Chapter 3 GLASS HOUSE July 3rd, 2012
At the moment Perrin was digging old wax out of a candelabra, listening to the conversation going on, on the other side of the bookcase. Jack was at the bar making drinks, talking to Fuori, a Cal Arts graduate Perrin had chosen to provide the extra color Jack said he wanted. Fuori was fired up a little early, her voluminous red curls trembling as she spoke. Fuori liked to hang out at the local bar and heard a lot of gossip, and had recently told Perrin that locals called their house the Napoleon. Perrin was a little surprised to have heard this from Fuori instead of one of the people she went to school with, but she wasn’t offended, in part because the name was so fitting.
The house had the classic proportions of a stage, wider towards the sea by forty feet. The Napoleon comment was probably because it was almost a rectangle, and layered, with bedrooms on the top floor, and kitchen and living areas on the second floor, the whole thing resting on twenty-five foot pilings. Underneath and between the pilings were an extra bedroom, storage closets, and parking. Jack’s large studio, also of modern design, opened out over the potato fields next to it, and had a row of high windows looking out over the dunes in the opposite direction. In recent years many of the other shacks here had been replaced by mini mansions; compact versions of the sprawling 1920’s cottage style built in the lanes of East and South Hamlet at the turn of the century. The villagers heartily disdained the cottages, but saved most of their ire for the moderns.
The house was especially provocative because it was almost transparent. All lit up at night it fairly glowed. Allessandro Orsini, the architect, had insisted they do the walls and floors in glass block like a modern townhouse in say, Dubai. It wasn’t a completely clear glass block, it was called “Veil,” and was treated to let the light through but not the sound. From inside through the top two floors it was like a doll’s house, you could see up and through to any room, with a muted view of the undersides of furniture, feet, a roving vacuum cleaner, a floating rug, clothes on the floor, and you could see where anybody was as long as they weren’t in bed or in the bath. When they crossed you’d see their ghostly figure pass over the squares, and sometimes footprint shadows, except for certain areas where tunnels of mechanicals were stored. All was changed by whatever the light was doing. In cloudy weather with all lights off the ceilings turned a sort of grey, a reflection of the sand and sky and the vast ocean. Perrin could not have called it a color. Colors had a point where the mixture of hues and tones came to a conclusion. This was more a strange infinity. She could never decide whether she liked the house, because all objectivity had deserted her. When Jack got up to his odd ideas she hated it. And then hated herself for hating it.
Early on Jack had set everything up. He said there would be a lot to manage, that they might as well be organized from the start. He said that hiring people was the only way to do it. So far as she knew there was plenty of money. The accountant paid her credit card bills and sent a wire to her own account when she needed it. She called the transfers mad money, that old term for a college allowance. She’d never been to college or had an allowance, or indeed had one extra dime that she didn’t spend on necessities, so to have mad money had been a delicious novelty. Because of the land value they got financing and they built the house and studio. And then Jack bought an insulated warehouse in New Jersey where much of his work was fabricated by revolving teams of art students. He brought her papers to sign, loans, fiduciary disclosures, and wills, and she signed them without any questions. She kept tabs on the prices Jack’s work was getting but didn’t know about his workshop expenses or gallery and rep commissions. She didn’t know much more about their finances than anyone who read Art News or the Arts & Leisure section. All of it was with the accountant or locked in filing cabinets in the studio. Sometimes Jack would ask her about a charge on the credit cards, but he didn’t nitpick that much. No surprise there, because she went along with his strange proclivities. It was an exchange. Mild at first, and then more and more and then unstoppable, like water swirling down a drain. If she were honest with him about her revulsion at having arrived to such a pattern, she’d have to explain the make out sessions in crowded nightclubs when they first knew each other. And all the rest—in the subway with other people around, in the back of cabs, and sunbathing topless on the beach when his friends were there, a request to which she so easily acquiesced. It made you hot, Perrin, he would say. Distinctly hot. There was something jet-set about it, like a James Bond movie, only it was real, the two of them center screen. She didn’t mind being objectified, a little, on the one beach where it was legal. She’d stretch out and preen like a cat, enjoying their eyes on her. Jack knew so well how to flatter her, “I just want to show you off,” and “Won’t you indulge me? Just this once…” he’d say, pushing her a little further from where she wanted to be. Then she’d find herself comfortable there, it was sexy. It was daring and fun, unlike anything these country boys in Sagaponack thought of.
The sun slanted through the house, a bloody red sunset brewing in the corner of the picture window. The sky expanded red pink and gold, with white clouds here and there like spilled popcorn. At parties like this she often felt herself floating in the vicinity of the ceiling, looking down, watching all, not quite believing that this was her life. She would’ve felt silly trying to explain it to anyone except George. She and Jack had lasted in the big glass cube, aka the Napoleon, for five years now. She wanted to continue to appreciate all that she had; she wanted to be brave enough to deal with the open ended nature of Alessandro’s vision that was propelled by Jack. His penchant was only every once in a while—it didn’t make sense to tear everything up by leaving. She tried to reach for the happiness of the early years with him, as if remembering, which she did so well, would restore it and push the rest away. She felt she must honor those years, that it wasn’t fair to plug people into one’s life where they were useful, and discard them when they weren’t. That was an old country thing. Life was hard on these big farms. People had to depend upon one another. The houses were few and far between and the winters long. Alliances were never expendable. She tried to remember that, while often finding herself in the damp bedroom underneath the pilings, hiding.
Jack poked his head around the bookcase, “Who is this girl?”
She motioned him into the kitchen, where Costanza, the housekeeper was fanning carrot sticks around a plate.
Perrin guided him to the corner, as far away from Costanza as possible. “Who is the girl with the red hair?” Jack asked.
“That’s Fuori, from my Yoga class. I told you about her. Italian. A photographer…has a show at Calliope right now.”
“She is tone deaf. No one is interested in adopting these kittens she found at the rail road trellis.”
“You said you wanted different people.”
“Maybe not this different. She seems angry.”
“Kittens? She has a soft spot. What’s wrong with that?”
“Something about it…she says she has three cats already.”
He stole a glance at the living room. “Will you get out there? She’s onto Chaz now. I need you.”
“If you saw the kittens you’d probably adopt them,” said Paige, smiling. “If you weren’t allergic.”
“So true! I love cats! It’s okay for me. But a single woman shouldn’t be obsessed with cats. It’s unattractive.”
Perrin was annoyed that Fuori needed to be perceived as attractive. Also annoyed that cats were considered unattractive. Did Fuori have to be attractive? Couldn’t she just exist? Anyway she was attractive, cats or no cats.
But there was no changing men and the way they thought. They were almost a species apart. With his eyebrows raised, Jack looked a little like one of his cartoony creations. She warmed to his lightness, his ability to move from thing to thing. He didn’t really hold on. The little flashes of heat he got from the silliest things. There was a strange sort of breathing room with him, in part because he was oblivious to her. Could that be enough? He had no sense of double meanings, no irony. Being with him was just like being alone, but with a sort of insurance that she wouldn’t get left out in the cold. If she could endure him. He wrapped his arms around her, plucking at the gold chain belt around her wrap dress, I like this…
She studied his face. Still, sometimes, she wanted to sleep with him. If only it could be simple like before, with just a few little perversions thrown in. Nothing like now. She studied his face—happy Jack, original Jack, with a twinkle in his eye. Jack who paused from time to time and was satisfied.