The Secret Life of Kitty Lyons: Janet Reno and Liz Smith

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The Secret Life of Kitty Lyons by Maggie Cutler  


Catch and Release

Late one afternoon, I suddenly get the feeling that Janet Reno is looking for me. She has evidence that I have libidinous thoughts about individuals other than my husband Max, and she wants to establish my guilt. Firmly.


Is it because I think I’m blameless? I’ve noticed that whenever anybody is certain that they can get away with something that others condemn, their moral arrogance attracts Janet like a pheromone. Dave Koresh, the Weavers, Tim McVeigh, President Clinton, the Gonzales family of Miami, and now Wen Ho: each one as sure of his innocence as I of mine, and look how she glommed onto them. I’m excited to think that my sexual fantasy life is as fascinating to her as a terrorist or a spy.


So in the garden of a grand old Miami Beach hotel, I wait for her beneath the palms, radiating my own brand of compromised purity, hot as an unconfessed crime.


It’s only a matter of time before she discovers me here, charged up and self-justifying, moist and ingenuous, swishing my gauzy frock to swat away the dragonflies. Tick tock.


She’s not alone. Beside her is a masked judge whose laquered hair I recognize: it’s the New York Post’s gossip and memoirista, Liz Smith.


From the edge of a fountain she and Janet pat me down with their eyes, whispering to each other suggestively. Oddly, their legs have fused into fish tails, alluring but impenetrable.


Have they come to fuse my thighs, too? I stare at the flip-flop cleaving my toes: big toe, thong, thin toe. A koi splashes in the pond. I’m terrified. Janet and Liz approach, a shadow across my lap. Between my tanned, oiled, still-spreadable legs I’m dripping with anticipation.


They transport me into a hotel, court, prison, something. In an austere aqua room I sit facing them at a huge table with legs that end in dolphins. From beneath my skirt the mist of my desire wafts out, perfuming their robes, their mermaids’ tails, their memories.


Judge Liz’s eyes shine avidly behind her mask as if I were a nightclub she was determined to get into. I dare her to name the crime of which I stand accused. Janet smiles inscrutably. I try to defend myself, but I can’t speak. Like them both, I’m up to something deeply ambiguous that we would all die rather than define.


Liz won’t peg herself. Is she gay, straight or bi? None of that. Just a little frisky. Reviewers savage her because she admits to wild erotic fantasies about Rock Hudson and Frank Sinatra, while the woman she lived with year after year is a cipher, a story written in seawater — like my husband Max.


And like me, Janet’s awash in political ambiguities. Is she the president’s enemy? Protector? Neither, but what? Somebody called her “the loneliest woman in America,” but they could have said “strangest.” A woman, yet not what most people mean by that word, she swims against the tide. Show her a child abused and she comes, but with a sword . . . or a lethal injection.


If I let these two characters innoculate me with their wisdom, get inside my young self and propagate their denials and mysteries, will it make me aquatic like them, post-human puzzles, swimmers-with-sharks?


I reach across the table and grip Janet’s freckled arm. They gasp in unison at the transgression.


Feds surround me. I’m thrown into solitary — a penthouse with shuttered windows. Groping the dark, I stumble upon Wen Ho. He’s naked, half crazed with isolation. In a trance, he kisses my breasts as if they were a couple of state secrets he’d like to copy and take home. I grab his sex, and hide it inside me like a packet of classified information. We thrash against each other, penetrate each others’ cracks — desperate, possessed, coupling octopi. We go at it for hours. Days. We sob with passion, regret, shady desires, until we have sweated ourselves clean, splayed, translucent. We liquidate the charges against ourselves. All but one: secrecy.


“Personal use of information is never a crime,” he whispers hoarsely. Then we sleep.


In the morning Janet makes her case. “You tell your husband that he’s your one-and-only, but every chance you get, you cook up elaborate sexual scenaria with God knows who. What sort of openness is that?”


Judge Liz leans over and slips me a note: “Defend me against my critics and I’ll absolve you. The way I did Madonna.”


“Liz is right to adore famous people!” I shout. “Their divinity. Their humanity. It’s glorious to have secret loves, secret dreams!”


Janet scowls. “One person’s dream is another person’s nightmare,” she mutters, not inaccurately.


But Liz refuses to toss me upon the scales of justice. In my court, she sighs, some crimes are best ignored. And with one big, collusive air-kiss she lets me entirely off the hook.