This is only the first part of something that hasn’t been titled yet. It’s sort of an experiment in introducing characters with a bang.
At eight in the evening, the Calle de Sonrisas resounded with the clatter of heels and young people’s laughter steeped in herbal humor. The sun had barely set and the air was heavy with the scent of sea salt and charcoal from the neighbors’ patios.
A clear breeze wafted through the open skylight of Mona Lee’s penthouse bathroom where she, sweating in the heat of Miami in July, sank naked into the bath with a glass of her late grandfather’s prized No.2 1889 cognac.
The tub was short for Mona, as were most men in her life, she thought regrettably as she crossed a pair of emaciated legs over the edge of the bath. She was sore all over after a long day, and gently kneaded her stringent muscles, taut tendons with the tips of her fingers.
It had been a long day in court, spent sitting under scrutiny on the wrong side of the courtroom. It had been an exceptionally long, disappointing afternoon of bogus verdicts, millions lost and pink slips. Her ass hurt from the hard wooden benches and from shame, from her boss’ pointed displeasure.
But that was no good to dwell on when the night was new and the bath hot.
Closing her eyes, Mona thought instead of exotic restaurants, dark evening dresses heavy with the fame of the names they carried, avant garde dishes of third world portions hand-carved by some of the most self-indulgent chefs in Miami.
She thought of the curious eyes of waiters peeking out at her from kitchen windows and how they dazzled at the tiny James Beard medal clipped into her lapel.
She held her breath in recollection of crisp aftershave, from that night she leaned forward and whispered into the ear of her vegetarian editor-in-chief, “Not the sea cucumbers,” just as one wriggled on the plate.
And as the blood fumed beneath her skin, Mona slid beneath the scorching surface of the bathwater. A trail of oxygen sacs rolled toward the surface as she exhaled.
Mona recalled late-night coffee in the newsroom with Tom Geier, writing the cover piece of “Wine and Dine” magazine in a haze of drunken eloquence. He held his liquor better than she did, which wasn’t saying much if the flare in his cheek and the tousle of his hair and the one more open button in his shirt than was appropriate meant anything.
“I think you mean the old-world balsamic oil was sensuous, not sensual,” he had said, leaning close over Mona’s shoulder.
There was the screech of wheels on the street, the crack of skulls against brick, a gunshot in the distance barely distinguishable from the sound of shattering glass beside the edge of the tub. The salsa bars across the street were opening up shop for the night.
Mona shut it all out, her toes trembling above the surface of the water.
Sweat, sex, psychological distress. There was the rumble of the earth in heat, the planet turning on its side and South America drowning from the tilt of the oceans. Mona recalled nearly drowning in the sink as an infant. The need to breathe so absolute back then, she had opened her lungs to the faucet thundering over her face before the giantess hands of her mother rescued her.
She broke the surface gasping for air, a murky fluid spreading like octopus nerve poison between her legs. Standing from the bath, Mona turned her face toward the cool shaft of starlight falling through the window, dripping with fatigue.