Monday, March 21, 2011

A Change of Clothes

    When she awoke, she stepped out of bed and into her fleece-lined slippers. She pushed her arms into the plush turquoise sleeves of a robe and belted it. She made coffee and read the paper. Then she stripped off robe and pajamas and wriggled into a black, spandex yoga outfit - flared pants and a sleeveless crop-top that exposed her navel. She unrolled her mat before the television and followed the tiny yoga instructor on screen for a dutiful 20 minutes.
    Utility sweat pants were next, topped by a large, shapeless t-shirt and cocooned in a wrap-around bibbed apron. She tied her hair up in a scarf and grabbed the telescoping duster. The house cleaner came Mondays and Thursdays, but there was always something that needed dusting in the far corners of the cathedral ceilings that towered above her throughout the house she'd won from her ex-husband.
    Her work clothes bundled up and stuffed in a laundry hamper for the house cleaner, she stepped into a steaming shower and applied various gels, soaps, conditioners and lotions. Then out for a skin-nourishing regimine of creams and anti-aging potions, while wrapped in a terry spa towel.  Black leggings, a black turtleneck, both with designer labels, tall leather boots, supple gloves a confusing shade between grey and lavendar, an artisan woven red coat that billowed open over her shapley form vanished in it's black sheath. She pinned a large, circular red hat to her head, as round and protective as a parasol and grabbed her metallic red clutch. She would go to town and shop for a bit before lunch. with friends at the Hotel ___.
    She wore the silk, hand-painted scarf out of the store, keeping the receipt and tissue in the clever little blue bag that bore the exclusive boutique's imprint. Lunch was a salad, bread spread with something rare pounded into olive oil, and a bottle of white wine shared with two fellow divorcees, in town for the theater. They air-kissed a brief good-bye as they were to meet again in the lobby, pre-show.
   At home, she slipped into her robe and lay on the sofa, a gelled mask over her eyes. She napped for two hours and then began preparations for her evening out. A quick step into the shower, her hair protected by a cap. A vigorous towel-down, more creams and a spritz each from three different colognes, in three different places. Layers of make-up were applied to smooth out her skin tone, hide wrinkles and highlight areas doomed by the night and dim theater lights. Silky undergarments, a lovely dress, jewels in her ears, rings, a necklace, stockings, a difficult choice of shoes, and finally, a small velvet evening bag that held her credit card and keys. A long tailored wool coat, gloves, and fluffy scarf got her out the door. The play was interminable. The house packed. A drink at intermission granted her the courage to continue, the drink and the promise of an intimate meal afterwards, at the new brasserie off the plaza where gentlemen friends of friends were engaged to meet them.
    Their coupling was brief. He retrieved his clothes from the tangled pile of garments on the floor and dressed in the bathroom. She pulled on a nightgown and clutched her robe shut. He was gallant at the door, then gone. She turned off lights and smoothed the sheets, slipping between their satin softness. She pulled the down comforter over herself, tucked it up under her chin and lowered the silk sleeping mask across her eyes. The familiar bed clothes her last change for the day.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Condo Couple

    The condo was paid for by her third husband, originally for her shopping trips in the city. Now she lived there with her fourth husband and though the closets were stuffed with clothes and the doorman nodded to them with a "Good day ma'am. Good day sir," when they ventured out, dressed to the nines, she knew they were in trouble.  They had a "cash flow problem" as J.T. liked to say, and there was nothing left to sell, unless she tried consignment.
    The furniture was too heavy for them to lift, and knickknacks would be too obvious. Imagine bumping into a neighbor with the silver golf trophy cup of husband number two? What would she say, "Oh just taking this old thing to be cleaned?" Or she could wrap it up like a gift, explaining that she was on her way to a cousin's birthday party, a cousin who lived just around the corner so no taxi, thank you.
    Taking her clothes to a consignment shop would draw comment as well. Was she carrying her own designer labels to the dry cleaners? Couldn't she arrange a pick-up, or have the maid do it?  Perhaps if she dressed in layers beneath her raincoat, she and J.T. could go for a stroll, stop at the shop and she could change out of a few things in the dressing room, them discretely hand them to the cashier...but what if they thought she was stealing the very items she smuggled into the store? Beryl spent most mornings running various scenarios through her mind, trying to hit on a way to get cash flowing again. They were hungry and there were only so many ways to serve crackers, especially now that all the caviar and tapenade and champagne were long gone.  She had built an amazing stockpile over the years of husband number 3, devoting an entire walk-in closet to gourmet canned goods and luxury bottles, all tucked away for the rainy day that began when she was 60 via cosmetic surgery but 75 in actual years.
   Of course she knew when she married J.T. that he had nothing. In his city, and with his handsome middle-aged though older features, he was a popular gigilo. J.T. looked good and played cards well which ensured that they were still invited, for awhile, to the opulent parties of her married girlfriends. Though dependably wealthy and in their dotage, these girlfriends dreaded an attractive divorcee in their crowd.
   She and J.T. would rob Marielle Dupois' apartment when she was at the opera gala, and her maid, slovenly and seen in furry slippers when sent down to the doorman to fetch packages, would be home alone. They would insist that Beryl had left her spectacles there when two months previous Marielle had had them up for cocktails, trying to tease out their financial situation. Beryl had refused so many spa and cruise invites that obviously she must be in straits. And Marielle, of course, would like to know as she'd be happy to lend a tidy sum until husband number three or was it number two's trust was settled. Beryl knew that Marielle would like to file complaints with the condominium board, all manufactured of course, complaints about late noises, bad smells, the unkempt foyer and in her lawerly, patrician way, evict Beryl and J.T. so that her beloved gay nephew Alphonse could move into their condomium, directly beneath hers.  Then Marielle would get her place redecorated for free and Alphonse would arrange photo shoots with glossy architectural magazines giving Marielle yet another step up into the celestial nethersphere that heiresses with loads of money dwelt in.
   Once inside, J.T. would enamor the maid while Beryl flitted about, stuffing cloiseneed boxes, errant jewelry, small objets d'art and hopefully, some cash into her billowing gown.  At a signal from J.T., loudly "Dear, you must have found them by now!" with a flirtatious "blind as a bat" aside to the maid, Beryl would fish her reading glasses out of her bosom and declare them found, in the library, "...just as I remembered!"
    The maid, however, was street smart and knew what they were up to at the get go. She planted herself firmly in the inner hallway and wouldn't let them past the marbeled table that held a bountiful silver candy dish. Beryl managed to snag a chocolate ball as they were shooed out by the maid. Back home in their dim livingroom, only one bulb allowed to light at a time with paring the energy bill in mind, Beryl and J.T. shared evenly the last can of tuna. J.T. ran a finger along the inside edge to get a final lick, then pitched it down  the garbarge chute.  Beryl's stomach growled and the idea hit her at the same time. "J.T., let's pay a visit to the basement!"
    They had to wait their turn in line but it was worth it. J.T. hoisted two damp and fragrant bags over his shoulders. Beryl dragged one up the basement stairs and luckily, because it was so late, they didn't encounter a single soul through the elevator ride and feverish scurry into their condo.  They sorted muck and trash from nuggets of edibles...a chicken carcass with plenty of meat and fat still clinging, cheese that could be scraped of pungent mold, stale bread and more.
    As their health and strength returned with better nutrition, J.T. devised a clever way of catching Marielle's discards. The maid's habits were predictable. Each morning they sipped their tea made from once-used bags and listened for the scraping sound of the chute door opening just one floor above.  By shoving a steel baking sheet along boards jammed across the chute, J.T. could catch bag after bag. This saved them the trip downstairs and the nervous mixing with other hooded and hungry tenants. The civility of the line might not hold one dark night, and there could be fighting.