Vanessa looked up from the notebook that she wrote in. The HB pencil she used bore the indentation where she thoughtfully chewed between each line, sometimes each word. Her handwriting reflected her enthusiasm. Shopping lists and thank you notes were geometrical perfection. Her poems and short stories were sprawling and drunken in contrast. By that logic, she surmised, her love letters would be children’s drawings. Pinned with maternal pride to the fridge of her life.
She had not sent nor received a love letter in such a long time that it was an atavistic impulse to her.
She had offers. They ranged from the blunt infant impulse, unsolicited pictures of lonely genitals and poorly worded come ons written in dense upper case, through to tepid indirect enquiries designed to avoid disappointment and to allow for evasions that would impress the most slick politician. In person, hungry looks and whispers, or boorish and crude come ons without any real balance.
She had been on the front lines of the battle of the sexes and had been quietly cheering for the other side to develop anything close to a worthy offense. This one, though had possibilities beyond her wildest dreams.
Abigail sat down with a grand flourish as Vanessa put away her notebook. She was visiting family a few towns over and had suggested a coffee. Complexion of a vegan toddler, a body that had cowed the very idea of the freshman fifteen into retreat, and a life plan that would have made a Japanese corporation look like a stoner wedding.
‘You look awful.’
Vanessa brought up her right hand to shield her hair. It was the longest she’d had it since Gregory left. The flash of scissors was defiant with brown clouds billowing to the hardwood floor as tears fell in relief and regret. It took friends and lovers to show you where you hurt the most.
‘I’ve rejected patriarchal notions of beauty, I’ll have you know.’
Abigail laughed as she gestured for the attention of the waitress.
‘Ugly people and victims say that, darling. You’re just playing around.’
Vanessa shook her head but blushed like a teenager.
‘You can’t say that, Abi.’
She waved her off as the waitress came over to their table. They ordered. The food here was wilfully frugal portions presented in intimidating displays of OCD. Vanessa liked cooking at home, but doing so alone was like singing in a mausoleum. So she ate in places like this because she could afford it and never because she was actually hungry.
As they drank, Vanessa used the cheerful brutality of Abigail’s observations to test herself. The flesh and blood version of those tests you pretended to sneer at in the magazines.
Abigail had a doting husband who worked sixty hours a week for a house he barely saw and a wife he hadn’t touched in months. Vanessa cringed at the idea. She recalled her increasingly desperate attempts to retrieve Greg’s libido with some amusement. Tottering on lucite heels against the doorway with a look that she hoped communicated lust but, as she caught her reflection, merely resembled agony.
Abigail had snorted as she’d fished an olive from the martini glass.
‘God. It wasn’t like you didn’t know.’
Vanessa had been too shocked to find a suitable retort at the time, but in hindsight she had mulled over it. When Gregory and his sensitivities had stopped being a refreshing alternative, they’d started being a joke about her politics overwhelming her needs.
Abigail spoke about men with a thousand yard stare that Vanessa held a morbid fascination about.
She raised an eyebrow, a fig wrapped in prosciutto held inches from her beestung lips.
‘Do you actually like men?’
Abigail’s forehead was as smooth as an egg. She smiled but it didn’t meet her eyes as she popped the fig into her mouth and chewed slowly.
‘Of course. I think every woman should have one.’
She chased the food with a sip of her martini.
‘You are still in love with an idea of men that we’ve evolved past any need for.’
Vanessa gasped as she reached for her glass.
‘You can’t mean that. Tom’s a rock.’
Abigail’s titter made Vanessa swallow a burst of discomfort.
‘Tom is a pet with a masters in finance and he lives to play fetch.’
She leaned forward and Vanessa had to lower her chin to avoid inhaling the fetid warm blast of her breath.
‘You aren’t prepared to make hard choices, Vanessa. You think that it’s all possible but it’s not.’
Vanessa shook her head, appalled by the notion, but Abigail kept speaking.
‘Tom doesn’t love me. He loves the idea of me. I’m his purpose and it keeps me in a lifestyle that allows me to indulge my every whim.’
Vanessa’s hand went to the notebook on an impulse, seeking reassurance and she gave a small conciliatory smile.
‘Perhaps I do ask too much, you’re right.’
Abigail smirked, satisfied with Vanessa’s deference, and the conversation meandered onto less passionate subjects.
Vanessa left the restaurant and retrieved her phone. A polite but firm order to make sure she wore the heels he’d bought her. That he liked her hair long so he could pull it when he entered her from behind. Knowing that there was contempt for his efforts assuaged Vanessa’s guilt somewhat. With Tom’s hands tearing off her panties as the heels caught the afternoon light like a prism, the guilt was completely gone. How beautiful he looked as his face grew smooth with his pleasure and hers.
Vanessa remembered reading something that H L Mencken said about misogyny. That it was defined as a man hating women as much as women hated one another. She was certain that Tom was not one.
She couldn’t speak for Abigail.
Or, it occurred to her, herself.