For Simon Van Booy
Despite his father’s misgivings, Charles had never developed apprehensions about his height or his abilities to achieve greatness because of it. At five feet four inches, or 165 cm, and 31 years of age, he published his first novel, married a six-foot-tall model, and got her pregnant. It was a boy, they told them.
He looked back at his classmates from high school, tall, sturdy and slightly dim by his own standards, who went to college on football scholarships, married at graduation to become divorced drunks (or drunk divorcees) today, and smiled a sorrowful smile. They were good guys, those boys turned men, but why did they have to put so much emphasis on appearances, as if they were girls brainwashed by “How to…” sex articles in Cosmo and Self? What happened to true aspirations, he wondered? Greatness didn’t depend on height – Napoleon must have known it, and so did Charles. That conviction utterly puzzled his father who could never get over his own meager height of 5’6”, and who divorced Charles’s mother at the insistence that she’d had an affair with a taller man. His mother despaired for a year, her innocence offended as much as her heart broken, and married a six-foot-two real estate agent just to spite her ex-husband. She said he was great in bed. Charles didn’t believe her.
No, he had no reservations about his height. He loved being short. He said it gave him a better perception on life, for his head was not far from Earth, which kept him grounded, confident, and on his toes.
Charles met Veronica at a reading. She sat in the first row and blocked everyone else’s view. He loved her insolence, for he could tell she didn’t have reservations about her awesome height the same way he didn’t have about his. When the last writer had left the podium, Charles asked the curator if she knew the lady.
“Veronica. Sharp as a nail, outrageous, too. Former model turned clown. Strange story.”
“Can you please introduce us?”
“Watch out what you wish for,” said the curator, a slim 40-year old in tight black pants and red V-neck T-shirt, cocking her head. “She eats men alive.”
Charles said his name and kissed her hand, and she smiled an open, genuine smile, like Christmas tree lighting up in the dark, and they didn’t have to speak. He looked at her and she knew. Charles still remembered that moment as the most profound of his life, as if he had entered a buzzing electric circuit and become part of it. She set him in motion, and he was grateful and happy, even now, when she was no longer around.
They loved walking in TriBeCa, dressed in Prada, Kawakubo or Sander, holding hands. Their first brunch at Bubbo’s, first dinner at Cercle Rouge. She always wore Roger Vivier shoes, even in a drizzle. Some people turned to look at them, the woman towering over a man, like a lighthouse over a small boat approaching the shore. Happy goose bumps ran down his back at those moments, for he knew he had found his marina. He’d get hard then. Veronica would look down at Charles, nod appreciatively, and lean over to French-kiss him, for the added benefit of the onlookers. They could talk about anything: books, dogs, mobile apps, bondage, exotic travel, physics – never bored, always laughing.
Their City Hall marriage ceremony, attended by Charlie’s mother and her husband, and by Veronica’s best friend Elizabeth, with whom she’s had an affair for three years, lasted exactly three minutes. Veronica’s parents didn’t attend because they were dead. “A car crash. That’s how I have all the money,” she’d said once and never returned to the subject.
He admired her lanky legs draped in a red skirt, and her small breasts peaking at him through a sheer white top. She never wore a bra. She didn’t have to. The minister woman didn’t look at them once while mumbling the words from the podium. She did notice them at the end, after they said their “I do’s” and her face took a human expression for a moment, perhaps for the first time in months, that of delight and curiosity. Charles raised himself on tiptoes, Veronica leaned forward, and he cupped her breasts for their first married kiss.
They soon discovered each other’s fantasies, and hardly a night went without play. Sometimes neighbors looked at them with disdain, for they kept the windows open at night, but Charles turned them around with highly cultured talk on the latest trends in British literature and invitations to brunch at their loft. A year after their wedding, the entire tenant body of their four-story building on Wooster Street was convinced of their privilege to know Charles and Veronica Gladstone, the next big thing in literature and entertainment, respectively. They felt justified when Charles’s first novel won a literary prize, and Veronica’s solo show was aired on PBS.
Charles loved her even more when he first held their son, Otto, in his arms. The boy had his mother’s lanky legs, his father’s brown eyes and bushy black hair. He kissed the baby’s palm, then his wife’s hand, and cried, for the first time in his adult life.
Otto was too little to understand what happened, but old enough – at four – to know that he no longer had a mother. It happened quietly, one early morning at the kitchen table. Veronica’s disease was a mystery, had no symptoms, but was the reason for her great height. She had warned him before the wedding that she might evaporate soon – that was the word she used, evaporate – but Charles didn’t believe her. Or didn’t want to believe her. He still didn’t. She was his angel, and angels don’t evaporate, even Otto knew that.
Charles knew that grief was a room with no doors, so he opened the windows, for his son. He took him around the world.
“We will plant a flower for Mom in every country we visit,” he told Otto.
“A red one, her favorite,” affirmed his son. “She’d like that.”
They visited thirty-two countries, for each year of Veronica’s life. When they came back a year later, Otto, a boy of five, stood in front of the mirror, and said, “I’ll be tall, like Mom.”
“She’d like that,” answered Charles.
(c) Vica Miller
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