My first memory is of words. She is to be taken care of, her hair, her skin, her nails. I already know all that is true. That these words belong to a man and that this man is my husband. And that the she he speaks of is me. My eyes open. I am in my bed, in my room. My room in the far west wing with the bay windows and Barbie’s that face me poised in empty bookshelves. Scarlett in green tasseled velvet curtains. Lucy in her chocolate factory apron and hat. Pink fifties Audrey in matched silk. My husband stands above me and next to him is Linda, my maid. She nods a long, grey head. Then my husband leans over me. He has white hair and very thin lips that come down to touch my cheek. But I can’t sense him. He has no taste.
When he is gone, Linda scrubs me with a pumice, lifts my legs and arms up to get to my nether regions. “How so no crack of joint?” Linda says. “Tock, like this,” Linda says, clicks her tongue when she moves my head forward to get the neck. “To remind you of God inside you.” Linda puts my hand on her chest. “You have a heart here too, I know.” And I feel this, her heart, this beat.
Linda takes out the dress I am to always wear—a coral wrap around, tight, askew. One side longer than the other, only one shoulder sleeved. “Humidity has already come in,” Linda says and starts a motored needle. This to make me fit. “Back to twenty-four and a half,” She begins on the seams next to my hipbones. Here where I grow and where I shrink.
When I am sewed, Linda puts me in my outfit, pins my waist, opens up the holes in my lobes and sticks in lapis and aquamarine chandeliers. Like this she lets me go to my husband. To his study at the other end of the house. The dark wing past the kitchen. Through the dinning room, past the library and the entrance hall with the tulip shaped stained-glass windows that see up the hill. My husband waits for me, sits on the Turkish prayer rug in his white robe, one leg crossed at the knee over the other, palms together on his chest, the world painted upon the ceiling. We lay down. My husband on his rug, me in my box with the small cord that goes into my chandeliers. Wave music plays. My husband keeps his eyes closed. I look at the blue that surrounds the shadowed parts of the earth, wait for the moment when I am stung in the ear. Straight down to the bellies of my feet. I know this is what must be pleasure and so I lie with my husband, with only the sound of the waves and the wave inside me that rises then falls away. When we are done, my husband unplugs me, lifts me out of the box, stands me up and I go back to my wing back past the entrance with the tulips that mirror the curves of the hill.
In the afternoon I bike up the hill to the clubhouse, lie by the pool, order caviar, make trails on slab-stone. Red ants march the deck, balance black eggs atop torsos, a parade of dark globes. When I look up, a falcon circles above me then moves beyond toward the smog of a city far away. But what I like best at the clubhouse is the busboy Hale. Hale does a bow with his hand behind his back when he leans down to put the caviar on the table by my lounge chair. I can taste him, his plastic. In him I can sense myself too, my own plastic too. And when he leaves, the falcon soars and I wish to melt into sun.
In the library at night before his dinner, my husband and I read together. He with his newspaper, me with my magazine. Pictures of limbs in scarves upon beaches. One is of a girl wrapped in yellow. She lies on a tall building that touches a clear sky. When I look, I too am on the roof, alone. Until a cloud comes. Hale lies on top of me, opens my mouth with his mouth. And in this way we stay, his scent, his plastic slipping into mine.
When Linda rings the bell for my husband’s dinner, I follow him out the library past the entrance hall to the dining room lit with candles. I sit in stillness, in silence while my husband across from me eats. I can see from the table through the tulip windows the outline of the hill lit up by the lights of the city far away. The hill climbs up to the clubhouse where the pool is. Where Hale is, a tray of caviar in hand. I spread my eggs, the ants consume and so we lay. Tongue upon tongue, plastic upon plastic, ready for the falcon to take us away.
The Apollo Circle
The type at The MOMA approaches you and me first thing when we walk in. “A black swan! Isn’t she just divine.” Presumably he talks about me, personally offers us flutes of champagne before we have time to run into a tray boy. This guy has a spray tan, very white teeth, bleached buzz. “Where is such a good looking couple headed, may I ask?”
“The Egyptian Gala, at The Met,” you blurt, because he needs to know. Because you can’t resist your inane infantile urge to show off to this aged Floridian leech. Buzz enjoys you, takes you in. And then you are usurped. Before I can say cheese, you’ve been taken under his wing. I’m relegated to the side. Buzz makes you pose with him. This was supposed to be our photo shoot. This was supposed to be our pre-party gig—gulp gulp, pick at pop-rock popcorn, hop outside to pose by Giacometti bronze stick figures. Gaze in love up the fifty-first-street sky. But no. You go get carried away by accolades, forget all about me. Me your ticket in, me your so-called-girl. Fah! I storm off, up the stairs to the second level where a giant crystal octopus blown by industrial fans elusively gyrates. Bravo to this artist. She’s got balls. Forget about Picasso. And then I feel your slime sweated hand on my low back. “Please don’t be mad. Have I been bad?”
“Aren’t I divine?” I don’t turn around, walk to the other side of the eight-legs, realize they are not crystal but some sort of morphable plexi. You follow me and put your lips on my shoulders, scrunch into me so that my so-called black-swan-dress poofs down. “Get off. You cramp my style.” I walk back to the other side. “Why don’t you go off with your boyfriends.”
“Please don’t.” You trail me, you sunken puppy. I wish the pode would zap you against the wall. Flat pancake. You take my hair to your face, make stupid sounds. You and your ego. Can’t ever resist easy flattery. You like to believe you are likable. Who ever would hate you. My fault for not grabbing you out of testosterone tentacles.
Two more glasses of champagne and off to the gala that overlooks the illuminated odalisque. Jackie O’s, did you know, that penthouse over yonder. Direct views. I lose my red leather elbow gloves from Sax. Loose my Swarovski hairpin. Because I take mitts off, let do down. And in the morning you’re a downright skunk. The bottle of anise you bought last night you’ve done a good number on, finished off a solid three quarters. The sun in full peak streams through my living room. Ninety-Third Street in full gardenia bloom. The bedroom of the little boy in the brownstone next door ready for the day. Toy soldiers lined atop his desk. A whole regimen ready to attack.
“My girl is hotter than any of those one percent hoes,” you say, lean me against the windowsill, trace my backbones with your tongue. Like a cat, coarse, dry, over each and every vertebrae. “Let me play with you please. Don’t mind dear do you?” No. How forward you are. Now you’re a man. You rub yourself against me from behind and the more you do this, the more your touch becomes you. But you’re filthy square. Sad slop. Why now have you chosen to turn on?
But I oblige, kill time. Next thing, we’re on the couch and I straddle you and you let my slip fall off my shoulders and feel my breasts and I look outside at the buildings across the way. Can we be seen? If a person peers out and about and focuses right upon my window, would he wonder? Why does she let her hair drop in front of her face and lean forward only to moments later throw herself back? Said spectator would understand implications. You rub my thighs and tell me how much you want me, make me turn around again, nozzle down inside me.
“Organic strawberries,” you say. I think of the little fuzzy white hairs all around my upper legs and how the tendrils must be illuminated from the light. I trust you are too gone to note. Your vision blurred, the world a pleasant trip. Though we do get a picture of us on my phone. Gloves on, pin on. You kiss me. Favorite pose of yours to show off your Grecian nose, fire-red mane. Hand tight around the circumference of my forearm. Almost a perfect fit. Yes, see, at least I fit your grasp.
At Dawn My Nana Comes To Me
I lay awake in my bed, famished, hallowed, too tired to move. A lone bird bellows in the early spring defrost of the city, the a-flower townhouse gardens of the block loud with his song. But Nana, inside my head, rocks her rocking chair on the porch at the beach house. I’m there with her, try to burn the bellies of my body on the recliner. Under forearms, backs of thighs, calves. Wind-chimes on eaves that ding. Masts that hit in the marina. The Channel Islands way beyond. Bare, brown, indents of green valleys defined by a hundred years of snow-sheep herded upon those slopes.
Nana’s head is sunken into herself. The onset of the slow-creep beach heat. How good this feels on the back of our bared necks. “Sunblock koydunuzmu?” Mimi yells from above in the second story office, French doors opened. The chicken typed tap, tap of her fingers on her Blackberry mixed in with the constant lapped crash of sea. My mother calls to her own mother, to me. Have we put on sunblock? Who could have told us then of a year later. Six months apart their end.
Who but Flashlight. Now I can see. How I wish he were here. In this cold coast across the continent. The pitter-patter of the old reindeer-radiator against the baseboards of my bed. Flashlight, the most handsome of handsome sable Burmese cats. But he is there at the beach house. With Nana and me on the porch. He sits across her feet. The way her toes fold into one another and are smooth. Perfect curvature from years of triangular, pointalist shoes. Flashlight is curled up tight. He bats a regal tail against a lowly fat black fly. Thrumps in tune to the rhythm of the sails that beat breeze. His yellow eyes dimmed. A big, wide yawn to show off pretty, whiskered teeth. Flashlight too will soon be gone. In fact, old soul, he is the first to go, the first to know.
But though Flashlight wishes, like the rest, to cease with a view of the water and the feel of that heat-creep, I deny him this final pleasure. In desperation, that last summer of my childhood, I pry him away. His small, compact body I peel from this moment. From Nana’s sunken head. From Mimi’s admonished view. Suddenly so immobile, suddenly so strangely still—he won’t sleep, won’t even pee. I whisk him off.
“Let him be, he is old,” Mimi calls down from her office perch. In cat years he’s eighteen. Nana ninety-three. Mimi fifty-three. And me, a fool, a fool. To the evil vet I go who keeps him overnight on the IV. Imagine the horrors he goes through, the neglect. In the morning the call that he is dead. “Saçmalama. Don’t be silly. You will get another cat,” Mimi says. “Just be thankful. Allah’a şükür. Thank God that your Mimi and your Nana are still here.” And so this vision comes to me this morning. Before the break of day, hunger that gnaws my bones.
Miss Etkin Camoglu is a Turkish-American writer born in Arizona, raised in NYC. She is a doctoral candidate at Florida State University where she also teaches and is at work on her novel, Turklish. She earned her BA from New York University and her MFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Miss Etkin’s most recent work is forthcoming in the Sonora Review.