“Pardon me,” the big guard said, lifting his hand which opened up like a catcher’s mitt. Now her already lively scalp lifted off her head; she felt the air conditioning as a bald man would feel a winter wind.
She covered her right wrist and the watch under the linen sleeve with her left hand and tried to smile at him but he didn’t see that ghastly effort because he was politely saying to Elizabeth with her beautiful white hair:
“Just a moment please. I am sorry to ask this but there’s a movie shoot outside for just the next two minutes. Would you mind please? Maybe you would like the bench? We really appreciate it–”
Her octogenarian friend smiled at the guard and said it wasn’t any trouble at all. She seemed glad to take a load off for a moment. What a good mood they were in. They smiled at each other and “I think,” Elizabeth said happily, “that this is just perfect.”
“Me too,” she rejoined: immensely happy now.
Her friend hugged the little red bag: “Just perfect. You are so sweet to help me choose.”
The guard very soon opened the door for them, smiling and saying, “The coast is clear, ladies, thank you so much.”
“Thank you,” the older woman said as she passed by first.
“Thanks a lot!” Her friend said.
In the restroom before lunch she removed the watch, admired it there in the toilet stall, and, putting it in the side pocket of her purse, didn’t think she could feel happier but she did, just a few hours later, stepping out of a jewelry shop further downtown with the beautiful black and silver watch on its new bright light-blue leather band on her left wrist.
When she next saw Elizabeth, she showed her the watch, remarking “You inspired me!”
More inspirations bloomed in her days like those Japanese little paper pellets that open into flowers in a bowl of water.
She felt somehow light–in the morning, she actively looked forward to what the day might bring for the first time since she was a small child.
She also felt prettier. Affairs crossed her mind for the first time in years. She actually looked at people and it felt like she hadn’t really seen anyone in ages.
Margo, one of her friends (not the closest of friends but they liked each other a lot and Margo was that rare thing–a rich person who was very generous, renting whole opera boxes and inviting people) had a friend she actively disliked.
But Margo liked the man. He was at most of her parties.
He was handsome technically, and always smartly turned out in a metrosexual way that began with gleaming expensive shoes and extended up to his perfect manicure and then onwards up to his perfectly trimmed bright white cap of hair, with its tight rich texture much like a Steiff stuffed bear. He was tall and fit and glossy with money and he had taken the position that if you are not ashamed of what you do, no one will object.
He was a principal partner in a huge drug firm that routinely bought smaller firms and made the price of their patent drugs increase many fold.
They had once had words at a dinner. Just briefly and she had dropped it since the hostess was Margo and there wasn’t any point in going on, but she knew what she knew.
And one day Margo bought a block of tickets and asked her and a few other friends to come along to a charity gala/fundraiser at the man’s house. A townhouse off Fifth Avenue downtown.
She had an inspiration the morning of the party and had brought the host a gift (a picture book on netsuke, which she knew he collected) in her large bag. The party was noisy and crowded and catered.
No one saw that she went down the steps rather than into the powder room — she acted as if she’d just have to find another bathroom if this one was occupied. And she descended to his home office where he sometimes received his colleagues and investors as well as the sales team. It was mostly posh men’s club style but the furnishings also had some professional and even medical touches. The large brushed steel metal cabinet was not locked and rows of thousands of little white boxes of samples stocked its shelves.
Gazing, she found their version of Valium.
He had bragged –in an article that she had read– of its superiority to the original Roche product (and he said “it goes without saying” also vastly superior of course to generic diazepam) due to its unique heightened power to dampen addiction urges. Its pinpoint efficacy had made it the drug of choice for the very deep pockets of the well-heeled segment of the recovery world. She filled her bag, leaving behind just two rows of that kind of box, with different drugs filled in at the back, and all of it was left looking much the same as when she’d opened the cabinet.
She stepped into the powder room very well satisfied, took a deep breath and then found Margo for one quick glass of champagne, and then, just a bit later, she looked at her nice watch pointedly, kissed Margo and her friends farewell, and thanked her host, who insisted on thanking her much more effusively for the book. “My pleasure!” She smiled: “I had a lovely time.”
And she found that she no longer disliked him as she walked off in the cool early evening.
She loved the trees flowering on his posh street and without thinking about it, she swung her big bag happily.
Keeping aside a handful of the sample boxes, she called her pot dealer (they’d been pals forever) and asked him to come right over. He was there in no time and a minute later was squeaking with delight: “These are worth a fortune!”
They had a puff to celebrate and agreed to split the proceeds. He said he wouldn’t need a week to clear about $2,000 each.
Her cat looked at her and came over and butted his forehead against hers which was his most ardent expression of love. He liked it when she was happy.
But then there were loud knocks on the door. –BKE
(To be continued)
*by permission of New Directions