December 21, 2018 by The Citron Review
by Susan Eve Haar
This is how we meet: In the eye doctor’s waiting room, she stands in front of me and announces, “That’s my seat.” I move.
She has a terrible Long Island accent and her blown-dry hair, flipped to perfection and dyed an unlikely blonde, is as unreal as her aqua eyes, coated in colored contacts. But there is something real about her, and we are both twitching with impatience, so we speak. She tells me her name is Carol, that she lives across the street and her husband is an inventor. She speaks of him with unmitigated delight, then looks at me. She doesn’t probe; she can tell that I belong only to myself. That reassures her.
Carol gets me talking and discovers that we know people in common, people of substance. Our worlds overlap sufficiently. I tell her that I am a real estate consultant and eagerly she asks me over for coffee; she wants advice. To my surprise, I go.
She lives in one of those Park Avenue buildings. The doormen rush to hold the doors, too discrete to be obsequious. Inside the lobby, the air is redolent of money and echoes with privilege. Our feet click on the marble checkerboard floor. We get into the elevator; it opens to her floor. The heavily carved console in the hall with its cherubs and grapes suggests Italy. I recognize what looks like a Leger hanging above it.
The living room is capacious: two seating areas with plush velvet couches and tapestry pillows. On the walls hang enormous pictures. On the walls hang enormous pictures and a small painting, heavily framed, that must be a Picasso. We sit. The small table in front of us is that vibrant blue that can only be Yves Klein. But when her housekeeper brings us coffee, she puts her cup down on it, albeit with a coaster.
“I’m an art dealer,” she confides. “I sell to the very rich who have no confidence.”
I solve her current real estate conundrum. The place in the Village that she’s considering for her son is too expensive and on the wrong street. “Don’t buy for your child,” I advise. “He doesn’t know who he is.” I tell her that my youngest wants to go to Brown. She looks at me assessing.
“It’s easy,” she says, “My son got in; just give them a million dollars.”
We are mothers from different worlds, but we appreciate each other. She is shrewd and true despite the trappings.
“Do you know an Italian teacher?” she asks. And I do. I recommend a woman with red hair and a political attitude. Carol writes the name with care in a little leather book. “I have to keep my husband busy, or else,” she says ominously. I don’t ask what that means. We talk about our children. She insists that my daughter see a particular therapist. “She sees all the Dalton kids, and boy, do they need help.”
Gently she asks how long I’ve been divorced and shakes her head at the description of my young lover. “Fun for now, but we’ll find you someone,” she assures me.
Carol tells me about her courtship, how her husband thought he was way too smart for her and how she played him like a fish. And now he is a happy fish, she smiles, and entrusts me with the secret of a successful marriage: “I tell him how handsome he is every day. Why wouldn’t I want to make him to feel happy? He’s my husband.” I puzzle over that for a while.
We have snacks, lentils, and carrots that her housekeeper mashes. Carol scoops it up, fretting over the calories. “I love wine, but I don’t let myself have more than a glass. Ever. When I drink, I can’t stop eating,” she adds with regret.
I follow her up the thickly carpeted stairs. She shows me her son’s deserted bedroom, kept as a shrine, and her astonishing walk-in closet. It’s as large as most studio apartments. Perhaps a broker would categorize it as a small one-bedroom. Everything is color coded by category, sweaters from yellow to black, and she presses upon me a battered but expensive handbag. “It goes with everything,” she urges. She must have noticed my fringed backpack. Even I know it looks like an artifact from Haight- Ashbury. And though she has more money than God, or so it says online, we go to Century, my favorite discount shopping store.
When I was a young thing working in City Hall, the store was an open loft littered with wooden tables, the clothes in tumbled piles. Now it’s a six-story edifice, modern and slick. A monument to ambivalent consumption, it’s in any decent guide to the City.
And Carol shops like she was born to it, a salmon swimming through the racks unswerving. She is unrelenting and prepared. She wears Spanx, ready to strip. The hangers clatter, her hands swift and sure. With a rapidity that stuns me, she knows she names of everyone who works the floor.
“Mary, honey,” she says, “Do you have it in another color in the back?” Twenty-five years of shopping Century and it has never occurred to me to ask for assistance. They fly for her. “Treat people like people,” she counsels, combing the racks with disregard for name or price.
She finds a coat for forty-nine dollars. “I’ll wear it to the art fair in Munich!” she declares with satisfaction. “Look at it!” She pulls it on, and it fans around her face like a flower, a blue-eyed pansy.
By now the plastic cart she’s pulling behind her is full. Triumphant, she hits the cash register. It’s at that point that she pulls out a discrete khaki bag. It expands to contain it all, the shoes, the perfect pair of Italian pants, and of course, the coat.
“Aren’t you proud of your bargains?” I ask. “You’re such a black-belt shopper.”
“Of course,” she nods. “Real prices aren’t for real people.”
Susan Eve Haar’s work has been primarily in theater but most recently she has been exploring the delights of fiction. Her work has been published in a variety of literary journals including the Saint Ann’s Review, bioStories, and The Glint Literary Journal. Her plays have been published by Broadway Publishing and Smith and Krauss and produced in a variety of venues including Primary Stages and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.