Friday, October 8, 2010

Azalea, Part One

Halloween is a beautiful holiday.

It’s truly magnificent in the face of the depressing annual occurrences in mid-November, late-December, and, oh, for the love of God, early February. As long as no one dresses up as Cupid to go trick-or-treating, all is well with me. How can any other day of the year compete with getting compliments on those all-too-real cobwebs on your front porch, watching horror movie marathons on regular cable so you don’t have to max out your Netflix account, and being up to your ears in cavity-inducing candy to chomp on while you sob about your husband’s affair with a twenty-eight-year-old country bumpkin?

Heart-shaped Valentine’s Day chocolate boxes have nothing on Twix Bars and M&Ms.

The downside to all of those calories, of course, is that they generate fat faster than an English professor spots a grammar mistake—and as an Iowa University English major, I’m a pretty good judge of the editing speed of those people. Come tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll have gained a good ten pounds since this morning, and it’s only the 22nd.

Pushing my used-tissue-capped mountain of crumpled wrappers aside with an overstuffed moan, I poke the tender pouch gathered up around my bellybutton. I’m no more bloated than on the average Thanksgiving, and if I hit the gym every day for a year, I should be ready to handle next holiday season.

By “the gym,” I mean my basement. One of the top complaints on my list of reasons that living in a town with a population of four hundred is hell on Earth (yes, it’s a long list) states that there is no professional gym within a gazillion miles. You heard me. No YMCA, no pool, no weight room, no Pilates instructor. No indoor recreation of any kind, really. It’s a miracle I have a trust fund, because I’d commit suicide via deliberate artery clogging if I didn’t have my treadmill, and a mayor’s salary is nothing to brag about.

I’m debating whether to haul my butt downstairs or break open the Twizzlers when California Gurls explodes next to my ear. Sighing into the couch, I blindly snatch up my cell phone and mute the TV.

“Hello?” I greet in a deceptively perky voice.

“Azalea, sweetie-pie, you’re not gonna believe what I heard just ‘bout one minute ago,” answers a sing-song drawl that encourages the candy in my stomach in its kamikaze mission to make me vomit.

Sadly, it also belongs to the best friend I have in Wildewood.

“That’s doubtful,” I snub.

“And why is that, hon’?”

“Because,” I reply, trying my best not to grit my teeth at Eloise’s overuse of cutesy pet names, “this town is never unbelievable. We’re in the middle of nowhere, so it fits that nothing ever happens.”

She huffs in irritation. “Then guess.”


“Guess, baby doll,” she reiterates. The sound of a car door slamming echoes in the background, followed by the low rumble of an engine that needs servicing. I cringe at the thought of someone with Eloise’s brain capacity going fifty on dirt roads with a phone pressed to one side of her face.

“Okay, uh, hmm,” I stall, searching for an excuse to disconnect. “There’s a cow loose in town again.”


I tap my chin thoughtfully and discover a speck of residual chocolate under my lip, which I lap up like a vampire with blood. Both blood and chocolate are necessary for life, you know.

“Er, the Strauffers are getting a divorce.”

I earn a snort this time. “If only.”

“The liquor store finally restocked their Baileys?”

“Well, yeah, but that ain’t what I’m gettin’ at,” she admits.

“‘Ain’t’ ain’t a word,” I mock in my best southern accent. “And now I know what I’ll be doing tonight.”

“Not gettin’ drunk on Irish Cream, you ai—aren’t, pumpkin. You’re comin’ with me to the salon before the other gals find out ‘bout the new color Jody just shipped in. Red’s the new blond, y’know.”

I pause to consider this. The grand majority of Wildewood’s women don’t give a flying fadoodle about their hair and nails (in fact, I’m pretty sure Eloise and I keep the salon in business all by ourselves), so it’s not like my platinum hair is unoriginal here, and thus in need of re-dyeing, but it’s hardly special in my house. My son is blond. My daughters are blond. The nanny is blond.

The nanny is also sleeping with my husband.

At least, I think she is. No, no—I’m positive. It’s so obvious that you’d have to be blind, deaf, and mentally impaired not to notice it. But I don’t have proof. Yet.

The least Warwick could do is give me enough respect to have his affair outside of our home—say, with his secretary—but, no. I don’t have even that small scrap of dignity to use as a life preserver. Instead, the girl (I refuse to refer to her as a woman) takes my children to and from school, packs their lunches, cooks dinner, walks my dog, and generally lives under my roof whenever I’m away; which is often, since I’m coeditor of a magazine based in New York.

Even when I’m not out of town, she finds some reason to permeate my domestic sphere at least three times daily. The latest explanation?

Tutoring Caleb in math.

She is teaching my son how to graph a line, something I could easily explain to him if he could pause his iPod long enough to listen to me for two seconds instead of Linkin Park or Eminem.

When I told this to my husband, he set down his wineglass to chortle between hiccups, laughing, “You’re an English major, Azalea.”

“And she didn’t major in anything!”

He suddenly turned sour, his eyes reflecting a dangerous, stormy gray. “Unlike some people, Jezebel doesn’t have a trust fund. Just because she didn’t go to college doesn’t mean she’s any less intelligent than the rest of us.”

“I didn’t say she was stupid, but I think I’m more capable of—”

“You don’t know what it’s like not to have all the money in the world at your fingertips! I’d like to see you survive one hour without your dad’s cash.”

“I don’t recall you complaining about my trust fund when you bought this house, or your cars, or your golf clubs, or your watch, or—”

And that’s when he thundered out of the room, the door banging several times behind him before the momentum from his furious blow ebbed away and left me alone with my trembling glass of red wine.

I file the memory away with a frustrated clench of my fist.

“Maybe you’re right,” I answer after a long pause. Eloise emits a triumphant grunt from the back of her throat. “I’ll make appointments for both of us at four.”


  1. Katie--it was SO GREAT to read this scene again. I liked it a lot when you read it outloud, but this second time, when I could read it more slowly, and really appreciate her wonderful voice, and all the wonderful That's all I can say.

    I'm wondering if Norman should have some kind of past with Eloise. Would that be okay with you?

  2. Thank you! I'm glad you like it. Your writing is absolutely amazing, so I'm especially flattered!
    Eloise's past is up in the air at the moment, so feel free to bring it down to Earth. Now that you mention it, I think a link between Norman and Eloise would really flesh her out and make her murder seem more significant.

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  4. Whoops, I accidently deleted my comment. I meant to edit it. Anyway I've just now started reading through everything, I'm so behind. I really love Azalea's snarkiness. It made me smile to read it.