Sherry feels she looks better in the hotel’s mirror. Whenever she’s putting on her makeup (never too much) in the bathroom, her cheeks always seem a little less puffy to her, less chubby, and her jawline seems cut and slender and beautiful. Her skin looks great—same with her hair, and her eyebrows, and even the nose that her bratty little sister, now thankfully ensconced with that rich dope in one of the Carolinas, couldn’t resist making fun of every damn chance she got—even her nose seems smaller and even slightly upturned. She looks like a woman even though she never feels like one.
She stands on the toilet seat and checks out the other proportions of her body. Nice, she says aloud to herself, nice. She wonders if the place has one of those mirrors like she’s heard they have in some hotels and department stores—the ones that make you look slender, especially when the light is muted somehow. The ones that make you want to stay an extra night or buy one more twin set.
Outside, she doesn’t feel good at all in South Beach. A couple of times she thinks she sees guys looking at her, checking her out, but she never feels worthy of that. She finishes her lunch quickly, the dog at the next table sniffing at her french fries and the waiter advising her to keep an eye on her muffin—finishes her lunch and then heads right back to her hotel to shower and change and try to do something with her hair. But inevitably when she returns to the cafe or goes to the beach she still feels bloated and obvious and dirty there, and the others still look laughingly beautiful.
“You need service?” a woman asks her when she is on her way back outside for shopping.
“You need service? You know, housekeeping?”
“Oh. No,” Sherry says, “that’s not necessary. I’m checking out today anyway.”
She rushes back out to Ocean Drive to pick up souvenirs. It’s a blur. Her flight leaves in three hours and she has bought nothing. She goes at it in a frenzy: sometimes her credit card works and sometimes it doesn’t. She bumps into a couple getting up from their table at the News Cafe, the woman a bikini babe with a black mesh dress, and the man wearing a conventioneer’s badge. HELLO, it says, my name is Sam.
“I’m sorry, excuse me,” Sherry says, but they just walk on, the man telling the babe that the keynote speech is on latency.
On the plane ride back, news from the crash of the something-or-other Air flight some-number-or-other is fresh in her mind from the CNN report, and she worries that everything is latent, anything is possible. It’s pouring rain and windy and the landing is rough. She arrives back at her house, sets her luggage down in the hall, checks for phone messages (five), and goes to the basement. The floor is flooded: she dips her toe in, further, further, and it’s about three inches. It’s still early enough to call that plumber her sister-in-law told her about. She goes back upstairs and retrieves the number from a piece of paper amidst the collage on the refrigerator door. She looks at it, the digits all meshing now, and then she just stares up at the ceiling where the fan is whooshing cool air on her.
She opens the bottle of red wine she’s been saving for nothing in particular. It’s still raining and she hears a vague clacking sound in the basement, but she sits in the white wicker chair in her living room, swirls the wine and sips it slowly in small mouthfuls.