Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Cougar

I notice the salad before I see Alan. A tumble of baby greens, the drizzle of vinaigrette glistens like dew drops on grass. One of those small salads that barely feeds a child much less a man. His face looks leaner now, a wolf’s not a bear’s. He looks hungry.

I pull out my compact – lips on, makeup not melted, no raccoon circles under my eyes. No lunch leftovers hanging from my teeth. I click the mirror shut with satisfaction. Thank goddess he can’t see me, the column wrapped in plastic ivy blocks his view but not mine. He tucks in close to the table, his stomach not drooping between his thighs, his chest no longer sagging over his plate. A cold sweat breaks out between my breasts.

The waiter deposits another basket of warm rolls, the little balls of butter in the white dish melting. I tear apart a roll and steam rises, the dough soft and yeasty in my mouth. Carrie is late, but when she struts through the restaurant, bright as a peacock, my ex will follow her to me. He never liked her, thought her a hussy, though he couldn’t keep his eyes off of her at our tree trimming party.

Beyond a few necessary email exchanges – who gets the Dodge, the silver, the cat - Alan and I haven’t spoken since last April, not since we passed papers. I had stared at his girth, the damp stain spreading under his armpits. Even across the table, he smelled sour, fetid, like cabbage rotting. Our marriage decomposing. Then, he had only lost 30 pounds, the gastric bypass slow to take. Twenty-six years, he said, his eyes puppy-dog sad. How can you throw that away? The children? The house? Our marriage?

We had a marriage? The children grown and moved away, the house a dust-filled monstrosity, a weekly roll with me on top, always on top, so he would not crush me. For twenty five of those years I had counted until our youngest finished college. The day after she graduated I handed him my intent to divorce.

After the lawyers shook hands, I bolted to Julian’s, Carrie already tipsy on two-buck highballs and the Led Zeppelin streaming through the speakers. My partner in crime had prowled the singles scene for over a year, ever since she left Dan. Julian’s was our watering hole of choice, cheap drinks, music we can sing to, a plentiful stable of men. We stumbled off our stools and played pool with a group of IBMers passing through town. They slung back microbrews while we drank sloe gin fizzes so sweet they made my teeth ache. We slow danced in the hazy smoke, kissed pressed against the wall.

Later, the slow undressing in my new apartment. Carrie demonstrated her pole dance classes on her pick-up. I lap-danced mine on the single chair, a Lazy-boy recliner from Salvation Army. My first legal, non-adulterous fuck. How freeing to writhe under someone with more muscles than fat, who could keep it up longer than minute, who afterwards stroked my hair and if he noticed the fine silver strands by my ears didn’t mention them. I forget his name, only remember he was a good Jewish boy and how we talked how difficult it was to maintain faith in a secular world. He caressed the silver chalice hanging below my neck and then he did me again, his mouth burrowed in my breasts, murmuring what sounded like mama-mama-mama as he went limp in me.

I lean over the table for a better view. Alan picks at a radish. There is no bread basket at his table. No wine. He sips from a glass, a lemon round floating atop a raft of ice cubes. He shifts in his seat and I marvel at newly-defined deltoids. A small ache slides under my breast bone. Someone told me, maybe Carrie, that she’d seen him at Gold’s lifting weights. Wrong! I’d said. You are so wrong! He never lifted a can of peas much less broke a sweat over a biceps curl. Her lips arranged into that all-knowing Mona Lisa smile of hers, but I knew she was mistaken.

I tease apart another roll. Liberatore’s is dangerous for South Beachers. This used to be our restaurant, our Friday night date. The music’s too loud now and, other than the bread basket, the portions skimpier. Alan raises a baby green to his mouth. He chews and chews, forever it seems. His hair shines, longer down the neck, the ears, the grey gone. A small hand with nails the color of my lipstick reaches across the linen table and pats his forearm. He lowers his fork beside the salad and the pink moons disappear in his massive hand.

Jealousy slithers through me. I crane my neck to see who is attached to the end of those long fine fingers but a stupid waiter in his stupid black jacket stands between us, unloading plates of pasta. The hand withdraws. The roll drops from my fingers and bounces off my lap and onto the floor.


Carrie looks down at me, lips glossy, blond hair pulled off her high forehead. Turquoise silk wafts over her boobs, slides over her hips. She pulls me into her hug, a haze of Tabu. Her pink, pink nails splay around my shoulder.


Another character sketch for my new novel-in-progress, one to complement The Poet. And you have 'met' this character before, mentioned here. Just playing.

Stay cool, write hot. Peace...


  1. Awesome! I can see all the characters in vivid detail and read all the emotional markers. (Hugs) Indigo

  2. Ah, another soul who thinks the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Interesting how her loathing of Alan changes when he loses weight. I guess women can be that way, too.

    I also like how she hung in there until their child graduated. I've seen that happen more than once. Like it shouldn't hurt the children at that point? Right. A friend of mine is still disturbed by it.

    A tale of envy nicely told, the descriptions delicious appetizers for the eye and mind.

  3. Really. All the characters are really clear and vivid. Though I am thinking the kids will still be hurt by the divorce.

  4. I was surprised to read a longer flash from you, Linda. You're one of the briefest of the bunch on pretty much a weekly basis. However, I wasn't surprised that the subject matter pulled more out of you this time. Emotional strife, particularly some in the home, is one of your spots and I always figured you had some longer narratives about it waiting to emerge (barring potential novels, of course).

  5. That's a character sketch? "Just playing around?"
    Pfffft!That was AWESOME!!!!
    So... who was he with? Gotta know...
    And isn't she just shallow as all get out, being revolted by his weight, then being jealous when he's all thin again. Nice role reversal going on... usually it's the other way around.

  6. You have sketched her so well that I think I know her. Nicely done.

    You have the sentence, "He sips from a glass, a lemon round floating atop a raft of ice cubes." in one paragraph and then, "He sips from a glass, a lemon round floating at the top of a raft of ice cubes." in the next one. Was that intentional?

  7. Great piece... Great character... I welcome the novel, Linda...

  8. Thanks for reading all!

    Tim, special thanks for the redundancy catch -- a copy instead of cut. Fixed!

    John, feeling expansive, I guess. Felt good to stretch, though.

    Cathy, hmmm... it is not obvious who Alan is with? The pink fingernails? If it's not I need to fix.

    Stephen, she's not all altruism -- who do you think paid the college bills? the health insurance?

    Indigo, thanks for reading -- I'm always happy when you drop by.

    Sonia, yep, the pain of divorce pretty much lingers. Alsways.

    Angel, so good to see you -- thank you for reading!


  9. Great job here — like others said, this whole appearance thing can go both ways. I wonder what she'll say when she figures out her best friend is banging her ex.

    My parents split after I graduated high school. That was no fun for any of us & reverberated for a long time even though they got along better apart than together.

  10. Terrifically vivid, Linda. The regret, the shame... finely cut.

  11. I always feel in a haze when I finish one of your pieces. Like I've been standing in that room, watching, and now I'm not quite sure where I am. You weave some powerful magic.

  12. Cathy, read it again, it is obvious who Alan is with. You'll see it.

    Linda, as usual, you astound with your descriptions. I felt like I was right there in her envious head, bless her heart.
    And for some reason I'm really hungry now, and not just for those yeast rolls. ;)

  13. The Cougar is good. I got the pink nails. :) Can't wait to see how you weave all these together in a bigger piece.

  14. Love this whole thing, but I have to point out how great the 'action' is. The part about Carrie looking down and splaying her nails, all of it just moves so great.

  15. I'm late to the party but worth the wait. Now I'm hungry too, but not for food; for more of this story!

    You evoke so much empathy with the characters you create.

  16. I really got into this story to the point where I was disappointed there wasn't more...great character development.