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asleep in cucumber

March 12, 2012

On the morning of the day in which my life changed forever, I awoke to the noise of my beautiful husband Peter snoring. I understand that a flash flood or a tribe of angry children may be worse things to wake up to, but I tell you with bitterness that they cannot be much worse. I kicked Peter in the ankle, which, as I had expected, accomplished nothing, and sat up slowly, peeling the cucumber slices from my eyes. I always sleep in cucumber. No morning puffiness, and they always smell so nice and salad fresh. I put the cucumber in the ashtray on my nightstand, such a sweet little thing from a shop in London for my last birthday within my most recent previous marriage, and lit a cigarette.

Thus begins my daily morning drama, my own personal heart stopping saga of pro and con: will I dawdle and make excuses for two minutes or two hours before finally dragging myself down the stairs to start my aerobics routine? I know that this is 2012, and that aerobics have gone out of style somewhere back in the 80’s. All of my friends are doing yoga or pilates now, and that is all very well and charming, I’m sure, but in forty years the world has yet to produce another body as incredible as the one on Jane Fonda, and I always think that facts should speak for themselves. Besides, spandex is so much more becoming than those floppy, ugly yoga pants.

This particular morning my beautiful husband Peter settled the little matter for me by rolling onto his back and beginning to snore like an asthmatic rhinoceros. I was grumpy not to have at least another ten minutes to smoke and debate with myself, but sometimes life leaves you no alternatives. Bed may be very cozy, especially with a cigarette and the homey smell of dead cucumber, but one simply cannot enjoy it when one’s beautiful husband is making noises like a dying gopher. I set the cigarette down and went somewhat grudgingly downstairs to make my smoothie.

You mustn’t think that Peter is just another one of those husbands who snores. He really is remarkably beautiful. He is twenty seven and Swedish, with one of those dreadful last names that no one could possibly pronounce and that I refused to take when we were married. I am enormously proud of him, and picked him myself off the ski slopes in Aspen last winter. He is not a very good skier, poor darling, which I am sure must be perfectly embarrassing for a Swede, but he truly is too beautiful to live. He has all sorts of wonderful muscles, and a glowing golden tan which he lovingly tends to every day in my TanStar2000. My friends tell me that Peter married me for my money, as though that should bother me, but as I married him for his beauty, I simply can’t see why it would. I just love situations where everyone wins, and a beautiful husband is such a nice thing to have ’round. I picked up the habit after years of a perfectly appalling ugly husband spree. That, of course, takes an eventual toll, and after Amos I swore off them for life. Although, they were all marvelously rich, and they are all four of them the reason I am marvelously rich today, so I suppose some allowances must be made for them. But god’s ashcan! I simply can’t abide a man who smells like bourbon and looks like a limp radish.

This morning I had barely wriggled into my favorite red leotard and began a warm up when I was interrupted by another noise: Flutie Rubens was barking. Flutie Rubens is my Pekingese, and I just adore her beyond all reason. All of my husbands have told me so, anyhow, and I have heard that if something is told to you five times by five different people it must be true. However, Flutie Rubens is certainly worth any unreasonableness. I bought her from that whiskery Mr. Rubens who runs the grocery down on Fourth Avenue, and such an odd man he is! He insisted that Flutie keep her last name, so that she would always know her roots. Nonsense, I call it – who would want to remember roots in such a nasty, fluorescent lights and bare concrete little place as that? Not to mention the ratty cardboard box I rescued her from. But there – he does sell the very nicest cucumbers, and I suppose that much must be said for him even if his whiskers do make him look like a condescending walrus on most afternoons.

Currently Flutie Rubens was sounding more than a little put out. Usually she is simply my little golden angel, and I was rather alarmed to hear her so upset. I ran up the stairs, and discovered her hopping up and down outside my bedroom door and barking up the devil fit to kill. And small wonder, I have to say.

I will always be ever so embarrassed, it really was unforgivably thoughtless of me, but then, I do have a history of absent minded cigarette disposal – my husband Cedric, who was an ungracious humbug if I say so myself, once told me that Smokey the Bear was invented and employed a crew of two thousand for my sole benefit. Cedric was never very nice. And he chewed with his mouth open. But anyhow, what had happened, apparently, was that…well, apparently, when I set my cigarette down, I set it…on the pillow.

I was not surprised exactly, I mean, as I said, it had happened often before, in fact now that I think about it perhaps Cedric was rather justified in being so beastly that once, as at the time he made that very snide Smokey Bear comment I had just burned down the summer house. I really don’t think we needed the summer house anyway, we had only used it once that summer and naturally that had to be the time I put my cigarette away in the bookcase…but what I am saying, I think, is that these things really should not be allowed to happen to me. Someone should get me a cigarette secretary, I think. My husband Marco had a secretary to monitor his use of barbiturates. Or maybe she was a nurse. I forget. But anyhow, she wore thick stockings and ugly shoes, and she had a voice like a trumpet.

Oh. So we stood there, Flutie Rubens and I, actually I guess we kind of hopped up and down and yelped for a moment or two, simply wondering in a frantic sort of way what to do. The bed was in flames, of course, and the walls and carpet were going fast. Peter was dead, I could see at a glance, at least he must have been, he had finally stopped snoring. Also, he was dreadfully black and smoky. My problems just seemed to rush all around me and nip me at the ankles and rib cage. Would I be hauled away to jail and have to fix up a cell like Martha Stewart? I did not think I could stand this. Everyone made such unkind fun of Martha Stewart. Maybe everyone would believe it was an accident…although it was hardly likely. The Hills had been trying to get a decent headline on me for years. I was really intolerably vexed at Peter. Who doesn’t wake up and run for it about the time he is being burnt to death?

Suddenly, everything became horribly clear and ever so much worse. There on the nightstand, glaring at me with its melting amber plastic and charred paper label, surrounded by flames I had no doubt it would outlive in a medicated little clump, sat a bottle that I knew well. I knew what was in it, and I knew what it was for, and furthermore, I knew who had picked it up for Peter at the QuickRx yesterday. If I possibly could have reached it, it would have done me no good. They keep these things on file now. I could just see it in the weekend edition: ‘Zoey Parnell, at the age of forty, sedates and cremates current beautiful husband.’

I sat down for a minute on the fast disappearing floor, and Flutie Rubens sat with me, apparently resigned to die if I was.

It was all really too unfair. I only bought that longwinded sleeping pill for Peter to try and stop that dreadful snoring. It was better than a divorce, I thought, and I was only trying to meet him halfway. It’s not as though I tried to clip his nose with a clothespin. They were really quite expensive also, as though one was paying for each letter in that ridiculous overblown name. I remember thinking to myself that if only I hadn’t a snoring beautiful husband to meet halfway I might be buying a new mad hat just then. Of course I went out and bought a new mad hat anyway afterwards, but what I am trying to say is that no good and selfless deed goes unpunished, apparently. Now all because of my thoughtfulness as a wife and my small carelessness as a disposer of cigarettes all was rapidly becoming lost. And really, I hadn’t meant to put the cigarette away on the pillowcase. The pillowcase was just there, and the cigarette was there, and everything had seemed to go so logically together. Things should not be flammable, I think. Now I would be an axe murderer, or something, and someone would be sure to write dreadful things about me for all the stupid ugly persons to believe. I would never be welcome at another house party.

I stood up suddenly. The time to hesitate was not now, with a house burning down around my ears. With speed and courage I ran around the flames to my closet and began throwing things into my luggage. Flutie Rubens, on the other side of the fire, waxed apoplectic. I considered taking the ashtray, so sweet, for my birthday and all, but decided it mightn’t be in good taste. A bit too ironic. The ceiling was beginning to fragment now, but still I wavered between a pair of magenta leather stilettos and the sweetest blue satin Baby Louis’s. Flutie Rubens nearly expired right there, and finally in a rush of decisiveness I threw them all in together and sat on the case to fasten it. No sense in packing with moderation when one is flying for one’s life. Once again I evaded the flames, much more difficult when one is flush with luggage, let me tell you, and joined Flutie Rubens at the top of the stairs.

We looked at each other in silence for a moment. We both knew that this was the end of an era.

Flutie Rubens and I walked bravely down the stairs to do the best we could. I must warn you that managing a running for your life amount of luggage down three flights of majestic Beverly Hills staircase is no walk in the park. I am afraid I never recognized how very helpful ugly and beautiful husbands alike are when it comes to carrying one’s luggage, and that was not fair of me. They deserve medals, or something. Flowers, at least. Well. I did buy Marco roses that one time, but I am sorry to say that it was because he pouted for them. Marco always did pout so. Now, though, there was only me to get that luggage safely away, and although Flutie Rubens, who is the littlest soldier, carried her own leash in her mouth, nothing more of course could be expected of her. I went puffing and sweating down that smoky stairway like Jane Fonda never dreamed possible. The entire house was filling with smoke now, and I was sure that the fire department would be there at any time.

I quickly washed in the bathroom furthest away from the fire. I was amazed at how fascinating I looked, wearing nothing but that bright red leotard and covered in soot and smuts. I took the leotard off and dropped it regretfully into the trashcan. It had been my favorite. That was the closest I came to crying. When I was decently clean, I just pulled out the clothes that were on top in the suitcase and put them on. I felt woefully mismatched but there is apparently an incredible thrill to be had when one’s jacket and shoes are in an appalling clash; this must be the reason that so many young women with hairy legs and paintbrushes in their patchwork bags wear floral patterns and plaids all at once.

Flutie Rubens and I took one last look around our smoky home, and left. We went into the garage, and I was struck by a whole new problem. When one is running from the law one cannot very well just hop into any of one’s own cars and expect to remain fancy free for long. I was stumped for a moment. There was no way in god’s ashcan I was walking any distance with all this bag and baggage, not to mention Flutie Rubens, who cannot walk very far at one time. A taxi would have been quite perfection but although I was not certain I was under the distinct impression that using one’s own credit cards just at the onset of a flight from justice was not the wisest course of action. Something about a paper trail, although I would assume in this day and age they are calling it a plastic trail. Good old paper currency I think is mostly reserved for tipping one’s espresso artisans and exotic entertainment. Of course a bus was simply out of the question. Nasty, dirty things with noisy children inside them. The last time I was on a bus was twenty years ago and a truly horrifying individual with both lapels full of cigarette holes had accosted me in the most unpleasant manner. I had to get off a whole stop before I had intended just to avoid further conversation about his little modeling agency down in some scrubby little corner of San Francisco, and this resulted in my being quite lost for an unforgivable quantity of time. I have never really liked tweed jackets since this day. No, a bus was quite unacceptable. I was nearing hysteria as I counted off mode after mode of transportation and tossed it aside as lacking in some vital part of its construction or another.

Poor dear Peter, the cause of all this bother, redeemed himself by presenting a solution to my dilemma. In the corner of the garage he had been working for the past several months on some dreadful old contraption – an Aston Martin, maybe? No, no, that is something else entirely. Ah…an Austin Healy. I had been very excited at the idea originally, thinking that when he fixed it up we could take it to auto shows and be very fashionable and win prizes, but he had been very poky about it and insisted on working on the engine first. I have no patience with such a man. As if anyone looked at an engine.

I ran over to it, hoping with every little piece of me that the keys were in the ignition; I would never find them in all that smoke business upstairs. They were – I almost peed in relief. The ridiculous car had apparently no trunk, at least not that I could see, but it had just had a paint job. It was no longer that terrible gray color with patches of odd colored gunk; it gleamed bright red and white, and I felt suddenly so sorry for Peter. I wish the poor boy could have taken it out at least once in its new coat of paint. The inside was still ragged, unfortunately, and the blasted thing having evidently no storage whatever to speak of, the luggage went into the passenger side and I sat down carefully in the driver’s seat, avoiding the larger holes in the upholstery as best I could. I put Flutie Rubens on my lap and buckled us in, and rather dubiously turned the key in the ignition. It started perfectly, although in my opinion it ran a bit loud. Poor dear Peter. How I loved him at that moment, for insisting on making the engine just so.

As the garage door began to rise, I became aware of sirens somewhere outside. Probably at the front gate. Well, that would hold them for a while, bless its little soul. The gate was one of those tall, forbidding cast iron affairs with some multitude of locks and bricks on either side and a bothersome very long passcode. Of course, the fire and police departments have that code on record, but I hoped that it would take them a long while to remember that and even longer to figure out how to use it. I lived here, and it had taken me several years and as many husbands to finally figure out how to open it without assistance. Cedric had been so put out by what he called my utter lack of a cerebral cortex that he insisted whenever I was out that I call from my last stop to let him know I was coming home, and he would send someone down to start the gate opening process by the time I arrived. The firemen would not have this sort of assistance, and they would probably try to hack through the locks with an axe or something first. I knew quite well that this would not work because the gate was specifically designed to laugh off such amateur attacks. Once when Cedric came home drunk quite late at night he forgot the passcode and I couldn’t find it and we stood on either side of the gate yelling quite nasty things at each other for a long time before he began to hammer on the locks with a bit of cinder block from the driveway. Nothing came of this of course except that he stubbed his little finger, and eventually the police had to come and let him in. Certainly my old friend and foe the gate would not fail me now. I felt quite smug, and I felt quite wise in the ways of the world and its security barricades, and I felt a little sorry for the fire department as they shouted and sirened and hacked away at the front drive and Flutie Rubens and I drove quietly out the back.

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