After my confession to Gabriel, the only star’s gravitation that pulled my life’s orbit was family. The kids married, got jobs, bought houses and blessed me with grandchildren. For seven years hubby and I traveled, not just to the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angles, New York but Asia, Europe, South America. Life was good. A few grey hairs, so what? Nothing a hairdresser couldn't fix.
Then came the warnings, hot and cold but brushed aside. Soon after my fifty-third birthday, however, it didn’t happen. It wobbled, then it was a no show.
My period missed, not one month but the next and by the third I knew, puberty in reverse, part of me gone, eggless, post-menopausal. I fretted and checked there were no sprouting lip hairs in the mirror and worried.
Am I still a woman?
Compounding my doubts, was hubby's declining libido, from twice a week to once or less, his saddle lacking its firm horn. Uninterested in foreplay, it switched from booty to duty call. He surreptitiously viewed porn to prep himself for his duty.
Can I blame him? Who wants an old woman?
On the plus side, my face expressed fewer wrinkles than the calendar said it should. I didn’t wrinkle up as Mom did. Those who hadn’t seen me for a while remarked about my fountain of youth appearance. I returned their compliments. Theirs’s had an element of truth versus my often blatant deceptions. Seeing their decay still reflected on my ageing. To camouflage menopause, personal upkeep was doubled down. My attire remained selected for attention, but conservatively. I went to the hairdresser weekly and there was not a sniff of exposed grey hair. Makeup, used sparingly, was my friend. Passing men’s second glances confirmed, I remained a woman. My new mantra was.
I don’t need eggs; it means I’m free of monthly cramps!
We owned a downtown Seattle condo near the Space Needle, purchased to be big city weekenders, a downtown pad, a place to crash after dining and, drinking without the drive home. Rationalizations for investment, which occurs when excess money accumulates without needs for its disposal, squander money, mortgage interest, and real estate tax expenditures to save income taxes. It doesn’t matter, there’s always an excuse. While weekenders we missed most weekends. We had no defense for the cost of feathering an unneeded nest. Soon it was, “Because we own it”.
The “real” condo residents had clubs for sailing, skiing, bicycling and reading. I joined the book club which met twice a month. Hubby was always too tired to go. I went alone and returned home to a husband asleep.
Near the condo was an upscale deco lounge. It had an authentic retro jukebox and the bartender could make a real Singapore sling. Before book club meetings, I stopped there, sat at the bar, and sipped my one Singapore Sling allowance. The mellow melodies of the jukebox comforted as I enjoyed the bar’s cozy cocoon. Its subdued lighting and my mirrored reflection between the multicolored liquor bottles assured me, I was a woman, mature but a woman. The music played to my past's memory recordings as I sipped.
One evening, my purse resting in front of me on the bar, the mirror revealed a man’s entrance. He adjusted his eyes to the dimmed light, looked about and sat next to me. He ordered Pappy’s bourbon, neat. While he waited for his drink, he turned to me, smiled, looked from my purse to my wedding ring and asked.
“How does a husband allow a beautiful wife to sit alone in a bar?”
“I’m going to a book club meeting shortly. He’s not a reader”.
“What’s tonight’s book?”
“The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk.”
“I read it. You ever been to South Carolina?”
“No, how about you?”
“Great state but North Carolina’s even better. There’s a town there, Ashville, with a mansion, Biltmore. You ever go there, be sure to visit it.”
“Now they’re on my itinerary. What’d think about the book?”
"Not my type was on the best 10, so I read it, not my type.”
“It’s a woman’s book. The book club members are mostly women plus a few eunuch men. The reason my husband lets me go alone. While well written, I only enjoyed it because of her dysfunctional family.”
“And you, a dysfunctional family?”
“Once upon a time, not now. Now, I'm the dysfunctional one."
He was a captain of an oil tanker on shore leave, his ship in Anacortes. He was five years younger. I told him I was five years younger than he. I enjoyed talking to him but the attention more. At the book club meeting time, he ordered another Singapore sling for me and another whiskey for himself. I accepted.
My second Singapore Sling finished, I remembered Edward's rule, two only, a rule I needed to abide by.
"Thank you for the drink. I'm limited to two, so I must leave. I've enjoyed your company. When do you sail again?"
"Early tomorrow, I come here because they serve Pappy's Rip Van Winkle whiskey. They only have ten-year-old but it's still rare to find a bar that serves it. My limit the night before sailing is two also. Don't want to repeat the Valdez captain's mishap. I got to get back to Anacortes.
It was a delight talking to you. What’s next month’s book? I have lots of time to read on a trip.”
I opened my purse and took out my book club notebook.
"It's This Lullaby, by Sarah Dessen. Like I said, the members are mostly women.”
He wrote the title down, gave me his card and told me.
"Call when you finish reading it, we'll talk about it."
I walked to the condo, skipped the book club and rested two hours before driving home to ensure my alcohol level was safe. While resting, I knew my libidinous puppet shadow had awakened, before meeting the captain. Something missing had returned, to feel young again, no, to not feel old again.
The next day I examined his card with his company shipping name and his phone numbers. His title was captain. I knew I was going to have a drink with him again but lied to myself it was to discuss the book. Instead, the secret puppet was awake, out of the trunk, freed again.
Reverting to past devious ways, I bought and hid a prepaid phone card. As the Captain’s return approached, I went shopping for clothes, the first time in years I shopped for a man just met. Shopping renewed me. As I tried on clothes, I forgot about being Nana, grandmother, post-menopausal and switched to resurrected womanhood.
Instead of worrying about betraying those loved, I fretted over setting myself up for ridicule.
Don't be a fool. Why would he be interested in a post-menopause woman? He’s into books, into reading, not me.
Dad said it’s the wrapping which makes us want to open the present. Let’s see if he wants to open my book.
My book’s cover ended up as a set of white lingerie, a garter belt, nylons, three-inch high heel black shoes and a beige satin, calf-length dress from Sak's, hidden in the condo’s closet. The month’s days ticked past. One day it was family, the next yearning to be young again. My will see-sawed from elation expectation, to fear. My fear was making a fool of myself, fear of being an old lady he wished he’d never given his card to. The day before the book club meeting, I overcame fear and called.
"Hi. It's the book club lady. Did you get a chance to read the book?"
"Cover to cover, worried you wouldn't call, now glad you have. I'd love to talk to you about it over dinner, say someplace downtown Seattle?"
A rush of elation swept me.
He remembers, he wants a date!
"Sure, how about the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, it has great restaurants. Do you know of it?"
"Yes, yes, excellent, say 7 o'clock tomorrow?
“Okay, that’s good for me.”
“Good, let’s meet at its Georgian room. It has a nice piano bar. I’ll get the reservation."
I’d stayed at the hotel before with hubby. It was prior to our buying the condo. I chose it, not for a special occasion, just for a town night out. I avoided taking hubby or an affair partner to a place the other took me. In my mind, it was “their” place. If, however, I did the original selection I could bring either afterward because it was “my” place. A strange rationalization of faithfulness. So, it was the Fairmont Olympic,” my” place without guilt.
I left while hubby was glued to the TV, stopped at a drug store on the way to be safe, not to prevent pregnancy but for protection from an STD. The pill was no longer the purse insurance item for illicit sex due to AIDS. At the condo, I quickly changed to my stashed attire but skipped the garter belt and nylons as too tacky. I wore pearl jewelry including dangling earrings from long ago and took a cab. In the cab fear again surfaced, not of exposure but rejection.
The captain had a wall table next to a window. He stood up when I waltzed in. It was the first time we could do “look sees” with normal lighting. He looked his 48 years, was six-foot-two, wavy blond hair turning thin and grey. He had chiseled facial features and was the Swedish, blue-eyed, blond captain with ruddy sea duty complexion, I remembered.
He wore a navy-blue blazer and tan pants with brown loafers, all of good quality with a hint of officer seamanship. He pulled the chair back and forward for me to sit as he told me I looked lovely. I could tell he was sniffing my perfume while leaning over to assist my seating, a positive sign.
Seated he asked how I liked the book as we waited to order. We agreed, we didn’t like it, he because he didn’t relate to a teenage girl and me because I’m an optimist but did relate to her father. The waiter arrived and allowed us both to leave the book behind.
“So, you remember. No, let’s have a bottle of Pinot Gris.”
He selected a bottle off the menu and knew wine. We chatted amicably, revaluating one another from our initial images.
“How was your trip at sea?”
“Too long, as usual, but especially this trip waiting to get back to see you again.”
Hearing this white lie, I assumed I passed his re-evaluation. He also said he was sailing out early in the morning. Cobra coiled up during dinner with wine and by the end of the desert swayed to and fro to go with him.
I didn’t want to appear desperate but at fifty-three was ready to make a quick decision. The next move, however, was his. I wasn’t acting coy but I wasn’t going to embarrass myself with a rejection nor lower my self-esteem by needing to ask.
Is he going to make the move?
He knew I was married but I called and accepted his date request. There was no alternate explanation of why I was there other than sex.
As we sipped an amaretto liqueur he reached across the table for my hand. I let him grip it.
“Should I get a room?
The waiter came and cleared the table. He left to register for a room. Sitting alone, I scanned about to ensure there were none known and checked my makeup mirror one last time. There was no hint of a mustache on my upper lip.
With his return, we departed to the lobby, took the elevator and held hands down the corridor to the room, the libidinous puppet free, Cobra was ready to leave her basket confine.
The Fairmont is a grand dame and when he opened the door to the room I was enthralled with the bed, window curtains and view of the Space Needle.
He led me to the bed in an unhurried manner. In front of it, I told him to sit. With him on the bed's edge, I undressed him, going from blazer, shoes, socks, pants, shirt, and underwear taking my time and folding each item on a chair with his shoes below, my usual introduction.
Next, I disrobed to shoes bra and panty, waltzed to the bathroom, wet a hand towel in warm water, cleaned his pubic area and performed my standard stimulation procedure. He was uncircumcised and unremarkable except for wavy blond pubic hairs, like Erica’s.
Once prepped, I was ready, no longer interested in extended foreplay. I dimmed the light, dropped shoes, panty, and bra, positioned him in the middle of the bed, gave him a renewed dash of stimulation with some nasty talk to ensure he was fully ready and handed him a condom.
"I have a vasectomy."
“You’ve sailed the seven seas. I don’t know your last port of call or you mine. Let’s be free of worry tomorrow.”
He acquiesced and I again rode an erect saddle horn.
Spent we disengaged. My first thought was how late it was for a book club meeting, way past its10 PM wrap up.
I dressed, left ten dollars on the dresser for the maid, kissed him goodbye, caught a cab back to the condo, quickly redressed to domestic attire and drove home. As I drove, I hobbled together an excuse for my tardiness for a midnight arrival. It wasn’t needed, hubby was snoring. I undressed, put flannel pajamas on and slid next to him, safe and secure. As I nodded off, I was assured, while past menopause, I was still a woman,
In the morning, hubby asked about the book club meeting but after a little lying his eyes glazed and we talked about the office.
The captain became an every other month event due to his shipping schedule and the timing of book club meetings. When we met, it was a book club meeting of sorts. We talked about a recent book we read over dinner, not a book club one. He provided good insights not just about books but life. We had pleasant conversations, didn’t talk about family but I learned he was divorced and had two grown children.
He remained in the dark about my age, at least that’s what I’ve told myself. He entertained with stories of his foreign travels and suggested places I might like to visit. I did ask why he met with me when there were so many women who would be attracted to him. It was my snooping about others but he simply lied, I was the only one he enjoyed talking to over a fine dinner. I pried no further and accepted what we had together, dinner conversations and me a woman, still in play after menopause.
There was no need to be greedy and seek his fidelity.
The captain was the iceberg tip. My secret puppet shadow freed, had gone amok.
Author Notes: Assured she's still a desired woman, a wife settles into a book club affair.