FIFTY SHADES OF OPHELIA AND RENATA
Ophelia and Renata were standing at the front door of the Holloway residence, both full of excitement. This was it. They had finally done it!
Ophelia could hardly believe her luck when they had first gotten the call. Lisa Holloway had invited them to her book club! This was finally her chance to embark on an in-depth complex exploration of the Modern Woman’s mind.
Renata had been just as thrilled about the call, although for different reasons. It had been way too long since she had been able to keep any kind of decent feminine company; and the idea of being able to socialize with other respectable women of standing had her positively giddy.
They glanced at each other, smiled nervously, and turned as the door opened. Lisa Holloway was standing there, wearing a designer pantsuit, Bloody Mary in hand.
“Girls! Hello!” she trilled. “So glad you could join us. Oh, Ophelia, love the hair, by the way!” She glanced at Renata’s simple long dress and complicatedly braided hair. “And don’t you just look…adorable, bless your heart.”
“She always does,” Ophelia said drily as they followed Lisa into the house, Renata beaming the whole way.
They followed Lisa through a long hallway and into a rather lavish sitting room. Five other women were perched on furniture that was practically swirling with large amounts of decidedly pink roses and gardenias.
“Everyone!” Lisa called out enthusiastically, “This is Ophelia and Renata! They have graciously accepted our invitation to today’s meeting!” There were “oohs” and “aws” all around the room, “Girls, that is Regina, there’s Denise, that’s Heather right there, Missy’s right next to her and that’s Susan!”
All five women raised their almost-empty glasses and Renata bobbed her head up and down–as if she would perfectly remember everyone’s names, Ophelia thought, as she simply surveyed everyone with mild interest.
“Well, first thing’s first!” said Lisa, hooking her arms through theirs and parading them towards a table set up along the wall. “We must get you some drinks!” She filled two glasses with red liquid containing celery and other odd things and beamed at them. “I don’t mean to brag here, but I do make the best Bloody Mary in the Outer Banks!”
“Yes, I believe Skylar mentioned it,” Ophelia said with the ghost of a smile.
“Oh, I’m sure she did, bless her little heart!” Lisa replied a little more sharply than was necessary, and handed them their glasses, “now have a seat! Make yourselves at home, girls!”
Ophelia and Renata made their way back to the floral couches and sat awkwardly on the edge of a loveseat; uncomfortable to be sitting so close together and not comfortable enough to sit anywhere else. Ophelia elbowed Renata and glared at her. “There is a bit more room that way, I’m sure,” she whispered sharply. Honestly, the girl could be so clingy!
Renata looked slightly hurt, but turned as Heather called her name. “So, Renata, aren’t you just the sweetest thing. I’ll bet these men around here are going to want to snatch you right up. Have you met Steve over at Compass Rose, you know, over on West Airstrip Road? Oh if I weren’t a married woman…”
Renata waited a moment, but then it was apparent Heather wasn’t going to finish her sentence. A moment later, she realized she was expected to respond. “Oh! Well, no, I haven’t met Steve, but that’s no matter, really, I have my Andy.”
Ophelia rolled her eyes, but Missy had already started talking. “Oh, yes, I’ve seen him around town. I’d sure like to get to know him better, if you know what I mean!”
Regina piped up, “Oh! Is he that positively delicious Mediterranean beauty I’ve seen coming and going on the high school campus? Well! Color me jealous!”
Susan was on her way to refill her glass and stopped to give Renata’s arm a squeeze. “Seriously, if you are up for sharing, none of us would mind one bit. Though, you might want to keep Regina away from him, unless you want to run him out of town. Just ask her last four husbands.”
Renata wasn’t completely sure what was going on between the two women at that moment, but there was something she did know: Regina was never getting anywhere near her Androcles!
Regina laughed and smiled–rather coolly–at Susan. “Oh, aren’t you just a riot!” Then she glanced at Renata. “Of course, she could use the attention since her husband is more enamored with his golf clubs than his wife…”
“Oh, well, Androcles is wonderfully kind, even if he is a little bit stubborn sometimes…there really is no one else like him in the world.” Renata gave a dreamy little sigh, “and he’s just so loyal! A faithful heart like no other!” She was still smiling, but she made sure to give Regina a pointed little look.
Up until this point, Ophelia had rather been enjoying herself watching these women artfully attacking each other with smiles pasted on their faces, but it was getting a bit tiresome. Weren’t they here to discuss literature? To broaden their minds? She cleared her throat loudly. “Yes, and I’m sure he wouldn’t dream of looking at another woman…” she ignored the horrified glance that Renata shot her, “now, Lisa, you had mentioned something about a book we will all be reading?”
Denise let out an excited little squeal from across the room and then giggled and clapped her hand over her mouth, spilling some of her drink in her lap. “Oh, just wait until you hear about it! It’s so… scandalous!”
“Ooh!” Missy drained the last of her drink, “sounds intriguing!”
Heather nodded as she pushed another glass into Ophelia’s hands. “Yes, and Lisa has been so hush-hush about it! We’re all just dying to hear what juicy novel we’re reading next.”
Lisa hurried off a little unsteadily, “Just you wait, Girls! Just you wait!”
Ophelia watched her totter off and felt some of her hope draining away. She had a sneaking suspicion that whatever this “juicy novel” was… it wasn’t going to broaden anyone’s minds…
Renata, on the other hand, felt her excitement growing. This sounded very promising!
Lisa hurried back into the room, box in hand, “Alright, everyone take a copy!” she walked around the room and let everyone get their copy out of the box.
Fifty Shades of Grey, Ophelia read. The cover featured a gray necktie and Ophelia narrowed her eyes. She didn’t really know what to make of this yet. There were titters and little squeals all around as everyone else read the title; clearly they knew something she didn’t.
“Alright! Who’s ready for the back cover?” Everyone seemed quite prepared, nodding in anticipation as they all turned their books over to the backside. “ ‘When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires…’ ”
Lisa paused dramatically for effect and then continued, “ ‘This book is intended for mature audiences.’ ”
There were dramactic gasps all around. “I’ll drink to that!” cried Missy, who proceeded to do just that.
Ophelia tried not to be at least a little bit disappointed; this was clearly not going to be her bag of blood. She never had been one to give much thought to anyone’s sexual exploits, though she supposed the subject was an important one to The Modern Woman, and therefore worth some study.
Renata on the other hand, was grinning along with the rest of them. She had never been exposed to a modern romance before, but she supposed it would be just as lovely and hope-inspiring as all the great romances of her time.
It took a while for the frenzy over how thrilling the book was going to be to die down, but eventually, there was the sound of a fancy car outside and Lisa quickly ushered everyone out. The women all giggled and hurried unsteadily by Mr. Holloway as he just shook his head and disappeared inside.
Renata and Ophelia settled in the van and Renata let out a happy little sigh. “Well, I think that went well!” she beamed.
Ophelia was silent a moment as she backed the van out and pulled out onto the road. “I don’t know about well, but it was… interesting anyhow. I just hope this book is at least marginally mentally stimulating.”
But it was not, as it turned out, going to be mentally stimulating at all. Ophelia sat blinking in confusion at the open book on her lap. She glanced up as Skylar wandered into the sitting room–one of three the manor had.
“Soooo, whatcha reading?” Skylar asked, plopping down on the couch across from Ophelia.
“Oh, the book for your mother’s book club…Fifty Shades of Grey.”
“Umm, ew!” Skylar burst out, jumping up from the couch, “I so did not need to know that!” She shuddered and shook her head.
“So, I take it you’ve heard of this novel?”
Skylar shrugged and sat back down, though she still looked mildly horrified. “Um, yeah…if you can even call it that. But do not ask me about it because we are so not having that conversation.”
“What conversation?” Renata asked brightly, sweeping into the room.
“The conversation regarding the book,” Ophelia held it up, not fully able to hide her frown.
Renata’s smile turned into a–ridiculous, Ophelia thought–pout. “Oh. That. Yes, it isn’t quite what I…expected. I knew you would hate it, of course, since you hate anything having to do with love, but…”
“But what?” Ophelia snapped.
“But love doesn’t to have anything to do with this story!” Renata practically wailed.
“Well, not the PG-rated kind, anyway,” Skylar laughed; then she seemed to realize that she was talking to Ophelia and Renata and not her friend Jessica, and she clamped her mouth shut.
Ophelia glanced at Skylar. “As you mentioned before, we will certainly not be discussing that subject with you.” Then she looked back at Renata. “And, to be perfectly honest, I actually agree with you. I mean, this silly Anastasia doesn’t even love herself enough to tell that insolent Christian Grey that he is nothing more than a boil. A plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in her corrupted blood!”
Skylar looked up slowly from her phone, her brows pulling together, “He’s nothing more than what now?”
Ophelia sighed. “Oh, nothing. I just mean to say that if it were me, I would have ripped his throat out by now and been done with the whole unpleasant ordeal.”
Renata looked at Ophelia, surprised. Since when did the two of them ever agree on anything? Well, regardless of why they were agreeing, she was just overjoyed that they were finally bonding. “I just want to know when the other man is going to come to the rescue.”
“Other man?” Ophelia asked, confused. “I’m afraid there is no other man, at least not as far as I can tell.”
Renata shook her head violently. “Oh, there has to be! There just does. This is a romance novel, Ophelia! That is the way it is. You have this abhorrent Grey fellow, and then at the last moment, the other man will come save the poor girl and show her what true love is.”
“Well, this has been…disturbing,” said Skylar, standing up, “but I’m going to Jessica’s house to marathon the new season of Beauty and the Beast on DVD…you know, an interesting love story!”
Ophelia and Renata watched her leave and then looked at each other.
“Well, I suppose we shall see where this ends up,” Ophelia sighed, frowning down at the book.
Renata nodded and smiled knowingly. “Yes, and then you’ll see that I’m right and the noble hero will be unveiled!”
Renata was filled with bitter disappointment as she sat beside Ophelia. They were back in Lisa Holloway’s sitting room, surrounded by the chatter of the other women in the book club.
Regina shoved a glass full of some green-ish liquid in her hand and she tried to give her best, gracious smile. Regina flashed her a grin. “The best thing about Mr. Holloway being out of town for a work case is stronger drinks!”
They all turned as Lisa clapped her hands to get their attention. “Okay girls! I know we’ve all been dying to discuss this book! Now, get settled, everyone.”
She waited a moment as everyone refilled their glasses and shuffled to their seats.
“So.” She paused for effect. “I don’t know about you girls, but, this book really sucked me in. What a succinct and articulate novel… it was one wild ride, let me tell you!”
Missy nodded emphatically. “I tell you, these characters are so fully developed! I really felt a kinship for their pain and their hopes and their dreams!”
Susan bounced up and down. “Oh yes, I know just what you mean. And don’t get me started on that Christian Grey! I know he may have seemed bossy, domineering, jealous, forceful, shady, stalkerish, abnormal, psycho, unstable, mental, and, well, frankly everything else you would typically steer clear of…but, in spite of those things, I just loved him!”
“Well,” Regina gave an exaggerated sigh, “who doesn’t love a rich, handsome, domineering man?”
“I, for one, found it to be an inspiring story!” Denise chimed in, “I mean, it has given so many women the courage to step out of their comfort zones and experience passion and even love in ways they never expected!”
Heather put a hand dramatically to her chest and nodded. “Oh exactly. All of those things, girls! And I just loved how the author made Ana such a strong-willed, independent woman; one who knew that a perfect face, hot body, and amazing sex are not enough. I just adored the way she fought for emotional intimacy, and even though her victory wasn’t obvious, it was profoundly moving nonetheless!”
Ophelia knew that if she had still been human, her blood would have been boiling. Still, she knew that to be taken seriously one must remain calm and collected. She rose slowly from the couch and cleared her throat loudly. “Ladies. I have something to say. This young woman…this…Anastasia Steele is the least independent or strong-willed woman I have ever had the misfortune to read about. She is an insult to the very idea of liberation!”
Denise raised her hand timidly. “But she tried new things…?”
“She gave up her most basic consent and autonomy for the sake of a man’s pleasure!” she screeched, “and a deplorable excuse for a man at that!!!”
“Honey,” Susan said, waving her off, “we all realize he isn’t exactly a wonderful man; I mean, yes, he’s somewhat awful, actually, but is that really a reason not to love him? I mean, he’s so…sexy!”
Ophelia was just opening her mouth to explain to this woman all the reasons why it was a good thing her husband ignored her because she should never reproduce… after all, the world should have intellectual standards… but Renata stood up beside her and calmly smoothed down her dress.
“Excuse my intrusion into the conversation,” she began, “but I must agree with Ophelia and bring up a few points of my own. Have we not all dreamed of true love? The kind of love that convinced the lovely Helen to abandon her life and her lawful husband to flee into the night with her beloved Paris? Have we not all once wished to find a Paris waiting at our window to take us far away from our ordinary lives? This story promised us that kind of love! We were promised a Paris…and instead we got the story of how Helen was trapped with Menelaus…with Paris never to come.” She wiped a tear away and looked around the room. “He never came.”
For the first time since the book club women had all gathered, there was complete and utter silence in the room. Ophelia looked around, astounded that, not only were these women not giving a rebuttal, but they actually seemed moved by Renata’s little speech.
“I did love that movie,” Heather finally said timidly, “I have always had a soft spot for Orlando Bloom, after all…”
Regina nodded forcefully. “Oh yes. He is just scrumptious. And let me tell you, if any of my previous husbands treated me like Paris treated Helen…”
Renata nodded regally. “Some of us will be lucky enough to find our Paris, some of us may have already… but of one thing we can be certain, Christian Grey is no Paris, Prince of Troy. And for that reason, ladies, this is not the love story we’ve all been made to believe it is.”
There was another brief moment of silence, and then Denise stood, put down her empty martini glass, and slowly started clapping; tears in her eyes. Then, the other ladies were nodding and clapping and clinking their glasses together in camaraderie.
Ophelia contemplated the experience in silence as she drove her and Renata back to the manor. Renata was smiling and humming softly to herself, clearly enjoying her moment of victory. The women of the book club had made it very clear that they hoped Renata would continue to “grace” their meetings with her presence, while Ophelia had been all but ignored for the whole rest of the evening.
Perhaps, Ophelia had just not found the right book club. Perhaps, it was just those particular women who were not ready for the kind of logic and reasoning Ophelia had to offer.
Or perhaps, the Modern Woman’s mind was simply a terrifying place.