The third Deadly Sin
Some days lasted forever; some were never born. She awoke in a fury of expectation, gone as soon as felt; the world closed about. Once again life became a succession of swan pecks.
Zoe Kohler, blinking, woke holding a saggy breast, soft as a broken bird. The other wrist was clamped between her thighs. She was conscious of the phlegmy light of late winter, leaking through drawn blinds.
Outside, she knew, would be a metal day, no sun, and a sky that pressed. The air would smell of sulfur. She heard traffic drone and, within the apartment house, the dull thumps of morning doors. In the corner of her bedroom a radiator hissed derisively.
She stared at the ceiling and sensed herself anxiously, the auguries of her entrails: plump organs, a living pulse, the whispering course of tainted blood. A full bladder pressed, and deeper yet she felt the heavy ache that would become biting cramps when her menses began.
She pushed the covers aside, swung her feet out of bed. She moved cautiously; something might twist, something might snap. She sat yawning, hugging herself, bending forward.
"Thursday," she said aloud to the empty room. "March thirteenth."
Her voice sounded cracked, unused. She straightened up, cleared her throat, tried again:
"Thursday. March thirteenth."
That sounded better. A huskiness, but strong, definite. Almost masculine.
Naked, she stood up, stretched, knuckled her scalp. For an instant she swayed, and grabbed the headboard of the bed for support. Then the vertigo passed; she was steady again.
"Like a dizzy spell," she had said to Dr. Stark. "I feel like I might fall."
"And how long does this last?" he inquired. He was shuffling papers on his desk, not looking at her. "A few minutes?"
"Less than that. Just a few seconds."
"Just before your period?"
She thought a moment.
"Yes," she said, "that's right. Before the cramps begin."
Then he looked up.
"Nothing to worry about," he assured her.
But she did worry. She did not like that feeling of disorienta-tion, however brief, when she was out of control.
She padded into the kitchen to switch on the electric percolator, prepared the night before. Then into the bathroom to relieve herself. Before she flushed the toilet, she inspected the color of her urine. It appeared to be a pale gold, but perhaps a little cloudy, and she wondered if she should call Dr. Stark.
Back to the bedroom for five minutes of stretching exercises, performed slowly, almost languidly. She bent far over, knees stiff, to put her palms flat on the floor. She reached far overhead, flexing her spine. She twisted her torso side to side, arms extended. She moved her head about on her neck. She thrust pelvis and buttocks forward and back in a copulative movement she had never seen in any exercise manual but which, she was convinced, lessened the severity of her menstrual cramps.
She returned to the bathroom, brushed her teeth, massaged her gums. She stepped on the scale. Still 124. Her weight hadn't varied more than three pounds since the day she was married.
Because her period was approaching, she took a hotter shower than usual. She lathered with a soap advertised to contain a moisturizing cream that would keep her skin soft and supple. She believed this to be true.
She soaped her body thoroughly and carefully, although she had showered before going to bed the previous night. While she was drying herself with one of the blue-striped towels stolen from the hotel where she worked, she looked down and regretted her smooth, hairless legs for reasons she could not comprehend.
And while looking down, inspecting, saw, yes, the glint of two gray pubic hairs, the first she had ever found. She uttered a sound of dismay, took manicure scissors from the medicine cabinet and clipped them away. She stared at the kinked hairs lying in her palm. Silver wires.
In the bedroom, she turned on the bedside radio, tuned to WQXR. The weather report was not encouraging: overcast, chance of showers, temperature in the high thirties. The announcer's voice sounded something like Kenneth's, and she wondered if her alimony check would arrive on time.
She dressed swiftly. White cotton bra and panties. Not-too-sheer pantyhose in a mousy color. Low-heeled brogues. White turtleneck sweater, tweed skirt with wide, crushed leather belt. Her makeup was minimal and palish. She spent as little time as possible before the mirror. Her short brown hair needed only a quick comb.
In the cabinet over the sink in the kitchen, Zoe Kohler kept her medicines and vitamins and minerals, her pills and food supplements, painkillers and tranquilizers: a collection much too large for the bathroom cabinet.
Taped to the inside of the kitchen cabinet door was a typed schedule of what items should be taken each day of the month: some daily, some every other day, some semiweekly, some weekly, some biweekly, some monthly. New drugs were occasionally added. None was ever eliminated.
She poured a full glass of cold grapefruit juice, purchased in quart bottles. On this Thursday morning, March 13th, sipping and swallowing, she downed vitamins A, C, E, and Bi2, iron and zinc tablets, her birth control pill, a Midol tablet, the capsule for her disease, half a choline tablet, two Anacin, an alfalfa pill, a capsule said to be rich in lecithin, and another of kelp, a single Librium, and an antacid tablet which she was supposed to let melt in her mouth but which she chewed up and swallowed.
She then had a slice of unbuttered whole wheat toast with her first cup of black, decaffeinated coffee. She put an ice cube in the coffee to cool it quickly so she could gulp it down. With her second cup of coffee, also with an ice cube, she smoked a filter-tip advertised as having the lowest tar content of any cigarette in the world.
She rinsed the breakfast things in the sink and left them there for washing in the evening. The kitchen was a walk-through, and she exited into the living room, moving a little faster now, a little more purposefully.
She took a coat from the foyer closet. It was a chesterfield in black wool with a gray velvet collar. She checked the contents of her black leather shoulder bag: keys, wallet, this and that, a small can of Mace, which was illegal in New York City but which had been obtained for her by Everett Pinckney, and her Swiss Army folding pocket knife, a red-handled tool with two blades, a file, an awl, a tiny pair of scissors, and a bottle opener.
She peered through the peephole of the outside door. The corridor appeared empty. She unbolted the door, took off the chain, turned the lock and eased the door open cautiously. The hallway was empty. She double-locked the door behind her, rang for the elevator, and waited nervously.
She rode down to the lobby by herself, moved quickly to the outside doors and the sidewalk. Leo, the doorman, was shining the brass plaque that listed the names of the five doctors and psychiatrists who had offices on the ground floor.
"Morning, Miz Kohler," Leo said.
She gave him a dim smile and started walking west toward Madison Avenue. She strode rapidly, with a jerky step, looking neither to the right nor the left, not meeting the eyes of pedestrians who passed. But they did not give her a second glance. In fact, she knew, not even a first.
The Hotel Granger, a coffin on end, was pressed between two steel and glass skyscrapers on Madison Avenue, between 46th and 47th streets. The entrance to the hotel, framed by stained marble columns, seemed more like the portal to an obsolete gentlemen's club where members dozed behind The Wall Street Journal and liveried servants brought glasses of sherry on silver salvers.
The reality was not too different. The Granger dated from 1912, and although occasionally refurbished, nothing had been 'modernized" or "updated." In the gloomy cocktail lounge, one still rang a bell to summon service, plastic and chromium were abjured, and over the entire main floor-lobby, desk, lounge, dining room, and executive offices-lay the somber, sourish smell of old carpeting, musty upholstery, and too many dead cigars.