- The Three Graces
Alyssa’s long black hair shines as in the Pantene advertisement, a river of black, so lush it’s almost frightening. She wears it pulled back from her face with a pink band. She is wearing massive stud earrings that Sarah and Terri pray are cubic zirconia, though they can’t be sure, what with Alyssa’s lover’s penchant for spoiling. They’ve heard he’s wealthier than Croesus—this aspect of his person overshadowing all others (overshadowing, for instance, Alyssa’s assertion that he is funny and smart and can give her an orgasm with stealth, surgical precision). Alyssa is peering at a potted barrel cactus. She’s half-crocked, or so it would seem from the way she’s weaving.
Sarah would hate to think that. She’d hate to think Alyssa was drinking alone—maybe in the ladies’ room? Or before they even convened this Sunday afternoon?
The barrel cactus is beautiful. The yellow spikes all bend slightly, symmetrical rows of brilliant yellow stars against the meat of the cactus, itself a lurid, sinister green. All in all the tableau—Alyssa’s hair, Alyssa’s jewels, Alyssa’s pink hair band, and then the bright spikes and the green barrel and the blue sky beyond—is really quite striking, and just now inducing a migraine in Sarah as she stands near a tall, hallucinogen-producing cactus with a name she can’t think of right now. This one looks like something’s been gnawing at it. Some drug-addled blackbird is zigzagging through Nature now, its doomed eggs in the stash house. Or maybe the puckered holes were made by a rat, a desert rat (like her ex, Wilbur!), or some ominous, way-oversize flying insect, a tarantula hawk or kissing bug (it sucks your blood—another great fucking reminder). Sarah is more or less grimacing now, despite the brilliance of the scene and her usual disposition. In a minute, she’ll rearrange her face to look cheerful.
“Oh shit, these are gorgeous,” says Terri, Sarah’s sister from Phoenix (recently moved from the East Coast). “And they’re so cheap. I wish I didn’t have the sedan or I’d take some back with me. Can you keep them in the car all day, anyway? Can cactuses—or what the fuck, you call them cacti, Sarah, right? Cacti, cacti. Can they get heatstroke and die?” [End Page 358]
“I love it,” says Alyssa, still dreamily staring at the barrel cactus and looking beautiful with her exceptional chin. Her chin and jaw—they go in, Sarah doesn’t know, four inches or something. Yet her chin doesn’t jut. She has a thin neck, too, and, overall, a ridiculously distinguished beauty, as if she’s from Europe or some other place of ancestral elegance. She’s the type who can wear just a T-shirt and look good, further considers Sarah, though the thought goes more like this: Gorgeous. Damn fucking T-shirt. Her headache preventing complete sentences.
The three women are at the Members’ Preview Plant Sale at Tohono Chul Park. Sarah is the one with the membership, and so she brought her sister and her neighbor, Alyssa. Sarah and Alyssa’s friendship sprouts up in brief, tranquil, no-expectations ways, only to wither and then later to return again. They’ve known each other for three years. They both enjoy gardening, and sometimes shop for clothes (Alyssa has more money than Sarah, but she claims to relish the deals at Buffalo Exchange or Ross Dress for Less—“You can really get some great stuff!”), or for fresh vegetables and fruit at the farmers’ market on Saturdays. They both shop at Whole Foods, although never together. Sarah also frequents Trader Joe’s.
Five years younger. Maybe six.
Alyssa lowers herself in a kind of ballerina’s squat, wrapping her arms clear around the barrel cactus’s pot, and then slowly, and without so much as a wobble, rises up, her smooth skin disconcertingly close to the unforgiving yellow needles.
“I’m taking this one. I’m in love,” says Alyssa. She smiles at Sarah first, and keeps...