a vital woman

copyright 2011/all rights reserved


a novel by



   Kitty’s mother didn’t know a spoon from a spatula and as a result, passed on nothing that could pass for culinary art to her daughter.  Kitty’s parents had a brutal and unforgiving marriage hidden behind congenial outward social appearances so Kitty believed her mother when she told her that in order to get and keep a man, Kitty needed to learn how to feed a man, her mother’s own marriage as evidence of not feeding a man.  She long ago declared the kitchen off limits to the myriad servants that kept the Coleman household running.  After years of study with some of the best chefs in the world, Kitty had become a first-rate chef herself, although apparently it had no measurable effect on the quality of her marriage.  Still, even Bicky couldn’t deny that Kitty had perfected her art.  Tonight the table was adorned by stuffed pheasant, prawns sauteed in avocado oil and cajun seasonings, baby potatoes baked in olive oil, lemon and oregano, snap peas, lightly steamed, and a lovely arugula and mixed greens salad.

Kitty was palpably relieved to have Sonia’s company at the dinner table and wondered, as she bit into a prawn, whether her daughter had fared any better in the marriage department.  Sonia and Hart seemed to have a good marriage, but many who knew Kitty and Bicky would swear the same was true of them, since in public they demonstrated what appeared to be love for each other.  Kitty was a vital woman, full of youthful efflorescence, not the sort that would be predisposed to abstinence, yet all the years without the companionship of her husband had taken their toll on her.  She felt herself drying up on the inside, like ripe fruit left for days in the sun.  Being distinctly southern with all its foibles and genteel sensibilities, sex was something Kitty could not bring herself to talk about, not even with her intimates, which included Sonia.  She was sure Bicky blamed the end of their sex life on Kitty’s inability to forgive one unfortunate incident, but Kitty had seen worse growing up, and that wouldn’t have kept her from Bicky’s bed forever.  Rather it was the lack of intimacy, or any kind of emotional connection with her husband that pushed her away.  Bicky had shoved his emotions so far down, they lived in his feet.  The man would not recognize love if it threw up on him.

These days, the Coleman’s maintained separate bedrooms in opposite wings of the mansion.  The move occurred sometime after Sonia shipped off to Columbia and Kitty discovered that Bicky had kept mistresses for the last twenty years, usually for periods of six to eighteen months, like a prison term for a misdemeanor.  Sensing her own interests would be served by the revelation, Kitty made her knowledge public, the public constituting Bicky and Sonia.  She chose her words carefully paying particular attention to present tense syntax so neither one was ever really sure just how much Kitty knew and for how long she knew it.

To Bicky she simply said, “I know what you’re up to.  And I’m leaving.  Don’t try to stop me.”   Bicky said nothing as usual, but waited on Kitty’s next move.  Luckily, it was only across the foyer and down the hall.

Kitty knew that Bicky loved her to the extent he was capable.  She also knew that had she even once confronted him, raised her voice, thrown a Chinese vase, shown some territorial frenzy over his nocturnal meanderings, Bicky would have ended his affairs.  But recalling her mother’s misery, Kitty decided the best course of action was to remain complacent and aloof and so she allowed Bicky’s transgressions knowing it was her indifference more than anything that branded Bicky’s psyche and bound him to her.  Kitty also knew that Bicky had come to interpret her attitude as one of intense loathing disguised by good southern breeding, and on that point, he wasn’t too far off the mark.


   Dinner was delightful and Sonia couldn’t remember a time when Bicky was so charming.  He told jokes that left both Sonia and her mother clutching their sides in laughter.  For a moment, they were a family and Sonia felt an affinity for her father which left her feeling both sated and bereft.  After dinner, Bicky sat by the fire sipping cognac while Sonia stretched on the couch, her grandmother’s handmade quilt, a swirling vortex of color pulled over her legs as a nascent, tentative bond was forming with her father.

“Tell me something about when you were young,” Sonia said.

A handsome man in any light, the glow of the fire gave Bicky a swarthy, Roman look.  Somber, he sipped the amber liquid and gazed at the crackling fire.

“I had two shirts, two pairs of pants, three pairs of socks and a pair of shoes.  My mother was constantly mending things just to keep our wardrobe together.  When your grandfather struck oil, we celebrated by buying a new outfit.”

“Well, eventually he bought you more clothes.”

“Oh yeah, but that wasn’t until later.  After Mason died and it was just me and him, he realized that life really wasn’t waiting for anybody.”  Bicky’s voice cracked.  Sonia studied him, intrigued by the uncharacteristic show of emotion.

“He was a tight-assed bastard, your grandfather.  Never spent a dime.  Not on us, anyway. Why do you think you have so much money?”  He swirled the cognac around the tumbler.

“I don’t remember him that way,” Sonia said.

Bicky grunted and grew silent.  The grandfather clock chimed ten times.  Sonia yawned, stood and folded the quilt.  “Thanks for a great night, Dad.”  She smiled at her father, but Bicky said nothing.  “I’m going to say goodbye to Mom,” she said, and left the room.


   Bicky walked Sonia out to her car while Kitty stood in the archway.  Sonia blew her mother a kiss and Kitty disappeared inside.

Bicky leaned in and pecked her on the cheek, flashing his perfect teeth, a smile few could resist.  He patted her arm and rested it there.  “Don’t forget to bring me the report tomorrow.”

“Ah, the report.  I hadn’t planned on coming to town tomorrow.  How about I mail it?”

“No!”  Bicky’s voice was gruff and agitated.  “You’re putting yourself at risk.”

“Dad, I’m not even going to be home.”

“Let me tell you, if word gets out that you have a copy of that report….”

“Is it me or you that would be in trouble?” she asked, finishing his sentence.

Bicky put his hands on the car door and straightened up.  “You probably didn’t read it so you don’t understand how damaging it is.”

“I read it.  And I understand.  That report gets out and it could mark the beginning of World War III.  That’s why you sent David to the Middle East.  You want your best people surveying the world’s largest remaining oil reservoirs.”

Bicky’s face turned the color of blanched almonds; he squeezed the door frame.  “Sonia…do not get messed up in this.”

“I’m already messed up in it.”

Bicky looked back at the house where Kitty had turned on the lights in her suite.  His eyes wandered to his side of the house, dark and uninviting.  “And he’ll be back before the sun comes up,” he said.  “So let it go.”

“I would if you’d let him stay more than ten minutes before sending him off again,” she said.  “Are you that desperate to have him secure your interests?”

“There are terrible people in this world, Sonia, and they do terrible things.  Be happy your grandfather’s money keeps you from having to deal with them on a daily basis.”

“If you don’t want me messed up with them, why would you allow David to be?”

“Hart’s a man.  And a damn good engineer.”  Bicky met Sonia’s gaze at eye level.  “Do you know what will happen when people realize we only have twenty or thirty years of oil reserves left?  I mean, when they really stop to think about it?  Pandemonium.”

“Well if it’s so precious, just charge more money and people will drive less.”

“If we charged per barrel what oil was really worth, the average consumer couldn’t afford a trip to the grocery store.  Our whole economy is premised on the consumption of cheap fossil fuel, Sonia.  Every aspect.  It’s not just about driving your car to the movies.”  He paused to let his words sink in.  “Most of our products are trucked across the country.  Milk and butter are cheap because oil is cheap.  But higher food prices are only the beginning.  The majority of our products are made from plastic, not steel, and you need oil to make it.  It’s not just about baggies and milk jugs.  It’s about camera bodies and television sets and lawn furniture and car parts.  It’s actually a waste to burn oil as gas.  It’s too valuable.  Liquid gold.”

“Don’t you think you’re getting a little carried away?” she asked.

“I’m serious.”  The lawn sprinkler hissed to life and Sonia jumped.

“I’m not trying to scare you, dear,” he said.  “I’m trying to enlighten you.”  He looked from her to Kitty’s window and said, half to himself:  “So much like your mother.”  His eyes softened and Sonia thought she detected a trace of fear in his unshakable demeanor.

“If you wanted to avoid it, and by you I mean the energy industry, you could.  You’d be pouring money into R&D, developing a cheap way to access solar power, or hydroelectric power, or any of the myriad powers that show promise.  But you don’t.  Why?  Because you can’t make enough money.  Once the technology’s there you can’t harness it for yourself and, God forbid, you don’t want people to be self-sufficient.  Then they wouldn’t need you.”

Bicky raised the corner of his mouth in a mocking smile.  “Touche, my dear,” he said.  “Still that doesn’t make your knowledge any less dangerous.  And if not the danger, think of the resulting plight of all those poor out-of-work oil company employees.”

to be continued. . .

to read previous installments, scroll down the page

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