Revenge Should Have No Bounds – Chapter 15 (64-74)

[If you have not already done so, you must
read the Introduction
before proceeding.]

Prologue 001-002     Chap 1 003-005     Chap 2 006              Chap 3 007-008
Chap 4 009-010       Chap 5  011-013     Chap 6  014-017     Chap 7  018-019
Chap 8  020-023      Chap 9  024-027     Chap 10  028-031    Chap 11 032-041
Chap 12  042-048     Chap 13 049-055    Chap 14  056-063

Revenge Should Have No Bounds  (64-74)
Chapter 15: Lovers

During the months of August through early November her private life was a delicious dream for Mazarine;  a few weeks before Thanksgiving it began to morph into a desperate nightmare.

At first Yukiko was the sweetest imaginable lover and friend, and they did everything together.  She was solicitous, caring, interested.  She praised Mazarine, told her repeatedly how much she loved her, complimented her on her dress, her looks, her intelligence.  Even though Mazarine had a full schedule with Aspasia’s, Yukiko never held it against her.  She knew that Mazarine was good at what she did and that she was in constant demand, and Yukiko did her best to schedule around her lover’s appointments with the many men in her life.

They did not move in together but kept their apartments and had their assignations at the Momiji.  Since the year of her birth was 1965, Yukiko had fixated on room #1965 as ‘their’ room, and that is where they came together about twice a week for their passionate encounters.  Yukiko would sometimes sleep over till the next day, but Mazarine never did.  They split the cost of the room, which Yukiko had managed to reserve a week ahead for their two days.  Only once in the time they were an item were they thwarted in this regard, and that was when — much to their private amusement — a international convention of gynecologists had in effect commandeered the entire hotel.

For Mazarine it was the most delicious fall of her life.  In mid-September the weather finally turned cool, and they spent many a happy hour just walking the streets of the city in the late afternoons.  They window-shopped, they walked in the rain beneath a huge red umbrella, they went to movies in the afternoon.  Often in the evenings they would eat supper together at some bistro or new ethnic restaurant, either before or after attending the latest play.  They both liked sushi, Mexican food, steak, fish, pastries.  The latter they would take with lattes in the late morning at one of two outstanding cafés located in the city’s central hotel area, one a part of a chain headquartered in Paris and called La Croissanterie, the other a Swedish bread bar named Bakelsen that served traditional sandwiches, rolls, and a vast variety of tartlets and whipped cream confections.  When they felt like steak, they invariably went to a place simply designated as Beef and both began with a chilled shot of Stoli, then ordered the filet mignon medium rare with curled string potatoes, crisped asparagus tips, and the super-Caesar salad, all washed down with a vintage Bordeaux or some classy California cabernet.  With a good California chardonnay or a French sauvignon blanc like Pouilly-Fumé, Mazarine liked swordfish, Yukiko, tuna.  Yukiko preferred tacos, Mazarine, enchiladas – and they both drank chilled Dos Equis Amber cerveza with limes.  Little by little as the weeks went by, they each learned from the other about foods, wines, desserts, coffees.  They took turns so that one night it was Mazarine who selected the restaurant, suggested the dishes, ordered the wine, and Yukiko paid;  next time it was Yukiko who did the honors, and Mazarine paid.  If it was that kind of night, they ended up in room 1965, and if it was not, they air-kissed outside the restaurant and each took a cab to her own place.

They were lovers, but they also were fiercely independent.  They needed their space, as the saying goes.

In a city filled with world-class museums they whiled away many a happy hour in those cool halls admiring the world’s art, frequently discussing the merits or demerits of this or that famous painting.  Yukiko seemed enchanted by Mazarine’s knowledgeable familiarity with the great exhibit of Spanish genre paintings and still lifes from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that had made such an impression in the city’s art community that summer and fall.  Mazarine in turn was thrilled to have Yukiko lead her intellectually through the Japanese Pavilion of the highly regarded Oriental Museum and listen to her observant comments about the Chinese influence on scroll paintings, the nature of pre-modern woodcuts, and glazed pottery from all ages.  Both women had a strong esthetic sense, and they delighted in feeding each other’s appetites.

One of their greatest pleasures was to shop together for clothing, makeup, and jewelry.  They shared a refined judgment in these matters, and the high-class emporia and expensive boutiques of the city more than satisfied their demanding tastes.  Yukiko, with her dark complexion, favored bright colors and sharp contrasts, and orange-red was her favorite color.  Mazarine, whose skin was lighter and whose hair was more brown than the obsidian black of Yukiko’s, was more comfortable with less splashy shades.  A light purple was her color.  They had themselves made up at exclusive cosmetics counters and critiqued the results until the applicator got it right;  then they bought the foundations, blushes, lipsticks, perfumes – and left a big tip.  They were both into clothes, and they both had the bodies to wear the latest fashions.  When they did themselves up in a serious way, they turned heads, both of men and of women.  They secretly enjoyed this public adulation, and while they donned an air of indifference as they walked down the sidewalk, in the cozy privacy of room #1965 they chatted endlessly about this or that gawker and what in all likelihood might have run through his – or her – mind.  “He wanted both of us, naked except for long nylons and high heels,” they would tell each other and burst into loud giggles as they rolled around in each other’s arms on the cool sheets of the king-sized bed.

They were both readers.  Mazarine talked about her Greek and Latin favorites to Yukiko, and Yukiko introduced Mazarine to the passionate Midare-gami  of Yosano Akiko, to tanka poetry in general, and, of course, to Murasaki Shikibu.  Each was unfamiliar with the literature that fascinated the other, and in this way they enjoyed a genuine intellectual exchange on literary matters that went beyond their deep personal involvement.  When the season finally chased away the dripping humidity of August and early September they would often spend hours sitting on one of the many benches scattered around the public parks of the city.  They would watch the teens on rollerblades whiz by, young mothers pushing strollers with babies, the frisbee set on the sloping swards of green, couples on expensive bicycles cruising the paths, listen to the hum of insects.  Their desultory talk would jump from local politics (which neither of them was much interested in) to last night’s television drama to possible plans for the weekend.  These comely hours on park benches always turned into afternoons of easeful indolence and unstructured chatting.

Mazarine was happy to have found a friend who could satisfy both physical and cerebral needs, and no one was more surprised than she that it had turned out to be a woman.  Of the men she saw, very few excited her sexually, a prime and most notable exception to the rule being Agung, the Sultan of Java.  But Yukiko did.  It felt right, genuine, natural.

Even after they had made the commitment to become lovers they did not become lovers for several weeks.  Yukiko had taken immediate charge of this period and subjected it to what she called the ‘dragonfly cycle’.  It was not something Mazarine had ever heard of, but Yukiko explained it in great detail.  And as it dawned on Mazarine what was at stake she could not help to make comparisons with words and acts her ardent lover Agung had described to her not that many weeks ago.  Maybe it was an Eastern thing.

The ‘dragonfly cycle’ could only have been devised by a true voluptuary like Yukiko, tinged as it was with a kind of narcissistic masochism.  A précis might be this:  the release of passion is fleeting, but the journey to climax, the ladder to the top, prolongs desire and multiply enhances the discharge.  In likening the whole process to a dragonfly Yukiko had wanted to capture something of the saccadic hither-thither-ness of yearning as it flits desultorily above the pond of normative life in its restless quest for the object of desire before, vacant of all juice and puissance, its whirring wings are finally stilled and, a sere and empty husk, it falls exhausted to earth.

She prescribed a rigorous regimen that was to take them somewhere between two and three weeks to work through.  It was only during this period while they were together that Yukiko askes Mazarine to take a working holiday.  She insisted that if Mazarine maintained her regular schedule of seeing clients it would interfere fatally with the whole purpose of the dragonfly cycle.  Mazarine thought it an odd request, but she complied.

The first evening they went to room 1965, a Tuesday, they would not undress, not touch, not even speak to each other.  They would agree that Yukiko arrive first, and an hour later Mazarine was to let herself into the room.  Without words, taking off only their shoes, they would lie down on their backs on the huge bed, covers still on, and, apart, not sleeping, simply listen to the other’s breath and inhale her scents.  This would last about an hour, and then Mazarine would get up and leave.  Yukiko would leave shortly thereafter but might also stay the night.  Three nights later they would meet again.  This time the covers would be pulled down to expose the crisp white of the bed’s sheets, and Yukiko would be lying in her underwear and bra.  Mazarine, wordlessly, would undress to the same state and lie down next to Yukiko, careful not to touch her at all.  They would again lie for an hour or so and ‘learn’ the presence of the other, sense the emotional energy, key in on her essence.

Mazarine had initially considered the whole thing bizarre but was willing to indulge her lover-to-be.  After that Friday’s silent meeting, however, she began – she thought – to get some deeper sense of what Yukiko was up to.  Without a word being said or a touch encountered, she had in fact felt herself get wet and quite aroused.  Back in her own apartment, lying in bed, it had been hard for her to fall asleep, her head filled with images and fantasies of the dusky Yukiko lying on the bed, marked out as it were by the damask white of her panties and bra.  During the quotidian interstices in the dragonfly cycle even the gentlest sexual self-touching of any kind whatsoever — much less masturbation — was strictly proscribed.  Violation of this stricture would render the whole exercise ineffectual, and a promise by Mazarine to abide by this rule had been extracted with great seriousness, as it in turn had been given to her.  For this reason alone she did not give in to her strong need for release.  Yukiko’s point about the dragonfly cycle was becoming abundantly, agonizingly clear.

They spent a lot of time together during the weekend, dining both Saturday and Sunday evening at fashionable bistros.  Saturday they were both amused at being hit on several times by young attractive men with that sleek moneyed look of gen-xers who were on the fast track.  They flirted mildly but deflected persistent interest by claiming to be old college roommates who had not seen each other for many years and now needed to catch up on family and busy lives.  The next night they waited over an hour to get seated at a new restaurant featuring Asian-French fusion that had gotten a favorable write-up in the Sunday entertainment section of the local paper.  That morning had been a dazzling day with a precipitous drop in humidity, and, along with the many other amblers out for the gorgeous weather, they sauntered lazily in the beautiful park behind La Ville chitchatting about this and that, carefully eschewing any and all reference to — or comments about — the dragonfly events of last Tuesday and Friday evenings in room 1965.

On Monday they again met in room 1965, without word, without touch.  Yukiko was lying in the dimming light of dusk with only panties on.  Her breast were voluptuously exposed, tilted to the sides, and Mazarine found it hard to take her eyes off them as she unhooked her own bra and lay gently down next to but apart from Yukiko.  The picture of Yukiko’s white softnesses with their small dark areola and the centered nipples, erect and taut, rushed excitedly through her head like an agitated tiger confined in a cage too small for her energy.  They were to concentrate on the skin tonight – visualizing it, imagining its taste, catching its scent, feeling its heat.  Only when she finally got up after an hour or so did Mazarine again gaze at Yukiko’s breasts, and she felt a kind of choking well up in her throat.  She never took her eyes off them as she dressed and, as she imagined had been Yukiko’s indubitable intent, could not stop thinking about what would be revealed next time when she would be wearing no panties.

For both women, on fire with yearning, the next three days passed in a daze, a writhing lust uppermost in the mind of each, knowing that for all the deliciousness of next Thursday, it would not be until Sunday that the fiery release would actually take place.  Each fought their hands, seemingly endowed with an irresistible urge to touch places they had agreed not to touch until Sunday.  Mazarine had never thought of passion as an unreleased exercise in restraint, in patience, in deferral, but she realized with a shivering frisson of anticipation that nothing could crank up the final intensity of its liberation more spectacularly than precisely those qualities.  For her it was a different way of thinking and feeling about sex, ardor, passion – almost more a matter of mental than physical involvement.  As with Agung a few weeks ago, but greatly leveraged.

Mazarine did not recall much of Thursday except the pained slowness of its passing, until evening arrived and, twice showered, she could retreat to room 1965.  She was wild with desire just to see.

Yukiko lay in the half dark, and her eyes, glittering in the multiple lights of a candelabra she had filled with tapers and lit, followed Mazarine’s movements as she unhooked her bra and peeled down her tight undies.  Yukiko’s crotch was thickly covered with dark hair that spread up from the vee and rose halfway up to the belly-button like an inverted cone.  Its tufted blackness caught the candlelight and was set off by the creamy off-white of the soft ventral flesh that shuddered with each breath she took.  Mazarine was already wet and wanted desperately to touch Yukiko but she held back.  Instead, before lying down on her back next to Yukiko she returned her intense stare, thrilled that her own nakedness so obviously excited her partner.  For an hour that was as agonizing as it was delicious she lay staring at the ceiling, where a seamless film starring Yukiko’s naked body in a variety of Kama Sutra positions unspooled in an endless loop.  She could smell Yukiko’s reciprocal excitement, and a couple of times she felt that just a small movement on her part in Yukiko’s direction would have triggered an immediate consummation.  But that was not the way of the dragonfly cycle.  Both women were admirable in their adamantine restraint in the face of the harsh breathing that suggested a near betrayal of the mind’s resolve by the tyrannical craving of the body.

Mazarine was still shaking as she walked hastily down the hallway from room 1965 to the elevator banks.  If she could only hold out three more days, until Sunday.

Their climactic get-together was explosive.  By prior agreement at the initiation of the dragonfly cycle there were now no inhibitions on what might or might not be done.  When Mazarine entered room 1965 Yukiko was standing near the bed without any clothes on.  She had lit the candles, and their luminosity played off her skin’s shadowy curvatures and put Mazarine in mind of the softly undulant sand dunes of a desert landscape.

“Have you touched yourself?” Yukiko probed.

“No.  Almost, but no.  I’ve honored our deal.  And you?”

“Same,” Yukiko said.  “It was hard, yes, but I stuck it out and I’m so charged now I think I’m going to explode.”

Mazarine undressed quickly, and the two women hugged each other, a small groan of joy escaping from each.  Yukiko pulled back and looked hard at Mazarine’s breasts.  With the thumb and two fingers of each hand she encircled each nipple and tugged at it, rolled it, depressed it into the soft flesh.  Mazarine threw her head back and gasped with pleasure.

“I want to introduce you to a close friend,” Yukiko whispered.

She took Mazarine’s right hand and placed its palm on the dense hair covering her mons and curved the fingers down and around between her legs.  “This is Lotus,” she announced somewhere deep in her throat.  “Remember her silky wetness and always be her best friend.”

“Yes,” said Mazarine breathlessly, stroking Yukiko steadily, and elicited a shuddering response.  “Now,” she continued, taking Yukiko’s hand and positioning it comparably on herself, “this is Orchid.  She will be your friend always.”

At this point the two women, entwined, collapsed onto the white sheets.  They embraced and kissed and fondled, and then they burst out into giggles.

“Orchid and Lotus!” Yukiko exclaimed.

“Lotus and Orchid!” Mazarine shrieked.

And they rolled apart from each other and went off into another fit of mirth and amusement, and then turned over again and held on to each other tightly.  They made harsh love and languid love and, somnolent, fell into sated sleep in each other’s arms.

A few hours later they woke up and called room service.  They were both voracious and ordered a feast of food and wine, and shortly before midnight, after a lingering kiss at the door, Mazarine left for her own apartment.

The two months that followed were heaven for Mazarine.  She had never been more affirmatively happy in her life, and she started to dare to think that this could go on and on.  She still worked, though on a reduced schedule that Michelle was willing to indulge.  The two women met for love-making about once a week, a pattern that satisfied them both – not too long to wait so as to become uncomfortable, nor too often to promote satiety.  Depending on the client, Mazarine sometimes got turned on.  And by her own admission Yukiko’s cunning hand helped her get off in the interim periods.  Neither hid anything from the other, and they were each happy with this arrangement.

But they also got together for the sheer pleasure of each other’s company.  They became familiar customers at some of the better restaurants in the hotel area of the city and the many eateries that dotted the academic landscape around the university.  They went to plays downtown and attended evening lectures at the university.  Long walks in the city’s parks were a favorite way to pass time with each other on the many glorious weekends of late September and October.  Neither was interested in bar-hopping;  they enjoyed a drink and each was knowledgeable about wines, but the bar scene was not for them.  Nor were they into the gay clubs, of which there are a fair number in the city.  They were both dismissive of this kind of ghetto thinking and sexual identity politics, and they had no desire to involve themselves ostentatiously in its flamboyant theatrics.  Anonymously they contributed money to various gay and non-gay social causes – AIDS hospices, battered women, the homeless, children at risk, anti-addiction programs.  Each enjoyed movies, both seeing them and afterwards discussing the stories and the actors’ realizations of their rôles.  Since both were readers, books were always a topic of conversation.

Indeed, it was on this unexpected hook that hung the tiny beginning of the relationship’s apocalyptic end.

For the first dark little snake to slither into the erotic Eden where the two women had taken up their hedonistic residence was an inconsequential argument about, of all things, literature.  Within weeks the fissure had grown into an unbridgeable chasm.  It took place on the first weekend of November, a point in the calendar that had not yet fully finished being autumn and yet not quite begun turning into winter, no longer that but not yet this, a liminal stage that well prefigured the imminent status of an imploding relationship.

They were sitting in an upscale coffee house drinking latte and munching on almond biscotti, talking, reading, people-watching.  Yukiko was looking through the book section of the city’s biggest Sunday edition, and Mazarine was rooting around in her book bag.  At last she pulled out her copy of Tacitus’ Annals, which she had finished several months ago but never bothered to put back on a book shelf in her apartment.

“Why are you always reading that old book?” Yukiko asked her.

Mazarine was surprised by the question and its untoward edge of hostility.  “Well,” she chuckled, “first of all the book isn’t old.  It’s a modern edition of a classic, and it’s the classic that’s old.”

Yukiko did not, oddly, join in her amusement.  Her face unmoved, she replied, “Don’t be snide.  You know what I mean.”

Mazarine was genuinely taken aback.  Snide?  Hey, what was going on here?  “Come on, Yukiko, what’s the matter?”  She kept her voice calm and non-confrontational.

“Nothing.  I just asked you a question.  Do you have a good answer?”

Mazarine thought about that.  “Of course.  You know I studied classics, and Tacitus is one of my favorite authors.”

“That’s no answer.  It’s like saying strawberry is my favorite ice cream.  Descriptive, but not explanatory.”

Now Mazarine started to become alarmed.  Clearly, something had set Yukiko off, and she tried to figure out what it might have been.  Had she done something wrong, said something to offend her?

“Well, in the case of this work by Tacitus, the Annals, it’s an opinionated but intriguing political and social history of the Julio-Claudian emperors.  During the first century A.D. in Rome.”

This innocuous comment triggered a snit in Yukiko.  “Tacitus, Julio-Claudian, Sappho, Homer, Sophocles!   Why are you always talking about these old guys.  Who made them classics?  Who says they are?”

“A lot of people, a lot of eras.  Nobody sat down and appointed them classics, Yukiko.  And for the record, Sappho was not a guy.  She was a woman.”

“Don’t patronize me,” she shot back.  “I know that.”

Mazarine opened her mouth in astonishment.  “Patronize you?”

“Yes.  So Sappho was a woman.  They’re almost all of them men.”

This was certainly a new Yukiko to whom Mazarine had never been introduced before, Yukiko the gender-conscious feminist.

“So?”

“Are you a traitor to your sex?”

“Where is all this coming from, Yukiko?”  Mazarine was upset.  She put her book down on the table and hunched forward towards Yukiko.

“You should read a real classic.”

“If these aren’t classics, what are?”

The Tale of Genji,” she said triumphantly.

“I’m not familiar with that,” Mazarine said.

“Of course you are.  We’ve talked about Murasaki Shikibu.  It is not Western, so you have forgotten.  Maybe you are a racist after all.  But it is a Japanese classic.”

Mazarine was truly astounded by the accusation of racism and simply ignored it.  “I remember Murasaki Shikibu, but I didn’t make the connection.  I’ll certainly get a copy of it and read it.  Then we can discuss it.”

“You’ll have to read it in English translation.  It won’t be the same.  But,” she added superciliously, “I suppose it’ll have to do in your case.  And I did speak to you about all of this earlier.”

Mazarine knew for a fact that she had not.  The name of the author, yes, but not the work, and certainly not the connection between the author and work.  Mazarine would have remembered.  But she elected to ignore the point for now.

“When was this … Tale of Genji written?”

“The eleventh century.”

“B.C.?”

“No, you silly girl.  We did not begin writing our history as Japanese until the seventh century A.D.  The Tale of Genji is from the eleventh century A.D.”

“Tacitus wrote this history,” she knocked the book on the table with her finger tips, “about six hundred years before that.  And Homer’s works are about nine hundred years before that.  Your classics is pretty much a late-comer, I would say.”

This was the wrong thing to say.  Yukiko’s body stiffened and her face turned grim and furious.  “So you think age equals excellence?  You haven’t even read The Tale of Genji.  By your own admission.  How can you say your works are better?”

“Listen, Yukiko.  First of all, they are not ‘my’ works.  And I never said they are better.  And if I can’t make such judgments because I haven’t read the Japanese work, have you read Homer and Tacitus?”

“That’s different,” she sneered darkly.  She got up and stalked off to the counter to order herself another latte.

Mazarine did not know what to do.  Part of her wanted to shake Yukiko, another part of her was eager to hug and hold her in her arms, and a third part prepared to cry.  What in God’s name was the muddled genesis of this madness?

Yukiko sat back down at their table.  “You should be true to your sex.  Murasaki Shikibu was a woman.  A woman is the beginning of Japanese literature.”  She gave her head a cocky nod in affirmation of this observation.  “What do you think of that?”

Mazarine could think of several answers, including the hurtful comment that things must have gone drastically downhill for the women of Japan in the course of the subsequent millennium.  But she chose prudence over ego and bit her tongue on that score.  “Literature is not a matter of man or woman or west or east, or black or white, or old or new, or whatever.  It is a matter of human beings.”

“Easy for you to say,” Yukiko countered cryptically.

“Yukiko, I’ve heard you say the very same thing to me in the past.”

“That was then.  This is now.”

“And what is now?”

“It’s a Japanese thing.  You could never understand.”

“That’s bullshit, my friend.  And you know it.  You should be ashamed of yourself, you know that?”

Mazarine had thought nothing could astonish her at this point, but she is mistaken:  Yukiko begins to cry.  Great, big wracking sobs, her shoulders shaking, people twisting their heads to take in this sad tableau and quickly turning away again.

“Please,” Yukiko burbles through her tears, “please forgive me.  I don’t know what came over me.  Please forgive me, little Orchid,” she says.

Mazarine’s heart melts like soft wax under a hot sun.  She gets up and walks around the little table.  “Little Lotus, little Lotus,” she said, rocking Yukiko’s head against her bosom.  “Shh, shh, everything’s just fine, little Lotus.”

At last Yukiko calms down and the two of them walk out of the coffee house arm in arm and head towards the Momiji.  In room 1965 they undress and, lying down on the cool sheets, just hold each other close.  They drop off into sleep, and when they awaken three hours later the incident is in the past and they never speak of it again.  But Mazarine is disturbed and cannot ignore the fact of this little fissure in their happiness.

As the fall wore on, Mazarine saw some of her important regulars, among whom was the mayor of the city, Roy Rany.

“Michelle tells me you’re cutting back,” the mayor said after one of their assignations at The Griffin Group.

“Just taking it easy for a while,” she smiled back at him and caressed his cheek.

It was the second Saturday in November and they were sitting on the bed in post-coital lassitude chatting about the city, people, their lives.  Mazarine had been seeing Roy for probably five years now, and she had always liked him as a person.  For a politician, there was something engagingly ingenuous about him, a kind of little-boy quality, an earnestness.  At least that was how he came across to her in bed, and she allowed that he might be a different animal as a politician in full operational mode. But that was a side of him she did not see nor was it one that she, only peripherally interested in politics, sought to explore.

“Well,” he laughed, “I’m glad you’re willing to see me.  Though I don’t know how much longer it can go on.”

“Oh?”  Long experience with the mayor had taught her this was sufficient prompting to get him to talk.  He loved to talk.

“I think my wife is getting suspicious.  And I know Bob Abernathy, my campaign manager, is suspicious.  Maybe he even knows.  Not much gets by him.  And he doesn’t like it.  He’s been on my case about this.  You know, I’ll be running for office again next year, and I can’t have any kind of scandal.  I’m a law-and-order and family-values kind of politician.”

He said this without any hint of irony, which is exactly what Mazarine meant by his boyish naïveté.  He knew that what he was doing was risky, yet he couldn’t seem to stay away from Mazarine – who wondered how many other Mazarines there might be in his busy and not always transparent life.

“I like you a lot, Roy,” she said.  “You know that.  I think you’re a sweet guy, a swell guy.  But I understand your position.”  She had the feeling he wanted her to advise him on a course of action.  “You have to do what you have to do, Roy.”

He sighed and let his shoulders slump.  His hand was resting on her thigh and he gave her a squeeze.  “Yeah, but it isn’t easy.”  A man shouldering the burdens of the world!  Yes, Mazarine thought, I like this guy all right, but I don’t understand him.  Or a lot of the other men who sought with her the fulfillment of fantasy and the validation of illusion.

She rubbed his shoulders and got up from the bed.  “I’m going to take a quick shower, and then I have to be off.”

“Right,” he said glumly, brooding about the unfairness of things.  “See you again next week?” he yelled into the bathroom.

“Just call Michelle and set something up, honey,” she shouted back and got into the shower.

When later that same day Mazarine and Yukiko got together for dinner, Yukiko was very much interested in Mazarine’s earlier client meeting.  Yukiko had never given her any problems about this aspect of her life, but in the last month or so she had started to become more and more eager for details about what happened at these meetings.  She wanted to know names, but Mazarine had made it clear the first time she asked that although she didn’t mind talking about the clients and what they did together, she would never reveal any names or hints of who they were.  At first Yukiko had seemed to accept this.

Today, however, Yukiko was looking for another argument.

“If you really loved me,” she said with a surly pout on her pretty lips, “you would trust me and tell me who you saw today.”

“But we’ve been through this, sweetheart,” Mazarine said gently, trying to mollify her lover but worried that Yukiko was pulling the pin on another fragmentation grenade.  “You know I can’t tell you any names.  Anything else you want to know, just ask away.”

Yukiko shook her head and gave Mazarine a sullen look.  “You don’t trust me.”

“It’s a rule my employer insists on.”

They were sitting in the semi-darkness of an upscale supper bar, and Yukiko stirred the cherry in her Manhattan.  She dangled it in front of her, opened her lascivious mouth and, popping the cherry in, snapped it off with a loud click of her front teeth.  “That’s what I think about your trust in me and your employer.”

“You’re being unreasonable, Yukiko.  Why this sudden interest?”

“You are the unreasonable one,” she said tightly, chewing away.  “And my interest is long-standing.  You just never wanted to talk about it.”

Mazarine looked around the room, a feeling of frustration and helplessness welling up within her.  She could sense where this was heading.  Somehow, over the past few months, Yukiko had little by little wormed her way into Mazarine’s personal life and now, it seemed, she was launching an attack of the professional side.  It really wasn’t about who she was seeing but about control, control and micro-management of the details of Mazarine’s professional life.

Mazarine did not want a scene.  She did not want to upset Yukiko.  But she needed to assert some kind of personal jurisdiction over her own life.  She could not allow herself to be swallowed up in the gaping maw of Yukio’s insatiable needs.

“And you still don’t, do you?” Yukiko noted.

Yukiko stirred the swivel stick in her drink but did not glance at Mazarine.  She hefted it and looked around for a waitress, who shortly put a fresh drink in front of her.

“So, what did you and Mr. Anonymous do?”

Mazarine, relieved, proceeded to tell her.  “Nothing special.  He’s pretty much a straight arrow, not into anything kinky.  A blowjob and then a straight fuck.  Pretty much wham bam, ma’am.  You know.”

“Did you use protection?”

“Always.”

“Did you get off?”

“No.”

“Have you seen this guy before?”

“Yes.”

“How long?”

“Probably four, five years.”

“Has he ever gotten you off?”

“A few times, yes.”

“Do you like him?”

“He’s not a bad guy.  Yeah, I like him well enough.”

“More than me?”

“Oh, Yukiko,” she said, putting her hand on Yukiko’s forearm, “you know that’s not true.  I love you.  I don’t love this guy, or any of the others either.  It’s business, honey. Just business.”

“O.K.,” Yukiko, the perfect passive-aggressive, said meekly.  “If you say so.  I guess I have to believe you.”

“Do,” Mazarine encouraged, and gave Yukiko’s arm a squeeze.

After a while, Yukiko asked her point blank what sex with her client was like.  “Do you like sex better with me?”

“There is no comparison, sweetheart.  None whatsoever.”

“But you haven’t really answered my question, have you?  Better with me?  Or with him?”

“With you.  Of course it’s better with you.”

Yukiko smiled slyly.  “Do I get you off every time?”

“Every time, Lotus,” she giggled. “Lots of times.”

Yukiko giggled and touched her hand.  “Orchid,” she mouthed and smiled broadly.

The gesture melted Mazarine.

As they sat in the shadowy room pleasuring each other with the cryptic code of lovers in public Mazarine did think about the difference between Yukiko and men.  True, Rany and some of the other guys sometimes did her get off, but usually not.  Yukiko always did.  Mazarine never ran fantasies about the men when she masturbated, but only of Yukiko and the ways of their love-making, and it was always Yukiko’s name that she groaned out loud when she climaxed, never the name of any of her clients.  With Yukiko it was always soft, mellow, slow, laid-back;  with men it was invariably intense, fast, rough, hard.  Maybe the sexes were wired that way.  Maybe Yukiko was not typical – there were, after all, many women who had women as lovers, and her own sampling was rather minimal.

Yukiko finally raised her head and made a blinking display of the tears gathering in her eyes.

“Do you still love me?”

“Of course I love you.”

“Are you mad at me?”

“No, honey, I’m not mad at you.  I love you.”

“Then why are you so cruel to me?  I can’t stand this any longer, the way you torture me.”  Her voice had risen several octaves and attracted some attention from people sitting nearby.  The waitress who had just delivered the fresh Manhattan hovered nearby anxiously, looking from Mazarine to Yukiko.

“Yukiko, please!”  Mazarine said.

“No,” Yukiko said, now in a very loud and shrill voice.  “No more humiliation from you.  Enough is enough.  You’re just a … a common whore,” she spit out and purposefully knocked over her drink.  Heads swung away from Mazarine in embarrassment as Yukiko rose up violently, overturning her chair, and marched deliberately out of the bar.

Mazarine sat very still at the table, decompressing, silently grateful that the blowup had been relatively mild.  The gentle susurrus of talk around her functioned as a protective cocoon allowing her to retreat into herself.  She wanted to think about her future with Yukiko, but this was not the time.  Now she should concentrate on getting through the moment.

The following Wednesday as Mazarine was sitting in one of the coffee bars near the university Yukiko called her on the cell phone, apologetic, wretched, abject, groveling.

At first Mazarine wanted to hear none of it.  Once bitten by a dog, the dog’s fault;  twice, her fault.  She had now witnessed two utterly erratic outbursts with only the most tenuous links to the reality of either situation, and it was scary.  She could not help recalling Yukiko’s earlier account of her relationship with the Malaysian woman, Su Lien Rahman, and the way in which Yukiko had virtually boasted of her triumphant debasement and cruel behaviors towards the woman.  Whom she then blamed for being a weakling and a victim who deserved everything Yukiko could stick to her!  Mazarine didn’t like putting herself on a par with that woman.  Time to stand up for herself, time to take a stand.  But Yukiko’s brand of narcissism was seductive, ingratiating, obsequious.  Coupled with streaming tears and rueful recantations the assault proved too massive for Mazarine to withstand its persistence.  The apparent sincerity of Yukiko’s contrition persuaded.

They met that Wednesday in room 1965 and made sweet love to each other, tender, solicitous, soft.  Yukiko was all that even the most demanding lover could have wished for.  The sheer physicality of the experience blurred the inconsistent repertoires of the previous weeks, and the two women floated along on a cloud of sexual delight and attendant companionship.  Mazarine came almost to believe that the literature incident and the coffee shop affair were bizarre exceptions to the established rule of their smooth and loving association.  Yukiko even bought Mazarine a tasteful gift, an expensive Hermès scarf of silk in shades of orange-red and reddish purple that accentuated the luminosity of her hair to an extraordinary degree.  Mazarine was genuinely moved, and her heart lightened.

As if further to cement their reconciliation, Yukiko invited her to meet her brother a couple of days later.  This took place at a Japanese tea house south of the city’s central hotel area.  Ojiro Mizushima was a good-looking man, some years younger than Yukiko, and taciturn.  He let big sister do most of the talking, and Mazarine got the feeling he held Yukiko in high esteem, perhaps even a kind of awe.  He deferred to her constantly.  Mazarine found it hard to draw him out, and he seemed content just to listen, nod politely, and smile.  But Mazarine was glad to have met him, for it bespoke a kind of commitment on Yukiko’s part solid enough that she was willing to introduce her to close family.

After they had parted company with him, Yukiko, laughing lightly, explained, “Ojiro is very bashful.”

Next week, on the nineteenth, Mazarine reciprocated.  She and Yukiko took the train up to Akers Pond for a two-day visit with the Capes.  Yukiko was on her best behavior, and she proved to be a great hit with both of Mazarine’s parents.  Although Crispin spent his days at the hospital, the three women had a delightful time, driving around the country-side and going for hikes in the forest behind the Cape property.  In the evenings they cooked at home and Mazarine’s father got a chance to learn more about Yukiko and her background and interests.  Yukiko was quite taken with her lover’s father, and they got along famously.  Mazarine could not have been happier at the outcome of this stay, and she promised she and Yukiko would soon visit again.  At the train station, both Crispin and Christy gave Yukiko a genuine hug, and Mazarine saw that Yukiko had tears in her eyes.

“You do not know how lucky you are to have such parents,” she said to Mazarine as the train pulled out of the station and began moving south.  It struck Mazarine as an odd thing to say, but then again she realized that she knew next to nothing about Yukiko’s own family situation.

All she said was, “Yes, I am very blessed with the parents I have.”

Their subsequent meeting with Mazarine’s brother, Craig, and his uptight wife, Lucinda, was not as joyful an affair, however.  They had made plans to meet at seven the next Saturday for dinner at a desirable French restaurant where reservations were hard to get.  Craig and Lucinda were sufficiently late that they lost their reservation and had to seek out another restaurant nearby.  “Baby-sitter problems,” Lucinda explained compendiously, and Mazarine filled in what she felt assured were the ghastly blanks regarding her despotic nephew’s tantrums.

The tense quartet waited almost an hour to be seated at the new place.  Mazarine could tell that Yukiko was less than pleased.  She would have taken this as a personal insult, disrespect by two corporate lawyers for the importance of her time, a slight perhaps against her Japaneseness by two Caucasian who were self-styled power-players.  Mazarine struggled frenetically to keep some kind of conversation going as they thronged and jostled in the bar while waiting for their table.  Lucinda was on edge and, Mazarine suspected, informed by Craig about the nature of the two women’s relationship, without a clue as to how to act around ‘people like that’.

It was awkward at best.

And so, like most people without great imagination, Craig and Lucinda took unwitting refuge in talk about what they knew best, the trials as it were and tribulations of corporate and fiscal law.  Mazarine, smiling and interjecting comments of feigned interest at various points in these oral screeds, did not fail to see Yukiko’s eyes glazing over and her mouth tighten into a hard, prim line of disapproving unresponsiveness, signals not readable by her brother and sister-in-law but all too familiar to Mazarine herself.  Everything that the stay with Crispin and Christy had been the dinner with Craig and Lucinda was not, and vice versa twice over.  After they had at last finished their painful dinner and could politely — and gratefully — take leave of each other and were out of hearing, Yukiko simply shook her head and repeated several times, “Just dreadful, just dreadful.”

They had booked room 1965, but they did not make love.  Instead they sat up half the night and drank and talked.  Or, rather, Yukiko talked.  Lectured, Mazarine reflected, might be a more accurate verb.  Yukiko was working on a bottle of good California Chardonnay she kept in the room’s small refrigerator and Mazarine had her large snifter and a bottle of Grand Marnier.  Excepting Mazarine’s parents, Yukiko got started on the down-side of the topic of family.  Mazarine had never heard her speak so poisonously about any topic – and by this time she had listened to more than one tract attesting to the lush inventory in Yukiko’s lexicon of invective.  She tossed forth almost as if in passing the information that her ex-husband was Fabian Darling, and it did not surprise Mazarine — as she might have thought it would.  Nothing Yukiko said or did these days could surprise her.  In any event, there was no time or room to expostulate while Yukiko was in full spate.  Clearly, the woman hated the very notion of family, and explained at great length that that’s why she and Fabian had never had children, despite, according to her, his desire for them.  She then used her ex-husband as a huge explanatory hammer with which to pound home her many nails of dissatisfaction in the crooked planks of vows, children, parents, partners, relationships.

“He cheated on me,” she announced.  “He mocked our vows.  He cheated on me with you, Mazarine,” she said, sliding suddenly into accusatory mode.

“Me?”

“Yes.  He was fucking you, for good money I might add, and then he met that Vietnamese bitch.  Then he divorces me.  But it was you who started it.  You gave him a taste of it.”

Mazarine shivered.  Was this going to turn into another one of those ‘incidents’ where Yukiko ended up laying off on Mazarine her difficulties and disappointments, whether imagined or real?  She wasn’t sure she could put up with another of these theatrical set pieces.  They were not amusing.  But this was the first time she had heard anything about any ‘Vietnamese bitch’ and wanted to know more.

“Hey, hey, Yukiko, slow down a little here.  You’re going too fast for me,” Mazarine said lightly.  “First of all, I wasn’t fucking your husband.  He was fucking me.  And I didn’t know he was your husband, or even that there was a you!  I didn’t go after him.  He came after me.  Let’s not forget that little fact.”

“Details,” she said dismissively.  But she calmed down.

“Details they may be, but not unimportant details.  I didn’t start anything, O.K.?”

“All right, all right,” Yukiko said and flapped her hand in the air.  She got up to refill her wine glass.  “Forget it,” she said with an assuaging smile.

“Let me ask you a couple of questions.”

“Go ahead.”

“What is your relationship with your parents?  With your father and your mother?”

Yukiko’s face darkened, and for a minute Mazarine thought she was going to fly off the handle again.  “Not good,” she said darkly.  “Not good at all.”

Mazarine waited for more.  But nothing more was forthcoming.  Yukiko was sitting in a small sofa and put one leg across her knee and began to swing it slowly back and forth.  Her head was lowered, staring at the carpet.  “I just don’t want to talk about that right now.  I just can’t right now.”

“That’s fine, sweetheart, no problem,” Mazarine said soothingly, suddenly reading significance into Yukiko’s cryptic remark on the train down from Akers Pond about her being so lucky to have the parents she did in Crispin and Christy.  She went over and sat down close to Yukiko, their thighs touching.  They hugged each other and kissed lightly.

“One more question, sweetheart?”

Yukiko nodded with half-closed eyes.

“Who is this Vietnamese woman you mentioned?”

Yukiko sat upright, blowing their moment of conciliatory intimacy.  She immediately became agitated, got up, started marching around the room and waving her wineglass in her hand and sloshing its contents on the floor.  “That one,” she sneered.  “Some little thing he’s run into.  Fifteen years younger than me.  And now he’s discarding me, like a … like some used-up rubber!”

“How long has he known her?”

“About two or three years.”

“And when did you get divorced?”

Yukiko appreciated Mazarine’s direction, and she smiled slyly at being caught out.

“All right, we got divorced in early 2000.  And he met her that fall.”  She stamped her unshod foot in the thick shag.  “Still, it’s the idea of the thing,” she said, but the real outrage was gone, like old air whooshing out of a flaccid balloon.

“Come here, baby,” Mazarine said and took her by the hand.  “Don’t make this thing into more than it is.   The Vietnamese girl had nothing to do with your breakup, and you know that.  Look, you and I got together after your breakup with Fabian broke, and so did Fabian and the girl.  Is that so bad?”

They were sitting on the bed undressing each other.  Yukiko rubbed her head against Mazarine’s breasts.  “I guess not, honey,” she said.  “Maybe I’m just really angry at your brother and his dreadful wife.  Cute ass, but dreadful.”

“Pshh, shame on you, hussy!”

They laughed and fell, skin to skin, into each other’s arms on the cool bed.  Holding each other, they soon slipped off into the welcoming arms of sleep, exhausted by the tense evening and the nightcaps.

It was rare for Mazarine to sleep over in 1965, and this was the first time she did.  Last night it had just seemed the right thing to do.  When they woke up around nine the next morning, they took turns brushing their teeth and taking a shower, and then lay in bed lazing, necking and chatting.  The room was bathed in the thin luminosity of early November and from their bed they could see patches of grayish clouds suggestive of snow scudding across the pale blue of a cold sky.  Mazarine had not seen the room in this light before, and she let her gaze roam.

The room was spacious, done in low-key tints, and plushly appointed.  A pale blue carpet with deep nap covered the floor, and in addition to the king size bed in which they were lying, there was an attractive ensemble in off-orange near the broad window consisting of a large sofa, an easy chair, love seat, and low-slung table of glass and metal tubing.  A smart escritoire in light wood with high-backed chair stood in one corner, tasteful paintings with Oriental motifs hung judiciously placed along the walls, and their bed was flanked at the headboard by two chests of drawers topped with heavy lamps.  Along one wall stood a large chest of drawers whose surface supported the smooth and sinuously curved sculpture of a weighty metal dragon stationed between two heavy porcelain vases.  The door to the large bathroom was partially open, and muted lighting spilled out across the carpet.  The overall effect was restful, and Mazarine happily buried her head in Yukiko’s hair, spooning herself tightly against the warm and silken body of her lover.

“Hey,” she whispered in the ear, “do you want to do the big Sunday brunch downstairs.  I hear it’s really something.”

Yukiko wiggled her bottom against Mazarine.  “Sure, honey,” she answered in a drowsy voice.  “That sounds pretty good right now.”   Turning over to face Mazarine she tossed the sheets and bed spread to the side and revealed their sleek bodies to each other.  “But first, I want to do something else,” she purrs coyly.

“What?”

“You.”

Mazarine laughed deep in her throat as their eager lips and clever hands began to roam.

By eleven, again showered, perfumed, faces meticulously done, sheathed in last night’s black and shod in high heels and coats on their arms, they made their entrée and, amid the concupiscent stares of every male above ten in the dining area, were seated at a table adorned with a crystal bowl of freshly-cut flowers, damask napkins, heavy silverware, ice water in heavy glasses, delicate flutes, and plates and cups decorated in a geometric design of glossy red and black.  They both ordered cantaloupe, eggs benedict and Sumatran coffee.

“Hold the champagne, sweetheart,” Yukiko smiled demurely up at the blushing servitor who, to the envy of the other waiters in the room, had their table as part of his station.  She put a tapered hand with fingernails of deep red across her fluted glass.

“Me too, honey,” Mazarine stage whispered and aped Yukiko’s hand movement.

As the young man bustled off, the two women glanced at each other with furtive amusement and giggled.  “Did you check our young friend’s basket?” Mazarine asked.

“Filled out all of a sudden, didn’t it?” Yukiko nodded, bending forward and putting the napkin across her mouth as she tried to check the hilarity burbling up from deep within.

“Men!” Mazarine mouthed.

“Poor things!” Yukiko mouthed.

And they burst into more giggles, bending forwards across the table with unquenchable laughter.

It was infectious, and parties sitting near them began to smile and, although not quite sure about the source of this endless amusement, chuckled lightly in sympathy.

What a way to start a Sunday, Mazarine thought as she caught Yukiko’s gleeful wink at her.  All is right in my heaven, she reflected with great satisfaction.

They ate with gusto, satisfying this appetite too, chattering in desultory fashion about everything and nothing, keeping up a happy patter.  The weather was cold and blustery, but they decided to take a walk to settle the meal.  And then, as if some hidden switch had been thrown in her mental machinery, Yukiko the philosopher and culture maven started in.

In a startling non-sequitur apropos of nothing she launched her first-strike ethnic missiles.  “You really have no idea what it is like to be Japanese, do you?”  The sun was feeble and they were marching briskly along a sidewalk covered in whirling leaves that had fallen from now denuded traceries of tree branches.  “I mean, how could you?  How could you possibly?  You don’t even speak Japanese and you certainly have no knowledge of Japanese literature or civilization.  It is all obviously beyond you.”

Mazarine was hesitant to insist on a more exact precision for that catholic ‘all’.  Yukiko kicked at the spinning whorls of leaves rotating around her legs.  “The Japanese sensibility is all about exquisiteness, about deliquescence, mutability, decay.  It is like our relationship.  I do not give it many more weeks now.  It is not the apex, the peak, the climax that is of ultimate significance.  Nor the early deliciousness of anticipations of what is to come.  It is the impermanence and the decay.  It is the percipient awareness of transience and fragility.  If one is assured of durability in a relationship, the magic and the mystery melt away like a summer morning’s dew at noon.  It ceases to exist.”  Yukiko is gesticulating extravagantly now.

Actually, Mazarine thought, Glaukos had said it more succinctly about three-thousand years ago.  As is a generation of leaves so is one of men:  some leaves the wind sheds to the ground, others the burgeoning forest puts forth when the season of spring comes along; so now a generation of men comes to life and now a generation ceases to exist.  But, given their earlier discussion of literature and its indeterminate outcome, Mazarine had the unmistakable impression this was not what Yukiko wanted to hear at the moment, and she kept her Homeric counsel to herself.

Yukiko was in full ethnic rant now.

“Try to be Japanese and think of a butterfly.  Why is it so exquisite?  Not merely because of its fragility and beauty, but because that beauty emerges from the dull and dreary ugliness of the pupa.  It is the transformation that counts.  And then its life is ephemeral, only a few days or weeks in the case of some species.  And it nurtures itself on decay:  vegetation that is just beyond ripeness, almost in decay, even rotting fruit – these are the sources of sustenance for that evanescent life of beauty.  It is a kind of irony that nature plays on herself, all that energy and work, and then the ultimate metamorphosis, and death.  Do you understand what I am talking about?  Do you have any inkling, Mazarine?  Only a Japanese can truly understand this.”

Mazarine did not register her strong disagreement.  In retrospect, maybe she should have.

“You’re telling me we’re through, is that it?”

“Oh, God!” Yukiko said in exasperation, throwing her arms high above her head.  “You see what I mean?”

“No, Yukiko, I really don’t see what you mean.”  They walked along smartly without speaking.

“Sometimes you are just too infuriating for words.  I simply can’t deal with you any more, Mazarine,” Yukiko finally said.  She stopped short and pulled Mazarine around by her forearm to face her.  “You’re too … too Western!”   And then Yukiko turned around and walked back in the direction they had just come, leaving Mazarine agape on the windy sidewalks, leaves teasing her shoes, her mind numb, trying to get some token purchase on what had just happened.

She resisted the impulse to run after Yukiko.

It was difficult not to infer that, for whatever reason, things were pretty much over between them.  Mazarine realized she was having to work too hard to hold it all together, and the wild unpredictability of erratic outbursts compounded by irrational seques exhausted her mentally and emotionally.  She was not going to recapitulate the unhappy history of the Malaysian woman, Su Lien, for whom Yukiko had, by her own harsh admission, ended up having nothing but contempt.

Mazarine continued slowly in the direction she’d been walking.  The tears in her eyes could as well have come from lashing of the cold wind.  She really did not understand what had possessed Yukiko, and it saddened her.  She loved Yukiko.  Or she had thought she loved her.  Maybe their kind of arrangement was by its very nature as fragile and fleeting as Yukiko appeared to believe, destined for an ignominious end.  Mazarine was wounded.  But she certainly appreciated with sufficient clarity that it had nothing to do with any alleged incapacity of anybody but a Japanese person to understand a Japanese person.  She loathed that kind of short-circuiting ghetto-think — the last craven refuge of racist scoundrels.  And she knew Yukiko had expressed similar notions on a number of occasions.  It was ultimately all so tedious and uninteresting.

Mazarine walked for hours that Sunday afternoon, and when she finally got home she jumped into bed and read some Ovid for a short while, perhaps in some inchoate way thinking that his explorations of the pathology of love might give her some insight into Yukiko.  But even if he could, so what?  What could she do with it?  So she just read for the sheer pleasure of the language and the tales, and, done in by the day’s events and the previous night’s marathon chatter session, soon drifted off into dreamless sleep.

Tuesday and Wednesday she had several appointments set up for her by Michelle.  They were all with clients she had seen before and liked well enough.  She decided to spend the Thanksgiving weekend coming up in a few days at her parents’ place in Akers Pond, and her mother was delighted when she called to inform her.  She was informed that Craig and Lucinda would also be there, along with the little dictator, but decided to go anyway.  She needed to get away from the city and latest craziness, not have to think about it.

There was some initial awkwardness with Craig and his wife about the disastrous dinner of the previous weekend, but once that had been negotiated by tacit agreement not to bring it up again, the rest of the weekend went off rather well.  The child was by and large well behaved, much to everybody’s surprise, not least that of his mother, who seemed to relax at her in-laws’ place and defuse some of the tension that seemed to torque her every time Mazarine had met her.  It snowed on Saturday, and they all piled out for a tromp through the drifts in the field.  They built a pathetic snowman on the front lawn that Mazarine’s nephew found utterly engrossing.  In the evenings they drank moderately and played five-man Scrabble, a game which Mazarine usually won.

She had taken the train up Wednesday, but was going to get a ride back to the city with her brother and his family on Sunday afternoon in his big Mercedes.

Around one o’clock that day there was a phone call for her.

“Mazarine?”  a soft, small voice said, a voice that, in spite of all Mazarine’s steeling of herself, shot an all too familiar jolt of electricity through her.  Oh, God, she thought!

“Yes,” she answered in a neutral, non-committal tone.

“This is Yukiko,” came the chastened explanation.

“How are you, Yukiko?”

“Did you have a nice Thanksgiving with your family?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I did.  It was very relaxing and unstressful.”

There was a silence on the line.  “I know,” Yukiko acquiesced, “I understand.”  More silence.  “Are you coming back to the city soon?”

“Probably later tonight.  My brother is giving me a ride.”

“I see.”  She cleared her throat.  “Do you want to see me?”  She sounded so pitiable.

“I … I don’t know, Yukiko.  You scare me.”

“I know.  But please.  Can we just meet for coffee, in public, just to talk a little.  There is someone I want you to meet.”

Mazarine was far from over her entanglement with Yukiko, and this bit of news admittedly piqued her interest.  In public?  What did she have to lose?  Truth be known, she had not been able to stop thinking about Yukiko since the abrupt disengagement a week ago.  Yukiko was like some kind of psychological virus that had inserted itself into the cellular machinery of her emotional life and, hijacking the coding sequences, scrambled the instruction sets.

“Please?” Yukiko pleaded, interpreting Mazarine’s silent reflection as the sign of an unwillingness to grant her request.

“All right, Yukiko,” she said, letting out a whoosh of air.  “How about Tuesday?”  She checked the calendar from some pharmaceutical company that her mother had pinned next to the phone in the kitchen.  “That’s the second of December.  Around two o’clock?’

“Great,” Yukiko said, the relief palpable across the line.  “Thanks, Mazarine.  I really appreciate it.  I was beastly to you, beyond beastly, and I’m sorry.  I really am.  Where shall we meet?”

“How about that coffee house up by the university where we’ve gone before?”

“Perfect,” Yukiko said.  “Perfect.  Tuesday around two.”  She paused.  “I love you, Mazarine.”

Mazarine could not help herself.  “I love you too, Yukiko.  I do.”  She sighed, and was not sure if it was prompted by weariness or excitement.

And they hung up.

Tuesday afternoon was chilly winter sporting a heavy sky and sidewalks crusted with piles of dirty snow.  The only brightness here came from dabs of students hurrying between classes and colorfully bundled in heavy overcoats, head-encasing caps, and thick mittens.  Their mouths pumped out clouds of white steam like blank cartoon blurbs.  Mazarine, on edge, was waiting for Yukiko in the coffee house, one of her legs doing a jittery dance up and down under the table.  She was looking for two women, Yukiko and her friend, but it was hard to make out people behind all their bulky clothing.

She was surprised therefore when Yukiko suddenly sat down on the opposite side of her table, without friend.

“Hi, Mazarine,” Yukiko said, wiping the wintry flow from her nose and rubbing her cold-reddened nose.

“Hi,” Mazarine said, and smiled warily.  God, this woman she was now facing still made her feel as though she’d been plugged into a 110 volt outlet and zapped.  Her power to affect was alarming.

“It was really very sweet of you to agree to meet.  I was afraid you wouldn’t.  After last time, I mean.”

Mazarine made a dismissive wave with her hand and ducked her head.  She craned her neck around for a better view and inspected the sizeable crowd of students and faculty huddled over steaming cups of java. “What about the person you wanted me to meet?”

“Yes,” Yukiko said.  “She couldn’t make it this afternoon, but I think you might like her.  She’s a grad student here at the university.  Very bright and very attractive.  It’s that Vietnamese woman I mentioned to you earlier.  Her name is Trinh.”

“You mean the one your ex-husband is seeing?” she asked with some puzzlement.

“Yes.”

“How did you meet her?”

“Fab and I still see each other.  To chat, I mean.  He’s not a bad guy, really.  I know … ” she continued, looking down in embarrassment, “ … I know you guys had a kind of … of falling out a few years ago, but he’s really O.K.  A little impetuous sometimes, but basically O.K.  Anyway, we’ve kept in touch, and just the way he told me about you – remember our first meeting back in August? – he’s told me about Trinh.”

“You mean he asks you advice about her?”

“Something like that, yes,” she chuckled.  “Can you believe it?”

Mazarine sat back and rocked her head back and forth in disbelief.  “It’s hard to, that’s for sure.  But I guess it happens.”

“Anyway, the three of us finally got together, on Thanksgiving.  We had dinner together at that cafeteria place down by the stock exchange.”

“I see.”  Mazarine was intrigued, but still wary.  “And she doesn’t mind you and Fabian were married?”

“No, why should she?  That’s all in the past.  Our marriage was over before they met.  She knows that.  The divorce decree has been formalized.”

“How long have she and Fabian known each other?”

“Since early two-thousand.  I’d say it’s been serious for maybe two years now.  You should see Fabian!  He started a rigorous diet-and-exercise program back in August, and he’s starting to look like his old self again.   He was a pretty good-looking guy before he let himself go, if you recall.  This Trinh is really good for him!”

“And how are you with that?”

“Fabian and I are history.  I’ve told you.  Romantically speaking.  I’m on to somebody else now,” she said, staring with an intense and passionate look into Mazarine’s eyes.  She covered Mazarine’s hand with both of hers.  “Somebody else,” she repeated slowly, “somebody I’m crazy about.”

Mazarine felt her knees go loose and a melting start in her lower belly.  Still, experience suggested she should be cautious around Yukiko.  With her, things weren’t always what they seemed, no matter how ostensibly transparent.  She didn’t want to go there and she did not, but decided to concentrate on the Vietnamese woman.  “And you think I’d like this Trinh?”

“Yes.  She’s really quite delightful.”

“What’s she studying?”

“Mathematics.   She’s finishing a Ph.D.”

“I guess that’s pretty bright, huh?”

“Especially at the age of only twenty-four.”

“Yes, I see what you mean.”

Yukiko was holding her hands around a large cup of coffee and blowing on the liquid.  “I’ve told her about you, and she is eager to meet you.”

“Why would that be?”

“I told her how lovely and charming you are,” she said, smiling.

“All right, honey, you can stop stroking me.”

Yukiko laughed.  And then, “Seriously, Mazarine, I’ve told her about your interest in Greek and Latin, and I’ve told her – I hope you don’t mind – what you do for a living.  She’s quite fascinated.”

“With my Greek and Latin or my job?”

“Oh, come on, now.  The whole package.  I won’t deny she’s intrigued by the idea you see all these guys.”

“So, you want us all to get together?  What, go out for dinner or something like that?”

“That would be great.  I think we’d all have a good time.”

“O.K., set it up.”

Yukiko stirred her coffee and took a small sip, testing the temperature.

“I thought I’d ask her to call you and arrange something for all of us.  I have the feeling her schedule is tighter than ours, and it would be easier if she coordinated things.”

“All right, I’ve got no problem with that,” Mazarine agreed.

“Here,” Yukiko said, tearing a corner out a small notebook she extracted from her shoulder bag along with a felt-tip pen, “just write down your first name and your phone number.  You know,” she laughed, “I’ve got you on speed dial so I’ve forgotten your actual number.”

Mazarine printed her name in block letters and then added her phone number.  “Give her this,” she said, handing the piece of paper back to Yukiko.

Yukiko put it in her purse.

“So,” she said, “how are you and I?”

“I’m not sure, Yukiko.  How are we?”

“I’d like to think we are just fine.”  She stirred the remains of her coffee, and, head facing the cup, raised her eyes impishly to Mazarine.  “I’ve got room 1965 reserved till tomorrow morning.”

Mazarine knew what she should do.   But she also had feelings.  And when the head and heart fight, the contest is not always fair.  Without a word she left a nice tip on the table, got up, and took Yukiko by the hand.  Silent, in the cold, they went down to the corner and flagged a cab to take them over to the Momiji.

The intimate familiarity of the room overwhelmed Mazarine, and soon they were entwined in each other on the bed.  They went through all the standard motions, touched in the right places, said the expected things – but the fire was gone.  Both Yukiko and Mazarine knew this was the last time the two of them would make love together, that their relationship was on a downward slide.  It was as though there was some sense of shame between them, incapable of human articulation, and they dressed in quiet haste without looking at each other.  Mazarine felt a great void, but also a great relief.  Today’s Yukiko was not the Yukiko she met back in August and spent a blissful September and October with.  It was beyond her to ascertain whither went that Yukiko, and it made her sad.  She did not want Yukiko see her cry, and as soon as she was dressed she left the room abruptly.

About a week later Mazarine got a call at her apartment from Trinh.  In her confusion and sadness over Yukiko she had completely forgotten about the Vietnamese woman.  She spoke pure, unaccented American, and it took her a few seconds to make the connection.

“Oh, yes, of course.  Trinh.  Yukiko told me you would be calling to set up something for the three of us.”

“Yes.  I’m really looking forward to meeting you, and I’m wondering if the three of us could get together for lunch sometime next week, Wednesday or Thursday.”

The woman sounded pleasant, soft but decisive, confident, genuinely enthusiastic.  Mazarine tried to paint a face on the voice and do a sketch of its body:  willowy, lithe, prominent cheekbones, brown eyes beneath epicanthic folds, velvety hair.  But, inevitably, the picture kept merging with the photo of Yukiko she carried in her head.

“Wednesday or Thursday, yes, that sounds pretty good.  Let me check my calendar here,” she said.  “How about Thursday the eighteenth?  Is that good for you?”

“That’s perfect,” she said happily.

“And for Yukiko?”

“Yukiko’s open all day.  I already checked.”

“How about that teppanyaki restaurant off the lobby in the Momiji?  Around one o’clock?”

“I’ve got it down, Mazarine.  It’ll be great fun meeting you.  I’ve heard so much about you, both from Yukiko and Fabian,” she said.

The three women had a delightful lunch together, and, the erotic pressure off, Mazarine and Yukiko, who was on her best behavior, got along famously.  It seemed rather obvious to Mazarine that Yukiko was more than a little interested in Trinh, but she in turn seemed blithely oblivious to the little signals Yukiko was sending her way.  Only later, redoing the lunch in her head, did Mazarine feel a tiny stab of jealousy.  Trinh was indubitably beautiful, and she was highly intelligent.  She still had a kind of bubbling joy about things that was infectious, and Mazarine enjoyed being with her.

During the Christmas season and the New Year the three of them spent a lot of time together.  Trinh was busy at the university with her studies, but she made time to relax with Mazarine and Yukiko.  The three of them did the things together that Mazarine and Yukiko had done earlier in their relationship.  Mazarine was charmed by Trinh’s effervescence, and Yukiko’s ingratiating suavity smoothed and soothed.  For Mazarine it was a memorable Christmas season, and two days after the holidays she and Yukiko met Trinh’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cao, for tea at the their home on Hyacinth Lane.

The start of the new year introduced two rough patches into the almost seamless cheerfulness of their camaraderie.

First, Yukiko and Mazarine were invited as Trinh’s guests to a New Year’s Eve party at the home of a wealthy faculty member in the University math department.

Trinh had also invited Fabian.

Yukiko and Mazarine were less than enamored of this surprise.  Mazarine, given her history with the man, lacked a basic sympathy for Fabian even in his newly svelte incarnation, and Yukiko seethed with a complex double jealousy – of Fabian for enchanting Trinh and of Trinh for doing for Fabian what Yukiko no longer could.  However intense the diverging displeasure of each woman, it was not the kind of thing either felt she could seek consolation from the other for, and although both hard-headed women left the party before Auld Lang Syne put in its maudlin appearance, they did not discuss the matter.  As they pointedly parted company in the lobby of the professor’s apartment house, silent looks said it all.

Second, two days after New Year when the weather had very briefly turned more moderate and Yukiko had done another one of her sudden transfigurations into sweetness, Mazarine met Trinh near the university so they could walk together to a restaurant where they were to meet Yukiko for lunch.  Mazarine noticed an ugly reddish-purple bruising along the right side of Trinh’s neck that she had tried to cover up with skin tone and by wearing a sweater with a high collar.  But it was too obvious.

“Who did that to you?” Mazarine asked, disturbed and determined to get an answer.

“It’s nothing,” Trinh said dismissively, pulling up the collar higher.

“It is something,” Mazarine insisted.

Trinh just shook her head.

“Did Fabian do this to you?”

“No, no,” she cried.  “Not at all.  Fabian would never do something like that.”

“Who then?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”  Trinh stubbornly refused to say anything more.

“Tell me, Trinh, was it Yukiko?”

“Please,” she implored, “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.  Just forget it, O.K.?  It’s my business.”

Mazarine dropped it.

The three of them lunched together, but Mazarine was somber and not especially talkative, to such an extent that Yukiko at one point jokingly referred to her as the sphinx.  If she only knew, Mazarine reflected in angry irony, that the etymology of this hoary word involved an ancient Greek verb designating, among other related actions, ‘to throttle’.  But she bit her tongue.

Mazarine, lying later in the cozy solitude of her bed and reflecting on the two events, had an uneasy feeling.  She knew Yukiko was volatile and easily enraged, perhaps even to the point of physically having attacked Trinh and getting her hands around Trinh’s throat.   It was a truly disheartening prospect, and an enraged Yukiko was certainly nothing to fool with.  Still, she, Mazarine, could hardly be held accountable, even by the often convoluted logic of Yukiko’s unpredictable mind.  Could she?

She brooded over the matter off and on for several days.  Therefore, when she received a call from Trinh at the start of the next week with the suggestion that the three of them get together that Friday, the ninth, she felt no small measure of relief.  Perhaps they would be able to recapture the carefree and amicable closeness they had enjoyed prior to the New Year Eve’s celebration.  Mazarine, with some nominal reservations that she kept to herself, agreed to meet Trinh at the university, and they would then join Yukiko at a downtown hotel.

In painful retrospect Mazarine endlessly Monday-morning quarterbacked her decision   to agree to what proved to be this final meeting with Trinh and Yukiko.  If only her reservations had been more than nominal.

TO BE CONTINUED

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