Fall Flowers

Scrolling through my Spotify playlists to find that song.
That song that makes me feel so good.
So good that when I walk along Queen Street with the sun shining and my fake Raybans on, I feel unstoppable.
There, found it. Press play.

Now I am beautiful.
I am emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy.
The kind of woman who drinks Matcha tea, organic wine and eats only eggs from the really happy hens, not the sad ones in cages.
Effortlessly chic.
I am fulfilled.
I use crystal rituals in my weekend self-care routines.
I am in a relationship that is both deep and nourishing, yet light and joyful.

Let me play this song again, just one more time.
I don’t want to let go of this version of myself quite yet.
I love her.
I looooove her.
Okay, it’s on repeat. All is good. I’m still her.

I smile at strangers walking past me, admire Halloween decorations and wave at a little toddler wearing sparkly shoes.
Being her means my roots are always touched up, never grey.
I practice yoga and tantric sex, giving my complexion that gorgeous, glow-y from within look.
I don’t just live, I thrive.

Oh no, someone is calling me, interrupting my time with her.
It’s my husband.
I answer.

“Can you pick up some snacks, you know like chips and stuff? The guys are coming over tonight to watch the game.”

“Sure, no problem,” I say lightly trying not to lose her.

I pop into our local grocer, waving at the checkout guy.
I’m still her, for a little longer.
I grab chips and pretzels and all the usual crap that my husband likes eating while watching sports.
Then I grab myself a bouquet of mixed fall flowers, that’s what she would do.
She would buy herself flowers every week, never leaving them to die and rot in the vase.
I spot a container of overpriced pre-cut fruit pieces – her favorite.

I replay the song again.
I feel so good being her.
She loves dark chocolate with sea salt, so I toss a couple of bars into my basket.
In the refrigerator, next to the Kombucha, is a new drink I’ve never seen before.
It’s called Goddess Juice, a turmeric based elixir that you take as a daily shot for:
“Enhancing your inner functioning, wellbeing and spirit,” the label says.
Oh this is exactly what she would like, she would totally buy this.

I pause my music so I can chat with the checkout guy.

“You watching the game tonight? I’ve got a good feeling about this one, I think the Leafs are gonna win.”

“My husband is. He just bought himself a special beer fridge for the new season.”

“Sweet.”

I pay, then continue walking home.
I’m now balancing two paper bags plus my purse, it’s too much and I’ve got several blocks to go.
Even though I’m still playing the song I feel her disappearing.

“Why can’t he buy his own snacks? What am I, his mother?”

As the irritation grows I feel her slipping further and further away. She’s wearing oatmeal-colored cashmere loungewear and she doesn’t like my energy right now.

I walk the final block to our tiny row house; I’m sweating. It’s fall but somehow I’m sweating.
I turn the key and my husband meets me at the door:

“Thanks babe, you’re fucking amazing,” he says as he takes the two bags and kisses my forehead.

He’s talking to me about I don’t know what, not even noticing the Goddess Juice, which is something he would usually make fun of. I hide the juice at the bottom of the fridge and fill a vase with water.

“I have a good feeling about the Leafs tonight, I think they’re gonna win,” I say while arranging my flowers.

“Ah babe, that’s what I like to hear. Go Leafs!” he yells, emptying bags of chips into bowls.

I pour myself a glass of red wine and take a sip, followed by a bite of dark chocolate with sea salt – it’s exactly what she would do. And My God it’s delicious.

https://janneford.com

Spiritual Fixer

“I’m broken.”
“You are not broken.”
“But I am.”

“You might feel broken, but you are not broken. Do you hear me? You are not.”
“Okay.”

“Feeling broken is your psyche’s way of waving a giant red flag, it’s telling you to make changes immediately. Feeling broken is a warning sign and you must – you must – take it seriously.”

“I understand. Except that because I feel broken I also feel exhausted, unable to do anything.”

“That’s because you’ve given all your power away, you didn’t mean to, but you did. And that’s left you feeling tired: no power = no energy. I understand my dear sweet thing. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: you have a hidden reserve of power. Think of it like a backup generator. And in emergencies – like now – you need to switch that generator ON to power you up.”

“Well I don’t know, that sounds a little nuts. A backup generator to magically give me energy so that I can make changes in my life?”

“What’s nuts is that you’re allowing the life to be choked out of you.”

“Well…”

“Either you believe me and tap into that backup generator to energize yourself, or I’ll move on to help someone else. I’m not getting any younger.”

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to take up all your time, I’m not even sure who I’m talking to. Are you God?”

“God? No. If there’s a God he’s been on one long-assed vacation – I mean just look at the mess this world is in! Think of me more like a Fixer, A Spiritual Fixer.”

“That sounds like the name of a Netflix Series that I would watch.”

“Good, then maybe you’ll listen to me and use your backup generator and get your damn life turned around so you can stop feeling broken.”

“Okay, okay, I’ve got it. I believe you. I’m turning the generator on. Next time you see me I will have taken back all my power, I promise you.”

“Glad to hear it. Now I’ve got a busy schedule today, it seems there are a lot of people feeling broken in your neighborhood, so I’m off.”

“Thank you so much, I appreciate your help.”

“I’ll email you my invoice.”

“Wait, you charge for your services?”

“Well of course I charge for my services, why wouldn’t I? A girl’s gotta eat – and buy shoes! I’ll check in on you in two weeks, there’s no charge for the follow-up appointment.”

“Okay. I’ll see you then, bye.”

“Bye sweetness. And remember: you’ve got this, you really do.”

Artwork by Lucia Dami

Modern Art

“Lily is practicing witchcraft. Like spells and shit.”

“Marcus – language! Lily, what’s this about witchcraft?”

“You better watch out idiot. I’ll put a spell on you and you’ll lose your next soccer game.”

“Kids, that’s enough. Can we please just enjoy this delicious lasagna that I bought from the overpriced takeout place?”

“It’s perfect babe and so is the salad, bread and wine.”

Jen leaned across the table and touched Monica’s hand.

“How was school today?” Jen asked.

“Lame,” answered Lily.

“Not that bad actually,” Marcus said, stuffing a large piece of garlic bread into his mouth.

“Lily, why was school lame?” Monica asked

Lily sighed.

“Because our educational system is broken. It’s astounding that I even know how to spell and read.”

“Oh Lily, don’t be so dramatic. Your school is one of the best in the city.”

Monica took a long sip of wine and eyed her children. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes she wished she’d never had kids. Sometimes she wished that she and Jen had just become foster parents to cats and dogs. Sometimes having one pre-teen and one teenager was just too fucking much.

“Well I had a challenging day. This new show I’m on is going to be a beast. But I like the lead actor, he’s totally down to earth – Chris Evermore – do you kids know him?”

“OMG Chris Evermore? Mom, I have to come to set with you, he is the most beautiful actor ever!”

“He is pretty handsome, I mean if you like chiseled males with wavy hair, green eyes and sparkling smiles.”

“He’s my favorite vampire from that Netflix series and I love his British accent,” Jen said.

“When you’re doing a fitting with him you have to text me,” Lily pleaded.

“Absolutely not. My work is actual work, it’s not for instagram selfies with celebs.”

After dinner Lily went to her room where she finished her homework then texted her best friend Ryder:

“Working on tarot cards. Talk later. xo”

Ryder texted back a line of witch emojis.

Switching on her IKEA faux candle to create a vibe, (real candles were forbidden in their house due to her parents’ shared fear of fire), Lily waved a selenite crystal over her cards, her body and around the bedroom to cleanse the energy.

Taking a few deep breaths, she shuffled the tarot deck while focusing on the question she wanted to ask:

“Should I lose my virginity to Isaiah?”

She and Isaiah had been friends since they were eight years old, they were fifteen now. They weren’t dating, but they both wanted to lose their virginity.

“It’s like too much pressure to be a virgin, I need some experience under my belt. You think I’m cool, but like no other girls do,” Isaiah complained, as they smoked pot in his backyard a couple of weeks ago.

“That’s because our school is made up of 90% losers. I mean we’re supposed to be an uber progressive collegiate, but like we have a giant football team and cheerleaders straight out of a John Hughes movie. What the fuck?”

“Totally. But I mean so many guys like you, you could be dating if you wanted to.”

“Isaiah, I’m gonna stop you right there. As I was saying earlier 90% of our schoolmates are losers. Derek Jeffries wants to run the Republican Party and one day he probably will – which is terrifying. Jared Keto is a sleaze-bag wanna be poet who has fucked at least 20 girls – and those are only the girls that I know about. Imagine him reciting some atrocious poem and then me sleeping with him. Like NO. Then there’s Moses and even though everyone says he has a thing for me and even though he’s gorgeous – I totally get a gay vibe from him. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I’m his cup of tea.”

“Well when you break it down like that I see your options are more limited than I thought.”

As they lay on the grass passing the joint between them, Lily came up with a plan:

“What about if we lose our virginity together? I mean we like each other. We respect each other. I think we could deal with any potential weirdness that might come up post sex. It’s just an idea and granted I am high as fuck right now, but give it some thought,” Lily suggested.

Over the last couple of weeks they had discussed the pros and cons of their secret sex plan, but always in person, they didn’t want to leave a text trail.

Lily dealt herself three tarot cards, lying them down side by side.

“Have you finished your homework?” asked Jen opening the door as she knocked.

“Hello, boundaries mom! First you knock, then you wait for me to answer before you barge in,” Lily said exasperated.

Jen stared at Lily, who was sitting cross-legged on a fake bear rug, wearing some kind of boho kimono with tarot cards in front of her.

“Oh My God, Marcus was right. You’re doing witchcraft. Lily be careful. Your great grandmother was a witch, well she was a secret witch because they were Catholic. But she created a lot of chaos with her witchery.”

Lily looked at her mom with utter disdain.

“Lily-Rose was a rock star. I would have loved to meet her. She didn’t create chaos – she killed off her horribly abusive husband, then she created a successful herbal beauty company and she had hot lovers right up until her death. That’s a good life if you ask me. Plus, I’m not a practicing Wiccan, at least not yet. I’m just working with tarot cards.”

“Fine. But no spells – ever.”

Jen went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine.

“Lily is reading tarot cards.”

Monica looked up from her laptop:

“I rather she be reading tarot cards than making vacuous tik tok videos.”

“Good point,” Jen said.

After her mom’s rude intrusion Lily felt it necessary to re-cleanse the room’s energy, so she swished the selenite crystal around. Taking a slow deep breath, Lily turned over the three cards: they represented the past, present and future.

“Death” was her first card. Reading from the tarot card book she learned that death symbolized endings, freeing oneself and moving forward.

“Totally, this is totally what I’ve been feeling and wanting these last six months,” Lily thought.

The second card, “The Fool,” represented an exciting new adventure which might require taking a blind leap of faith, resulting in great emotional growth.

“LOL” Lily said out loud, throwing her head back and smiling.

“Knight of Cups,” was the final card, the future card. It represented overwhelming love energy. Like get ready to be swept away into a six part Netflix series about a Wiccan high schooler and her theatre club nerd crush.

“Wow. Well that’s maybe a little bit too much love energy. Does that mean I might fall in love with Isaiah? Or him with me? Cause that would be a problem. But still, I think in this context Knight of Cups is a good omen. It points to positive feelings,” Lily proclaimed, as if she was doing a tarot card reading for a client.

“Who are you talking to? A spirit?” asked Marcus who was leaning at her open doorway eating a pop tart.

“Oh my fucking God, does no one in this family knock? Get out Marcus, I’m busy.”

“Busy being a witch. Are you going to start dressing all Goth now?” he asked with his mouth full.

From under her bed Lily retrieved one of her floral Doc Martens and threw it at him.

“Lily just committed an act of violence against me,” he yelled as he left her doorway.

“For the love of God kids, cut it out!” screamed Monica.

Lily went through her cards again, reading more about their symbolism and about how best to interpret a three card spread.

“Ok. So that’s it. Isaiah and I are doing this,” she said lying down on the cozy rug.

“Thank you Goddess for guiding me in the right direction. Please don’t let our friendship get messed up. We’re simply helping each other out.”

“Why are you lying on the floor? Do you feel okay?” Monica asked from the door which had been left partly open by Marcus.

“Mom – boundaries!”

“Your door was open.”

“That’s because your idiot son just opened it without knocking. It’s like no one in this house – except me – actually respects boundaries. It’s not fair.”

“Okay sorry love, you’re totally right. So, what did you learn from your tarot reading?”

“I was guided in a positive direction,” Lily said vaguely, knowing it would irritate her.

“Well, I guess that’s a good thing. Let me kiss your beautiful face – I’m going to bed early.”

Monica bent down and kissed Lily’s soft cheek:

“You are a fucking Goddess and don’t you ever forget it.”

“Night mom,” Lily said.

“Night my love.”

Lily texted Ryder:

“Exhausted. Love u. See u manana.”

Ryder texted back:

“Same. XO”

Later in bed, Lily remembered the sex advice her Aunt Jess had given her last year:

“Your vulva should be happy. It should be wet and delighted, otherwise don’t let the penis inside. And make sure your lover spends time on your clitoris, help him figure it out if necessary. Most men are clueless and most teenage boys are even more clueless because they’ve grown up addicted to porn.”

Lily appreciated her Aunt’s advice, she was never shy talking about sex stuff. For Lily’s fifteenth birthday she had given her a pink vibrator with bunny ears.

They had celebrated her birthday at Gjelina’s on Abbott Kinney Blvd. Lily had taken the present out of its sparkly decorative gift bag, not knowing that she would be flashing everyone – the waiter, the bus person and the table of six sitting next to them – a vibrator called Pink Lady. Monica was mortified, Jen couldn’t stop laughing, Aunt Jess had no idea what all the fuss was about and Marcus posted a photo of it to Instagram.

Lily’s mind was dancing with wet vagina sugar plum fairies and erect penises, making it hard to sleep. She envisioned intercourse as kind of a weird modern art sculpture – two bodies entwined as one for a moment in time. It seemed both creepy and spectacular.

Artwork by Henri Matisse, “The Entwined Lovers,” 1948.

The Fuchsia House

I’m lonely without you, though you are sitting right next to me. Decades spent together but I can’t remember how your lips taste.

I don’t know when this happened or how or why, but like cancer the loneliness has spread and there’s no cure in sight.

We sit side by side watching television. Or streaming. I guess we are technically watching streaming on television? What does that even mean? I don’t understand any of it.

Our one child, grown and long moved out of the house. All pets dead, their paw prints lining our hallway; it’s just us now. We’re like two old mannequins in an ancient storefront, dressed in out of date fashion, sitting on a vintage but not in a cool way sofa.

I want to go back, back to that old movie theatre we used to frequent with its stale popcorn and Bogart double features. Back to our lovemaking, which left our bedroom looking like it had been ransacked by a rock n’ roll group. Back to our eating canned tomato soup and grilled cheese for a year straight so that we could save up enough money for a down payment on our first home.

You ask me if I want a glass of sherry. I hate sherry and always have, but I say:

“Sure, thanks.”

Just like I don’t remember what your lips taste like, you don’t remember what I like to drink.

I sink into the corner of the couch and drink the sherry. A blanket covers my lap. It’s an ugly hand knit blanket that a close friend made for me. I’m unable to part with gifts from loved ones, no matter how ugly or useless they are. I have a whole closet full of such gifts. That one time, when you went a little nuts with spring cleaning and wanted to give everything away to The Salvation Army, I said:

“No. I’m keeping all my friend and family gifts.”

You called me a hoarder, which was mean. But sometimes you’re mean, it’s one of your character flaws. I’m used to it though. I pay the meanness no attention, shrugging it off like a cardigan – taking away its power. They’re just words, I can handle words.

You pass me a shortbread cookie. Since when do we eat shortbread cookies and drink sherry? What are we like 85 yrs old suddenly? Jesus H. Christ.

“No thanks,” I say to the cookie.

I want to go back to Paris with you and eat pastries that look like art. And sit outside at cafes and people watch, kicking each other under the table when someone truly fabulous walks by:

“Did you see that woman? She looks like Catherine Deneuve. Stunning.”

“Did you read Sarah’s email?” I ask.

“She’s coming home for the long weekend next month. She’s bringing her new girlfriend, Jemima.”

“What happened to Chrissy?”

“They broke up. But Jemima sounds like a better match for her, I have a good feeling about this one.”

“Good. I hope your feeling is right. It’s time for her to settle down, we’re not getting any younger,” he said annoyed.

“I hate sherry,” I said.

“You hate sherry? Since when?”

“Since forever. I’m getting a glass of red wine.”

He sighed, annoyed again. Annoyed was his new go-to default mood.

In the dining room I poured myself a large glass of wine and stared at a painting that Sarah had made for us when she was eight years old. It was the three of us standing in front of a fuchsia-painted house with eight multi-colored cats at our feet. I had spent a fortune getting it professionally framed and honestly it looked like something that could hang in MOMA.

Back on the sofa we continued watching whatever it was we were watching. It was one of those shows where the female detectives all had shiny blow-outs and perfect manicures.

“I think I will take a cookie if there are any left,” I said.

He passed me one.

“That guy is bad news. He’s up to something,” he said, slurping his sherry.

I nodded knowingly:

“You’re totally right.”

It turned out that shortbread cookies and red wine went beautifully together – who knew?

“Should we go back to Paris this fall? We haven’t been since before we had Sarah,” I asked.

“I’m not getting on a plane, it’s still not safe with covid.”

“I really want us to go back while we’re still healthy enough to get around.”

“Go alone then, just don’t bring back covid.”

“You want me to go to Paris alone?”

“If you want to go just go. I’m not going to stop you.”

No wonder she couldn’t remember what his lips tasted like. Her husband wanted her to go to the most romantic city in the world alone. Lovely. Fucking lovely.

“I don’t trust Detective Monaghan, I think he’s corrupt.”

She ate the final bite of her cookie and took a sip of wine.

This was her life now: Detective Monaghan and his partner, the shiny-haired detective. And sherry. And shortbread. This was her life?

It was both comical and sad. No wonder she felt fucking lonely – he was completely checked out. She could probably go to Paris and he wouldn’t even notice she was gone.

Maybe Sarah would go with her? They could have a fun mother -daughter adventure. Except that Sarah was busy living her life. A delicious life full of fucking and discovering herself and finishing her PhD.

Maybe she should go back to school. She could get her Master’s Degree in Human Resource Management, or, just study something completely different like Italian or astronomy. She wrapped the ugly blanket around her, took her wine and walked towards her office.

“Do you want me to pause it?” he asked as she walked away

“No, don’t bother. I’m not coming back.”

At her computer she started looking up different university classes, but soon found herself on the United Airlines’ website. They had a seat sale to Europe, a really good seat sale, like they were practically giving away the seats. Work-wise this was the perfect time for her to travel, it was quiet and she had tons of vacation days saved up.

One of the seat sales included hotel accommodation. The hotel was located near the Louvre which was right near the most amazing patisserie called “Tartine, Toi et Moi.”

She sent a formal email to her boss requesting time off due to a family emergency. Then she purchased her ticket, bumping herself up to first class because WHY THE HELL NOT?

Wrapped in the ugly blanket and holding her half-empty wine glass, she went back to the living room.

“You missed a really good ending. It was a surprise ending, totally not what I expected.”

“I leave for Paris in two weeks. I’ll be gone for ten days.”

“What?”

Photo: Jane Fonda, 1961, Cafe de Flore

Where Do We Go From Here?

With over 1000 emails in her inbox, Jessica felt completely defeated. She began deleting, realizing – to her embarrassment – that she subscribed to some very dubious self-help newsletters. Within twenty minutes she was down to 400 emails, flagging them all with different colors just for fun.

Color-coded flagged emails. What a ridiculous world we live in.

Scrolling to the bottom, she found a bunch of old photos. Most of them were of Jessica and her now deceased three dogs.

“Three Dead Dogs, a memoir by Jessica Sholmes,” she said out loud, as if she was the book reviewer for The New York Times.

Her first dog, Lexie, had been a chunky low-rider who ate anything and everything. Once, unbeknownst to Jessica, she had scarfed the tiny end of a smoked joint from underneath a park bench. At home, she sat on the couch dazed and unresponsive.

“She’s dying! She must have eaten something poisonous!”

At the emergency vet hospital the Doctor said:

“Don’t worry. She’s just high. She’ll make a full recovery.”

For the love of god.

Their second dog Leroy, who overlapped with Lexie, had been a 100 pound Boxer mix who thought he was Jessica’s husband. He barely tolerated her actual husband, Jim, always giving him side-eye:

“I’m her real man and don’t you forget it.”

Every night Leroy tried sleeping between them; they’d eventually given up trying to get him off the bed. He slept horizontally between their two bodies, creating a “no touch” zone, forcing Jessica and Jim to wave goodnight to each other from across the king bed. Lexie insisted on sleeping with her head on Jessica’s pillow. If Jessica so much as coughed, Lexie nosed her face, staring at her as if she was watching over her puppy.

Oh my god our dogs are crazy. We are crazy.

Lexie and Leroy died a couple years apart. Her husband insisted they take a dog break so they could visit Portugal and Spain. But they never traveled. Well, unless you count that one trip to the country where they stayed at the crazy Bed & Breakfast. The owners, two pointy looking sisters who wore matching denim smocks, forced Jessica and Jim to eat their gluten free heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast. Sitting with them for the entire meal, they spoke non-stop about their beloved long-deceased parents.

“Oh My God these ladies are complete freaks. I bet we don’t make it out of here alive,” Jessica had whispered to Jim.

Eventually she convinced Jim to adopt another dog, this time an elderly American Staffordshire named Jerry. Jerry loved UPS trucks and regularly jumped in the open passenger side when they were parked on their street. One beloved driver had even taken him for a spin around the block.

When Jerry died, Jim had declared:
“No. More. Dogs.”

Jessica was crying now. Jim called out:

“You okay in there? What’s going on?”

“I’m fine. Everything is fine. I’m just going down memory lane looking at dog photos.”

“You know what we decided: no more dogs. From now on it’s just you and me babe,” he said from the living room.

“Yep, I remember. No more dogs. Just quality time together,” she answered, her voice quivering.

“Should we order pizza tonight? I have a hankering for pepperoni pizza,” he said.

“I’ve never heard you use the word hankering. But sure, why not. As long as we order a salad too so I don’t feel like a completely failure.”

“Perfecto.”

Jim loved using the word perfecto and it drove Jessica fucking nuts.

Leaving her dead dog photos, Jessica went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. Not 5 ounces. I mean really, who the hell drinks a 5 ounce glass of wine? She poured a real person glass of wine, which was probably closer to 10 ounces. Sitting down at their kitchen table she flipped through Parenting Magazine.

“Jim? Why is Parenting Magazine on our kitchen table?”

“I have no idea. It just came with the mail. I ordered the food, it’ll be here in 30 minutes.”

“K.”

Jessica looked at photographs of happy looking couples with their children.

She wondered if she had any good eggs left. She was forty-four. They were probably crappy eggs. Underdog eggs. Eggs that you didn’t really want hatched. But they could adopt. I mean they were fortunate enough to have plenty of money. They had a nice house with a backyard and there was a good elementary school within walking distance of them.

Jessica sipped her wine. If they adopted a baby she would have to become a 5 ounce glass kind of woman. Or maybe it was the opposite: maybe once the kid was asleep you drank a stiff scotch, watching Netflix with the baby monitor next to you.

Over pizza and salad they discussed which new Apple TV series to watch that evening.

“What about adopting a child? Not necessarily a baby, but a young child. Or, even an older child. I mean why should we discriminate? It’s so much harder for older children to get adopted.”

“Did I miss something? We were just deciding which show to watch tonight and now we’re talking about adopting a fucking kid? How many glasses of wine have you had?”

Jim looked angry. Like scary angry.

“Is this because you were reading that stupid Parenting Magazine? What the hell is wrong with you Jessica? Adoption is a serious issue, you just don’t bring it up casually over pizza on a Saturday night. And last I remember we decided years ago not to have children. For fuck’s sake.”

Getting up abruptly from the table, Jim took his plate to the living room where he turned the TV back on.

Jesus. That anger was intense. True, she had not properly segued to the topic, she had just sprung it on him. But still, his reaction frightened her.

After cleaning up Jessica went upstairs to her office. She googled “adopting a child in Seattle” and started pouring over websites. She discovered a highly respected Adoption Coordinator who acted as a kind of personal assistant to help navigate the complicated system. Jessica set up a meeting with her. First consultations were one hour and cost $200, non-refundable. Fine. Done and done. She would meet with the coordinator and get a feel for the whole process. Of course she wouldn’t mention that her husband had gone off the rails at the mere mention of adopting, that would tarnish their file forever.

The next morning Jessica awoke to a note on the bed that read, “Gone Fishing. Back Tonight. Jim.”

Wow. He was mad.

Of course Jim didn’t fish, so he’d probably gone off on a day trip somewhere where he could sulk and rage, maybe to a small town pub.

The Sunday farmer’s market was on and Jessica hurried to get there in time to score one of their delicious strawberry scones. Everyone else went for the fresh organic produce, but Jessica went for the baked goods. Of course she piled her basket high with leafy green things too, but tucked underneath were scones, cookies and croissants.

Back at home Jessica made herself coffee, then sat outside with her plate of carbs. As she finished the scone her memory flash-backed to ten years ago:

She and Jim had met and married in their mid-thirties, the last in their circle to wed. A blind date had led to a year of intense dating, leading to a six month engagement, culminating in a beautiful outdoor wedding.

Holding her coffee mug, Jessica froze:

She had fallen in love with Jim on their very first date. He smelled like ivory soap and made her feel like the most dazzling woman on planet earth. After sleeping together on their fourth date, while lying in a tangle of grey striped sheets, Jim had revealed that he did not want kids. In that moment all Jessica wanted was Jim, so she had answered:

“Me either. But I would love to have dogs.”

Fucking Ivory Soap Smell. Go Fuck Yourself.

She started crying.

Jessica had always wanted a child. Ever since she could remember she had wanted one child, not two, not three, but one. One had always seemed civilized, like you could still have a life and not be run completely ragged. She had never not wanted a child. She had never not wanted a child until the night she told Jim she did not want a child.

Fuckety Fuck Fuck Fuck.

Still crying, Jessica picked up her cell, calling her mom:

“Darling, are you okay?”

“Ya, I’m fine, it’s just-”

“Ok good because our mimosas have arrived, I’m out for brunch with the girls. Can I call you later?”

“Should I adopt a child?”

“Oh My God, girls – they’re adopting a child! Congratulations! Finally I’ll be a grandmother!”

Jessica could hear her mother’s friends in the background clinking glasses.

“Delilah said she wants to throw you a baby shower-”

“Mom, I just asked if you think I should adopt a child. I didn’t say we were adopting one. I’m actually having kind of a meltdown right now, I-”

“Sweetie, just do it. What are you waiting for? I’ve practically got one foot in the grave. I’ll call you later and of course you can count on your father and I to babysit once a week. Well, maybe once every two weeks. Love you. Byeeeee!”

Jesus Christ.

“FUUUUUUUCK!” Jessica yelled a little too loudly.

Her neighbour, Dorothy, poked her head out her back door.

“Jessica, what’s all the ruckus about?”

“I just realized that I want a child even though ten years ago I told Jim that I didn’t. Now I don’t know what to do.”

“Can you accidentally get pregnant?” Dorothy suggested, taking a puff of her menthol.

“Not really. I use an IUD and they rarely fail. Plus, I think my eggs are past their due date.”

“Adopt then. Adoption is a wonderful thing.”

“I know right? That’s what I want to do, but Jim-”

“Oh never mind Jim, he’ll come around. Remember when he didn’t want you planting those rose bushes because he hated thorns? But he ended up loving them. It’ll be the same with having a child.”

Dorothy took another puff then waved good-bye.

Okay, but I can’t take advice from anyone who still smokes Menthols.

Jessica texted her best friend Michelle, asking her to call when she had time. She knew Michelle was currently overwhelmed with her in-laws visiting, a new puppy and two kids under eight.

“Love u. Will call asap. Freak scene here. My in-laws r insufferable. Hope u r ok. Xoxo.”

Jessica finished her coffee while further researching adoption and found several helpful blogs and websites.

Trying not to fret about Jim, she spent the day keeping busy. Catching up on some work, vacuuming, planting daisies in the front yard, dropping off some cookies to Dorothy and then later making Jim’s favorite meal: spaghetti and meat balls.

Jessica’s eyes were puffy from crying on and off throughout the afternoon. At seven o’clock, when Jim still wasn’t home, she lay down with a warm flaxseed eye pillow.

Michelle called back:

“What happened?”

“I think I want a child.”

“Well of course you want a child. You’ve always wanted a child – one child – since we were like twelve years old. But in your haze of mad love you told Jim you didn’t want kids and you’ve kept up the lie for ten years.”

“When you put it like that it sounds awful, I sound awful.”

“You’re not awful, you were just wildly in love and scared of losing him. And over the years you buried your desire for a child so deeply that you kinda convinced yourself you never wanted one in the first place. But it sounds like you’ve just had some sort of amazing emotional breakthrough – what happened?”

“Well, I know this sounds insane, but I think the breakthrough was triggered by reading Parenting Magazine-“

“You bought Parenting Magazine?”

“No no, it randomly appeared in our mailbox. So I started flipping through it and it just brought it all up for me.”

“Like a sign from the universe. Not that I believe in that crap, but-”

“I know, it does kind of feel like a sign from the universe, even though I don’t really believe in that stuff either. And so I started thinking about my eggs which are, you know kinda old-timers and then it just came to me: we should adopt – maybe even a child because they get overlooked. So I brought it up over dinner.”

“Nice timing, out of nowhere.”

“I know, I know. Jim is furious. He left early this morning and hasn’t returned yet.”

“Well, that is Jim’s MO – he just disappears – he’s passive aggressive. He’ll come back tonight, don’t worry.”

“Hopefully. But the thing is I’m really serious. I’ve already booked a consultation with an Adoption Coordinator.”

“That sounds like a made up job title.”

“No, it’s a real thing. She comes highly recommended. The adoption paperwork is insane, she helps facilitate things.”

“Can she convince your husband to adopt? Cause that would be a real thing.”

“Very funny.”

“Sorry. Listen, you’ve been watching Sandra and I raise our kids so you’ve seen the challenges up close. You know that raising a child is fucking hard. But it’s also the best thing ever and you would be an incredible mother. Not gonna lie though, I’m a lil’ worried that your emotional breakthrough might blow up your marriage. I don’t think Jim will change his mind.”

“Let’s see. I’m so drained. Thanks for talking love. Good luck with the in-laws.”

“Good luck with Jim. Keep me posted. Love you.”

Watching a few episodes of the old Charlie’s Angels, her go-to comfort show, Jessica kept her ear tuned to the door. Surely Jim would come home, if not for Jessica then for his Monday morning zoom meeting.

Later, showered and in bed wearing Jim’s vintage New Order tee-shirt, Jessica prayed to God:

Dear God,
I know it’s been awhile and I apologize for my delinquency. But I’m in a bit of a situation here and I’m wondering if you can help me out. Can you please bring Jim home safely? I’m starting to worry that something happened to him. Like maybe he went to the country and did that thing he likes to do where he pretends he’s an outdoorsy Patagonia guy even though he’s totally not. And maybe he walked in a dangerous part of the forest and was attacked by a bear or a pack of wild dogs. I just need him to come home.
Oh and also – sorry to ask for help with two things – I need him to have had a complete change of heart and be 100% into adopting a child with me. That’s all, just those two things. Thank you so much. I hope you are well and that all your angel friends are well too.
I love you. Good night.

Jessica turned off her bedside table lamp and closed her eyes. She didn’t think she would be able to sleep, but the moment her head hit her Blissy satin pillowcase she was out cold.

At 2:00 AM, after eating left over spaghetti and meat balls and taking a shower in the basement bathroom so as not to wake Jessica, Jim slid into bed.

“You’re home, thank God. I was so worried.”

“I know, I’m sorry babe. I should have texted you back. I just needed some space to – as you always say – process my feelings. I love you, you’re everything to me. I know that sounds corny as fuck, but it’s true. And I just want us to enjoy this beautiful life together. So I booked us a trip to San Francisco at the end of the month, 4 days at a super swank hotel. Just us being happy, silly tourists together. We’ll ride the cable cars, check out the Victorian architecture that you love – it’s gonna be perfect.”

“Wow, I can’t believe you did that, thank you. I can hardly wait.”

They kissed.

After the kiss the silence was not soft and lovely, it was heavy and sad, at least it felt that way to Jessica. All the words left un-said and the emotions that went with the words, were swept under their Crate and Barrel shag rug.

Jessica was now wide awake. The elephant in the room had jammed its long trunk into her heart and as she lay on the satin pillow case, the one that was supposed to prevent wrinkles, she thought:

I asked for a child and he gave me a trip to California.
Where the hell do we go from here?

Photo Credit: “sophsoph” on Pinterest

Just Breathe

“I can’t breathe.”

“You’re breathing.”

“No, I’m not. Call 911.”

“You’re having a panic attack.”

“I know I’m having a panic attack, don’t you think I know I’m having a panic attack?”

“Well if you know you’re having a panic attack then you know that it’ll be over soon.”

“That’s not helpful. Being rational is useless during a panic attack.

“You’re right, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I can’t stop shaking and my teeth are chattering.”

Marissa took three Xanax.

“Jesus! Don’t gobble those up they’re not candies!”

“Don’t yell at me! I can’t breathe. And these pills are only .5 milligrams each – one pill does nothing.”

Mark sighed.

“I have to change out of my nightgown, when the paramedics arrive I need to be properly dressed.”

“The paramedics are not coming, you’re breathing. You’re going to be fine. Come here.”

Mark grabbed Marissa and held her from behind, wrapping his arms across her chest.

“You’re choking me.”

He lowered his arms.

“Ok that feels better, thanks. But my teeth are chattering, I’m scared.”

“Open your mouth wide.”

“Why?”

“If you open your mouth wide your teeth won’t be able to chatter.”

“Oh good idea, thanks,” said Marissa.

With her mouth open and Mark holding her, Marissa moved her body slowly side to side. The repetitive motion helped to soothe her.

“I’m getting aroused.”

“What?!” cried Marissa.

“You’re moving back and forth against my crotch, what did you expect?”

“Oh My God – sorry!”

They both started laughing.

“I can’t laugh, it’ll make the attack worse.”

Marissa adjusted her body so that she was moving back and forth along Mark’s thigh instead.

“FYI: I won’t have the energy to do anything about your arousal. After my panic attacks I’m always completely drained.”

“I didn’t expect you to, I’m not a complete ogre.”

“I’m freezing.”

“You’re actually not cold, it’s just your psyche fucking with you.”

“Alright. I’m going to pace around the kitchen for awhile. The movement calms me.”

“Okay but where’s your cell phone? I don’t want you calling the paramedics.”

“I won’t,” said Marissa with her mouth wide open.

“Remember that Yakity Yak clattering teeth toy? Do they still sell those? I want one.”

“I’ll look online now,” said Mark, sitting down with his laptop.

Marissa continued pacing back and forth while wringing her hands like they’d just been stung by bees.

“This is a good look, isn’t it? I’ve never felt more unattractive in my life.”

“You’re beautiful. Even when you’re panic-attacking you’re breathtakingly beautiful.”

“That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me. Did you find the Yakity Yak teeth?”

“I did, I’m ordering them now.”

“Thanks. I think the drugs are kicking in, I feel like I can breathe again.”

“Yakity Yak Yay!” cried Mark.

Careless Whispers

“Don’t be so careless with your life.”

“Excuse me?” Jen said, looking around for the person attached to the voice. But there was no one. The closest human was the chatty fella with the Corgi and he was at the bottom of the hill playing tug-o-war.

I didn’t get enough sleep last night, clearly I’m hallucinating.

“You’re not hallucinating,” said the voice.

“Listen, whomever you are. You’re being very judge-y, just zip it,” whispered Jen, irritated.

“I have a right to judge you, I’m God, judging is part of my job description.”

“First of all, I don’t believe in God, so you don’t exist. Second of all, I’m not careless with my life. Not that it’s any of your damn business.”

“But you are careless. You act like you have all the time in the world. You live with no sense of urgency, each day just another day. The passivity with which you breeze through life is infuriating.”

“Oh My God, leave me alone God. Why are you hounding me? I’m just trying to relax in the park on a nice day. Go away.”

Putting in her ear buds Jen chose a Spotify playlist:
1980’s Alternative.

Depeche Mode played as Jen stared up at the tree.

“We interrupt your regular programming with a message from God:”

Sighing, Jen lay down on the grass.

“Jen, you’re stuck. You need an action plan. You need to make some big changes in your life and instead you’re loafing around like sourdough.”

Jen laughed.

“That’s funny. But listen God, I’m fine – really. You can stop obsessing about me. While it’s true that my life could use a Glow-Up, I think you have bigger fish to fry. Don’t you watch your own news? Like Russia invading Ukraine. Like the pandemic. Like fast fashion killing our planet. Like your crazy people overturning Roe vs Wade.”

“Those are not my people. I’m Pro-Choice.”

“You are?”

“Of course I am. Now listen, I happen to know that you are unhappy in both your job and relationship and that you’re not taking good care of your health. This is your freaking life Jen, how can you be passive with your own life?”

“I’m not passive I’m depressed, there’s a difference.”

“So tell your Doctor and get on anti-depressants.”

“I’m already on an anti-depressant.”

“Yikes.”

“What do you mean yikes?” asked Jen feeling insulted.

“I just thought you would have more pep in your step if you were on an anti-depressant.”

“It’s not like you take a pill and then turn into Doris Day, it’s not that simple.”

“Sorry, I didn’t know. I thought it worked like that.”

“Well it doesn’t. And before you say I should see a therapist, I already do.”

Jen took a sip from her water bottle.

Eighties alternative music played for the next few minutes and Jen started to relax.

“Think of me like a Life Coach,” said God, who was suddenly back.

“Life coaches are ridiculous. They’re like not even a real thing. It’s not like Harvard offers a PhD program in Life Coaching.”

God ignored her snark.

“Regardless, I’m here to help you.”

“Fine, fine. Help me. Do your God thing.” Jen said resignedly. She didn’t have the courage to argue with a God who didn’t even really exist.

Closing her eyes, Jen said:

“I’m just going to take a little cat nap.”

“Okay, I’ll go visit that cute Corgi at the bottom of the hill.”

“Mabel, the Corgi’s name is Mabel, I just remembered,” said Jen

“OMG. What a cute dog name,” said God.

Like Vines

When the weather turns warm the park transforms into a runway for young lovers. Teenagers lie on the grass, entwined like colorful vines.

Sitting under a pink flowering tree I put on my headphones and hide behind my sunglasses. Hiding so that I can spy.
I spy with my little eye:
Two girls, both wearing checkered Vans and paint splattered jeans. They giggle and kiss, then curl up together, the long unicorn-hair girl lying with her head on the other’s chest. They’re so beautiful I want to paint them. Of course I have no painting supplies with me and I also can’t paint to save my life. So I try to photograph them with my eyes, each time I blink I imagine I’m taking a Polaroid. I just want, I just need, to remember all the details of this sweet sweet tableau.

I spy with my little eye:
Two teens, each wearing a black mask. They’re walking hand in hand until the shaved head kid takes the bleached blonde kid into their arms. They pull down their masks and kiss.

Wow. It’s a kiss for the poets.

But, I also remember this kiss. Though this kiss belongs to these two cuties, it’s also our kiss. Like the Universal Kiss of Our Youth. My body is flooded with feeling, my body, heart and psyche still remember this kiss.

Loneliness – or is it longing? – washes over me making it hard to breathe. I take a sip of water and shed a few tears. The tears feel good and necessary, like when you see a Monet painting in person for the first time.

In my own marriage it’s as if two people are living together, but apart. “Together But Apart.” It could be a book title or the name of a new Netflix series. We don’t really kiss anymore. Or do we? Do we kiss and I just don’t notice? Are the kisses like a beige room that have no impact?

Now I’m angry. I want to kiss, I deserve to kiss. What’s happening to my life? What have I allowed to happen to my life, to me? Because the thing is, when your body, psyche and heart remember what it feels like to kiss like the two masked teens, then the grief you experience when you no longer kiss like that – the grief I’m experiencing right now in this park – the grief is intense. What the hell is wrong with God? What kind of a fucking sadist would make us remember?

Yet…
I spy with my little eye:
Joy. There is still joy, despite God being a sadist. Because these precious young people are growing up in such crazy times and yet here they are still having crushes, still making out, still having googley eyes for each other. They are everything that is right in this world and I love them for it. And I want to sit in this park forever and soak up their rainbow-hued energy.

Photo Source: Pinterest, Sydney Jade

JLo Glow

“You know when you cut open an orange only to realize it’s one of those dried out ones with no flavour?”

“Ya,”

“That’s what I feel like. All my juicy-juice goodness has dried up. I hate being middle-age,” Donna said.

Becky sighed:

“You’ve always been like this. Remember your 25th birthday? You had a meltdown and claimed your life was over and that you had nothing to show for it.”

They laughed.

“Ok, but back to my orange analogy. I could get fillers or Botox, but really I’m looking for ways to get my inside juicy self back.”

“Why don’t you go on a wellness retreat and have an affair.”

“Umm, because I’m married. That’s the worse advice ever, you’re nuts.”

“Affairs at wellness retreats don’t count – just like Vegas, but with green juice. Plus, I read that affairs can actually rejuvenate women better than Juverderm.”

“Very funny. I’ll never have an affair and not because I’m a perfect upstanding citizen. But because I have terrible taste in men. I would end up sleeping with someone completely deranged: the kind of guy who drives a mini-van even though he doesn’t have a family.”

“Oh those guys are creepy. And what about the guys who keep freezers in their garage? Never trust a man with a freezer in his garage.”

“Totally.”

“It’s true that you used to have bad taste in men, but then you married Jack and he’s a decent guy – you could have done a lot worse. Remember Melissa James from college? She just found out her husband has a whole other family. Can you believe that?”

“How do people have the time and energy to keep secret families? Jack and I can barely handle one teenager and two cats. Honestly, I don’t think either of us could pull off an affair, we’re too tired. Even before the pandemic we were burned out. Now it’s a miracle if we’re able to stay up late enough to watch an episode of The Crown.”

“That’s sad,” Becky said laughing.

Donna continued,

“I just watched JLo’s Instagram reels and she is the juiciest fifty-two year old. She literally glows from within. She has this light, happy, sparkly vibe. I bought her entire skincare collection.”

Becky started laughing harder:

“Stop it, I’m gonna pee my pants.”

Donna stretched out on their blanket:

“I forgot to put on sunscreen today,” she said, surveying the park.

“Oh who cares – so you get a few more age spots. If you get enough age spots they’ll blend together and you’ll looked nicely tanned,” Becky said.

“I’m so glad you find me amusing.”

Becky passed a peach scented gum drop to Donna.

“Is this candy or an edible?”

“It’s an artisanal CBD edible. You should see the packaging – so chic. I read about them in Vogue.”

Donna popped it in her mouth.

“Delicious, thanks.”

“Okay, now back to your problem: You need to start putting yourself first. You still make breakfast every morning for your husband and teenage son – like a freaking 1950’s housewife.”

“It’s just this little ritual we have, it’s sweet.”

“It’s not sweet, it’s pathetic. Take that morning time and spend it doing something you like. You love reading those alphabet thrillers. So start your mornings with coffee and a book, the guys will survive without bacon and waffles.”

“I don’t know, it’s like this family bonding time—”

“Is it really though? Aren’t they both usually on their phones?”

“Well, kind of, but—”

“I think that you not feeling your juiciest is partly because you let people take advantage of you, including those who love you. Start making yourself a priority or you’ll become resentful. And nothing ages a woman more than resentment.”

“Wow, you’re fired up this morning. I feel like I have a bitchy life coach. Ok I’m doing it. Starting tomorrow the boys are on their own for breakfast.”

They lay in silence for awhile, enjoying the sunshine and light breeze.

“And a yearly girls trip. We should start doing a yearly girls trip. No partners, no kids, no pets.”

“Jack wouldn’t like that, he doesn’t like me travelling without him.”

“Too bad. You deserve a yearly getaway without any mothering or wife-y duties, that’s not a big ask. You’ve really given away a lot of your power, it’s upsetting. If you want JLo’s juicy vibe you’re gonna have to reclaim your damn power – that’s her secret, not her skincare line.”

A few minutes passed and Donna kicked off her Birkenstocks.

“You’re right, I have given away a lot of my power and it’s a sickening feeling. But because I’ve given away so much of it, it sort of feels impossible to get it back. Like I don’t have enough power to get my power back, if that makes sense.”

“It makes total sense. But I know you can do it. And unless you want to feel like a dried out piece of orange for the rest of your life, you have to do it.”

Becky reached out for Donna’s hand:

“I hope I’m not being too harsh, I just love you so much.”

“I love you too babe. And isn’t my hand soft? It’s JLo’s body moisturizer.”

Photo: Jlobeauty.com

Candy Roses

Dancing in her garden is the tattered lace lady. Every night it’s the same thing. Always dancing, always wearing an old torn lace dress.

Her neighbour leaves a note complaining that her garden is too unruly, that it’s nothing but weeds.

“Not true,” says Michelle, the tattered lace lady the next day.
“If only you would accept my invitation to come over for wine and raspberry biscuits, then I could tell you all about my flowers.”

“No I can’t, but thank you.”

“You have an open invitation all summer, knock on the back gate anytime.”

The next evening, sitting by her side window, the neighbour watches the lady through binoculars. She’s wearing a long black lace dress, tiered like a cake, the bottom tier completely unravelling.

Has she never heard of a seamstress?

This time she’s dancing with two other ladies. Their feet are bare, their hair long and their faces happy-looking. It’s past eleven o’clock, well it’s three minutes pass eleven o’clock and the music is too loud:
But Every Time It Rains
You’re Here in My Head
Like The Sun Coming Out
Oh I Just Know Something Good Is Going to Happen

The neighbour decides that enough is enough. I mean how is she supposed to sleep with all this noise and mayhem? Not that she’s sleeping yet, but she could be, she could be trying to sleep – and that’s the point. She checks her face in the hall mirror, smooths her hair, then marches out.

Knocking on Michelle’s rainbow-painted gate, she’s ready to confront her.

The gate opens:
“Oh look, it’s you! How wonderful that it’s you! Join us at our Blood Moon Party! Come, take my hand.”

“Blood Moon party, is that some sort of witchcraft thing? I’m a Presbyterian so…”

“No, no, don’t worry. It’s just that Blood Moons are very special. They only happen twice a year. So we celebrate with pink champagne, berries and red velvet cake.”

They walk together under the rose-filled pathway to her yard. The coral flowers smelling like candies, begging to be plucked from their vines and eaten.

“Ladies, meet my lovely neighbour Pamela.”

“Welcome Pamela! I’m Jess and this is Christina, may I pour you a glass of champagne?”

“Oh well, I’m not much of a drinker, but I suppose one glass is alright, thank you.”

“May The Goddess of all Moons – The Blood Moon – know we are eternally grateful for her beauty, power and gifts.”

The four women raise their crystal glasses to Michelle’s toast.
The champagne is delicious, the bubbles dancing a little salsa on the tip of Pamela’s tongue.

“Shall we sit and eat cake and berries?” Michelle asks, leading them all to a table covered in – of course – tattered ivory lace.

“You love lace don’t you?” asks Pamela

Laughing, Michelle answers:

“I do, I do. In fact I’m going to a flea market next weekend in search of more lace. Do you want to come with me?”

Old stuff on tables. Dead people’s stuff. Was it at least washed, or did it smell? And really, how much tattered lace can one woman have? Maybe Michelle suffered from some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder.

“I would love to go, I’ve never been to a flea market before.”

Holy Hell, what am I doing? Well, it’ll be like an experiment. I’ll study the flea market people like I study birds.

The ladies start eating cake with berries. Large forkfuls of cake, crumbs falling out of their mouths which they quickly scoop up with their tongues.

Pamela begins with a proper dainty bite, but the cake and berries taste so good that soon she’s eating big pieces, cream cheese frosting painting her lips.

“What sort of gifts does The Blood Moon give?” asks Pamela, curious.

“Well, often you will feel deep shifts in your inner life, you might even get a sudden illumination,” answers Michelle, tying her long hair up in a messy bun.

Sounds very witchcraft-y. But oh well, this cake is so good and the flowers smell like candies and the ladies are so friendly…

“To our guest Pamela: may The Blood Moon bestow upon you a powerful life-changing revelation.”

“To Pamela!” the ladies toast.

Pamela smiles, hiding the fact that she would have preferred a less dramatic toast. This one has her worried that The Blood Moon may bestow upon her something a little too intense.

As the ladies chat, Pamela gazes around the garden and realizes that it’s the most beautiful garden she’s ever seen. She’s embarrassed that she complained about it. Sure, it’s tall and wild, but it’s dazzling.

Thinking about the flea market, Pamela decides she’ll look for vintage crystal glasses. Then she’ll buy herself a bottle of this scrumptious pink champagne and celebrate whatever The Blood Moon reveals to her. She’s up for anything.
I mean not anything anything, but anything.

Artwork: “Vision of Gaia” by Ninquelen on Deviant Art