Oysters

“Bear with me, my dear,” he says, raising the menu.

“I’ve been bearing with you for the last nineteen years,” she says. She takes a sip of her martini and stares ahead at the bottles behind the bar.

“What does that mean?” He looks at her over his glasses.

“Nothing.”

“Not nothing. Something. Spill, Iris.”

She exhales. “Either you eat and I drink, and there’s no hostility, or else I do whatever you want. Is that acceptable?”

He thinks. “Yes, it is.”

“Uh!”

“You should feel better.” He goes back to the menu.

“I know I should,” she says.

“Have another drink,” he says.

“I’m drunk.”

“Then you should feel better.” He laughs.

“Enough!”

“See anything you want?” He turns the menu over and starts at the top.

“Oysters.”

“You’re not even looking,” he says.

“I don’t need to look at the menu if I know what I want. I want oysters.”

“Maybe.”

“Oh, c’mon, George. It wouldn’t be special if we both don’t eat them.”

“Order them. No one’s stopping you from getting what you want.”

“Oh—George!” She has a thought. She touches his arm. “What’s it called when they shuck an oyster and discover two pearls inside?”

“Two pearls in one shell?”

“Yes, what’s it called?”

“Hell.”

“No! It’s got a name, George! God, everything deteriorates with you.”

“Well…something is not working with you.”

She takes a quick sip, breathless. “I’m so goddamn amenable! How much do you want to work with me?”

“I was hoping this night would be a start.”

“But it’s not. So what then?”

He expels a quick breath. He removes his glasses, rubs his eyes, and stares into the pendants hanging close above the bar, as if the answer can be found there, in the light.

Then she says, “I love you, you know that.”

He returns his glasses to the bridge of his nose, and in a fluid motion leans toward her drink and finishes it off. “Iris, you talk too much.”

“I’m always alone. It doesn’t matter. I can’t be home and cooped up. Home and work and home and work and after everything I still cook dinner. I need to change it up. You set new rules—every day. I feel like a voodoo doll and you think it’s funny. I just can’t…”

“You’re all over the place.”

“It’s time you recognized me, George.”

“How can I recognize everything?”

“I want a vacation!”

“We’re on vacation.”

“From you.” She holds up the glass to the bartender.

“You stayed in the room alone today. Wasn’t that enough?”

“Not funny.”

“You used to like my sense of humor.”

“I know.”

“So?”

“So—you stopped being funny.” Her eyes slide to the labels on the liquor bottles. Circles, squares, triangles, geometry. She blinks. “I accept you for who you are.”

He looks at her. “Me?”

“I accept your clothes. Your friends. Your clubs.”

“And I appreciate that.”

She cackles.

“How are you guys doing down here?” The bartender makes them jump. She sets down the fresh martini, and her head tilts in a kittenish way, revealing a perky ponytail.

Iris lifts her drink high, as in a toast. “We’re gr-r-r-r-r-eat!”

George grins so hard his cheeks ache. “We’re having a discussion.”

“We’re working on something,” Iris adds before taking a swig.

“Can I get you anything else?” She is far too chipper for them. “Appetizers? Dinner?”

“How about a divorce attorney?”

“George!” Iris dips her fingers in her drink and flicks at him.

The girl’s smile struggles to retain its integrity. “Uh-huh, well, shout if you need me!”

“Oh, we will!” George says, wiping his face with his sleeve.

“Thanks, darlin’!” Iris winks and knocks her teeth against the glass.

The girl pivots, her ponytail the curlicue of a pig’s rump, and approaches a new woman in a green evening dress.

Iris sets down her glass and rubs her teeth. She says, “You always leave a ring in the sink.”

“The sink.”

“A ring.” She meets his gaze. “When you put dirty dishes in the sink, you never wash it out.”

“I scrub.”

“No, you don’t. You think it’s pretentious.”

“Pretentious—to scrub a sink?”

“You are pretentious. You’re above it all. You think you are.”

He thinks. Then: “I am above cleaning the sink. So are you. Please. We work for a living. We work so we can hire people to do the shit we don’t want to do. That ring…it’s that woman you employ.”

“Don’t blame Anjelica. This isn’t about her; this about you.”

“It’s her ring in the sink. Not mine. It’s not my ring.” He picks up her glass and drinks. He swishes the gin and gulps.

Iris retrieves the drink and eyes the vacant space. She thrusts the glass skyward. The bartender—wide-eyed—nods.

“Just forget it,” she says. “Let’s not get stuck on this.”

“You are scattered, you know that? Scat-erred.”

She sticks an olive in her mouth. “You have an aversion to differences.”

“My differences are fine,” he says.

“You cut me off.”

“I want to stop this conversation.”

“You always want to stop. You never want to explore. You always leave it to me.”

He turns to her. “You…are…a—” He stops himself.

“Brilliant woman?”

“Yeah, a b-b-b-brilliant woman.” He snickers. “You act like you don’t know me, Iris. You talk and talk and act as if you haven’t been in this relationship for nineteen years, but have there really been any surprises?”

She blinks. “I have a journal. I take notes. Many things have happened to me.”

“I don’t have a journal,” he says. “I go by memory. I know why we’ve done what we’ve done, and why we haven’t done what we haven’t done. You and me. Two pearls!”

“Don’t be an asshole, George,” she sighs. “Not today. Please.” She is suddenly still. She sits up and crosses her arms and observes her reflection in the glass behind the bar. There, among the bottles, her head. Behind her the restaurant is bustling. She wishes they’d planned ahead for a reservation, so that they’d now be sitting at a table, surrounded by couples and conversation and cutlery. It might’ve made a difference. Something about them here, on this marble island, has left them remote, uneasy, vulnerable.

She says, “I got passed for that promotion.”

He turns to her. “What did you say?”

“Marissa. The woman in the next cube got it.”

“You were up for a promotion?”

“I told you.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“It was embarrassing, George.”

At once, he squints. His face is processing, from eyes to mouth, and he transitions into a scowl. He pounds his fist cartoonishly on the bar. “I hate Marissa!”

“Now you’re interested? You don’t even know her.”

“I care.”

“I talked with you last week and got nothing.”

“Rink, rink, rink!” he screeches as he brings his right arm up and down rapidly, mimicking the shower scene in Psycho. “Kill Marissa! Kill Marissa!”

Startled, she laughs. “Georgie!”

Down the marble slab, the bartender halts, mid shake, the silver cup glinting in the lights. The woman in the green dress averts her eyes from her compact, powder puff in hand.

George waves and exposes huge teeth. “All is well down here!”

“Sh-h-h-h-h!” Iris giggles.

The bartender and woman eye each other.

“You’ve lost your mind,” says Iris.

Under his breath, with a grin: “Kill Marissa.”

She rubs his bare arm, just below where his sleeve is rolled up. “Thank you, George. But it’s not Marissa’s fault. It’s Mason’s.”

“Mason?”

“My boss.”

“You have a boss named Mason?”

“I’ve talked about him. Mason Sanchez-Williams.”

“Your boss has three names?”

“No, two.”

“Mason. Sanchez. Williams. Three names.”

“Sanchez-Williams is his last name, George.”

“Sanchez-Williams is not a name.”

She shakes her head. “He was a Sanchez first.”

“So who is Williams?”

“His wife.”

Suddenly, the new drink is in front of Iris. George holds up two fingers, and the bartender returns a pinched smile. Her ponytail has lost its perk.

“OK—so who is Williams?” He takes a sip of her new drink.

“Williams is his wife. It’s hyphenated.” Iris moves the drink over to her far side.

“You gotta Sherlock Holmes this thing for me.”

She simpers with the glass to her lips. She is careful not to spill. “Mason is Mexican. He’s a Sanchez. His wife is from Boston. She’s a Williams. When they married, he took her name.”

“Jesus. Beaten down already.”

The bartender sets one drink down and quickly walks away.

Iris says, “You should not order another drink.”

“Already did.”

“Is that what those two fingers were?”

“You are frigging Sherlock Holmes!”

“How many is that?”

He swivels to her. “You’re asking me how many?” He swivels back and stares into space. “The number doesn’t matter. What matters is that you lost a promotion due to an emasculated Mexican who took his wife’s name. Mason Sanchez-Williams. That’s a fucked-up hyphen!”

Iris holds out her hands, displaying her fingers, admiring them. “So I went to Kiel’s and got a manicure.”

He lowers his eyes. “Where is your mind going?”

“I went to Kiel’s and got these new lotions from India.”

“You were just complaining about Mason, before that you were complaining about me, and now you’re at Kiel’s? I can’t get ahold of you.”

“I wanted to feel better!”

The bartender sets down his second martini, then promptly repositions herself in front of the woman in the dress. George grips the glass, floats it to his lips. Cold rushes in. He admires the bartender, her rounded black slacks and unbuttoned vest, her ruffled white blouse and ponytail, and wonders what she and the woman are discussing. The woman shimmers green in her strapless dress, like a sequined mermaid. She twirls her salad with a fork, tickling arugula, and something the bartender is saying must be the cutest, most charming thing in the world.

“You want dessert?” he offers.

“We haven’t ordered dinner.”

“Pretend the drinks are dinner and order dessert.”

“We’re not a dessert couple, George.”

His eyes come back to hers.

“We don’t order dessert,” she reiterates.

“Funny, but we have, surely.”

“No.”

“What about our last trip to B.A.? That ridiculous meal in the Regoleto?”

“That meal was ridiculous, George, but no. You ordered coffee.”

“Oh. Hm-m-m. What about Prague?”

She finishes the last of her drink. “I haven’t been to Prague.”

“I thought that was you.”

“No.”

“Must’ve been work.”

“Was she work?”

“Stop it.”

“You stop,” she says. “You’re the one who can’t get things straight.”

“I am old.”

“I am tired of that excuse.”

“I am at the end. Finis. Kaput.”

She shakes her head. “This is happening.”

“Old Man River, he just keeps rollin’ alo-o-o-o-ng!” he sings in a brittle baritone.

“This is not alcohol. This is inner turmoil!” Her hands are on both sides of her head. She sways back and forth like a dog coming up out of the water. She giggles.

He finishes one drink and moves the fresh one into place.

Her head has stopped moving. Her eyes poke through her frazzled mane. “You love me.”

“I try not to, you know.”

She smoothes her hair away from her eyes and levels it out on top.

“But you can’t help it,” she says.

“I can’t.”

“I’m not going to beg. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t expect you to.”

“It wouldn’t be honest. You can never be too honest. Do you know how many people lie?”

“Our bill has arrived,” he blurts. But the bartender, the girl and her ponytail, is nowhere in sight. The woman in green is smiling at her salad, still tickling arugula.

“I said, do you know how many people lie, George?”

He fishes out his wallet.

“Everyone lies, Iris.”

“I don’t,” she says.

“That’s another conversation.”

“Really?”

He lays down cash. He pushes the bill away. “And I do so want to love you tonight.”

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