Rita, to save Ishtar’s paper-grading hand, lettered all of the Christmas cards at the kitchen table. Ish scored strawberries at the counter, her spine bending like a reed, her hands furtive and fast. Sly and the Family Stone purred from the radio. Rita drew a perfect O, an eternal silver loop. Whenever her calligraphy pen skipped, or she misspelled a word, she crumpled the card in one hand and added it to the pile of mistakes. Last night Ish had dreamed that no one came to the party. Rita dreamed that a tsunami slammed into their building, snapping it in half.
Rita crossed another name off the list. “Don Massinger,” she said.
Ish sat down across from Rita. “For Don…” She brushed a strand of sleek dark hair behind her ear. Rita could see that her eyebrows were misaligned, probably due to Ish’s waxing them in the bathroom after a glass of wine, and the imperfection made her even more adorable. She wanted to crawl across the table and draw Ish’s mouth inside of hers.
“I’d say ‘Happy Holidays, Don. You have a good heart and we feel blessed to have you in our lives.’”
“That’s kind of intimate, isn’t it?” Rita sniffed. “I mean, ‘You have a good heart?’”
“My family said that all the time,” Ish said. “That’s my grandmother’s phrase.”
“How about just ‘We feel blessed to know you?’” Rita begged.
“Sure. Say what you want.” Ish turned her back. Her knife slipped and tapped against the cutting board.
Rita held her breath as she wrote the lines. The words came out coiled and tight, a sentiment expressed through a clenched fist.
Rita had never been in love like this before. Ish made all the other women in her life recede into childhood. Next to Ish she made sense, for the first time, as one half of a whole. When she pictured Ish greeting Don in the hallway, throwing her arms around him and air-kissing both cheeks, she felt the floor vanish beneath her. Grand emotional gestures terrified Rita, who resisted holding hands, and to whom “I love you” was as hard to say as “I did it, Your Honor.” Rita watched her raise a strawberry to her lips. But if Ish had a choice—woman or man—couldn’t she slip out at any time, move to another city, get married, and disappear?
[Continued in Confrontation 111]