A Night for an Inventory
That night, as Bebe ascended her curved mahogany staircase, she contemplated whether tonight should be a wine-only evening, instead of the White Russian Eunice was mixing downstairs in the kitchen. She had already had a glass of cabernet an hour earlier; well two if she counted last night’s leftover that she’d gulped down to make way for a fresh one. Sticking to wine would eliminate the need to trundle downstairs for another round.
She reached the stair landing. Before heading into her bedroom, she ran a check on Jedda and Jordan, who were down for the night. Jasmine was in the city with that oaf of a boyfriend she was dating, farewell drinks before she returned to Los Angeles. She hoped Jasmine wasn’t getting serious about him. The man was a Neanderthal. The sight of him made her cringe, with that scrappy beard. Who wore a beard these days? She couldn’t understand what her daughter saw in him. But at least she had a boyfriend, even if it was a long distance relationship. There was a time when she worried Jasmine was a lesbian. Not that she had anything against lesbians; she just didn’t expect one of her own to fall into that category. Jasmine had never managed to date in high school, and there was only one boy in college, which she had only heard about through vague and rushed descriptions. Then again, Jasmine wasn’t the prettiest girl in the world if she was to be honest about it, with that slightly thyroid look to her eyes. And neither was her boyfriend that handsome. So there you had it. They were perhaps meant for each other.
In the children’s bedroom, Bebe heard Jedda grinding her teeth again. Jedda had lately begun to do this most nights. It was the most awful, strident noise. Sometimes it was so loud she could hear it out in the hall. She wondered if it was stress related. If so, did it have to do with Magnus? Or switching schools? Jedda’s schoolwork had begun to suffer in London. She never seemed interested in making friends, preferring to play on her own. But she was always a bit aloof, wasn’t she? Always off in a world of her own. Bebe wondered if she should be worried about it. Jedda was old enough now to understand that her father was, well, not involved. Recently she’d found an old drawing Jedda had done for a family portrait assignment. She’d drawn everyone but her father. In his place, she’d drawn a black car next to the house. Below the car, she’d written Daddy going to work. But as their mother, what could she do to make Magnus more present in their lives? Threaten him? With what? A divorce? Lord knows she didn’t want to go down that road again.
And then there was Jordan. Bebe shook her head. She couldn’t bear how Magnus treated him, or rather didn’t treat him. The neglect was heartbreaking, and taking its toll on the boy. His habit of dressing in girls’ clothes, what was that about? And he was looking so thin lately. In fact both the children were. She would have to discuss this with Mel, try a new menu, check the meal diaries more closely. She looked at Jordan and rubbed his cheek.
Around the room, she picked up a few toys and books that were scattered on the floor and put them away on a shelf. She enjoyed being in their bedroom. They had everything they could ever want. It was a good room, filled with good things. Things she had bought them. She remembered the day she’d bought her first home, how excited she’d been to finally be able to afford one on her own—a four bedroom in Beverly Hills, boxy, ultra modern. Nowadays she wouldn’t dream of living in such an ugly thing, but at the time it was the height of modernity. She’d paid for it outright, $750,000. That was with her first husband. Then came the condo in the West Village with husband number two, where Jasmine was born. She’d purchased the Beau Reve house just before she met Magnus. It was the only house, in fact, that she’d bought without a man in her life.
A clap of thunder rumbled in the distance. She turned on the night-light and left the room feeling that tonight would be a good night for an inventory. Inventories, as Dr. Novak had shown her, brought little pools of calm into her life. Whenever she felt at a crossroads, she drew up a list of choices—pros and cons, this versus that, ideas and concerns—to map out her next move. Mostly, they were declarations of purpose, but she found that the act of setting her objectives to paper, of listing them in an ordered and simplified way, brought them to fruition. And when she completed her inventory, she would snuggle down in bed and watch one of the movies the Academy had sent her.
She went into her bedroom and sat at her dressing table to undo herself. It was her favourite time of the day, when the world outside dissolved into a drink and her reflection in the mirror. Yes, she would stick to red wine tonight. There were a dozen bottles of Bellevue-Mondotte St.Emilion stored in a drawer underneath her bed. At several hundred dollars per bottle, she knew it was a finger-wag to stash them there, but she hated having to go all the way down to the cellar after submitting herself to an evening in bed. When she finished removing her makeup, and moisturizing her skin, and wrapping up her hair in a do-rag, she changed into her pyjamas and got into bed.
She looked at the other side of her bed. Where was her husband? Working of course, always working. Last time he’d been at the house, months ago now, he’d only come to bed three times in the two weeks he was home. Most evenings she found him working late into the night, and on one occasion, she’d discovered him at dawn, sitting in the office, talking on the phone with some foreign market, looking dishevelled but remarkably still alert. She had implored him to come to bed, to spend some time with her before heading back to London, but somehow he’d ended up in the shower instead, then in the kitchen drinking a second cup of coffee, then back to work for another thousand hours. It was then that she’d decided to move the family to London, so the children could be with him, but it made no difference.
She leaned over and pressed a button on a remote control. An automatic drawer beneath her bed quietly opened. She pulled a bottle of wine out and uncorked it with a corkscrew she kept stored in her bedside table. Then she poured herself a generous glass and began on her inventory.
First item would be her marriage. She was hoping to turn things around this time, hoping to have a proper family for a change, not a part-time husband with an over-extended calendar, or a money-hungry father with little time for his children. She married Magnus because she wanted a dad, not a cad. She married him because she’d fallen in love with him. And she thought he’d loved her too. She knew he had not married her for the money. His wealth surpassed hers. She felt it was an ideal relationship, non-competitive, equal. Though family had not been a desire of his in their early days, it was still a mutually beneficial arrangement. She had transformed a gruff, workaholic master of the universe into a partner she could take to red carpet events and he had gotten the benefit of growing his roster of clients as well as his firm’s profile. And she was all right with that. That was Magnus.
But she had not anticipated the vast and unrelenting sense of crushing loneliness that would engulf her over the years. She had not anticipated that her husband might be a type: The type of man who never remembered anniversaries, or birthdays; who never bought her flowers or gifts. The diamond ring she wore, which she told everyone was a gift from Magnus, was one she’d purchased herself at colossal expense.
Magnus only cared about one thing, making money. He was one of those motherfuckers; always in a dark suit, or on the phone, or travelling for business. But she didn’t see it in the beginning. In fact, it took several years for her to notice that he didn’t listen to music and he didn’t read books, only newspapers. He hated television, movies and the theatre, saying they were all a waste of time. And he didn’t like to travel for pleasure. Their honeymoon, in fact, had been scheduled around his business meetings. He would conduct his business and then they would meet at some extravagant hotel and fuck. Then it was off to the next meeting where she would fly out to rendezvous with him again and go through the same burlesque, city after city. It went on like that for the first year of their marriage. What an idiot she was, she now realized. Why hadn’t she seen then what she was getting herself into? How had her reality gone from being one of the reigning queens of show business to this, a fading star with a husband who was more interested in money than family?
Hadn’t Magnus made enough by now? How much did a man need for God’s sake? She was doing quite fucking well with her fifty mill. But Magnus had hundreds of millions—enough to last him a thousand lifetimes. The only other thing he showed any interest in was climbing mountains. She imagined they were the only things on God’s green earth that were symbolic of the ridiculous fortune he had amassed over the years, a fortune he now stashed away in stocks and bonds and other financial instruments all over the world. What did money have that she didn’t, that their children didn’t?
Just then, Eunice entered with her White Russian. “Here you go B—“
“Take that away,” Bebe snapped, annoyed. She had already forgotten about the damn thing and didn’t want Eunice to see the open bottle of wine on the floor. “I don’t want that, just go away.”
“You okay, you wanna talk?” Eunice asked.
“No, I don’t wanna talk.”
“You know you need to talk things out. That’s what the doctor ordered. Who else you gonna talk to? You can’t keep chuckin’ wood all by your lonesome, it’ll wear you out.”
“Will you shut the hell up with your stupid metaphors? No I don’t want to talk I said!”
“Fine, suit yourself.”
Bebe suddenly felt on the verge of tears, a terrible sense of despair creeping in. “You’re annoying me right now,” she spat, “get out.”
Eunice turned and left, but not without a moment of hesitation; a moment, Bebe was certain, in which she probably rolled her eyes, or flipped her finger. Bebe didn’t care. She had to get her inventory finished.
Next item was the girl, Desiree. Jedda and Jordan were clearly taken by her, in a way she had never seen before. But then there was something very disarming about Desiree, with her slight voice, and her innocent smile, those tender brown eyes. She was kind, Bebe could see that, but she was also needy, like a lost stray. There was a note of desperation to her, the way she looked around the room at everything, as though she yearned for it all.
But more than this was the dream she’d had, what was it, two or three nights before she met Desiree at Tillman’s? It was the dream she’d told Dr. Novak about, where she was in what seemed like a Catholic school, with all the students dressed in white shirts and blue skirts. A young girl about Jedda’s age was celebrating her birthday. But she had trouble blowing out the candles on her cake so Bebe bent forward to help and was surprised to find herself being blown away instead, like a blackened mound of ashes. Afterward the girl had smiled at her and said you’re welcome. Thank you, Bebe replied in the dream, having regained her form, despite the ashes still at her feet; ashes that she knew were meant to be her. She didn’t quite know why she was thanking the girl but she had the feeling that her gratitude was genuine. Then they posed for a picture together and that was all she remembered.
What was odd was, those were the first words Desiree had spoken to her at Tillman’s. You’re welcome. And she’d said that the press had photographed them for Read Across America Day, and that it had been her birthday. Odder still was to find Desiree at her doorstep a week later applying for the job! What were the chances? She wondered if she should tell Desiree about her dream.
No, it was all too weird, frankly. There were too many questions. She wrote Desiree’s name in her notebook and underlined it several times while she worked out what she should do, or rather, how she should feel about this truly mystifying coincidence. Across the page, in a separate column, she wrote: get further reading. Bckgrndchk. Who is she really? She took several sips of her cabernet while she thought about it, then she moved on to the next item. Her career – get back on track!!! she wrote. (Get new manager?) New projects. Younger market. Stay current, ahead of the curve. Work with young new producer. Something fresh and brilliant!!!
By the time she was done with her inventory, she had consumed almost half of a second bottle of wine and had also sent a little white pill sailing through her blood stream as an added consolation. Her head felt like a roller coaster all of a sudden. She became aware of the indiscriminate tapping of raindrops against her windowpanes. The storm, she realized. It had begun. She put aside her notebook and stared at the fireplace. She masturbated. Afterward, with the bedside lamp still on, she fell into a deep, vinous sleep.
Copyright© Rojé Augustin. All rights reserved.