Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Fiction
4513 words
SHJ Issue 15
Fall 2016

The Secret Life of Holly Golightly

by M. M. Adjarian

Tiffany Love—for the Discriminating Gentleman. The hot pink cursive script curved and swirled seductively across the computer screen. A close-up image of a tall woman in a sleeveless, backless, side-slit dress and matching elbow-length satin gloves appeared beneath the words. She was bending over her right leg, adjusting the elastic lace band on a thigh-high black stocking looking vaguely ill at ease. Angled down as she was, the woman’s décolleté exposed more than she apparently seemed to realize. A red heart-shaped button near the bottom of the screen offered official entry into the website.

Bobbie considered her homepage, a thoughtful expression on her face. She couldn’t complain about the amount of business she had been getting: five hundred to one thousand dollars a month for four Saturdays or Sundays worth of work. But perhaps she had been limiting herself. She opened the website editing program on her computer desktop, found the file she needed, and began her revisions. Tiffany Love—for Discriminating Tastes. Yes, that was better. Her site may have been intended for the discriminating, but that didn’t mean she herself had to discriminate against who could request her Love Shots.

Had any of the visitors to her site caught the allusions to Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Perhaps that was the wrong question to ask—had anyone even seen the film to begin with? Certainly, no one had caught the name reference. Bobbie shook her head. Who could ever forget Audrey Hepburn as good-time-girl Holly Golightly, moving sleek and svelte in her black sheath dress, that divine foot-long cigarette holder dangling from between gloved fingers?

It was the auburn hair, Bobbie decided. That and the height. Dark-haired Audrey had been a petite five foot seven. Bobbie was a large-boned six feet tall—or five foot twelve, as she liked to say. So much for elegant subtleties. No one really cared about the classics anymore: her students had shown her that.

Most of the names on the emails were new to her, so today was query day. Would she pose topless with a boa constrictor wrapped around her waist? Or naked, underwater, and bound Houdini-style in a 25-gallon fish tank? She laughed. Couldn’t people read? Bobbie did indeed do specialty photos along with the standard fare of nudes and lingerie shots. But never at the risk of making Tiffany Love look like a freak show. Besides which, she was very clear about the kinds of special requests she was willing to negotiate.

The sample pictures on her website showed what she would do. Bondage, fetish, domination, and submission were all fair game; ménage à trois or group sex scenes were not. If the client paid enough, Bobbie would also consider involving sex toys in her photos but not use them on herself. A woman had to have some standards, after all. Tiffany Love created photographic fantasies for her clients that involved her and her alone.

Bobbie sighed. The small, but no less welcomed amount of money she made as Tiffany Love wasn’t without the price of her having to deal with a few creeps every now and again. Not expecting much, she scrolled down quickly to the last message. A smile spread across her face as soon as she saw the sender: Fredrick George. Now there was a class act, and one sure to make up for the day’s lack.

My Dear Miss Love,

It would be so delightful to have a black-and-white image of just your face. Do the photo any way you want—I trust your artistic instincts—but please, leave the makeup off. And, please, could you also include a few color shots of your lovely feet and beautiful, beautiful toes. Bill me via PayPal, as usual.

Yours,
Fred

This was perhaps the fourth or fifth request he’d made to her in as many months. He never asked for anything in the least bit risqué, though this latest request made her wonder: did Fred have a foot fetish? But that seemed harmless enough. Besides which, his requests were always so polite. She would be sure to do the shots as soon as she could so he could look at the proofs and choose the images he wanted. At $50 a finished photograph, she couldn’t complain. But neither did Fred, who could have asked for retakes but never did and gratefully kept coming back for more.

Bobbie switched off the computer, got up from her desk, and walked into the living room, where she began rummaging through an oversized black shoulder bag for the latest set of papers she’d collected from her freshman literature class. It wouldn’t be especially pleasant to read through pages of clichéd—and more than likely plagiarized—observations on Hamlet’s tragic flaw. If Hamlet had a problem, it was that he was hung up on his mother, just like the last man Bobbie had let into her life five years before. She sat down on the sofa and began going through the papers, barely noticing the plop of fur that appeared next to her and began rubbing up against her side.

Bobbie scratched the top of her cat’s piebald head then began stroking his body. A purring Nameless responded by twisting around and taking her hand between his teeth.

“Fickle little bastard, aren’t you?”

Like almost all animals except humans, cats were honest about their feelings. And right now, Nameless wanted to be touched—but on his terms.

::

It had been another slow day at the college library. Wallace pushed up the horn-rimmed glasses that kept sliding down his nose. He checked his wristwatch and the clocks on the library walls waiting for 4:30 to arrive. It wasn’t so much that he looked forward to going home as much as he sought to get away from the people at work. At home, he had the silent consolation of his potted plants, which he nurtured with steady doses of Italian opera and Miracle Gro. And of course, there were his collections: the old black-and-white movies—Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard—that he’d seen more times than he could count; and the marked-up personal ads he kept stacked inside his bedroom closet and took such bittersweet pleasure in keeping close.

Wallace looked up from behind the circulation desk and out to the walkway beyond the library windows. Blue-jeaned, backpack-toting students streamed by on foot and bicycle. In the midst of this human flow, the librarian caught sight of a young couple sitting cross-legged on a bench in front of each other holding hands. From behind his thick lenses, Wallace could see how the young boy’s thumbs moved gently across the girl’s knuckles. The girl smiled as the boy’s lips formed the tender words that Wallace imagined streamed from her lover’s mouth.

Then he saw her: the tall woman with the short auburn hair and large, swinging hips. Wallace immediately forgot about the couple and stared unblinking at the woman as she made her way into the library. His stomach contracted and he felt sensations, no less disturbing for their familiarity, radiate from his navel down. Fumbling in one of the drawers, Wallace looked for his aspirin bottle.

The library doors swung open and Bobbie walked through, several books stacked clumsily in her arms. Wallace quickly turned away from the approaching figure, gulped down a small handful of pills and pushed the recalcitrant horn-rims back up his nose. He turned towards the desk, wishing that Bobbie could see the shine he knew must be coming from his half-blind eyes.

“Wallace! How are you?”

The librarian steadied himself.

“I’m well, thanks. How’s your semester? I haven’t seen you come in as often as you used to.”

“Not as much time for research. This semester the English department gave me an extra class I wasn’t expecting. Such is the life of the untenured adjunct—never enough work or too much.” Bobbie winked and added, somewhat conspiratorially, “It’s good to be in business, though.”

Resisting the temptation to grab for more aspirin, Wallace nodded solemnly as he felt his glasses sliding down his nose again. The winter afternoon when Bobbie had told him about her site nearly a year before remained imprinted indelibly in his memory. It was the afternoon he went home early to plunge first his head then the rest of his still-clothed body into the coldest stream of water he could run from his showerhead.

“Yes, it must be good to have an extra income when your position is so uncertain here at the college.”

Bobbie smirked.

“What I would give to see the expression on my department chair’s face if she ever found out about my other job. All the feminist theory in the world wouldn’t be able to explain it—or me—to her.”

“Your students are treating you well, at least?”

“It’s the same as always. The ones I get take my classes because they have to, not because they want to.”

Bobbie set all but one of the books in her stack down in front of Wallace.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Roberta. Really. Young people don’t seem to care much about education these days. All they care about is money—college is an afterthought.”

The librarian busied himself with scanning barcodes on the inside cover of the books and organizing them on the nearby returns shelf, trying to forget the sweat sliding down his spine like warm rain.

“Could you make sure that this one gets recalled?” Bobbie handed over the last book. “I’m still not done with it.”

Wallace looked briefly at the title: My Secret Life, Vol. I. His hands began to shake.

“I thought you were a modernist.”

Bobbie looked at the librarian, a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

“I am. But I love Victorian erotica—gloriously prurient stuff. There’s just so much going on behind the scratchy wool suits, crinolines, and stays. But it’s all so hush-hush—kind of like the goings-on in my department.” She laughed.

Wallace’s heart lurched. Pinpoints of light exploded across his field of vision like falling stars as he printed up a returns receipt for Bobbie. She would receive the electronic notice in her campus email. But the need to reach out to her, even in such a small way was irresistible.

“H-have a good afternoon, Roberta. Glad to see you again.”

As Bobbie took the receipt from him, her hand brushed against his. Wallace nearly jumped out of his skin.

“See you later.”

As Bobbie retreated towards the entrance, Wallace hurried to the restroom. He knew he was going to be sick.

::

When Bobbie returned home, it was five o’clock and the shadows were lengthening. She looked at the papers still left to grade on her sofa: Nameless was now lying on them, looking infinitely pleased with himself. “You can have them,” Bobbie murmured. She dropped her bag into a nearby chair, walked into her bedroom, and began undressing. One by one, shirt, pants, bra, and panties fell to the floor; she didn’t bother to pick anything up. Rubbing her arms, she walked towards the rectangular sliding glass window and drew the blinds. She stared out at the street five stories below and considered the occasional passing cars. Slowly she began to press her upper body against the glass plane. Bobbie shut her eyes and fantasized about what it might be like to have French windows instead. It felt good, this nakedness. A shiver rippled up her spine.

The first time she had ever exposed herself, Bobbie had been 15 years old, standing by a window in front of a camera doing studies in self-portraiture for her photography class. She wondered what it might be like if she took off her shirt and posed. Then the pants came off and so did her underwear. By then, the photo session was over.

Now it was just Bobbie, in front of her bedroom window, naked and feeling more free than she ever had in her young life.

Every piece of clothing she shed was a revelation, a way she could get closer to the skin-and-bones truth of Roberta Johns. No longer was she the quiet straight-A student who never gave her parents trouble and never made a fuss about anything. Now she was the flawed, too-tall girl with the little toe that grew too far in, hips that grew too far out, and a chest that refused to grow period. Naked, she was the Bobbie nobody knew: the knock-kneed kid who worshipped Audrey Hepburn and smoked a cigarette to honor Holly Golightly in the girls’ bathroom only to end up retching into a toilet bowl; the student who routinely tried failing exams but couldn’t; and the gawky teenager who had madly impure thoughts about the short, balding man who taught her photography class.

Bobbie pulled away from the window. The last light of the day showed a barely visible outline of where her body had rested on the glass: remains of her other self, her other life. Not yet ready to face the life that awaited her on the living room sofa, Bobbie set up her tripod and digital camera, leaned her head against the window and waited for the click. After she heard it, she took the camera off the tripod and reviewed the image.

The soft, slightly blurry quality seemed to enhance the eroticism of mussed hair, an upturned face, and partially opened eyes and lips. Bobbie ran the image through her camera’s black-and-white filters and her skin took on a luminescent cast. It looks like I’m on the verge of an orgasm, she thought as she folded up the tripod and turned on her computer. Fredrick was definitely going to get what he wanted—and then some.

::

Wallace got to the top of the stairs that led to his third-floor walk-up and stopped for a moment to catch his breath. Panting slightly, he made his way to number 309, tucked around the corner at the end of the hallway. He entered his apartment, switched on the light, and surveyed his sparsely furnished living room. A black sock had somehow managed to land on top of one his ferns; he picked it up absently. The stack of film CDs near his VCR would have to be returned soon. Sock in hand, Wallace moved towards the south wall of his apartment and looked at photographs hanging there, some framed, others casually tacked up.

She was lovelier than she would ever know. He took one of the images down from the wall, held it close to his face, his eyes moving down the stocking-less legs dangling from the edge of a blurred-out stool. Wallace took his index finger, ran it down the legs, and caressed the feet through the glass. Sweeping the room with a nervous gaze, he brought the photograph to his mouth and locked his lips onto the feet. Wallace shut his eyes and imagined that he was sucking on the brightly lacquered toes—one of which he knew to be crooked—that peeked out of a pair of red stiletto heels.

Wallace had been requesting shots from Bobbie’s website anonymously since early summer, usually asking for several pictures at a time. He wondered if she had caught the allusion his screen name made to Holly Golightly’s love-interest, Paul Varjak, whom she renamed Fred. Audrey Hepburn would be immortalized as the Texas country girl who runs away to New York to reinvent herself as a professional escort for wealthy men. But her handsome co-star George Peppard would never even make the Hollywood A-list. Wallace always took comfort in how handsome, talented men like Hepburn’s co-star could be as invisible as he was. As the glass covering the photograph of Bobbie’s legs and feet began to fog over, he found himself wondering: Was the role of client the only one he’d ever play in Bobbie’s life?

He pulled the photo away from his reddening face, hastily rubbing the black sock in his hand across the glass. If he could make one wish, it would be for Fred’s strength of heart. Fred told Holly that he loved her twice. Both times—once at the New York Public Library and again several months later in a taxicab on the way back to Holly’s apartment—Holly rejected him before finally admitting that she loved him in return.

A painful shudder ran through Wallace at the thought of how tongue-tied he could become whenever Bobbie was around. What he would give to be the charming, well-spoken Paul Varjak, who never seemed to be without anything interesting to say and who had no need of following well-worn pathways of conversation the way Wallace did.

The librarian walked towards his tiny kitchen, dropping his sock into the brown paper shopping bag that served as the living room trash can.

Several overdue library books lay strewn across the floor. He paused for a moment and looked at them; he would have to return the books tomorrow. As he bent down to gather them up, Wallace smiled. Yes. He would have to keep a closer eye than usual on the books that got placed on the hold shelf. And Bobbie might choose to keep her silence. But he had to try something. He hurried back to the picture-covered wall and took down a small, unframed headshot of Bobbie, her eyelashes heavy with mascara and eyes rimmed with kohl.

“Who are you, Tiffany Love?” Wallace half-whispered as he reached into his breast pocket for a pen, turned over the photograph, and began to write.

::

Bobbie unlocked the door to the office she shared with four other adjunct professors and slid inside, grateful that none of her colleagues were there. No one but she kept office hours this late in the day. It was strategic, of course. She hated department politics and the less she saw of her colleagues—and in particular, the more securely employed ones who avoided conversation with the adjuncts—the better. The last thing she needed was to be reminded of how low on the totem pole she sat and just how difficult her situation really was.

Bobbie looked inside her black shoulder bag and pulled out the book she had just picked up from the library. She had requested it two weeks earlier and finally it was in her hands again. She opened the book to Chapter 10 and picked up where she had left off:

Going one Saturday night up Granby street, Waterloo road, then full of women who used to sit at the windows half naked; two or three together at times in the same room on the ground-floor, with the bed visible from the street...[1]

A sisterhood of bared flesh exposed to the gaze of a male narrator: these were women who didn’t hide behind the façade of romantic convention. For them, uncovered flesh was simply a means to an end. It was the ultimate in transactional relationships. But then, stripped of the rosy-colored window dressing that passed for love, weren’t most human relationships at their very core, transactions of one kind of another? In the absence of an equality of need or desire, money could temporarily balance a relationship. And cash seemed so much simpler than the knottiness of real love and emotion. Not quite nuda veritas but close enough. The prostitute in search of truth, Bobbie mused. My Secret Life deserved to be taught in philosophy classes.

She flipped through the book and a piece of paper fell from between the pages. She stooped to pick it up and stared dumbly at a cheap digital print of herself. Turning the picture over, she saw a question scrawled in a childish hand: “Do you know who you are, Tiffany Love?” She felt the tremor of fear in her buttocks slowly creep up her back. Dear God, they know, she thought, too confused to figure out exactly who “they” were. I’ve as good as lost my job.

Bobbie imagined what would happen next: the inevitable meeting with her department chair, the demand for resignation for improper conduct. Yet, as jangled as she felt, an odd calm suddenly came over her. She would be forced to start all over again and show the world that Dr. Roberta Johns could do more than teach ungrateful undergraduates to write useless essays that no one but she would ever read. Bobbie would be unemployed but also liberated from a job with no future.

A few minutes passed and she looked at the picture again. Bobbie recognized it as one she had sent to one of her clients a few months before. Just another anonymous name without a face...and then she caught herself. Wallace? Could it really be him? Who else would know that Bobbie was the human connection between Tiffany Love and My Secret Life? Her body began to tingle. The strange quiver caught her off guard. She felt almost as alive as she did when she stood pressed against the windows of her apartment, wondering if anyone could see her from below.

But then she felt the raw edge of anger scraping her insides. Bobbie cradled her face in her hands. Her fingers trembled with rage and a curious excitement. Taking a deep breath, she replaced the photo inside the book, which she jammed back into her bag. Her students would have to come visit her another day, she thought, as she left her office, the door swinging wide behind her.

::

The clouds were dark and heavy. But Bobbie’s eyes focused on the pavement in front of her and moved with a stride that was as rapid as it was determined. She didn’t see or feel the drops of rain that were already starting to fall. What could Wallace have meant? Was this some cruel and elaborate joke he was playing on her? Clearly, she had misread him. All button-down shirts and sensible shoes, he had been the eye at the center of the storm that was her life at the college, always going about his job with a reassuring obliviousness to anything but managing systems of information.

As she neared the library, she looked into the big glass windows, straining to see Wallace among the people gathered around the circulation desk. For the first time, she noticed the raindrops, which had begun to fall more insistently. She felt a light dampness against her skin and wished she had paid more attention to the weather report earlier that day. Bobbie caught a reflection of herself in the glass and was startled by what she saw: auburn hair flat and damp, forehead creased, mouth twisted, but eyes searching and vulnerable.

Her pace slowed as she neared the entrance. What had seemed so clear to her only moments before in her office now seemed bewildering. She had to confront the librarian; but now, certitude was increasingly colored by hesitancy. Formerly sexless, predictable Wallace now seemed capable of anything.

Bobbie pushed the doors open and walked in, her heart beating crazy rhythms and her legs unwilling to move further. She saw Wallace partially visible between the shelves behind the desk. Gathering her courage, she walked to the counter and stood quietly, her eyes fixed on the librarian’s white-shirted form, trying to will him to look at her. When he finally turned around and saw her, his expression remained neutral.

“Wallace.”

“Yes?”

“We need to talk.”

“Of course. There’s my office,” he said, looking Bobbie full in the face.

“OK.” Bobbie walked around the counter to the little half-door entrance. Wallace unlatched it and walked through.

Wordlessly, they moved to the small, cluttered office that belonged to the librarian. Wallace closed the door behind them. Bobby took out the book with her photograph, extracted the picture, and waved it in front of the librarian’s myopic eyes.

“Fredrick George, huh? Why, Wallace? Who else knows?”

“No one.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Yes.”

Bobbie did not feel in the least reassured.

“But...why?”

Wallace looked away for a moment. “It—it was my way of supporting what you do,” he said, face still averted. “It takes courage to do something like that.”

Bobbie knew Wallace was hiding now, just like he hid behind Fredrick George.

“OK, OK fine. But can you please explain the message on the photograph for me?”

Wallace drew a deep breath, his face working. As the librarian struggled to speak, Bobbie looked at the way his thick lenses magnified his worried eyes. It reminded her of the way dead fish would gaze at her from their ice beds behind the glass casing at the meat counter. However great her anger and fear, she couldn’t help but also feel a tender revulsion for the librarian.

“You don’t have to be someone you’re not.”

“I’m sure you’re quite the expert on that, Fredrick.”

Wallace sighed.

“Some people might actually like Roberta just the way she is. Her quirky intelligence...her taste in film...the way her hips sway a little awkwardly when she walks...the way she trips over her feet, but gets up again and again...and...and...” He swallowed hard. “Her crooked right toe,” he croaked. “The one Tiffany tries to hide. I would—”

Thunder shook the library and reverberated like a warning inside the office walls.

“No, Wallace, no,” she cried, backing away, jerking the door open and hurrying away. The betrayal was far worse than she could ever have imagined. Reaching the front entrance, Bobbie hurled herself into the pouring wetness. She half-walked, half-ran in the direction of her apartment, unable to distinguish between tears and rain, her hair and clothes clinging to her body.

“Wait!” Wallace shuffled to the library entrance. Students trying to escape the downpour jostled against him, but he didn’t notice. He followed her into the rain.

“Roberta—Bobbie!”

Wallace bleated the syllables of her name. She turned around, afraid of what she might see. Raindrops pelted the librarian’s glasses. Cascading water had transformed his Oxford shirt into a weight which bowed his rounded shoulders even more.

The dull, persistent beating of her heart thudded in her ears. It sounded like the pounding of a judge’s gavel. The twenty feet that separated them might as well have been twenty miles; she felt helpless to comfort the forlorn-looking man before her. Her eyes lingered at Wallace’s limp salt-and-pepper hair, a sodden, matted mess. Suddenly an image flashed into her mind of a piebald cat streaking out her apartment door and vanishing into a gray morning.

Nameless, she thought. I’ve got to get him inside. He hates water.

Turning anxiously away, Bobbie dashed for home. She thought about how good it would be to get out of the rain once she found Nameless, who would no doubt be taking shelter under her car or a tree. He’d make her work to catch him, of course; he always did. Then he’d probably scratch her for good measure. But if he was in the right mood, he’d let her cuddle him as any sensible cat would.

 

 


Editor’s Note:

[1.] My Secret Life, authorship in dispute. For details, please see Book Checklist: My Secret Life: English and French Editions by Sheryl Straight.


SHJ Issue 15
Fall 2016

M. M. Adjarian

is a critic, essayist, freelance writer, and occasional poet. Her creative work appears in such journals as the Baltimore Review, Verdad, South 85, Crack the Spine, and Poetry Quarterly. Her other articles and reviews have appeared in Arts + Culture Texas, Bitch Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, and the Dallas Voice. Additionally, she has produced studies for a number of academic journals and compendiums and one book of literary criticism, Allegories of Desire: Body Nation and Empire in Modern Caribbean Literature by Women (Praeger, 2004).

Ms. Adjarian earned a BA in comparative literature from the University of California and a PhD in the same field from the University of Michigan. She is a faculty member in the Humanities Division at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas. An avid amateur photographer, she enjoys shooting film with vintage and toy cameras.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury