Lover. Natalie turns the word over in her mouth. Licorice. As a child, she said words just to taste them. Pretzel was salt at the back of her throat.
Fizz was gingery. Home was peach jam. Those were the good ones. The nastiest were the bitterness of ladybugs and the metallic taste of penny. Chalk was also terrible.
Boyfriend tastes like toast with butter. Husband tastes like chicken. ‘Would you rather be licorice or toast with butter?” She asks the man, who is not her husband, but is something. “I have no idea.” He sounds impatient. “Pick one. The one that sounds best to you.”
“Licorice. That’s the lover, right? Toast is too domestic.” She wonders what she’d be to him. Perhaps she’s neither of those things. Love tastes like lemon tart. The words “occasional fuck” taste like nothing. The word slut tastes like cabbage.His name tastes like pomegranate, but his mouth tastes like the gum he chews. When he accidentally leaves a pack behind, she chews the pieces to bring him back.
He has a wife and she has a husband. His wife is a movie star. They are a power couple. A much photographed couple.
Natalie’s husband runs a group of trendy cocktail bars. His name tastes of ginger snaps. He wears jeans and soft suede loafers and is gone every night. They have not had sex for more than a year, but she does not tell her lover. She would like to make him jealous. To make him think she is wanted.
Her lover has never said I love you. He has never brought her a present. They have been whatever it is they are for over three years. One of Natalie’s worst and best qualities is patience. She is also, despite the adultery, faithful as a dog. Specifically a Golden Retriever, which she thinks aren’t all that smart. Or maybe they are just eager to please.
Natalie gave him a scarf because she liked the idea of winding around him and keeping him warm. She dreams of something permanent like tiny matching tattoos. A poppy perhaps.
She wants to make a dent.
They meet in hotels, since they live in the same city. Natalie buys lingerie. Pink and delicate. Black and lacy. She brings a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. A bunch of hyacinths to set by the bed.
He is always late. This makes her nervous. Makes her fear he won’t show up. His wife’s name tastes like parsley. She starts by putting the flowers in a glass. She leafs through the pile of hotel magazines, eyes the big white bed. It’s hard to sit still. She would be better off lying down, but she doesn’t want to rumple the sheets, wrinkle her clothes.
She tries not to open the champagne, but she does. She needs its calm. He is over an hour late. This is his norm, and she’s had half the bottle by the time he arrives. She can feel that her cheeks are flushed. It’s the bubbles that do this to her.
She hears the click of the key. Her mouth floods with pomegranate. Hi, she says. He’s carrying a bag from a bookstore. A gift for his mother, not for her. Why does she need a gift so badly?