Milan Taylor Triplett
It’s mid-evening. Earlier was a false start. Trying again at the coffee making and half-buttered biscuits and her silk nightgown slipping down at the shoulder, revealing a supple clavicle. Now her tea--peppermint, revolting-- cools on the blue tiles of the bathroom floor. She’s in the porcelain bathtub, cold rag on her porcelain forehead, waiting for her husband. Waiting for his hands to hoist her from the dry vessel, herself, the tub.
“Oh Milan,” he’d say for she was named after the glossy city by her father, whom her mother always called The Architect not for his trade but his personality. Always planning, that man. Would walk around the house with his little mug filled to the brim with his little coffee. He’d have to walk slowly so as to not spill a drop. But that’s something else entirely.
The point is Milan, named for the bloated and glittering city, is sitting in the tub, waiting for her husband to come home and say “Oh Milan,” and tut and hoist her out. Her husband is a pitcher and a jingle man. All day he’d sit in a room with several men and one lesbian and brainstorm how to sell shampoo and raisins and cough syrup. Then he’d come home, remove his shoes, and sniff the air to see what she had cooked. He’s been favoring fish lately. The air smells of pink peppercorn and truffle oil. She already imagines the Husband’s smile, that boyish grin as he shovels buttery fish from the prongs of his fork into his salivating mouth.
She sits, back to the door, sucking on a cigarette. The door is open anyway, letting the house breathe. The fern sags in the corner of the room. The soil in the pot is gray. Her Husband has not yet returned to her. She stayed in the bathtub for as long as she could. The fish is done. Moist, thick halibut she got from the fish market just yesterday.
“Oh Milan,” her Husband would say when he got home. “You’ve outdone yourself.” And he’d kiss her cheeks, then her cold, pink lips. And Milan would smile her secretive housewife smile and say “You always say that,” but would privately be pleased. But he isn’t home. And Milan had sat until the cold had sunk into her bones. Goose-bumped skin, running hot tongue over frigid lips wondering where the Husband was. The Husband’s name was All-American in a way, juxtaposing the smooth, exotic quality of Milan.
The fish is cooling in a glass dish. The fish is white, butter-glazed. She has her back to the door, drinking wine. She mixes red and white when she is bored, right in the glass. Red and white make pink, she thinks, believes this wholeheartedly. Sips, sips. Clock showing a time past seven. The Husband should have been here for dinner. They’d sit on the patio in the summer but it’s spring, and the weather is iffy so they eat in the dining room, Milan on his lap on days when she is exceptionally drunk and wanting.
The Husband would run his large hand through her hair and feed her. And Milan would kiss his neck, his chin, his chest. The Husband would discuss the latest jingle, even hum it for her on occasion and she would nod when she liked it and frown when she didn’t. The Husband would then ask her for advice, which Milan would always be too polite to give directly. So the next morning there’d be a post-it on the coffee maker with her advice written in fragile cursive.
The Husband smiles a lot. He is a former drunk. When Milan had met him he’d been working in a barber’s shop sweeping up hair. A college dropout on the cusp of twenty. She’d walked in, young, college-aged and surprisingly singular. Her usual salon had closed suddenly--the owner, her stylist, had had a sudden family emergency of some sort and anyway, she knew perfectly well that this was a barbershop and not a hair salon but could someone please trim her ends? If they were capable? They were quite out of hand you see. And would you believe that the Husband was the only man comfortable with cutting women’s hair?
And how acute the awkwardness when she sat down in the chair, black smock going over her clean clothing. How the man-talk had ceased in fear of offending her pure ears. Mere murmurs, you see, awkward shuffling, the baseball game on low, and the slice of shears. How the Husband’s fingers slightly trembled, as he grasped at the memory of how he would cut his sister’s honey blonde hair and tried to replicate it. She’d taken pity on their awkwardness, smiled and said,
“I’m Milan.” And the Husband said his name, which was painfully average.
“That’s a nice name,” he’d said. “Are you foreign?” as her hair dropped to the floor.
“Foreign to the city, yes. I’ve come for college.”
“Where do you go?”
“Oh! I went there. Great communications department. Phenomenal.”
“You’re a graduate? Already?”
And how the Husband had smiled, his easy boyish grin of embarrassment.
“No,” he’d said. “I dropped out.”
“Ah,” she said, but didn’t understand at all.
She’s naked now, bare in all her woman-ness. The day is done. The wet moisture sticks, oil slick, to her skin. Her skin: a mix between the holiness of alabaster and an ordinary peach. Lips pulled back, sharp shiny cheekbones reflecting the light back at itself. It rains. The window is open. She cracks her knuckles, thinks “crack” is a bad way to describe it. Thinks of other things cracking: a vase, a wine glass, marble. Thinks of the splintering, the web of breakage expanding from the point of impact. Milan determines that she is too tired to contemplate it further and stares at the water-warped ceiling in defiance of something she can’t quite name. She wishes she had bourbon or whiskey or even just some water, cold. Something she can feel sliding down her dry column of throat. This thirst reminds her of the wet air of a New Orleans summer. Those summers where she’d visit her Nana and take carriage rides and smell the rot of the Quarter. Every summer when Milan was young, she’d travel from her parents' D.C. townhouse and go down to her Nana’s lavish Uptown abode, just across from the city’s park. How many blonde haired boys had she wooed down there? How many Johns and James and Nicks and Davids had she strung along in those mere two months of the year that she ran along the bayous and cracked open crab claws?
Her Nana was a southern belle, her father’s mother, a woman who hated Milan’s own mother and was too honest to hide it. Never made Milan suffer for her mother, oh no no, that would be terribly unfair. But they’d sit on the porch in the evenings, Nana’s long silver hair slicked back into a messy bun, drinking moonshine out of mason jars and talking about every member in the family.
“Oh and your uncle Ben,” Nana would say, talking about her own son, “I’ve always known he was gay or bi-sexual or whatever the kids are calling it. Always. Felt in in the womb. You know when I was pregnant I thought I heard him kicking once? Your granddaddy was out of town so I panicked and went straight over to the doctor. So I went to Dr. Leeman, a family physician, been doing work in the city for years. But anyway, I went down there to the doctor’s office and they hooked me up to the machines and ran the tests and whatnot and Dr. Leeman came back looking all stern and he said, 'Well ma’am, his feet ain’t formed.' And I said, 'Excuse me? I heard him kicking.' And he said 'no ma’am it’s too early. Our scans prove it. What you must be hearing is his heartbeat.'”
“His heartbeat!” her Nana would always exclaim then, laughing her womanly, drunken laugh. “That’s how hard my boy’s heart beat.” And she’d shake her head, take another swig of moonshine and stare off past the porch at things Milan couldn’t see. “Right then I knew his heart was too big to only love one type of person.”
And Milan would listen and smile and wonder why her own mother wouldn’t get drunk with her. Her mother was too prim for that, too uppity, her Nana would say with a dismissive shake of the head. And for the rest of her life, Milan believed her.