Drrring! 5:00. Bells off. Hats off. Nuts and bolts left mid-air over conveyer belts. Hair loosened, crawling down backs and some have already applied the lipstick, pink as raw tuna to lips that have been pulled thin as worms all day. The lips blossom. The women blossom. Some still smell like the acrid liquid of their efforts, drained thought the tiny holes of skin that were this morning scrubbed and lubricated and prepared to expel yet wishing to absorb. But it’s another entrance that we can count on this evening.
Beryl grabs me by the wrist and leans into my face. Her lipstick is orange and her eyes blue around the brown, blue all the way up the shimmering eyebrows that quiver and glint like live bait. “Grab a drink? Are you ready? Still wearing your work clogs? Put on something high and tight. I’m wanting a champagne cocktail tonight.” She rolls by to grab a few more wrists and her bum bumps two or three others as she passes but everyone is used to the softness of Beryl’s bum. She often lands it on your hand accidently or brushes it against your knee. I’ve received it in the belly like a flush of pillows, sinking and bouncing. That is Beryl. Bouncing. She never crashes.
Not until she drinks.
Forty minutes later and we are standing too close too close to the shore, too close to the sun, it feels, on such a hot night and soon enough it is the moon that is too close, pushing itself into our faces like one of those lurid men who feel brave after a single pint. Beryl is in tights that have the fishnets painted on. “Great catch!” one of the pick-shaven like naked shellfish faces hollers. And she is holding something frothy with tiny berries floating on top. The berries come on all together and she has to spit a few out in order to distribute one berry to every sip. “Aren’t we elegant!” she says and she holds the stem with two fingers and it teeters before it reaches the orange hole.
The lady next to us has a head full of curlers. She is holding a baby in one arm and something pink and sudsy in the other. One can imagine the rush she was in, pulling on her long tube of flowery dress, applying mascara, tying the complicated criss-crossings of her endless sandals while wiping the baby’s bottom and searching for its matching flowered jumper. Who would have remembered the curlers after such an ordeal? It was a minor detail and she looked so happy that her friends uniformly chose to ignore it. Someone noted that her eyes looked younger, fresher, “lifted” by the pull of her curlers. No one had the heart to tell her.
Except Beryl, who was not her friend. “Damned embarrassment,” she yelled. “Someone’s got to make her fix that head. Looks like a bowl of plastic fruit, none of the different colored curlers match anyway,” as if the color coordination of the curlers would have made them presentable.
Beryl reached over and tried to grab the baby from the woman’s arms. “Here love, I’ve got her. Go and get your hairdo straightened out.” The lady pulled her baby back violently and looked at Beryl as if she had just tried to seize her child, which she had, and spat, “It’s not done yet.”
“What’s not done yet?” Beryl turns to me and whispers, “Did she also forget a roast in the oven?” But she whispered a little too loud. The champagne had made her elegant and amplified. “Look after your own roast, ffwckin slebog.”
“What? Me trying to help and you calling me a slebog?”
“Where do you come around helping and advising? You look like Olivia Newton from Xanadu.” She pronounces Xanadu with a Ks sound. “Except you’ve got extra cakes around your bottom. And your hair looks more like a wet cat. A fat wet Olivia Newton!”
“I go to gym!” yells Beryl.
“You may go to church, too, but no miracles happening there, either!” Beryl is red around the neck and all the way down to the crease between her breasts. Sweat is pooling there as if from its own subterranean spring.
“Look at that,” says the woman’s boyfriend, pointing at Beryl’s chest. “It looks like a pig’s sweaty ass!”
“It would if a pig had but cheeks, you moron,” pipes his friend.
“Well, by the looks, it seems they do!”
Beryl is red up to her ears and her blue eyebrows and she drops her exquisite champagne cocktail, put up her fists and yells, “Now that’s enough! I’m going to punch your curlers off!” We grab her by the elbows as she plunges forward.
“Beryl, you can’t hit a woman holding a baby!”
“Put the baby down, slebog!”
“You’re cursing in front of my baby!”
I try to clench Beryl’s arm but she is wearing that shimmery body oil that makes her look like a contest of constellations, so she slips from my grip, missteps and her ankle gives atop the slender scaffolding of her stiletto. She falls forward, knocks over someone’s cocktail and propells its bright red contents onto the infant’s flowered jumper.
The entire bar gasps. Surely they knew that it isn’t blood on the baby’s jumper. But the baby howls and it is as bad as if blood had been spilled. The woman hollers, “My baby! May baby!” Two men have already grabbed Beryl from either side and are dragging her to the water’s edge.
“What are you doing to me?”
“You are going for a little swim.”
We know that we should do something. That we should try to stop them somehow. But the woman and her baby are shrieking and the men look furious and dangerous and maybe, we think, a “swim” is not the worse thing that can happen.
They drag her to the edge and Beryl has stopped struggling. Thank God, I think, that she doesn’t look back over her shoulder at us. I want to hide—but I have to watch. Beryl begins yelling, “Let me go! I’ll jump myself! I’ll do it myself!” One of them gets her heel in his foot and he lets go of her in pain and disgust.
“Jump yourself, you fat hag!”
The entire bar is lined up at the water’s edge, pressed against the railing. They watch as Beryl steps up, removes her shoes and hangs the tips of her toes over the rim. She then throws her arms out to her sides, thrust sher chest forward and flings her head back. For a moment, the moonlight splashes into the pond on her chest, slides up her arched neck and makes her look like a pale swan. And then Beryl gives a little jump and she bounces. Beryl bounces and then she flies, wings outstretched, like a shimmering trout in midair. Her body suddenly bends and she changes direction, her arms pulled over her head like an arrow and her chubby feet pointed, like an infant ballerina. And then she enters the water like a spoon dropped into a tall glass. There is hardly a splash.
When Beryl’s head appears, the entire bar audience breaks into applause. They hoot and holler and several men rush to the edge to help her up. Her top is pasted to her chest and the weight of the water drags one shoulder down and somebody whistles and she slaps high-fives and winks at strangers. Her shoes are in one hand and a drink is in another. The drinks keep coming to her, as offerings, one after another. She glistens like a wet otter, playing in the waves of smiling faces. She laughs too loud. She is loved.
A native of New Jersey, Maria now resides in Athens, Greece where she runs a small business. She a is a private writer and a public dancer. She is happy to be here.