Ashley “Smiles”, the Eldest Vera
ASHLEY “SMILES”, THE ELDEST VERA, bent over the 4 diamond toilet seat of her restaurant and threw up.
.. out poured a dry stream.
She stood up now. Her hands, now damp with sweat, her throat, was crusted over by a green filament from which she quickly wiped away with a handkerchief.
Belching daintily, she shook her head, as she again dabbed at the mouth with the kerchief, then smiling into her Gucci bag, pursing lips and producing baby noises to her baby boy chihauhau who lay in the purse with pink curly-q’s exploding in his hair. And she said to him, “Fufu,” she said.
The chihauhau looked questioningly up to Smiles and cocked his little puppy head to one side, peering bug-eyed up at his human mother. “Yip yip?” he wondered.
Smiles teetered out of the bathroom door and over to the mirror’s blue reflection.
Again, Mr. Fufu stared up at her, bug-eyed. “Yip, yip?” he asked her. But she didn’t answer his questions.
“Sorry, babe, it’ll have to wait,” she said. “Mama’s busy.”
She reached her fingers quickly into her purse and pulled out a bottle of Chanel, a perfume that was spurted in gentle touches on both wrists, behind her ears. Quickly, she picked the bottle back up and let loose a cloud of perfume into the air, and here she shimmied her body out into the sweet-scented cumulus, wafting the beads of aroma, but now you’re not paying attention. So I’ll stop there.
And here she spoke.
She did the rest of her body over.
She saw none, of course, wrinkles. But still, she scrubbed and polished and scoured the imaginary flecks of imperfection out of her flawless skin.
And where do I go from here? she wondered. She picked up a Fashion Magazine and took up a People Magazine out of her Gucci bag and studied the columns and the beautiful faces they concerned and these she sought religiously.
After applying fresh makeup, a blend of creams, aloes, lotions, and everything that sparkles and scents, she finished the job. Sunshine sparkling out her ass!
She frowned again and swore at herself.
She was thin and perfect — perfectly thin.
She was so cute~
Once she had upchucked to her satisfaction, she stood up once more, reapplied her makeup, set her hair straight, observed her reflection in the mirror, called it terrific.
“Yip?” asked Mr. Fufu, head cocked to side.
Smiles smiled down at her barking baby boy and said, “Fufu. We’re gonna see him. Just hold on, already, hold on — keep your fur on. We’re not late.”
She strapped her Gucci bag over-shoulder and carried it like a Queen, stumbling drunkenly out of the bathroom foxhole, walking down the runway and into the restaurant, swinging the tail of her dress like a pretty pink prissy pussy cat.
She strutted down the way now, dodging and dipping through a labyrinth of stunning Armani suits, silken ties, penguin tuxedos, and miles of evening gown tresses, maneuvering her prim, little butt to a mahogany table next to one of the many cherub fountains that gargled wine like water.
A particular man sat at that particular table. A man wearing a sports jacket and an upside down grin that sat atop a chiseled chin. He wheeled around restlessly in his seat, occasionally nipping his fingers at the edge of his collar, allowing the wind to breathe through like rivers through a waterwheel. Quickly, he checked the beating tick of his Rolex and the time that ticked upon it. .A case of tennis balls and rackets sat motionless at his feet.
The case of tennis balls and rackets smelled new. And unused..
“Sorry I took so long!” called Smiles from where she stood in the middle of the patio.
One eyebrow cocked as Ashley Smiles came strutting in, and slowly the man stood up from his seat, adjusted the collar of his sports jacket, and after clearing his throat. “Please,” he said. He pulled out a chair and gestured for her to sit
When Smiles finally arrived at the table, still she stood standing, hands to hips. Said she, “You starin at something? It better not be my — ”
“It’s not,” said the man.
Smiles eyed the man suspiciously, then slowly edged her way down. “Then what is it?”
His eyes dripped down to the Gucci bag and observed a dirty brown smear and a few flecks of rotten green cabbage — like it had just been .. Hmm.
She stood up and turned around in her chair, as if searching for a mouse trap. She sat on her dog. “Fufu.”
Stephen laughed. His name was Stephen. Bending back laughing, he said, “Which, by the way, we were supposed to play a few rounds today, weren’t we — you and I? Tennis. But anyways, is that — Is that a book you got there? You been reading up on something? Some new and fashionable religion?”
Smiles shook her head furiously and this shook the curls out of her hair. “No, no, it’s not that all, but you did get one thing right: It is fashionable. I mean, it’s just a fashion magazine: Vogue. Wow.” And a People.
She set her hands atop the Fashion Magazine, fanning it out — she studied the beautiful faces in it, staring absentmindedly with a little fog caught up in the corner of her eye.
“Yip, yip?” asked Mr. Fufu, turning his bug eyes to the two magazines.
Smiles seemed to nod her head in agreement with Mr. Fufu.
Stephen seemed ill at ease.
“Stephen?” said Smiles, pausing just a moment between bites to turn her head to the man sitting across from her. “Is something the matter? I mean, is something wrong? Are you in trouble? Because, anything you’re going through, I don’t care what, Daddy can take care of it. He’s up there. -So, if you’re out of a job or just need a good word put in or even a loan or — ” She trailed off to study his beautiful face. “I mean, is it for trouble you asked me to come meet me here so quickly?”
Stephen stared down at his plate, didn’t touch it, didn’t want it. He did laugh, though. “Actually, I was wondering. Ha! I was wondering if you were — in trouble yourself.” Again, he stared down at the brown smear on Smiles’ Gucci bag. His eyes drooped, along with his wholly beautiful face, which he balanced absentmindedly on his hands, occasionally teetering to the left..
Smiles managed a broken smile. “You forgot to kiss me.”
“Oh, I did? really?”
“Just a little peck. That’s all my animal lust requires.” She laughed.
Stephen edged forward in his seat now and planted a quick peck on her cheek, but her lips still puckered out, eyes closed, expecting. She opened her eyes. “On the cheek?” she said. She placed her hands tremblingly into her Gucci bag and petted the soft down of Mr. Fufu’s head, her fingers interlacing with the pink curly-q’s in his hair. “Boy, what’s up with today?” said Smiles. “You never kiss on the cheek.” She blew a strand of hair out of her mouth. “You’re usually the first one to go for tongue and all.” She giggled. “Remember our first kiss?”
She dipped one shiverous hand into her Gucci bag, fished out a small mirror, and after applying another layer of Clinique lipstick like paint, she smacked her lips and stroked her hair with an ivory brush. She giggled again and looked back up to Stephen’s beautiful face.
“Well,” said Smiles, and she set her mirror, comb, and lipstick back in her bag.
“Daddy actually told me about you. You were one of those new interns at a competing business office,” “Please, madame, I already know,” real young and ambitious, and a client of Daddy’s told him about how focused and smart and charming you were,” “I said, I know how we met.”
“I thought it might entertain you. It’s your favorite subject: You.”
Smiles got out a cigar and lit it.
Stephen looked around nervously, batting the cat whiskers of his long, blonde lashes. “You on to cigars now? and in public? You’re not even seventeen and you smoke like a Frenchmen.”
“Please. You’re the reason I started smoking.”
She showed him her hair. “Go ahead. Reach out. Feel.”
Stephen shrugged and reached over, feeling through the thick laces of fly-swatter.
“Perfect much?” said Smiles, propping her chin up on her elbows, staring long into his oval eyes, an almond jewel in each of them; and here she leaned closer towards Stephen, a feline smile on her lips. “Kiss me like you did before,” she didn’t say this to him; she told him to.
As Mr. Fufu looked up between them and asked them both: “Yip yip?” No one cared for FuFu’s opinion in this matter. Someone must be kissed.
And they did.
“You’ve been in that restroom over there a long time. What you been doing in there?”
“Just girl stuff — you know? Makeup. Accessories. God!”
A few drops of rain descended from God, and with a sudden applause of shuffling feet, the servers rushed out to the patio and strung up a curtain of umbrellas as shields for the dinner party — every one fortified to the last head and toe with everything but a coat of arms and chain mail. Here, one of the servers reached over and unfurled the megaton umbrella near their table and said to the Lady Smiles, “I’m so sorry, Madame — the rain really wasn’t supposed to happen today. Would it interest the lady? — ”
“Ms. Vandelet,” lied Smiles. “Ms. Vandelet’s the name. My father owns this restaurant, you know. Arthur Vandelet. You should know him.” She swore a little.
The server bowed. “So sorry, Madame. I mean, Ms. Vandelet, of course. If we can offer you anything — ”
“We’re fine,” said Smiles.
“Surely you do not wish to stay in this rain?”
Smiles shrugged and said, “No, really, it’s fine. The rain happens. I like the rain! It always rained back in Seattle where I grew up, so I’m used to it. Really. You’ll still get a hefty tip and a good one at that — ” she belched daintily and covered her mouth. “Oops,” she said. “That one’s tax deductible.” She faked a giggle and hid in the night.
The server bowed several times, and there came a rustle of umbrellas and a muttering of voices, as the dinner party flooded into the insides of the restaurant, a few of them settling by a log and its fire that smoldered redly underneath a French paintings. Everything was fuckin French.
In spite of the rain, Smiles continued eating. She was on her seventh flavor of crème brulee. “This is fantastic, simply fantastic,” she said over a bite. She looked up at Stephen and smiled, offering him a spoonful of what might have come from Paris.
“About that tennis game — ” said Smiles to Stephen, but she was cut off.
“ — wow, you eat more than most of my football buddies,” said Stephen. “You know if you keep eatin like that, you’ll just throw it back up.”
Mr. Fufu whimpered, shivering in the cold of the rain ballooning up from where it fell.
Smiles leaned back and felt the bones that stuck out in the spine of her back. Here she shouted: “Maybe I have a high metabolism, maybe I exercise a lot. You didn’t think about that, did you? And don’t you use that tone, you’re nearly shouting, you’re scaring Mr. Fufu!”
Stephen adjusted a crack he had in his neck.
Silence. Tension. Description. Characters doing things with their hands and eyes.
The faint flashes of stars that began to flicker in and out of existence as if to say, “I’m here-I’m here-I’m here!”
“What?” said Smiles.
Smiles looked up at him. “You think I’m stupid, don’t you?”
“I don’t think you’re stupid.”
“Oh, okay. Just checking.”
They left for the clay tennis courts. It kept raining.
Smiles kept talking.
Said Smiles, “Also, with the free tennis lessons, and I know we don’t need them, but listen — with the free tennis lessons comes a massage and a pedicure and manicure and basically a whole pampered day, not that I need anything free, but it’s fun to try new things every now and again.” She fished out her ivory brush and dragged it through her thick locks.
She picked up a racket, balanced a furry yellow ball on it, started to bat at it, keeping it always in the air. “You wanna play tennis now? Free lessons go with em, but I know we don’t need those, we’re experienced. Oh! but we can turn the lights on. We don’t have to move around much, we won’t slip or anything, I’m sure.”
. . they were in an open clay tennis court that overlooked the purple mountains. A see-through cloth netting waved furiously here in the heavy wind and rain, thrown over the clay tennis court to keep it dry and safe, not a splash of rainwater (or any mixture of mud or grass) contaminating its perfect surface.
Quickly, they changed (not in the open, silly — this wasn’t a nudist resort*) and hit the clay.
* — they changed in the nearby restrooms
Halfway through a game, set, and match, and another following with very little said, they began to talk again.
So Smiles tossed the furry, yellow ball into the air for another serve and hit it right to Stephen, but his eyes seemed to be seeing nothing but Gucci, so he let the ball hit him.
Stephen carelessly tossed the ball back, his face downcast.
Smiles tossed the ball up high so that it nearly cut into the net that formed a ceiling for the court, and when that ball came crashing down like a yellow parakeet with broken wings, she served it over to Stephen’s side of the court, this time even more directly at him.
Stephen suddenly focused his inner manliness, sidestepping the ball, letting it pass. He dropped his tennis racket and his balls and walked slowly up to the center of the clay court where the net sliced it into a half, and Smiles walked quickly with a pitter patter in her steps as Mr. Fufu asked her in his barky voice from his Gucci prison, “Yip yip?” “Not now, babe,” said Smiles to Fu2 as she scampered across the court to meet Stephen halfway.
Stephen threw a tired arm over the net and sat down on the clay, his back now resting against the netting*. Smiles then hopping on over to the other side and falling down into sitter’s position right next to him. . then Smiles brushed away a few strands of spaghetti hair that got in the way of Stephen’s eyes and she said to him, “Something wrong, hon?” She reached over to rub his shoulders, them dropping at the feel of her hands.
* , thinking about drama
“Oh shut up and quit being so mysterious.” Smiles punched him in the back. Then she laughed. “Remember that time you, Brian, and Peter came by my room that one night to serenade me with your — what was it? — a Mexican hat dance. That was the day you brought Mr. Fufu and I together, and I should be thanking you everyday: You sure did teach that sorry pup to dance!”
want to say it. It makes their deaths seem more real.”
“He’s dead now — Caldwell. Brian Caldwell,” this from Stephen.
Smiles blinked and looked up at him. “The barber shop accident, you mean?”
“Yee-yep,” said Stephen. Snip, snip. “It’s tragic, isn’t it? No, I’m serious! You have all these friends and you never think they’re gonna leave you, because you grew up with them. They were always there even if you didn’t want them around. Then, suddenly, they’re all gone. They either move away, grow out of being around with you, you get in a few fights and agree to leave each other the hell alone, or worse, they just — ha! — they expire. For whom the bell tolls — Brian Caldwell gone like BANG!” He made a fist, smacked it in his hand, unmade that fist in an explosion of fingers. “ — only three months after that ker-ray-zee hat dance. And I trusted that barber! And I trusted that barber shop quartet!” NO, he’s serious.
Stephen cleared his throat, and smiled over at Mr. Fufu and laughed at Fu2’s neverending quest for an answer. “Yip yip?” Then, turning to Smiles: “Is Buzz okay? I mean –” motioning. “With us. Is he okay with us? Does. he. know?”
“I was never happy with Buzz.”
“Okay, fine, I lied. “I was in love with him for a while, okay. Just a momentary curiosity. But it’s not going so pretty now. You know, one time, we were going out to dine (well, not even dine; dine isn’t the right word when your boyfriend’s a cheapskate). But we went out to fill up on Kentucky Fried Chicken, and on our anniversary too!”
“Hey, I like KFC.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Her chest ballooned in and out, one moment a C-cup, the other moment a Double-D, and she paced around the court faster. It had stopped raining. “So he remembered, but it wasn’t a chivalrous moment. And he brings me on home to his house and starts complaining on the way about how inconsiderate I am for not giving myself to him every Saturday night after he’s taken me home to pretty myself up. It’s like he thinks I’m a — I’m a machine.”
Stephen laid quite still besides the net.
Smiles rolled her eyes, keeping careful attention that they didn’t get stuck that way, and sucked harder on the Indian’s prick. “And that’s not the worst thing,” she said. / “I’m not interested.” / “The worst thing is what Buzz turned me into — a horrible person, a — a bully. These kids back where he lives, back in the Valley of the Sun –” / “I said, I’m not listening.” / “they’re all younger than thirteen around, playing G.I. Joe and constructing towering fort monstrosities out of ear swabs or whatever, a sort of woods on a river bottom. I think the kids’ names are Eddie, Mick, Alfred, Ben, and something with an ‘O’.
“Anywho, their names aren’t important. It’s just with hanging around with Buzz and pals, I’d get so mean. I even kicked a little kid in the nuts just for mooning me. Did I tell ya that? I was so ugly to them. Galdammit! Are you listening to me?”
Stephen played around with the breeziness of his sports jacket — zipping up, zipping down. “I don’t believe that for a second, Ash. I couldn’t see you doing that, you’re not that sort of person. You’re kind, you’re gentle. You’re not a common thug, ya kiddin me? And that’s just it: you love kids! You always talk about adopting all sorts of little snots from Uganda and Thailand and, and Haiti and all those poor ass countries all over the world. And not just nigger* babies — excuse the French, I think it’s my father talking –” Ahem. “If you can afford it.”
* don’t be so offended
She smacked her forehead and chuckled, rolling over on her back so she could watch the sky washed clean..
“Even so,” he said. “I think you should check back with this Buzz character. What we’re doing, it just doesn’t feel — what’s the word?”
“Constitutional?” offered Smiles.
“I might have said ethical — honorable — principled; but it certainly is fun. Cheating.”
“Fun, right?” Smiles cleared the floor with a scoff and a Ha! “And is Buzz not hitting me? Is that right? He’s the one who’s cheating, not me. I mean, I go to parties too, but at least I can control myself when it comes to beer-guzzling sorority girls. I suppose it does help to be a woman — and straight.”
Smiles told him a dangerous story.
“You understand that?” she said, said she, “I’m better off either with you, or somebody else.” She said, “Buzz is poison.” She said, “He’s a creep, he’s a thug, a no-good punk.” That’s what she said. “Just another one of these dangerous men I keep injecting into my system. He deals drugs too, did I tell you that? They’re prescription pills, sure. He plans to be a Pharmacist, but you get the joke, don’t you? Oh, c’mon! I thought it was funny.”
Said Stephen, “Look. Forget about it. I’ve said enough already.” That’s what he said.
“Boy, I’ll say,” said she. Then, after a moment’s pause, Smiles hopped up and bounced around the fuzzy yellow canary: “I’m leaving to Arizona in a month from now, did I tell ya that? So if you’re really so worried I won’t see Buzz, I’ll see him. I practically have to. That’s how the agreement between Mumsy and Daddy has been ever since that hussie moved in. Visits come and visits go every other month.” She plucked the inside of her cheek so it went tick-tock. “Like clock work.”
Stephen struggled on a web of tennis netting with this aim in mind: to pry himself off the clay and give lift to the air. Once airborne, he went limping to the other side of the court, sitting down at a bench where Mr. Fufu lay, petting the soft scruff of his neck.
-Called Smiles on after him, “Something wrong, babe?”
Stephen called back, this time on intercom: “Everything’s just peachy!”
“You’re lying again, I can tell,” said Smiles from her side of the receiver. “I think I know men.”
“Fine, fine, you think you do,” said Stephen. “Then I think I sprained something. Alright?”
The lights in the resort and at the restaurant began to slowly turn off, all save for candlelight and fireplaces, and the mechanical fireflies let loose in the gardens to force an air of romance. If magnified, their electric banners might read on the nutty-shell of an exoskeleton: “Love beetles — made in Taiwan”.
A few more rounds of tennis these two lovers played, the wounded sports jacket complaining about his hip all the while, then after a few Ows and Oomphs, Stephen hollered over an incoming serve, “Maybe we should go to bed early tonight.”
Smiles swatted the ball back and shook her head which shook her ponytail: “I can go all night if you can, babe.”
Stephen ducked into the next ball and fell to the ground, clutching his thigh this time as the ball whacked him straight in the head. He called, “I don’t know about going on all night, but you can eat all night if you want.” I mean, half our bill for the whole weekend so far consists mostly of what you ate at that one meal!
Smiles crossed her arms. “And what’s that supposed to mean, Sports Jacket? I eat way too much to be anorexic, and I exercise — ”
Stephen limped quickly, meeting her halfway at the net, and gave her the look of please. “I didn’t mean it that way, Ash, I didn’t mean too much –”
“Aw — come off it. Quit ridin my back.”
He laughed a big har-de-har.
Smiles scratched the back of her neck with her tennis racket. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, it’s just that you’ve been letting me ride your back all weekend –”
“You pig! Men are pigs! All of them! All except Daddy and his barber, of course.” She dropped her racket and stomped off, fists gone straight at her side as she went gathering up Gucci bag and Mr. Fufu, her magazines and all that came with it, everything but the dropped tennis balls and a bit of Stephen’s dignity.
Here Stephen put up the halt and limped closer to her; and, clearing his throat, said, “Maybe this just isn’t working out.” And how do you think Buzz feels about this?
Smiles covered her ears. “Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. Are you trying to create drama?”
Smiles frowned and made with the petting of Mr. Fufu till his eyes popped. “I already told you,” she turned to Stephen. “He’s poison.”
Stephen frowned and made like he had a sweet taste in his mouth. “You’re beautiful!”
She swore to herself. “Why is it that all men are liars except for Daddy and his barbers? Can’t I find a single decent honest good-working — ”
“Don’t you mean good-looking?”
“Oh, you’re impossible. Just impossible! Just a big fat, stupid — ” Smiles tossed down her tennis racket and kicked it across the clay court. It didn’t make it halfway, but almost.
Then realizing it wasn’t the tennis racket she had kicked, but the dog.
A nearby couple walked by, and one of them whispered to the other, “Promise me we’ll never be like them.”
Upon hearing this vow of everlasting not-them-ness, Smiles rolled her eyes, paying careful attention that they didn’t get stuck that way, but this time they did; so she bent over, covering her head with her hands, trying to get them unstuck. Stephen stalked over her and reached his fingers to the tip of her shoulder, but she slowly drew away. Then she stood up abruptly, “I think I do hate this rain now,” and was off. It had continued to rain.
Stephen dropped his racket with a clatter on the ground, the ground being his other foot, which he then tripped over and sprained along with the first foot; then, with two sprained ankles, he called out after her as he began to run, “Oh come the **** on!” he said. And thus he pleaded: “Come back, baby, I didn’t mean it! You know I didn’t mean it. Whatever the hell it is I’m not sure you’re mad about — I didn’t mean it!”
“I know,” she said to herself, and she started to limp herself.
Clutching her Gucci bag, she stomped through the hedge maze in a way that Stephen’s limp couldn’t follow; then, sweeping through the bushes, she took off, all after-burners Go! into the parking lot.
With a hop into the car, she slammed the engine, and skidded off into the night, Fashion and People Magazines taking chair alongside the dog that wondered aloud: “Yip yip?” this he asked her very seriously.
And this she answered: “I know,” said Smiles. “I hate him too.”
In the next few moments, she had already arrived at her room at the far end of the resort, and somewhere behind her the voice of a man she once knew howled over a distant storm. But the lightning took it.
Soon, she found herself in her room, her feet half wandering, half stumbling, half dragging (how many halves is that?) into the kitchen. Once she had fully arrived, all halves accounted for, she went quickly to the bathroom to look in the mirror, to gaze upon the watered reflection. So, she stared at herself for some odd moments, head cocked askew — thin — gaunt — enormously large and ill-balanced, she’ll admit — a Picasso not worth reflecting upon. Here she took off for kitchen, grabbed a knife, and ran to the mirror.
A silenced happened. “Ha!” she laughed. “He and ha!”
This hair, she braided. This comb, she used it!
A forest of hairs she combed and braided, founding one split end, then off she cut it. She found another split end, then off with its head! Another — cut. She found hairs that weren’t split at all.
She grabbed a hair braid out of her Gucci bag, curled her hair up in a ponytail, not knowing why she did it, hesitated — silence — then snipped off the pony’s hair so she had a nice head — a mowed one — a head of boyish hair.
She laughed then. No, she didn’t cry. What did it matter?
“Why am I doing this?” she said aloud.
“To better better yourself, of course!” said a squashed bug underfoot.
Mission resolved: Back to the kitchen! “I’ve ruined myself.”
She consumed all manners of foods, meats mostly. To make her forget. That Alaskan snow crab everybody’s been barking about.
She ate all of this and, upon finishing her dessert, went quickly to the toilet, making her finger to the back of her esophagus, and tickled the magic button.
WHO-AHHH! She tickled and HU-AHHH! and tickled and upchucked.
Outside the locked door there came the faraway hammer sound of someone banging on the door and also the lyrical strumming of a voice in love or lust: “Come on, Ash, I didn’t mean it! Whatever it is I said — I didn’t mean it!”
Falling back against the toilet swaddled in blue fur, where a stash of Fashion and People sat enthroned, it might be said that these cries from said boyfriend amused her, but they didn’t. She reached into her Gucci bag and took out other magazines and tossed ‘em along with the others.
Then, her eyes came back to the toilet, and she threw up a third time half the contents of her stomach. How many halves of a whole did she have left?
She suddenly stood up, staggering drunkenly on tiptoe.
And here she kicked the pile of magazines.
She strangled it, ripping and murdering it!
Finally, she drowned the shreds and tatters and confetti in the toilet, flushing it to where it may be wandering alone in the cauterized tubes of the underworld along with other lesser papers. “Now you’re just as ugly as I am,” she said to the papers bleeding raw, black ink.
She glared at the racks of fashion — yards of paper stretched thin with the richness of beautiful people and their powdered faces and sculpted bodies; and as fashion surrounded her and became her — her and everything in her ornately decorated room, she broke down.
-And among guttural laughter and that which run mascara came resounding louder and clearer the question Mr. Fufu had been asking all along:
Or: What is beautiful anyways?