Disgustby Josepha Gutelius
She is very chatty as people are when they harbor big, ugly secrets. So chatty, a lot like her emails to my husband, which run to three, five, sometimes seven pages, just on and on. I have to press zoom to read them, the font is so tiny. My husband has never mentioned her to me and the fact that he’s avoiding her at this party explains how come he rushes off on urgent errands on Saturday nights. Her name is Monolisa — “o.” In a matter of minutes she tells me everything I know about her already from her emails, her swanky alma mater, her semi-famous friends, her utmost favorite movies. Guests drift around us, and I pay them no heed. I give Monolisa my undivided attention, which she can’t avoid, even if she’d like to: I keep her cornered in the kitchen. We stand, we don’t sit. We sip tea and rum, old lady drinks. That’s right: she isn’t as young as I imagined. Taking one, two, and ten close looks at her, I feel flattered by my husband’s choice. She isn’t overly more attractive than me (I am maybe fractionally tubbier). A ruddy complexion: she loves winter, skipping in the snow, she says. All that cathartic white. I interrupt her to hazard a guess she loves a particular French movie. I am so right. Surprise (how did I know?). The opening episode in the film is her personal favorite, she says, when the wife is searching from room to room in their country house, calling out “Daniel, Daniel!” Wind is shifting the curtains in the rooms, the woman is a beauty, her charming French voice echoes through the stylishly appointed villa by the sea. And then the realization dawns: her husband has left, is gone for good. The camera comes close and peers into the wife’s eyes, which are surprisingly twinkly. Her husband has disappeared and …
And this is was when the film got interesting… she’s happy?
Monolisa says she totally empathizes with the woman in the movie: so oblivious to the calamity of being alone. So chirpy and resilient. Just the sort of woman she is, she says. I splash more rum into my tea, then into Monolisa’s. She remembers the soundtrack in the movie is a gloomy, all-enveloping fugue that does not at all mirror the wife’s mysterious, ever-present smile. “It was like she was onto something we viewers can only guess at,” she says. By the end of the movie the mystery is left hanging. Was the husband murdered, did he commit suicide? It was never made clear if he was dead, or if he had gone off to a clandestine life. I butt in: “He was cheating on her. So bully for him.” (“Bully” is a word I only use when I’m drunk.)
“What? Did they ever show that? He was cheating?”
“Well it’s a safe assumption,” I say, “come on, it’s French.”
“Okay, assuming. It’s obvious the marriage sucked.”
I don’t say, but I feel personally offended by her notion of the Disposable Marriage. (My therapist would call this the Triggering Moment. My fault: I brought up the damn movie.)
“The sneaky husband and his sneaky girlfriend,” I say to Monolisa.
She is looking at me with wide eyes. “In the movie?” she says. “What movie are we talking about?” Her forehead is wrinkled in puzzlement. Trigger, trigger.
“I don’t get why you’re defending the cheating husband,” I say.
“But — he’s not even in the movie!”
“You know, you know what I mean,” I say, pouring more rum into my cup. There’s no tea left, I’m chugging straight shots of Clearheart and I’m not sharing. I give her an enigmatic smile that I hope reminds her of the actress in the movie. (What are movies for, if they don’t help us reflect on our own lives?)
I say, “Cheating is a bad choice, what do you think about that, Monolisa?”
Her eyes seek another side of the kitchen, where my husband is shaking hands with a group of friends saying their good-byes.
I stab a shrimp with my fork, pop it into my mouth. Bad idea. Nausea creeps around the edges of my unfolding migraine, so typical when I’m angry. If only I had ruddy cheeks, if only I could dance naked atop a mound of snow (to quote one of her emails). My husband sidles near, nods hello to Monolisa but doesn’t betray more than a passing politeness. He has my coat hooked over his arm. Quick: I give him an apologetic look. I know how he hates being one of the last ones to leave a party. “So we’re on?” I say to Monolisa. I’ve asked her to go to a movie with me next Saturday, French, of course.
“Can’t wait, ” she says. “I’ll send you an email.” And in parting she slips her business card into my hand. Monolisa, Social Networker, quote.
My husband and I walk in silence to the car. The stars are out, snow crunches under our boots. I can see this is going to get ugly. His face is grim in the light as he opens the car door. I’m itching to blast him out of the woods, but I am not in good shape.
“Tell me you’re not going to,” he says, getting into the car.
“What? I shouldn’t see a movie with her?” I ask. My head is pounding, my stomach bubbles.
“I mean don’t tell her your email address,” he says. “Just a warning: the woman is an unbelievable pest. She’s got a bcc list a mile long.”
I barely have time to think: I can’t wait to get on her list. My new, smart friend. And with one heave I send Clearheart, shrimp, and Celestial Seasons into Monolisa’s cathartic snow.