such a little angel. She doesn’t smoke or drink, can you believe that? I must have done something right. Remember what terrors we were at her age? Always tanked and desperate for attention. I’m glad Mia didn’t turn out to be as much trouble as we were. Ergh, we were just hoe-bags back then,” Janet raised her eyes to the ceiling and pretended to shiver, then chuckled, before handing Grace a bouquet of cilantro. “Don’t forget these. I need to pee,” she said before leaving Grace’s side.
A generous sprinkling of chopped cilantro, some fresh ground pepper, one teaspoon of sea salt, all mixed in nicely. The dip was ready. Grace grabbed a bag of corn chips in one hand and balanced the bowl of guacamole in the other. She walked towards the couch and put the chips and guacamole on the coffee table.
“Help yourselves,” she said with feigned cheerfulness before moving to stand behind the couch, directly behind Bryan. She pretended to peer with interest at the yearbook they were looking at, but really, she wanted to see what the view was like from his position. “Such smooth thighs, such a pretty face,” she thought, “surely he can appreciate that.” She made some comment about the photos in the book, then rested her fingers, spider-like, on the back of Bryan’s neck and started massaging it. Grace began chatting with Mia, but her heart was beating so fast, she couldn’t quite hear the words coming out of her own mouth. With the corners of her lips raised to present a stiff and painful smile, Grace bombarded Mia with questions about school, California, about her career plans after college. Bryan pried away Grace’s fingers, squirmed a little, then veered his neck away from her hands, which were sweaty and had chafed his skin.
The oven bell went off, and Grace heard Janet’s voice from the kitchen, something about not knowing how to turn it off. Grace didn’t answer. Instead she walked towards the coffee table, and picked up the bowl of guacamole with both hands. “Want some?” she asked, bowing slightly in front of Mia before purposely letting the bowl slip from her hands, so the guacamole spilled on the girl, covering her chest and dribbling down the top of her thighs.
Mia yelped and jumped up, her cute little tank top and jean shorts covered in the thick green goop.
“Oh no, I’m so sorry Mia,” Grace said. She plucked some paper napkins from the coffee table, scooped the mess off the girl and back into the bowl. “So sorry, sweetie. Come with me, we’ll get you out of these clothes.” She threw daggers at Bryan with her eyes as she said this, though she wasn’t sure if he read the meaning of her look. “I’ll lend you a dress, my dear,” she told Mia, then led the girl up the stairs to her bedroom. She decided she would put Mia in the frumpy, knee-length, gingham frock her stepmother had given her as a thoughtless birthday present years ago. It was an ugly, sack-like thing that Grace only wore when she did gardening work.
As Mia changed in the ensuite bathroom, Grace waited. Standing by her dresser, she looked down at an old, pewter-framed honeymoon photo – Bryan and her in their swimsuits on the beach in Hawaii, taken more than two decades ago. She was wearing a racy, blue bikini, and had a red hibiscus in her hair. Bryan was in board shorts, his hair and sun-bronzed torso still wet. He had his right arm around his surfboard, and his left hand wrapped tightly around Grace’s hip. He looked magnificent.
“He’s still something, my man,” she smiled. It occurred to her that later that night, once all the guests have left, she might try to rekindle a little Hawaii magic.
Copyright® Michele Koh Morollo 2015