HER MAJESTY’S A PRETTY NICE GIRL
April 1, 2002.
The handcuffs were tight. It was not a pleasurable kind of tightness—as in a light pinching, or a even firm squeeze—the kind that builds up blood, desire, and the promise of release. No, this tightness was all about mindless cruelty, punishment, and humiliation.
Where was the love? Claire thought.
What did I expect, letting some yahoo in a uniform pick me up off the street? Well, in the church, if you want to get technical about it. And you did literally pick me up, didn't you, you strapping bastard? Obviously, you want me to beg; oh, you know, don't you, that I don't bottom out for just anyone, eh? But what choice do I have, you handsome sonofabitch?
She held up her bound wrists. "They hurt," she declared to unsympathetic ears, then flailed her hands as much as possible, hoping that this miniature performance piece—she quickly entitled it "Flagellant and Dying Swan Craving Mercy," even though she wasn't quite sure what "flagellant" meant—would move her stoic captor.
"Shut your trap," the cop said.
"That's no way to talk to me, Officer Krupke."
The policeman responded by folding his burly arms across his chest. He had already corrected her abuse of his name three times, and, like any good American male, was a strong adherent of the "three strikes, you're out" policy regarding the bullshit of annoying people, particularly women. He could either smack her or ignore her. Since they were in public, on a crowded corner in front of an Episcopalian church no less, that ruled out the former and thus he reluctantly employed the tactics of the latter. Yes, he believed, he could happily ignore her for as long as it takes; he was rigorously trained to deal with malcontents. He caught shit from all kinds: junkies, prostitutes, violent felons. An hysterical, short white woman? He was on it like cream cheese on a bagel.
Nonetheless, he winced as her mouth opened.
"Do they really know I’m still out here?" Claire asked plaintively.
She had already asked this five times. He nodded wearily.
"And you spoke to—"
Officer Castanets interrupted her. "Ma'am, please."
Claire, maintaining her usual poker-faced calm, saw his interruption and raised an insult. "Officer Cupcake, you're a really handsome fella, no doubt about it, but you have a lousy way of treating a girl. My wrists hurt and I've been sitting in your smelly police cruiser for almost half an hour now. Doesn't the force make you clean these things, for the love of God? Must I be tormented with the smell of yesterday's meatball sub?"
"And must you call me ma'am? I'm only 31. If your cutoff age for 'ma'am' is 30, then I would qualify, I guess, but do I look 31? I don't have children. I don't even have pets. Nothing ages you like responsibility—you should know that."
The policeman's face crumpled into a defensive position. "Whaddya mean by that?"
"Nothing, Officer. It's just—well—"
Claire raised her little manacled wrists and patted his midnight blue arm with both hands, as if he needed a double dose of sympathy for his unremarkable life. "You're really under 45, aren't you?"
He was 35 and had three kids. The other day someone left a pamphlet on "male menopause" in his locker at the station. The cover sported a man—receding hairline and plaid shirt—standing in front of an RV with a toddler and a soccer ball at his feet. Insert the angry wife and prescription drugs and the mirror image would be painfully complete.
"It's the kids that did it to you, Officer Kaltaka. But tell me, how old d'ya think I look? Younger that 31, right?" Her fair eyelashes, propelled by the myth of fraudulent youth, fluttered, her full lips squished into a girlish pout, and—to cap off this performance pastiche (which she hastily titled "Younger than Sodom and Gomorrah")—she tossed her short, shaggy blonde hair for final effect.
He didn't have the heart to tell her she looked like a 31-year-old trying to be 21.
"Come on, tell me that I really look like a 'ma'am.' Go on, I dare you."
He clenched his teeth so hard they ached. "Ma'am—"
"Three strikes, you're out," Claire shot.
"Shut up," he screamed. "You are the most goddamn irritating bitch I've ever come across! So you're a dyke, huh?"
"Who told you that?" Officer Columbiadrugcartel had only been present at the tail end of the incident, indeed, had arrived just in time to witness Claire pinned by three cops and angrily cuffed by two. The exhausted policemen then handed over their hyperactive charge to him and left the scene.
"Don’t get smart with me, Gertrude. It's no wonder you’re gay, what man could put up with you? Hell, I don't even know how another woman could put up with you!"
Claire sighed. "It's been a problem, I admit. I've gone through so many, in so little time, in search of the right one. Regrets? I've had a few. Just let me run down the list." She started ticking off lovers on the fingers of her left hand. "Tracy, Allison, Paula, Christine, Dana—"
"That's my wife's name," he blurted.
Claire grinned. "Really?" she purred. "Did she used to teach math at Stuyvesant?"
She did. Officer Kitcarson exploded. "What the hell is your problem? Why can't you just shut up? You're only making it harder on yourself. I’m not doing anything to you. I’m just trying to do my damn job." When he threw up his arms in frustration, the back of his hand grazed something soft and fleshily firm. It was a nose attached to a tall, beautiful woman with black hair, clad in a wedding dress and holding a flute of champagne.
"Ow," the woman said flatly. She didn't really experience any pain, but nonetheless felt the situation called for some sort of commentary.
"Oh. I'm sorry, Miss—I mean, Mrs.—"
"It's okay, you can call me Ruth." She toasted him by tapping the brim of his cap with her glass.
"Miss—er, Ruth, you can't drink alcoholic beverages in public."
"That's a very tetchy law, Officer," Ruth replied. "Does it apply when one dines al fresco, at a sidewalk cafe? One is occupying public space then, one is in full view of strangers walking by. How public can you get? Where does the space of the sidewalk cafe end and public space begin?"
Now everything made sense to him. Everything fell into its bizarro world place, the square peg scraped, happy and snug, into the round hole. If ever someone was made for the disconsolate lunatic sitting in his cruiser—who was, at this very moment, eyeing the bored bride with idolatrous lust—it was this woman, Ruth. He rubbed his temples. Why she had bothered marrying someone else, he didn’t know, nor was he sure he wanted to.
"Well?" Ruth demanded.
He attempted to bypass the insanity. "Are either you or your parents going to press charges?"
"I don't know." She shrugged casually.
"Wait a minute. I don't have all damn day to sit here! You people have to make up your mind—press charges or I release her. Someone's got to make this decision, Miss."
Claire, momentarily awestruck by the marvelous vision of Ruth in white décolletage, now blinked at the shock of reality's gauntlet once again smacking her in the face. "Officer Calzone, I smell a double standard here! Why does she get called 'Miss' and I get called 'Ma'am'? For God's sake, she's older than I am!"
The bride finally turned her attention to the malcontent. "Shoosh!" Ruth cried, scandalized.
Claire hung her head, moping at the fact that the first word Ruth had spared her during this entire mess was not a real one. However, Ruth was prepared to remedy the situation; she turned her attention to the cop. "Officer Killme, can you give me a few minutes alone with my friend? It will at least give me a few minutes to drink my champagne in a non-public space. Can you permit that?" She squeezed his arm. He closed his eyes and imagined her tight grip around another intimate appendage, indulged a five-second fantasy, sighed, smoked an imaginary cigarette, then nodded.
Ruth ducked into the space of the open car door. "Scoot over, Shorty."
Clumsily, Claire dragged herself across the back seat. She curled against the door as Ruth plopped in and, with casual yet deliberate symbolism, slammed the door shut on the train of her dress. Officer Krispykreme, mentally filing divorce papers and plotting a romantic date with the cute redheaded radio operator from Massapequa, was oblivious to all this.
Now hermetically sealed in the car with not only Ruth but the meatball sub effluvia as well, Claire, like the daydreaming policeman, grew unconcerned with the outside world. Ruth always had that effect on her, particularly now, with both of them trapped in the claustrophobic back seat (the effect heightened by the ominous metal grilling that encased them like a cocoon). The close confinement only served to distill the force that was Ruth—beauty, sensuality, brains, and pure, unbridled insanity.
Ruth wriggled closer to her. A breast, under the cover of virginal white, brushed against Claire's arm with lecherous intent; a leg, with serpentine sleekness, wrapped around Claire's own sturdy calf.
"Nice day for a white wedding." Claire opted not to sneer, knowing that there was no way she could even approximate Billy Idol's thin-lipped disdain.
Ruth sipped her champagne, which sparkled as wickedly as her blue eyes.
"How in the hell did you get champagne into the church?"
"A very flexible garter belt. And—" Ruth ruffled the skirts of her voluminous dress. "It’s a bit flat, though. Damn my body heat." She smiled, fully and perfectly, for the first time that day. "Swinging the crucifix at Daddy was an inspired touch."
Claire ignored the compliment. "I stole that bit from The Graduate."
Of course, in addition to that, she had also screamed Ruth's name, pounded on a plate glass facade, punched the groom and tackled the guests, but she credited all that to her own jealous rage and not movie motivations. Unlike the movie, however, she and Ruth had not escaped; instead, the police arrived to take her into custody while Ruth tried, supposedly, to negotiate her release.
She slumped in the seat, intent on ignoring Ruth's hand stroking her tummy. "It's not my fault it was some sort of damned…midget-sized cross. Episcopalians just don't think big, I guess."
"Mmmm." Ruth tilted back the flute of champagne for an large, un-dainty gulp, then fiercely attached her mouth to Claire's in something commonly known as a French kiss but—as far as Claire was concerned—was profoundly more intense than two syllables (and wrongly credited to a nation who worshipped Jerry Lewis) could account for. Like a rollercoaster full of stars, the liquid laid cool siege to her mouth and was followed by the warm, full chaser of Ruth's tongue, both tastes competing, complementing, merging, moving beyond pure sensation to cruel elation, then crystallizing into the realization that, no matter what, she would always be Ruth's bitch. And everyone thinks I'm the crazy one, just because I’m an artist and she’s a freaking stockbroker?
Claire couldn't breathe. Reluctantly she pulled away, savoring the aftertaste of the kiss, the soft susurrous protest of their mouths parting, and the feel of Ruth's warm hand cradling the back of her neck.
"Whoever thought you'd look so good in white?" Claire murmured.
"Thanks, darling. You look very appealing in handcuffs. It's giving me all sorts of ideas."
The mention of the handcuffs brought to mind their numbing tightness and the sensation of lobster claws encasing her wrists ("Silent Sonatina for an Angry Crustacean," she entitled the vision in her head), not to mention the honkingly huge pink elephant of an issue that further crowded them—that she was in police custody and Ruth was Mrs. Mark Spottiswood. She used both hands to give Ruth an angry shove. "And whoever thought you would take April Fool's Day to such a fucking extreme?"
Ruth's eyes widened with peculiar innocence. "Oh, Claire, don't shout. Don't be mad." She tried to smooth her lover's unruly hair. One section, on the left side of Claire’s head, seemed particularly matted and wild, probably because the groom's mother had got a very lucky, pro-wrestler type hold of Claire by the latter's Revlon roots during the matrimonial fracas.
"Don't be mad? Don't be mad? You've just married someone!"
"It won't be for long, dear. Just, maybe, a year or so to make it look good. Mama and Daddy were awfully keen on it, and I think he's just doing for the cash—he's gay anyway, hasn't laid a finger on me and he actually designed the wedding dress! Did you know that Oscar Wilde designed his wife's wedding dress, not to mention their rings? And she never contemplated that he might be a big poof? I mean, that was as much a dead giveaway as his rent boys." Ruth suddenly stopped her riff on Oscar, for Claire's slumping shoulders were now beginning to shake and twitch. Blubbering would commence at any moment, she realized. She hated it when Claire cried, and particularly loathed it when she herself was the cause.
"Oh, please, don't." She peppered Claire's face—forehead, eyebrows, cheeks, and especially those sleepily sexy, half-shuttered, salty eyelids—with champagne tinged kisses and only regretted it because it brought the phrase "champagne kisses" to mind and made her think of Robin Leach. But despite Ruth's preventative measures, Claire burst into tears. Ruth pursed her lips in distress. She felt itchy all over and knew it was guilt, tormenting her as usual. Her conscience always manifested itself like this; years ago, when she embezzled from the Save the Whales Foundation, she had scratched herself worse than an orangutan with eczema.
"R-Ruth," Claire sobbed. She looked so much like a child when crying, her baby face all puffy red, that Officer Carbontesting—had he been paying attention—now surely would have thought her younger than 31. "I can't stand it. You drive me crazy."
"I'm sorry. It was a joke. I thought it would be funny."
"But R-Ruth," Claire hiccuped.
A thumb blockaded an errant tear on Claire’s cheek. "What, darling?"
"You—you have corkscrew curls." Claire proceeded to bawl anew.
The contrite bride sighed. "I know. I’m sorry. I shouldn't have let Mr. Jimmy within twelve feet of my hair." She pulled a handkerchief from her bosom and patted dry Claire's face. "God, I love this outfit," she murmured. "Isn’t it totally fabulous? I knew the second I saw it—that it was meant for me. I knew it would drive you wild, and we’d have a hell of a good time taking it off. It's just—you know how I am. I couldn't stop myself. I had to really make use of it. I had to take it all the way."
"This is worse than the skydiving," Claire sniffled. April Fool’s Day last year had been touted as a trip to Paris on a chartered plane but ended up with them parachuting into the Atlantic. She still wasn’t sure if the novel experience of making love in a life raft had been worth the sunburn on her ass. Sighing, she now laid her head against the $3000 bosom. "You could've picked me, you know. I would've married you if you asked me." She was all too aware of the defensive tone of her voice, and knew Ruth would seize upon it.
Ruth scoffed. "Miss Fear of Commitment."
"Miss Fear of Nothing," Claire managed to retort while her nose rooted around in cleavage as if she were a prize hog in search of truffles.
"Don't change the subject!" barked the bride.
Claire sat up angrily. "What is the subject? Oh, oh wait, it's coming to me." She closed her eyes and touched her forehead in an imitation of a bad psychic. "It's that you're insane—that's my issue."
"Don't blame your issues on my mental problems!" Ruth shouted, then unhappily realized what she had just admitted. She modulated her tone to reflect Diane Sawyer going mano-a-mano with Henry Kissinger. "In my exclusive interview with Allison earlier this year, she stated that you chickened out of the commitment ceremony two days before it was supposed to happen. Do you deny that?"
Claire squirmed, finally acting as if she were indeed capable of committing a crime that warranted handcuffs. "Well—"
"And Tracy. Let’s not forget Tracy. You were supposed to move in with her. What happened there, or do I have to remind you?"
Claire did not need to be reminded of how she had set out for Tracy's Soho loft and ended up taking the U-Haul on a cross-country trip to Santa Monica where she lived on the beach for weeks until she finally got the nerve to come back to New York. Upon returning, she lived under an assumed name (Claire de Luna) for a couple months and tried, unsuccessfully, to fake her own death. Even after all these years, it was little wonder that whenever they ran into one another, Tracy would always spit on her. "All right, all right!" Claire yelled. "You win."
This left both of them blinking in confusion at each other.
"What did I win?" Ruth queried.
Claire hedged haughtily. "I—I don't know."
"Tell me now, or I won't take you on the honeymoon."
"Okay!" Claire looked up, hoping to view the heavens in their infinite wisdom, but instead saw the gray roof of the car, with some dark, Cuba-shaped stain—probably blood, she thought—right above her head. "I love you, I'll move in with you, I'll marry you, I'll have your baby, I'll take your name—although I don't really fancy being Claire Zygmuntowicz—I'll be your housewife. Whatever, Ruth. Whatever you want."
Ruth brightened. "Really?"
"Oh sweetie!" Ruth tried desperately to pile onto Claire’s lap, but in the end settled for more sense-stealing snogging whilst wrapping her arms around Claire’s neck in a headache-inducing vice. "I love you."
"I love you, too. Now will you drop the charges?"
"You’ll love the bridal registry, Claire. We’re getting all sorts of cool shit, although I think we’ll have to fight Mark on the cappuccino machine."
"There’s a Starbuck’s on every corner."
"So you really do love me?"
"Yes. Absolutely. Totally."
"Then you won't mind if he takes you in?" Ruth jabbed a thumb in the direction of the obtuse Officer Catamaran.
"What?" Claire shrieked.
Ruth stroked her cheek. "You don't know how happy it would make Daddy. I think this will help him get over his hostility toward you."
"But—" Oh damn it, you have to go and kiss me again. Claire gulped for air. "But," she began again, "why does he hate me?" Well, you did crash—and thoroughly ruin—his daughter’s bank-breaking wedding, dumb ass. "I always thought he liked me."
"Oh. Well, he did. Then I told him you deflowered me."
"Ruth, you’ve fucked half of Manhattan. Why did you tell him that?"
"Shock value. I had to get him to see how important you are to me."
"Logic is not something you’ve ever encountered, is it?"
"I'll bail you out later, after the reception."
This reply, showing Ruth’s careening brain at work, only confirmed what Claire already knew.
"You'll have just enough time to pack for the flight to Corsica. Don’t worry, I found your passport and your airsickness pills. It’ll be wonderful—well, except for the flying. But you'll adore Mark, sweetheart, he's a total gas. He does the best Carol Channing impression I’ve ever seen!"
In a flurry of lace and silk, Ruth clambered out of the car, shutting the door behind her. This time, apparently, the dress’s train getting caught in the door was not intentional, and Claire watched in horror as Ruth dropped to the ground like a stone. The befuddled policeman helped her up, and quickly liberated the dress by opening and closing the door once again.
Ruth gave her a thumb’s up and another beautiful lunatic grin.
Claire tried not to listen to muffled chatting between her lover and Officer Clamchowder. It was, though, a mercifully brief conversation, and before she knew it Ruth was dashing (in heels, no less) back into the church as Officer Crepesuzette climbed into the front seat of the cruiser and gunned the engine.
The car lurched into the nascent fray of rush hour traffic. "Hey."
She looked up at the sound of his gruff voice and saw his brown eyes, timidly sympathetic, reflected in the rear view mirror.
"You want the rest of my sub?"
Claire smiled. She began whistling.
He recognized the tune. "Oh, yeah: ‘Her majesty’s a pretty nice girl….’"
The car turned a corner and accelerated.
"You have no idea," she replied.
[ EMAIL ]
[ DARKBLOOMIANA ]