ZENITH – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER
ZENITH – DAPHNE BELLFLOWER
Vivian rooted through her closet impatiently, looking for something to wear. She was going to be late if she didn’t figure out what she was wearing soon. Vivian was fully aware that the worst thing about her outfit choice was that Jenny truly wouldn’t care what she had on and wouldn’t be dressed up herself. But Vivian had standards. Self-imposed standards, but standards none the less.
She grabbed a black crepe dress from the 50s, and thought about accessories. Tight patent leather belt, big jewelry, and bright red lipstick. She could do the whole Liz Taylor thing from “A Place In the Sun.” Vivian glanced in the mirror and shuddered at the black circles under her eyes and the horizontal lines in her forehead. She remembered that Liz was still a teenager when she was in that movie. She’d need more sleep and a lot more Botox if she were to even attempt “A Place in the Sun” Liz. Outfit rejected.
She pulled more dresses out, briefly considered them, then tossed them in the reject pile on the floor. Vivian had loved clothes her entire life and had the wardrobe to prove it. She rarely threw anything out and associated certain outfits with various events in her life–her first job after college, her first trip to New York City, her dad’s funeral, and the date she went on with Anthony Kiedis during her Red Hot Chili Peppers phase. Her date clothes were always chosen carefully. As she went from dress to dress, she realized she could probably reconstruct the past 35 years of her sex life just by going through her closet.
Her boyfriend Jack—technically her fiancé for the past 22 years—peeked into the bedroom, watched Vivian throw clothes on the floor for a few minutes, then headed to the living room to watch the baseball game. “What time are you meeting Jenny?,” he yelled from the relative calm of the sofa. “It’s almost seven. You’re probably going to be late.” He switched on the game and absently wondered how long it would take her to choose her shoes.
Vivian pulled out the pink and silver Pucci dress she had inherited from her Italian grandmother. This would be perfect for tonight. Late 1960s or early 1970s. She could still do the whole Liz Taylor thing, but instead of the teenaged Liz she would do the drinking and fighting all night with Richard Burton Liz. This version would be a lot easier to pull off, especially since she was 52 and hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for a week. She pulled out her black eyeliner and went to work.
Jack winced as he listened to her heels clatter down the hall on the newly refinished wood floors. “Nice outfit,” he said, watching her rummage through the closet for a coat. “Where are you going tonight?” he asked. Vivian grabbed the white vinyl jacket she had bought last year in Austin. It wasn’t her first choice, but because she was so late it would have to do.
“The Palace Kitchen,” she said, searching through her purse for her car keys. “Jenny’s choice, not mine. With all the new restaurants in Seattle to choose from, Jenny has to pick the old standby.” She found her keys and ran through the living room to the front door. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” she yelled. “Maybe we can go out after Jenny and I are done eating. I’ll text you.” She slammed the door behind her, and Jack breathed a sigh of relief. He figured he’d have a few hours of peace before Vivian returned to tell him about how dull the Palace Kitchen was and decide where they would go out that night.
As she ran to the car, Vivian texted Jenny. “IM LATE IM RUDE IM SORRY CU SOON.” She knew Jenny wouldn’t read her texts due to her bizarre anti-digital principals, and this would give Vivian the perfect opportunity to extoll the virtues of the Internet. As she sped across the West Seattle Bridge, Vivian mentally rehearsed the key points of her pro-Internet speech. See how easy everything is now? Everything you want is on your phone! Heard of any new restaurants? Why yes—I was just reading Yelp! You’ll never guess who’s getting divorced…and you wouldn’t have to guess if you had Facebook!
She and Jenny had been friends for over 20 years, and Vivian could never really put a finger on why. They had met at a now-defunct book group, but had kept in touch. Vivian couldn’t imagine how two friends could be so different. Jenny married her college sweetheart Tate, was a devoted mom to her two now-grown children, and was the director of marketing for an organic baby food company. Tate was rarely home these days. He spent much of his time in Africa working for a micro-lending startup, but came home every year for the holidays and every August and September for hiking season.
Like Jenny, Vivian had a successful career of her own. But as far as Vivian was concerned, the similarities between she and Jenny ended there. Vivian and Jack never had children, and weren’t held hostage to the grueling schedule every bourgeois family in Seattle was on. Instead, Vivian concentrated her considerable energy into getting on the guest list to as many parties, concerts, and black tie events as possible. Still, Vivian and Jack managed to drag Jenny and Tate out during the kid years. They were both disappointed that Tate wasn’t home very often after their kids went away to college, because the time the couples spent together was enjoyable. She and Jenny got together more often now that Tate traveled so much for work.
As Vivian drove through downtown Seattle, she marveled at all the new tall buildings and the ongoing construction of even more new tall buildings. Everyone she knew from the 90s lamented the new Seattle—the traffic, the brogrammers, the condos, the rents. But Vivian loved it. She thought the new buildings were beautiful, with the exception of a few misfires. She liked all the new people, how they crowded downtown and Capitol Hill all night. There were so many new restaurants and bars she could barely keep up. Seattle was exciting now, not the sleepy little city Vivian moved to in 1990. Old Seattle would have to figure out how to keep up with new Seattle.
She found a place to park on Fifth Avenue, and ran as fast as her strappy heels would allow to the Palace Kitchen. As usual, it was packed. Vivian could never figure out why it was still so popular. The Palace Kitchen had been open for years, the food was fair, but it was way too expensive for what it was and there were so many new places to go. But regardless of Vivian’s opinion, the restaurant was packed tonight with middle-aged patrons. Vivian briefly thought she shouldn’t be so opposed to the middle-aged clientele, but she quickly pushed that thought from her mind. She hoped Jenny had made reservations.
“Vivian,” she heard Jenny shout. “Vivian, I’m over here at the bar.” She pushed her way through the crowd and found Jenny was sitting at the bar with her coat draped over the adjacent empty barstool. Several people were milling around, staring meaningfully at Jenny and then at the barstool. Vivian was happy that Seattle’s infamous non-confrontational ethos was in full effect tonight and Jenny’s claim had remained unchallenged even though Vivian was at least a half hour late.
“Score on the seats,” she said, hugging Jenny. “I thought we’d be standing for the next 45 minutes. And I really don’t want to in these shoes. Sorry I’m so late. The West Seattle bridge was a mess and I couldn’t find a place to park. What are you drinking?”
“Dirty martini,” Jenny said, holding up her glass. “Two olives. I’m hungry. I didn’t know how long it would take you to get here.” She waved her cell phone at Vivian. “I got your text,” she said. “And I do think you’re rude.” She looked at Vivian’s and smiled. “You were easy to spot tonight. Are the 70s back again?”
Vivian sat down at the bar, and finally caught the bartender’s eye. That took a little longer than it used to. “I’ll have a dirty martini too,” she said. “Grey Goose.” She looked around at the crowd. “The Palace Kitchen,” she whispered in Jenny’s ear, trying to imitate Marlon Perkins. “The exotic watering hole where Seattle’s middle-aged gather as the sun goes down.” Jenny shook her head and laughed. “Be nice Vivian,” she said. “Aren’t you 53 this year? And I love this place. We’ve had fun here for years.”
The bartender set her martini down on the bar. Vivian had been disgusted by the bar’s surface since the day the Palace Kitchen opened. The white hex tiles and dingy grout always reminded her of a train station bathroom floor. She wrinkled her nose and raised her glass. “Cheers,” she said clinking her glass with Jenny’s. “To your mom jeans. And as you well know, I’m still only 52.”
Vivian took a sip of her drink and looked around to see if she recognized anyone in the crowd. She immediately regretted it. “Oh great, Jenny,” she hissed. “Your good friend Eddie’s here.” She nudged Jenny under the bar. “He’s sitting over there. I think he’s with one of his kids.” Jenny’s gaze followed Vivian’s nudge. She started laughing. “I’m glad you think it’s funny,” Vivian said. “I told you we should go someplace new.”
“I’m not laughing at you. OK, I’m laughing at you,” Jenny said. “The only reason Eddie and I were friends is because our kids went to the same school.” She motioned the bartender for another martini. “I’ll bet he’s not thrilled to see you either.”
Vivian met Eddie through mutual friends during her crazy fun serial dating days before she met Jack. At the time she found Eddie wildly attractive, and she slept with him several times after they all went out dancing at the Rebar. It wasn’t a complete waste of time. Vivian credited Eddie with teaching her a valuable life lesson: sex with a handsome man did not translate into romance.
After several semi-regular post-Rebar encounters, Vivian and Eddie went out on exactly one date. Vivian didn’t know he drove a red Porsche until he picked her up at her apartment. That was cheesy enough, but Vivian considered it a potentially forgivable offense. The real issue was how dull he was. She stared at him during dinner trying to figure out one of life’s great mysteries–how could someone be so good looking and so incredibly tedious and pompous at the same time. In addition, Eddie was wearing a pink Izod polo shirt with the collar flipped up like one of the characters who ended up dead early on in “Less Than Zero.” That thought of that shirt still gave Vivian the willies.
After that one dinner–at the Palace Kitchen–Vivian never returned Eddie’s phone calls. He eventually married a school teacher from Montana and had three daughters. From Facebook stalking, Vivian was amazed that Eddie continued to be handsome as hell, even 20 years later. He posted a photo of he and his wife on their 20th wedding anniversary. The photo reminded Vivian of a peacock posing with a peahen, of the difference between the shimmering plumage of the male and the muted brown feathers of the female. She didn’t exactly fault his wife. Vivian assumed listening to Eddie drone on night after night would eventually grind anyone down.
“Let’s shake things up at this old place,” Jenny said, setting her drink down on the bar. “I’m going to say hi.” Vivian watched in horror as Jenny stood up and waved at Eddie. Eddie smiled, got up and walked over to the bar. He hugged Jenny, then turned to greet Vivian. “How nice to see you. What a pleasant surprise,” he said, as he awkwardly kissed her cheek. “You look great. You look just the same.”
Vivian smiled at him, and touched his sleeve. He had on a slim-fitting plaid shirt, skinny dark jeans, and expensive looking loafers. “You look great Eddie,” she said. “It’s been a long time. I hope you’ve been well.” She couldn’t resist leaning in toward him and touching his hand as she spoke. It was one of her old tricks from her single days, easy yet effective.
“I’ve been doing really well,” he said. “It was a little hard with what happened last year, but I think everything is settled down now. Business is good. Life’s good. I’ve got no complaints” He looked back at his table, and waved to the girl sitting there. “I’ve got to get back to my table,” he said. “I don’t like leaving her alone too long. Who knows what might happen, right?”
Jenny was staring at his table. “Is that one of your daughters?” Vivian asked. “She’s really pretty. Congratulations.”
Eddie laughed. “My daughter?” he said. “Oh Vivian, now you’re making me feel old. She’s my wife. We got married last year.” He kissed Vivian again, missed her cheek and got the tip of her nose instead. He turned and hugged Jenny. “Great to see you both,” he said. “Say hi to Tate for me.” They watched as Eddie sauntered back to his table.
“Did he just say his wife?” Vivian said. “Are you fucking kidding me? She must be at least 20 years younger than he is.” She looked at Jenny. “Did you know?”
“Of course I knew,” Jenny said. “I’m kind of surprised you didn’t. Eddie dumped Robin last year after their third daughter graduated from college.” She finished her drink and smiled at Vivian. “I thought with all your social media connections you would have known before me. Don’t tell me that you, out of all people, are shocked.” She grabbed Vivian’s hand. “Maybe you don’t know about this either.” She swiveled her stool to face Vivian.
“So why do you think Tate’s out of the country so much,” Jenny said. “After our kids graduated and moved out, I started sleeping with our next door neighbor. You know him, you’ve met him at our house several times. He’s that botany professor from UW. Should we eat dinner at the bar, or try and get a table?”
Vivian stared at Jenny speechless. She wondered what Jack was doing right now. Was he watching the baseball game and smoking weed or was he sleeping with the clerk from the mini-mart? At this point, she seriously did not know. What the hell was happening to her peers. She looked around at the crowd with a different perspective. Suddenly Vivian felt her age.
“Let’s eat at the bar,” she said to Jenny. “I’m too tired to wait for a table.” She grabbed her phone and texted Jack. “NETFLIX TONIGHT? I’M NOT STAYING OUT LATE. LET’S WATCH A MOVIE.”