Drugstore Baby

The following is a true story.

I threw two pregnancy tests into my basket, along with a box of saltine crackers. Fearing being judged by the cashier, I added Lysol wipes, a lipstick and Vogue, as if they would magically hide the tests.

“Wow, you are too old to be buying a pregnancy test. Get your shit together,” said the check-out lady in my head.

At work I lay down in the back room on a disgusting old carpet. I felt like throwing up and my stomach looked four months pregnant. My co-worker agreed:

“Ya, you do look kinda pregnant.”

I googled “can you get pregnant with a vasectomy?” It turns out that yes you can, though rarely. It usually happens because couples have sex too soon, before the semen is sperm-free. OMG. That’s us. I’m 46 years old, my life is in shambles and I’ve only been with my partner for nine months.

Peeing on the sticks I quickly discovered that I was not pregnant – thank god – but still, I knew something was wrong. I had been having horrible panic attacks the last couple of months and something was telling me the panic was my body’s way of waving a giant red flag:

“Hellooooo! There is something fucked up with your health. Do not pass GO. Go directly to the doctor.”

Unfortunately at that time I had a horrible doctor. I knew it would be difficult to convince her that I needed an ultrasound; she always thought I was being neurotic.

An evening of googling, note-taking, and practicing my sales pitch, (including a couple of white lies that I felt were necessary to make my case), and I was ready to face her. I had found enough evidence to suggest that I might have ovarian cancer and therefore would need an ultrasound asap.

My sales pitch worked and my doctor ordered an immediate ultrasound. Yay! The ultrasound revealed a mass. Not so yay. Soon after a cat scan revealed a more detailed image, including “ascites,” – abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdomen causing swelling. That’s when my doctor gave me a few pamphlets and said:

“The Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital will be taking over your care. Good luck.”

“Okay Byeeeeeeeeee.”

I met with a top gynaecological surgeon and she was fairly confident that whatever I had was not cancerous. Yay! She performed laparoscopic surgery but it didn’t go as expected. Not so yay. She discovered a freak show-looking cancer.

“This isn’t in my wheelhouse,” the gyno-surgeon said.

Okay, maybe she didn’t say that, but she definitely thought that.

A well-known gastrointestinal oncologist then took over my care. I felt like I was an appetizer being passed around that no one wanted to eat.

Canapé anyone?

By this point I was thinking:

“Can we go back to when I thought I was pregnant? I’d like that option please. Just give me the damn baby, I’ll be a great mother, I promise!”

My biopsy was not routine – shocker – and took a long time. A pathologist in Vancouver had to be consulted. The final diagnosis was:
Malignant Peritoneal Mesothelioma.

What the hell is that?

Apparently it was a rare, incurable cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

Wait whaaaattt?

And thus began my cancer saga.

Cancer 101 Reminders:
– Trust Your Gut. If I hadn’t had that ultrasound when I did I would be dead.
– Be super pro-active. If it were
someone you loved who was sick you would move mountains to help them. So move mountains for yourself.

***If you’re a woman: if you experience a swollen-looking abdomen, along with a sense of “fullness” for more than a few days, speak with your doctor.
Women often assume these symptoms are “digestive issues,” when they are in fact symptoms of cancer, especially ovarian cancer.***

A Field Of Lavender

Photo: BECOZI on You Tube

“This isn’t working, I still feel anxious.”

“You’ve been under the blanket for two minutes, it’s not like Xanax, it doesn’t work that fast.”

“But it’s so heavy, I feel like I can’t breathe.”

“Of course it’s heavy, it’s a weighted blanket. And you’re breathing just fine. They’ve sold millions of these, we would have heard if people were being smothered to death.”

“But we didn’t buy this blanket, your mother knit it. And your mother hates me, maybe she overweighted it. Maybe I’m dying as we speak.”

“Oh My God Laura, stop with the theatrics. My mother doesn’t hate you, she’s trying to help. She doesn’t want you to become addicted to pills, she’s worried.”

“You told me your mother doesn’t believe in anxiety. You told me she said I was just looking for attention.”

“True, she did say that, but that was like two years ago. Recently one of the ladies in her book club confided in her that she suffers from anxiety, so now she’s a believer.”

“Well I still think she judges me for it, but it was kind of her to knit the blanket.”

“Yes it was. She’s a good woman. I’m going to run a few errands and I’ll pick something up for dinner. Love you.”

“Love you too. Get some wine, we’re almost out.”

Laura put on her Sarah McLachlan playlist and closed her eyes. The blanket smelled really good, like lavender. Maybe Jeremy’s mother didn’t hate her after all. I mean knitting a blanket this thick was a huge undertaking. Laura decided to invite Mrs. Peters out for a girls afternoon. They would get mani pedis and then have a lovely lunch at The Row House, which was very old-school, white linen, shrimp cocktail-fancy. It would make Jeremy happy too.

She took a deep breath then slowly let it out, pulling the blanket all the way up to her chin.

But I fear
I have nothing to give
I have so much to lose

“I love Sarah McLachlan, she doesn’t get enough credit. I mean she created Lilith Fair for God’s sake.”

The heaviness of the blanket forced Laura to breathe slowly. It put her into a calm and somewhat meditative state. She started making a mental list of all that she was grateful for:
– Jeremy
– their beloved, but now dead cat Gus
– her new hair style
– their families and friends
– of course their rent-controlled apartment
– their relatively good health, not counting her anxiety
– her fall Stuart Weitzman boots

“I think this crazy weighted blanket really is working. I feel peaceful, kind of tired like I’m ready for a nap. I wonder how much longer I should lie under it?”

Laura adjusted the blanket so that it went around her neck, with just her head poking out. She would make this Saturday night special. After taking a nap she would dress up in something pretty and light some candles for dinner. They would watch a Criterion film and then make love.

Laura’s breath slowed, like it does at the end of a yoga class when the instructor guides everyone into a tranquil state.

“This is better than taking pills. Then again I can’t use it in public. Imagine me dragging my weighted blanket around like Linus from Charlie Brown. Hilarious!” She giggled.

Surrendering to the blanket, Laura drifted off ~ breathing quietly like a tiny mouse. She felt cocooned in a field of lavender.

“They were out of your favorite wine, but I found another one, it’s French. Apparently it has notes of lavender, which I thought was cool.”

“Laura?”

“Laura?! Wake up Laura!”

Lucky Star

TRIGGER WARNING FOR SEXUAL CONTENT

Why can’t I get just one kiss?
Why can’t I get just one kiss?
There may be some things that I wouldn’t miss
But I look at your pants and I need a kiss

“I love your earrings.”

“Thanks. I got them at Le Chateau.”

Why can’t I get just one screw?
Why can’t I get just one screw?
Believe me, I know what to do
But something won’t let me make love to you

“Why do the guys always play this song at every party?”

“They think it makes them cool.”

“As if.”

“I know.”

“Do you think Ed likes me? I thought he did, but now he’s totally ignoring me.”

“Ed is failing French and he’s like barely even cute. You are better than Ed.”

“Okay, okay, thx Jess.”

“Is it just me, or are there no cute guys here? Like not even one.”

“I know, it’s like being at school but with booze. We need new people.”

“I feel like shit, I think it’s these wine coolers. I might throw up.”

“Oh no! Want me to come with you to the bathroom?”

“No, it’s okay. I’m just gonna lie down in Emma’s bedroom for awhile.”

“Don’t choke on your puke! That’s how rock stars always die.”

“I’m not going to choke on my vomit for God’s sake. I’m just lying down for a bit and if I don’t feel better I’m outta here.”

“K. I’m gonna check out the backyard scene.”

“K.”

Emma’s bedroom and bathroom were on the third floor – like her own little dusty rose, wall-to-wall carpeted apartment. Jessie tried throwing up the disgusting Strawberry coolers but nothing happened, so she went into Emma’s bedroom and lay down on the peach-quilted bed.

The bedroom was huge: two single beds, a desk, a long curvy dresser, a Pier One Papasan chair and a vanity table covered with makeup and perfume bottles.

She looked at Emma’s clock radio: 10:45 pm.

“If I don’t feel better in fifteen minutes I’m going home,” she said out loud.

Jessie stared at the ceiling. There was a beautiful crystal chandelier, softly-lit, creating a romantic vibe.

“She even has a dimmer for her light? Jesus.”

She looked again at the bedside table: gold ornate Kleenex box, 2 Swatch watches, one red, one cobalt blue. The newest Cosmopolitan magazine and a heart-shape framed photo of Emma and her beloved, but now dead, cat Gus.

“God I feel nauseas. Maybe I just need to eat something. Did I even have dinner?”

She thought back to earlier in the night. They had all ordered pizza, but Jessie had only eaten a few bites because it was covered in ham and pineapple.

She tried on the cobalt Swatch, it looked good.

A soft knock sounded:

“Jessie, you okay in there?”

“I’m fine Jen, don’t worry, I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“No, it’s Derek, not Jen” said Derek as he opened the door.

“Oh hi Derek, sorry, I thought you were Jen. What are you doing upstairs?”

“I heard Jen talking about you not feeling well, so I figured someone better check on you.”

“Oh thanks, I’m okay. I didn’t eat enough dinner because the pizza was disgusting and then I drank those wine coolers…”

“Wine coolers are never a good idea,” said Derek, sitting down on the bed.

She sighed, “I know.”

“Those football dudes from Sherwood Collegiate just got here and they’re fucking idiots. Who even invited them?”

“I think Sharon whatsername did, she’s into one of them.”

“Sharon smells, like she always smells like baked apples,” said Derek as he lay down next to Jessie. “I mean what? Does her mother bake pies all day? It’s weird.”

“Well, there are worse things to smell like, right?” said Jessie.

“True!” laughed Derek

“I can’t forget to take off this watch before I leave, it’s Emma’s. Can you imagine if I accidentally stole it? Christ.”

“Emma’s too muscular, she’s built like a rugby player,” said Derek.

“I think she’s really beautiful. Like if I were a guy I would totally be into her.”

Jessie started to sit up.

“I feel gross. I’m going home.”

Derek took Jessie by the wrist, the one with the Swatch and lay her back down on the bed.

“Come on, just hang out here with me for a little while.”

“Fine, but for like 5 min max.”

“So, are you and Mike still dating?”

“Mike? No, that’s way way over. I think he’s dating that fake goth girl Chrissy.”

“Oh well, his loss. You’re gorgeous and she wears black lipstick. I mean what’s his problem?”

Jessie laughed.

“Derek, just to warn you, I could literally throw up any minute and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.”

“I’m willing to take the chance.”

“Were you and Mike serious?”

“Well, we weren’t not serious, like we only dated each other. At least I think we only dated each other. At least I only dated him.”

Laughing, Derek said, “you’re funny,” then rolled over on his side and pressed himself up against her.

“Kiss me.”

“Are you insane? I literally just told you I feel like barfing and you want me to kiss you? No.”

He slid his hand up her sweater. It was her new Esprit sweater, dark grey with lime green lighting bolts on it.

“Derek, I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but just stop it. I don’t want to fool around.”

“Relax, relax, it’s just a kiss,” he said as he pulled his hand off her chest and kissed her.

“Stop, it. I don’t want to.”

“Why not?”

Derek started pulling down her black tights.

“Have you lost your mind? Did you smoke too much hash? Get off of me right now or I’ll scream.”

“No one will hear you.”

“Derek, please.”

“Take a chill pill. We’re just fooling around, that’s what people do at parties.”

Derek had lighting-fast undressing skills and before Jessie knew it her tights were halfway down her legs. Her pale thighs exposed and the bottom half of her legs still covered in opaque black. She was wearing her favorite ankle-boots, the ones that looked like Madonna’s in the Lucky Star video.

“Stop. You’re hurting me.”

“I’m not hurting you. God, I didn’t realize you were so uptight. No wonder Mike left you for Chrissy.”

Jessie tried willing herself to throw up. If she barfed, Derek would surely stop.

“Dear God, please help me puke so that Derek gets off of me.”

Derek was now yanking her underwear down.

“I thought you liked Andrea Henderson? She likes you too you know.”

“I know she likes me. I’m going out with her tomorrow night.”

He managed to get her underwear pulled down while he simultaneously unzipped his jeans. All the while he was holding her down with one surprisingly strong arm.

“Please stop Derek. I don’t want to have sex with you. We can do something else. How about I go down on you?”

Jessie had no desire to go down on Derek but thought it was worth a try, it would buy her some time.

“Come on, you know this is better.”

He continued kissing her, mostly on her neck and strangely they were soft kisses. They were everything that his deep, painful thrusts were not.

Out of the corner of her eye Jessie saw a flash of cobalt from her wrist. She focused on it. She thought of the Swatch magazine ad she’d recently seen in Mademoiselle magazine. It was a color wheel of Swatch Watches, every shade of the rainbow. The fluorescent green one had been her favorite. The cobalt blue was nice though, it was a bright cobalt.

Derek rolled off her.

“That was amazing.”

He turned to her and kissed her on the mouth, a long, deep kiss like they were a happy girlfriend and boyfriend couple.

“I’ll see you downstairs Jess.”

As he zipped up and closed the door behind him, Jessie took off the cobalt Swatch and placed it on the bedside table. She slowly pulled up her underwear and her tights. Easing herself off the bed, she made sure to plump the pillow and smooth out the wrinkles on the quilt, like a hotel maid would do.

At Emma’s vanity table she fixed her hair and sprayed her neck where Derek had been kissing her – with a bottle of Beautiful. Looking closely at each of Emma’s seven lipsticks, she finally decided on Maybelline’s “Iced Berry,” which she applied with her fingers. She took a final look around the pretty bedroom and shut the door behind her.

She decided to go pee because she’d once read that peeing after sex prevented infections.

Downstairs she made a beeline for the study, where she found her black purse and vintage leopard print coat under a massive pile.

“Jessie, are you leaving? Did you throw up? I met this cute guy named Trevor, he’s in Grade 11 at Wrightly High. You look super pale, are you okay?”

“Can you call me a cab? I need to get some air.”

“Ya I’ll call now.”

Jessie was already on her way outside.

“It’ll be here in five minutes or less. Want me to wait with you? You look bad. I mean not ugly bad, just like sick bad.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine. Call me tomorrow and let me know what happens with Trevor, k?”

“K. Hope you feel better,” Jen said as she hugged Jessie.

Outside Jessie fished a cigarette out of her purse. Though she didn’t smoke regularly, she always liked to have a pack on her. She inhaled deeply and tried exhaling like the movie stars did in the late night classic films that she sometimes watched.

As her cab pulled up Derek poked his head out the front door:

“Just wanted to make sure you were getting home safely. Have a good weekend Jess.”

Jessie stared at him, tossed her cigarette on the sidewalk and got in the cab.

This story was inspired by a sexual assault I experienced in high school.

TWO WEEKS

Mural in Echo Park

The first day Emily slept until 3:00, walked to Sunset and bought an ice cream cone from Icy Rush. Back home, with caramel still glossing her lips, she flopped on her bed, not waking until 10:00 pm. After microwaving a frozen burrito, Emily watched reruns of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians,” the episodes where they still looked human.

Day Two Emily woke at 1:00, threw on old Levis cut-offs, a white tank, Birkenstocks and a vintage kimono. She Ubered over to Figaro Bistrot, (she didn’t trust herself to drive yet, the exhaustion was only just now beginning to seep out from her body). Sitting on the sidewalk patio, Emily ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a Croque Monsieur with frites and then settled in to people watch from behind her scratched Ray Bans.

“That’s an insane kimono. LOVE.” said the woman sitting next to her.

“Thanks, I love it too. It was a gift from a Costume Designer I worked for,” answered Emily as she stabbed frites with her fork.

The woman was on her way out and they waved goodbye.

“Thank God,” thought Emily, “I don’t have the energy for an actual conversation.” Before leaving the bistrot she bought several desserts to go, then got into a yellow Uber sedan.

“Hideous,” thought Emily. She despised yellow cars. Only vintage Volkswagen Bugs like the one Goldie Hawn drove in Foul Play should be yellow.

Once home Emily answered a bunch of texts and emails then grabbed the desserts and headed over to her neighbor Jim’s house. She actually had five neighbors: the six of them each lived in tiny one-bedroom casitas, sharing a main courtyard filled with aloe vera and jade succulents. Jim was a writer who had recently – finally – sold his first screenplay. Emily had been on location when she heard the exciting news, so she hadn’t been able to properly congratulate him and celebrate.

“Jim, you there? I come bearing sweets and a rad vintage Metallica t-shirt that I scored for you.”

Jim opened the door,

“Holy shit balls, you’re back!”

He grabbed forks for them and they settled on lounge chairs in the courtyard, passing the box of desserts back and forth.

“Jesus, these are delicious, thx Em. And I love my t-shirt, I think it might actually be a collectors item. Where did u find it?”

“Toronto. I was there shooting the new Lily Collins movie. It’s a cool city, but I barely made it through filming. I was so exhausted that my whole system went out of whack: I felt really depressed, no energy and I started getting anxiety attacks when eating. It was actually really scary.”

“Oh God Em, I’m sorry. You’ve been going from project to project, working ludicrous hours – it’s not sustainable. I’ve been worried about you.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that, I really do. My Doctor says I’m suffering from burn-out. She wants me to take a few months off, she’s writing me some kind of note. It’s ridiculous though, what am I going to do, give a doctor’s note to my wardrobe union? Plus, I’m due to start working on a new series in two weeks, it’s filming in LA thank God. But enough about my stupid health drama, I want to hear all about your screenplay selling, tell me everything!”

After her visit with Jim, Emily slept until 8:30. She had just enough time to grab a ride-share and bike over to the Vista Theatre where they were playing “The Maltese Falcon,” a classic which she’d never seen. Emily settled into a back row seat and ripped open her Red Vines, jamming a whole piece in her mouth.

It was an especially beautiful evening, so Emily decided to walk home even though she was tired. As she made her way east on Sunset towards Echo Park, she spied the cutest couple holding hands. They were dressed in a very i-D Magazine mash-up of 80’s preppy/70’s punk. She was tempted to speed up so she could eavesdrop on their conversation, but she was distracted by a well-dressed elderly couple drinking expresso at a rickety cafe table. She stopped for a moment to take a few sips from her water bottle, leaning against a mural-ed wall. On the street in front of her were two young blond women kissing. It felt as if their kisses were sending off little rays of love into the universe.

She was about to start walking again when she felt wobbly. Was it anxiety? Maybe she needed to call an Uber. She sat down beneath the Mi Familia mural and took a few deep breaths. But it didn’t feel like the anxiety she had recently experienced. What was it then? Why was she sitting on the dirty street like a homeless waif feeling wobbly?

Suddenly she felt like a character in a scene from a movie she might have worked on. As a wardrobe shopper Emily would have shopped her character’s whole look, from her floral underwear to the vintage kimono. It had always been Emily’s dream to work in the film industry. She loved storytelling and the role that clothing played in it. But when did Emily get to write her own story? When was there even time for her to live her own story?

Seeing the three couples – the hand-holders, the smartly-dressed seniors and the two blondes – had penetrated something within Emily. Something very fragile that she had been keeping buried within her, without even knowing she was, without even knowing what it was, had been punctured. She felt like she was bleeding out. Bleeding out invisibly on Sunset Boulevard – now there’s a screenplay idea for Jim.

She looked down on the grimy pavement, smeared with God knows what and realized she was not having an anxiety attack – she was having a loneliness attack. “But is that even a thing?” asked the rational side of Emily’s brain. “Can a person be so deeply lonely that their body manifests a physical reaction?” “Yes,” she said out loud, “Yes it can.”

Emily wondered if her Doctor would write her a second note:

Dear Wardrobe Union: Your highly esteemed member & wardrobe shopper Emily Jenkins, is suffering from a life threatening case of loneliness. As you probably know, but perhaps you don’t think about, as a wardrobe shopper Emily works primarily on her own. She spends her days in malls, boutiques and costume houses, with almost no opportunities to meet available straight men. I have written Emily a prescription which requires you to provide her with one hour a day of exposure to at least three men. These men must be emotionally mature, ready for a relationship and politically left-leaning. Thank You. Sincerely, Doctor Govindarajan.

Emily laughed at the idea of the letter, got up and continued walking home. She’d forgotten how long a walk it was, but she needed – as Taylor Swift said – to shake it off. So she walked and walked and walked. Tears started falling and she let them do their thing, not wiping them away. Soon she started sniffling and within a few minutes she was full on sobbing, the ugly variety, with snot and tears mixing together, forming a kind of sadness facial.

“Senorita, estas bien?” asked an older woman.

“Si, yo soy bien, gracias,” answered Emily in her best Spanish.

“God, I must look like a woman having a nervous breakdown,” she thought.

Emily broke out into a slow jog, not ideal in Birkenstocks, until she made it home. Inside she quickly locked the door, as if she could keep additional loneliness from entering if she locked it fast enough.

She considered taking a shower since she was sweaty, snotty and tear-stained, but then decided against it. “Fuck it,” she thought, “let’s see if this snotty, tear-stained sadness facial makes my skin all glow-y in the morning. You never know.” She took off her clothes, letting them drop on the floor, got under her favorite linen sheets and was asleep within a minute.

And in the morning Emily’s skin was glow-y. She was lonely, but radiant as hell.

MAE

https://hannah-michelle.com

Mae dropped off her boss’s lunch in the usual place: in her office, on the lucite coffee table, in front of the greige velvet sofa. It was one of those frightfully uncomfortable modern sofas, like you were literally paying $10,000 to get back pain. Her boss’s lunch was always the same: Nicoise Salad, plain iced coffee & half a vanilla cupcake. The restaurant, “Lola’s,” knew Mae and they knew her boss and they always cut the cupcake in half before putting it in its plastic, planet-killing container. Then they gave Mae the other half which she would eat on her way back to work.

Mae ate her own lunch three floors down in a tiny, empty office that had one of those really good office chairs and a small desk. Mae had stumbled upon this perfect, private oasis when she accidentally took the elevator to the wrong level. The entire floor was inexplicably vacant, though occasionally a tall janitor would walk by and they would wave to each other. Mae loved the quiet. In fact this secret lunchroom was Mae’s favorite thing about her job.

As she munched her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, (layered with plain Lay’s chips – the only way to eat a PB & J), she pondered her future. She was 25 years old and she had no real life plan. She didn’t even have a Pinterest board for inspiration. No “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” quotes, no “Bucket List Travel Destinations,” no “Dream Weddings.”

As Mae fixated on her lack of a life plan, she started perspiring, one of those cold sweats. Her heart starting beating quickly and a wave of dizziness swooshed over her. She lay down on the carpet and placed her cold Diet Coke can on her forehead.

“OMG I’m going to die here in my secret lunch spot and my body will be found by the tall janitor. And all anyone will say, is, ‘she was that 25 year old girl with no life plan.’”

She moved the cold can to her wrists and then to her neck. She started feeling better, but decided to stay lying down for a few more minutes. As she rested with her Diet Coke can on her left temple, she realized that in fact she was not a complete loser. Being 25 and not having a life plan was not that bad. Being 35 and not having a life plan would be bad, really bad. Like you’d basically be a failure. But Mae still had time to get her shit together. Her first step would be to start a Pinterest “Life Inspiration” board this weekend.

“R we still on for tonight?” she texted her friends Becky and Nicole.

“Of course girl, #thursdaynightmargaritas” Becky texted.

“See u beauties at 6:30” answered Nicole.

Mae got up and tidied her lunch area. She always made sure to keep it spotless and take her trash with her. Back at her cubicle, which was stationed right outside her boss’s office, she started answering emails and checking phone messages.

“Mae!”

“Coming,” Mae called out, as she grabbed her iPad.

“I have a dinner right after work. Totally forgot about it. Fucking Carolyn Rosenhip. Can’t stand her, but she’s the wife of a good client, so I have to go. I usually keep an extra outfit here, but it’s at the cleaners. You need to pick it up – corner of Queen and John. And I need a gift. I want a box of those chocolates from that local shop that was written up in the New York Times; their chocolates look like colorful little balls. Get me their most beautiful box. Also, my bronzer has vanished. The only one I like is by MAC. Buy me two – it’s called, ‘Finely Spun Golden.’ You know what, get yourself a bronzer too, you look a little pale.”

“Oh that’s so generous of you, but it’s okay, pale is kind of my look.”

“I’m not saying you have to Kardashian yourself, but a little bronzer, just a touch would do you some good. I can’t have my assistant looking 90’s heroin-chic. I’ll text you if I think of anything else.”

“Okay, I’ll be back soon.”

Getting to do errands for her boss was Mae’s second favorite thing about her job. While other assistants grumbled about errand-running being “beneath them,” Mae thought of it as a perk. She loved getting out of the office and going shopping. Then Mae had a horrible thought: what if the fact that she thought of errand-running as a perk, was actually an indicator that Mae had no ambition? A person with no ambition would also be someone with no Life Plan. Fuck. Mae would have to discuss the issue with her girls tonight.

After picking up the swanky dress and knee-length jacket with embellishment from the cleaners, she headed to MAC. There she met the most beautiful makeup artist named Sammi.

“So, we’ve got the two bronzers for your boss, what else can I help you with. Do you want to try one of our new lip stains? I think Raspberry Smash would look really good on you,” he said.

“Actually ya, that would be great, I need a new lip color, but put that on a separate bill. Also…my boss wants to buy me a bronzer, in fact she insisted on it. She said she didn’t want an assistant who looked 90’s heroin-chic.”

“She did NOT say that. First of all, that whole early 90’s vibe was a dope look. Plus, what kind of boss forces you to wear bronzer? Pretty sure that’s not even legal.”

“I know, right? But I have to get one and I have to be wearing it when I get back to work.”

“I can’t even…but let’s keep it positive. I’m trying to change my energy vibration because I’m becoming a Light-Worker. It’s important that I always stay in the light and not put negative energy or words out into the universe.” Mae had absolutely no idea what a Light-Worker was, but she nodded knowingly.

“We’ll do a highlighter for you instead of a bronzer, your boss won’t know the difference and I think you’ll dig the look. You’ll need a brush too, which your boss will buy. I’ll get you sorted, don’t worry” assured Sammi.

Mae left MAC feeling amazing. She felt happier and prettier and kind of bouncier – like a fairy or good witch had sprinkled joy-dust all over her. In Mae’s eyes Sammi was already a Light-Worker and she felt lucky to have met him.

Her Uber driver was not very chatty, so she spent the ride over to Persephone’s Chocolates people watching on Queen Street West. There were so many colorful characters, including a gorgeous Goth Girl wearing a long black lace dress and black Granny boots. Mae wondered if Goth Girl was only allowed to date other Goths. What were the Goth rules? What if she fell madly in love with an Adidas sweatsuit-wearing person? Would the other Goths shun her? Would she be kicked out of their scene? So many questions she would never know the answers to.

The chocolate shop was heaven. Each chocolate ball looked like an expressionistic painting, as if Monet had breezed in and quietly spray-painted them all. This is why Mae liked doing errands for her boss: she got to peak inside a high-end world, often filled with great beauty, like the chocolates.

The store manager was excited about Mae’s boss buying a gift. Whitley Communications was highly regarded both in Toronto and across North America, famous for re-branding dying companies.

Using his own communications savvy, the store manager put two small boxes of chocolates into an elegant bag, one for Mae’s boss and one for Mae, sliding his business card beneath the ribbon on each box:

“Anytime your boss needs a special gift, or if you have a large corporate event, I look forward to assisting you. Please send my best and thank you to Mrs. Blackwell.”

“I will. Thank you so much.”

On her ride back to the office Mae was suddenly tired. She opened the window, leaned her head against its edge, closed her eyes and let the wind scatter her L’Oreal Rose-Gold highlights. The rest of the afternoon was chaotic, so Mae’s tiredness had nowhere to go but away.

“I told you a little bronzer would look good, huge improvement. Huge. Now I have a very chic-looking assistant.”

By the time Mrs. Blackwell swished out of the office to her dinner, Mae barely had time to freshen up and catch the streetcar. Thursday nights the girls always met up at their favorite Mexican hangout, “Rosalita’s.” The vibe was flea market-chic meets old school Mexican grandmother’s house, with all eighties music.

Nicole and Becky were already seated with their margaritas, chips and salsa and a drink for Mae.

The three of them had been friends since junior high and knew each other inside out. Occasionally they fought like sisters, but mostly they were just there for each other. They were there for the un-important stuff like, “what should I wear on this date,” and they were there for the important stuff like, “can you sit with me while I pee on this stick? I think I might be pregnant.”

Becky was complaining about her new girlfriend, Violet, whom she’d only been dating a month.

“You have an epically long list of grievances against your girlfriend and it’s only been one month. I say move on or lighten up,” said Nicole in her usual super direct way.

“I agree with Nicole. And to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Violet – she’s too agro with her veganism. Last week she ripped me to shreds for ordering a pepperoni pizza on movie night. And we were at my apartment! Who does that?”

Nicole laughed.

“You girls are a total delight tonight,” said Becky, glaring at them.

“Listen, I need to ask you something,” said Mae as The Smith’s ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ played in the background.

“Que paso?” Nicole asked

“Do I need more of a Life Plan? I know we’re only 25, but like should I be doing more for my future? Am I just floating along too casually?”

“Yes, you are. You’re acting like my mom did when she was our age and she’s a Generation X-er.” said Nicole flatly

“You do need to get more on it girl, 25 is the new 30,’ said Becky.

“OMG. I can’t believe you two have been thinking of me as a slacker character from Singles. When were you going to tell me?”

Their second round of margaritas arrived with their usual dinner, The Taco Platter, which they always shared.

“Listen, calm down,” said Becky. “We just thought that you were figuring things out.”

“But I thought that’s what our twenties were for – figuring things out,” said Mae trying to keep her voice calm.

“Once a week Becky volunteers at her local shelter. She’s also taking an on-line class in Social Work at U of T. And she sells a curated selection of early 90’s fashion on Depop. That’s all in addition to her regular job. She’s making things happen for herself, moving things forward,” said Nicole before devouring her fish taco.

Mae took a long sip of her margarita, this conversation was not going as anticipated.

“Nicole is prepping for grad school, researching schools, starting to fill out applications. Plus she has her weekly internship and ‘Wellness With Nicole’ is blowing up on IG – she’s got 10,000 followers!” said Becky approvingly as she scooped up guacamole with a chip.

“But what are you doing other than work?” asked Nicole looking her straight in the eyes.

Mae stalled for a moment by taking a long sip of her margarita.

“Well, I’ve been keeping this a bit of a secret because I feared being judged, but the truth is…I’m training to become a Light-Worker.”

Other than the sounds of crunching tacos, the slurping of margaritas and The Smiths playing in the background, there was complete silence for about ten seconds. Then, Nicole said firmly:

“Ok then, well you’ve already got a Life Plan, you’re totally fine. You’re becoming a Light-Worker. You’re working towards your future, that’s great news.”

“I feel like the beef tacos are a little too spicy tonight,” said Becky.”

Chasing Cars

When Jen needed a good cry she listened to the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, particularly the first few seasons. There were so many songs that helped Jen excavate her tears, which were always buried deep underneath layers of smiles and loveliness. Of course she didn’t admit this to anyone because what kind of a freak needs to listen to Grey’s Anatomy songs in order to cry?

Recently Jen had been going to a nearby park where she would sit on a bench, preferably one under a tree and listen to one of three Cry Playlists on her phone. She would sob for a few minutes or longer depending on how she felt. One day a pimply-faced teenage boy asked her if she was okay and she answered:

“Ya, I’m good, just letting out some toxic shit you know? Thx for asking.” Though Jen didn’t normally swear, saying “toxic shit” was her way of showing respect to the young man who cared enough to check on her.

Jen wondered why she had such a difficult time crying. She asked her therapist about it and Dr. Kesselman told her maybe it had something to do with Jen feeling like she always had to keep it all together. Or, that Jen was sub-consciously worried that if she started crying she might never stop. But Dr. Kesselman approved of Jen’s Grey’s Anatomy technique, telling her it was a creative solution.

This morning, under a pink tree – crab apple? cherry? – Jen listened to the most recognizable Grey’s Anatomy song, “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. It had played during the scene when Denny Duquette died and Izzie Stevens, who was dressed in a prom dress, wouldn’t let him be taken to the morgue. She was lying with him on the hospital bed until Alex lifted her up and took her away.

Oh God what a scene.

Izzie loved Denny so much, they were soulmates. Jen wanted that kind of love. And she didn’t care if most people with Bachelor Degrees thought the idea of soulmates was like believing in crystal healing. Jen had a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and she knew soulmates existed.

Though Jen did not currently have a soulmate, she did have a mate. Jen likened the difference between soulmates and regular mates to the difference between a good lasagna and a poorly made one. A well-made lasagna was hearty, sometimes even a little bit heavy. But, if the lasagna was too light and the tomato sauce seeped out in huge puddles on your plate, well, that was a regular mate.

Jen’s regular mate was Jim. He taught political theory at a local college and he was an avid long-distance bike rider. Every Wednesday night Jim made dinner, each time focusing on a different cuisine and always writing the dish on the kitchen chalkboard. Last week’s dinner had been Authentic New Orleans Creole Gumbo. Jim was a decent enough cook, but no matter how tasty the dishes were the dinners were inevitably ruined by Jim pontificating about the history of the dish he’d prepared, the city or country it originated from and their people.

Last month, when Jim cooked a lamb dish from Western Africa and started talking about the incredible beauty of its local markets, Jen had seriously thought about leaving him on the spot. Like just getting up from the table, taking her phone, laptop and charger and leaving the house forever. What the hell did Jim know about beautiful markets in Western Africa? Pontification should be added to the List of Seven Deadly Sins, Jen would need to write the Pope.

Today’s crying session lasted 7.5 minutes. When Jen arrived home she applied a warm washcloth to her eyes to help them de-puff, then ate cinnamon raisin toast for breakfast. She always took out the raisins first, tossing them in the backyard for the squirrels and birds to eat.

A brief stint of makeup applying and Jen was off to the children’s non-profit where she worked. It was only a ten minute bus ride and she usually spent it reading while secretly checking out the men who boarded. Maybe her soulmate rode the same bus as her and they just hadn’t met yet.

But instead of her soulmate she got Gina Trochanter, one of her work mates, who out of nowhere was suddenly standing next to her. Wearing a lavender raincoat and matching rain boots, Gina was inexplicably dressed for a storm, though there was not a cloud in the sky. Gina spoke in a loud, bold voice except when she was gossiping. When gossiping she whispered sideways into your ear, so that half the words just swooshed by.

Gina had a long list of bad, ineffective ideas which she planned on bringing up at their Back To School project meeting. Today they were brainstorming strategies to get school supplies and clothing donated. The families in the community they served could barely pay their bills, let alone buy new backpacks and sneakers for their children.

When the meetings were particularly suffocating, with everyone jockeying for their boss’s attention, Jen’s work friend Beatrice would pour a little Bailey’s in Jen’s coffee to take the edge off. Beatrice was one of those super cool girls who could pull off paper-bag waist pants, cowboy mules and a mullet and look like she just walked off a Paris runway. Jen was nowhere near as cool, but over the years she had developed a style that suited her: one part something floral and one part something plain black – so as not to look like a walking garden. Today she wore a black pencil skirt with a floral blouse she had found in a thrift store for $5. Jim was vehemently against Jen buying anything secondhand, he worried she would bring bugs into the house. Jen thought he was insane, so she lied whenever she bought something used.

After work Jen usually went straight home so she could have a little time to herself before Jim arrived. Tonight they were having pizza. Every Tuesday night they ordered pizza and every Tuesday morning Jim wrote it on the kitchen chalkboard: “take-out Pizza night.” But tonight Jen wanted something different, she just didn’t know what. She felt this weird tingling, almost tickling sensation all around the edges of her body. As if someone had traced the outline of her with one of those feather cat toys. Though she liked the feeling, she also wondered if it was perhaps some weird form of neuropathy.

Jen decided to try a local bar that she had walked by a million times. It looked straight out of the 1940’s and appropriately enough was called Bogart’s. Usually she would feel self-conscious going to a bar alone, but today she didn’t. She sat at the bar instead of a table and when the 60-something year old bartender asked her what she wanted she found herself saying:

“A Whisky Sour please.” Jen had never had a Whiskey Sour before and had no idea what the sour part was. Lemon? Lime? But it sounded like the right kind of drink to order in a bar like this, on a night like this, when her body was electrified.

“Thank you,” said Jen to the bartender. “It’s my first time here, I wanted to try something different.”

“Here’s looking at you kid,” he said as he clinked his glass with hers. Jen smiled at the Bogart reference.

The drink was delicious and for an instant she felt cool, like Beatrice. Beatrice would order a Whiskey Sour. Beatrice would never order a Pinot Grigio which is what Jen usually drank when she was out. Jen swore to never ever order another Pinot Grigio. There was no way she would find her soulmate and the life she craved if she was drinking Pinot Grigio.

Finding a soulmate would involve taking chances and living boldly, or at least boldly-ish and tonight was Jen’s first step: instead of being home reading the new Sue Grafton novel and eating goldfish, she was at a bar by herself, with her electrified, possibly neuropathy-laden body. Ready. Ready for it all.

Half and Half

“Make sure it’s exactly half and half. Half Pomegranate, half Original flavor. Last time it was 3/4 pomegranate. And go to the Pinkberry on Montana Ave, it’s the only one I trust.”

“Got it.”

“My new Ferragamo loafers have to be dropped off at Roberto’s, he needs to put a protective sole on them. You do that with expensive shoes. But I guess you wouldn’t know that, you wear Nine West, I mean no offence, but…”

“Non taken.” you privileged narcissist bitch

“At Whole Foods get me the snap peas and sesame tofu and a ginger kombucha. And Jett needs to eat too…maybe the barbecue chicken, potato salad and some kind of cupcake. Large containers for him, small containers for me.”

“Can I get you anything else while I’m out?”

“No that’s all. Except gas, you know I always like my gas topped up to 100% full.”

“I sure do.” you freak

In the Range Rover Emily cranked KCRW then let out a death-metal loud scream:

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

She chewed CBD gummies as she ran errands in Santa Monica. Using voice memo she left notes for herself for the screenplay she was working on. It was about a personal assistant who falls in love with her boss’s 18 year old son and the two of them plot to kill his mother.

Her phone rang.

“And it goes without saying don’t forget to pick up Jett from school at 3:00. I gave you snacks for him, they’re already in the car. Gotta go, my acupuncturist is here.”

God it would be so fun to stick needles in you

“I’m on my way to pick him up now.”

“Get in loser we’re going to Taco Bell. I mean unless you want this rotting apple, melted cheese sticks and nuts that you mother packed for you.”

“Why the fuck does she pack me the same snack every single day?”

“And the nuts are always from Starbucks.”

They laughed as they pulled into Taco Bell’s drive-thru.

“How do you eat this five days a week? It’s gnarly.”

“How do you work for my mom five days a week? SHE’s gnarly.”

They drove a couple blocks and stopped at a park where Jett liked to eat outside so he could smoke a little weed before going home.

“So was school scintillating today? Did you finally talk to Ben? Are you guys ever going to get together?”

“We hung out for like a minute at lunch. His parents are going away this weekend so he’s having a party. I’m gonna feel the vibe out then.”

“Cool. But just be careful and safe and all that shit. Your crowd is wild, you know that right?”

“Don’t worry Mama Emily, I won’t do anything other than weed, I never do. It’ll just be dope to spend some time with Ben. It’s not like I can have him over to the house, Mom would lose her shit.”

“Honestly Jett, I don’t think she would. Your mom fucking loves you. I mean she packs you after-school snacks every damn day and she does it herself. I know she drives you nuts, she drives me nuts too. But when it comes to Ben she would be okay, trust me on this one.”

“Ok, I’ll think about it…want some? Jett offered Emily his joint.

“No, I’m good. I gotta get you home and we need to pick up Pinkberry for your mom.”

“Jesus Christ.”

He took a final drag and tossed his Taco Bell wrappers in the garbage.

In the car Jett blasted Led Zeppelin, they were his newest obsession. They drove with the windows down with Jett’s right leg sticking out and his shoelace blowing in the breeze.

“Want anything at Pinkberry’s?”

“Maybe like a bowl of those rainbow colored toppings, no yogurt, just the toppings and some gummy bears and chocolate chips too.”

“Can’t tell that you’re high at all.”

Jett gave her the peace sign, put on his Warby Parkers and turned up the music.

“I love living in Southern California” said Jett as he ate his bowl of Pinkberry toppings. “But like when I go to college, I want to go far away. I guess like New York? I mean where else is there to go?”

“Don’t be so elitist.”

“What do you mean? I’m not elistist. I feed the homeless once a month.”

“Los Angeles and Manhattan are not the only cool, interesting cities in the U.S. Think outside the box. Maybe The University of Texas in Austin. Austin is super cool and liberal. Plus, I think it would drive your parents crazy if you went to college in Texas, so there’s that added bonus.”

“Love that idea, gonna research it tonight, thx Em. By the way, what happened with that guy Ron?”

“His name is Jon and I’m not dating him anymore.”

“Why? He sounded like halfway cool.”

“He has a pet rabbit.”

“What? Who the fuck has a pet rabbit?!”

“But wait, there’s more. We were watching Netflix and the rabbit, whose name is Stacey, sat next to him the whole time on the couch. And he petted her over and over and over. Like OCD petting. Like I’m surprised she has any hair left petting.”

“Come on,”

“Jett, I shit you not. That damn rabbit sat with us for two episodes of Designated Survivor and I swear to God she was giving me side-eye the whole time, like “get away from my man” kind of energy. So so epically creepy.”

“That’s wack and you can never ever see him again. That dude would for sure chop you up and feed you to Stacey and then mom would have to hire a new personal assistant.”

“Thanks for the love Jett.”

“No problem.”

“Alright, let’s do this, pop some gum because you smell like hot sauce.”

“I’m on it.”

“Emily where have you been? You’re late! We’ve got to go over next week’s calendar before you leave. Next week is challenging. I’m hosting a small dinner which I forgot to tell you about. I’ll pay you time and a half of course. Jett did you eat your snack? How was school? How was that wretched Mrs. Taylor? I’m going to talk with your principal if she doesn’t start treating you better.”

“Hey mom, what’s up? Mrs. Taylor is all good man, nada to worry about.”

“Half hour of video games then homework. I don’t want you up half the night finishing your math. And call your father. You didn’t call him yesterday and he was livid. Livid.”

“My yogurt is melting, give it to me Emily. After you put everything away meet me in my office. I am just so stressed. I mean I just have too much on my plate, what with hosting dinners and appointments and Jett and planning the new guest cottage. It’s simply too much. Women are expected to do too much in our society, it’s not fair. And bring me a glass of Rose, there’s a bottle chilling in the fridge, I need something to take the edge off.”

Wow. Just wow.

“Okay, I’ll be right there.”

After putting the groceries away Emily went into Mrs. Jeffries’ Birkin, grabbed a few Ativan and slipped them in her pocket. Then she poured her a glass of wine, taking a few sips for herself first.

“Emily? I’m not getting any younger.”


Sent from my iPad

Fringed Purse (mini-fiction based on a real-life story)

“Where’s my fringed purse?  Don’t let anyone take my fringed purse.”

“I’ve got it, don’t worry.  I’m literally holding it.”

“Ok but be careful b/c if it’s not snapped shut then all my stuff will fall out.”

“It’s snapped shut and it’s secure.”

“Alright, but keep it with you.  You have no idea how many compliments I get on that purse, it’s a highly desirable accessory.  It’s from a British-Moroccan company, I forget the name.”

“Relax, everything is fine.”

“This place smells disgusting.  Like urine, vomit and desperation.  I’m so humiliated.”

“Don’t worry, no one is judging you.”

“Someone *literally* just stared at me like I was a sad low-life who had hit rock bottom.  Though at least my purse makes me look less pathetic.  I mean that’s the power of a good accessory, a great purse or a pair of stunning shoes can literally change your life.  I…”

“Sir if you could just move to the right, we’ll get her on the stretcher.  Are you riding with us?”

“Yes I am.”

“And he’s bringing my fringed purse with him.  Don’t let him forget it.  I’m feeling better anyways, maybe I don’t need the stretcher.  Plus, I kind of like it down here.  It smells gross but the cold tiles feel soothing.  Maybe I can just lie here a little longer?”

“Ma’am, we’re bringing you and your purse to the hospital on this stretcher.  Why don’t you just try and relax.”

“Okay, I’ll try, though relaxing is not my specialty.  I’m more of a go, go go person, you know?”

“Could you please stop talking and let them do their job?”

“Alright, Jesus.  I’m the one picking up god knows what diseases from the subway platform, you’d think you’d be nicer to me.”

“If you don’t stop talking I will leave your fringed purse here.’

“That’s cruel.”

“Mr. Paramedic Tom, you said your name was Tom right?  This is my first ambulance ride, it’s a little exciting, you know?  Like with the lights on and everything, swooshing through the streets…”

“Well, if you’re lucky, this will be your last ambulance ride.”

“Good point.  You are very nice.  Thank you for being very nice, I appreciate it.  I’m just going to close my eyes for a few minutes.’

“Good idea.” Tom said.

“Ma’am?  We’ve arrived at the hospital.”

“Thank you so much.”

“Paul, do you still have my fringed purse?”

“It’s right here, don’t worry.”

“Oh thank God.  I see a man over there, barfing and that other guy looks like he’s shooting up.  People do drugs right outside the hospital?  Oh God, those poor souls.  Tom, I think you and your partner need to help them, I’m fine.  They need you more than I do, I can walk into the hospital with Paul.”

“Ma’am, just let us finish our job, okay?  We can’t take you off the stretcher, we’re not allowed.”

“Oh, sorry.  Sorry to be a pain.”

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

“Paul, can I have my purse?  I just want to hold it.”

“Here, I’ll rest it next to you on the stretcher.”

“I feel like I’m passing out, even though I’m already lying down.  Why did I collapse like that?  I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Everything is going to be okay, it’s all going to be okay.”

Must Wear Beige

“Oh for the love of God, I don’t want to go to this bridal shower today.  Why do I have to?  Steven – why do I have to go to this godforsaken shower?”

“You owe me,” yelled Steven from down the hall.  “I went to that hideous work event with you so now you have to go to my partner’s third wife’s bridal shower.”

“But she’s a nightmare!  Major narcissist, faux listener, gossips 24/7 & only wants to talk about her farm to table lifestyle blog – which by the way is hilarious because she doesn’t even cook, so what exactly is she bringing from farm to table?  She’s going to be a horrible mother, just horrible.”

“Why don’t you write that in her card, I’m sure she would love those words of support.”

“Very funny.  That whole group are like the Nouveau Millennial Stepford Wives.  And I just ‘can’t’ with the beige theme.  I mean the invite actually said “Must Wear Beige” – who does that?  And you know how washed out beige makes me look.”

“It’s a rough life hon, I feel for ya,” Steven said as he skipped down the stairs.

“Okay, focus Susan focus.  I know I have a light caramel shift-dress in here somewhere, that will have to do.  And my cream vintage sweater with the sequins and rhinestone buttons, that’ll look good together.  

“Steven?”

“I’m downstairs, what?”

“These girls are very minimalist, can I get away with rhinestone buttons and sequins?”

“Have you lost your mind?  You are a grown-ass woman, wear what you want!  As long as it’s not hot pink or lime green, you’ll be fine.  I mean you’re twice the age of these women, so who cares?”

“Nice.  Thank you for reminding me that I could me this woman’s mother.  Like I’m not feeling ancient enough.  They’ll all have that perfect glow-y skin & thick eyebrow-look and I’ll just be sitting there like their plump grandma wearing a loud sparkly sweater.”

“Actually I think her grandma and her mother are going to be there, so you can hang out with them if it makes you more comfortable.”

“So funny I forgot to laugh.  I’m going to murder you.”

“How?  How are you going to murder me.”

“I can’t tell you, it’ll ruin the surprise.”

“Ha!” Steven said as he rounded the corner into their bedroom with a glass of wine for her.

“Drink this, it’ll make you feel better and I’ll bring you over so don’t worry about driving.”

“Thanks,” Susan said as she took a large sip.

“You can add some lip balm to your cheeks to get that glow-y look you mentioned.  I read about it in The New York Times Style Section.”

“You read a beauty article about using lip balm on your face?” Susan asked. 

“Yep.  I know you’re not a huge fan of makeup and beauty stuff, but some of these products are amazing!  Last week I bought a facial exfoliating cream and I love it.  My skin looks brighter and it’s softer.  Not that you ever noticed.”

“I feel like I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

“By the way, don’t forger her name – it’s Astamaria – last time you called her ‘Astralmaria.’”

“I did not, you are such a liar!” Susan said laughing.

Steven kissed Susan’s neck and whispered, “don’t let those gals get to you, you’re my Queen and you’re beautiful as fuck!”

Stanley

Stanley awoke from a long luxurious sleep, stretched and then set out walking.  He turned down the alleyway behind Greenwood Avenue and headed to the grey duplex with the blue trim, number 105.  The back gate was open, so he strolled in.  He was hungry and was looking forward to having lunch with Mrs. Blackwell.  He sat on her deck for about five minutes, enjoying the mid-day sun while waiting for her to appear.  Then he decided to take a stroll through her backyard since she was obviously running late.

Mrs. Blackwell had recently added new planters which were filled with pink flowers that smelled like delicious candies.  He also noticed a new herb garden, each herb had its own little sign: “basil,” “oregano,” “mint.”  He took a little taste of the mint, it was lovely and made his mouth tingle.  In the back corner of the yard Mrs. Blackwell had moved her porch swing, which had received an update with bright new yellow cushions.  Stanley decided to wait there since it was out of the sun and under the shade of a big leafy tree.  He settled in for a mini-nap while Mrs. Blackwell finished up with whatever was making her late for their lunch date.  He dozed happily, enjoying the swaying of the tree’s leaves above him – it was as if he had his own “garçon” fanning him. The sweet garden smells made his stomach gurgle, he could hardly wait to eat.

“Stanley!” called out Mrs. Blackwell.  Her voice was soft, with a hint of a Southern twang.  Mrs Blackwell had grown up in Texas and though she had lived in Toronto for twenty-five years she still considered herself a die-hard Texan, she even had a “Don’t Mess with Texas” plaque on her front porch.  Stanley headed over to the deck and joined Mrs. Blackwell at the patio table under a huge umbrella which she had opened to shield them from the sun.  She had set out two plates of food, iced tea (she was Texan after all) and water.  She smiled at Stanley, thankful for his company.  Ever since her husband Earl had passed away last year she had been terribly lonely.  Having a daily lunch companion who lived right in her neighborhood had lifted her spirits and put a little spark back in her step.

She sprinkled salt on her fresh avocado and tomato sandwich and took a small dainty bite.  “A little slice of heaven!” she said.  Stanley was focused on opening the shell of his giant peanut and extricating the nut.  He tried his best to eat as little of the shell as possible.  He chirped away happily as he finished his peanut and moved on to his walnut.  Mrs. Blackwell loved to watch Stanley eat.  It was like watching an artist at work, he ate so speedily, yet with such grace.  She told Stanley about her busy morning.  She had baked a cake for a friend’s birthday, cleared out her husband’s bedroom closet – which she had been procrastinating about – and called her doctor about the arthritis in her left knee which seemed to be getting worse.  Stanley chirped and swung his tail around in sympathy.

As per usual, Stanley took the last few nuts and stuffed them in his mouth.  Mrs. Blackwell knew his habits well. Now he would be off to hide the nuts for later and hopefully, if his memory served him, he would remember where he had hidden them.  “Good-bye Stanley!  See you tomorrow!” called out Mrs. Blackwell.  Stanley chirped and scurried away quickly.  It was crucial that he bury his nuts before other squirrels noticed that his mouth was full.  Otherwise he ran the risk of having them secretly follow him and then steal his delicious, organic, Trader Joe’s nuts.  It was a tough world out there, but at least he had his good friend Mrs. Blackwell, she was a gem.

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