Dear Princess Di, For more than two years I have been writing this letter to you, and thinking, oh, Celia, go ahead and send it. She’ll write you back. Then I heard about your car accident and this letter I was writing made me cry and cry because you can’t ever answer me. You cannot say a word to answer all my questions. You are dead, leaving two darling boys behind in this cold world that must be a wall of darkness to their eyes. You died crushed inside a luxury car at the moment in your life when you finally found a little of the love you wanted.
Some dumb fundamentalist minister is going to make too much of the timing of all that. He’ll say you died because you were having so much fun. Oh, but to hell with him, if I might just not mince words for once.And I think you’d say don’t mince words, Celia. Because while he’s condemning you, he’s embezzling money from the ordinary people you tried to help.
I’m going to go on with this letter anyway, talking to the spirit of you as much as to the beautiful princess who could have held these words from my heart to her heart, in her hand. You’ll look down upon me with considerable empathy I hope. You’ll see yourself a little bit in me, though I’m no beauty like you were, Diana Spencer.Listen, I beg you, listen, wherever you might hover while I tell my tale of woe that might still have a happier ending.
I don’t love my husband, and this I know you will understand. Like Prince Charles, Donald is a man who cannot give to me, and I tried for the longest time like you to manage without being close to anybody, tried living like a robot but one day a new man paid so much attention to me I couldn’t help but respond, and the secret soap opera of my life started playing, and I cannot change the channel because I AM the channel and I am living the show and watching it at the same time. Sometimes I feel like I’m falling into a black hole in the ground where my name is scribbled in the earth. Celia Sloop, it says. I imagine my own grave in the cemetery plot my husband bought where he had a husband and wife gravestone erected right after we married.
I would rather be cremated than buried even though my family has a tradition of burying their dead. I know you were buried on your family’s estate but you didn’t have much say about that, did you? Nor did Donald ask for my opinion about our joint grave or the lyrics he had inscribed on the monument, “Brief life is, and brevity, Briefly shall be ended,” a favorite passage of his. Donald teaches poetry at St. Agnes College, an Episcopal women’s college here in Lindy, Virginia. He swears all the very best poems are about death, but I do not think the point of life is to spend your days thinking about it ending.
Although, Princess Di, I worried about you when the tabloids said you were going to have a nervous breakdown after you cried in public. You were just being human! Newspapers were always bringing up your attempted suicide, when pregnant with Harry, you threw yourself down the stairs. While they hurled accusations at you I was here in Virginia saying more power to you. Go on, I said to you, go stand in front of the cameras and say that if they were waiting to watch your nervous breakdown it wasn’t going to happen.
I will never rest in peace in Willow Hill Cemetery unless I play out the soap opera of my life and if Donald had tuned into the recent episodes he would not rest in peace either, even though he encouraged my course of action.
(I have always mistakenly followed the advice of men, first my father and then my husband, and now Alexander Renault who is a book salesman for Neptune Press in New York City. Neptune is the publisher I read slush pile romance novels for to earn a living, so I can buy my boys amusements and some new clothes for myself now and then. I have two boys like you did. My older boy, Joey, is the same age as Prince Harry and Ricky just turned seven in November.)
Princess Di, I did what I did because I felt dead, the way you said you felt after Charles made his mean comment at Harry’s birth about Harry’s red hair that came from your side of the family, and his disappointment over not having a daughter.Oh you felt dead and now you are dead. You felt dead before you were dead, and then alive again for one happy summer. You said any love for him that was left inside you died then. You said his words suffocated your love. I felt suffocated, too; I felt a cold wind rising up inside, a whirlwind of freezing air, and my heart grew so cold, I thought no one and no event, however dramatic, could ever melt me back to flesh again.
Then last spring on one ordinary Wednesday the boys were playing in the backyard after school. I was lying in the hammock. My sister, Randy, had just called to tell me my mother’s broken hip was mending better than had been expected, and the righteous tone of her voice made me feel like the black sheep of the family again. My father was the only one who really understood my need for freedom. He always said he felt tied down by his job as a small town lawyer, so he read lots of novels about adventurers in romantic places.
As I sat in the hammock reading a manuscript for Neptune, I tried to live out my fantasies in somebody else’s vision the way my father had. This was a badly written romance but so wildly lusty I kept reading long after I knew I’d have to recommend rejection which shows you where my mind was then. The protagonists, Judy and Todd, ripped their clothes off with balletic expertise while sunning on a deserted beach which was white and perfect and, of course, this island of theirs was not inhabited by insects. The spring air I breathed seemed to bubble in my mouth like the champagne Judy and Todd had just consumed in a secluded bungalow before they ran outside to shed their clothing. I smelled lilacs and roses and wisteria in the wind that blew wisps of hair onto my face. I remembered the way my high school boyfriend lifted my loosened hair back behind my ear before he kissed me, and I saw his face and hands so vividly that something live and warm rose up inside my chest, and it felt like the purest joy.
Beside my hammock Joey hunched his back and clawed the air with his arms flexed, his fingers spread; he had become the Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park, just to scare Ricky—he was too old for this with his own friends—but to scare Ricky he pushed him down against the corner of the sandbox, opened his jaws, and roared.
“Mommy, don’t let him eat me up.” Tears streamed Ricky’s cheeks.
“R’aaar,” Joey answered louder when he sensed Ricky’s terror.
“Don’t bite me.” Ricky’s shrieked words hit me dead center. I felt the dinosaurs themselves could come back to life, if I considered ripping my clothes off at a moment’s notice like Todd and Judy.
“Mommy!” Ricky screamed and I shoved the manuscript into its box in the hammock as I jumped up to pull Joey off him. I wrapped my arms around Ricky because he was crying so hard. His skin smelled sweet and fresh like the clean clothes I dry on the clothesline. His whole body shook and I started to cry with him. Donald had not held me close in his arms since the night Ricky was born. The smell of Ricky’s soft white arms whetted my appetite for a man’s more complicated smell. And, Princess Di, I know you wanted a man during your estrangement from Charles. You told us on worldwide TV that when you had a chance to fulfill your wishes you took it. Even if James Hewitt ended up telling the world he had an affair with you. I know how it feels to not be able to resist even when you know it might not be the best thing for you to do. James Hewitt must have looked like King Arthur himself galloping to you across the polo field on his big pony.
I wanted a knight of my own, Princess Di, and I wanted him without his shining armor on. I pictured myself naked on a beach or a bed or a floor or the deck of my own house or in a swinging hammock. The man of my desire and I made love in any one of these places appointed by the contours of a moment, and later we huddled on a couch or went out for coffee, shamelessly rubbing our legs together beneath the table.
Ricky’s cries softened and he dug his shoes into the sand as he returned my hug. He seemed to sense how much I needed to be touched and it did not seem like it should be up to my boys to meet my physical needs. I vowed I would bring the love back with Donald. Celia, I told myself, there must have been something you saw in him the day you married him.
That same afternoon while Ricky watched Looney Tunes cartoons I wrote to Donald on a greeting card that featured a Gustav Klimt painting of a woman with a parasol.You looked delicious in your argyle vest and green cap while walking by on Foxfire Lane last Sunday. With great admiration, your Mystery Woman. I sent the card to his office and waited a week for a comment. Nothing happened, so I wrote another. Would you happen to have space in your ‘Poetry of England’ class for a mature woman with dark hair and a scar on her thigh and an active libido? I’ve heard you recite poems with emotion and this arouses me. Your Mystery Woman.Again, no response. So I penned the final card: Roses are red, Violets are blue, I wonder what it would be like to go to bed with you. Your Horny Mystery Woman for whom sublimation is not an answer. I was shocked to read what I had written. It had been so long since Donald and I had had sex, I was beginning to make Freudian errors in my speech even with the children. When Joey asked me if I thought Barney, the dinosaur, was corny I said, Yes, but it’s all right to be horny in life. I sent the card unchanged.
I’m fairly sure Donald wasn’t involved with one of the girls at the college. If he’d had an affair I could have better empathized with him. I’d so often hoped you would forgive me for saying that, Princess Di. I know how it hurt you to have Charles lust after Camilla Parker Bowles.
But I think Donald didn’t need or want anybody even for sex because he got so involved with himself, like Narcissus staring into glassy water, with his image smiling back so that he received the uncomplicated love of himself. Donald’s mother fussed over him during his childhood when they lived on a military base in Quantico. She was so bored that she taught him her favorite poems and when he showed such talent for memorizing he became her trained pet.
That’s just the way he talked with me, as if I should have been an audience but, Princess Di, I just wanted to talk to him person to person. Donald was having an affair with language and with himself alone in his office while he thought about Donald: how Donald came off in class, how highly Donald’s grant application might be rated, how Donald’s article on Tennyson might be received. I bet he never noticed a significant beauty even when under his nose in the first row with her skirt hiked high.
Sometimes I pictured him in his office, making himself come there alone on his Futon and this seemed a more ghastly prospect for the rest of one’s life than the amorous wandering of Prince Charles. I didn’t idolize Camilla who stood between you and Charles from the start, and yet I didn’t blame her for wanting sex.
I waited for a response from Donald until I felt I had died and come back to life as a ghost who haunted my own house. On the Friday afternoon two weeks after I mailed the third card, Donald and I stood together in the kitchen; he had just arrived home from campus. I threw a bag of blue corn chips on the counter and opened ajar of chunky salsa. Donald dove in. I watched him eat in awe as my appetite died off.How very dapper you look, Donald, you stiff, I nearly spoke aloud suddenly. He wore a gray Burberry tweed jacket flecked with burgundy nubs and charcoal pants and wing tips which most people gave up wearing in high school. His bow tie was crimson and I imagined tightening it around his neck. He stood a few arms lengths away from me while I felt my throat clamping shut, but still my voice rose up.
“Did you get a postcard from a Mystery Woman?” I asked.
Donald strode over to the refrigerator and pulled out a Heineken and went back to eating chips. I wanted to howl then like the ghost I had become. I listened to the sound of his teeth gnashing, faster and faster, a sound like a chain saw heard on a morning when you’d like to sleep in. A dash of salsa dotted one of his shoes. Beau Brummel that he was, he ripped a paper towel off the dispenser by the sink, and wiped his shoe off in a sweeping gesture. I stood beside him and my heart fired like a cap gun.
“Donald, are you deaf?” I grabbed his elbow and stopped the arc of his hand aimed for more chips. His arm, opposing my strength, was a strange human pressure I had all but forgotten.
“Okay. I remember a weird postcard.” He pulled his elbow free and scooped a chip but I caught him against the counter, my arms on either side of him.
“Signed, Mystery Woman?” My voice was too light and wispy.
“I think so.” Donald pressed against my arms. “Let me go. I can’t remember how many cards I got.” The indifference implied by his amnesia impaled me. Through the arched door to the dining room I saw Ricky’s neon green plastic sword lying on the Dhurrie rug under the dining room table. It seemed to glow as if raised up by a cartoon hero swearing an oath against iniquity. I imagined stabbing Donald straight through his heart.
My head spun and Donald pressed against the cage of my arms, I stepped backward. Donald crossed the kitchen to stand inside the door to the dining room, the archway outlining him. And I thought back to the moment I met him, when I had noticed how he kept his hands fisted most of the time.There is something selfish about a man who cannot relax his extremities, Princess Di, and I always wanted to tell you this so you could more fully evaluate your men.
“Three. You got three cards signed Mystery Woman,” I screamed. “You should have kept them together. One was a scene of a woman with a parasol. One was a beach scene and one a photograph of a Georgia O’Keefe painting of a flower. I can’t believe you’re leaving it to me to say this.”
“Sending your husband cards is weird, Celia. I felt strange reading them. One of the cards was lewd. Are you trying to make me into a sordid Romeo?”
“I’m not a weird person,” my voice pitched louder. I swept my hand toward the chips, but knocked over the salt shaker spilling a white hill on the counter.
“Go ahead, find your Romeo. Good luck, Celia. Personally, I think you’ve been reading too many degenerate Romances.” Donald set his jaw. “They have ruined your brain and lowered your expectations of the human race.”
“What do you know about the human race?” I screamed, whisking the salt off the counter, the crystals drifting in air like sleet. I asked myself, Celia, how could you have married him? How could you have mistaken all his memorized poems for real emotion? I sensed a sharp nausea rising inside me. I had not eaten since breakfast.
Ricky burst into the room, running to me and raising the hem of my belled skirt to slide his head under and hide from Joey who chased him. He giggled. And I wished for a Romeo who would raise my skirt while he talked to me.
Princess Di, I lost ten pounds during the following three weeks and as I dropped weight I became beautiful even to the distrusting eyes of myself. It was the strangest sight, to see myself glow when I was digesting my own muscle for energy while a great swirl of dizziness spun like a halo inside my head. People began to tell me I looked like a movie star on my good days.
I know you starved yourself, too, Princess Di, and you became more lovely. I’ve heard that when a person starves like this she is digesting the muscle of her own heart. Still you looked so good men had to notice, and when they did, and Prince Charles didn’t respond, the attention of the other men began to feel like velvet sliding inside your skin. And it became a necessary, smooth lining once placed there.
When you fainted at the California stand at the Expo exhibit, you said you had only eaten a part of a candy bar that day. Some days I lived on one Fifth Avenue bar. Fifth Avenues made me think about living in New York where I could wear gold flecked stockings that would shine at night in the street lights. I would drink pink colored drinks at bars where smooth talking men would smile at the things I said.
I wanted you to be the only one who knew the next thing I’m going to say which I shouldn’t tell but if I don’t I will burst as I write alone here in Lindy: Romeo is alive and well in New York City, and his name is Alexander Renault. I met him last July when I traveled to New York to discuss the books I had read with my supervisor, Terry, at Neptune.
Alexander approached me in the hall as I was heading for my meeting with Terry.(My suitcases were downstairs at the desk with security as I had to leave for the airport in two hours.) Alexander strode toward me like a character actor in a ballet. When he reached me he stopped in his tracks, extended an arm my way and said, “Did I see you last weekend at the seminar on plot? At Fire Island.” His eyes were green and jewel-like as he looked me up and down. I was wearing a very short white cotton skirt which was the fashion then.
“I wasn’t even in the city,” I said.
“I could have sworn I saw you.” That was a line from a bad romance novel, but still I could see myself going to dinner with him.
“It really wasn’t me,” I said, wishing I could lie and say I had been there.
“Well, then, have we met?” he asked, moving closer, and smiling.
“I don’t think so.” I pulled the spandex hem of my skirt down my thighs which just caused him to stare at my legs with further concentration. Princess Di, when I was trapped at home with the boys, I felt his eyes on my legs as if they adhered to me, permanently.
“Let me introduce myself. I’m Alexander Renault. I’m a book distributor for Neptune.” He held out his hand.
“I’m Celia Sloop, from Lindy, Virginia. I read for Neptune.” I plunged my hand inside his and he held me there in the hallway.
“How about lunch?” He would not relinquish my hand even though supervisors and executive editors were accumulating in the hall beyond us.
“I leave in an hour for the airport and still have to meet with Terry.”
“Then promise me dinner next time you come to New York. Here’s my card. Call my 800 number and leave a message if I’m not in.” He pulled a business card from his sportsjacket pocket like a six gun and thrust it into my hand.
During the summer months that followed the thought of beautiful sex with Alexander became like food to me. I didn’t eat unless I reminded myself to. In September I weighed 130 and for a person five foot ten that is model thin, and as lithe as I ever was in high school. My cheek bones showed under my skin and I saw the outline of my skeleton. Sometimes I did not know the woman I saw in the mirror each morning. The woman I saw in the mirror had cheeks like stones, and eyes carved into her skull, and a mouth like a puppet’s mouth. Yet I looked glamorous, as the waif look was being featured in all the fashion magazines.
I so rarely experienced hunger it surprised me when I felt the vaguest pain slice deep in my stomach as I dressed for my trip to New York the first week in October. I sheathed myself in different outfits while Ricky and his friend, Carlton, buzzed around my bedroom, chasing one another with swords. I said to myself: Celia, you are the fire spouting dragon they ought to kill before you go off to that god forsaken city. And then I riffled my purse for my wallet, pulling Alexander’s business card out, and picking up the phone to dial the 800 number. I expected an answering service, but a secretary answered and when I told her my name she put me through to him.
“I’m glad you called.” His voice was a salve that muffled all the chaotic sounds of my household, unifying them into one wave of music. The boys fought on the bed where I sat, and I had to ask Alexander to repeat what he said.
“I’m really sorry for the noise here,” I apologized. “It’s just Ricky and his friend,” I laid my hand on my neck then, flat with my fingers spread like a huge necklace.
“They’re probably over stimulated,” Alexander said smoothly. “I would be if I were in your bedroom with you.”
“I don’t think it’s me,” I said in a breathy voice. “I think it’s male bonding.”
“I never knew a man I would choose to bond with when I could bond with a beautiful woman.” I noted Alexander’s elocution was impeccable which seemed a particularly fine asset for someone in sales. He suggested we meet for dinner that very evening at The Mozart Company, a restaurant in the west 70’s. I quickly agreed, writing the address down on his business card, my handwriting steady when it shouldn’t have been.
“See you at seven. I’ll be the portly man who looks like he’s expecting an angel.” I laughed because he was actually very trim and then I pictured myself for a moment with wings.
“Good-bye, Celia,” Alexander said with so much happiness in his voice it pressed through to me; I walked on that happiness all afternoon, as I pulled my short black skirt on and my gray striped stockings.
The day was cloudless when my baby-sitter, Geena, drove me to the airport. I couldn’t have Joey staying with Ricky alone for a whole weekend and I couldn’t have Donald saying good-bye to me at the airport. Princess Di, I recalled how I once read that for years you preferred to travel in a separate airplane rather than fly with Prince Charles.Oh, God, and then he was the one who flew your body home from France. I suppose if you have to die young it should be in Paris.
I hugged my boys good-bye the same way I imagined you would hug Harry and William. I felt I could have lifted the two of them onto the roof of the station wagon in one sweeping motion. I laughed loudly and said, “Mommy’s going to the big Apple.”
“Hope it’s not rotten.” Joey grinned.
“Or wormy,” Ricky said, scrunching up his nose.
“I will take a bite and when I get home I’ll tell you what it tastes like.” I laughed again, so mirthfully, I sounded like a witch who had been transformed into a good fairy. If Alexander Renault could change me with a brief phone conversation, I asked myself what would happen over dinner.
At Neptune Terry and I met in her office in the 20th floor suites of the high-rise in midtown Manhattan. Outside the Friday afternoon traffic roared and rumbled, the taxi horns playing above the other sounds like modern music. Alexander was out of the office all day, selling to his distributors; he had left me a note saying he would miss seeing me. I pictured his stance in the hallway and recreated his deep voice as it had resonated on the phone.
When I imagined Alexander across the dinner table from me, I felt voraciously hungry. I tried to concentrate on Terry’s comments but my stomach growled so loudly Terry looked at me over her tortoise eyeglasses that had fallen down her nose. I tried to muffle the rumbling with my hand.
“Sorry,” I said, “but I’m starving.”
“It’s all this reading about love affairs in exotic places.” Terry stood up and grabbed her pocketbook. “Reading fantasy romances sure put the pounds on me when I came to Neptune,” she said, “let’s go to lunch before we start chewing the furniture.” I laughed a nervous laugh, a chirping laugh I had not heard coming from my mouth since junior high school.
Terry took me to an upscale pizzeria on 45th Street where I ordered a huge deluxe slice. I ate it without dissecting it in my usual fashion. I was still hungry after lunch so we bought ice cream from a street vendor as we walked back to Neptune. I wondered if I was the same woman who couldn’t finish a slice of toast at home. All of Alexander’s lines flew through my mind, coalescing into one powerful healing remedy for my starvation, then fragmenting to one liners again, each poised in a gleaming sliver spoon.
Though the ice cream hurt my teeth, the cold inside me began to break apart then. For so long I’d felt colder than I felt after I delivered Joey, when my body convulsed, my legs and arms shaking, my teeth clattering. The delivery room nurse placed blankets that came out of an oven over me until I lay still, warm, and calm. Alexander’s words sent a warmth like those heated blankets through my body.Princess Di, I’m sure you felt this way with James Hewitt before he betrayed you. And with Dodi Fayed, who made your dreams happen, and then die. I can eat when I am with Alexander in New York, but as soon as I come home to Lindy I stop feeling hungry. Now I will tell what happened at dinner.
At 5:30 I checked in at my hotel room in midtown Manhattan. I was staying in the Hotel Constellation which was not the Ritz, but I couldn’t complain since Neptune was paying the bill. I changed into a black off-the-shoulder body suit with long sleeves and a tight black and white striped skirt. I couldn’t help but think of your wedding gown, Princess Di, how delicate your shoulders looked draped by those oversized puff sleeves. I looked out over the city for a moment, and the first lights in the farthest distance looked like the tips of burning sparklers; the whole city seemed to be celebrating with me.
I arrived early at The Mozart Company. It was cool and windy outside and my hair was tangled so I stopped in the ladies’ room to freshen up before Alexander arrived. If he was to be memorizing my image, then I wanted that image to be the best it could be. If that is vain and despicable of me (as in frailty thy name is Woman one of Donald’s favorite passages from Shakespeare), then God will strike me dead in the midst of my folly.
I spread on a true red lipstick and smiled into the bathroom mirror checking to see that I had no lipstick on my teeth. My hair sprung near ringlets and lifted at the crown like excelsior.What are you doing here, Celia, I asked my image, and a voice inside me answered, I’m here to have a pretty drink before dinner and stare at a handsome man in the candlelight. I’m here to answer his questions. I’m here because I don’t want to be a bitter old woman who scoffs at affairs of the heart when Ricky and Joey fall in love. I’m here because there is nowhere else in the world I can be other than here at this moment; there is purpose and exactitude to this day.
I hung my black dress coat up on a metal hook beside the bathrooms and walked back out to the main floor. I saw Alexander across the restaurant floor. He was looking for me, his face soft and opened like Ricky’s face when he first wakes up. Princess Di, I felt as if I wore the high school homecoming crown again as I walked toward him. He smiled and waved and when I reached him he kissed me on the cheek, grasping my hand between both of his hands.
“Celia. You look beautiful.” His breath warmed my neck.
The maitre d’ whisked us to a side table set along a bricked wall. Alexander pulled my chair for me; and I dropped onto the blue paisley cushion. Our napkins rested on the white tablecloth like the beached dinghies on Todd and Judy’s beach.
Alexander handed me a menu that was as large as a stone slab. My wedding ring glinted in the yellow light. I twisted it on my finger. I imagined Ricky’s and Joey’s faces suspended over their own fast food dinners at home.
Alexander asked me what I wanted to order, and although my stomach twisted with hunger, whenever I looked up at him I started to talk about my day. I described events in minute detail, each detail leading to another observation so that I felt I could not stop talking.
A waiter arrived at our table to take our order and when he suggested the salmon special, I said, yes, I like fish; so Alexander ordered the salmon for me. I said, I’d like a drink, too, something pretty and pink, and Alexander asked for a Campari and soda, for each of us.
“So, tell me what your days are like back home.” Alexander laid a ringless hand on the table, spreading his fingers. I wanted to trace his hand on the tablecloth, the way I traced Joey and Ricky’s hands on paper. His face was the smooth face of a man who had just turned 40. He grinned and flicked his hair off his neck, over his shirt collar. “Then I can bore you with a typical day of mine in New York.”
“You go first,” I said as the waiter set my Campari on the table.
“I start off walking my golden retriever, Rex,” Alexander said.
“When my daughter’s staying with me, I take her to school after we argue about what she should eat for breakfast. By the time I hit the office I am ready for a nap but I see that I have to pick up the phone for Neptune if I want to pay the rent on my ex-wife’s apartment. So I get to selling books I would normally use for kindling.”
I laughed deeply. First impressions had told me he would be arrogant. Alexander said he had divorced his wife two years ago, after she had an affair and he’d tried to forgive her but instead he worked too many hours a day for too many years, becoming an absent husband.
After the divorce, he slacked off at Neptune where he had worked for seven years. He began pursuing his ambition to be an independent literary agent. In the late afternoons and evenings he worked out of his apartment representing several serious (and still penniless) first novelists.
“And if you think all my evenings are spent pleasantly like this, that’s fiction,” he said.
I said my evenings were spent in the trenches of domesticity, so that this evening seemed hypnotic, an elixir I could drink and drink and drink. I said Neptune owned my soul day and night when I was reading, and since he hadn’t read many of the romances I described Todd and Judy’s escapades in detail, particularly the disrobing which caused Alexander to lean toward me over the table, the candle light illuminating his face. I wanted the kiss I described, Todd’s tongue moving inside Judy’s mouth like a fish. I licked my lips like the animal I knew I was. I traced the line of my knife on the table with a finger.
“Todd slipped Judy’s bikini off and threw it into the palm fronds.”
I made that up. That wasn’t the way it had happened. I couldn’t remember the sequence of events from the story anymore, I took a sip of my pink drink that made my head feel as light as heat waves. I laid my foot on top of Alexander’s foot and felt a warmth rising inside me. Alexander rubbed his leg up my calf. “Judy dropped naked onto the towel Todd hurled across the sand,” I said.
Dinner arrived and the beauty of the salmon with steamed spinach and rice on the side seemed like a painting set before me. I went on with Todd and Judy’s lovemaking, scooping up huge bites between paragraphs while Alexander’s foot wore a groove in my calf.
“Will you come over to my place for a nightcap? Come, see my view of the city?” Alexander asked, when we had nearly finished with our entrees. He set his hand next to mine on the table and grinned.
“Oh,” I nearly gasped.
“Is that a yes?” He asked, pushing his silverware to the side of the table.
“Yes,” I said, wresting my shoulders up out of my body suit, baring the hills of muscle that had firmed from carrying the boys for so many years, time I would never ask ransomed.
The doorman looked at me as we entered Alexander’s apartment building as if he were a father checking to see if I lived up to his expectations. We stepped inside the wood lined elevator, its sole passengers. Alexander pressed the 35th floor and we rose inside the levitating box of steel.You can tell so much about a man inside an elevator; Princess Di, you must have noticed this. You can tell so much by noticing what he looks at. If he stares at the bare watt, or down at your pumps and the floor. Or if he looks up and watches the lights for each floor luminesce. If he watches the lights for each sequential floor illuminate, as if you are moving toward some terrestrial excuse for Heaven.
Alexander watched the lights and rested his hand on my forearm. We rose so fast, I felt my legs buckling. I knew I would have ship’s legs when I stepped into the hallway. I saw floor 35 light up and the elevator slowed, then halted, hanging us for a moment inside the shaft. The wood of the room pulled us closer together.
The door opened. My legs felt tremulous. I would have ship’s legs in the hallway and then ship’s stomach later in Alexander’s apartment, but I let him lead me by the arm toward that vertigo I craved. And Princess Di, I thought of you as he unlocked the door to his apartment, because you were very much alive then and dating Dodi Fayed. I said to myself as he pulled the key out of the opened door, Celia, you should ask her. Go ahead. Ask her if life really opens up or if this is all a dream that will fade like smoke if you leave Donald. Will Alexander evaporate? Is Romeo a figment of my imagination as Donald says he is? Is love air inside a closing fist? Or, Princess Di, did you watch the numbers light up as you ascended inside some elevator at the Hotel Ritz across the Atlantic, your hand rounded inside Dodi’s hand? Did you watch the numbers luminesce and did you talk non-stop although you didn’t have any idea what you were going to say next? Is that the way it was for you? Were you sometimes happy? Go ahead, and ask her, I said to myself. You’ve got to. Ask her.
And now you can’t answer me, and I can’t tell you that sometimes I am happy. You’re gone and I’m saying it, Princess Di, to the air, to the universe. Though, Princess Di, I wonder if I’ll survive leaving Donald. I wonder if it’s too dangerous to live alone with two children who need you so much you can feel it weight the air around you all day long. Will Ricky and Joey ever understand what I’ve done? Was your freedom won at the cost of your life?
I, for one, will remember you free for a few hours, for some fragile minutes at the restaurant in the Paris Ritz with Dodi Fayed. Maybe you knew just the way that I knew with Alexander at dinner that a lot of what he said was laced too thick with honey and exaggerated affections. But you also knew that nothing you found with a man would be perfect. Not a thing would have been. So you died happy which is more than can be said for most people. We’re all dying while we’re living, and that’s all the reason more not to stay in a life that’s dead.
I think I always somehow secretly knew what you would have told me to do when the tectonic plates of my life shifted. And I took the advice I thought you would give. I hope you can look down and see my little circles of flight in this small life—tiny arcs, little shivers of joy and longing, and my grief for my lost life and your lost life too—I hope you can see flickers of my light from wherever you listen, from wherever you watch. I hope you can see me fly through this brief moment that is my life, and that you know I will always remember you, Diana Spencer, with your arms opened wide to your two boys and to this transitory world.
Love always, Celia Sloop