Issue 228, Spring 2019
For our honeymoon we went to Tuscany. This got a big sigh from me. I love my job, this city, my life. At home, in our apartment, the kitchen tiles are a deep maroon, a chessboard for girls. I was sitting on them, like a squat little knight, unwrapping a casserole dish, when my husband wheeled a suitcase into the room. One of the most difficult things about being married, I find, is that those thoughts you choose not to say out loud don’t register at all. No one reads your mind. He gently snapped two fingers near my face.
Babe, he said. You look a little dazed.
The first thing I did when we arrived at our villa was set up my salves and creams and serums on the vanity. I laid out my hairbrush handle first. The tweezers. The tints. I like to keep everything in little rows, the jars lined up like soldiers ready for battle. It was Cicero, I believe, who while on an Aristotelian riff proclaimed that the essence of style is appropriateness with respect to time and place. A vanity is no exception. I looked at my platoon of jars. The bouquet of brushes. The glint of the sun on the edge of a cup. All at once it struck me as too much. Perhaps it wasn’t so tasteful for a married woman to disclose all the secrets of her face; she ought to keep some for herself. One by one, I replaced the vials and jars in their quilted armory. An air of mystery immediately settled over the room. I was soothed. But the vanity looked rather spartan. Shouldn’t there be a nail file or at least a tube of lipstick? I glanced at my husband, asleep on the bed. The shape of him. Half my vials returned to the stage before the mirror, though this, too, seemed a losing compromise. At dinner, I spooled spaghetti onto my fork. I ordered a Negroni—or three. It struck me that a partial vanity capitalizes on only half the virtue of femininity, while retaining all its vice.
To be fair, I can’t really say that I enjoy vacations. I’m on vacation all the time, so when I’m away it feels like work. I am a jewelry consultant at a five-star hotel, where I tend to a nook filled with gems. All week long I daydream to the sound of heels clacking across a polished marble floor. My mind melts. I could be miles away. I could be at the beach! Occasionally the phone rings, and then there’s some real excitement—a guest is placing an order for a surprise. The rest is a breeze. I take lunch twice. At two, I put a sign on the door and go for a jog. be back soon. No one seems to mind.
Tuscany, likewise, is permanently on leave. Any direction I looked there was nothing but farms and hills and leisure time. A tractor churned. Someone opened a bottle of wine. The local cheese was Pecorino, and I wasn’t sure I had a taste for it at all, though my husband liked it fine. As for me, I craved a bagel. I missed Christopher Street Chinese. Lo mein. Pot stickers, steamed. At least in Tuscany the cigarettes were very cheap. I had one in the evening. I had two. My husband looked up from his phrase book and asked, Is this a permanent thing? Of course, I said. Because that’s the modus operandi of a marriage, permanence. He smiled. We traipsed to the pool. We wandered through medieval towns sipping different wines. Sometimes we strolled the grounds. We made love. I slipped into a sequined dress with shoulder pads for drinks, and in the morning, I woke up early and watched my husband breathing in the sheets, half expecting him to get up and leave. He didn’t. Still, I dressed quietly so he would not move or change his mind. I slid on my shoes, my sweat-stained bra. I jogged.