MÈRE BIMBO: Bimbo, the mathematical proof
She was wearing something terrible: a white cap-sleeve t-shirt under a black cotton jumper, and clogs. He suspected that the t-shirt was in fact a dickey sewn into the jumper. As for the shoes, he never wanted to see Mara in anything like them again. Her clipped hair was growing out in a weedy sort of way, and she looked thin. “Are you eating?” he said.
“Oh, well, I’m on a diet.”
“You know, I’m a little bit Rubicon.”
“According to Levin.”
“But, Mara—” Étienne was disturbed. “You’re the perfect weight for your height. You couldn’t carry those things around if you didn’t have a little bulk.”
“Those two things.”
“It’s too European,” she said. “Levin says. It’s a European look, you know—more voluptuous.”
“Levin’s bony little ass has never even been to Europe.”
“Actually, I think he did try to go to Cannes one year.”
“Too bad they have a dress code—you have to be wearing human skin.”
Jean-Louis came in, carrying a large book. “Do you want to show him the article, mademoiselle?” he said.
“Oh, yes.” She took the book eagerly. It was one of her custom-bound scrapbooks, stamped with the words 1996 NEW YORK TRIP. “We just had this put in. It’s the first thing in the book. What do you think?”
ET saw the words “Upstairs at the Empyrean.” “I read it,” he said. “Very nice.”
“Isn’t it?” Mara looked over the article. “The man was so nice. Really nice for a reporter. You see this part here where he calls Morty my date? That really tickled us. And it says I look chic.”
“Uncustomarily chic,” Etienne said.
“Listen, here’s a word I don’t know. Quondam? What is that?”
“Quondam legal counsel—that’s like you’re a quondam Playboy model.”
“I don’t do that anymore,” she objected.
“That’s the point. You did it once, that’s one time, that’s quondam.”
“I did it more than once,” Mara said.
“That’s just the word, okay? I’m defining the word.”
“Okay, don’t be so touchy.” She pointed to the little drawing of herself that accompanied the item. “Isn’t that adorable? Of course I wasn’t wearing anything like at the reading. Morty says this is a big coop.”
“Mara,” said her son, “do you not find anything disturbing about this article?”
“There are things we would have changed if we had approval. But Morty says you can’t get approval at a magazine like this. He said that’s part of the deal.”
For her sake, ET tried again. “You don’t grasp something negative about the overall tone?”
“Just maybe the headline.”
He looked. “ ‘A bimbo resurfaces’?”
“Yeah. I don’t know why they have to use that word, do you?”
“I just don’t care for it. It’s so . . .” Not being very practiced with words herself, she took some moments to come up with: “Ignorant.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I mean it ignores—”
“I mean, Mara, what do you mean? You are a bimbo.”
She shook her head. “Not really.”
“But it’s indisputable,” Etienne said. “Not in doubt.”
“I know what indisputable means.”
“Then don’t dispute it. It’s like saying Levin’s not a yid.”
“I think you’re wrong,” Mara said.
His four least favorite words. “Okay, I’ll prove it to you,” he said. “You’re blonde, you have big breasts. You were on a TV show about outer space where you wore tight clothes and didn’t have a lot of lines. You were on the cover of Playboy three times. You got married to a rock musician with a drinking problem, then you got divorced and married him again. And you wear stiletto sandals and strapless white leather mini-dresses. Q.E.D., okay? You’re a bimbo.”
The mortified red of her cheekbones showed through the tasteful maquillage. He noticed the rings on her neck, like wires encircling it, and the coarsening of skin around her nostrils. These things repulsed him, and he once again had the feeling he’d had on the bus with Charlie—that time was run by criminals who roughed you up and dumped you out of a moving car. “That’s not a very nice thing to say to me,” she said.
“I’m just pointing out a fact. It’s not nice or not nice.”
“And I don’t think that you should bring Lion into it.”
He couldn’t believe he had made her cry again. “I’m sorry, all right? I’m sorry I upset you.”
“Is there anything you want?” Mara said in a stifled voice, sitting upright. “Because maybe you should leave.”
That night in bed Legs lay on her side and he lay behind her, holding her tightly, his hands clasped over her belly. As if her warm and funny body were a stimulant, he felt the growth of a hundred tiny tendrils of affection, sprouting out of him and crawling over and around him and binding him to her like a fantastical weed. “So I think I’m in love with you,” he said.
“So,” she said. “I never would have guessed.”
“You think it’s bad for me, being in love with you?”
“How could it be bad when it feels so good?” said Legs.
So good he wanted to lie there forever, pressing his unseeing eyes against the velvet of her back.