Tonight’s the Night by Anna-Liisa Aunio

Marcie ran her moistened fingers along the smooth, soft surface of the soapstone adorning her kitchen as a new countertop. It had been well oiled and set in the manner of her very specific direction—soapstone needed, after all, very careful handling and tending to serve its sophisticated appeal. Marcie especially relished the thought, at this moment, of its sleek, renewed visage each month following similar requisite oil treatments. Of course, now the more direct and immediate problem was that Mexican ceramic sink, purchased in a fit of inspiration and despair from a kindly fellow on the avenue for a fraction of what those idiots downtown paid at the boutique import store. Marcie half smiled—yes, half. Once the soapstone was installed she realized the sink was all wrong and quite desperately needed replacing. She would have to search the avenues for the whole day tomorrow, in fact, for a chance at finding something even remotely approaching the right fit.

Enough, she told herself, enough. Time to face the evening. Such difficulties would look better through the morning panes of sunlight and with coffee in tow. For now, she was behind schedule. One whole hour, to be exact. After neatly sweeping up the crumbs and remnants of her evening snack (never a meal, especially on weekends), Marcie gently guided her manicured forefinger along the oily surface, finding comfort in knowing that its perfection would more than make up for spending money on her (now unusable) quaint, and thus trite, Mexican basin. While she didn’t like to dwell on such things, it did occur to her (if only vaguely) that the Mexican business was altogether a very bad decision and thus not entirely her fault—the salesman was rather pushy, wasn’t he? No matter, she thought; not worth the complaint. Stress is horrible, absolutely horrible for the skin.

She was still in stockings from work and tread rather carefully up the carpeted stairs to avoid tears in the toes and heels. Even the slightest hole brought great discomfort and disappointment; she was always careful to avoid them and almost never failed in the effort.

Tonight promised to be a rather lofty affair: lots of fantastic views, good friends, and a phenomenal number of young men to audition as potential suitors. She and Dave broke up two months ago, but it was never very serious. It was really his nose and that particular nasally laugh that got in the way in the end, which could have been overlooked save for the fact that he punctuated every meal with his “good sense of humor” and trademark self-congratulatory snorts. Two and half months it lasted. Marcie had dutifully traveled through the seven steps her therapist recommended, learned about herself in the process, and was more fully realized, more fully capable, and more fully ready for the prospect of someone new and interesting in her cards as a result. Spotlight on tonight, thank you. She was ready.

The foundational and thus very often trying part of the process was selecting the dress. Once the outfit, shoes and stockings were decided, makeup would be a far easier affair. Marcie loved to look that perfect combination of “je ne sais quoi” her sister always seemed to pull off with ease. While it was more difficult for her, Marcie won her fair share of attention from a series of appropriate men in her adult dating life, and, as such, tended to have her fair share of confidence in her choices. Indeed, though a bit older now, she was far more confident, far more sophisticated, and thus a better model in her 30-year-old skin than her 22-year-old self could have ever wished for. She had even, she thought, this evening, finally succeeded in supplanting her older sister as the family beauty—particularly in light of those few extra pounds her sister seemed to have permanently adopted in the process of baby bearing and rearing. She made a mental note to self to never let such things happen when she crossed that threshold and purposively moved on.

The dress, of course, was black. Nude stockings were traded in for silky black darlings, and super sexy red heels finished off the job. Makeup? Easy. Minimal, smoky, and only slightly red on the lips. Marcie hated those painted jobs and gauche chicas who favored a full palette of colors, including especially those who seemed to embrace the unnatural and thus truly distasteful paints in turquoise or gold. Her hair was always easy; straightened and then curled and styled in fettered waves, pinned up underneath, and sporting carefully selected sexy wisps she would nonchalantly blow and tuck away from her face as the night proceeded. 

Marcie liked this version of herself and lingered, appreciatively, in front of the full length mirror. She knew, however, that the most difficult job was next. To make things easier, her friend Brenda said that it was helpful to find the right inspiration—a sitcom, or perhaps a comedy routine—first. Marcie liked that guy on Saturday Night Live and recorded his stand-up show as well as that new, hot family sitcom just for this purpose. Both were funny, lively, but not too vulgar. Just the choices Brenda would have made in her single days, Marcie thought. She decided ultimately on the shorter sitcom this evening because of the time. After clicking the TV remote to exactly the right place, Marcie remembered to turn up the vanity lights and, for 10 minutes, practiced laughing and looking beautiful at exactly all the right times and in the right ways to accord with the steady stream of jokes. This was her most difficult part of preparation; her laugh could sound too out of control, high-pitched, and ultimately, her mom had been telling her since she was five, unattractive. She practiced until it was just right: musical, light, and full of appreciation. Finally, she switched to playing a few dance tunes and practiced turning to them to get in the right mood, making sure to flash a charming, natural smile into the mirror each time she turned. Deep breath, and yes, she was out the door right on time, even with the delay. The only finishing touch was to push the right dress strap down slightly in the car or when approaching the bar to achieve the ultimate carelessly sexy look. Tonight was going to be a damned good night.

She was meeting the girls at that new martini bar, which was a bit further away but made up for it by boasting a selective clientèle. They were on the guest list and could bypass the line-up, thanks to her sister’s husband who had connections in the bar world. It was indeed crowded, and she smiled to herself as she passed the line-up at the velvet rope, went directly to the door and was ushered into the bar.

Tonight was girls’ night. Marcie loved the girls from work, especially Gina, who managed to make everyone, including herself, laugh and seemed to care little that her face contorted into wild dimensions as she did so. What she liked about these girls is that they always seemed to draw an appreciative crowd when they went out, especially when they went dancing. Tonight was no exception. Gina particularly seemed to revel in the dance lights and was soon enough flirting with a cute financial planner who, she whispered to Marcie when she had the chance, had two offices downtown. Though it was still early, it was hard not to succumb to a slight twinge of jealousy at Gina’s good fortune—he did, after all, have fantastically sexy black curls that spilled into his line of sight and gave off an ever so naughty edge to his suit attire. Marcie, however, was not given to such unbecoming expressions; she quickly and efficiently pushed any petty emotions aside and decided, then and there, to focus on enjoying her small collection of exclusive, single friends that evening.

They were, after all, so much fun on the dance floor and so obviously and easily won attention from anyone in their vicinity. She had, she told herself, finally arrived and should enjoy it. With that small shift in demeanor, Marcie tossed her head back and ventured the laugh, then laughed again because she got it right, exactly right. Her mom would be proud, after all. She danced with that one strap draped down her shoulder, with her friends, into the night. Drinks came their way; they sport-flirted with some hangers-on, and, by all accounts, looked like they were having a damn good time. Of course, Marcie made sure to toss her sexy tendrils, turn and smile a few times on the dance floor, and laugh successfully all night long, just in case. By the night’s end, she had rebuffed a few undesirable suitors who were too old, too poorly dressed, or just too plain to merit consideration. Perhaps this place wasn’t as selective as she was led to believe.

Finally, and amidst a fit of girlish laughter as well as a round of complimentary champagne, last call sounded. They took stock of the evening. They teased each other about a few, particularly embarrassing efforts by some of the failed suitors. Gina went home with the financial guy and Rose disappeared at some point (which she often did), leaving three of the friends in the gang—including Marcie—to bid goodnight to the bartender and help one another home. Marcie, truth be told, hated this part; she liked to drive on alone. She had, however, become quite good at giving the girls the slip and navigating her car out of the parking lot without an entourage.

As on so many of these nights, Marcie coveted her secret stop at the river and the Route 7 bridge on the way home. It was a suspension bridge, though fairly short by such standards, and modeled on some old British wrought iron job. Marcie loved stopping the car in the same spot every weekend, just off to the side of the road and just out of view. There, she could slide under the wire cables and slip between two railings to peer, unabated, into the deep, black waters. Merely the thought of it would stir butterflies in her, and tonight they seemed particularly spirited.

Once her eyes were trained on the river, however, Marcie could exhale all of it. Why those dark waters seemed so comforting was, at times, a mystery to her. She hated muddy banks, the dull colors they tinted the fast flowing water, and, well, the unpredictability of it all. Still, the river had been in her life for as long as she could remember; her earliest and elementary years were punctuated by memories of picnics with her parents along its banks near the state park. They were all of a postcard picture in that space—a fact confirmed by the park employee’s request to photograph them for a very real, ultimately very popular, set of postcards promoting the park 20 years ago which, her mother believed, succeeded in part because of her perfect smile. Perhaps it was for this reason that, in the company of the river, exactly at that spot, her sister was able to stage her perfect wedding, complete with her very own Prince Charming, five years ago. Marcie, for her part, looked fantastically supportive in that golden yellow dress. Although she had to admit the state park view of the river played just the right backdrop to her sister’s lacy and nostalgic affair, she decided on the very first night she found this spot that this view, above and removed from the banks and icy waters, felt far more like home to her. Here, she loved the way the muddy tint turned a dramatically darker, deeper, and unspoiled hue. Here, she could take it all in, and it was all hers. Remembering the happy, bubbly champagne courtesy of the bartender at the bar, Marcie thought it would be possible for her to achieve that effervescent glow in this place, then hiccupped and, embarrassed, smiled at her own lack of politesse.

 Of course, she was reassured, as always, by her place among the wires and tough foundations that dominated the dark waters. As on so many nights, she had already jettisoned her red heels to more easily climb the steel structure and, as she did so, feel its cool, unforgiving solidity under her feet. She ran her foot along that same, familiar welding seam that was not, with all of its bubbles, even remotely perfect. First the right foot, then the left, holding that same notch in the wire cables for security. And, as if for the first time, Marcie gave in to the cool breeze of the evening and acknowledged, above all else, its chilly perfection. The breeze responded in kind with another chilled rush that pushed the carefully tended tendrils away from her face. She took a deep breath and felt, for a moment, ready to take on everything, but stopped short when she caught sight of a nascent, quickly blooming hole in her new black pantyhose. A slight frown darkened her lips. She continued on her way in the gentle passes, though, again and again, over that same cool and unforgiving steel. Then, seemingly distracted, Marcie pushed her painted big toe further through that expanding black hole. She peered into the depths of the dark waters, which always smiled back at her. And, this time, she finally jumped.

 

Anna-Liisa Aunio is an editor at sunday @ 6.

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