Hotby Roberta Allen
He wants me to look hot. So I look hot. As hot as a sixty-year-old woman can look on Halloween without a bra. I’m jiggling under a shiny black teddy, trimmed with lace. Until I tried on the teddy in the thrift shop, I felt like those old women with long pancake breasts in ethnographic films, sitting in grass huts, kneading something doughlike.
In my short butt-hugging, stomach-crunching black skirt—another thrift store bargain—I feel squirmy, wormlike, narrow enough to inch through tight spaces like the thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’ which sneaks through my self-admiration.
I had trouble pulling up the black tights so there wouldn’t be space between the crotch of my tights and that of my panties which someone might see when I sit. On my feet, black boots with heels, of course. Pointy-toed would’ve been better than round-toed but the thrift store didn’t have my size.
I always scoffed at Halloween even at ten, trick-or-treating with kids on
“How about a bikini?” he asked.
“I don’t have one. How about my Chinese bathrobe?
“What would you be in a Chinese bathrobe?”
“What would I be in a bikini?”
“Hot! You’d be hot. Is the Chinese bathrobe hot?”
“No. Not really. I have a sarong from
“Is it hot?”
I picture myself in
“Don’t you have something low-cut? Something sexy? Something tight?”
It’s a big deal party he’s taking me to.
When he picks me up on Halloween night and takes off his coat, he wears a Japanese robe with Japanese letters on the back, over a tee-shirt and exercise pants. I wonder who or what he’s supposed to be. But I don’t ask. I figure he was too involved in my outfit to think about his own.
He spins me around. “You look really hot! I didn’t know you had such a hot body! You always wear things that hide it!”
From the back, he cups my breasts. “Sorry,” he says, when I give him a look. We’re not up to that. He’s still trying to get over his former lover. But I’ve been hoping tonight would be the night, from the moment when he told me to look hot. He doesn’t know I got this body late. It comes from the gym and the pool and the track. But I never thought to show it off before, especially my knees, which have always been fat. But he says my knees look fine.
When we started dating a few weeks ago, I told Sarah I didn’t like his sloping shoulders and kinky hair and large pores or acne scars or both. But I got over that. What I can’t get over is the way he suddenly folds up inside like some mutant origami. The worst night was his birthday when he took me to the blues club where his former lover belts out ballads. That night someone else sang.
Lights from the party in the large house, high on the mountain, sneak through the dark woods as he stops the Ford van behind a slew of parked cars. When we get out, he says, “That’s her Toyota!”
“Did you know she’d be here?”
Thoughts are running through me like cockroaches. The big black shiny kind. Is he just using me to make her jealous? To get her back? It’s a long walk from the car to the house. I try to shoo the cockroaches.
The door is open. Our host, whose height would make him a spectacle on any night other than Halloween, yells out hello. He wears a monk’s robe. A small Asian employee takes our coats. The crowd at the bar doesn’t notice our entrance. They’d be a nameless bunch to me even if they weren’t in costume. I’m new around here and know few people besides my date.
In the large living room, I see eyes. A roomful of eyes. Eyes behind masks. Eyes behind feathers. Eyes of devils, monsters, goblins, werewolves, ghosts. Eyes of a Suzanne Somers look-alike. Stoned eyes. Roving eyes. Downcast eyes. Glassy eyes. Sneaky eyes. Animal eyes. Eyes framed by screaming red wigs, blond wigs, black wigs, green wigs, witches’ hats. Then bodies. One in a skin-tight leotard. One in a floor-length gown. Several in sparkly tops. One Hansel and one Gretel. One Humpty Dumpty. Two in tuxedos. One in diapers. A pony-tailed flasher in a pinwheel hat with a big open coat. Bodies with hairy arms, hairy legs. Bodies draped in loose fabrics, off-the-shoulder sheets.
Which of those eyes, those bodies, belong to her? My arms press firmly against my sides. Suddenly they feel fat. The rest of me feels fat too even though Ken and Steven and Larry, my date’s friends, lean in and kiss me, say I look hot. I feel eyes on me. Men’s eyes. Women’s eyes. I sit down on a loveseat. Lou licks his lips. I don’t count Carl, the crasher. Chest hairs stick out of Carl’s low-cut print dress, long blond hairs from his wig tickle my shoulder when he kisses my neck, tells me how hot I look.
I am the only French whore. My date brings me vodka. As I take a sip, I see the smile—her smile. Before he says a word, I know it’s her. Elaine. I recognize three moles in a row down her right cheek though I’ve never seen her before and didn’t know she had any moles. She smiles at me, then pulls him close, kisses him.
“On the lips!” he says, angrily. “For God’s sakes, why’d you kiss me on the lips?”
Something wakes up in him. It’s not the anger. The anger is always awake. What wakes up behind the anger is hurt. The hurt is green. I see it as green. It writhes and twists like the tail of an alligator caught in a vice.
Elaine doesn’t have a body like yours, he had said in my house. She’s hidden from neck to knees in something loose and white, her hair hidden under a wig. A wig like one I should’ve bought to hide my hair. Bad hair. Thin. Not French whore hair. Wet dog hair. Hair isn’t the issue, however.
A man in street clothes brushes my date’s shoulder, smirks. Did he buy that nose in a store? Is his mouth real? As real as mouths behind masks, talking, eating, drinking, laughing? I hear him murmur, “Thanks for the job, pal.” My date looks angry, murmurs something back.
In my partially inebriated state, I look at the man in street clothes and decide that people are more real when they are truly fake. I imagine this thought as wisdom.
“That’s Elaine’s date!” he says to me. “A plumber! I hired him to fix Elaine’s sink! Did you hear him thanking me?”
What pushes me into the next moment? Even when I don’t want to go. While he elbows me from bar to buffet, he mutters, “That bastard! Thanking me! Thanking me for introducing them!” I remember when Elaine left his slippers and his neatly folded robe on his doormat. Does that mean she wants me back? he said. We eat slabs of smoked salmon, drink more vodka, talk to guests with voices that come from somewhere else. Switzerland? Rome? Atlantis? Mars? Hell?
I smile, laugh, shake my head, nod, look surprised, look amused. I hear words leave my mouth. Do I know what I’m saying? What they’re saying? Have I a clue? Are clinking glasses clues? Who is talking to me behind a black mask? If I dig my finger deep into the fabric of his costume, will my finger hit fat? Muscle? Bone? Nothing? Are we in a movie? Who is “we”?
Elaine and her date leave early. They’re going to bed! my date’s eyes say. I understand those words. Unspoken.
Talking to monsters, devils, witches, the Suzanne Somers’ look-alike, the diapered man, the flasher, soon seems ordinary. “There’s no music! We need music!” my date says suddenly to our host. Even our needs seem ordinary. As ordinary as looking hot. As ordinary as sleeping alone.
ROBERTA ALLEN is (a short story writer, novelist and memoirist), the author of eight books, her most recent is the novel The Dreaming Girl, Ellipsis, Press. Her third story collection will be published later this year (by Pelikinesis Press). She is also a conceptual artist who has exhibited worldwide. http://www.robertaallen.com/