In April, Georgette returns from Sydney for Satine’s wedding. Satine spots her some distance away at the airport, her high new cheekbones prominent. The arrivals hall is noisy, sour with sweating bodies, so they don't hug like she'd imagined. Georgette pulls out two Kents and hands one to Satine. They stand by the metal can outside. Satine smokes fast, vehemently, trying to eradicate her cigarette as quickly as possible. Done, bored, she reaches out and strokes one of the cheekbones. It’s chilly and hard, but she says, Very natural-looking.
As she drives Georgette home, she can’t resist saying, when they’re almost there, Such pointy cheekbones, aren’t you afraid they’ll cut your husband? Georgette laughs coldly. I wish they’d cut him to pieces. Satine thinks of Ebony’s sunken yellow features, and suddenly feels he might die young. In the rear-view mirror she sees Georgette’s taut face, her lipstick the trendiest shade of pink, and grieves to see her friend, once so beautiful, turned into this creature whose skin smiles but not her flesh.
Only when Satine opens the front door does Georgette think to ask, Don’t you need to prepare for the wedding tomorrow? She replies, It’s more or less done, my mum and the others have been doing all the work. I’m hardly involved. Two cats, one black and one white, dart into the hallway, meowing loudly as they circle Satine, stopping only when she scatters two handfuls of dry food into a dish. Didn’t you have a dog? Georgette asks.
The dog died, so we got cats instead.
Georgette walks around the apartment. Of the white-feathered standard lamp in the bedroom she says, Nice work. Satine is startled. How did you know I made that? Georgette says, You told me so many times. You’re always bragging about your little accomplishments. On and on. They are sitting on the sofa. Satine stands to make coffee and put on some music, and the room fills with lazy bossa nova. Georgette leafs through the wedding album on the table. He’s not bad looking. Maybe a little short.
Satine sits. That romantic dockside shot – we were by the sea, but halfway through the session, a typhoon started up. We had to go back another day. Such a bother.
Georgette sighs heavily. I don’t understand why you need these. So artificial. She slams the album shut. Delicately pinching a sugar cube between her fingers, she dips it in the coffee and pops it into her mouth. Stray grains fall everywhere, white specks on her gauzy black skirt. Satine realizes uneasily that Georgette hasn’t lost her looks after all.
Georgette has a date, and won’t stay for dinner. Before she heads out, she asks for a condom. Still the hungry wolf, laughs Satine.
She doesn’t understand. Hungry wolf?
Satine says, I’ve been studying Purple Star Astrology. The main star in your life-palace is the ravenous wolf. And the counter-sign is the peach blossom – emblem of debauchery.
Georgette says, I’m much more restrained these days. Come on, hand it over.
I don’t have any.
Are you taking birth control, then?
Satine laughs. You can tell from the contraception we use how different our men are. If you slept with more middle-aged men, you’d know not many will put up with condoms. Old school.
Georgette wrinkles her brow. Don’t you find that middle-aged bodies stink of decay? The pill is bad for you. It’ll make you fat. Anyway why try so hard to please these men?
Satine refuses to admit defeat. It’s not just about them. I don’t like condoms either. The latex smell makes me want to vomit. And the thought of putting some strange object into my body –
Is it really that bad? You stick tampons in there.
Georgette is always doing this, arguing with more aggression than seems necessary. To shut her up, Satine mutters, Maybe mine is just more sensitive.
Georgette looks at her watch. I'm going to be late. We can talk later.
Will you definitely be back later? says Satine, at the door.
She shakes her head. Tomorrow morning at the latest. I’ll make sure I’m back for the ceremony. Maybe you should give me a spare key so I don’t have to disturb you.
Satine pulls the key off her own ring and hands it over. Don’t be too late. The make-up people are arriving at seven. You can help them, if you’re around… Before she has finished speaking, the elevator doors have closed on the hungry she-wolf, leaving only her peach blossom scent.
This is just like a few years ago, when they were at college in Toronto. Georgette was always rushing off to one date or another, while Satine sucked on cigarettes in her sofa nest, watching whatever HBO offered, waiting for the long-haired guy to come home. If he was in the mood, and the roommates were out, they’d fool around. Just that, nothing more. She didn’t know which art school he was at, nor what he liked to paint. She wasn’t even that attentive to their fooling around – later on, she couldn’t remember which position he’d liked, though he was her first. Her only memory was of not being able to cry out – the others might come home anytime, might already be home, just outside in the living room. Yet she wanted so much to scream – the pleasure of sex seemed to be in the calling out, and if she were loud enough, she might even reach orgasm. Once, she allowed herself to utter a noise, and the guy stuffed a sock into her mouth. The stink of it permeated sex thereafter. A smelly affair. She stopped showering before or after the act.
Because she didn’t call out, no one knew what was going on. Yet, how unobservant of them. Didn’t the wrinkled bedspread with its luminous splattering of semen ever arouse Georgette’s suspicions? They were sharing a room, for god’s sake. But even if she noticed, she never said anything. Of course she wouldn’t ask, Georgette was never one for questions. Her own life was so straightforward, she didn’t think about the twists and turns in others', as if the world contained no ambiguity. Georgette had the air of a female lead, always center stage, the spotlight chasing her.
Satine herself had no interest in bringing the matter up. Her long-haired guy seemed pathetic, no more than a tattered dishrag, next to the mixed-race boys Georgette kept bringing home. She thought, It’ll end soon, but the affair limped on for another year, until she discovered she was pregnant. More than ever, this had to be a secret. She’d never be able to look Georgette in the eye if she discovered the dishrag had stuffed her belly. So she struggled through to the summer vacation, then went back to China and had an abortion. By that time the fetus had a definite form. As she sat alone waiting for the procedure, she put a thin sheet of paper over the scan and traced its shape. Unexpected tenderness swelled in her, and sour desire kept rising in her throat. That vacation was far too long. She made some excuse to her mother and returned to Toronto a month early, but by then the long-haired guy had been deported, having gotten into a fight and punched a Canadian policeman – that one punch was all it took for their story to end abruptly. She would have so many affairs in her life that, like this one, came to a sudden halt. Most importantly, they were all just as secret. There were never any witnesses.