WHEN MONEY is a given, when
your spirit is unencumbered and your mind free of relentless and
demeaning bookkeeping, how easy it is to have style. How easy to
acquire taste when your resources are limitless, when you come from
a home where luxury is perceived as absolute necessity, very much
like fresh air.
Allowing herself a
subdued, contented groan, Maggie stretches out on the armchair, as
if to extract the optimum, soothing comfort the exquisitely soft
leather affords. With loving, covetous eyes, she takes in Robin's
palatial living room, Robin's tall glass doors which lead to the
balcony beyond. The balcony, Maggie knows, overlooks the East River,
so velvety dark and menacing at this hour. Her entire apartment
could fit in this room, and the armchair alone is worth more than
the sparse, second-hand furnishings she has haphazardly put together
in her own home. At least, she muses with a touch of
self-deprecating irony, she has it in her to appreciate beautiful
It is Sunday
evening. Tomorrow is Monday. Maggie abhors the fact that a new week
is about to begin. She hears the blender going in the kitchen and
feels a certain vindication tinged with gratitude for Robin who is
laboring on her account, mixing frozen margaritas. Maggie would have
been satisfied with a simple glass of wine, but Robin,
magnanimously, suggested margaritas, and Maggie, thinking of the
cold wind blowing outside, hesitated a moment, still opting for
wine, but then said yes, she would have a margarita.
"All set," Robin's
voice rings out as she marches into the room, carrying a tray;
Maggie, ever so imperceptibly, straightens up in the chair. In her
cashmere turtleneck and leather mini-skirt, Robin looks her chic and
sexy best, and Maggie's heart swells with envy and admiration. She
now regrets not having bothered to change into something more
seductive than her black jeans and sweater before leaving the house.
How does she expect to attract attention to herself when she goes
out, especially with Robin at her side, if she doesn't put more
effort into it?
Robin has set the
tray on the low coffee table and now kneels down on the carpet,
picking up the blue glass decanter and pouring their drinks into
beautiful matching goblets. Robin's every gesture is assuredly
poised as if, like a geisha, she's been versed, from a very young
age, in the high art of entertaining guests. Kneeling down as she
does she epitomizes the accomplished, gracious hostess; Maggie looks
forward to the day when she, too, will be established in such, or
perhaps even grander, surroundings where, at last, she'd have the
opportunity to reveal her exceptional gifts.
"I just know
you'd love the Bahamas," Robin says, handing Maggie her drink. "Just
think. The water is so warm and caressing, and we both know how much
you love the water."
Robin's voice is
also warm and caressing, and Maggie is pleased by the notion that
her likes and dislikes are important enough to earn Robin's
"That I do," Maggie
says, letting out a short laugh. "I love the water." She takes a
careful sip of the icy margarita, remembering not to swallow too
fast. "It's delicious," she says.
"I'm glad." Robin
tears open a pack of M&Ms and sprawls herself on the leather couch.
"I've never steered you wrong, have I? Paradise
is a dream, and it's so close! A couple of hours on the plane, and
we're there, in
Paradise." She smiles at Maggie, and Maggie marvels again at how
Robin's eyes are always bright and shiny, as if reflecting some
pure, inner light. Which is a source of confusion to Maggie because
she knows that Robin is far from pure.
"Did I tell you?"
Robin pauses a moment. "Last time I was there"--she pops a couple of
M&Ms into her mouth--"I fucked my brains out, and gambled a
lot. I even made some money which helped pay for my trip."
As if mesmerized,
Maggie watches the M&Ms disappear in Robin's mouth. She mulls over,
"fucked my brains out," so casually uttered by her friend. She finds
herself admiring the audacity, the implied violence, the hard-core
sexuality of those few words. Only Robin could say such a thing
without sounding cheap. Robin is too white, too creamy, to
ever sound cheap. Her good breeding shows on her face, on her smooth
skin. Especially tonight, as she sits on her black leather couch,
wearing her lavender cashmere turtleneck.
Robin can afford
cashmere: on top of her salary, she gets a monthly allowance from
her parents. Good breeding and class; it is clear that Robin never
lacked for anything. Robin, who is secretive about her exact money
situation, but lets it be known she comes from wealth, every so
often dropping a hint or two about her glamorous parents in L.A. She
is lavish when it comes to her own needs, but calculating and quite
the tightwad when it comes to others. When Maggie and Robin go out
to dinner, Robin orders the most expensive dish on the menu, but
never offers to pay more when they split the bill. Often, Maggie
resolves that she, too, will order an expensive dish, but can never
bring herself to do so, reasoning that by this act of rebellion
she'll be only punishing herself, having to pay even more in the
end. Resigned, she concludes that some people, people like Robin,
are generous to themselves and miserly toward others, while some
people, people like her, are generous to others and miserly toward
Because of her own,
not very impressive background, Maggie feels inferior to Robin, and
therefore grateful to have someone like Robin for a friend. They met
right after Maggie divorced Tom and moved downtown to start a new
life. She and Robin temped for a while at the same ad agency and,
thanks to Maggie's persistent initiatives, they kept in touch after
their respective assignments ended. With time, they became friends.
Close friends, Maggie likes to believe, even if Robin tends to act
superior, and sometimes downright condescending. Yet Maggie has
trained herself to tolerate Robin's attitude, for the simple reason
that Robin is usually right when she criticizes Maggie, and Maggie
is eager to learn, she wants to better herself.
As Robin licks her
fingers, an image flashes through Maggie's mind and she sees a
swollen penis in Robin's luscious mouth. The darkish-reddish
intrusion, thrust in Robin's face, disfigures it, and Maggie is
filled with revulsion, yet invokes the image again and again, as if
compelled. She tries to imagine Robin in bed with a man, and she
wonders if Robin, or any other woman, actually enjoys having her
brains fucked out. Maybe she's old-fashioned, but she still believes
in love, true love, and tenderness. Yes, to love someone, someone
who would love her back without reserve.
More M&Ms pop into
Robin's mouth in quick succession. Robin's teeth, Maggie reflects,
must tingle with sugar. Just the thought of it, makes her own teeth
hurt. She doesn't want any candy, but wishes that Robin would offer
her some all the same.
"So?" Robin says,
crunching down on a candy. "Will you come? You love to gamble,
Maggie. We'll have fun."
Maggie smiles. How
sweet and charming Robin is when she decides to play the part,
smiling her beautiful, seductive, somewhat mischievous smile.
"I'd love to go,"
Maggie says, but is still undecided. In a couple of weeks, Robin is
planning a trip to the Bahamas; she wants Maggie to join her.
Presumably to let Maggie share in the fun, but in fact, so Maggie
suspects, because Robin does not want to go alone and, travelling
with a friend, may get a better package deal. After all, she knows
Robin, knows how Robin operates. She has the sense that Robin
assumes that her motives remain hidden, which, Maggie thinks, is
part of Robin's allure. It's a subtle thing that Robin does; perhaps
she doesn't even try to mask her motives.
"Who did you go
with last time?"
"With Lucy, I don't
think you two have met?"
"No." Maggie has
heard of Lucy, but Robin, so far, has kept Lucy to herself, which,
Maggie has to admit, she resents a little bit. She is dying to ask
why Lucy won't be joining Robin this time around, but is not sure
she wants to hear the answer. And yet. "Why don't you ask Lucy to go
with you?" she asks.
smiles, shaking her head and the mass of wavy, auburn hair. "You're
so insecure, Maggie. You think I've asked Lucy, and Lucy refused,
smirking, acknowledging that perhaps Robin has guessed correctly.
"But you're wrong,
see?" Robin continues. "I haven't asked Lucy, yet. I'd rather have
you come with me."
flattered. So, it is all in her head, she reflects. She must
consider the possibility that Robin has no ulterior motives, that
Robin is just being Robin, and Maggie's convoluted thoughts and
distrust have more to do with her middle-class circumstances,
circumstances she'd do well to forget and put behind her. She should
feel privileged, and frequently she does, that Robin has accepted
her as a friend. At times she even wonders why Robin sticks with
Maggie muffles a
sigh. Such confusion in her head, a sort of rumble in her chest, and
it's all her doing. This is the sort of intricate, maze-like
thinking and doubts she has to battle when she is with Robin. "What
if we fight?" she asks with sudden clarity; she doesn't want to lose
"Oh, Maggie, don't
Maggie tries to think. A question still nags at her, and she
carefully modulates a light, detached tone. "I guess it's cheaper if
you get a friend to travel with you."
Robin jerks her
head upward and seems to contemplate the ceiling before lowering her
gaze and resting her clear, hazel eyes on Maggie. "Not by much,
actually. And money, my dear, is not the issue. I just think it'll
be fun for us to spend time together. But don't let me pressure you.
You don't have to come if you don't want to, you know."
"I know." Maggie's
heart beats a little faster. Invariably, when told she doesn't have
to do something, she is tempted all the more. But money, in her
case, is the issue. Still, she could manage the trip if she wanted
to. And maybe she should, she could use the diversion. Going away
with Robin would be fun; Robin would be her guide to new adventures.
Her life for the past couple of years has been too sedate: no ups,
no downs, just a straight line of work, sleep, paying bills, an
occasional dinner out. It's time she woke up. Spending a few days
with Robin, she may pick up a couple of essential clues about life,
about the future. Robin is a year younger than she, but is mature
and worldly and enviably hip. Having landed a job with CBS, she's up
on the latest as to the right people, the right look, the right
accessories. Maggie, on the other hand, works as a copy editor for a
textbook publisher where jeans and sneakers are the norm, and where
the people she meets lead the same boring life that she does.
Compared to Robin, she really doesn't have a life. And, as far as
she knows, she's never fucked her brains out.
Maggie glances at
Robin who, like a greedy child, is digging deeper into the bag of
M&Ms, an intent expression on her face. Sex is such a mystery,
Maggie wants to say, but she knows that Robin won't cooperate. When
sex is the topic, Robin radiates a certain attitude, an aura of
superiority, which leaves Maggie feeling she's an ignorant fool.
She's had what she deems to have been good sex with a couple of
partners and, even with Tom, sex was more or less satisfying, at
least in the beginning. She has to admit, though, that in her
fantasies sex is much more fulfilling and therefore, when she
listens to Robin talk about "great" sex, she shrinks inside, feeling
inadequate, realizing that perhaps she is missing out, not only on
sex, but on life. She's a simpleton, a naif, who has no clue as to
what real life, real pleasure, is all about.
One thing is clear:
Robin projects a confidence that she lacks. Robin is bold and
aggressive in a contemporary way, as featured in the movies coming
out of Hollywood, where the women are the aggressors and, in the
bed-scenes, are always on top. Robin is familiar with the
literature, the lingo, the sex toys and, according to her, orgasm is
out, control is in. Orgasm, Robin repeats every so often, is not the
What do you mean,
Maggie will ask, but Robin will only smile, shrug her shoulders, and
it occurs to Maggie that Robin, for all her bravura, is stuck in
some fetishist stage, that Robin, in fact, cannot come. At such
moments she resents Robin for not being truthful, for playing head
games with her. And yet, secretly, Maggie wishes she were more like
Robin, wishes she could share in Robin's new-world experiences.
Robin has had many lovers, while she, well she, compared to Robin,
is virtually a virgin. Robin, obviously, has no standards; she'll
jump into bed with anyone, to "experience" him. Maggie, just as
obviously, is more picky, more cautious. And she likes the guy to be
on top, and she wants to come during sex--otherwise, what's the
point? As far as control goes, in bed she willingly relinquishes it.
At twenty-six, she feels she has yet to taste life, fully. Marriage,
she is convinced, has set her back, and the three years with Tom
stretch behind her, hanging from her shoulders like a heavy mantle.
It was time to shed it, to disengage.
"What if," she
asks. "What if we don't meet them? The right guys?"
Maggie? Leave it to me, we'll meet them." Robin smiles, crushing the
plastic bag now empty of M&Ms. "You know what's wrong with you,
"No." Maggie smiles
back, anticipating a friendly rebuke. "What's wrong with me?"
"You worry too
"It's not that, I
swear, I was just thinking out loud. Frankly, I don't care one way
or the other. If we do or don't fuck our brains out." There, she
said it. "I'd be happy just to get away."
"You're lying, my
dear." Robin laughs merrily. "Besides, that's not the right
"But what about
AIDS? Don't tell me you don't worry about AIDS."
"Of course I do,
but you need to be cautious, use your head. Make sure your guy uses
smiles at the idea. Instantly, the guy appears in her mind. She sees
the two of them. The four of them. They stand by the pool,
squinting, smiling in the bright sun. She and her guy, Robin and
hers. She sees the guys' bare chests, their small, hard nipples,
their muscular abs. She even sees the white patches of light,
quivering across the turquoise surface of the pool where the sun
hits the water. Robin, somehow, always manages to rouse in her the
most vivid images.
For this Maggie
feels grateful, feels a tenderness toward her friend, which borders
on the physical. Yes, she decides, she'll go to the Bahamas. If
nothing else, she and Robin will get closer, perhaps share a couple
of unique experiences.
She's made up her
mind. "I'll go," she tells Robin.
"I knew you would."
Robin reaches for a fresh packet of M&Ms. "We'll have fun, I
"I'm sure," Maggie
says. "Can I have some?" She points at the M&Ms.
"Of course. Here."
Maggie rises from
the chair and walks toward Robin's extended hand. "Just one," she
says. "I only want one."
"Oh Maggie, you're
a scream." Robin gurgles and stretches out on the couch. She gives
Maggie a faint smile and shuts her eyes. "God, I'm pooped. You know,
Mag, I'm not very hungry anymore. Would you be terribly upset if we
don't go out? I wish I could make something for you, but my fridge
is boringly empty."
All at once, Maggie
feels hollow, irrelevant, standing there, watching Robin
disintegrate on the couch, her large breasts, under the fine
cashmere, spilling to the sides. What is she to do now? she wonders.
Is she welcome to stay or is she invited to leave?
"What do you want
to do?" she asks helplessly.
"Nothing, to tell
you the truth." Briefly, Robin opens her eyes, then shuts them
again. Maggie walks back to her chair and picks up her bag. "I hope
you don't mind," she hears Robin say, but doesn't turn around. She
does mind, she is hungry, they were supposed to go out, but what's
the point of saying so? Eating in, she reminds herself, she'll save
a couple of bucks. If she is to go on the trip, better start saving
now. And since she's already on her feet, and Robin doesn't insist
that she stay, she might as well go home.
"It's all right,"
she says, trying to put some life into her voice. "I'll have
something at home."
"Let me see you to
the door." Robin, with exaggerated effort, raises herself from the
couch. "I don't know what's the matter with me, but I couldn't go
out if you paid me. You sure you don't mind? I feel a little
"No need to feel
guilty. I'm fine, really," Maggie says, but, to her great surprise,
as she walks home, tears are rolling down her cheeks. She hates
herself for crying, for feeling so small. How silly of her, how
immature. It's Robin's fault. No, it's hers. What's wrong with her?
She wipes her cheeks and nose with the back of her hand, then wipes
her hand on her coat. Just like a baby, she tells herself. Like a
teenager. She is not even sad, so why these stupid tears? She feels
so aimless inside, so undecided.
Is she crying from
relief? Shame? Both? When she stood up to take the M&M from Robin's
hand she felt a twitch in her lower back and realized she must have
been tense in that exquisite armchair. The truth is: she is always
tense around Robin, but tears? That's a bit extreme, to say the
least! She'd better get a hold of herself.
I'm going through a
phase, she thinks, hoping to quell her agitation and restore some
order in her feelings. Lately, she's been filled with tears just
waiting to come out. She cried last night when she watched the news
on TV and a father held his daughter who had just got the news that
her husband had survived some awful accident. Maggie saw a river of
love and tenderness in the father's body as he gathered his
collapsing daughter into his arms. Such father/daughter scenes
always stir powerful emotions in her and her eyes fill up.
But, the good thing
is, she is walking, taking one step, then another. It is brutally
cold, and she fastens her coat around her. Here, she has calmed
down. Just a quick silly attack of overwrought nerves. Once she gets
home, between her four walls, she'll feel a lot better. Maybe that's
her problem; she finds comfort in being alone.
The novel “Jackpot” has
been published by Spuyten Duyvil in 2004