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.”