Mary Bliss McGowan and Katharine Weidman had reached a point in the evening from whence there was no return. They had half a bottle of Tanqueray. They had limes. Plenty of ice. Plenty of time. It was only the Tuesday after Memorial Day, so the summer still stretched ahead of them, as green and tempting as a funeral home lawn. The hell of it was, they were out of tonic water.
"Listen, Kate," Mary Bliss said. "Why don't we just switch to beer?" She gestured toward her cooler. It had wheels and a long handle, and she hauled it down to the Fair Oaks Country Club pool most nights like the little red wagon she'd dragged all over town as a little girl. "I've got four Molson Lights right there. Anyway, all that quinine in the tonic water is making my ankles swell."
She thrust one suntanned leg in the air, pointing her pink-painted toes and frowning. They looked like piggy toes, all fleshy and moist.
"Or maybe we should call it a night." Mary Bliss glanced around. The crowd had been lively for a Tuesday night, but people had gradually drifted off -- home, or to dinner, or inside, to their air conditioning and mindless summer sitcom reruns.
Bugs swarmed around the lights in the deck area. She felt their wings brushing the skin of her bare arms, but they never lit on Mary Bliss, and they never bit either. Somebody had managed to hook up the pool's PA system to the oldies radio station. The Tams and the Four Tops, the same music she'd listened to her whole life -- even though they were not her oldies but of a generation before hers -- played on.
She and Katharine were the only adults around. Three or four teenaged boys splashed around in the pool, tossing an inflated beach ball back and forth. The lifeguard, the oldest Finley boy -- Shane? Blaine? -- sat on the elevated stand by the pool and glowered in their direction. Clearly, he wanted to lock up and go to the mall.
"No," Katharine said, struggling out of her lounge chair. "No beer. Hell, it's early yet. And you know I'm not a beer drinker." She tugged at Mary Bliss's hand. "Come on, then. The Winn-Dixie's still open. We'll get some more tonic water. We'll ride with the top down." Mary Bliss sniggered and instantly hated the sound of it. "Well-bred young ladies never drive with their tops down."
Katharine rolled her eyes.
The Weidmans' red Jeep stood alone in the club lot, shining like a plump, ripe apple in the pool of yellow streetlamp light. Mary Bliss stood by the driver's door with her hand out. "Let me drive, Kate."
"What? You think I'm drunk?"
"We killed half a bottle of gin, and I've only had one drink," Mary Bliss said gently. Katharine shrugged and got in the passenger seat.
Mary Bliss gunned the engine and backed out of the club parking lot. The cool night air felt wonderful on her sweat-soaked neck and shoulders.
"I can't believe Charlie gave up the Jeep," Mary Bliss said. "I thought it was his baby. Is it paid for?"
"What do I care?" Katharine said, throwing her head back, running her fingers through the long blonde tangle of her hair. "My lawyer says we've got Charlie by the nuts. Now it's time to squeeze. Besides, we bought it with the understanding that it would be Chip's to take to Clemson in the fall. I'm just using it as my fun car this summer. We're having fun, right?" "I thought freshmen weren't allowed to have cars on campus," Mary Bliss said.
"Charlie doesn't know that," Katharine said.
Mary Bliss frowned.
"Shut up and drive," Katharine instructed.
The Winn-Dixie was nearly deserted. A lone cashier stood at the register at the front of the store, listlessly counting change into her open cash drawer. Katharine dumped four bottles of Schweppes Tonic Water down on the conveyor belt, along with a loaf of Sunbeam bread, a carton of cigarettes, and a plastic tub of Dixie Darlin' chicken salad.
"Y'all got a Value Club card?" the cashier asked, fingers poised on the keys of her register.
"I've got better than that," Katharine said peevishly, taking a twenty-dollar bill from the pocket of her shorts. "I've got cash money. Now, can we get the lead out here?"
The fluorescent lights in the store gave Katharine's deeply tanned face a sick greenish glow. Her roots needed touching up. And, Mary Bliss observed, it really was about time Katharine gave up wearing a bikini. Not that she was fat. Katharine Weidman was a rail. She ran four miles every morning, no matter what. But she was in her forties, after all, and the skin around her neck and chest and shoulders was starting to turn to corduroy. Her breasts weren't big, but they were beginning to sag. Mary Bliss tugged at the neckline of her own neat black tank suit. She couldn't stand it the way some women over thirty-five paraded around half naked in public -- as if the world wanted to see their goods. She kept her goods tucked neatly away, thank you very much.
Mary Bliss made a face as she saw Katharine sweeping her groceries into a plastic sack. "Since when do you buy chicken salad at the Winn-Dixie?" she asked, flicking the tub with her index finger.
"It's not that bad," Katharine said. "Chip loves it, but then, teenaged boys will eat anything. Anyway, it's too damn hot to cook."
"Your mother made the best chicken salad I've ever tasted," Mary Bliss said. "I still dream about it sometimes. It was just like they used to have at the Magnolia Room downtown." Katharine managed a half-smile. "Better, most said. Mama always said the sign of a lady's breeding was in her chicken salad. White meat, finely ground or hand shredded, and some good Hellmann's Mayonnaise, and I don't know what all. She used to talk about some woman, from up north, who married into one of the Coca-Cola families. 'She uses dark meat in her chicken salad,' Mama told me one time. 'Trailer trash.'"
"She'd roll over in her grave if she saw you feeding her grandson that store-bought mess," Mary Bliss was saying. They were right beside the Jeep now, and Mary Bliss had the keys in her hand, when Katharine shoved her roughly to the pavement.
"What on earth?" Mary Bliss demanded.
"Get down," Katharine whispered. "She'll see us."
"Who?" Mary Bliss asked. She pushed Katharine's hand off her shoulder. "Let me up. You've got me squatting on chewing gum."
"It's Nancye Bowden," Katharine said, peeping up over the side of the Jeep, then ducking back down again. "She's sitting in that silver Lexus, over there by the yellow Toyota. My God!" "What? What is it?" Mary Bliss popped her head up to get a look. The Lexus was where Katharine had pointed. But there was only one occupant. A man. A dark-haired man. His head was thrown back, his eyes squeezed shut, his mouth a wide O, as if he were laughing at something.
"You're crazy, Katharine Weidman. I don't see Nancye Bowden at all." She started to stand. "I'm getting a crick in my calves. Let's go home."
Katharine duck-walked around to the passenger side of the Jeep and snaked herself into the passenger seat. She slumped down in the seat so that her head was barely visible above the dashboard. "I'm telling you she's in there. You can just see the top of her head. Right there, Mary Bliss. With that guy. Look at his face, Mary Bliss. Don't you get it?" Mary Bliss didn't have her glasses. She squinted, tried to get the man's face in better focus. Maybe he wasn't laughing.
Mary Bliss covered her eyes with both hands. She felt her face glowing hot-red in the dark. She fanned herself vigorously.
"You're such a virgin." Katharine cackled. "What? You didn't know?"
"That Nancye Bowden was hanging out in the Winn-Dixie parking lot giving oral sex to men in expensive cars? No, I don't think she mentioned it the last time I saw her at garden club. Does Randy know?"
Mary Bliss turned the key in the Jeep's ignition and scooted it out of the parking lot, giving the silver Lexus a wide berth. She would die if Nancye Bowden saw her. "It's called a blow job. Yes, I'm pretty sure Randy knows what Nancye's been up to. But you can't bring yourself to say it, can you?" Katharine said, watching Mary Bliss's face intently.
"You have a very trashy mouth, Katharine Weidman. How would I know what perversion Nancye has been up to lately?"
"I guess y'all were down at Seaside when it happened. I just assumed you knew. Nancye and Randy are through. She moved into an apartment in Buckhead. He's staying in the house with the kids, at least until school starts back in the fall, and his mother is watching the kids while Randy's at work. Lexus Boy is some professor over at Emory. Or that's what Nancye told the girls at that baby shower they had for Ansley Murphey."
"I had to miss Ansley's shower because we took Erin down to Macon for a soccer tournament," Mary Bliss said. "I can't believe I didn't hear anything, with them living right across the street. The Bowdens? Are you sure? My heavens, that's the third couple on the block. Just since the weather got warm."
"Four, counting us," Katharine said. "You know what they're calling our end of the street, don't you?"
Little Bitty Lies