I am the product of my imagination. I imagine him imagining me in a red-striped bikini top and jean shorts, lounging on the grey deck chair on his dock. I imagine that when he thinks of me like this, that he presents me with an ice-cold Pepsi, the straw the same red stripes as my bathing suit, says, “Louise, darling, couldn’t you use some more SPF? Your skin, darling.” He says darling like it’s a Wednesday. It’s just any day, like a Wednesday, when darlings are just a part of the vocabulary he’s imagined for us in the world he’s built for us on Balley Lake Drive. He’s got me in his sights like prey. Pretty pretty prey.
Todd is very real. You could pinch and pinch and pinch and still not wake up from those arms. When Todd comes round the office, the keys cinched on his left front belt loop bouncing, I become five-foot eight, 124 pounds of installation art. My ears never needed pinning back, my breasts—even the one slightly bigger than the other—are the ones they design limited-edition diamond bras for. And those days when he comes round, Todd is a wealthy man. He’s never been married. His gold ring is just a relic from a war buddy. What war? Any war. He’s the kind of gentle fighter that has era movies made of him. He calls me Lou, or Lo, or Lou-buns, honeysuckle, never baby, but maybe muffin-markle, The Duchess of Cotton Candy, sweet buttered bread. We spend weekends on The Cape. We spend weekends on The Cape on our yacht, he just can’t get enough of that red-striped bikini. He tells me stories of how the world began until it turns very dark, keeps the deck lights off, says there are spaces between waves that you just couldn’t see otherwise. And then, when he kisses me, there is just enough tongue.
I am very real. My job—secretary for the secretary for the department of transportation—still keeps me moving. Papers very physically pile up and up on my desk. “There is a sweetness to everything about you, even your mess,” Todd says about me. We’re like this—in love—even after the years when I gained all that weight, even after Todd had those war flashbacks that left his side of the bed dripping by morning. There is nothing better. “The apple of my eye,” he tells me.
When Todd comes round, those keys jangling, my eyelids, don’t they lift in slow motion? I can hear him a mile away, can’t I? Trees grow twelve feet in the years between the first sweet hint of him in the door and my desk. And I imagine him imagining me twirling gum around my skinny finger, tossing my blonde hair back. “Darling,” he says. “Darling.”
What is real. What is work or keys or love or bodies that still fit into bikinis? What are feet in bed, somehow somehow still touching heel to heel even in the morning? What are stories that you tell on the back of yachts in the middle of the Atlantic, when it is so black you are sure that that’s it—that the sun is gone for good and we’ll forever be putting hands in front of our faces to test our reality. But this is it. He’s coming round. And has he ever seen me more beautiful? Haven’t I always been the apple?