Guest Post and Excerpt: Sex, Lies & Hot Tubs by Elissa Ambrose
Elissa Ambrose is now on tour with CLP Blog Tours and Sex, Lies & Hot Tubs. Please enjoy a guest post from Elissa and an excerpt from the book below!
Traditionally, the optimist sees the glass as half full while the pessimist sees it as half empty. Then there’s the engineer. He sees the glass as being too big. I have to confess that I belong to the half-empty camp. Let’s face it, whether we’re talking about a pint of beer or life itself, sooner or later everything has to come to an end. (True, you can always order another pint of beer, but that’s a whole other story.) Don’t get me wrong—I’m not one of those fatalists who go around ranting about the Mayan calendar. But I am a realist. Bottom line, some things can’t be changed. Or can they?
In Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, an interesting question was raised. To paraphrase, how would you rewrite the ending to a book you would like to change? The first book I thought of was Gone with the Wind. Instead of having Scarlett declare that tomorrow is another day, I’d have her pick up her petticoats and trot after her man. Of course, I’d have to change the title as well, though somehow Found in the Wind doesn’t have the same punch. And then I started thinking about endings in general. A novel is a journey, not just a last page. It takes us to places we’ve never been before and gives us new ways to think about the world. Does it really matter how it ends?
In her short story, “Happy Endings,” Margaret Atwood gives the reader several different plots. In the first version, John and Mary fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after. In the second version, John doesn’t love Mary, so she ends up taking pills and killing herself. In a third version, Mary doesn’t love John and he ends up shooting himself. After presenting all her scenarios, Atwood says that the only real ending to all stories is that people die. Talk about depressing! “So much for endings,” she writes. “Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with.” Actually, maybe it’s not that depressing after all. Maybe it’s a recipe for a happy life. In other words, stop and smell the roses, if you’ll pardon the cliché.
As a writer, I’m always thinking up ways to make life as difficult as possible for my poor, unsuspecting characters. I paint them into corners, dangle them from a cliff, cut off their air supply and watch them turn blue…well, you get the idea. Without conflict, there’s no story, just a boring “stretch in between.” As a reader, I want to cheer for the hero and urge him on. I’m in for the long haul; otherwise why spend hours reading when I can just skip to the end? How the lonely accountant goes about overcoming his aquaphobia to save the mermaid princess from the evil fisherman is far more interesting than just knowing that they get married and live happily ever after (despite the fact that she has a tail).
Of course, as in Gone with the Wind, not every story has a happy ending. But an unhappy ending isn’t necessarily a bad one. A bad ending is one that comes out of nowhere. If an alien had suddenly dropped from the sky and kidnapped Scarlett, I would have thrown all ten million pages under the bus. So, to answer my own question, yes, the ending is important. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, if it doesn’t work, forget the journey, forget everything the author was trying to convey, the ending is all I’ll remember.
On second thought, I wouldn’t change a thing about Gone with the Wind. And really, the ending is not that unhappy. In spite of all she’s lost, Scarlett still has hope. And she still has Tara. Which leads me to one final thought. Why is the half-empty viewpoint considered the pessimistic one? Half full implies that something can never be what it once was, whereas half empty implies that it’s not over yet and there’s still more to come. In that respect, I guess I’m an optimist after all.
It all started two years ago when I arrived home from school and found a package on my doorstep. It was from La Femme Mystique, the racy new lingerie store that had opened at the mall. Even though it was addressed to Jeffrey, I assumed it was for me. Why else would he buy lingerie?
I had no reason to be suspicious. Our life had an easy rhythm, and I was content. I thought we both were. We’d hoped for a larger family, but when that didn’t happen, we’d adjusted. We went on, as families did. So even though Jeffrey was working overtime at the clinic and had a sideline in real estate, even though he spent one or two evenings a week with his racquetball friends, aka The Boys, I thought, as any trusting wife would think, that this gift was his way of saying, “I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you. This is to let you know I’m thinking of you.”
Eager to discover what my husband had bought to appease me, I tore open the box right there in the foyer. Lying on a bed of lavender tissue were red lacy panties and a push-up bra. The bra was strapless and patterned with pitchforks, the panties crotchless and sprouting wings at the hips.
Was Jeffrey getting religion or was he getting kinky? Was he saying he found our sex life boring? Maybe I wasn’t woman enough for my husband. “You have to be a whole woman,” my mother used to say. Would my father have stayed if she’d been whole? What did that even mean? I used to look at her and try to discern what part of her was missing.
You’re being silly, I told myself, fingering the lace. Your husband loves you, and this is his way of telling you how much. I grabbed the box and headed to the bedroom to try on the lingerie. If a whole woman was what he wanted, a whole woman was what he’d get.
Two red stripes pinched at my hips and chest. I was petite, but this outfit would hardly fit a Barbie doll. Not that I faulted Jeffrey—what man knew his wife’s dress size? I giggled when I saw myself in the mirror. I looked like a cross between a hooker and a barbershop pole. My giggling evolved into full-blown laughter and I couldn’t stop, even when I doubled over with pain. If Claire had been home, she would have gotten a never-before-seen view of her mother, and then she would have had me committed.
Come on! Was this what men wanted? Did women actually wear these things?
I noticed the envelope and came to my senses. The lingerie was a gift after all, and who was I to knock another person’s fantasy? Didn’t I have fantasies of my own? (They did not, however, involve Lucifer.) I plucked out the card.
My angel, my temptress, tease me, please me, make me yours. Wear this on Saturday. Waiting in anticipation, your Devil-May-Care.
Saturday? This Saturday?
On Saturday, Jeffrey would be at that dermatology convention in Flagstaff.
My laughter started up again, only this time it was born of panic. It came out as a constipated chortle, as if I’d read about an incurable disease and recognized the symptoms.
This weekend was the mother-daughter luncheon at the high school. He knew I couldn’t go with him to Flagstaff.
Not that he’d asked.
On the dresser sat several framed photographs, some of Jeffrey and me, some of just Claire, some of the three of us in various stages of family life. Aiming for the wedding photo, I hurled the box across the room and knocked over my bottle of Allure, a present from Jeffrey for my forty-ninth birthday. Drifting through the room, the overly sweet scent of lilac made me want to gag.
A folded piece of paper flew out of the box and soared toward me like a paper airplane. I watched, mesmerized, until it ran out of steam and landed on my thigh. I picked it up. Two addresses were listed: ours, here in Scottsdale, in the left column under Jeffrey Dunwell; the other, Lariat Lane in Tempe, in the right column under Angelica Kravitz.
Apparently the lingerie store had made a fatal boo-boo. It had sent the underwear to the bill-to address instead of the ship-to. “Where shall we send ze underwear, Monsieur Dunwell?” I imagined the little French salesgirl asking. She’d be bursting out of her bustier, teetering on four-inch heels.
“The lady is at this address,” Jeffrey would answer, scribbling away.
Lady, my ass.
Jeffrey might have gotten away with it, if not for the screw-up. Even if I’d been in charge of the household accounts, he knew I’d never see the bill. He had a few credit cards apart from me entirely, which he used for his other business.
Clearly, not all his business was business.