The bass thumps so loud and hard that the half-open bathroom window rattles in time. It opens to a backyard packed with people writhing and bouncing on a makeshift dance floor under festoons of lights and a painted black sky.
Willa stands at the bathroom sink glancing from the open window to her reflection. She adjusts her breasts, lifting them one at a time, plumping them like cushions, which reminds her how she put her boys to bed on the fold-out sofa in the living room tonight, how’d they’d piled on top of her, trying to get her to lie down, too. From this window she can see her house lurking just behind a row of ornamental cypress. It looks squat and dumpy, a dull plaster facade dotted by the darkened windows of the boys’ bedroom, curtains decorated with faded planets and cartoon rocket ships.
In the mirror, her breasts look deflated, like someone knocked the stuffing out. As if there had been a rowdy pillow fight and both sides lost, she thinks, and the music is so loud someone should call the cops, but then again, the noise is probably the reason they were invited. So they wouldn’t report a disturbance.
Someone knocks on the bathroom door and when she opens, Daisy, Jono’s much younger live-in girlfriend, squeals and kisses her on both cheeks. “How are your little darlings?”
“Fast asleep. I stuffed their ears with toilet paper.”
“Toilet paper! That’s awesome!”
“Vince was here earlier and now it’s my turn.”
“You’re here alone?” Willa nods. Daisy ushers her into the room across the hall. “Wait here while I pee.”
Daisy and Jono’s bedroom smells of incense and pot smoke and something vaguely animal. It smells of sex, hot, sweaty yoga sex, or maybe that’s just Willa’s imagination. He is a yoga instructor and she was one of his star pupils, now selling handcrafted dreamcatchers on Etsy. They’d moved in three years ago and as neighbors, they’d been perfectly nice. They had no kids but didn’t complain when the boys’ toys ended up in their yard, even when the boys were especially rambunctious or when she and Vince got into a fight, although it didn’t happen often, when it did the neighbors could probably hear every single word. Willa imagined their fights sounded sad-funny like a vaudeville skit. A broken tuba and wheezy squeezebox. But when neighbors meet on the sidewalk, they are perfectly cordial, exchanging diffuse suburban pleasantries. Nothing disturbing, nothing personal. When you live so close you can’t afford anything more or less.
Willa has been in their house once or twice before, but had never seen their bedroom. She stands in the middle of the room since there’s nowhere to sit, just a mattress on the floor piled with tapestries and blankets. There is no bedside table, either, just a giant jar of extra virgin coconut oil beside the bed.
When Daisy returns, Willa is inspecting a complicated wooden contraption pushed up against the wall. Daisy demonstrates by swinging one leg over it and and leaning back, pelvis thrust up to the ceiling. “Looks kinda kinky, right?”
“I wasn’t going to say anything….”
“Come on, take a wild guess what it’s for.”
“Trojan horse?” Daisy shakes her head. “Skateboard ramp? Medieval instrument of torture?”
“Setu Bandha Sarvangasana.” Daisy exhales deeply. “A pose to help conception.”
“Wait. You and Jono are trying?” Daisy beams and strokes her abs with myopic smugness. Willa’s congratulations are interrupted by the DJ’s announcement. It’s time to serenade the birthday boy. On their way outside, Daisy places one hand on Willa’s midsection where the flesh billows over the waistband of her jeans: “For good luck,” she explains.
Outside, the crowd sings a raucous happy birthday to Jono who stands at the center of the dance floor, bowing deeply, feigning embarrassment. After the last note, Daisy gives him a ravenous kiss and the crowd barks and hoots when he grabs two handfuls of her ass. The crowd is clad in stretchy, slinky stuff with feathers and bangles and lots of exposed skin. A bunch of young women Willa assumes are his students line up to wish him well, and he’s grinning and grabbing like a kid but she knows he’s at least her age, maybe older. They’ve crossed paths early morning, pre-shower, pre-coffee, and she’s seen the pink of his scalp playing peek-a-boo with the sun. He’s seen her, too, in the t shirt she sleeps in, shapeless as a pile of laundry, and they’d always avert their eyes in mutual respect.
Willa grabs a drink in a mason jar. When Daisy waves her over, Willa wishes him a happy birthday and they hug awkwardly. “It’s Willa from next door,” Daisy reminds him. “Vince went home so she could come, too.”
“You mean he couldn’t stay?” Jono says with a half-pout, half-smile. “That’s no fun at all!”
“Someone has to be there in case the kids wake up,” Willa explains. “It’s a tag team effort. We take turns having fun.”
“Well, I guess that’s fair,” he says, but his face says otherwise.
“I told Willa we’re trying to get pregnant,” Daisy tells him as she leans forward, reaches back, and lifts her foot over her head. “She’s our local expert, after all.”
The look on Jono’s face is simultaneously amused and appalled, the expression you might make if someone’s mother told you a dirty joke. Punchlines flicker and sputter across his face. Finally he says, “Well, at least we’re practicing!”
“You’ve got to start somewhere, right?” Willa says, raising her jar. “Here’s to getting lots of practice!” They all drink to that. Then the music starts thumping again and there’s a guy with an LED hula hoop spinning around him and a hammock crammed with people and a tent set up in the corner of the yard to house the eight-tentacled hookah. Willa chats with a guy with a face tattooed on his neck, and finds herself gazing into the tattooed eyes as he talks. A girl in pink fur boots reads her palm, but everything she says about Willa’s life is boring.
Willa gets another drink and leans against a tree, looking up at her boys’ bedroom window. After putting them to bed a couple hours ago, she’d stood at that window trying to catch a glimpse of Vince at the party. There he’d been, standing right beside this tree, wearing his best smile and the denim shirt that makes him look like a sexy mechanic. Seeing him with his hands thrust deep his pockets and his hair slicked back with gel was like seeing a photograph she’d taken years before but no longer remembered. From a distance, his edges were crisp and clean. She wanted to fly out the window, wrap him like a blanket, and bury her face in his chest. She’d yanked the window open and leaned out into the cool, fresh air, waving, but he didn’t see her. She looks for him now but the frame is empty.
A familiar song begins, one she used to lose herself to in college back when she had an apartment in the city and she’d go dancing almost every night. My song! she thinks, because it feels that personal. The beat drops as wetly as flesh falling to the floor and crawls up her legs, grabs her tailbone, and yanks her into the middle of the dance floor where the sky is open and bodies press close. The singer moans and squeals, ooie shah shah coo coo yeah, and she closes her eyes and forgets herself, bobbing in a body of bodies, undulating in time, hips bumping and palms sliding against skin, the skin of her palms might be anyone’s, and after awhile it feels like something more than dancing—a collective endeavoring ancient primordial design, like we’re all plugged into the same outlet, like we’re building a pyramid, and she’s lost but it doesn’t matter, she could be anyone or anything, she might look like the married mother from next door but really, she’s the one who danced to this song, she’s dancing.
When the song ends, Willa walks quickly through the crowd, past Jono who reaches out to grab her ass and Daisy who laughs and bats his hand away, and out the gate to where the sidewalk outside her house is tic-tac-toed with chalk and the lawn is strewn with plastic toys that gleam like jurassic relics in the moonlight. She nudges the front door open and steps inside where the air is close and heavy with exhalations, bacon grease, and dirty socks. In the congested foyer she slips off her shoes and holds out her hands so she won’t bump into anything. She pads past the fold-out sofa loaded with sleeping bodies, resisting the urge to tuck them in, up the stairs, and down the hall, taut and deliberate as if she were trying not to spill.
Their bedroom curtains are drawn tight and it takes awhile for her eyes to adjust and find him on the far edge of the bed, his back to her, his pillow clenched over his head. She stands there for a long time shifting from one leg to the other, willing his eyes to open.
Hi. I really love your play with words. You’re an amazing writer. I do hope reading more of your work would help me improve my writing skills.
Wow I was really lost in this. Your writing is beautiful and captivating. I desperately want the story to continue. Your words are so vibrant, like they want to leap off the page.
Wonderful narration…just loved the way you weaved the story… 🙂
Just a few of the ones that got me: “a broken tuba and a wheezy squeeze box” (ours must sound like a pit bull versus an ice pick); “myopic smugness”; “simultaneously amused and appalled, the expression you might make if someone’s mother told you a dirty joke. Punchlines flicker and sputter across his face”; “assumes are his students” (you loaded a lot of powder in a small shell there). You’re such an artist with our words. You take ordinary ones and assemble them in fresh ways that ping meaning off murky targets like a sonar. Your voice is never pretentious or contrived, it sounds like the honest street lingo of your own culture. Just wondering though… were you channeling the 80’s in this, or does all that really still go on up there? Parties are much flatter down here in tan land.