The night before their appointment, they sent Haley one final e-mail in which they reaffirmed the when and where and tastefully restated their excitement. But Reuben managed to smuggle in a request: Would Haley mind wearing “normal clothes”? He was about to hit send when Brenna, proofreading over his shoulder, announced that his use of “normal” was, in this context, “problematic.”
“Problematic,” he said. Their son had been asleep for an hour.
Bren, looking at the laptop’s screen, only nodded.
Reuben poised his e-mail-sending finger above the enter key like a scientist about to launch something toward Pluto. “Bren, come on. I’m sending it.”
What are they setting up? We soon find out they’re enjoying some kind of Hollywood success, so it could be anything – A new nanny? A housekeeper, private chef, massage therapist? Nope, it’s a hooker – excuse me, escort – who’s joining them for an evening of fun and games to put the spark back in their marriage. Creative types, my ass.
Maybe it’s the context in which I’m reading – the #MeToo and #TimesUp era – or maybe I’m just in a bad mood, or maybe – and this is probably most likely – it’s the point of the story, but I found it to be annoying. It’s a long paean to the fragile male ego, and the temperamental male phallus, which goes on strike over the least little thing, especially a wife whose career (in reality TV, oh lord) is going well while the penis-owner’s writing career has stalled.
“Oh!” Bren said, as though Haley were a dirty-pawed puppy about to jump in her lap. “Okay! Hello!” While they embraced, Bren held her wine glass – a festive red orb of Malbec – up above her and Haley’s heads, which somehow made Reuben think of mistletoe. His hands had been respectfully stationary on Haley’s body, but Bren’s free hand moved familiarly up and down Haley’s back. That was one great social cultural advantage of women’s hands, wasn’t it. They could go where they wanted to go. They had free rein.
Just another guy complaining about his limited freedom. I am not in the mood for this, given the 152 women who just came forward in court to describe what the freedom-loving Olympic team doctor did to them over a span of years from the time they were barely pubescent while Olympic officials bought their silence. But Reuben soon has more pressing problems: “His boner had indeed been killed by Haley’s CLA$$Y LADY tattoo.” Because nothing is more important than a man’s hard-on. I told you, I’m not in the mood for this.
Haley, the ready-for-anything escort, takes it all in stride and tells them a sad story about her tattoo and a dead friend, and for some reason I didn’t buy any of it. I can’t even give her points for creativity, since it’s the story you’d expect, a tough home life, limited options, a drug overdose.
Stylistically, I did quite like the imagery in the final paragraph. The two women, having had a great time while hubby stood forlornly by, start talking kids, and again he and his flaccid penis are left out.
They said other things while Reuben watched one of Bren’s scented candles burn down to the wick. Almost there. Wait for it. And there it was, the flame surging with a final valiant attempt at ignition. Then it went out. Then it waved its farewell banner of smoke.
That’s a nice snapshot of a marriage ending. I encountered Bissell once before several years ago in BASS, and admired the story, particularly the opening. Maybe another reason the story bugs me is that the three fiction pieces so far in this volume were exceptional, imaginative in very different ways; this, by comparison, felt like just another story. It’s not lost on me how harsh that sounds; that will be something I take up in my own little post-game. So please forgive me if I’m missing something important, but I’m moving on, because there’s greatness coming in the next pages.