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"TAOS DAWN"
SUSAN KEISER


An Introduction of Consequence

E.K. Smith

She sits there demurely in her dark grey dress and glossy string of pearls, barely talking and trusting no one. I wonder if my bright highlighter-yellow suit, offset by my frayed auburn hair, offends her, but I am too chicken to ask her what she really thinks of me. There are many things I want to tell her, but I cannot bring myself to extract the words from my dry throat. For one thing, I wish I could communicate that yes, I do love your son and no, I will not be birthing his child in less than nine months. And yes, my lack of manners and worldly knowledge are a product of my crappy upbringing, and no, I didn’t actually think the dinner you prepared for us was all that good or all that extravagant--- rather, I thought that the caviar-filled lobster rolls reeked with intentional pretention, which can easily border on disaster when served to someone who grew up on cheap frozen pizzas, dehydrated chicken noodle soup, and fruit punch from huge plastic BPA-ridden jugs, most of which had been left out of the fridge for a day or two too long.

Instead, we sit there quietly until William tries again with all the emotional strength he can muster, given the circumstances, to entice us to delve into some kind of woman-friendly topic, like seasonal fashion or interior d├ęcor, so that he can feel unbridled enough to go join his father and brother in the den for some ritualistic football-related voyeurism. His optimism is like a trick candle, obstinately reigniting itself with every blow, but I can foresee that by the end of the evening, all he’ll be left with is a puddle of wax and a speck of ash.

Hoping to improve the situation, I flash my teeth, dragging my cheek muscles up as high as I can, and comment on how William’s eyes are the same color as hers. The fact is that they are the same stark blue that used to frighten me before I learned to love them. She lights a cigarette and sucks at it like it’s a snorkeling tube. William and I watch her intently, as if we’re in some kind of trance. Slowly, I become aware that music is floating in through the window from the darkness outside. Maybe I’m a little drunk, but I hadn’t noticed it before. The noises that are the byproducts of her inhaling and exhaling the smoke blend right into the cadence of the tune. It makes me nervous. William explains that the neighbors must be having a poolside party. The music is a little jazzy sounding, but I can’t quite place it in any standard genre . . . it’s not what we’d play at a pool party where I come from, but I think they both already know that.

William wrinkles his nose and studies my face for a minute. When he realizes that I notice the scrutiny, he asks me to pass him the pitcher of sangria sitting to my left. The thick crystal handle is covered in condensation, which is apparently to be expected during the damp warm nights of the South. It slips from my grasp, crashes ostentatiously into the glass-top table we’re sitting around . . .  and when I look down, my feet are islands in the middle of a puddle of bloody wine, orange peels, and glass shard icebergs. My yellow skirt has been adorned with blotches that resemble Rorschach inkblots. I am afraid to look up.

I decide to take it one step at a time, starting from her shoes and moving my gaze steadily upward. It’s all chaos and disarray until I get to her pearls. The pearls are perfect. I remember putting a string of pearls in my mouth when I was a young girl. I was amazed that they has a subtly sweet taste. In hindsight, I wonder if that flavor may have been a result of the chemicals they were treated with, but at the time, I thought I was tasting the neck they usually hung upon. I take a deep breath. The pearls start to bounce against her chest. Gathering all my courage, I take the next step and look up at her face. She is laughing. I don’t believe what I see, but she is laughing. William joins in. I sit silently in shock. I feel like the skin on my toes is getting wrinkly in the puddle below.

Naomi regains her composure and says, “The first time I went to meet Elliot’s parents, they had invited us for brunch. I tripped and spilled a mimosa all over his mother. I may not like you very much, and I will always be clear and honest with you about how I feel, but I think this is a good omen.”

William looks pleased and smug. I don’t know what to say . . .  Fuck you, you conceited whore!  would just about sum it up, but instead I reply, “I’m glad you think so, Naomi. I’m so sorry about all this. I hope you’ll consider letting me borrow your pearls for the wedding.”

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