There you are, late for the pool party, in the wrong dressing room cube, beside the woman whose son keeps peeking under the divider—“Caleb, you goofball!” Phosphors are fluorescing. Mocha latte gas bubbles are playing hide and seek around your reproductives. In the mirror your hair looks brittle and greenish, like a long-forgotten spinach leaf that fell between the counter and fridge. Is this how I always look? Is this me? you ask yourself. You tilt your head, listening for the faint screams of a village mob rounding the espadrilles display, torches aflame, resolved to find and kill you, the beast.
You jump. What was that?! Your peripheral vision caught an albino cockroach in the cube’s corner. No, it’s just a waffle fry. Caleb’s flotsam. Your stomach growls like a Gabor sister shaking an empty benzo bottle at her maid, but you stay calm. The stygian ferrywoman dressing room attendant wheezes her way over to your cube and groans, “Need anything? Another size?” The salmon cami is, in fact, too small. You know it. She knows it.
Don’t run from the truth, you think before slapping an invisible mosquito from atop your tit. A bead of radishy sweat runs down your lip. “Um, yeah. Can I please have one size larger? Whenever it’s convenient, you know. No rush.”
That was obsequious, even for you.
Your swimsuits are piled on the dressing room’s tiny tortilla chip seat, which is insufficient to the task of your ass. The red and white polka dot number might work. It’s “old timey,” covers lots of real estate. Its skirtlet produces a charming little canopy for the surplus thickness topping each thigh. This suit will produce the illusion of a “fashion” point of view, rather than an attempt to gild the girthy lily. On it goes, tugging your skin as it moves. The small vaginal guard sticker in the crotch cowers as it’s consumed by your shadow (as if it didn’t have enough to contend with: abuse, neglect, existential confusion. [“They’re just trading bacteria through me! Don’t you see? I have no purpose!” the sticker screamed to an indifferent coat hanger one night after closing]).
You rip it out, channeling the beast. Fuck it, you think. It’s Hanes MY WAY.
You are not Kathy Ireland. You’re a woman old enough to remember Kathy Ireland, and so you’ve resigned yourself to occasionally turning stomachs instead of heads. Really, you don’t look half bad. But it’s the celebration of relief, rather than genuine excitement, that makes you want to pull the dressing room door off its hinge like a paper doll arm.
You give the mirror your Radiant Pool Party Guest Holding Court With a Riveting Anecdote pose. The ladies feign happiness while their gums bleed with envy. “My, you’re looking slim. Krill enemas? Spill it.” Audience delight is peaking. You pooch out your lips, casually enlighten them, and gesture with bemused certitude. “Who is that vixen in the polka dot swimsuit? ” asks some tall man with a downtown condo in escrow.
Refusing to sully the fantasy with a moment of real reflection, you dress, grab the swimsuit and a couple tops, and head for the cashier. “The bathing suit’s on sale, ma’am. It’s your lucky day. No refunds, though.”
Locked in, you make your way to the car.
In traffic, the growl of your stomach is so loud you feel the desire to make love to pedestrians simply for the distraction from hunger. You shouldn’t eat anything right before a pool party, but the malnourishment crazies are setting in. Maybe just a nugget, a kid’s size fry.
Something catches your eye through the heat waves. Indigo and magenta, a screaming proposal. The Hanna-Barbera of foods. Taco Bell® will soothe.
Two BBs and a DP. Add sour cream and onion. “Lots of mild sauce, please.” You thank a slamming window. A grackle shit-lined parking spot is open and you snag it. You're in a hurry but driving and eating is for cretins, so you only do it on weekdays. Just eat really fast, go home, and start in on that new pinot grigio, you think. A little drink 'n dress before the party. You sigh happily as one burrito disappears, then the next.
You look to your left. Beside your Honda in a colorless Ford, a man quietly applies his own bean salve. Your eyes meet.
The reflected defeat in those eyes draws you in. The sour cream dot on his chin keeps you there. In a flash you see your whole life together: wine tasting, syncopated sex to Celine Dion, kids, pools, parties, pool parties for kids, gluten-free brunch menus, movies with “really great special effects,” black hole boredom, that thing where he can only come if you call him “Mother,” failed and embarrassing forays into “spicing things up,” twice-told jokes in one night at the Cloptons’, clenched tolerance lapping genuine appreciation, a once-acceptable partnership transformed into a Ben Hur battle of finances, laziness and lies.
Cellmates. Criminally bored by the inertia of simply living. Bunkmates awaiting your allotted serving of entropy. A bean-laden decline, graph-traceable from the fatigue of could-be to the tragic romance of never-was. He holds a half-empty packet of Taco Bell® Mild Sauce™ up to the window like a lonesome titty in a Turkish prison’s visitation booth. You follow suit, showing him yours. You sit there staring for just a few moments, reaching out into the field of shared awareness: predicting love, heartburn. Maybe that’s all you need. Sure, you’ll try him on.
You blow him a kiss, gently raise your left hip, and emit a compliant whine from below.