by Lauren Cuscuna
Chloe by Chloe. That’s the perfume she wears. I can smell it on his collar when I take his shirts to the cleaners. She wears it, probably, on the nape of her neck, on the underside of her wrists, on the back of her knees. And it descends upon him when she approaches from behind and rubs those parts along his neck and his shoulders until her lips meet his. Her legs are longer than mine, I imagine. Her breasts are bigger. She has a prettier face than me, perhaps, or a younger body. She could be a partner at his firm. Pencil skirt, Hermes scarf, high heels that puncture leaks in my levee of homemade dinners and parent teacher meetings.
He is as cold and distant as the Montana plains where he was born. And his mother told me he was always that way, that when he came to New York he was already hardened. That those big canyons of glass and steel couldn’t break a wind from the dead of winter where Richard grew up. I loved him for every bit of it.
“Steak and mashed potatoes.” I said, bringing the silver platter to the table. It’s his favorite. He accepted it plainly. His head was somewhere else. I could see it in his eyes, like they were looking at nothing at all. Our dinners are always quiet. Richard prefers not to talk about work and my daily activities can be tedious.
Our children never eat with us. The nanny makes their dinner separately, and they are usually in bed by the time their father comes home. When they were younger, he would make sure to check in on all three before he retired to bed, kiss them on the forehead, and wish them sweet dreams. But he doesn’t do that anymore.
In bed, I move closer to him, run my fingers down his back, but he is sleeping or pretending to be. I am trying, I think, trying as best I know how.
One Wednesday morning, after a board meeting at the Alliance for the Arts, I found myself walking down 3rd avenue, wandering into Bloomingdales. And I think of her and that she may have come here too to do some shopping, thinking maybe now if I wandered up to his office I might see her leaving for lunch. She would order the palm salad with white vinegrette. Or perhaps she is taking a client out at Smith and Wollensky. She orders a filet mignon and a glass of white wine. I take a look in the perfume department and there it is: Chloe by Chloe, in it’s perfect pink and round form. I spray some on a tester strip, and then on the nape of my neck, the underside of my wrists, the back of my knees. I surprised Richard that night, not only with his favorite meal, but with a pair of black laced panties and a new bra I bought in the lingerie department. He remained still at first when I rubbed the perfume from my neck onto his, and then he turned violently and asked, “what are you doing?” My gut snapped like a branch in a cold Montana wind and I felt shame the way Adam did when he ate from the apple and suddenly realized he was naked.
The perfume bottle did not nestle with my other make up and toiletries. It sat in a drawer underneath. It was only for me now. And I tried it on again a day later, but not with lingerie. I pulled from my closet some of the old clothes I wore when Richard first met me and I worked as a paralegal in his office. A black pencil skirt, white button down, pearls, black nylons and heels. I put my hair up in a tight bun and greeted myself in the mirror. I put more perfume on, first on my neck, and then my knees, allowing my index finger slowly to trace the seam of my stockings from the back of my thigh up to crux where my crotch meets my leg. I am soft and warm and still very much alive.
A weekend comes where Richard is away and I ask the nanny to stay at our house in Greenwich with the children. I am all dressed up in my black shift dress and my pearls, and black suede boots. I take a seat at the bar and I let someone buy me a drink, and when he’s bought me two more I let him put his hand on my thigh, and another he can kiss me, and another he can hail a cab. When he gets to my home he asks me, “This is all yours? What do you do?”
“I’m a lawyer,” I tell him, “a partner.” And I lead him into our bedroom and in between our sheets, and in between everything underneath. Because knowing made us shameful and afraid to die, but it gave us life, the kind that breathes into you and kindles fire, the kind you feel when something new reveals itself.