In God We Trust – Phoebe Marmura
January 17, 2023
She has big hair. On the bedside tables are thick, sturdy candles. The bed is cashmere. Everything has weight like it has just spawned from the ocean. The ocean is outside the bedroom window. She is widowed and, on the phone, she says she is looking for touch. A man comes over, sits beside her on the edge of the bed and begins to touch her. Her sweater is baby blue and cashmere; she wears small shorts that match. Both are soft but her skin underneath is softer. She has pearls in her ears. The man says, “Your skin is beautiful.” She laughs, chokes on her laugh, and says, “I bet you say that to all of them.” Her voice comes out chirping and cruel. Like a tease. “No, I certainly don’t, ma’am. I really don’t.” She stands up, her eyes worried. “Would you like me to open a window?” Now her voice is tender. “Sure, ma’am if you’d like.” She can feel the warmth of the man’s hands on the veins in the bend of her arm, and then on her soft thigh. She opens the window which looks to the beach, to two beach chairs, midnight blue canvas held up in the sand by teakwood frames. Beyond the chairs is the ocean which is knocking loud tonight. “The waves are loud tonight,” she says out the window. “You know you’re beautiful. You’re pretty as the ocean. I hope you know that,” says the man. “You’re full of it, you know.” Her bird voice laughs in the key of C. “I’m not,” says the man. “Now why don’t you come over here, get comfortable. I can do whatever you’d like. Maybe you’d like a shoulder rub?” The cashmere widow seems to be fretting. She pouts about the room in tight circles. She thinks of her daughter in some mess hall that smells of milk, eating puddings and meatloaf. She thinks it is likely that her daughter will get fat and this thought upsets her a little. She never went to college because she didn’t want to plump up. She didn’t want to be fed Jell-O shots while holding hands with a line of freshman girls, bonding over their shared rank in the world and the blonde of their curls. She wants that for her daughter, but then, she and her daughter are different. Her daughter doesn’t know much, doesn’t say or do much. Her daughter will go to college and make friends who have hair like hers. She will learn about Greek tragedies; she will live in a tiny world on campus with books that smell like earth and a teacher she is aroused by. She will get a boyfriend, the bartender at the campus pub. Two years older with vast potential, a dented skull from playing quarterback. Her daughter will feel the dent when she brushes his hair with her fingers. The first time will be in his bed in the student quarters, his mattress covered in pilling plaid sheets. “What is that?” she will say, his head pressed to her bare chest, her two fingers cradled in its hollow. Her brown eyes growing so big, so shiny. The daughter has the same face as her mother when she worries. The cashmere widow never went to college because she thought that college would undo the things she knew so well. She likes the certainty of knowing what she knows. Living and dying by her word.
“You really are something else, aren’t you?” Says the man in her bedroom. “Well, what do you mean?” She forges a tone of alarm. She is tired. “You have this house, this wide white house, and you just wander all day all blue and beautiful. You must get lost in this house.” “No, no I don’t get lost,” she says, her eyes still on the water. She can’t see past the water, and she wants to, she wants fully, to see things she’s never seen in her house and in her view of the water. In her home she sees this man with gold skin. He looks like a god with crooked teeth, one chipped. His eyes are so wide and dark. They are worried. She can tell that she makes him worry.
The man sits on the edge of the bed. She sits on her knees on the carpeted floor and faces him. They hold hands and gaze at one another heavily. “You are sweet, aren’t you?” She says to him. “I try to be sweet,” he says. “I can feel it, I buy it. I bought you,” she says. “You did, yes.” She looks at him, her eyes candy. She says, “Yes, and so now, I can do whatever I want with you. Is that right?” “Yes, that’s right.” She grasps his legs and sighs; her head falls still and hot against the man’s knees. The woman is already small but looks even smaller crumpled on the floor of this large room.
The woman thinks about being the age of her daughter. She did not feel primitive then. Back then, she and her best friend would drive around the island and drink champagne. They were reckless with cars. She had a limousine at that time. It was black and shiny; it was a great feat to wash. On Saturday nights she and the best friend would sleep in the limo. Camping out in the partition with big feather blankets, a cooler of oysters. Island darlings. The girls would duct tape red silk panties over the light in the backseat. They’d pretend to be any other place but the salty island. They’d kill the car battery every time with the radio. The girls would try to go for a ride at midnight but by then the battery would be dead and so they would run down the road that winds along the ocean looking for a boy in a Chevy to jump it. In the limo on sleepovers, they’d sit around and chain smoke. They’d open the trunk and pull out loaves of white bread, jars of peanut butter and marshmallow cream, a quart of bourbon. When the woman had been married for one month, she crashed the limo. She was reckless with anything that went fast. By the time the sheriff got wind of the wreck she’d fallen asleep, tin of beer between her knees. Engine smoke falling from the speakers. She woke up to the cop car winding down the road toward her, the emblem on his windshield read “In God we trust”, and then she looked up for him, for God. That next day the sheriff came round the house and said, “How are ya feelin’ Darlyn?” She held ice to her head and said, “Oh, I’m just fine sheriff, thank you. Would you like to come in for a drink?” Really, she just had a bad hangover, an egg on her head from cracking open the tortoiseshell casing of the steering wheel.
For a while, her best friend went out with the sheriff. They had to stop dating because she kept on breaking laws and then telling him about it. “Stop doing bad things, I’m telling ya, if you just stop… if you just stop, we can be together,” he pleaded, he pleaded on his knees. Her friend couldn’t though. She was hooked on it all too much. In the mirror, she put two lines of blue liner on her top lid and told him sorry. But she couldn’t even, she couldn’t even get down proper on her knees and tell it to his eyes. She just stood there above him, putting on her makeup. She picked up her purse and went out to the idling limo.
The woman doesn’t see much past the sea line, can’t see that far. When she walks out her door to the beach, she sees pink shells against her feet. She sees stripped blonde logs that look like washed-up bones. When she walks into the surf, she sees a buoy, she sees weeds crawling up her calves. She squints to see further but cannot. She sees nothing. Back at the house, the golden man waits for her to want something from him. She likes to see him through the window. Stretched like a baby on her big cashmere bed. Sleeping or waiting or in heat. She likes to see new things in her same house.
There was a time when she worried about everything. Worried about food. Recited what she’d make for breakfast and dinner today and tomorrow and the day after. These were not fears of scarcity. She lived in abundance. She would worry while paddling past her daughter’s bedroom, seeing the ear of her stuffed rabbit turned in the wrong direction, she would pet and unruffle, kiss the bunny’s head. She worried about her husband often. About his heart and lungs, the consistency of his hair and the color of his gums. He was fine. He didn’t worry. When her husband died it wasn’t because of his heart or lungs or gums. The woman doesn’t worry now, she doesn’t worry about her daughter, naive and growing fat. The worst is over because he is gone. That was that. She often thinks “that was that” while strutting her perfect nails along her vanity, looking past the ocean. The things she thinks are now presented in facts. Facts like “and that’s that,” “so it goes,” and “it is what it is.”
I can see nothing past the water, my child is growing and blooming and someday she will learn enough to get herself a job. My daughter will marry the man with the dent in his head and they will make pretty and plain babies that look like pound cake. I will hold and love and spoil the children. There will always be food at Aimee’s store on the corner, she never misses a shipment. The water will not drain from the ocean, and it will always be moving. The gold man will not have to leave my bed as long as I have money. I will always have money. My husband is gone and so he is gone. The woman goes to sleep reciting facts, and, in the morning, she counts the waves lapping out her window. She counts ten waves before she is allowed to begin her day. To brew coffee and wander the wide white house on the ocean.