The Ballad of Lisa and Lacey (Part IV)
For Part III click here
Paris had been fun, but it was the river Lacey remembered. Later, Cote D’Azur was too noisy and crowded and dancing, and when they went back to Paris, it was too short, too sad, too stilted. So, it was the river, long and lazy, that Lacey saw when she closed her eyes. The gliding evening light turning into night. The world around them fading away into shadows and stars and shiny rippling fingers that trailed along beside them. And the two lines of endless water spreading out behind them like the silver wings of a great dark serpent, pushing them forward and swallowing their tracks. And they were together alone in the shallow darkness as if no one could ever find them there. So, in the late evening they took their coffee on deck, which was surprisingly cold, and talked until the steward suggested brandy (he always suggested brandy) and then brought them each a blanket so they could remain there in the huge, whispering night. Over the years, Lacey had rewoven those nights into a single thread, hopelessly knotted and twisted together, but for her it would always be Lisa. Elegant, not delicate, impossible to unravel with maybe a single beginning but certainly no perceivable end.
“When we get to the Riviera, let’s dress up and go someplace expensive and eat caviar and drink champagne until dawn?”
“I’ll unpack my finest blue jeans.”
“I’m sure they have dress shops in Cote D’Azur, Lace.” Lisa said, “I can see you in something slinky and black — cut down to here. You can borrow my silver chain and… we’ll do your nails and let’s get your hair done?”
Lisa hadn’t had her hair done since her aunt did it for her in middle school.
“I’m not a Barbie?”
Lisa paused and looked at Lacey.
“Of course not.”
“I’m Barbie. You’re Skipper.”
“Skipper? Like from Gilligan’s Island?”
“No, Skipper — Barbie’s little sister. Didn’t you have Skipper?”
“No, I must have missed that. We were poor people. All I had was Barbie. I didn’t even have a Ken.”
“Poverty’s a bitch,” Lisa said, swirling the brandy glass in the palm of her hand.
“I don’t know,” Lacey shrugged, “Seems like a good idea. There’s lots of jobs.”
“No, really? Business Administration? You’re not a bean counter.”
“Yeah, I am, actually. I — uh — I — this might sound weird, but I just love economics. Don’t laugh. It’s cool. The thing is a degree in economics doesn’t get you anywhere, so I thought I’d get into it, with something that pays the rent and see where it goes.”
“Good idea, I guess, but you should do what you love.”
Lacey couldn’t help herself.
“Is that what you do?”
“Of course.” Lisa spread her arms into the night.
“Okay, next year you can be Skipper. The mother-daughter thing hasn’t really worked, has it?”
“Yeah, where do you want to go?”
“Not at all. Aren’t you having fun?”
“You graduate next year. Let’s take a month and go to Italy.”
“Whoa, I’m a bit lost. I thought this was your annual romantic…” Lacey opened her eyes wide, gritted her teeth and frantically pushed her hands back and forth without touching.
“Well, I never did it that way, but okay.”
Lisa held up her hand and stopped Lacey.
“Look around you. You’re in France — on a boat — floating down the Rhone, snuggly warm, drinking cognac by candlelight under the stars. How much romantic do you need?”
“There was a scandal when I was in high school. You’ve never lived in a small town, Lace. Believe me, small towns thrive on scandal. Anyway, I got married very quickly. He was from an old family and I was from a rich one, so everybody was happy. Three years later, I was a miserable, bad housewife with two kids. My father was dead, my mother had a nervous breakdown, my brother was busy losing the family fortune and my husband decided he wanted to be a dentist.”
“What did you do?”
“I broke his nose!”
“Oh, my God, Lis!” Lacey laughed out loud and put her hands to her face.
“I didn’t mean to. It was instinct.” Lisa set her glass down. “I was bending over, loading the dishwater, and he came up behind me and grabbed my ass. I had one of those Telfon pans in my hand, and I just turned around and let him have it. Bam! Knocked him cold. There was blood everywhere. It was just a total disaster.”
Lacey was still laughing.
“Anyway, Bert was really good about it. He told everybody he fell down the stairs.”
Lisa picked up her glass and sipped the brandy.
“After that, we kinda had an arrangement. But it occurred to me that the only way out of the mess I was in was to quit being the dutiful daughter. So I got my mother to sign over her shares in the company, and I booted my brother out.”
“Wow!” Lacey was still half laughing.
“Good thing, too. The company was going under. I had to work all the hours that God made just keep it going, get mom back in the land of the living, and put Bert through dental school. But it was the least I could do. He still can’t snorkel properly.”
The two woman giggled.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get my job back. Tony likes me.”
There was a pause.
“Not like that! Well, maybe he does. But I don’t. Anyway, they always need people, so after my exams I’ll probably work full time again — for the summer. It’s a shit job, but it keeps me from sponging off the parents.”
“Do you need money?” Lisa stirred her coffee and set the spoon down.
“I don’t wanna do that, Lis.”
“Neither do I, but I thought I’d ask.”
“Call it a graduation present.”
“Come on! I owe you like a million dollars now. I can’t!”
“Of course you can! All you have to do is say yes and buy some decent luggage. Rome! Florence! Venice!”
“Here comes the steward; we’ll ask him. See what he thinks.”
“No! Lisa, no!”
Lisa straightened up in her chair.
“Madam,” he said, setting down the brandy, “Mademoiselle.”
“Monsieur, s’il vous plait,” Lisa spoke in rapid “Roma” and a word or two, but not much else. When she was finished, the steward answered and they both laughed.
“What did you tell him?”
“I said — no, I’ll tell you next year — in Rome.”
“Lis, I can’t say yes. A lot of things can happen in a year. Who knows? Maybe you’ll meet somebody.”
“I doubt that.”
“You know what I mean.”
Lisa lifted her brandy with her palm and warmed it in her hand.
“Okay, I’ll leave it alone. But let’s do this: I’ll send you a Christmas card with the itinerary. Bert’s probably going to take the kids skiing in Canada again this year, so when you get the card, call me. How’s that?”
“Okay,” Lacey said, feeling mean.
And it was the next day or maybe the next that they landed at Cote D’Azur.