An excerpt from "Lily Steps Out," by Rita Plush
Sex, Lily thinks, next to Leon in their bed, everything is better after sex -- even her thighs are a little thinner -- but for how long? The afterglow will fade soon, and then it will be business as usual for them . . . one with a scar down his chest, one with the cellulite dimpling her thighs. Suburban married housewife married thirty-three years, and what has she got to show for it? Making beds and fixing breakfast.
Resting on her side, she watches the filmy curtains. They ripple, they dance. Puffed up, they rise off the carpet and balloon into the room, until, without warning, the earth's great breath sucks them flat against the window screen. Again they fill with air, flutter still and stay that way. The breeze has gone, turned on its heel. In search of another dancing partner? She puts an ear to Leon's chest.
"I'm alive," he assures, and throws an arm around her. His fingers play her bare arm. "That was dynamite."
"Ummm." She presses into him, and in the early morning silence of their room, she thinks what would she do if he had died? A sudden panic seizes her. Suppose he was in danger again? To safeguard his body from imagined assault, she gets on top of him. Chest to chest, legs to legs, she kisses his face and neck. That's how she is with him, with the warm beat of his body under hers, desperate to keep him safe. As if he feels what she feels, thinks what she is thinking, he murmurs, "What would I do without you?"
Him do without her? Is he kidding? She rolls off, sits up. "You? Women will take numbers just for the chance to make you a fat-free meal. It's me who'd have the problem. Some eighty year-old looking for a nurse, that's who I'd get."
"One hell of a nurse. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be here."
He's right. She was the one last spring, while Leon was driving and suddenly gasped, grabbing at his chest. She, who leaned over his slumped body and fumbled with the wheel . . . swerving, accelerating, slamming the brake, blaring the horn. Let me through! Let me through! And begging Leon, "Please don't die," all the way to Emergency.
But outside of that, what has she done? Outside of all the work of wife and mother, what has she accomplished? She has a brain; why isn't she using it?
She fends off his hand reaching for her breast. "No." She swings off the bed and goes to her bureau drawers.
He sits up. "One minute you're screwing like there's no tomorrow, and now it's no? What about breakfast then?"
He wants a trade-off. No feel? Then feed me. But Lily isn't in a bartering mood. "You fix it today. I bought Egg Beaters; you can make a nice omelet," she says to the mirror, to Leon, who's leaning back on his elbows watching her get dressed.
She steps first one foot then the other into her cleaning pants, pulls an old shirt on over her head. She fluffs her hair. "Get the phone, will you?"
Leon picks up. "Hey, how's the dynamo?" he says.
Diane, Lily thinks. If she's five feet it's stretching it, but the drive packed into that tidy little frame. Because she's been at the wheel all this time? She had to be. Her husband took a hike and took along his masseuse, a Viking queen who'd come to the house, twice a week, to walk on his back. Diane got the kids and the mortgage, years ago. Now she heads an insurance agency. People work for her. It makes Lily think back to what Diane said last week when they met for a quick lunch.
"Three meals a day, what's with you? Get with the program, Kiddo. June Cleaver traded in her apron for a brain and a briefcase a long time ago. Or haven't you heard?"
"Oh, I heard," was Lily's reply. "Betty White is Hot in Cleveland and I'm nowhere. He wants me around all the time. I breathe in, he breathes out. Where are you going? When will you be back? That's his favorite line. I never thought it would be this way when he retired. I just thought it would be. And his health is fine now. What am I supposed to do? Sit around and hope he doesn't have another heart attack?"
"You need a job. Come work for me. I'll train you."
Lily recalls throwing her napkin down on the table. "I'm so trained a ball is spinning on my nose."
That's when Diane leaned in, scooped her hair back behind her ears and said, "Then maybe it's time the lady broke training."
Lily's been thinking about it. It makes her depressed. She shakes her head when Leon holds out the phone. "Tell her I can't talk," she says. She wriggles her feet into her slippers.
"Madam is busy," Leon says into the phone. "She'll call you back."
He rummages through the sheets, finds his pajama bottoms, hitches them up, and ties the strings. "Don't do me any favors with breakfast -- I can get my own meals."
"Good," she says, face to face with his bare chest. "Get mine while you're at it. I'm sick of cooking."
She doesn't like the long pucker scar where Dr. D. Klott -- formerly Daniel Klotsky -- broke into his chest. "Bad hearts and bypasses, that's my business," the young, chubby-cheeked surgeon said outside Recovery. Paper hat still on, green scrubs and white booties, he grinned and gave two thumbs up. This was a doctor? An infant . . . a child. She felt like writing him a bar mitzvah check.