“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.”
“Did you have a nice time with your father? I like your hair that way, you look pretty.”
“You’re not supposed to give me compliments about my looks, remember? That’s old-school parenting.”
For the love of God.
“Dad took me to that vintage store I’ve been wanting to check out and bought me some rad stuff. Then we went out to lunch with Marie, I like her, she’s cool.”
Who the fuck is Marie?
“Wash those clothes, you never know what could be on them.”
“You’re kidding, right? They’re already clean mom. Anyway, Marie is getting me a pair of jeans from the denim company she works for. Their jeans are made in a really nice, eco-friendly factory right here in LA, not like a sweatshop in Bangladesh.”
“I bet they are. I bet their workers have health insurance and paid sick days and proper lunch breaks and good air conditioning in their work rooms.”
“Mom, chill. Marie is cool. Be happy Dad is not dating a 21 year old actress hyphenate, because he totally could be. All my friends say he’s a silver fox.”
A silver fucking fox.
“We’re having vegetarian lasagna tonight. Does that meet your current eating standards?”
“I actually started eating meat again this weekend.”
“Marie said I don’t have the right blood type to be vegetarian. She said that to maximize my health and well-being I should be eating free range chicken, grass-fed beef and non-farmed salmon five times a week. But lasagna is fine too.”
“Okay then, well I’m going to maximize my health by drinking a glass of wine right now. Go do your homework.”
“I’m not ten. You don’t need to tell me to do my homework. And by the way, I’m getting like almost straight A’s, so maybe just take it down a notch Laurie.”
She did not just call me Laurie. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
Jessie went to her bedroom, grabbing a bag of caramel popcorn off the kitchen counter on her way.
Laurie popped the lasagna in the oven then poured herself a glass of Chardonnay. In the livingroom she watched an old episode of Scandal for the tenth time. There was something soothing about watching the show over and over again. Olivia Pope wouldn’t be dealing with a ridiculous teenager and someone named Marie. Olivia Pope would “handle it,” and then go have sex with Jake, or the President, or both.
Maximize her health and well-being. Go fuck yourself Marie. How is it that Mike is introducing Jessie to the woman he’s dating? Does that mean he’s in a serious relationship?”
Laurie texted him: “Hi. Jessie had a nice time with you and Marie. R u two in a serious relationship? Pls keep me in the loop. Thx.”
Jessie came to dinner wearing a black Joy Division t-shirt.
“So that’s one of the vintage pieces your dad bought you? Do you know the lead singer committed suicide? There’s a documentary about the band if you’re interested. He suffered from horrible depression.”
“Good lasagna mom,” said Jessie, ignoring her mom’s comments.
“Thanks, I’m glad you approve.”
“Mom, I don’t want you to freak out or anything, but I got the feeling that dad and Marie are really a thing. Like really together. I’m just giving you a head’s up.”
“That’s sweet of you, but don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I want your father to be happy – I’m glad he’s met someone.”
Wow. That was fast Mike. We’ve been divorced for less than nine months and you’re already in a serious relationship.
Later that evening Mike texted back:
“Hi. Yes, Marie and I are together, we’ve been dating exclusively for five months, I was going to tell you. She wants us all to get together for dinner. Can you do Friday night? I’ll have my assistant book us a table. Thx.”
Five months? Dinner together?
After throwing in a load of laundry Laurie went out by the pool to smoke a cigarette from her secret stash.
“Sounds great. Looking forward to it!” she texted back to him.
“Why did you say sounds great and looking forward to it?! You cannot go to that dinner alone, we need to find you a date,” said her oldest friend Molly the next day.
“No, that would make it worse. It would make me seem desperate and sad and I’m not desperate and sad, I just wasn’t prepared for a ‘Marie’ yet” answered Laurie, checking on the non-farmed salmon.
“Gotta go. Jessie just got home and tonight she’s bringing a friend with her. This morning she actually told me what to wear and asked me to “act normal,” at dinner. Love you.”
“Oh Lordy. Love you too girl.”
Laurie had followed her daughter’s instructions and worn her high-waisted jeans with her hippie blouse tucked in and her large gold hoops. She had even put on mascara and lip gloss. Last time Jessie had a friend over she had been more than just a friend, so she was expecting the same this time.
“Hi mom, we’re home and I brought an extra guest!” yelled Jessie from the hallway.
“All good!” Laurie answered as she set another place and added more salad to the bowl.
As she put out an assortment of drinks for the kids to choose from, she poured herself a glass of wine.
“I’ll take one of those too if you don’t mind,” said a deep voice.
Who. The. Fuck. Is. That?
The most handsome, swoon-worthy man was standing in her kitchen doorway. What was her daughter up to? She wanted to strangle her, kind of.
“I’m Daniel, Emily’s father. Sorry the girls sprung this on you. They’re such operators.”
Laurie handed him a glass of wine, glad that she had put on mascara and lip gloss.
“Not a problem. I should have known something was up when Jessie told me what to wear for dinner,” she said laughing.”
“Can I do anything to help?” Daniel asked.
“Thanks but everything’s done. Let’s go outside for a few minutes and relax.”
From the cupboard Laurie grabbed a bag of Salt N’ Vinegar chips:
“These go really well with wine.”
“I like the unicorn pool floatie,” Daniel said.
“Me too. Jessie is mortified by it, but she’s mortified by most of what I do and say, so you know…” said Laurie crunching on a chip.
“God these chips are good,” said Daniel with salt stuck to his upper lip.
Those lips. Wow. Stop staring Laurie, you freak.
“Is it wrong to say I hate teenagers? I just want to fast forward to the college years or whatever this generation is going to do instead of college. I can’t take it.”
“I know, it’s brutal. Jessie has started referring to me as Laurie.”
Daniel laughed hard, almost spitting out his wine.
The laughter and chatter continued until the oven alarm went off and they went inside for dinner.
“So girls, how was school today?” asked Laurie.
“The usual,” answered Jessie.
“I love the usual,” said Daniel, digging into his salad.
Jessie took a selfie of Emily and her.
“No phones at the table,” Laurie said. “Also, are you two a couple?” She could feel Daniel hiding his smile.
“No. We’re trying to make Emily’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah, jealous” said Jessie.
“Got it. Well hope it works.”
“Are you guys ready for your science test tomorrow?”
“Of course we are Dad,” answered Emily, rolling her eyes.
“Just two more years,” whispered Laurie to Daniel. He tilted his head and smiled at her.
Laurie caught Jessie sneaking a photo of her and Daniel.
“What are you doing? I told you, no phones at the dinner table. Stop it already.”
After dinner Daniel and Laurie cleaned up and continued chatting:
“Thanks again for dinner, it was delicious. And sorry about the ambush…”
“It was my pleasure. I had a lovely time.”
“I would love to bring you out to dinner, no teenagers, just us. Are you free Saturday?”
I’m free right now. Kiss me. Please kiss me.
“I would love that.”
Later that evening as Laurie was finishing some editing work, Jessie stopped by her office. Leaning against her mother’s desk with a popsicle in her mouth, she said:
“Did you like Emily’s dad? Isn’t he cute? I thought he was your type.”
“You are quite the little trickster,” said Laurie, grabbing Jessie into a playful bear hug.
“I knew you would like him,” Jessie said, giggling like a little girl. “I just knew it!”
“You are an amazing young woman, you know that? Don’t ever forget it” said Laurie, kissing the top of her head.
Friday night, at Fia in Santa Monica, Laurie and Jessie met Mike and Marie for dinner. Marie had that effortlessly slouchy-chic look: a satin slip dress under a belter cardigan and vaguely western ankle-boots.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Marie said as she extended her hand.
“Likewise,” answered Laurie smiling.
“I ordered you a Chardonnay,” Mike said kissing her cheek.
A tray of drinks and appetizers arrived and they all raised their glasses.
“To getting to know each other,” Marie exclaimed.
They clinked glasses and Laurie took a long sip.
“Dad, I wanna show you something,” Jessie leaned into him so he could better see her phone screen.
“So, I hear you work for an eco-friendly denim company, that sounds really interesting.”
“It is. It kind of combines my two passions: fashion and the environment.”
“Who’s this?” Mike asked Laurie as he was looking at Jessie’s photos.
Laurie looked as Jessie flipped the screen to show her.
“Oh that’s Daniel, Emily’s father. They were over for dinner the other night.”
“Mom is going on a date with him tomorrow night,” said Jessie proudly.
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.
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.
“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.
“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!”
Ida sat at her kitchen table and scanned the morning newspaper. She sipped her coffee and took a bite of her honey-slathered toast. As usual the news was all depressing. “Screw this Noise” she said out loud, though there was no one around to hear her. She called information and got the phone number for the newspaper’s subscription department. When an associate named Wiley asked Ida why she wanted to cancel her subscription she said, “because there is nothing good left in this world, we have gone to Hell in a Hand Basket,” and she hung up.
After completing her morning chores, Ida put on her face, then drove to her local supermarket. With a short list in hand she walked slowly down the aisles with her cart. A young boy pushed by her on his way to grab a box of cookies, “young man, show some respect to your elders” Ida yelled. He looked at her, terrified and his mother glared at Ida. “Don’t talk to my precious boy like that” she said. “Precious?He’s hardly precious, he just about knocked me down. I could sue you!” The woman, dressed in drape-y expensive neutrals, accented by faux spiritual jewelry, grabbed her son and hurried away. “I can hardly wait to see what kind of a nightmare he grows up to be!” Ida yelled after her.
She turned down the aisle marked “International Foods.” Ida felt superior to the schmucks who just shopped the “regular” aisles, as if she were more worldly and progressive. She placed a package of Italian cookies in her cart, then added a box of Abuelita Mexican style instant chocolate drink mix. “Es Muy Delicioso” said Ida loudly to a woman standing nearby. “Good to know,” answered the woman, quickly turning her cart away from Ida. “At least I know a little Spanish,” Ida grumbled.
At the check-out counter she stood behind a young man who had several containers of Tofu, along with many vegetables. “Are you a Vegetarian?” Ida asked him accusingly. The young man eyed her, smiling slightly. “Yes Ma’am I am,” he answered. “That’s why you’re so thin and pasty, you need to eat some meat. But you have good manners, so that’s something I guess.” The young man sighed, paid his bill and took his canvas shopping bags with him. The cashier started ringing up Ida’s purchases, hoping to avoid any conversation with her. “Did you color your hair yourself?” asked Ida. The cashier flinched. “Yes, I did, why do you ask?” “Well, I think you went a little overboard on the red, it’s too bright. People are going to see you coming from a mile away. You should stick with a nice light auburn.” The cashier gritted her teeth. If her Manager wasn’t standing nearby she would tell Ida to go jump in a lake. “Oh well, to each her own I guess,” she said cheerily.
On her way back to her car, Ida saw the most adorable little black dog tied up to a pole outside the store. “Unbelievable!” she exclaimed. She hated people who tied up their dogs while they were busy running errands. It was too dangerous, anything could happen – the dog could break free and get run over by a car, a mean kid might tease the dog, the dog could eat something and get sick…She would like to tie the dog’s owner to a pole and see how she or he liked it! Ida put her groceries in her car and then went back to the dog. She bent down and petted the dog and spoke to him lovingly. The dog seemed to take to her immediately. “Your owner does not deserve you,” she cooed. And then, just like that, she untied the dog, picked him up and when he didn’t resist, she carried him back to her car. He rode shotgun with her back to the house, not seeming to mind one bit that he was with a complete stranger.
Back at the house Ida found an old frisbee in the hall closet and she and Sammy – the perfect name for him! – played in the backyard until Sammy was tired out. She then set down a bowl of water and made him a cozy bed from old comforters and pillows, though she knew she would let him sleep with her tonight. She figured he deserved a special meal, so she would cook him chicken and rice for dinner. Sammy, exhausted from the exercise and sudden life change, immediately passed out. Ida made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watched him sleep. He snored like her long dead husband, Earl. But Sammy was much cuter than Earl. Earl had had a face that not even his mother could have loved, but he had been a good man. Well, he had been a reasonably good man. Ida lay down on her beige chenille couch. Actually Earl had not been a very good man at all, what the hell was she thinking?! He had been mean as a snake! Ugly and mean – there’s a winning combination for you! Ida chuckled to herself. She had been so happy the day Earl died that she had gone out shopping to celebrate. She had bought herself a pair of blue sandals, a matching purse and a perfume called “La Vie Est Belle.” Ida closed her eyes and was soon fast asleep. Sammy eventually joined her on the couch, jamming his face under her left armpit.
Gloria fished out a dime from the bottom of her shoulder bag and called Marty. He picked up on the fourth ring.
“Where the hell are you?” Gloria yelled. He sounded groggy, like he was still in bed.
“What time is it?” he asked, yawning.
”It’s 4:15, the movie starts in fifteen minutes. This was supposed to be a date Marty – you were supposed to be taking me out on a God Damn date. Fuck You.”
Gloria pulled out a Menthol and started walking towards the movie theatre. Two teenage girls passed by. They were dressed in ripped fishnets, mini-skirts and black leather jackets. One had painted her lips black, the other had drawn a huge spider web on the right side of her face. For The Love Of God, thought Gloria.
After a final drag of her cigarette, she tossed it on the sidewalk and flattened it with her left clog. At the box office window sat a chunky lady snapping gum. The lady’s hair was teased into a tall rounded pouf, where, Gloria imagined, she kept hundreds of sticks of gum.
“One adult ticket please,” Gloria said.
“No date with you honey? You’re such a pretty young thing.”
“Thanks,” muttered Gloria, “turns out my date is an asshole.”
The round pouf lady shook her head.
“Oh honey, I sure am sorry to hear that. I know all about assholes, I married two of them. But my new hubby is a gem, so you just keep on keepin on. You’ll find someone.”
After buying a large pop and a box of Jujubes, Gloria found a seat towards the back of the theatre. She tossed a couple of Jujubes in her mouth.
“The problem with Jujubes is that they get stuck to your teeth and then you have to kind of scrape away the gunk with your fingernails.”
Gloria turned to where the voice seemed to be coming from and saw a tall, shaggy haired young guy. He smiled at her and waved his box of Jujubes.
“When I take a girl out on a date I never buy them, because I mean, you gotta be cool, you can’t be sticking your finger in your mouth during a date.” Gloria laughed, almost choking in the process.
“Black and red are my favorites” said Gloria.
“Really? I’m more of an orange and green guy. My name’s Mike by the way.”
Gloria looked at Mike, noticing a large but beautiful gap between his two perfectly straight front teeth. She imagined orange and green jelly oozing out from between them. Mike moved seats, so that he was closer, but still behind her.
“It’s a good thing we’re not on a date,” said Mike, “because this way we can both enjoy our Jujubes. What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t. It’s Gloria. My name is Gloria.” She smiled. There was probably gunk stuck to her teeth but she didn’t care.
Doloris waited for Porch Cat’s arrival. Every night around 8:00 pm Porch Cat came to her house to eat dinner. Tonight she had put out a bowl of canned tuna for him. Porch Cat loved to be petted. After finishing his meal he would saunter over to Deloris who would stroke his silky caramel fur, then he would curl up on her mushy thighs and nap for about ten minutes. After that he usually scampered off, always turning his head to look back at her once – his way of saying good-bye.
Deloris checked her cell phone, it was 7:58. She took a long sip of Rose, then lit a Menthol Light. She watched the kids across the street play in their front yard. It was late May so it was still light outside. Deloris wasn’t a big fan of children, she found them noisy, messy and she hated how they always asked “but why?” about every damn thing. She thought it foolish that anyone actually procreated these days. If a couple wanted a child they should adopt, there were thousands of babies and children wasting away in orphanages and hellish foster care homes. Deloris had watched an NBC Special Report on this subject matter, so she knew what she was talking about. She took another long sip of Rose. She was getting riled up now about the issue – the narcissism of people who insisted on having their own babies when there were desperate babies all over the world – blew her mind. Deloris scowled as she exhaled smoke – selfish pricks she thought to herself.
It was now 8:00 and no sign of Porch Cat yet. Deloris checked to make sure she had remembered to put out fresh water then sat back down. She smoothed out her colourful print tunic, it was one of her new spring purchases. Deloris only shopped at one store – Chico’s. Her favourite saleswoman was Jolene, they had become friends and occasionally went out for Margaritas together. Jolene had taught Deloris about highlighting her best features and hiding her worst. According to Jolene, Deloris was pear shaped. Deloris hated pears and she didn’t like the idea that her body was shaped like one, but Jolene had a great eye and soon after starting to shop with her Deloris started to receive compliments at work. Even her boss, Mr. Elton, who never said anything to anyone, complimented her one day on her outfit.
A caramel fur ball swooshed up the steps – it was Porch Cat! Deloris smiled as she watched him scarf down his tuna. Porch Cat was starting to look a little chunky – Watermelon shaped – and Deloris figured it was because he ate dinner at more than one house. Porch Cat clearly belonged to someone, he was friendly and looked well taken care of. He had a collar with a tag, but Deloris never called the number on it because she didn’t want him to stop visiting her. What if his owner decided to keep him inside?! He needed to be out and about, doing cat things, so that his cat soul would be fulfilled. After finishing his dinner Porch Cat hopped up next to Deloris and nuzzled her. A watermelon and a pear, happy together.
Charlie activated the boutique’s alarm then locked the door. She walked to her car and got in, but before starting the engine she got out and walked back to the door. She tried opening it, but of course it was locked. Okay, she thought, all is alright.
Driving home she listened to KCRW, while dangling a Belmont out the window. A Prius drove up next to her – “you’re killing yourself and polluting our shared air!” shouted a twenty-something. He had a messy man bun, an even messier Grizzly Adams beard and though Charlie couldn’t see them, she was certain that he was wearing skinny jeans – probably with the pre-shredded knees. Charlie took a long drag of her cigarette and blew smoke towards his open window. She smiled and waved as he roared off – well, as much as you can roar off when you’re driving a Prius.
Charlie sang to herself, “hold’er Jack, we’re headed for the rhubarb!” as she took a sharp corner into Trader Joe’s parking lot. She grabbed her canvas shopping bags – God forbid you didn’t bring your own bags, the other shoppers would probably stone you to death with organic nuts – and headed in to do a little grocery shopping.
She filled her cart quickly – fresh flowers (every Friday she bought herself flowers), wine, pre-made salad, Louisiana sausages, Tortilla chips…In the frozen dessert aisle a handsome guy with salt and pepper hair smiled at her, “have you tried these Mochi? They’re insane. Last time I bought them I ate the whole box in one sitting.” He was wearing beat-up black engineer boots – maybe Frye? – with faded jeans, a pricey looking sports watch and a ratty Motörhead tee. Hmm thought Charlie. She smiled back. “I like a guy who binges, I’ll try a box of those,” she reached over to get a box out of the freezer and their arms touched. “I’m Max” he held out his hand to shake hers. “Charlie,” she answered, giving his hand a firm shake after she placed the Mochi in her cart.
They walked down the aisle together. “I forgot my shopping bags,” he said with a grimace. “I’m dreading going to the check-out counter, they always give you that look, you know?” Charlie laughed, “I know!! I’m so over this ‘Ecowarrior, green smoothie drinking, politically correct, everybody is wearing glasses, retro crap!’ I can’t take it anymore!” Max exploded into a fit of laughter. He was so loud that several guys in the Craft Beer section looked up from their label hunting. His laughter reminded Charlie of Rhoda Morgenstern from The Mary Tyler Moore show, it didn’t seem to match who he was and yet it was perfect.
The air smelled clean, like Ivory soap. But then you felt the wind, a cold hard slap on your soft skin. Like a strike in the face from your lover that you didn’t see coming.
Dirty snow crunching. Discarded cans, bottles and garbage seemingly everywhere. Who still litters? It’s 2016, not the 1970’s. The snow is angry. It should be pristine and wedding-dress white. Instead it is brown and mucky, like an old forgotten river.
Crunch. A mitten propped up doll-like on a tree branch. One boot, laces un-done, lying in a bush like a body about to be discovered by the special victim’s unit. A hoodie left lonely and abandoned on a bench. Maybe this was an urban art exhibit by one of those media savvy types, soon to be featured in The New York Times.
The snow actually does make a crunching sound, it’s true. Crunch. Crunch. “Is your dog a lover or a fighter?” asks the man. His eyes are both watery and wild, his energy a mixture of deep sadness and frantic rage. “He’s a Lover” you say, trying to act casual, even though you want to take your elderly one eyed dog and run away across the street. “Good boy, good boy,” the man says as he lovingly strokes your dog. His watery eyes no longer wild, but soft, like pillows. He walks off and you and your elderly one eyed dog watch him go, both suddenly missing him. Why didn’t he stay longer?
Mister Lover stealthily slithers up to a large pizza crust and starts eating. You consider wrestling with him to try and retrieve the dirty pizza, but change your mind. He is old. Let him enjoy his garbage picking, it makes him feel like the King of the streets he once was.
Crunch, crunch. A couple walks by, two women holding hands. They look content. They look like they know that if one of them gets sick, the other will take care of her. A guy wearing grey skinny jeans and a low ponytail ambles along. He is carrying a granny style purse with giant knitting needles sticking out of it.
We finally arrive home. “Slowly baby, slowly” I say to Mister Lover. The front porch steps are slippery and his once powerful legs are now just little twigs. We make it up to the door and he lets out a soulful howl. A “damn that was a good walk girl!” kind of howl. February is really not so bad.