Excerpt from fabulous debut novel by Golden Globe nominated writer Joan Tewkesbury. Ebba and the Green Dresses of Olivia Gomez in a Time of Conflict and War
The Red Velvet Couch
Olivia sat on the red velvet, Victorian couch in Li Choo’s living room wearing Li Choo’s bright yellow silk kimono. From the window she could see the garden with pool and pond and the hole in the wall blown open from the hand grenade Olivia had returned to its unknown messenger. Ever since that day, Olivia had been coming to Li Choo’s house on a regular basis. At first, she’d been a little nervous. After all, two deaths in the same garden, she could be number three. But after a while, visiting the house became a ritual, the only thing Olivia looked forward to. She was obsessed. There was so much she didn’t know.
It started with the closet. On the day of Li Choo’s death, when Olivia looked inside to find a suitable something to cover up her dead husband’s mistress’s body, she’d been confronted with such a profusion of quantity and color that it haunted her. That night, she hadn’t been able to sleep so she’d slipped out of bed and left her house and sleeping children.
Making sure she hadn’t been followed, which was an ongoing occurrence since the assassination of her husband, she’d entered the side door of Li Choo’s house and went straight for the closet. First, she’d rummaged through the dressing gowns made out of silk or satin or chiffon with trimmings of marabou or fur or embroidered with lace. Next, she’d inspected every crotchless panty, every rhinestoned G-string, every garter belt and nippleless brassiere even though Olivia had no idea what these clothes were for. Unfortunately, the sun had broken over the horizon just as she found the mail-order catalog with pictures of models in the mysterious lingerie. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to stay away because the closet and its contents had grabbed hold of her imagination and wouldn’t leave, Olivia stacked everything in stacks by category and color so things would be easier to find when she came back.
At home, Olivia fixed breakfast for her children and went about her usual routine, but the closet and its contents bore into her psyche like a drill. Then, because she was the dead mayor’s widow and had been followed, she marched straight into the office of the Chief of Investigation and ordered him to order Li Choo’s house and all of its contents, “off limits.” Nothing was to be looked at or touched. Nothing was to disturb the essence of her late husband the mayor and since the Chief knew exactly where she would be, he could stop having her followed. Her request was odd, but convincing and, frankly, the Chief of Investigation was greatly relieved. Fearing of finding something he might have to investigate filled him with panic. So, if Olivia was too distracted to make them search for assassins, so much the better. Any excuse she wanted to use was all right with him and he could stop wasting all that man power documenting her every move.
Olivia’s obsession with the closet was fierce. Night after night she went back to plow through Li Choo’s belongings. She was so infatuated with what she couldn’t figure out, she went without sleep for weeks and when she appeared a little vague and groggy everyone just assumed she was in mourning. In truth, discovery was exhausting. This was a whole new world, a world she never knew existed.
After a few visits she couldn’t restrain herself and began to try on all the lacy contraptions using the catalog as a guide. At first it made her feel very important, as if she’d tapped into some sort of secret very few women would ever be able to understand. Certainly neither Mrs. Marquez nor any of the others in Elena would be smart enough to decipher the details.
Finally, Olivia felt so confident, she decided to inspect her mastery in front of the full-length mirror surrounded by electric lights on Li Choo’s bathroom wall. It was a mirror fit for a movie star, but unfortunately Olivia’s reflection didn’t cooperate. Her voluptuous body spilled out over the garments like a pudding trussed with multicolored string and none of the paraphernalia fit, which was very confusing because all they were made of were spaces.
Olivia wept in utter frustration. Attempting to try on the crotchless underwear, she hopped around on one leg only to discover both legs were trapped in the same opening and crushing her enormous black pubic bush with a tight pink stripe. Not to mention her voluminous breasts that spilled out of and on top of and underneath the two skimpy triangles of white rabbit fur linked by a line of lime green sequins that cut off her breathing. Furious, Olivia ripped the band of lace off her leg, tore off the top and sobbed angrily at her naked reflection. After that, she picked up the pile of spider web undies and threw them into the fireplace, lit a match and watched them go up in flames. Something about the blaze seemed to calm her. Looking through the kitchen cupboards, she discovered an assortment of exotic teas. She picked something with rosebuds and violets and let the fragrance pacify her confusion. Restored, Olivia went back to the closet and found a fine ivory satin robe. Not realizing it had belonged to her husband, she slipped into its smooth coolness and let it soothe her vanity. A robe was something she could understand and just before Olivia let herself drift off for a little nap, she decided that what she didn’t know didn’t matter. From now on she would just make things up and call it the truth.