Major astronomical events are largely hearsay for coastal residents. It's not unusual for our night skies to be a dull, featureless gray. What is unusual, however, if not downright perverse, is the ability of the heavens to sense our interest in spectacular translunar displays. Nearly every time a crowded swarm of meteors is expected, a comet to end all comets, the heavens hide the intriguing sight behind a chaste veil of fog or a shroud of clouds with no place else better to go.

This curious phenomenon may explain the ardor with which we track the motions of those sublunar objects, our terrestrial bodies. In the absence of other reasonable conjectures, our penchant to gossip about each other shamelessly might well be viewed as the natural result of a coy firmament.

But not tonight. Tonight is miraculously clear. The moon, closer to us than it has been for many years, rises far to the north. Orion, like some spangled, rustic woodsman entranced by the spells of the silver charmer, follows on her heels, blind to the manifold blemishes marring the perfect beauty of her face.

"It does seem bigger," says Misty, interrupting the story she's been spinning as we amble along the deserted country road. "And closer. All we need is a ladder, and I swear we could touch it."

True tales are always the most tangled, and this one was more tangled than most. It began with a discussion of forks and chopsticks. According to Misty, men can be divided up into classes of eating utensils. When it comes to sex, some just shovel it in, regardlessly. In their boyhood, they probably stirred their peas into their mashed potatoes. Those are the forks. The others, who savor each delicious and dainty morsel of the body separately, slowly, are the chopsticks.

The first time she saw John, his bottomless, hot eyes, his full lips caressing the pimento-studded olives on the toothpick in his martini, she felt sure he was a chopstick. As it turned out, he wasn't. In bed, John had the lamentable habit of piling more on his plate than he could handle, utterly oblivious to the starving multitudes teeming in libidinous Cathays and lonely, late-night cafes. Misty, ever the optimist, and with a keen eye for raw talent, was nevertheless convinced of his potential. He could become a bona fide member of the lovers' clean-plate club. He simply needed more training.

Her assessment proved to be correct. The problem was, about the time John finally learned the civilized way to handle exotic implements and lick the chinaware clean, Misty's phone rang, and she herself learned about the existence of a serious impediment to their delight. The voice at the other end, a demure alto, belonged to a woman who had been knotted to John in a till-death-do-us-part ceremony under the redwoods one afternoon. Her name was Mary.

"Uh-oh," I say, suffering a slight pang for the plight of Orion, who won't catch up to the moon until tomorrow night.

"It wasn't like you think at all," Misty informs me. "As a matter of fact, we got along famously. We chatted for hours."

For Misty, the voice actually furnished a kind of relief. It solved the mystery of a certain reticent wariness on John's part, as well as supplying a compelling reason for the fact that they always indulged in their feverish, panting embraces at her place.

The two women discussed what they called "the ticklish situation" and "that lying bastard" with an ease that astonished them both. They really did get along famously. So famously, they decided to meet in person. Though Misty can't recall which of them suggested the hot tubs for a rendezvous, it turned out to be the ideal place.

"It's always the pits," says Misty, "when the other woman turns out to be some bony skank with a pea-sized brain and bad breath. It's an insult, like turning down filet mignon to chomp on a hot dog."

At the hot tubs, the slender, shapely pair was able to fully appreciate each other's gifts, to admire the rightness of the choices made by the husband- cum-lover. Mary had great legs and a devastating smile. Misty was bubbly as champagne, and, according to the wife, her pert, maidenly figure was to die for. As they soaked together, Mary revealed her desire for offspring. A girl, she hoped. She wanted to call her Clarissa. In the meantime, she and John had a dog named Trixie and a darling little cottage at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. Trixie could catch Frisbees on the fly, and her favorite treat was marshmallows, especially pink ones. Mary loved softball, and possessed an almost unhittable underhand curve. At the thought of those happy Sunday afternoon coed games with John, a tear rolled out of Mary's eye. Misty moved closer. The warm water sloshed. Mary looked at her with sad, brown eyes that would melt marble. Misty put her arm around Mary. They both looked up at the moon, the quarter moon, the shining scimitar. The women hugged. The water gurgled and squelched. Mary remembered how her father was never home when she was a child, how she thought the moon must be where he worked. It was so far away, and that's why he was gone so much. And then the women made love.

The following day they made love again, except this time it was in the sunlight pouring into the sandy troughs among the rolling dunes out at Ten Mile beach. And once at Misty's in the afternoon they made love. And once during a rainstorm in the back of Mary's sedan. They drew matching hearts with their index fingers on the steamed windows and kissed each other's moist fingertips. Mary wrote their initials inside the hearts. Misty, her script no match for Mary's elegant cursive, added arrows.

"Talk about falling in love," sighs Misty. "She fell. She plummeted, like a skydiver with a broken ripcord."

Not gone quite so gaga as Mary, who was already contemplating divorce from her two-timing husband, Misty felt it would be wise for them to take a little break, a week say, to cool off, to sort out what they agreed was an "even more ticklish situation."

Obviously, the first tickle to be taken care of was John. One afternoon, when she knew that Mary was at work, Misty knocked on the door of the darling cottage she had never visited before. It would be so much more effective, and more fun, to deliver her goodbye speech in the flesh, rather than over the phone. She fully believed the look on his lying face would be priceless.

What happened next was her own fault. She was, after all, the guru who introduced him to the merits of chopsticks. Her carefully planned parting shot metamorphosed into a farewell philander. A glorious one at that, a sweaty, sheet-wrenching sob of ecstasy, vivid proof of the hypothesis that lovemaking, like life itself, often goes underappreciated unless it's about to be taken away from us.

In any event, John and Misty were too involved in their valedictions to hear Mary enter. At first, Misty thought the voice was only in her head, a mere hallucination.

"And I left work early, just to see you, to talk to you, to buy you a pie," the voice was saying. "Your favorite. The kind you ordered at that fancy restaurant on our honeymoon. Coconut cream."

John crawled under the covers with his tail between his legs, leaving Misty to fend off the darts shooting from Mary's eyes. She was also the recipient of a verbal bombardment. Mary, cradling the coconut cream pie in the crook of her arm, shot off a stinging and astonishing assortment of tramps, sluts, bitches, sleazeballs, scags, scumbags and other epithets. They burped out from her mouth rapid-fire, like bullets from a machine gun.

Misty, unimpressed by her assailant's lexical erudition, unready to surrender without a fight, counter-attacked. Lacking appropriate words of her own to hurl back, she borrowed others. A copy of the "Tao of Sex" lay within easy reach on the bedside table. The flimsy volume fluttered through the air, missing its mark by several feet. Misty rearmed. Her aim with Rombauer and Becker's hefty, hardbound "Joy of Cooking" was much better. The best seller promised to be a smashing and palpable hit, but Misty's wily opponent ducked, and the book went instead through a window that happened, most unfortunately, to be closed at the time.

Bits of glass were still tinkling out of the frame when the pie smacked Misty in the kisser.

"What do you think about Dusty?" asks Misty.

Her abrupt question puzzles me for a moment. Then I recall that she alters one letter in her name each time a lover leaves the scene. As she put it once, her old name on the lips of a new lover sends chills up her spine, like the scritch of fingernails scraped on a blackboard.

"This time, I figure I'm entitled to a double switch."

A sudden inspiration, Dusty was the name she gave to the cops. No doubt alerted by a nosy neighbor with a Crimewatch decal on the front door, they screamed up in a prowl car to quell the domestic disturbance.

The police were well-behaved. No impolite queries were tendered to the couple with wedding bands weeping in each other's arms in the living room. They averted their eyes from John's nakedness. From Misty's, too. They didn't even peek. While Misty got dressed, the sergeant assigned to escort her from the premises pretended to be totally involved in petting Trixie, who was greedily licking the last smears of the surprise dessert from John and Mary's bedsheets. He was kind of cute, in a big-eared, droopy mustache kind of way, with that shiny Smith and Wesson bulging on his hip, and she gave him her phone number.

"Think maybe he'll bother to give me a ring?"

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