Slow Squeeze(5)

By: Dianne Emley

Iris reluctantly turned the Triumph over to the valet, grimacing and not looking back when he ground the gears. She walked across a bottle green, fired Mexican tile patio, her pump heels shallowly resounding against the brittle clay. She was wearing her Chanel knockoff, a pink mohair suit with a jewel collar and big gold buttons connected by chains. She had splurged on the real thing for her handbag.

She flipped one side of her chin-length, blunt-cut blond hair behind an ear. People watched her as she walked through the restaurant. Not because she cut a striking figure—she was tall and slender and attractive in a WASPy, white-bread way—but because people were fascinated by women in suits, especially the way Iris wore a suit. Like a man wore a suit, as if she’d been born with it on, which was how she felt on her worst days.

The restaurant grounds were landscaped in politically correct, drought-resistant, indigenous plants. Busy waiters travelled to and fro, men and women dressed in white tops and black bottoms, a straightforward enough dress code perverted here by an L.A. interpretation—too tight, too baggy, or too short.

Stout beams suspended the patio a hundred feet above surf-smoothed boulders and crashing waves. It was a demonstration of the power of architectural design over earth in constant motion from earthquakes and erosion. This unstable land influenced the attitudes of the denizens who lived upon it; they were never at rest and never left well enough alone.

Iris sat at the bar. Barbie Stringfellow was even later than Iris was. The bar was off the patio, surrounded by sliding glass doors now pulled open to let in the ocean breeze. The bar top was a large half circle of lacquered blond wood. Matching blond stools stood underneath. Silver “mind bender” puzzles were placed along the bar top, games where one attempted to form odd-shaped pieces into a T or remove a ring that was wrapped inside a silver pretzel or some other task. Iris ignored them.

She ordered a glass of chardonnay from the bartender, who was a square-jawed, blond and buffed California design. His name tag identified him as William. He’d probably been just plain Bill once upon a time in Michigan or Nebraska or Kansas before he started California dreamin’.

Barbie had said she’d be wearing purple. Iris imagined a proper Southern lady in a tailored suit with outdated hair, big diamonds, and careful makeup. She nursed her wine and observed the women entering the restaurant alone. There was a blond with 8 percent body fat wearing a white cat suit, white cowboy boots, and wild string-permed hair. She pranced around, vogueing while looking for her party.

Okay, everyone’s seen you, Miss Melrose, Iris said to herself. You’ll grow old too—if you’re lucky.

“Is she acting like a cat because she’s wearing a cat suit or is she wearing a cat suit because she acts like a cat?” William, the bartender, mused. He busied himself refreshing plastic jugs with fresh juices brought from the kitchen.

Iris laughed. “The former, I think.”

William gave Iris a searching look.

She knew what was coming.

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

She looked at William coyly. “I bet you say that to all the girls.”

“No, really. You look familiar. You an actor?”

“Not officially.”

He looked puzzled.

“I’m an investment counselor. Got any money stashed in a mattress you’d like me to put to work for you?” She batted her eyes.

William set a plate of toast circles, radish flowers, and herbed olive oil in front of her. “I’m not coming on to you or anything. It’s just that I never forget a face.”

Iris turned the wineglass by its stem against the cocktail napkin. “Too bad. I could use a good come-on.”

He smiled at her, a guy who knows he’s attractive.

“You an actor?” she asked.

He leaned against the bar with his arms crossed, which pushed his biceps out. “Yep.” He rubbed his square jaw with his hand. “Actually, I’m a bartender. I’m trying to break into acting.”

She raised her wineglass toward him. “Good luck.”

A painfully thin, frosted-blond, middle-aged woman with collagen-smooth skin and mannequin-perfect makeup entered the restaurant, trailing fragrance and carrying a big designer handbag over her shoulder, the same designer’s date book in one hand and the matching briefcase in her other hand.