Melting Into One
“What was our last disagreement about? Yes- about keeping our own individuality when we were in danger of melting into one.”
~ August Strindberg to Harriet Bose, July 4, 1902
Kendall rolls over in the tangled covers and sits up still in a sleepy fog brushing thick blond hair out of her face. Her bubblegum pink satin pajamas are askew as if she’d slept weeks; not hours. She must’ve slept hard, she thinks, and is irritated with herself; she knows better than to nap, especially when she’s planned something later in the day. The quote…she muses, she doesn’t remember her dream but it feels disconcerting- the quote… it had something to do with the quote. Cooper had texted it after their first big argument. Quoting a Swedish playwright? At times he would quote German or maybe, Russian philosophers, theologians, or perhaps politicians. She worries her index finger, there were times he felt so…well so, intellectually superior or emotionally deeper than she could fathom; it leaves her feeling small and insecure. Would she be able to hold him? It is the question that runs through her mind like a recording on automatic play. But then she thinks of his big bright eyes, pools of clear blue water she wants to drown in and throws caution to the wind, as they say, falling head over heels again and again for the man.
She and Cooper have been dating for close to a year now. He is a widower; tall, lanky, with ginger hair clipped short, a winsome smile and those beautiful blue eyes. His wife Lucia died three years ago, from cancer; an ugly death Kendall was told. She has seen the photographs of a handsome woman- tall, rail thin with long straight raven hair and the haughty look of a woman tortured. Had she always carried that look of desperation or had it been something more? Cooper has admitted to caring deeply for her- and grieving her still.
For her part Kendall is a divorcee; her ex-husband a swarthy little Greek Napoleon she can barely stand the sight of– how fortunate he walked out on her and the children. To be fair, he never really left the children…and, unfortunately…that meant she’d never truly be free of the beast who hides behind a mask of wit, charm, and congeniality so easily while disguising the monster within.
Awake for a good ten minutes she still feels groggy and out of sorts. She and Cooper are introducing their adult children early this evening; both have two, one son and one daughter each, with Cooper’s offspring just a breath older than her own. Kendall hasn’t met them but like his late wife; she has also seen several pictures.
David is the eldest, a professor at the local college; he appears to be a throwback from the 1970’s yesteryear. His soft reddish brown hair is worn in gentle curls that brush the collar of his corduroy, swede elbowed jacket. He wears a full beard concealing his face and his blue eyes, so much like his father’s, are all but hidden behind gold, wire rimmed glasses. He teaches literary classics and philosophy, his father says he is quiet, humble, and religious.
The daughter, Marlene, is different, she is told. She favors her mother’s dark looks with a less forgiving and more severe attitude. Cooper’s eldest is a prosecuting attorney with brilliant strategic skill and a very impressive record for one of only thirty-five years. In every photograph she is wearing some version of a black conservative power suit with her ebony hair pulled severely back from her face in a bun at the nape of her neck. She is said to have a rapier tongue and the alacrity to use.
Now standing in front of the full length mirror in her bedroom Kendall takes stock of her appearance. She is short and soft, not what one would call fat but nicely rounded. Phil, her ex-husband, taunted her about her weight but Cooper seems to love the curves. Still self-conscious, despite Cooper’s encouragement, she pulls a bulky pink sweater over blond shaggy curls and covers her well- padded figure. She is happy with her gently aging peaches and cream complexion but yearns to soothe her tired, placid grey eyes in tender blue waters of his. She smiles when she thinks of him- Melting together? Maybe it didn’t sound so unreasonable.
What will his children think of her, again second guessing…their mother had been so elegant while she, let’s face it; she is a suburban soccer mom with the blond on blond Meg Ryan hair to prove it. How will she measure in their eyes; will she? Is it possible to compete with the dead?
Then there is the matter of her offspring.
She pictures Alex, her eldest, in his hipster suit fitting like second skin, a checkered shirt buttoned up high complete with a skinny tie. His dark, razor like good looks and tall, lean body is a study of angles in constant motion. As an architect, all math and form he is in complete contrast with his sister, Lulu, a somewhat local celebrity in the art world splashing color onto canvas as well as into her purple hair. She is short and curvy like her mother with large brown eyes like her father though his are hard and exacting, while hers are warm like melting chocolate. Her smile is infectious and her entrance lights up a room. To their credit, Kendall’s children were smart, successful, and interesting young people.
She takes a deep breath and says to herself “All will be well.”
The doorbell suddenly clangs. It is only three o’clock; they’re not expected until four…damn Cooper is always early and her kids are always fashionably late. No time for makeup, no time to do anything with her hair. Damn, damn, damn.
She opens the front door. And there they stand- all four of them. Four of them, think about it?
Nothing is as she expected, her heart is pounding; her palms are sweaty. “This is all terribly wrong! Everything is tossed together; nothing is as it should be.”
Cooper is standing to the rear; he looks shorter, not much, just a bit. His hair appears darker, almost coppery and longer than usual; maybe it’s the backlight from the afternoon sun. He smiles and warmly greets hello. His smile is the same and Kendall feels relief in that smile.
The woman comes forward, extending her hand; she is tiny, making Kendall feel enormous, like Alice after eating the cake. She is dwarfing this person, dressed in a running suit of pink, with a solid yet petite figure, her black shining hair is pulled into a severe ponytail streaming down her back. Lucia is dead, how can she be in my foyer? It is the face from the photographs. And that’s exactly like my running suit, why is she wearing my running suit? Kendall feels like the Jolly Green Giant towering over Barbie.
“I’m Lulu.” She says with a broad dazzling smile, “I hear there’s a party here. Where are the adult beverages?” She says with a laugh while blowing past Kendall as if she’s been in the house a hundred times.
From behind Kendall hears Phil’s familiar voice, almost stuttering. “Ah…we don’t really drink, but I believe we may have some cooking sherry.”
Kendall turns to see Phil in a plaid shirt, an apron, and a passive yet hospitable smile. He is chauffeuring the woman calling herself “Lulu” toward the kitchen. “What the hell is he doing here?” Phil, who lived in black, drinks only the best champagne, and wouldn’t be caught dead serving anyone but himself, is playing Martha Stewart. He hadn’t been invited, what is he doing here?
She turns back to the group standing in the hallway. The young woman Cooper introduces as Marlene looks just like her photographs except…her hair is a bright shade of green with pink stands woven through; styled in a high ponytail. She is dressed in eighties workout clothes, lavender leg warmers included, looking like Olivia Newton John in her “Let’s Get Physical” video. Where is the power suit? Where is the class? She is chomping on a wad of gum; a habit Kendall broke Lulu, her Lulu, as a teenager.
And David, well David, at least he looked exactly as she expected…until he opened his mouth. “Man, Dad, you were right…this is a plebian shithole.”
“I didn’t say that.” Cooper argues, more tentative than Kendall has ever seen him.
“You didn’t have to SAY it…I read you like a book, Old Man.”
Kendall’s stomach begins to churn…it sounds a little like Alex, even more like Phil; not what she’s heard about the soft spoken, kind hearted David. Cooper isn’t a passive man, she is the passive one, her children treat her like an idiot at times; not Cooper’s. This is all wrong. Cooper said David is a gentle soul; this boy a bully.
“Things will fall into place when the children arrive. I know my own; these people are strangers.” She murmurs. How could I have been so misled?
“But we are here, Mom.” says Alex standing to her right. She is startled to see him in a plaid flannel shirt, beige corduroy pants, and hiking boots; his face hasn’t been shaved and looks to have scruffy three day’s growth. He is wearing horn rimmed spectacles- why? He has perfect eyesight.
“Why haven’t you shaved? What are those clothes you’re wearing and when did you get glasses?” she asks in puzzlement. “You look like a lumberjack!”
“I thought you’d appreciate a gentler look.” He answers kindly. Where’s his edge? Where is his sophistication?
Next to him stands Lulu, her hair is platinum blond, her nails painted dark red and she is in a long flowing black dress. She must be wearing high heeled shoes as she is almost as tall as her brother.
“Lulu, thank god you’re here. I…” she is about to tell her daughter the panic she feels. Nothing is right. Nothing is as she expected, her heart is pounding; her palms are sweaty. “This is all terribly wrong! Everything is tossed together; nothing is as it should be.”
“Mother,” her daughter replies with exasperation, “you know I lost the pet name years ago. Please call me Lucia; especially in front of company. It is what my fans expect.” She is so condescending, nothing like her cheerful little daughter. “Your name isn’t Lucia! How high are those heels? You’re going to fall and kill yourself.” Kendall says trying to bring some levity and normalcy to what is as far from normal as possible. Lulu lifts them hem of her skirt to show a pair of ballet flats; dark eyes blaze. “Mother, have you been drinking?” her voice said she was aghast.
Kendall is incredulous. What is going on? She rakes her hands through her hair; it falls far past her shoulders. She looks at her hands clutching her hair; instead of the brassy blond it is dark blood red. She stumbles backward, falling into Cooper. She is almost his height as he wraps his arms around her waist.
The next moment they are all standing around her in an awkward circle; the dead wife lengthens then relaxes like a rubber band distorting her features and returning them as easily as breathing in and breathing out. Her errant ex-husband loses all dew from his features shrinking into a dried out prune, Alex has returned to himself as Marlene’s green hair turns black, Lulu shrinks back to a pixie, and David’s eyes grow soft and thoughtful.
No more naps in the middle of the day- what was she thinking? This is all so incredibly freaky; she hates horror films and feels like she in the middle of one. Please god, don’t let them move toward her. Cooper is still holding her; she looks over her shoulder, his hair has turned a buttery blond. She squeezes her eyes shut…opening them slowing again…
Suddenly the scene changes; the players change, their features become softer…and softer, then to liquid like melting crayons until their features blur and transform into nothingness. Their forms ooze to the floor and puddle together as one brackish ring around her.
The room spins in Kendall’s vision, her stomach burns; she screams-
…and then all is black.
She opens her eyes and finds herself in her bed and Cooper is cradling her in his arms, cooing softly. “Baby, wake up- you’ve had a bad dream.” His breath is on her neck as he nuzzles his face into her hair.
“I dreamed, I dreamed…”she starts, “I dreamed we melted into one.” Her body began to shiver.
He looks down at her, lifting himself to his elbows. He brushes his lips softly against hers. “Let me show you.” He whispers, “Just how beautiful melting into one can be”
And as they melt she looks soulfully into his dark brown eyes.