The Next Kate Spade
By Paul Silverman
She had little appetite for the salmon he wanted to make, and insisted they get out to eat dinner. Everywhere she breathed it reeked of stale flower arrangements. Clumps of ripped wrapping paper and velvet bows were still all over the parlor Tabriz, not even swept away to a corner or stuffed into plastic bags.
They didn’t trifle with their order. They never did at The Greenleaf Car And Carriage Inn.
“Steak,” said Kathryn. The waitress nodded.
“Steak,” said Martin.
Before the waitress’s order pad was even shut he was jabbering, making one of his Yankee money comments.
“Would you believe it? The first time I came here the club sirloin was three dollars. Now it’s thirty dollars.”
Kathryn had heard it all before. But she had picked the Greenleaf for reasons other than the history of the club sirloin. Good reasons too. None of their guests had stayed there.
“A whole other zero. How many years has it been?”
“Stop,” said Kathryn, not wanting to reminisce at the moment, to fall into a zone that would bring up all the moved-out children and the nest now empty. “Stop worrying about the bill and drink.”
They sipped their martinis—straight up with olives, gimmick-free. No chocolate, no peach. Not even vodka instead of gin. Ever.
“I have a confession to make,” Martin said. “When I was down with Abby—the time with the hair stuck in the sink—she made me try a Sake-tini in Soho.”
“And you being you, you hated it.” She hoped she was right.
“I’ve got to say I…” He had a look in his eye.
“You? You won’t even eat sushi. You say it looks like bait.”
Then Martin said he had had toro too, and maguro and hamachi—and more than once—at this little place on Tenth Avenue way down, near where Abby went to check out sample sizes. He started to say more, but he stopped his mouth with a handful of oyster crackers.
When they went to the Greenleaf they always had clam chowder and oyster crackers before the steak. This was, after all, Cape Ann on the clam flats, and they had both lived here all their lives.
They had argued ever since they met over who was the bigger townie. Martin said it was Kathryn because she came with the antique store in the barn by the marsh—as had her mother before her-selling time-worn milking stools and rusted andirons. She knew it wasn’t so because she set up at shows all over the country—Santa Fe, Seattle, McCormick Place in Chicago—so who was he kidding? Wasn’t he the one who pored over the Town Crier to save six bucks on a snow blower, then drove his F150 and trailer across to Plum Island to pick it up? Talk about townie. This was a man who still kept a ten-trap lobster license.
Until Abby was snapped up by Barney’s on Madison to buy couture, Martin never even drove down to Boston, let alone New York. Maybe once or twice for a Bruins game. Why, Boston had been his world capital. The Custom House was his Eiffel Tower, forty miles away.
But all of a sudden he had a frequent flier card.
Kathryn had always been the flier, the only flier. Twice a year she scoured the London markets. She had everybody’s business card. As for Martin—in her view he had that one thing, the ultimate yokel instinct—a sixth sense that told him which clammer’s widow had a Queen Anne candle stand down in the cellar. He could bend the zoning rules just so; play the town building inspector like a violin. He was fearless around sump pumps, live wires and falling horsehair plaster. He fixed boilers and parking tickets and variances. He fixed it so she could run her business.
The waitress cleared the plates and brought the dessert list.
Martin chewed the last gin-soaked olive. They hadn’t bothered with wine. “You know what I like about this place?”
She continued staring at the dessert list, although she already knew it by heart. “I know.”
“You don’t know. You think you know.”
“You like it that their steaks are even better than yours. And that it’s the exact same steak they served twenty years ago. And that you bet they even have the same meat supplier they had back then.”
He picked his teeth with the edge of the sugar pack. “No. See, you don’t know…”
“Martin, what’s got into you? Since when do you like wearing shiny shirts?”
He paused, but that was all. “What I like about this place,” he said, “is how it has that dinnertime feeling at night. White everything. Then you come back in the morning and the room is like a waffle house. A total makeover. How do motels do that?”
“Did you put something on your face? You look tan.”
His reply was a mutter and she left it at that. She changed the subject once, twice, three times.
Each time she skirted the only thing she really wanted to talk about and really dreaded talking about.
The house. Or whatever it was.
The dwelling they occupied.
The reason her shop ticked along so well was the size of the inventory she kept to back it up. And the reason she could keep such an inventory was they warehoused it in their huge hulk of a home. Every piece they sat on, ate on, slept in, only stayed under their roof until the shop had space for it. The whole thing turned over every couple of years. His idea, his scheme, the numbers guy. Millions for defense, not a penny for the tax collector.
It had been different when the girls had been there; then even when they’d come and gone, like migratory birds. Their chaos made it homey, in a way. Now they were just gone. Suddenly she and Martin were living in a collectibles showroom.
She looked soulfully at her empty cocktail glass, then up at him.
“Let’s stay here tonight,” she said. “Right in the Greenleaf. What do you say?”
“Just check in? Like…”
“Don’t get your hopes up. I just want a good night’s sleep.”
“Now you have six bedrooms to sleep in. Four-posters, Sheratons, Hepplewhites. Everyone’s flown the coop. Meg’s in a honeymoon suite in Sedona. Nina’s in Maui. Abby’s buying little black dresses for Barney’s. You’re like the Queen of Sheba.”
“You just don’t get it, Martin. You’re such a brick.”
“Was that a b?”
“I’m not laughing. I’m pretty lonely right now.”
“Listen, you just had a double wedding, that’s all. It’s not a hysterectomy. Meg and Nina are…”
She thought of the reeking flowers. “You want everyone in the Greenleaf to see me cry?”
“And what about Abby? There’s still Abby.”
A crude shot, that hysterectomy thing. “Still Abby…What about Abby, what about her?”
“You still get to marry her off.”
“She’s already married—to her job. And Manolo. And Jimmy Choo. Ever hear of them?”
She was stunned by his answer. “Yes I have,” he said, with a little twist in his voice. “I’ve also heard of Narciso Rodriguez.”
This from a man who used to think L.L. Bean was fashion forward.
The waitress had her pencil ready. Usually they finished off with Indian Pudding. Tonight Kathryn just wanted another drink. How could she tell him that the house felt even lonelier with him in it. There was something about just the two of them.
“Don’t you have notes to write? All those guests.”
“The mother of the bride—brides—always has notes to write. And what will you do with so many rooms, besides list them as line items to screw the IRS. We have a ballroom, a billiard room. You don’t dance, you don’t even play billiards.”
“But I am starting to cook,” he said. “Tomorrow I’m going to smoke a brisket. Better be hungry.”
“What is it about you and the Food Channel? You used to watch golf.”
“What do you care? You’re eating better.”
“Better? I wouldn’t say better.”
She didn’t want an iron chef in her house, even if it freed her up to read about marquetry and veneering. Why couldn’t he stick to cooking the books? And to handyman stuff—taping sheet rock and cleaning out the roof gutters. They could eat in the Greenleaf every night for all she cared.
“Martin, I don’t want to go home…” with you, she wanted to say, home with you. But she left it on her lips.
And this time he did more than pause. His face took on that political look, the aura he donned making office stops at town hall.
“Look, I have a business proposition. In a couple of days I’m going down to see Abby.”
“You just saw Abby. You helped her move to Chelsea.”
“That was three weeks ago. Now she wants to get the lighting right. The shelves and the entertainment center too. You know what electricians cost in Manhattan?”
“So you’re going to be there with your little tool box, right? Martin the fixer…”
“Listen, Abby doesn’t have time…”
She flared—hot cheeks and cold hands. “What about my time?”
“You never complained about it before...”
“Before? You weren’t on the LaGuardia shuttle before. Now it’s every three weeks. All of a sudden you’re flying more than…”
“She’s your daughter too. Do you want to hear my idea or don’t you?”
“Where does Abby take you when you’re down there? What the hell do you do?”
She was climbing the decibel scale. He looked around. “Calm down. You know Abby. What we do mostly is shop, sometimes window-shop. She’s in the business. Shop, shop, shop.”
“Mostly for her, yes. Look, you can’t work at Barney’s and dress like a waitress at the Greenleaf.”
She pictured Abby perched at Bumble and Bumble, getting the same cut as some new Prague model, taking calls on her pink cell phone. Martin in the outer waiting area, trying to make sense of GQ, examining a shelf of male exfoliants. Her cocktail glass felt empty to the point of barren. Kathryn swigged the water—at least it was the same color as gin.
She stalled until the newly poured drink—no olive this time, just the good stuff—was in her hand. Then she let him tell her about it. Abby’s idea that was going to make Abby into the next Kate Spade. She was working it out on the sly, using the Barney’s computers. She had a small factory lined up in Toulouse, a bigger one in Nantong. She knew awesome people, a dresser at the Met, a cutter for Blumarine. They were all gung ho, her little rag-trade gang. What would kick-start it would be a space…where they could sip and snip and smoke and brainstorm.
“And of course you’ve found one, is that what you’re telling me?”
His voice got that same smirk as when he had dropped that name, Rodriguez, only not Alex the ballplayer—Narciso the whatever. “I’ve been sniffing around. There’s this space way down and over. Down at the docks. You couldn’t even call it a loft—yet. They had a fire; it’s under three inches of soot. Squatters love it, but…”
“You can make it work. Because you’re...”
“It’s about square footage, lumens, this code and that. All it takes is time and elbow grease. A little money…”
He answered and, as usual when he did his numbers dance, her focus went elsewhere. Right to that iridescent shirt he had on, it almost hurt her eyes. She pictured him in that shirt and more: A wig with red streaks, low-rise pants and pointy shoes. Dogging around with these fashionista kids all over lower Manhattan in the dead of night. Boys, girls, lady boys. Everything touched up but his nose hairs, still gray and curling out like tusks. So desperate…
“Abby has your instincts,” he said, in his courtly-but-backroom tone. “She’s an entrepreneur. You should be proud.”
“Who said I’m not proud of Abby, That’s not…”
“Abby’s a concept person, like you. The last thing she wants is…”
“I know what Abby wants. What do you want, Martin?”
“I want to start splitting my week…”
“Splitting your week?”
“The space is a shambles. I need permits, you know. I have to learn the territory. Not even the elevator…”
“So you want to live there. In New York…”
“Half the week. Maybe a few weeks straight at first…”
Why couldn’t he buy a sports car? Go to Red Sox Fantasy Camp? Why this?
“You know you look ridiculous? If there ever was a man born to wear polar fleece it was you.”
“You keep talking about me. Maybe your problem is you. Ever think of that?”
“I’m staying here. Right where I’ve always been. You’re the one who’s…splitting.”
“Splitting the week I said. For now. For a while.”
“Why don’t we call it what it is. And I’ll tell you something else.” She had his attention—and that of a few others as well. His new tan seemed a little green. He had the nail of his right index finger between his teeth. With his other hand he took her hand. First contact of the night.
She yanked her hand away. “Why don’t we start splitting tonight. Why wait?”
Heads turned as she stood up and moved off. She could have made it just a ladies room stop but decided no, keep on going. And she left him there—with his shiny shirt and odd tan and the martini glasses—and barged through the Greenleaf dining room into the motel part and right up to the registration desk.
Alone in her tidy little colonial room, she closed the blind on the irksome red glimmer of the vacancy sign. She thought of him back in the huge showroom house, sunk in the death reek of the flowers from the double wedding. She thought of him running around and packing up, maybe wondering how he got her to make it so easy.
Paul Silverman has worked as a newspaper reporter, sandwich man, olive packer and advertising creative director. His stories have appeared in South Dakota Review, The North Atlantic Review, In Posse, The Pedestal Magazine, The Timber Creek Review, The Front Range Review, The Adirondack Review, The Paumanok Review, The Summerset Review and others. Byline Magazine and The Worcester Review have nominated recent stories to the Pushcart Committee. New work has been accepted by Tampa Review, The Jabberwock Review and Jewish Currents.
Paul's last contribution to VerbSap was Lali Pops.
Photo of leopard pumps courtesy of Beth Collins, England, and moreguefile.
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