“Women should distract themselves after bad break-ups but they shouldn't rebound. Jumping into a relationship just to get over the end of another is kinda like breaking an alcohol addiction by picking up meth.”
--Death Of The Party
“He told you he married into the mob?” Dena asked as she stared at me from the other end of the couch, her thick Sicilian eyebrows raising almost to her hairline. I had called her and Marcus two hours after Anatoly left. For those hundred and twenty minutes I had thought I needed to be alone. But the silence of the house, which had always been a comfort to me before, suddenly felt oppressive. I tried to fill the void by talking to Mr. Katz but while my cat was a great listener he consistently refused to add his voice to our conversations. Dena and Marcus had responded immediately to my summons, arriving within ten minutes of one another. Dena, looked fierce as always. Marcus had given her a new haircut only last week and it was even shorter and more stylish than normal. Her thick Sicilian eyebrows made her look a little like a young Gina Gershwin and her black cane with the silver jaguar-shaped handle added rather than detracted from her sex appeal. Marcus was looking rather yummy too in his cashmere, camel-colored blazer worn over strategically faded blue jeans. His mocha skin was glowing, hinting at the possibility of a recent facial. They were both making me look bad.
But then perhaps anyone could have made me look bad at that moment. I had immediately laid down on my bed after taking a shower so now my hair was not only frizzy but also shaped in a rather lopsided manner. I had no make-up on, my eyes were puffy and red and I was wearing biker-shorts and a t-shirt with a big bleach stain on the front of it. If it had been Halloween people would have assumed I was dressed up like a clinically depressed hobo.
“Married to the mob. It all seems so needlessly dramatic,” Marcus mused. He crossed over from my fireplace and found a spot in the leather armchair nearest me. “And so 80s. It’s like you’re dating Michelle Pfeifer. You know the movie I’m talking about, right?”
“Um, not quite,” I said dully as I tucked my legs underneath me and leaned back against my sofa cushions
“Well no, not quite,” Marcus agreed wryly. “Anatoly’s considerably more butch. You have to give him that.”
“No, I meant that Michele Pfeifer was the victim in that movie. Anatoly’s not a victim. He chose to marry this woman and he chose to make up this stupid story about the mob!”
“Are we sure he’s making it up?” Dena asked, thoughtfully.
I gave her a sharp look. “You think Anatoly used to work for the mob.”
“Well stranger things have happened,” Dena pointed out. “In a million years I never would have thought some psycho would try to copycat the murders in your first book but there it is. It happened.”
“OK, I’m having a hard enough time dealing with what’s going on right now. Can we not revisit the ugliest part of my past?”
“You’re right,” she said. She glanced out toward the street as a truck rumbled by the house. “There’s no need for me to go that dark, not if all I’m trying to prove is that strange things happen. For instance, you remember when that weirdo tried to convince you that your house was haunted? That was pretty out there.”
“Or the time your former brother-in-law’s family went on the news and claimed your Brooks-Brothers wearing sister was a gangsta from the hood!“ Marucs chimed in. “Oh, or how about that politician who liked to have sex with stuffed animals? Anatoly having mob connections wouldn’t be half as strange as that.”
“No, no,” Dena corrected, “that politician liked to have sex while dressed up as a stuffed animal. In the world of sexual fetishes there is a huge difference between those things.”
“Um guys?” I said meekly.
Both Dena and Marcus turned to me as if suddenly remembering that I was there.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to STICK TO THE CRISIS AT HAND!” I yelled. “No one is currently trying to gaslight me or do a smear campaign on one of my relatives and I’m not sitting here crying my eyes out because Anatoly tried to get it on with Scooby Doo! I’m crying because he GOT it on with a wife I didn’t know about! He didn’t even take the time to come up with a good lie to help me get over it!”
There was a long pause as Marcus and Dena considered this. Mr. Katz removed himself from his spot under the coffee table and left the room. My cat only enjoyed watching substantive arguments.
“Maybe we’re not looking at this the right way.” Dena tapped the top of her cane with deep purple painted nails. “Anatoly didn’t tell you he was married and that’s bullshit no matter how you spin it. But if you haven’t seen or even spoken to your spouse in over six years I think it’s fair to say the relationship is over, even if there is a piece of paper somewhere saying otherwise. So in every way that counts, he’s single.”
“Dena! He’s been lying to me for years!”
Dena nodded and then fixed me with a stare. “Like I said, it’s bullshit. But Sophie, you haven’t always been honest with him either.”
Her words hit a little harder than I think she intended them to. I wasn’t near ready for her to look at this from both sides. I was so angry and although I really wanted to deny it, some of my anger was directed inward. How could I have missed this? I pressed my fingers to my temples. The hammering had never really let up and I was moving past dizzy and into serious nausea.
From the corner of my eye I caught Marcus shooting Dena a quick warning look which Dena acknowledged with a shrug and a sigh. “I’m not taking his side,” she said carefully, “but maybe we should consider the possibility that the reason Anatoly left his wife without taking the time to fill out any divorce papers was because he just needed to disappear without pissing off the in-laws. If I was married to someone who had mob connections I wouldn’t be pushing for alimony when things went sour.”
“You really think Anatoly married into the mob…that he would actually do something that stupid?”
“Well he’s a man, so yes, I think he’s capable of doing incredibly stupid things.”
“I’m sitting right here, Dena,” Marcus said dryly.
“A straight man,” Dena corrected herself, but her tone implied that the caveat was only added to placate him. “Anyway, I think marriage in general is rather stupid. I’d rather get it on with a fat Marlon Brando than let someone rope me into domestic servitude.”
Underneath the flood of turbulent emotion was a nagging feeling. Had Fawn told me that Anatoly had married into…into something? I had been so shocked by the call I hadn’t been able to absorb every word. “If he was really on the run from the mob shouldn’t he be running?” I asked. “He’s been in San Francisco for—“
“Six years,” Dena finished for me. “Yeah, but maybe he settled here because it’s the last place the mob would look.”
“Why would San Francisco be the last place the mob would look?” Marcus asked.
“I don’t know, but in New York, Chicago and Vegas you occasionally hear about some sort of mafia something. But the Mafia never makes headlines here in San Francisco. Maybe they don’t like our weather.”
“Right,” Marcus said smoothly, “or maybe they’re just rainbow-phobic.”
“None of this matters,” I moaned. “What matters is that Anatoly’s been on my case to be more open with him and all the while he’s been hiding a wife. That’s why he didn’t want to marry me.”
“Okay, hold up. You didn’t want to marry him either,” Dena pointed out. “You said you were done with marriage and that you would rather live with him without a government certificate.”
“Would you stop being so damn reasonable and start indulging my righteous indignation!” I cried and then buried my face in my hands and started sobbing in earnest. I heard Marcus get up from his seat and then perch himself on the armrest nearest me so he could make soothing little circles on my back.
“Look at me! I’m a mess,” I choked when I finally found my voice.
“We’re all allowed to be messy every once in a while,” Marcus cooed. “There’ll be plenty of time to tidy up your life later.”
“The thing is,” I moaned, “if he had told me right at the get-go that he had an estranged wife who he never planned to reconcile with I might have found a way to be okay with it because, well, you know,” I reached out and took Dena’s hand in mine, “you’re right, I’m not exactly biting at the bit to get married again. Even if he had told me about all this a year or two into our relationship we might have found a way to work through it. But he never did tell me! He was never going to say a damn word and so I had to find out about his wife from the person who has caused more pain to those I love than anyone else on earth.”
“Yes,” Dena said darkly, “that part is seriously inexcusable.”
“It’s the lying,” I insisted again. “The total deceit and the secretiveness. You know he’s been getting calls lately, calls that he’s been trying to conceal from me. He said it was business but now I think it was her.”
Marcus lifted his eyebrows. “Why would she start calling out of the blue after six or more years?”
“I don’t know, maybe she found him on Facebook,” I snapped.
“Ah, another good Facebook security tip,” Marcus said, sagely. “If you’re running from the mob set your profile page to private.”
I almost smiled. Almost. “I just have this feeling that the calls were coming from her,” I said. “There’s a reason this whole thing is coming to a head now. I just know she’s not totally out of his life. I know it the way I knew that he was keeping a secret from me. I should have listened to my gut from the start.” I shook my head vehemently. “God, I feel like such an idiot! Like I’m one of those women you see on daytime talk shows who needs to learn how to stop being a victim.”
“Honey,” Marcus said with a sigh, “who in their right mind thinks their live-in-boyfriend is secretly married? And when you did find out you kicked his booty to the curb.”
“That’s not being a victim,” Dena agreed. “That’s taking care of yourself.”
“And now I’m alone.”
“No,” Dena said firmly, squeezing my hand a little tighter. “Alone is something you’ll never be.”
“I know. I have family and friends and one reasonably affectionate cat. But it’s not the same.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Dena said and then cursed softly under her breath. “This whole thing is so fucked up. How did Anatoly react when you confronted him?”
Immediately the look on his face flashed before my eyes. There was the façade of cool but it had been thin this time, even transparent, and behind it I had seen the pain both pure and intense. These were his lies that we were dealing with. His manipulations and yet when I had confronted him it was me who was causing that pain.
I started crying harder and Dena and Marcus slipped into silence as they waited for me to get it out of my system.
When the sobs were finally reduced to sniffles Dena put her cane gently on the redwood coffee table before scooting even closer to me and putting our joined hands in her lap. “You’ll get through this.”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
I used the back of my free hand to wipe away my slowing tears and stared out the bay window. The street light outside my house flickered and died and suddenly all I could see of the outside world was darkness.
“I’m sorry I defended him,” Dena said. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
“It’s okay,” I said quietly.
“No, it’s not. It’s not what you needed to hear.” She paused and then took in a quick startled breath. “Wait! I know what you really need!”
“You need a three-day free pass to Vegas’ annual sex-toy trade show!”
Marcus coughed softly and turned away to hide a smile. From anyone else this would have sounded insane. But this was Dena. I kept my eyes on the window. “I don’t think that’s what I need.”
“Of course it is. I go every year just so I can keep the inventory of Guilty Pleasures up to date with the latest and greatest in sexually deviant technology. It’s a fantastic show, Sophie, and it starts this Friday!”
“This is too much all at once,” Dena pressed on. “If you don’t distract yourself you’re going to sit here and go over it all again and again and again. You’ll over-analyze.”
“Oh God, Dena, I don’t even know if it’s possible to over-think this thing. It’s all so convoluted.”
“Please. You can over-think anything. But the good news is that it’s very hard to think in Vegas. The whole city is designed to encourage people to turn off their brains. Oh, and Puppetry Of The Penis is going to be in Vegas this weekend!”
“No!” Marcus gasped. “They never perform in Vegas!”
I looked at Marcus in confusion and then back at Dena. “Puppetry of the Penis?”
“Yeah, it’s a traveling show with a bunch of guys who can tie their dicks into a whole bunch of funky shapes, like origami. I already have two tickets. I was going to take Jason but you know, he can play with his own penis. You have to come, Sophie. It’ll be better than Zoloft.”
“I just broke up with the love of my life! What about this situation makes you think I would want to watch a whole bunch of guys on stage tying their dicks up in knots?”
“Because it looks painful,”
“Really painful,” Marcus said under his breath.
“--and if you use your imagination,” Dena continued, “you can pretend that it’s Anatoly’s dick being deformed and laughed at on stage.”
I hesitated for a moment. “People laugh?”
“That’s the whole point. It’s a comedy act.”
I looked over at my built in bookshelf. Those weren’t all my books. Those were Anatoly’s Leon Uris’ next to my Alice Walker novels. His Hemingways nestled against my Fitzgeralds. We had combined our lives and now I was going to have to disassemble all of it. “Maybe a weekend of Vegas style debauchery isn’t such a bad idea,” I said quietly.
Dena grinned. “It’s a fantastic idea. We can all go!”
Marcus shook his head making his well-trimmed, short locs swing side to side. “I have clients this weekend. Perms, cuts and highlights and that’s just Saturday.”
“But your clients will understand if you have a family emergency,” Dena insisted.
“Honey, women who need a color aren’t very understanding.”
“Marcus,” Dena said again. “Family. Emergency.”
My eyes were still on the bookshelf. What about the books we had bought since we had been together, the ones we had both read? Who would get those?
I was deep in thought over this when I realized that the room had gone silent. Marcus was watching me with a worried expression. “Who will get to keep the new, autographed David Sedaris book?” I asked softly.
Marcus exhaled loudly his eyes moving from my face to my disastrous mess of hair. “All right,” he said, “we’ll go to Vegas.”
“I’m sorry,” my sister said, a thin undercurrent of static made her words a little more difficult to hear through my cell phone, “did you say you’re going to Vegas? That’s a little random even for you!”
I sighed and rested my head on my knees. After Dena and Marcus left I had packed up some of Anatoly’s things in boxes and then, when I got to the closet, I had faltered and ended up putting on one of his shirts. I was still wearing it and now I was on the floor surrounded by old pictures of us. Totally pathetic.
“Really? That’s the part of the story you find most interesting?” Mr. Katz pressed himself against my leg and looked up at me expectantly. “You did hear the part about the secret wife, right? And his little story about the mob? Shouldn’t you be asking me about that?”
“Of course that’s all horrible,” she said slowly, “but yes, Sophie, I find the fact that you’re hightailing it to a Vegas-sex-toy-trade-show right after walking away from a long term relationship to be the most interesting part of this story.”
I hesitated, a photo booth strip of snapshots in my hand. For once I could actually see my sister’s point.
“This is just like the time you went to Vegas after dad died.”
And just like that I thought she was crazy again. “Not even a little bit.” I dropped the photo booth snapshots and picked up a picture of Anatoly and me at the Crissy Fields 4th of July fireworks show. I really needed to stop torturing myself. And I would, right after I went through one more stack of photos.
“Really? If I remember rightly you couldn’t deal with your emotions then either. So you ran off to Vegas with Scott, got drunk or high or God knows what and then the two of you enlisted a female Elvis impersonator to marry you in a Denny’s parking lot! Do you remember that, Sophie?”
“Of course I remember that,” I snapped, “I mean some of it’s a little fuzzy, we really did drink a lot that night. But I do remember parts of it.”
“Oh good God.”
“Come on Leah, I was only nineteen. It was ten full years ago!”
“Fifteen years,” Leah corrected.
“Okay, I’m having a crisis and you think this is a good time to remind me of my real age? As far as I’m concerned 19 was and always will be ten years ago.” Mr. Katz pressed against me more insistently. I had forgotten to feed him. I groaned and forced myself to my feet.
“But nothing.” I carefully stepped over the clutter of photographed memories, left the room and headed down the stairs to the kitchen, Mr. Katz close at my heels. “Yes, I’m upset. But I guarantee you I’m not going to marry anyone this time around. At worst I’ll hook up with the latest waterproof bullet toy in a hotel bathtub.”
“You need help.”
“Which is why I’m going to a sex toy trade show. That will help.” I wasn’t at all sure that was true but I was enjoying shocking Leah enough to pretend.
“Well just so you know, I’m not going to do any drugs.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I know what kind of things people do in Vegas. I know they…drop things—”
“Drop things?” I poured some food into Mr. Katz’ bowl. He rushed in to eat before I was done and ended up with a small pile of kibble on the back of his head. “What kind of things do people drop?” I asked as I put the bag away. “Inhibitions? Money? The beat?”
I paused. “I’m not sure more people drop acid in Vegas than they do eight blocks down from here on Haight Street.”
“I just want you to know that I won’t be doing any of that.”
“Okay…wait,” I froze, my hand resting on a drying martini glass. “You’re not suggesting that you’ll be coming, are you?”
“Of course I’m coming.”
“You can’t!” I stammered. “You’re not invited! You hate Vegas! You’d have to find a last minute babysitter for my nephew! You’re coordinating Mary Ann’s wedding and that’s only a month away! You’re a social conservative! No social conservatives at sex-toy-trade shows! It’s a law, Leah!”
“Sophie, I am not going to let you go unchaperoned to Vegas when you’re upset again! Not after what happened last time!”
“Oh my God, are you listening to me at all? I am totally over the lets-have-a-female-Elvis-impersonator-marry-us-in-a-Denny’s-parking-lot phase of my life!” I pounded my hand against the kitchen counter for emphasis. “Now I’m in the to-hell-with-men-I’m-buying-a-vibrator phase! Really, you don’t need to come!”
“And mama will take care of Jack if I tell her where you’re planning to go. She remembers what happened last time too.”
“Leah,” I said, taking the martini glass in hand and crossing over to the freezer for the vodka, “this is not a good plan.”
“I’m going with friends this time, not some guy I’ve been dating. There is no risk of matrimony”
“Did you just humph?” That even got Mr. Katz’ attention. He glanced up from his meal with an inquisitive stare. Nobody humphed anymore.
“I really think I should be there.”
“It’s not necessary,” I sighed. I tried to shoot Mr. Katz a look of exasperation but now that we’d finished humphing he had returned his focus to his meal. “Both Dena and Marcus will be there to save me from...from the LSD dropping bachelors who will undoubtedly be trying to drag me to the alter.”
“I don’t like this.”
I hopped up on the counter and took a sip of my drink. I knew the sound of victory when I heard it. “It’s for the best that you stay here, Leah. Mary Ann needs you. You know how brides get in the last thirty days leading up to their wedding.”
“True,” Leah said reluctantly, “It’s just that...oh, hold on a moment.” Leah’s voice became more distant as she pulled away from the receiver, “Jack, stop that right now. Pancakes do not go into the DVD player!”
There was some more muffled scolding and the protesting cry of my young nephew. “Leah, Leah can you hear me?” I asked. “I have to go. I need to consume a lot of alcohol now and all this talking’s slowing me down.”
“You know better than this, Jack!” Her voice had become even more distant indicating that she was now at least a few feet from the phone. “I simply can’t have you trying to feed our appliances anymore!”
“Leah! I’m hanging up now, okay?”
“How would you like it if I tried to put a DVD in your mouth! You wouldn’t like it, would you Jack? Would you? No, no! Don’t you dare put your tongue on that DVD!”
I hung up the phone. Between letting my sister try to comfort me here in San Francisco and going to Vegas to look at vibrators and origami shaped penises…well, the latter was quite clearly the saner option.