"Courtney? It's Marie."
"Oh, hi." I glanced at my wall calendar uncertainly. "Is this a new service you're providing for your clients? Calling to tell them their hair must look ratty by now?"
"No," said Marie, evenly. "I got that curl enhancer that you like -- that stuff in the black tube? And they're discontinuing it. So if you want some, stop by and I'll give it to you wholesale."
"OK." I wrote on a fluorescent orange Post-It: Marie, mousse, less $. "Marie? Is everything all right?" I knew she had the organizational skills of an executive secretary, but calling a client to advise them of mousse shipments seemed a little odd, even for her.
"Everything's just fine. After 2 o'clock, then. Goodbye." I heard her other line ring and the crash of some trendy music bursting through her cavernous salon. And a tiny wail from Davia, her baby, before she hung up.
"Right on time," she said, waving her hand toward one of the electric yellow chairs in the shape of a hand when I showed up the next day. "The baby's down for a nap in the back room. Sit."
"How's business? And the baby? Gavin?" I asked. She was bending over a box, rummaging through the contents. "Thanks for calling about the mousse. I guess it is important to have the correct products, what with all this humidity lately."
But Marie wasn't listening to me. "Here," she said, tossing me a tube. "Knock yourself out. Business is fine. I'm filing for divorce. Davia just got a new tooth last week, so she's been cranky." She sat opposite me. "Do you want a cup of coffee? I just made some."
I stared at her. "Marie?"
"He's been fucking someone. A cocktail waitress from the bar. For the last six months. Since the baby was 3 months old. Do you take cream?"
"Wait a minute, wait, wait." Marie and Gavin couldn't break up. They'd been together forever, through everything. They had the best relationship in the world. She was sane, he was calm, they were mirror images of each other. "But, but, I thought ... OK. Jesus, what happened? He told you he was sleeping with someone?"
She handed me a steaming, lime-green ceramic cup. "Oh, no," she said with exaggerated seriousness. "No, that would be too normal, too healthy. No, I had to have one of our friends drop me a hint that they'd seen him and this chick together. Many times. In his car. So I confronted him. And he admitted he'd been seeing her, and sleeping with her. So I said, 'OK. Fine. Now you need to end it. You should have told me before, but end it now.' And he says to me, 'No.' Just like that. No. And then he gets all emotional, and says I hadn't been having sex with him and what was he supposed to do? And then he says: 'Baby, I think I'm in love with her.'"
"Hang on," I said. "I'm totally confused. I thought you said he could have an affair. That you even talked about who he would do it with."
"I said he could have an affair," she spat out. "I didn't say he could fucking fall in love. I didn't say he could sneak around behind my back! So I said, 'Listen you asshole, whaddaya mean you think you're in love? You aren't fucking thinking at all. What about our daughter, you jerk? You're gonna give up your daughter for this 30-year-old cocktail waitress with a tongue pierce who lives with her mother and drives an early '80s Toyota Tercel with license plates that read 'Dream On'?"
I shuddered. "She doesn't really."
"Oh yes she does." Marie sat back quietly. She unsheathed her scissors and absently began opening and closing them in the air, listening to the metallic wheeak-snip, wheeak-snip.
I was mute. "You've stunned me into silence, Marie. You really have."
"It gets worse. 'Her or me,' I said to him. 'Decide.' And he says, 'Baby I don't know if it's going to work between you and me. I can't give her up.' Then he says he'll try. And for two weeks, he doesn't see her, so he says. And one night, I'm home, waiting for him. It's 2 a.m., and nobody's answering the phone at the bar, and I'm going nuts. So I start trying all these different passwords on his voice mail. I'm obsessed, see?"
"I see, I see."
"And the first password I try, I get in. See, I know Gavin. I know how his mind works. And there's all these messages from her! Gooey, love crap: 'Baby, it was so good to see you yesterday and I love you so much too.' He'd been lying to me the whole two weeks."
I was starting to feel a little ill.
"So I confront the asshole. Three separate times he changes his voice mail password, and three separate times I break in, and ream him out each time. He says to me, incredulous, 'How can you keep figuring out my passwords?' And I tell him, 'Because I'm smart and you are so fucking stupid.' The first one was part of our home phone number. The second, his social security number. The third, I'm thinking Hmmm, what does Gavin think about if he's not thinking about work or sex? Of course: G-O-L-F. Bingo. Now he's disconnected the voice mail altogether."
She heaved herself out of the chair and began to spray Windex on the floor-to-ceiling mirrors. "But the last straw was finding out that he's been fucking her in his car. In his Honda Civic! That was it."
"God," I groaned, "how did you find that out?"
"I asked him," she said flatly. "The chick lives with her mom, so I wanted to know where he'd been doing this. And for some reason, that made me lose what little respect and hope I had left. I said to him, 'Not only are you a liar and a snake and a dumb jerk, you're also cheap. You could have at least rented a motel room.' I just told him today that I was filing." She jumped up, trying to wipe the tops of the mirrors. "Anyway, I thought you might find this interesting."
Well, yes. But I also felt uncommonly sad. "Marie," I said, "I'm on your side here. But you did tell him to go have an affair. Remember? You kind of set this up."
"I did not set this up. There was a time when I wanted nothing more than for Gavin to stop hassling me about sex." She sat down heavily and picked up her scissors again. Wheeak-snip, wheeak-snip. "If this chick was a fuck, I could let it go. But this love stuff -- forget it. I don't need it and neither does Davia." As if on cue, the baby made a gurgling wail. "I was just reading Emerson the other day, something along the lines of be careful what you wish for, because you most certainly shall receive it."