Tom Hinson wakes up thinking of Scarlett Johansson. He yawns and throws back the covers, then steps sleepily into the shower. Maura has already left for work. He glances at the clock. He has a conference call in twenty minutes.
What is it about Scarlett Johansson. He gives this to himself as a project for thought. She is not the world’s finest actor. But she has a quality Tom would like to name. He wants this for the day, more than his conference call, more than the security of his job, more than his failing marriage. He wants to know what it is that she has.
Two weeks ago Maura turned to him in bed and made an announcement. She was not an announcement person. In their eighteen year marriage announcements were few. They stuck to the corners, low keyed everything. But Maura had been to a horse show, had ridden for the first time in years, had polished her saddles. Lying back in bed in jodhpurs, her hair pulled back, resting against the headboard, she looked radiant. She said look, it’s not us, is it?
Tom hadn’t protested. He offered no resistance. It was clearly what she wanted. She had the reins. It was OK, he figured. Neither of them knew what came next, but as they talked they began to believe that they would figure it out. Meantime, was there any essential reason not to continue on in the same house? They could not name one thing. What about separate rooms? Well, no. Not necessary. But it was a big house, if they wanted to. Sex? Was not out of the question. Tom thought, but didn’t mention, that it seemed pretty much like the old arrangement.
He keeps the water cool against his skin, soaping his feet and his calves. He pauses over his belly, which is flattening. He has not been eating much. Work is a problem. Tom believes he will need a new job. Is this what is coming, the upheaval of everything? But not at once, in timed pieces, a planned destruction, like those buildings downtown gone to dynamite. Imploded.
Water streams from his hair, pelts his body in pulses. It is her steadiness, Tom decides. Her directness. Her capacity to convey emotion through the smallest unforced gesture. He had watched Scarlett from her earliest work, the Redford movie. Bob had always been good with young actors. They had known each other in the early Sundance years, when Tom had made a small film. A passing acquaintance, a lifetime ago. Redford wouldn’t remember. Tom no longer had an agent.
But Scarlett, he thinks. She has the ability to completely inhabit her body. Her sexiness stemmed from her confidence. She lived though her body, it was not her container, it was her, her way of expressing herself in the world. She had it at fourteen. Do most women understand this? He didn’t know. Did women know their bodies better than men?
He and Maura were communicating better now. This surprised him. He wondered if there would be new relationships for each of them, and if it were possible, with a new love, to begin the relationship at the end, to treat each other with the honesty that seemed to arrive only now, when they were parting with fondness. Had he only known Maura now?
Tom Hinson steps from the shower into his bathrobe. He draws the terry cloth belt tight against his damp skin. Running his fingers through his hair, he finds a brush and combs it into place. He doesn’t like how that looks, so he musses his hair and starts over. He picks up his razor and puts it down. He places it back in his shaving kit. He imagines Scarlett beside him, standing at the sink. She soaks his skin with a wet washcloth. She takes the can of shaving lotion and sprays a generous amount in her hand. She lathers his face with it, fingering the white cream just below his sideburns, then spreading out her pretty hand and swiping it all over his cheeks. Scarlett takes the can and refills her hand with cream, and whitens the strip where he once had a small moustache. Her soft hand passes along his jawline, then dabs at his chin, and under his neck. Till he looks like a mummy.
The phone rings. He considers, then picks up. It is Maura.
“I didn’t think I’d get you. Don’t you have a conference call,” she says.
He takes the shaving cream can in his free hand and sprays the cream all over his right cheek. “In ten minutes,” he says. He shifts the phone to his right hand and sprays his other cheek.
“What are you doing?” Maura asks.
“I’m shaving,” Tom says. He has piled the cream on so it sits high on his face, like Soupy Sales when he got creamed, from a TV show he remembers.
Maura sighs. “I’m having a terrible day already,” she says. “Munger is on me again about the fucking report that was due last week, the report I put off doing because he hadn’t got me the clearance I needed. The moron. Jesus.” A silence ensues. “Tom, are you there?”
Tom is there. He has opened his straight razor and is delicately moving it down his face. He glances at his face in the mirror. He looks like a clown. The earpiece of the black phone is dipped in white foam. Flesh colored stripes have appeared on his face from where he has passed the razor. He places the razor blade against his throat. If he pressed in, with how much pressure? He could add red to the black and white. All the pretty colors.
Maura is still speaking. “Tom, are you OK? I’m worried. Are you going to be OK today? It’s been two weeks, today.”
“I’m fine,” Tom says. He passes the blade between his lower lip and the knob of his chin. “I was thinking, what is it about Scarlett Johansson.”
“Just a minute,” Maura says. Tom hears her talking to someone, probably her secretary. He finds Maura’s mascara in its pretty pink case, and traces a black line on the inside of his wrist.
Maura is back. “Sorry about that. What were we saying?”
“She knows what she wants,” Maura says. “She moves like she believes it. She’s what we would build if we could build people.”
Tom considers this. Then asks, “Would you kiss her?”
Silence. He finishes shaving and presses a hot washcloth to his face. He has nicked his chin. He tears off an inch of toilet paper and places it on the fresh cut.
“Yes,” Maura says. “Of course.”