Of the two toe dividers, pink and blue, Mona preferred the blue though she couldn’t say why. The pink kept perch over the toilet, on a wire shelf through which things sometimes fell, emery boards and tweezers, small vials of cream, a much-used Bic (the Silky Touch), reminding all visitors that this was originally a woman’s abode. With Pierce travelling the country at a blistering pace, collecting shots for his “baby,” a 700-page photo review of what he’d coined, at only twenty-nine, “reflective architecture” (“I’m expanding the language!” he chirped to Mona over the phone), to be called, at Taschen’s insistence, The Glass Half-Century, it still largely was.
Mona lay along the length of the sofa, painting concentric circles on her toes. She did the big nail first, turquoise, yellow, mauve. She wanted to see how far across she could go, though the baby nail, long as a fork tine is wide, would surely not permit the tiniest circle – even without the glass and a half of Pinot now staining her stomach lining.
Mona stopped to admire her toes. How prettily they spread! The smallest on the right, runt of the ten, had caught up to the others – mostly. Unless you’d seen it at birth, knew to look for it, you wouldn’t notice a thing.
When she was small, Mona’s father, before tucking her in, would kiss her eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and chin, then every finger and each of her toes, giving extra attention to her “shy little piggy,” which he stroked and nibbled, whispered and told secrets to. He swore one day it would outgrow the others, become so monstrous she would need special shoes. He pretended to cower before it, extracting promises of mercy for the distant future when he hoped it would rule with “justice and benevolence.” Then he’d back out of her bedroom, kowtowing obsequiously. Mona, awash in stuffed animals, and with the cool air on her just-kissed toes, giggled into her princess sheets.
With every pedicure, home or salon, Mona remembered this.
Her iPhone buzzed, playing Until You Come Back To Me. The Aretha Franklin cover was classic, but Mona preferred Stevie Wonder’s dulcet original, and got into lengthy “discussions” on YouTube with the trolls who couldn’t accept that someone, a woman especially, might have her own opinion on things.
“Baby! How’s Pittsburgh?”
“How are my girls?”
Mona’s winey lips spread across her teeth. She grabbed the old Samsung and, pulling her Malibu blue sports bra down, snapped a quick cleavage pic. In three taps it was texted: instant porn. Two cells made life so much better. Even Pierce had to admit it.
Pierce felt the blurp of wirelessly-conveyed, high-resolution C-cup cleavage. In his youth he’d coveted the behemoths (what a shocker), in college he learned the virtues of petite (whatever nestled between them looked, by comparison, much larger) and now he considered himself perfectly blessed to have settled somewhere in between. How he adored Mona’s breasts! They did everything breasts were supposed to do without ever being an encumbrance (or the kind of surprise that, say, cramming into the bathroom at seven in the morning while the toilet was in topless-use would occasion – one he’d never forget). Plus they looked great in a drop neck, or skating in a bikini top.
“Can’t wait. I’m at Primanti’s with some faculty. Apparently, fries on sandwiches don’t exist outside Pittsburgh. One guy recorded my reaction.”
“Fingered my nips.”
“I’ll show you. He sent it to me.”
“That was nice.”
“Yeah, I shouldn’t complain. They’ve been great. Put a chapter on Pittsburgh between New York and Seattle and they’re eating out of your hand.”
“That’s my baby. Nourishing the world with his big beautiful brain.”
There was a pause. While it was true Pierce’s head seemed too big for his body, especially over his narrow shoulders and rail-thin, 33-inch waist (on a six-foot-three-inch, 182-pound frame) it had never come up between them, except in accidental, indirect references, typically followed by short pauses, as now. Pierce filled the empty.
“Did Netflix come?”
“Let’s see. We have Young Frankenstein…”
“Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were—”
“Afraid to lube.”
“You’re so gonna get it.”
“No Blade Runner?”
“No Blade Runner.”
“Crap. I mean great. Don’t watch ’til I get back.”
Mona, swinging her painted foot high over the coffee table, turned and nestled into the sofa back, her body a question mark. “I have other things to watch.”
Pierce, in the Primanti toilet stall, smirked. “Oh? Architectural footage?”
“Of a sort.”
“Describe it to me.”
Mona tipped her glass, licked her lips. “Skyscrapers. Sleek, glistening superstructures.”
“‘Towering,’ would you say?”
“Oh, they fill up the frame. But they’re nothing compared to…” She finished the glass.
“My baby’s cock.”
When he started the book nine months ago, Pierce budgeted a year for travel. But with new towers rising even as they spoke, and Taschen unwilling to bankroll a photo-compendium that would be outdated by publication, he found himself revisiting cities, two, even three times. It wore on them – on him, at least. Hence the side project, to lighten lonely trips. Pierce called it “The Juxtapositions,” or “jxts” in texts.
By lying supine near well-placed hotel windows, with his erect member exposed and carefully propped, he could capture, in parallel proximity, two very unique erections. The Transamerica Pyramid and his penis (very flattering); The Freedom Tower and Little Pierce (ditto). As a general rule, elongated pyramid shapes, with their tapering, pointed heads, were the way to go. The possibilities were endless.
He’d sent her the first as a goof, but Mona laughed so hard – during a break in her master’s seminar on child psychopathology – that her classmates wanted to see. In tears, she waved them away. Pierce was encouraged.
Between Mona’s bosoms and Pierce’s dirty doubles, two phones apiece were crucial. They used iPhones to connect to the world, and Samsungs to each other. They could afford it. Mona, at her father’s pressing, had bought the two-bedroom with exposed brick den and load-bearing pillars that doubled as wine racks when the West Village seemed poised for a downturn. As if that could ever happen. She was glad she had (with her father’s continued help). With the profit they made from summer leasing, they’d seen Greece and Turkey, Italy and France. Next on the list: a summer rail tour of Scandinavia, where the coastal trains were as good as hotels.
What would he juxtapose there, Pierce wondered? The fjords, with their rocky crags?
“Silly. We’ll be together, then,” Mona teased. “Juxtapose me.”
But Pierce knew better. With her heavy weeks (“week” was optimistic), the migraines, constant calls from home, or wherever her father happened to be (he travelled for work, too) and then study for the GRE subject test – Mona entered the field late in the game and had some catching up to do – there was plenty to draw her away. She’d given Pierce the PlayStation, even a handheld for trips – called a Vita. There was always that.
But the silver lining to his perpetual travel was that his first night home, around twice a month, Pierce could expect a warm rekindling. He hadn’t decided if this was a contrast to what he normally received, or only seemed so following the absence.
Some juxtapositions needed interpreting.
“Are you there?” Mona asked. As if in response, Sampson, her black tabby, jumped up beside her. She scratched the little M over his eyes, knuckled an ear – then thighed him roughly to the rug.
“Yeah. But I should get back.”
“Network, network, network. You’ll see. It’ll pay off.”
“It already has. I’ve got first-hand, expert takes on all the best new architecture. They get quoted, a big glossy mention for their school – and I get paid.”
“That’s my boy. Bringing home that pork belly.” Silence. “Baby, is something wrong?”
With the project’s end finally in sight, Pierce could, for the first time, feel it.
“It’s almost over. What do I do now?”
Mona stretched along the length of the sofa. She flexed her pretty toes in the foam.
“You shine, baby. Like those big glass towers, clear and bright and shimmering. You keep on going and you shine.”
Sampson jumped again – right into Mona’s knee, turning as she reached for the bottle. He fell to the floor with a crash.
“Remember, I have a gift for these things,” Mona said. “I knew it the first time I saw you: this guy is going to shine.” She waved her finished foot on the sofa, felt the cool air on just-painted toes.
In the stall adjacent to Pierce’s, a man expelled noisily. The courtesy flush came late.
“So you shine, baby, and you keep on shining. Oh – and send fresh shots of your cock.”