Friday, August 15, 2014

Trading Up

By Bettyann Moore

This was how it was supposed to go:

To Richard, it would be like any other Friday evening. He would come home from a long day at the office doing whatever it was that he did there, and JoAnne would have martinis waiting. She, of course, would be dressed to the nines; she always was. They would chit chat a bit while they drank one or two cocktails, then Richard would go in to shower. Ava, their housekeeper (JoAnne hated the word “maid”) would have Richard’s clothing laid out for him, though JoAnne had picked them out, choosing something a tad less casual than usual. Richard wouldn’t notice. 

While he puttered around in the bathroom – Richard always took his time, and there were certain functions he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, accomplish in the office restroom, even though he had his own – JoAnne would call the Winstons to see how the preparations were going and whether the guests had arrived. The Winstons had two housekeepers, so JoAnne was reasonably certain all would be well on that front.

After he was freshly shaved and showered, Richard would then take over at the bar and make the two of them his special concoction that he had dubbed “Dick’s Six” as it contained six different types of alcohol. The next day the couple would be leaving for their summer cottage in Aspen – Ava had already been dispatched there to prepare its ten rooms – so they would undoubtedly discuss the trip, ostensibly to be made in their aging, but trustworthy, Mercedes. JoAnne, though, had other plans for the trip, which Richard wouldn’t discover until later that evening. She could hardly wait for the moment when she would lead him out to the Winston’s patio where he would no doubt ogle the mint 1964 red convertible Mustang on the street below. JoAnne’s stomach did little flip-flops when she thought about the look on his face when she pulled the shiny set of keys out of her Coach purse and dangled them before his eyes. While Richard had long coveted such a vehicle, he had always pooh-poohed owning one, not wishing to look like a cliché, a 60-year-old man going through a midlife crisis.

JoAnne had news for him: the day 20 years before when he dumped his frumpy first wife for a newer model – her – he was already a cliché. At the age of 40, JoAnne was painfully aware that she was the same age as Deena was when Richard had traded up (as she liked to call it). She did everything she could to make sure it didn’t happen to her: she worked out, she kept things interesting – in the bedroom, of course, but also in their social life – and she kept an eye on possible competition. She was an adherent to the philosophy of keeping “your friends close, but your enemies closer.” That’s why she’d invited Yvette – the new 20-something intern at Richard’s firm, and Mai, the svelte Asian beauty with the mean serve from the tennis club – to Richard’s 60th birthday party. It was also the reason for the muscle car. It showed that she was confident in herself, and that she trusted him.

It was too bad that she’d had to invite Deena, the ex, and her sullen brat as well, but, again, it would show Richard her equanimity. The fact that might look like JoAnne was rubbing hers and Richard’s good fortune – their love – in Deena and the girl’s faces didn’t bother her a whit. It might be said that that was why she’d invited them in the first place. It certainly won’t be misconstrued as trying to cozy up to Missy, the 30-year-old girl-child; she’d given that up years before. Missy still slouched, never smiled and refused to wear make-up, even though JoAnne had done everything she could to make her understand that it was necessary in this world to put on a good face. She’d even offered to send her to finishing school, a gift the child outright refused and Deena seemed to resent. JoAnne secretly thought the girl was a lesbian.

Nonetheless, it would be a good evening and Richard would be delighted by the party, the gift and JoAnne’s obvious efforts. Afterward, she’d suggest a romantic moonlight drive in the new car (she’d bought a new Hermes scarf for the occasion). It would be perfect.

This is how it really was:

JoAnne broke a fingernail as she was pulling on her sexy new knee-high blue suede boots and Richard was late. Very late.

When he came in all rumpled and grumpy, he blamed his tardiness on heavy cross-town traffic. At least JoAnne had had enough time while waiting to fix her nail. She hoped no one would notice that it was fake. She kept a smile on her face, despite the fact that the poor Winstons would have to entertain 60 guests a lot longer than anticipated before she and Richard showed up. Then Richard refused the cocktail she offered him.

“I’m cutting back,” he said. “Maybe you should, too.”

That stung, but JoAnne continued to smile.

“Good idea, sweetie,” she said. And though she was dying to take a teeny, tiny sip, she poured the contents of the shaker down the bar drain. She eyed her Rolex.

“The Winston’s will be waiting ...” she hinted.

“Oh, god, do we have to?” Richard said, yanking off his tie. “Can’t we miss one Friday night card game?”

JoAnne had to think fast.

“They’re expecting us, dear,” she said. “Judy phoned today and went on and on about this new shrimp dish she was preparing – she knows how much you love shrimp – and there will be a new couple, the Bloombergs, yes those Bloombergs, who’ll be joining us. They just moved into the building a couple of weeks ago. Didn’t you always say you would love to get your hands on that family’s portfolio?” JoAnne laid it on thick, then added, “But it’s okay, love, we can just pop in, make our excuses and go. You must be tired, poor dear.” She went to stand behind him and massaged his shoulders, being extra careful of the fake nail. What if he refused to go? She wondered.

Richard groaned, but whether out of frustration or from the massage, JoAnne couldn’t tell. She’d never seen him so out of sorts.

“No, no,” he said. “We’ll go. It never hurts to meet new neighbors.”

“So true,” JoAnne agreed. “I had Ada lay out that lovely new silk shirt of yours.” Darn, she thought, why’d I go and say that? She mentally shrugged. Better than telling him to get his ass in gear, I guess.

Richard got the hint and headed to the master suite. When she heard the bathroom door shut and the water go on, JoAnne called Judy Winston. As far as JoAnne was concerned, Armand Winston had definitely traded up when he married Judy. She was young and decidedly lower class (she still made her own meals for pity’s sake), but definitely teachable.

Judy told her that all was well; only a handful of guests had arrived so far. That worried JoAnne, who’d hoped everyone would be there before she and Richard arrived. She hoped they wouldn’t run into anyone in the elevator or in the halls. Sometimes, she thought, people take being fashionably late a bit too seriously.

She sighed and quickly dialed the car service to make sure the Mustang would be delivered on time. It would be, she was assured for the fourth time that day. JoAnne didn’t like leaving anything to chance.

Finally, Richard appeared in the doorway, hair slightly damp and a tuft of toilet paper clinging to his cheek where he’d cut himself shaving. He wasn’t wearing the new silk shirt. Instead, he was sporting an ancient Western white and blue plaid with pearl snap buttons.

“Where in the world did you dig that up?” JoAnne practically shrieked. Why, oh, why hadn’t she thrown out that shirt and others like it eons ago? She was sure it was something Deena had bought for him – off the rack.

Richard looked proud and a touch defiant. “It still fits!” he said, ignoring the alarm in her voice.

“But, darling,” JoAnne said, “it’s frayed around the cuffs and not very fashionable ...”

“Tough,” Richard said. “We’re just going upstairs. The Winstons won’t give a flying fig.”

“What will the Bloombergs think ...”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

“But ...”

“JoAnne, give it a rest, would you?”

JoAnne bit her tongue. What had gotten into the man? She decided that this was a battle that she could easily lose, judging by his tone. He could just refuse to go at all. She gritted her teeth and smiled.

“Well, let’s get a move on, then, my cowboy,” she said, trying for light and funny. Even to her ears, it sounded a bit shrill.

Richard walked over to the bar, picked up the carafe of Drambuie, then set it down again. He sighed heavily.

“What’s the hurry?” he said, turning to his wife. “How long has it been since we sat down and just talked, you know, about real things?”

JoAnne was about to scream. Now he was going too far. She put her foot down.

“Richard, seriously!” she said. “We talk, we talk all the time.” He opened his mouth to disagree, but JoAnne wouldn’t let him. “Honey,” she soothed, “we have that nice long drive to Aspen tomorrow. We can talk all you want to, okay?”

“About Aspen ...”

JoAnne didn’t want to hear it. Not then, maybe not ever, whatever it was.

“Darling, we really must go!” she said, heading for the door and hoping he’d follow. “Judy called while you were in the shower,” she lied. “She bought a new card table and Armand can’t figure out how to set it up. You’re so good at that kind of thing.” JoAnne couldn’t wait to be on the other side of this whole evening; Richard sure would feel foolish, and contrite.

“Okay, okay, I’m coming,” Richard said, trailing behind her.

The ride up in the elevator was a quiet one. JoAnne checked and rechecked her make-up in her compact; she couldn’t bear to look at Richard in that horrid shirt. Richard kept his hands in his pockets and kept jingling his keys. A few more minutes, JoAnne reminded herself. Just a few more minutes. And Richard be damned, she was going to have a drink first thing, maybe two.


JoAnne hoped the photographer she’d hired had captured the look on Richard’s face when the door opened, especially since she had missed it. She was too busy scanning the faces of the beaming guests and, yes, posing a bit for the camera. By the time she looked at him, he was being drawn inside looking bemused, a tad shy and maybe just a bit irritated. But he was smiling, thank goodness. She headed to the bar while Richard accepted congratulations from the smiling assemblage. She couldn’t help but notice Missy, though, who couldn’t bother putting on a happy face for her own father on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

Not bothering to order a mixed drink from the cute bartender, JoAnne threw back a couple of quick shots of Jameson. The crowd was starting to gather in the small groups they felt most comfortable in. She kept her eyes on Richard who – surprise! – had a drink in his hand. He was still surrounded by a few guffawing tennis cronies. She couldn’t help notice, though, that his eyes kept wandering across the room.

JoAnne turned back to the bar and took a long look into the mirror on the wall behind it until she pinpointed the area where Richard’s furtive glances fell. It wasn’t hard to pick her out. Yvette was wearing a slinky, downright trashy red silk dress, slit from hem to thigh. She kept tossing back her long, black hair. God, the woman and her clothes were such a cliché! JoAnne caught a glimpse of Deena standing in the corner with Missy like two high school dance wallflowers. Deena, though, was watching JoAnne watch Yvette. JoAnne averted her eyes and ordered another Jameson. Grand, she thought, one thing I don’t need is that woman’s pity. And had she seen Missy actually smirk? She downed her drink and went in search of her husband, who was now heading the line at the buffet.

“Darling,” she said, taking him by the elbow and steering him away, “did you like my little surprise? I hope you’re having a good time.”

“Well, I definitely was surprised, that’s for sure,” Richard told her. He looked back at the buffet. “I really wasn’t quite done getting food ...”

JoAnne waved her hand and kept leading him across the room. “Oh, there’s plenty where that came from,” she said. “You won’t go hungry. Oh, look, there’s Yvette, let’s go say hello, shall we?”

JoAnne air-kissed the woman’s cheeks while Richard stood holding his plate looking, JoAnne thought, uncomfortable and completely out of place in the tattered shirt. Good, she thought.

“Yvette, dear,” JoAnne gushed, “where did you get that incredible dress?” She turned to Richard, who was stuffing a shrimp puff into his mouth. “Isn’t it incredible, dear?”

“Murffle lofle,” was all Richard could manage. One of JoAnne’s best-kept secrets was her days as a waitress. Her timing was still excellent.

She made a show of rolling her eyes, causing Yvette to look down at her feet. “Men,” JoAnne said, laughing, “especially old men; you can’t take them anywhere!” She threw back her head and laughed, making sure Deena and her brat noticed.

Embarrassed, but unwilling to make a scene, Richard stomped off to the buffet. The two women watched him go.

“Poor dear,” JoAnne said, “I don’t think he had his nap today.”

Yvette opened her mouth, then closed it. “Excuse me,” she finally said, “I really must find the washroom.”

JoAnne nodded regally and wandered back to the bar. She had a mind to flirt with the young bartender; she’d show Richard a thing or two. Instead, she ordered another scotch and watched her husband in the mirror. He’d been cornered by Deena and Missy Sourpuss. It didn’t seem possible, but Missy was scowling even more than usual. Deena and Richard looked none too happy, either. Maybe she’d finally told them she preferred women. JoAnne cackled aloud at the thought and threw back the rest of her drink. She spied the Winstons over by the fireplace and thought she’d better thank them for their generosity and lay on the praise. She wove her way drunkenly across the room, though to her mind, she was sashaying down a runway.

“You’re trashed!” Judy Winston crowed as JoAnne air-kissed her. “Armand, we might have to cut off our friend here.”

JoAnne narrowed her eyes. “I’m merely pleasantly tipshy,” she slurred. She decided to take back all the nice things she’d thought about her hostess. She was still crass.

“Is it here yet?” Judy asked.

“Is what where?” JoAnne said, wishing she still smoked.

“The you-know-what.” Judy looked around and didn’t see Richard. “The car.”

“Oh, crap, the car!” JoAnne started rifling through her pocketbook. “They were going to text me when it was here.” There was lipstick, a compact, a pillbox, keys … but no cell phone. It was probably still on the counter at home.

“Hell,” JoAnne said, “I’ll just go look. It’d darn well better be here by now.” She made an abrupt about face, nearly tipping over in the process, and headed toward the patio, noting that the Winstons still hadn’t replaced its god-awful sliding stained glass doors.

As she fumbled with the door latch, JoAnne was practically bowled over by Missy who was coming in from outside. The young woman instinctively reached out to steady her, then dropped her hands when she saw who it was. It was all JoAnne could do to stay upright.

“Ha!” Missy said, just inches from her step-mother’s face. Then she smiled an odd, sneering smile. “Ha!” she said again, and hurried past a confused JoAnne.

“Witch,” JoAnne mumbled. She stepped out onto the patio, getting yet another surprise.

Richard and Deena hurriedly pulled apart, but JoAnne was certain they had been locked in an embrace. She was drunk, but she wasn’t that drunk. She knew what she saw. She looked from one guilty face to the other and knew instantly what was going on. How could he?

“JoAnne, I, we ...” Richard said, holding out his hands to her.

JoAnne turned up her nose and brushed past him to the railing. With as much drunken aplomb as she could muster, she forged ahead.

“Richard, dear,” she said sweetly. “Come see your present.” She gestured to the street below where the red and white Mustang gleamed under a street light with a giant red bow perched on its convertible top.

Warily, Richard approached while Deena tried to make her getaway.

“Stop!” JoAnne commanded. “You need to see this, too, Deena dear.”

“Wow!” Richard said, leaning over the railing. “JoAnne, really, that’s just too much.”

Other guests were filing out onto the patio, oohing and aahing.

“No, Richard, it’s not too much,” JoAnne said. “It’s just right.” With that, she calmly plucked a stoneware planter off the cement railing, raised it over her head and hurled it over the side. She was amazingly accurate as the heavy object smashed through the top of the car, covering the white upholstery inside with shards, flower and dirt. “And so was that,” JoAnne added.

As one, the guests on the patio took two steps away from the crazy woman and uttered a collective “Oh!” as the pottery hit its mark.

“JoAnne!” Richard cried, “stop it! You’re acting crazy!”

“No, Richard,” JoAnne, still calm, said. “I don’t think so.”

With strength she didn’t know she had, she picked up a wrought iron chair and heaved it over the side as well. The cushion fluttered to the sidewalk, but the chair bounced heavily off the hood of the car, leaving a huge dent.

No one, not even Richard, had thought to stop her. A crowd started to gather on the street and the sound of approaching sirens filled the night. The sound reached JoAnne’s ears and she stopped as she reached for another heavy planter. Instantly sober, she scanned the appalled looks on the quiet guests’ faces. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Head held high, she walked back inside, the crowd parting before her. She shut the apartment door quietly behind her. A murmur rose up on the patio.

“Look!” Judy Winston said moments later as she surveyed the mayhem on the street below.

JoAnne approached the damaged car. She pulled a set of keys out of her bag, unlocked the door and slid in, dirt and all. She gunned the engine, then squealed away from the curb just as police cars rolled up across the street. 

No one ever saw her again.

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