There were a lot of things I didn’t like about this woman. Despised, really. Perhaps it was her corkscrew hair, damagingly bleached to the perfect, crisp consistency of Styrofoam strands. Perhaps it was her sharp, elven nose, pointed upwards in a blissfully arrogant air. Maybe it was her slightly oily-yet-youthful skin caked in overdone bronzer, giving her the complexion of a fading pumpkin that rolled its way into a Sephora. Perhaps it was the gentle flutter of the peeling frown of her false lashes with every Bambi-eyed expression of cluelessness she seemed to make every time someone was even mildly sarcastic. Her raspberry lips curled above her phosphorescent teeth in an amused beam as she tried to understand the joke that was just said. My eyes darted towards her and focused intensely on her freckled fingers as they toyed with the loose thread on the sleeve of her fox-fur coat. That coat was $1600 and custom tailored for her. She couldn’t keep it in one piece for a single dinner.
Yes, this elegant, graceful blessing of a woman was my wife of eleven unforgettable years. Don’t get me wrong, she was a lovely woman. Classy, a riot to drink with, sophisticated when she wanted to be, sexy, outgoing, boisterous, and strikingly-yet-unconventionally beautiful. She was a stunner. Perhaps it was the particularly massive silicone camel-humps protruding from her chest. Though she was only in her mid-thirties, she had aged faster than me. She looked good, nonetheless. But most importantly of all, she made me look even better.
After all those years, the rope of unity had frayed and began to split. Eventually, her primary functions were to provide me with sexual pleasure and to act like nothing more than a fleck of dust clinging to my William Westmancott suit. I had essentially just come to accept her as the nuisance flea she was. Wherever I went, her teeth were suckling the blood off my back. I was even taking her to dinner that night.
Dinner at 7 with Howie
La Dernière Paille. One of those places where you needed to know someone important to get in. For such a revered restaurant, it was practically a retirement home. One of those places where old men walk in off their commuter trains to smoke cigars, meet up with old pals they know from “way back” and try to live like its 1970 again. It smelled of stale tobacco and looked like a camp, Vegas regeneration of the Palace of Versailles. The tablecloth was a frayed, Victorian floral print and was hanging slightly lopsided off the side of the African Olivewood table. Quite a mishmash of styles. I didn’t like that. At least I was wearing a nicer suit than anyone else I could see, although I cringed when I saw an older man wearing Stefano Bemer camel skin shoes, pulling them off without being too bold, yet not under-styled.
Sitting more erect than the dick he is, Howard Kaplan, my boss, swept his auburn-dyed hair to the right side of his face. Although his haircut resembled a mix between the shell of an acorn and a bicycle helmet, it was more expensive than mine. And everyone knew. This infuriated me, and I struggled to keep from staring at it as his teeth flashed with his drunken banter. Next to him was his wife. She was a carbon copy of my own pet breast implant, just with a little more plastic. Those Chinese love their plastics. Her skin looked like it was made out of wax paper.
“So I said to him, ‘a new boat? I thought you said a blue goat!’” joked Kaplan. Oh Howie, you sly, sly boy. The table erupted into laughter, something I had been failing to do so far. I fought back tears and my upper lip quivered as I tried to smile with a tensed jaw.
“So, Kaplan, how’s the JP Morgan project going?” I knew this was a rough spot for him and I needed to get back on track.
“Well, to be honest with you, my schedule is packed. I’m doing a $100 million project for a Swiss firm. I’m trying to push back the date for Morgan but its expensive as hell.”
This was perfection. This was what I was there for. See, Kaplan works a hell of a lot of hours and does wonders for his projects, but fortunately, sometimes he bites off a little more than he can chew. Once in a blue moon, he throws a hefty-paying project into the wolf pit and the shining star ends up taking home the bacon. I was due for a promotion because of my impeccable work anyway, so this was a steal. This was the biggest one of the year, and essentially, I needed it. Though my eyes were slate, I was high on adrenaline.
“Aw. That’s a damn shame, Howie.”
“I’m under a hell of a lot of stress, my man.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
“I’m talking blowing a couple mil a day trying to push it back.”
“Jesus. So, how are you planning on getting this done without blowing all that cash?” I said playing along with his disappointment.
“I… I don’t know. Maybe I’ll give it to Hartmann.”
…Hartmann? At that moment, I thought my brain froze. Instant brain cell death. Hartmann was five-foot-six and wore suits from Kohl’s. Images of putting Kaplan through a wood chipper were cracking through my skull and seeping out my reddening ears.
“Yeah. Great guy. Hey, uh, where’d my wife run off to?” Asked Kaplan, noticing the now empty seat next to him.
“She’s in the bathroom. Another drink?”
“I – “
I snapped my fingers and an attractive young waitress with a hint of a Russian accent came over and filled up his glass with slightly too much Chateau Margaux. I was paying the bill.
“I’m selling my 130 foot yacht next weekend to a guy in Austria. He’s a friend of mine who has connections with Audi. I can cover the cost of pushing back, guaranteed,” I said with a gleam. My eyes were frozen on the gap between his collar and his playful lilac striped tie. It didn’t match well with his Louis Vuitton peppermint shirt and overall sophisticated demeanor. All I could think of was, “Aw, what a cutely dressed asshole.”
“Gee, I don’t know.”
“Listen bud. I’m gonna be straight with you here. You have your plate full, right?”
“Right, but I – “
“So I’ll cover the costs of pushing it back. Actually, better yet, why don’t I pay the costs of the project and take on the project myself. That way you’re getting cash, and the whole deal is off your hands.” I was getting there. Sweat was beginning to bead on the slight creases on his forehead. He was close to caving.
“I don’t know. Hartmann is up in the running to take on this stuff. He has been for a long time. Sorry bud. I’ll tell you what though – there’s a nice little project for some new baseball fields in the works. They wanna hack down some forests, but who cares.”
All around, people began to get up from their seats as wait staff rushed towards the bathroom. I just sat there silently, fuming and rumbling like an old furnace. Howard sat nailed to his chair with his black, pinstriped wings unfurled and his pitch-ball eyes penetrating my very DNA with a half concerned, half omnipotent glower. Was he really going to give the project to Hartmann? And send me off with baseball fields and deforestation drama? If I didn’t get that project, that meant no promotion. That meant I was stuck below Hartmann. That meant I was below people. I don’t live below people.
“Hey, you ok bud?” Said Howie, reaching a velvet-like manicured hand in my direction. I flinched in disgust at this animal.
“Oh yeah. Whatever you want, Boss-O.”
“Huh? Good one. Where the hell is my wife?”
Kaplan began looking over his shoulder, almost doing a full 180, kind of like a watchful owl. It was funny; it was almost like he was concerned that his wife was missing. He was getting restless, and damp spots were beginning to pool under his armpits. He was just a pig sweating under the heat and I was the sun. He wasn’t even sweating; he was secreting his mucous slime from all of his pores just like every insect of his kind does. He was going to keep me below him. He wasn’t going to let me have the job, or the money, or the pride. He was keeping me down. His nose twitched with a slight itch.
“She’s in the bathroom. More to drink?”
“No, you just got me one, man. Where is – “
“Let me get some for you.” I snapped my fingers again and a black-clad little girl came skating towards the table. She was carrying a woven basket full of flower pedals. She was gliding against the backdrop of frantic people running towards the bathroom. The scene looked like a Van Gogh painting, swirling with colors and screaming moods. A dull roar was growing from the dark carnival storming around me. The girl’s porcelain cheeks dimpled as her cherry lips blew a kiss in my direction.
“No thanks, I’ve had enough man!”
My forehead was throbbing. My veins were pulsating like newly hatched maggots. Suddenly, my pipes sprung a leak and began to spew scathing streams of molten hate.
“Your whore wife. I killed her.”
“What the fuck?”
“Your whore wife? I killed her. I slit her throat in the bathroom and bled her out into the sink.”
“What’s gotten into you, man?” “Yeah, really, what are you trying to say?” Said Mrs. Kaplan. Perched on her nest next to papa Kaplan, her face quizzically contorted with her vicious maws agape, spit bubbles audibly crackling on her now flavorless gum like wet cereal.
What the hell was going on? I killed her. Just before I tried to land the job, I had gone into the woman’s bathroom and killed her. She made Kaplan look like he could land a more attractive bride than me, so I took care of it. Payback for him screwing me with the promotion. The arterial blood spray showered the walls. The whole bathroom looked like a modern art exhibit. People were rushing to go see what the hell kind of raging mammoth beast had wreaked havoc in the bathroom and saturated the wallpaper with a slurry of clotting blood. The whole restaurant was frantic just a second ago. Everyone’s face looked like a scream mask.
“Honestly, what the fuck man? She never even went to the bathroom you sick piece of shit. She’s been here the whole time while you’ve ordered drink after drink.”
I realized I was shaking slightly. It was hard to swallow. I didn’t really care that what I said was offensive to the plastic hawk and Colonel Asshat sitting across from me. I was more just devastated that I was incorrect about something. I thought that woman was dead. My eyes panned around the room frame by frame. All I could see was a placid setting for the background of a romantic comedy dinner scene. All the animals in the farm were merrily eating away at scraps of $300 meat and other foods of indecipherable names. What struck me most was that the tasteless and theme-clashing Warhol print on the wall across the dining room was slightly crooked. It reminded me of Kaplan somehow. I wanted to burn it.
Kaplan smacked his fists down on the table and stared at me maniacally.
“I’m sorry, I gotta go.” I stuttered out a sentence that made absolutely no sense and stumbled out of the restaurant. I was still holding the napkin from the table. I lifted it up to wipe the trails of sweat trickling down my face. I looked down to see that the napkin was soaked in blood and that a $100 bill was stuck in the center. I called for a limo and used the money to pay the driver. I didn’t want to call my own chauffer. Or use my own cash.
The walls of my usually spacious and tasteful penthouse apartment were colorless. They were painted with a very thin coat of off-white primer. They reeked of apathy. They were feelingless and weren’t ashamed to have it blaze in the light from the newly installed, massive window outside the bedroom suite. The light bulbs, which tended to function as a key source of atmosphere for the contemporary living room, hung by copper snakes from their sockets and emitted a fluorescent buzz like a sweatshop. A large section of the kitchen walls were yet to be built. The furniture was missing, and the temporary white carpeting was covered in plastic wrap. The place smelled of paint and sawdust. The closets were tenantless caskets. My collection of original, musically significant and rare vinyl albums from artists I did not particularly appreciate but used to impressed people with was nowhere to be seen. In the corner of the living room was a single red couch, still covered in plastic wrap. Everything about it was brand new, totally virgin and untouched. Clean.
My phone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out and read the memo printed on the screen.
Dinner at 7 with Howie