- Plain Women Speaking Beautifully
When the man came up to Naura at the party and said she'd have to "donate" another twenty dollars if she wanted to stay any longer, she interrupted her conversation – it was about India, about the time in her childhood when she'd been baptized in India – and asked her two friends, Princess and Cherisse, if this twenty dollar party had evolved into a forty dollar party and they all agreed it had not.
The food was acceptable – skewers of meat derivative, all the standard cheeses, soy chips, pickled marigolds (whoa!) and (was this new?) frog wings – the drink was not: a frothy punch that would have kept the pipes in even the biggest houses from freezing. A woman was playing the piano and she seemed talented, if drunk. She also gestured pointedly toward her tip snifter if you got too close.
Naura had never cared much for pointed gestures. She carried a pair of brass knuckles in her purse, a gift from her father, along with other protective devices because now and then unfair circumstances could be given to you. She entertained no thought of punching out the piano player, especially since the woman was on a run of Marvin Hamlisch tunes. Naura liked Marvin Hamlisch, though she didn't think the music was worth another twenty from each of them.
"Why would I remember a man's breath?" Naura asked out on the street. It was a return to her interrupted conversation. "It's like remembering the color of his toes, but it was anise. I remember that. Stronger than licorice."
"I hate that word," Princess said. "Anise."
"So do I."
They'd been sitting on the long stairway to the party flat waiting for some natural destination to occur to one of them and to signal [End Page 167] itself as being walkable or worthy of a late cab – if one could be hailed. Naura was drinking from a half-full bottle of wine that she'd bought across the street (and waking up the clerk and an armed guard with her police whistle – Naura took precautions). She was sharing the wine with Princess, while Cherisse was lying on the sidewalk, up on her shoulders with her toes touching the sidewalk in front of her head. She called it penitential yoga – especially during this pregnancy – and said it caused immense pain, but it was simply intuitive that your inner workings hang upside down now and then.
One time Cherisse said to Naura – Naura always "got" these things – "Suppose you're captured and hung upside down. You certainly don't want your organs tumbling around inside under such unaccustomed circumstances. They ought to be ready – ligaments stretchy, membranes firm."
"Organs," Princess said. "Do you actually think of them as your organs?"
"It's a little more sophisticated than saying 'my parts.' Don't you think so?"
"Are you strengthening your ankles, too?" Naura asked.
"Why would I do that?"
"How do you think they're going to hang you upside down?"
"By the way . . ."
"Captured by whom?" Naura said.
"Why are you in danger of being captured? Who's going to capture you?"
"I only meant that in a general sense," Cherisse said. "Although you never know when this president might call forth or call down wrath and sadness."
"And the inversion of pregnant women," Naura said.
"Exactly. Right now?"
"What now?" Naura said.
"My baby's probably upright."
"They say you can learn a lot from your children, honey."
"Isn't absinthe an anise liquor?" Princess asked. "Or is it schnapps?"
"Reminds me of anthrax," Cherisse said.
"Anyway," Naura began, "I was baptized in the Ganges – a quite holy river, if you will, though it smells like bad fruit." [End Page 168]
"Your parents knew about this?" Princess asked.
"My father was in Bhopal trying to straighten out some kind of business mess, some people killed – I don't know. I was thirteen and my mother and I had, as she said, 'the run of India.' That was a bold plan – my mother, of course, quite bold. During our second week there she had...