Gary Percesepe


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?”

Scarlett Johansson.”

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.”