I wanted to tell myself I was only having trouble finding inspiration. That's what I wanted to tell myself, and I could've, but I would know, as would my empty Microsoft Word 2000 window (somehow) that that was a lie.
The truth was self-evident. Anytime I fumbled to put together a line and analyse how it sounded in my head I would take a break, which was when she would appear. I could see her now. She was smiling wonderfully at me with a broad toothy grin and an open neckline screaming "I'm so yours". Memory, a certain language dubbed it. I remembered every last inch of Nikki, from the warmth of her firm little breasts to the extra spicing of Pinot Noir still clinging to her lips as I kissed her goodbye. I remembered the way her little diamond nose stud sparkled in the moonlight. I remembered her eyes.
Nikki was all the inspiration I needed.
I couldn't translate that night into the page though. No way. Although we shared both body and memories, the woman who kissed and caressed and made love to Nikki was not the same woman sitting here waiting for inspiration to strike her like Artemis' arrow. It might seem nonsensical to some, me thinking that I could just walk away from my cruel infidelities and blame them on an unruly alter ego of mine. I get it. It was a curious fiction, a falsehood, my way of suppressing the reality of it all, but that curious fiction was what kept me going. It kept me from contemplating what it really meant to break vows of marriage and risk the cosy nuclear-familial environment I was raising my kids in. Nikki was the antithesis of all that. She represented the human in me, the unscrupulous Nietzschean in me, the sadist in me; the woman who just didn't give a damn. She was the woman who kissed Nikki. Eliza's beautiful handiwork.
And Eliza wasn't me. Not right now at least.
Right now I needed to be plain old Elizabeth Harvey. Unfortunately plain old Elizabeth Harvey wasn't cutting the mustard when it came to composing the first segment of her next novel. I sighed, leaned back in my swivelling desk chair and its worn black upholstery, reached for my coffee, and peered out of my window as I indulged in a long sip.
My street was banal.
There was no other pejorative capable of describing it. It was banal. A winding suburban local infested with boring cobblestone paths, prosaic white picket fences and trite lawn ornaments. Little dwarves and plastic kittens. Ugh. I think I even heard the jingle of an ice cream truck the other day. Ugh. This pedestrian suburban climate made all the little kids out there playing hopscotch and double-dutch look even more generic than they already did. Ugh.
I didn't want that for my kids. I wanted Angela and Kyle to grow up questioning the world around them, to embrace its diversity, not pander to the unoriginality of this place.
...Oh, but I suppose that was the New Yorker in me talking, not the mother. My not-so-common youth was spent in dank apartment buildings that pierced skies higher than those kids had known. I lived in locals that overlooked the centre of the world, a city boasting every faith, hue and accent upon Earth. That was my home. New York. A city that could chew up and spit out anyone of these boring suburbanites and grind them into a find powder between its unrefined molars.
Was that it? Was I missing my hometown already?
I wasn't sure. It had been a long time since my last sojourn in the Big Apple. Perhaps maybe a year? Yeah, a year sounds about right. It was right around the time my father withdrew his bid for the New York State Senate seat. He needed a shoulder to cry on, and with Mom dead, mine had to do. They were ample enough for Daddy, I suppose. Ample enough for him to fly me out from Connecticut all expenses paid. While it was nice to be back home it only lasted a week and John was absolutely intolerable the whole time. He refused to share a falafel with me, refused to let the kids play outside and refused to come visit my Mom's old neighbourhood with me. It was the upper east side and yet, if my out-of-towner husband were to be believed, you'd think it were the Wild West. He was like an old woman with a handbag, clutching bitterly to the thing and casting the evil eye at anyone who even looked like a mugger.
John was a worrier.
The funny thing about worry though, is that it's almost always accompanied by thought, or at the very least contemplation. I respect people who think and plan before they do things, even the little things. I guess that's why I married him. It certainly wasn't for his four-point-three inch crotch rocket.
That week with Daddy was an opportunity, though. I still don't even know what he called me for, especially when he has his `real' kids to attend to his needs, but I liked revisiting the old life. I appreciated it. Although, after you go north of thirty you start to realize just how impossible it is to go back to those good old tweenie years. After the big three-zero, things change. Your breasts just don't bounce the way they used to and your mini-skirts just don't catch as many eyes as they once did. What was once twelve glasses of Sambuca and passionate sex with a hot Puerto Rican girl in the backseat of a Mazda, becomes a mug of cocoa and falling asleep in your husband's arms during 60 Minutes. I think I miss Ed Bradley sometimes, though.
...The coffee felt good going down. I can't do without some piping hot java on hand while I write. It kept me awake and kept me focused between long sentences. Well, normally it did. Right now I couldn't begin to focus. Every time I tried my mind wondered to Nikki or my Father or New York or something else in my life I keep fucking well yearning for. Aren't I too professional for this? I'm already a week behind schedule. Dah. That doesn't change anything. There was little in life that could match the sight of nubile Nikki dancing an orgasmic waltz upon my fingers.
I heaved a sigh strong enough to send ripples through my coffee. Nikki had been a permanent fixture in my head since that night we slept together. I couldn't help myself. I could be doing something incredibly blasé, like, I dunno... ironing shirts or making the kids' lunch or something, and she would appear. The sheer character in her eyes still prowled my mind like a spectre. They were sparkling jewels and I was the `slow' kid impressed by shiny things. Their edges were sharp and jagged and I aught to looking elsewhere for my amusement, but the jewels were too pretty. They were all I wanted and Nikki was all I could think about.
It was curious though. Despite my history of `picking up' girls I never thought about them this much after the night. I approached my sexual conquests with all the callousness of your garden variety frat-boy. Get in, unzip, get laid, re-zip, and get out. A true and tried five-step jackass program. That was my thing now. Prostitutes get their crack money and I get my libido quenched. No fuss, no muss. Those girls meant nothing to me.
So why didn't I feel the same way about Nikki?
Well she certainly wasn't like the other girls, that was for darn sure. There was history behind her and her adorable nose stud that I found myself wondering about. Where did she come from? Where were her parents? Did she have any friends? Was she at home getting a well deserved rest or was she selling herself again? Who knew? I certainly didn't. But I wanted to know everything about her.
Then there was a knock on my door.
This was my study, not our bedroom, so I could've been sour enough to ask "Who is it?" before John came in but I didn't see the point today. He was all smiles and bunny rabbits as he approached my desk. He was such a happy guy. Happy enough to make you nauseous. That being said, he was a tremendous father.
"Hi Honey," he kissed my cheek. "Still no joy, huh?"
I sighed again."Nope."
He always seemed to know when I wasn't having a good time with my work and that had been happening a lot lately. In this past week the focus just wasn't there. And John was almost always at hand, sometimes with chocolate milk and cookies, to kiss me good luck and give me a reassuring hug. I know for many women he would've been the complete package. Dignified, kind, considerate, and clean-cut; working a decent nine-to-five at an advertising agency and earning himself a healthy wage packet in the process (even luckier for him, John was one of the few people amongst his staff to retain his position after a series of job cuts threatened his confidence). John Harvey was a good man and you couldn't ask for much more than that when it came to men, but...
"You'll get your flow back," he said, interrupting my thoughts. His thick hands went to my shoulders and kneaded them. His touch was not soft. I know it's cruel to say when all John wanted to do was relax me but he was no masseuse. There's a certain kind of gentleness that men just don't have no matter how frigid or tender they presume to be. I often wonder if the Y chromosome was naturally built for any kind of delicacy at all.
"You think?" I whispered.
I could almost hear his smile`s confidence. "I know it. It's probably just your body telling you you've been working too hard recently. You need more rest, Honey. Don't forget about the book signing tomorrow, either."
With everything going on right now I actually had forgotten about that. When you end up selling half a million books in the space of a year and a half, especially in this lame economic climate, you tended to get more than a few offers for book signings and readings and guest lectures. Truth of the trade. Beneath all the bluster of that 'success' though, my detective series, The Garnet's Eye, was as big a cross to bear as it was a check to cash.
What's a piece of art really worth if you don't believe in the message behind it?
"I'll go to bed early," I remarked, tilting my head back. My shoulders didn't feel anymore relaxed now than they did before John started massaging them, but he did at least take my mind off Nikki. "As soon as I tuck in the kids."
"Sounds good. But before you do," my skin prickled when he leaned against my left ear and whispered coolly, "There's a bottle of Merlot I haven't opened in months... maybe we could open it and..."
What lie could I tell him now? I had a headache? I was too tired? I was on the rag? (like I hadn't already used that one this month). I was already sick of those lies. But I was even more sick of pretending that things might be otherwise. We've been married for years now so I didn't remember if I was attracted to John or not when I first met him, but I knew where I stood now and right now I certainly didn't. I know it makes me a terrible wife to say it but I hate sleeping with him. And it didn't matter how many work-outs he did nor how many cinnamon-flavoured condoms he bought, I've never been 'in the mood' with him and I can't remember the last time he made me come.
But I couldn't say no again.
It was a monthly ritual. Every week he'd accost me and two fortnight's later I'd give in, not because I wanted him, but because I felt so utterly guilty for treating him the way I was. Alongside Angela and Kyle, our two beautiful kids, I was the centre of his universe. It'd break his heart if he knew that all the urges simmering inside me now were intended for Nikki and not him.
Goddamnit, why am I so cold-hearted?
"...Sounds good, baby..." I lied. Again. I nearly retched at the creeping thought of his penis roughly jutting in and out of me again. Suddenly I just had to do all I could to get him off of me. "John, Honey, could you do me a favour?"
"Sure. What's up?"
With care I slipped my shoulders free of his grip and grabbed the mouse. My computer's monitor exited its screensaver and returned to the login page. "...I-I-I think I'm getting a second wind here, so... could you pick up the kids for me? I gave Sean the day off."
Somewhere in his crown-balding head I imagined John wanting to ask me why I gave Sean the day off, but he knows he can't. His services are rendered in exchange for my money, not his, and John and I had unspoken agreements about our personal expenses. I consider Sean's driving our kids to and from school to be a personal expense.
I typed my password without looking at him."Thanks, John."
"It's okay," he paused. "It's almost three. I should probably get going then."
"Have a safe trip."
I heard him sigh."Sure. I'll be back in forty minutes or so."
"Sounds great. Oh, but on your way, could you pick up a carton of milk? We just ran out and you know how Angela gets if she doesn't have some milk before bed. You don't mind stopping by a convenience store, do you?"
Even if he did he would never say it. I knew that. He knew that too. On some level I'm sure it occurred to John that I was trying to get rid of him, but he played the part of the righteous husband so damn well -- he merely conceded and kissed my cheek goodbye before leaving my office. Three minutes later his car engine roared outside my window. A minute or two after that and he was gone.
I breathed a very guilty sigh of relief.
As selfish of me as it was to do that, it ended up being one of the luckiest decisions I ever made. Because I was so busy actually trying to find my second wind and relieved to have John out from under my feet for a little, it never occurred to me that someone might ring my buzzer. Never. I was drinking my coffee at the time. When it buzzed I was so startled I spilt some of it. So I tried to ignore it, knowing full well that John had a key and that we kept a spare one underneath one of his potted chrysanthemums, but the buzzing wouldn't go away. In fact it got more insistent and was joined by the jarring sound of this person banging their fist on my door.
"Tch!" I scowled.
Whoever it was wasn't going away until I told them to. So I set my now half empty coffee down, went into the bedroom I shared with John, changed out of my now coffee-stained sweater into a jet black turtleneck I bought during my `bohemian' phase, and switched my skirt for some beige khakis I had lying around. Even as I was going downstairs the banging at my door was incessant.
"Okay! I'm coming! For God's sake, calm the hell-"
I opened the door.
I could hardly utter a word. Underneath the shade of my porch, with kids cycling and skipping rope in the background, was Nikki, my Nikki, slumped up against the frame with a teary-eyed look of relief. A trail of blood trickled down her jaw from a gash on her plump lower lip. Her urbanite clothing was scuffed and unkempt. Her previously luscious hair was in a sweaty disarray. And I could hardly utter a word.
"I'm so glad I found you..." I saw the blood in her teeth when she spoke. "You gotta help me, Elizabeth..."
* I love Elizabeth's character. Bitter, cynical, maybe even a little callous -- I dig that. It makes sense. Disappointment to her Dad, in an unhappy relationship, hiding her sexuality, uncomfortable with the newfound popularity in her writing career, exploiting young girls -- it's a lot to be bemused about.
* You know the drill. If you like what you read, visit my blog,http://ksn-kaiser.blogspot.com/ or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.