The Dirty Book Club

The Dirty Book Club

Lisi Harrison

For my Dirty Book Club:

Kelly Niemann Bailey, Michele Maniaci, Lisa Rodarte, Shien-Lin Sun, and Rebecca Rootlieb, MD.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

The Housewife’s Handbook on Selective Promiscuity



Pearl Beach, California

Friday, May 18, 1962

Full Moon

IF GLORIA GOLDEN were being honest, she’d say that Potluck Fridays weren’t really about making the most of her newly renovated kitchen. Nor were they an excuse to connect with Dot, Liddy, and Marjorie, since best friends didn’t need excuses. Honest Gloria would say their weekly get-togethers were the one thing she could rely on and that she was tap-tapping her fingernails on the countertop because if the girls stood her up, the number of things she could rely on would fall to zero. But a gal with a successful husband, a healthy baby boy, and a beach house with state-of-the-art appliances had no business being sour. Not when she’s been told she bears a striking resemblance to a blond Ann-Margret. Not when children were starving in the Congo. So Gloria never said anything.

When the girls arrived (they always did) Gloria’s tap-tapping was instantly replaced by the popping tops of Tupperware dishes and a Neil Sedaka record spinning on the Magnavox.

“?‘If you’re feeling low down ’cause your baby’s left town . . .’?” they sang into serving spoons as they twirled across the Spanish tiles like dancers on The Ed Sullivan Show. “?‘. . . Get out and cir-cu-laaaaaaaaate. . . .’?”

Flushed and giggling after their big finish, Gloria checked the playpen in the living room. “Michael could sleep through an Elvis concert,” she said of her tranquil son. Then, the telephone rang and he began to cry.

“Who is it?” Marjorie whispered, as if they were still freshmen at Pearl Beach High and not twenty-two-year-old grown-ups.

“Leo,” Gloria mouthed. She found her reflection in the gas range. The ends of her honey-blond bob had wilted into L’s; she pinched them until they more closely resembled J’s.

Like rose petals in the sun, the ventricles of Gloria’s heart unlatched for her husband. It didn’t matter that he was calling from his office, fifty-five miles north, in Los Angeles. She could still see his caviar-black hair and denim-blue eyes, smell the bourbon that candied his breath, and feel the zing of his touch. That touch! How it filled her with orchestral crescendos and Technicolor joy, as if Walt Disney injected Fantasia straight into her veins.

“What does he want?” Liddy asked, raising those coarse eyebrows of hers.

Gloria shrugged, hopeful that eighteen months of Leo wheeling and dealing for Paramount Pictures had finally paid off. That he was being promoted to whatever it was that outranked his current job as producer. Then they could move to Beverly Hills, mingle with sophisticated intellectuals, and ride jumbo jets around the world. Not the way Marjorie was doing it—unattached and working as a stewardess for TWA—but the right way: with her wholesome family and Jackie Kennedy’s wardrobe.

“Good news, baby,” Leo said. He exhaled a gale of cigarette smoke. “I just lunched with the actress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and you, my lovely wife, are now the owner of an autographed picture that reads: ‘Best wishes, Gloria. Audrey Hepburn.’?”

“Neat!” Gloria said, twirling the telephone cord around her finger. “And what time will you and my autograph be home for dinner? I’m making your favorite—”

“About that . . .”

Gloria’s smile fell. Not again, she thought. Please, not again.

But Leo’s hands were tied. The powers that be needed their golden boy to charm some stubborn young starlet into submission. Dinner . . . drinks . . . whatever it took to close the deal by Monday.

Michael’s cries grew shrill, desperate.

“Does that mean another night at the Biltmore Hotel?” Gloria asked.

Leo struck a match, “I’m sorry, baby.”

As usual, Gloria said she understood. Only after the line went dead did she stab her thumbnail in the thawing pot roast and brand it with a pout.

She wanted to tell her friends the truth: that Leo had not been home in two nights and she was lonely. Then they could smoke cigarettes and say all the right things until Gloria felt better, just like they had in high school when Leo was busy with water polo and forgot to call. But Miss Matrimony, the marriage columnist in A Ladies’ Life magazine, forbade it.

Dear Wives, she once wrote. Kindly remind all prying busybodies that husbands expect their private lives to remain private. If it’s female support you’re after, try the new Merry Widow by Warners. For $16.50 it will whittle your waist and give you a lovely lift. Available in white, black, and beige.

“What’s wrong?” Dot asked, her full, cherry Chap Sticked lips puffed to a sympathetic pout. “Is everything okay?”

“Leo was thinking about me, that’s all.”

Gloria managed a breezy smile. “You gals get started. I’ll be right there.”

Dot and Liddy took their platters into the sunroom while Marjorie, not keen on following orders, lifted herself onto the cooking island, leaned back on her hands, and crossed her bare legs. Her cleavage, upthrust and crevasse-deep, was like an oversized change purse positioned to catch pennies from heaven. “Now why did he really call?”

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