The Wives of Isabella Danger
“I hate the way he says my name, “Aaaaple” I hate my name enough as is. I don’t need him saying it with that long A. The longer he takes to say my name, the more time I have to hate it. Aaaaaaple. Like it's the first time he’s ever heard the word and can’t believe it could be a name too. Aaaaaple like the way a ghost might say my name if they came from one of my g-maw's 60’s horror movies. Aaaaaaple. God, I hate it. And I hate him. I shouldn’t hate him. I try not to hate him. But I do. Every time he says my name, every time I can hear him chewing, every time he cuddles a little closer in the bed. I hate it. We get married in three months. My mother would say that marriage isn’t about love – it’s about security. I say the word would like she’s dead. She’s not dead, she’s in Florida. My father’s dead. My mother killed him. Slowly. A little nagging here, a little belittling there and next thing you know an inoperable tumor develops and you’re holding your daughter’s hand saying, “Live a good life.” My father would say that marriage is about love. He really loved my mother. It was like he was strong with people but weak with her. He loved her and I see how it worked out for him. He lives in Aughten Heights, Cemetery out by the Cash-N-Carry. She lives in Boca Raton with Frank Liu. Regional sales director. It shouldn’t bother me that she’s happy. But it does. It bothers me even more that she’s happier than me. It really, really bothers me that she’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her. Like who was the real hypocrite? My mother for marrying Frank? I know she loves him. He doesn’t even treat her that nice. He gets away with stuff my father never could’ve. Not that he would’ve. Or maybe my father is the bigger hypocrite for taking the “Till death do us part” route. Clever bastard.”
My therapist reaches for a tissue to clean his glasses. It’s a visual clue that the session is over. I’m still not sure how I feel about that little motion. It feels like he’s trying to train me. Like if every time he does it then I should just shut up and grab my bag. Then I think maybe that’s what I’m paying him for. To train me to think like a normal person.
“Izzy, you’ve touched on a lot of topics that I’d love to revisit next week. You know how I feel about giving “homework” but if you’re so inclined then I think you should reach out to your mother. Maybe she’s not as happy as you think she is – how can she be if her only child isn’t talking to her? You don’t have to but as the therapist in the room I have to recommend it, okay?” He always says “Okay” at the end of everything just so it sounds like it was a mutual decision.
“I will definitely call her if you think it’ll help.” I won’t. “I’m almost looking forward to it now.” I’m not. But part of me feels like if I don’t act like the therapy is working then it’ll make him feel bad.
“Now we’re coming up to the end of our time today but I noticed you haven’t talked about work at all. You said last week that you were getting a new assignment from your editor. How’d that turn out?” He’s looking at me over the rim of his glasses. He’s making that worry face that therapist make. His eyebrows get real close and then he flattens his mouth and holds his chin.
“It got delayed. I find out today. It’ll probably be another puff piece on whosevers trending right now. Not the end of the world or anything.”
He scribbles something on a note and as we get to the door, he hands it to me. A prescription for drugs I never take. I would if I thought they would help. My therapist has one of those tucked away offices. The three chairs are full in the waiting room so I guess people don’t have a hard time finding him. He ushers the next one in. I wonder if we all blend together. I chose him because he looked normal. A man in his 40’s with a wife and kids and a mortgage somewhere. I had a much more care free therapist before. That didn’t work for me. He always told me I needed to relax more. That I let things build up. But if I knew how to relax, I wouldn’t need a therapist, right? I take the stairs down the 3 flights that separate me from the street. I’ve been trying to lose ten pounds for the last two years. The stairs don’t really help me lose anything more but they stop me from gaining. A small victory. It’s sunny outside and my phone is vibrating. I linger by the parking meter and take it in. A warm day in the middle of February in Seattle. This was to be cherished. Jem’s Coffee House across the street has its doors propped open by a sign that reads, “Half off iced beverages.” Jem is working the counter and I think about stopping in to say hey to her. The thought makes me feel guilty. My eye is lingering, longer and longer and in the way that my mother never liked. It's lingering in a way that she could never directly punish because that would be an acknowledgment of the crime. I'd never tell her. I'd never tell Charlie either. How do I put into words what my body, my soul was still explaining to me?
Besides, eventually Charlie would want to meet Jem and then she’d be his friend too. And then we’d have all the same friends still. I get in my car and check my voice mail. It’s my editor. I roll the windows up and turn the music down.
“Izzy, I got a new assignment for you since you like all that 80’s stuff. Give me a call back. I think you’ll like it.”
I reach into my glove department for my cigarettes. It’s a guilty pleasure. They should label it “Nicotine: The Drug That Helps”. The endorphins rush into me and then I call my editor back. It rings for a bit and I know he’s just making me pay for always leaving him to voicemail.
“Hey Izzy, glad you called me back. I almost missed it y’know.” He says.
“Yeah I’m sorry just got out of the gyno I was getting this lump check-“
“Ok. Ok. Whatever the point is consider it made.”
I start smiling. I love messin with Gerwin.
“You like older stuff, right? Music from when I was kid, right?” He’s asking like he doesn’t know.
“Yeah for sure. Big into the grandma music – why?”
“You ever hear of a rocker named “Isabella Danger”?
I almost swallow the cigarette.
“Yeah. Yeah I’ve heard of her.” I say as soon as I can find air again.
“Well she died last week and we need someone to cover her wake. Apparently, they’ve chosen you because of that article you did on Jack Jagged. They called it and I quote, “Genuine”.
I calm my nerves before I speak. I try to sound aloof.
“Well that’s cool. I’ll do some research on her tonight and go from there. When’s the funereal?”
“Tomorrow afternoon in the Wild Oak Cemetery. It’s a bit more of a pricier place so there should be food. Can I count you down for that? 3,000 words due in a week. It’s a light month so this piece is really gonna be the focal point.” He says.
“I got it Gerwin.”
“Good. Send me the first draft in a couple days. Talk to ya.” He says.
I toss my phone into the passenger seat of my 98’ Toyota Corolla. I crank the car up and press track 1 on the CD player. Isabella Danger’s lilting vocals from her lead single, “Smoky Whispers” crackles and distorts coming out of my speakers. I adjust the volume to smooth it out. Isabella Danger’s debut album, “Dangerous Debut” is sitting between me and the cup holder. The cover is her in a deep maroon dress being burned as she sits for a portrait. She’s looking out the window not caring about what’s happening around her. That’s what drew me in. Most 80’s covers were a photo of the singer or the band kinda just staring blankly at the camera. She was different. I turn it up and drive.
My car is chugging up the steep hills. I used to walk up them but I grew these thick muscle-bound thighs that bulked out my frame. I saved up and bought the Corolla after a slurry of ad contracts rolled in. Charlie hated that period. He said I worked too much and that my head was always buried in something. He just wants me to stay home and be there when he gets off work. I’m not that person. It’s my fault really. We got together when I was 24 and didn’t have a clue who I was yet. I thought I could be the woman whose strength comes from her traditional roles. I can't. I tricked him into thinking I was and for a time it was good. Then I wore a low-cut shirt for a girl’s night and everything changed. Suddenly I wasn’t quirky, I was weird. Being sexy and free became less admirable and more slutty. His words not mine. He opens every door when we go out. And that was fine until I realized I could only go through the doors he opened.
I’m driving through Clyde Hill. A suburb where all the homes look identical. They were all ripped out of an Air Bud movie or any after school 90's special. Perfectly placed trees with deep green leaves are set up to give it a forest feel. Very family friendly a place like this. Brand new cars, brand new houses, a perfect life, I guess. My mother wanted to move here. She said she deserved it after all she’d given up. She wanted a slim blonde beauty queen but I took after my father. A heavier set man of somewhat vague Hispanic heritage. Far enough disconnected that neither of us speaks a word of Spanish but both him and I get to mark “Hispanic” if it’s an option. The only two in our lily-white family.
“Aaaple,” Begins Charlie, “you’re home. Where’d you go?” He asks.
He’s making that therapist face but Charlie isn’t a therapist, he’s a FedEx driver. He’s holding his chamomile tea up to his nose and the steam is drifting over his face. I think it makes him feel centered but in the worst way. I don’t know what we’re going to talk about but I know that whatever it is he already thinks he’s right. The maroon curtains are pulled back and he’s leaning against his desk. Judging me. This is his favorite spot to judge me. When we moved in Charlie insisted that he had to have the work space by the window. It was sort of a nook about 20 feet wide and maybe 10 feet inward. And it had two things going for it. One was the large window that probably factored about a hundred bucks into the rent. It was tall enough that if it opened then I could probably walk right out of it. And the second thing is that the whole section the nook is in is lifted. A step above the rest of the floor. So, he’d stand there with the light of our 3rd story apartment at his back. And boosted up standing on that step. Sipping his chamomile and judging me.
“I went to the Gyno.”
He takes a sip and sighs. The cup is placed down gently and he runs his hand over his short red hair. “Again? Didn’t you go last Wednesday?” His voice is deep. It doesn’t fit him.
I cross my arms and sit on the top of the couch. It’s pleather manilla and faces away from him.
“Yeah I went back for a follow up. Routine stuff.” I grind the boot of my heel against the hardwood like I’m crushing out a cigarette. He looks down at the little black smudge I leave behind. He doesn’t say anything but his mouth purses just a bit.
“Ok well now that you’re home, we can talk about the honey moon. Did you check out the two resorts I showed you? They need an answer and the hold they both have on my credit card is taking up the limit. I need an answer.” The top few buttons of his dress plaid shirt are undone. The head of a stag is showing on his chest. He got the tattoo before we started dating. A symbol of his Irish heritage. I loved it at first. It made him seem so sexy.
“I took a look at the brochures; they both look the same. One’s a beach and the other one is a bigger beach. What’s the difference? I wanted the Colorado resort. Beautiful. Wooded. Secluded.” I say. It’s drizzling outside even though the sun is out. The raindrops are little knives, stabbing at the glass.
“Aaaple, baby, we’ve talked about this. These resorts are expensive. People normally have to be on a list to get these kinds of places. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. We can go to the woods anytime.” He smiles at me like as long as he does that then it’s my fault for feeling the way I’m feeling. He smiles like I’m misunderstanding his intentions when I’m not.
I crush another invisible cigarette. He stops smiling for a moment. Then steps down from his ledge and holds the sides of my arms and rubs them. He's laying his pale green eyes into me and trying to figure out why I don’t fit. Charlie’s one of those people who has a single wrinkle on either side of his mouth and it’s a feature that suits him. It makes him look serious when he wants to be serious and Charlie always wants to be-
“Honey, I’m serious. Now this is a lot of money I’m spending for us to have the time of our lives. The only thing you need to do is let me know which one you love the most.” He presses against me and hugs my whole body. My face is buried in his chest and he smells like dryer sheets.
“I didn’t ask you to book either of these Charlie. The honeymoon doesn’t need to be expensive.” I push away from him and walk around to the other side of the couch. He tries to cuddle me into silence like I’m a cat. “We can still go to Colorado. There’s not even a list. We could just jump on a plane.” I say.
“You don’t have to worry about the money. I’ll pay.” He steps toward me and holds my waist. He holds like if he didn’t then I might go sprinting out the door.
“It’s not about the money Charlie, it’s- “
“What? Just let me do this for us. Plus Casa De Cielos is in Tijuana. You might connect with your Mexican side a bit. You know how I feel about roots.” He says.
Charlie asked me once if I spoke Spanish and when I told him no he got really disappointed and went on a rant about how important it was to know your culture. I asked him if he spoke Gaelic and he thought I was being funny.
“Whatever, the one in Hawaii looks nice. They have a morning meditation class at least.” I say.
Charlie’s eyes are fireworks, “So you did read the brochures.” Then he thinks for a second and his eyes are July 5th. “And you don’t want Tijuana?”
“Nope. Hawaii – it sounds nice.” I slip out of his range before he can hold me still again.
The fridge is filled with my half-eaten meals. An entire shelf of Tupperware and labels. I should smell turkey meat and cold quinoa. Instead I smell jasmine and ginger. He dims the apartment lights. The candle he’s lit is sitting on the living room table. Burning.
“You know we haven’t spent a lot of time together recently. I miss you; you know.” He says. His hands wrap over my shoulders and I feel him press against me from behind. I feel bad because I’m dry. Charlie lights that candle whenever he wants sex. Like lighting it, lights me. But I’m in no mood to have his clumsy hands probe me. We had a lot of drunk sex at first. I’d thought the alcohol was what made him sloppy.
We kiss and I feel his tongue whip across my lips, begging to be let in. I bury my head in his chest and groan.
“My Gyno wants me to take it easy for a bit. My PH is off and needs some time to balance.” My eyes get big and watery and I push my lip out, “Otherwise…. we’d be entangled in a heartbeat.”
Men always get so heart broken when you tell them your legs are closed one way or another. It’s like you’re telling them there is no God right when they were just starting to believe in heaven. I know what’s next.
“Well…maybe…” He trails off and smirks boyishly and then glances downward. “I mean I would return the... If you weren’t….” I wonder how much time getting braces would buy me from giving him a favor. I could line that up – my period and braces. I’d get some window of time where Charlie couldn’t ask me for any sex. Might make things better between us.
“You’re grown Charlie, you can hold it for a day or two.” I say.
“I’ve been holding it for a week or two.” He mutters.
His cellphone begins vibrating across the kitchen counter. He stares at the screen and then at me. “It’s my supervisor. I’ve got to take this – it’ll just be a minute or two and then when I get back maybe…ya know?”
“Oh, I know Charlie, I know.”
He answers and slips onto the balcony, “Another Wednesday shift?” he says.
I race into our bedroom. It’s a mess. My clothes are everywhere and the beer I’d had a few nights ago is still attracting ants. I toss it into the trashcan under my writing desk and grab a magazine out of one of the drawers. The first issue of Wreckord Press from 86’. I’ve had it since I was in middle school. My g-maw took me to a yard sale and I walked out with it. An 8-page spread on Isabella Danger not much longer than mine will be. I grab it bolt out the door while his back is turned. I leave a note that reads,
“Charlie, I’ve got an interview tonight and then I have to head to Dervish Hill tomorrow for a new assignment. I’ll see you tomorrow night. Rain check on all the fun.