There's a crack in my cup, just the tiniest little thread of imperfection creeping down from the lip of the good china, and the longer I stare at it the more it consumes me. I'm having a Mad Men moment of controlled tempers seething hazily through the keeping-up of appearances, just standing here in my Dream Kitchen with a gimlet and one momentous tear. Every love squabble is a missile crisis is a lost advertising account is a broken nail is an unwanted pregnancy is a McCain presidency. I am, at this second, January Jones in a cold December.
"If you don't want me here, I'll leave early," Alan's jaw tightens into his furrowed brow. "Why don't you just go out and hang out with your friends and party? I'll get out of your way."
Kennedy's just been shot again.
"So then, what's this?" I bow my back as I pack up his laptop for his hasty exit on his private plane. "Which 19-year-old Latin American are you getting instant messages from now?"
And there goes Marilyn's last pill. The door slams, the apron crumples to the floor, and the sigh echoes into every corner of the smoke-filled set. In silhouette, as if on cue, the blood races from my clenched fist into the compulsive sector of my fermented mind. I've got to get out. I've got to go somewhere, somewhere where I can burn the anxiety off.
"Let's get a drink," comes the text from Taylor. "I was thinking something French."
"Oh, I love France," I can burn there. "I've always wanted to go to France."
Taylor arrives at the scene of my cold war, not very far from his own. Our parallel historical romances have each found their Waterloo in this particular moment, and from the wild eyes dancing in unison around my dusty battleground, it's clear that we're both in need of some conspiratorial defeated girl talk. Things shouldn't be this serious. The stock market isn't always crashing. We're going to France.
Or, rather, Chez Vincent in Winter Park.
"Pourquoi?" I drag at a nicotine missile.
"It will be fun there," he frogs.
The real reason, it turns out, is because Taylor's transplanted French friend Michael works there, and Michael (pronounced Mi-kay-EL, just because) is one of those pivotal extraneous figures who is so attractive to look at that it burns your eyes. He's also one of those ridiculous people who doesn't get so caught up in his own dramas that he has to make historical references about them; he'd rather just make you feel good about yourself with a smile and a cock of the eyebrow. In short, he is the perfect distraction in our collective time of global crisis. He could teach us to ride horses.
"Does Michael come on crackers?" I recline into my velvety dining chair, unaware of my very French double entendre.
"Well, I suppose you would have to ask him."
The restaurant is dimly lit in reds and yellows, clanking with the sounds of silverware-to-plate, themselves penetrating the dull strum of Friday-night cover-band futility. Vertical Horizon gives way to Matchbox 20, while the sagging cheek implants and pinched noses of means migrate around in telling packs of old-lady animal prints: a leopard here, a zebra there, some cougars surely skulking below. If you didn't know better, you would suspect that these are people of whispered judgment and unquestionable prudence whose every movement suggests a certain social paralysis. I happen to know better now, because Taylor does.
"When I was here last week, some old man sidled up next to me at the bar," he wistfully recalls, "and all he could talk about was loose women and how he liked to take shits on their breasts, or worse, fuck them while he was taking a shit. He was like 60!"
"Yum," I lick my lips. "Do they serve those French things here that are like doughy scrotums full of meat, vegetables and brown sauce?"
"No, but they have a really good crab cake."
Our liquored crab-cake conversation spirals through sparks of concerned romance invective followed by "I don't want to talk about it," winding its way around foreclosure, failure and the civil rights movement, altogether approximating a sad blender in some pop historian's worst nightmare. When Michael gets off, I leave Taylor in his able custody, content to carry my own descent to its natural nadir.
"Let's get a drink," a text comes from Roy, whose cat just died today and thereby launched the Great Depression. "I'm at Savoy."
From France to London, then. But by the time I arrive there, my Wiki-issues have become liquor ones, and I'm barely able to enjoy the screaming silence of 1980s mullets stripping off their suspenders and varying degrees of plumage to reveal their flaccid penises on the flat-screen. They all look like they're trying so hard — jazz-hands hard — but getting nowhere. I wonder where they are now.
"I'm too drunk," I sputter something that looks like a mushroom cloud over my Hiroshima head and stand up to exit. "I think the world is ending."
Crumbling into my front door, into the empty expanse where civilization once thrived, I'm struck with the realization that Alan should have called by now, that he should have landed in Georgia and at least had the decency to confirm his survival and/or apologize. Alas, he doesn't even pick up his phone when I call.
Standing here with a gimlet as my Dream Kitchen spins around me, another tear wells up. We should be clenching hands and celebrating disarmament at the kitchen table.
"We should talk," I should be saying as I stare blankly at the china cup. "I'm pregnant."firstname.lastname@example.org