“Why are you wearing a vintage prom dress on a Thursday afternoon?”
“It’s not a prom dress. It’s what Betty Draper would have worn to a fancy lunch in the city. Plus, we’re in a restaurant for the first time in ages, so I wanted to dress up. If I’m going to catch the new variant then I’m going to catch it in style.”
“Totally. I broke out my Ted Baker shirt for the occasion.”
“Noticed, you look very handsome.”
“Here are your drinks: two champagne cocktails. Cheers. By the way, I love your dress.”
“Thank you so much. I love your peach-y hair.”
“Pandemic-Peach,” she said with a smile.
“Cheers to finally seeing each other in person,” said Pippa.
“It’s so amazing to have a drink with you, instead of drinking alone on the couch watching HGTV,” said Elliott, relishing their first sip.
“The booze business has been going gangbusters during the pandemic. Maybe they created the virus so that we would all stay home and drink.”
“That’s a Netflix movie right there.”
“You never told me what happened with the guy you started lockdown with.”
“Jerome? Well, we holed up in my condo for three weeks, but then I had to send him home. He was a compulsive throat clearer.”
“Ya. I felt bad because maybe he was just anxious, but I couldn’t take it. Plus, he refused to watch comedies. And I thought, how the hell are we going to survive covid without watching comedies? So he had to go.”
“Pips, I’ve missed you so much. But I have something to ask you and I’m worried you’re going to get upset.”
“Oh Jesus just ask.”
“Well, during the whole lockdown insanity when we were doing zoom calls, you were always wearing fancy vintage dresses – kinda like the one you have on now.”
“But I mean that’s not exactly normal for such a long period of work-from-home life. Not once did I see you in tie dye sweats like everyone else. It was vintage glam the whole time. So I’m just checking that you’re doing okay, you know like emotionally.”
Elliott exhaled then took a long sip of their cocktail.
“Have you decided what you’re having or do you need more time?” asked Pandemic-Peach.
“I’ll have the Niçoise salad with a side of frites,” answered Pippa.
“I totally get it Elliott and I love you for your concern. It’s just that…you know how I’ve been collecting vintage dresses for years? But I never wear them, I’m always saving them for a special occasion.”
“Ya I know, so?”
“So, when my oncologist told me I had only two to five years left to live, I decided that cancer was my special occasion and I started wearing all my dresses.”
“That’s not funny Pips.”
“It’s not meant to be funny, it’s the truth.”
Elliott sipped their drink:
“These champagne cocktails are delicious aren’t they?”
“So tasty,” she said.
“Honestly What The Actual Fuck Pippa!” Elliott exclaimed, a little too loudly, causing heads to swirl.
“You’ve been dealing with cancer and you didn’t tell me?! Did you tell anyone? I thought we were close friends, I would have been there for you.”
“My cancer, my way of dealing. I didn’t want to manage everyone’s emotions, it felt like too much pressure. Anyway, no one was allowed to visit me at the hospital because of the pandemic. It was just my parents and I.”
“Poor Marty and Elaine, they must have been freaking out. Did they bicker the whole time?” asked Elliott, more calmly this time.
“Shockingly no. Who knew that it just took me getting cancer for them to be civil to each other.”
“What kind of cancer?”
“I remember you kinda disappeared for awhile off our zoom calls and off Instagram, did you have surgery then?”
“Yep. I was in the hospital for two weeks. You should see my scar, it’s hideous – ten inches long. And immediately following the surgery my doctors poured hot chemo into my abdomen and swished it around for forty-five minutes – they call it Shake N’ Bake.”
“Sounds like a horror movie doesn’t it? But for certain abdominal cancers they do chemo that way, it’s called HIPEC: Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy.”
“Jesus. I can’t bear the thought of you being shake n’ baked alone. I feel like we all should of been there up in the gallery watching you, like in Grey’s Anatomy.”
“The pain must have been horrible. You poor thing.”
“Ya, the pain was otherworldly, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. The narcotics were fabulous though and I loved my nurses. Plus, there were a few hot surgical interns.”
Elliott started crying while taking a sip of their drink.
“You crying while drinking a champagne cocktail is a pandemic mood for sure,” said Pippa, reaching out to hold their hand.
“Right?” said Elliott thru tears.
“Everything is okay. I’m not dead, so that’s a win. And we’re here together in this moment, in this beautiful restaurant, probably catching an as yet unnamed new variant,” Pippa said continuing to hold their hand.
Elliott laugh-cried and then dabbed their face with an extra napkin that Pandemic-Peach magically appeared with.
“You could get a cool tattoo incorporated into your scar,” they suggested.
“Oh I like that idea.”
“Two plates of frites and two Nicoise salads,”
“Thank you,” Pippa said smiling at Pandemic-Peach.
They ate without talking for awhile. The banter, laughter, flirting and exclamation points around them filling the silence.
“It sounds like springtime in the park when all the birds are busy chatting with each other,” said Elliott before eating a forkful of frites.
“I know. I’m loving this vibe. It’s so joyful.”
“So what’s next in your cancer treatment?”
“I’m getting a cat scan in three months. Until then I just chill,” said Pippa, finishing the last of her salad.
“How’s your anxiety?”
“My doctor gave me a prescription for Xanax, but I’m finding weed more helpful. I’m micro-dosing and if I do it properly it feels like I’m wearing a cozy cashmere sweater all the time. It just keeps me feeling soft-like.”
“I feel like crying again but I won’t. It’s just so unfair that you got cancer at thirty-two. And why did your oncologist tell you how long you have to live? That doesn’t seem helpful.”
“I asked my oncologist for her opinion, so she had to tell me. But I mean my surgery went really well. The shake n’ bake went really well, so let’s just see…Life is not fair. Life is primarily mundane, interspersed with moments of chaos and stress. If you’re very lucky it’s also sprinkled with moments of joy – like this moment right now – so that the monotony, chaos and stress feels worth it. Otherwise I think we would all group-jump off a bridge.”
“But tell me how you really feel,” said Elliott and Pippa threw her head back and snorted with laughter, causing the table nearest them to eyeball her.
“I need to use the loo, be right back” Elliott whispered.
Pippa looked around at the crowd and noticed that everyone looked a little dressed up. They might not have been wearing vintage lunch dresses, but they had clearly put thought into their outfits, shined they shoes and sparkled their ears.
“The bathroom has the most divine wallpaper,” Elliott said, showing Pippa a photo.
Pandemic Peach arrived, dropping off a platter full of sweet delights.
“Oh My God yum! Did you order this Elliott?”
“I figured we needed to cram as much joy as possible into this afternoon. And I wanted to celebrate you: I love you Pippa. You are the razzle to my dazzle.”
“Love you to the rainbow and back.”
“Ok, which one should we try first?”