Fiction  January 2017 | issue 493

Pretty Women

by Lisa Taddeo

Lisa Taddeo lives in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. She recently received a Pushcart Prize and is at work on her debut nonfiction book for Simon & Schuster. Someday she’d like to open a restaurant called Burgers & Sushi in the Italian countryside.

Clara, neither the first nor the most loved, was the one who showed me that I could withstand the pain.

Clara was a production assistant. She wore heavy muslin shifts like a disciple of Jesus. She grew honeysuckle vines along the fence of her rented house, and every week, I imagined, she would squeeze the blossoms’ juices to make perfumes. She kept the extract in a tiny glass vial, and in the afternoons she would reapply some of that honeysuckle scent. Do you get the picture? Clara was the kind of girl who always had three roommates and better musical taste than you.

Clara had broad shoulders and strong legs and good but not great hair, and her lips were very pink, though she didn’t smile much. She was like a character in an indie film: pouty but not greedy, and full of remarkable strangeness.

She didn’t prance around like a young sexpot or sit seductively on the office couch, her legs spilling out from under those thick layers of muslin. She ate sandwiches, big turkey heroes with shredded lettuce from a place in the Hollywood Hills. She would drive out of her way for a good sandwich, but she never came in late from her lunch break. She drank beer and was working on a screenplay. Or so I was told.

And what was she like in bed? Most likely she didn’t initiate the foreplay, though she probably opened her mouth wide when he kissed her. Perhaps her large breasts heaved at his touch. I am sure she was capable of reliable, if quiet, orgasms. It is hard to imagine that he ever had hot, frantic sex with Clara in a car. That he could sleep with this person at all was fascinating.

Every day I practiced splitting up with him, because I knew it was what I had to do.

 

Bree, who followed Clara with a bang, was blond and cruel and ripped my heart out.

She starred in his first film as the hot young woman, and in real life she was also the hot young woman. She acted like she had a magic vagina, which from the beginning was a problem, even though those of us who worked on set pretended it was not a problem. We all acted like sex was not a part of everything we thought and did, and that intellectual matters were more important. Back then I still believed in God, and I still believed my husband.

She’d come from Indiana, where they grew crops of girls like her, tall and wheaty. Girls from Indiana — have you met any? They are ridiculously sexy and blond, and they have milk coming out of their pores. They grow up poor reading Vogue, and they have the right bodies but the wrong parents and houses and clothes and boyfriends, and they know it. They deserve credit for knowing it. Picture them riding the supermarket ponies, their broke-ass dads having only enough quarters for one ride, and after the ride is over, the Indiana girls sit there all sun-tanned and waiting for Tom Petty or John Cougar Mellencamp to write a song about them.

Bree wore flowers in her lion’s-mane hair. She ate the grapes off the food-services table, lingering beside it and transforming the area into a meeting place where everybody would congregate as though there were a keg. She made sleeping around seem like the hottest thing, and no one would dream of calling her a whore — except for me.

The first night he spent with Bree, she left her scent all over him, on purpose, so that I would smell it. He smelled like freesias, and I immediately sprouted a series of stress pimples along my forehead. I scratched the pimples off one by one. They littered the counter like chia seeds. I talked to the Vitamix blender about my troubles. I said, V., do you know what a woman like this is? She’s poison.

I practiced my breakup speech once and for all. For a year I’d been breaking up with him twice a day, but now I was focused and unstoppable.

The cruelest thing about Bree was that she was all about her career. It wasn’t even that she wanted to sleep with a director because she was attracted to his fame; she was just consciously making her next move. She would have stolen a sunny day from a kid with polio. She wore her purpose like a Game of Thrones character. She wanted the relationship for the publicity, and indeed she showed up across all the rags for a full three weeks, which was the exact amount of attention you would want. There were pictures of her with him in the Porsche with the top down, the sun shining in her triumphant hair and her hands reaching for the tall blue sky. The Enquirer had seamy captions and blurry pictures, but People and Us Weekly had full-color spreads. They described the relationship almost tenderly. Honestly I can say she deserved the fame it gave her. She worked hard for it.

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