by Diane Root
There was no doubt about it. Lola was beautiful: sleek and slender with long golden locks, the slim Modigliani face, the graceful posture, the regal bearing. When she ran, her straight hair would stream behind her, making her look even fleeter than she was. Right now, though, she was not about to move from her throne on the sofa. She was in fact, the real thing—HIS living, breathing companion. Lola was family. The love of HIS life. And true to the lyrics of the song, what Lola wants, Lola gets, Bella thought.
For that matter, she readily admitted that He cut a dashing figure himself—a young Marlon Brando type—especially when He sat astride the Harley, suitably dressed in a slightly distressed black—but still shiny– leather jacket. Or when He cradled in his large hands the moon-bright feline, the languid Luna. Or when, blissfully bare, He sat astride her.
As a result, confronted with all this beauty, Bella began to think that she was misnamed. Auburn-haired and green-eyed, she was no slouch in the pulchritude department either. Trouble was, she was in love with HIM. That said, she faced serious competition with the likes of this blond bimbo draped upon the couch. In another life, Lola could have been a ballet dancer, she thought.
Not used to serious rivals, all that did not diminish Bella’s resolve. This was the man she would marry. No matter what it took. Not for nothing, she often reflected on her favorite “v” words—Victory, Vitriol, Vindication, and Vengeance. Of those, she liked the last one best.
It took a few cold and strong Margueritas one night. First came the ring—a silver band of braided strands, which she gave to him on one of those flickering, flattering, romantic candlelit dinners they enjoyed at his favorite hangout—the chalet in the woods. Lola, of course, was always in attendance.
What stood out in her mind was the day Lola turned up missing. Frantic, He searched through bramble and bush, brook and barn, forest and field, up hills and down dales. Once back home, looking ragged and bereft, there she was, sitting on the porch, with that what-took-you-so-long look. His sigh of relief was audible clear through to the living-room. Not a word of reproach passed his lips. Instead, He smothered her in hugs and kisses. He held her close all the remainder of the day and through the night as though, without notice, she would once again escape and disappear into the darkening landscape.
Despite all Bella’s maneuvers—the magnificent meals (she was a culinary whiz, no small thanks to her father who always repeated that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach); the artistically laid table adorned by a perfect and bountiful bouquet; the gorgeous gowns, flowing, with deep-cut decolletes that give the viewer a tantalizing glimpse of her pearly moon breasts; the elaborate love-making–He was impervious to all her ministrations. Nothing seemed to move him toward marriage.
He had said yes once, what now seemed to be eons ago. They had been lovers for several years by then, a 12-year friendship that had gradually bloomed into a romantic liaison. The proposal had been brief and any further conversation about it had ceased, since somehow it had become a given. Then again, it was always half -hidden from family and acquaintances; she was older than He was for one thing, although that didn’t seem to matter to either of them. Still, marriage was never far from her mind. In fact, it had become an unspoken obsession.
Then it came to her. Pay special attention to Lola; make sure her portion was particularly delicious, her plate perfectly prepared—a repast in which the poison, administered drop by drop, could not be detected. Over time, her blond rival would slowly emaciate, becoming more and more ill, almost imperceptibly. Lola was not that young. Old age, they would say, ushered her into the grave. No questions asked.
It took several months–from Spring to late Fall. By that time, she had returned to New Orleans, where she taught literature. She loved Agatha Christie, a secret passion that served her well, she felt, given the recent circumstances. Even more hidden was her fascination with Voodoo—another “v” word. Decidedly, she had a predilection for them, despite her dislike for most Vegetables, forced upon her during her childhood by her health-conscious and politically correct mother, both a Valkyrie and a Viper, if ever there was one.
For the first three weeks that Fall, He wrote to her describing his distress at the waning health of HIS beloved Lola. Despite that, the letters seemed to exude an affectionate warmth. Early winter dawned, but in her heart, hope, like Spring, sprang eternal. If Winter is here, can Spring be far behind? …
The Spring that followed, however, was sharp with silence for several weeks, despite her frequent scent-soaked missives. When the response arrived, it came in the form of a box.
The box was long and narrow, adorned with three equally long-stemmed yellow roses. It was heavier than she expected. How heavy can tissue paper be? she thought, even if they encased an abundant bouquet-to-be roses—a bloom that always reminded her of Latin in which she excelled years ago—rosa, rosae, rosis, rosis, rosas. Looking at it, though, it seemed like a coffin of a box. Images of white coffins fleetingly flickered in her mind from her travels in Mexico. They were the ones in which they buried children.
She opened the unusually long white carton with great care, noticing her heart that seemed to skip a beat with each touch. It took several minutes, as though delaying the pleasure, near orgasmic, because it came from HIM. (At last, she fantasized. What a beautiful way to propose, wordlessly. How poetic!) —but, as it turned out, it was mostly a romance of the mind. Hers.
When at last she opened it, she saw the blanched and beautiful bones, denuded of the long, blond, silken hair, but still dancer-like, intrinsic to those delicate joints and ankles, the latter crossed, ever so lady-like. Lola’s skeleton, now bleached and bare, but still graceful, posed, or so it seemed, perhaps poised to lope effortlessly toward some undisclosed finish line.
The manicured left paw, artfully crossed over the right, bore the ring she once gave him. Beneath it, between its canine claws, was a handwritten note.
“With this ring,“ it said, “I thee shed.”
Diane Root, a dual-national, was born in Paris of an American father, the journalist and writer, Waverley Root, and a French mother. Primarily known as a painter, she is, as she describes herself, “an accidental writer.” She never sought to be published but that notwithstanding, she was nonetheless published in the New York Times Magazine (“The Artful Dodger” about lunch with Picasso) and various other venues. View her art: http://matakia.com.