Over the Memorial Day weekend, author Jennifer Belle hired 40 actresses to read her latest novel in New York hot spots—while laughing uproariously.
Wondering what the fuss is about? Here’s an excerpt from Belle’s latest, The 7 Year Bitch, courtesy of Riverhead Books and Penguin USA.
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As I walked along Waverly Place to meet my friend Joy for dinner, I saw a girl in her twenties leisurely crossing the street,and something about her brought that whole decade of my life back to me. I had never seen this girl before, but I knew her. I knew that what she was doing now was just getting through the years until she had children. She was planning, as she walked, what she was going to do that night to ward off loneliness. She wasn’t thinking of it that way, but that’s what she was doing.
She planned a trip to Italy with her girlfriend, calming herself with the knowledge that one day she’d be going on a honeymoon there instead. And she sewed a tail onto the back of her leggings on Halloween to go to some party, sure that one day she’d be zipping her child into his dragon costume. And on dates, she looked into the eyes of the stranger across the table from her, wondering if this would be the man to give her children. Once one had asked me if I would like to go for a drive in the country to look at the “foilage.” And I knew I did not want a man who pronounced foliage “foilage” to be the father of my children.
Of course not all girls felt this way—I knew plenty who didn’t want children—but this one did, I could tell. And until it happened, she would look in toy store windows, planning for some future Christmas, stuffing a stocking that wouldn’t be hung for ten or even twenty years.
Watching women walk down the street, I could tell which had children and which didn’t. It wasn’t a judgment, just a fact. Women with children were always in just a little bit of a hurry and women without weren’t.
And I, I realized right then, really loved being in a hurry.
As I entered Pastis, I tried to shake off the fight I’d just had with my husband, Russell. He had thrown out my can of Diet Coke before I’d finished it, and I had blown up because it was always happening. The house could be a complete mess—he hadn’t cleaned anything or washed a dish in our whole marriage—but for some reason he would take it upon himself to throw out my soda. “I was enjoying that!” I had screamed like a lunatic. I tried to remind myself to be happy that I had the kind of husband who could stay home with the baby while I went out to dinner. He was the publisher at a small press he had started himself in our living room called Trent Books. He was a lawyer, and one day, right after we were married, his best friend, Ben, sent him a novel he had written. Russell read it and called me from his office.
“Ben’s book is so fucking great,” he said. “I’m leaving the firm. I’m going to start a publishing house and publish it.”
“What’s it called?” I said, thinking he was on track to make part-ner in less than three years and that his friend Ben was an idiot. “Shoes and Socks,” Russell said.
“Shoes and Socks,” I had said, and something in my voice when I said it—“Shoes and Socks?” or “Shoes and Socks!”—infuriated him and put a wedge between us. He never felt I was behind his
publishing venture and rightfully so, even though he loved it more than anything in the world.
“Obviously, you’re gonna have to carry us for a bit. But I’m okay with not having my own office. I’ll work out of our apartment,” he had said, never thinking it might be a sacrifice for me to live in an apartment filled with boxes, desks, and office equipment. Plus, “carry us for a bit” was an understatement, as Russell believed for some reason that “all authors deserved to be paid for their hard work.” The truth was I had personally funded Shoes and Socks and countless other similar masterworks.
I didn’t know why I got so angry at Russell all the time, but I did, and I hated myself for it. But not as much as I hated Ben and the other volatile, desperate, impoverished, needy, ungrateful authors who made up Russell’s list and called at all hours and slept on our couch when they were on their “book tours” in New York.
This was Joy’s first time back in New York since she’d moved her perfume company to LA—she still had a small shop on Mulberry Street but her factory and flagship store were in LA—and I tried to savor the anticipation of eating steak with béarnaise sauce and com-plaining with her about our husbands, and that’s when I realized that I just couldn’t picture myself married to my husband in five years.
We’d been married for five years, and I couldn’t really remember those. I tried to imagine where I’d be in five more years, and I came up blank. I couldn’t imagine us on a trip or in a better apartment or even in the same apartment. I suddenly couldn’t even picture the apartment we lived in now. It was as if I were wiped out, an amne-siac from some Danielle Steel novel, a ghost.
Joy was already seated at our table, furiously writing on note cards. I still hadn’t written a single thank-you note for all the pres-ents I’d gotten for my son, Duncan, when he was born, even though he was almost one. The note cards had a photo of her three sons sitting with their backs to a fi re that was burning in a slightly tacky modern fireplace.
“You’re amazing,” I said. “Sending Christmas cards in November.” “They’re to my kids’ teachers. You know, Christmas thank-you notes and gift.”
“Of course,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant but feeling that all-too-familiar panic that there was yet something else I didn’t know you had to do now that I was a mother. I had thought naively that one day getting my child into school, and to school every day except for weekends, would be enough, but now there were notes and gifts. You had to have a note card with your child’s photo on it, and I still hadn’t sent out a birth announcement. I couldn’t even imagine what the gift might have to be.
“Right, of course, a gift,” I said, as if I knew all about it. “You mean like money?”
“Money’s a little crass don’t you think? I usually go to the big Nike store on Wilshire and get everyone hundred-dollar gift cer-tificates.” She stopped writing cards long enough to reach into her purse. “Here, I brought you something.”
“Thank you!” I said, taking the small Chanel box from her.
“I’m sorry I can’t be at Duncan’s birthday party.”
“Me too,” I said. “And I’m sorry I couldn’t be at Ethan’s.” Ethan was her third son, who had just turned two, and I’d sent a tiny bath-ing suit to go with their new pool.
By the size of the box Joy had handed me, I could tell it was a silver spoon or cup, and I loved things like that although I didn’t know Chanel made baby stuff. I opened the box and pulled out a large pot of cream. “Chanel Precision,” I read out loud.
“Eye cream,” she said.
“You mean wrinkle cream?” I asked. “Is this a new thing for dia-per rash?”
“It’s for you,” she said. “You dab. Morning and night.” She made a demented tapping motion, not around her own eyes but around mine.
“You know this isn’t LA,” I said. “New Yorkers don’t use wrinkle cream.” I tried not to let the corners of my eyes move as I said that. I had never said the words “wrinkle cream” in my entire life.
“Right,” she laughed. “And according to you, real New Yorkers don’t drive and no one in New York wears sunglasses.”
“All true,” I said.
“Well, I just thought I’d get something for you instead of the baby. After I had Ethan the last thing I wanted to look at was another burp cloth. How boring.”
Most of the baby gifts, especially the clothes I’d received, were dog related for some reason that I couldn’t figure out. They were all fuzzy with little round ears on the hood or they had pictures of dogs and hydrants on them. Why did people want to dress up their babies as animals? I wanted my baby to look like a baby.
“I left Harry,” she said.
“What? When?” I asked, shocked.
“Three weeks ago.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? Are you okay? Are the boys . . .” I was so upset about her boys I couldn’t finish the sentence. I hadn’t gotten over my own parents’ divorce even though it happened when I was twenty-five and already out of business school.
“We’re fine,” she said brightly. “I tried to tell you on the phone, but one of the boys always seemed to be with me and the timing just wasn’t right.” She looked cheerfully down at her menu. “Let’s see, is today jeudi or vendredi? Yay, lamb.”
“Where’s he living?” I asked.
“With his mother, if you can believe it.” We both took a moment to snicker at the thought of it.
Reprinted from THE SEVEN YEAR BITCH by Jennifer Belle by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Belle.