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 We’re like two old mannequins in an ancient storefront, dressed in out of date fashion, sitting on a vintage but not in a cool way sofa.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

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.

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

Roxie

“Beautiful girl, I love you so much. Give me a kiss.”

“Why do you only talk like that to our dog?”

“What?”

“You never call me beautiful. You never tell me you love me and I can’t remember the last time we kissed.”

“You’re being ridiculous. And you’re making Roxie anxious with your weird energy. See how her ears are pointed back? That means she’s worried.”

“Oh Sweet Jesus.”

“It’s okay Roxie, come here. There you go, belly rubs solve everything.”

“And tonight, like every other night, she’ll lie between us – horizontally – separating us so we can’t cuddle.”

“Since when do you like cuddling? You always say that you can’t sleep in my arms, that you need space.”

“I can’t sleep in your arms because I get too hot. But it would be nice to cuddle before going to sleep. You know, like a normal couple.”

“We are a normal couple. Roxie’s eyes are bulging out, the tone of this conversation is upsetting her.”

“Holy fuckety fuck. She’s a dog. I love her, you know I do. But why can’t she sleep in her dog bed? The one in the corner that cost a bazillion dollars.”

“She’s a rescue dog and rescue dogs need extra affection.”

“Do you want out of this marriage?”

“What? No, of course not. Don’t be so dramatic. And don’t raise your voice, you’re scaring Roxie.

“She has you wrapped around her little paws.”

“Roxie, come here, it’s okay. Let’s all just calm down and I’ll turn off the light.”

“I can’t take this.”

“You can’t take what?”

“Your primary relationship is with our dog, not me. You love our dog more than you love me. You engage with our dog more than with me. You show affection to our dog more than with me. Our dog has a better wardrobe than me for God’s sake.”

“I think you’re having one of those hormonal imbalance meltdowns. Why don’t you take a Xanax and we’ll go to sleep. Roxie are you warm enough? Let me just pull this blanket up over you.”

“I just can’t…”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m getting dressed.”

“It’s eleven thirty, why are you getting dressed?”

“Because I don’t want to drive over to Sheila’s house wearing a nightgown.”

“You’re acting crazy.”

“Actually I’m fully rational and I’m – what’s that saying? – ‘leaning into my power.’ Maybe tomorrow you can take your four-legged wife to her favorite dog park, the one across town. That will give me time to pack my bags.”

“What? Don’t joke about things like that, it’s not funny. We would both be devastated if you left.”

“Actually you might not even notice I’m gone. And Roxie will be ecstatic to have you all to yourself.”

“What if I buy you the wardrobe of your dreams? Will that help?”

“What?”

“You said earlier that Roxie had a better wardrobe than you. So what if I gave you my credit card and you could buy all that Net-A-Porter stuff that I see you coveting on Instagram. Like those black boots with the weird chunky soles.”

“So let me get this straight: your takeaway from everything I just said is, that you think I would be happier in our relationship if I had a wardrobe as nice as Roxie’s?”

“Well, yes. It would be a tangible symbol of my love for you.”

“Wow.”

“Wow what?”

“Just like an all-around wow.”

“Well…”

“How much?”

“What do you mean how much?”

“How much would I get to put on your credit card for my new wardrobe?”

“Three thousand dollars.”

“Five thousand.”

“You’re negotiating with me?”

“You’re a lawyer, you would negotiate too. Plus, you make a ton of money.”

“Fine. It’s a deal. Five thousand dollars to prove that I love you as much as I love Roxie.”

“Okay then.”

“Thank God. Roxie has calmed down, she can tell that things are better between us.”

“I bet she can, she’s an Empath that Roxie.”

“Actually you’re right, she is an Empath. My sweet little girl.”

(Photo: iStock, NY Times article by Jen A. Miller, March 13th, 2018)

Erica

“Your eyes look different.”

“What do you mean different?”

“I don’t know. Something has changed.”

“Maybe my eyes look happy because my best friend is coming to visit this week.”

“No, it’s not that, they don’t look happy.”

“What then?”

“I don’t know exactly.”

“Are you trying to say I look older?”

“I mean…your eyes just don’t look like they used to.”

“We’re lying in bed, in the dark, about to go to sleep and from what I understand you’re telling me I look older? Why in God’s name would you say that? I don’t think I’ve ever had a man say something so hurtful to me.”

“Well I mean we all change over time.”

“I feel sick with sadness, like I could vomit tears.”

The next morning Erica stared at her eyes in the bathroom mirror. She did look older, she’d noticed it a little while ago. It was partly hereditary – everyone on her mom’s side of the family got droopy upper eye lids. But for Paul to say something…

Paul regularly said things that left her feeling small. Little things that in the moment felt like nothing, but minutes later left Erica feeling deflated. And she had become so used to feeling this way that it felt normal. Though he said he loved her sparkly, colorful spirit, he was actually snuffing it out one day at a time. And since words left no physical marks, no one could see that she was being hurt over and over again.

Erica was so upset that she ate six Bear Claw cookies for breakfast and gave herself a stomach ache. Lying on the couch for half an hour she tried crying, but nothing happened. Where were her tears?

Her tears were gone. Her tears were gone because her sadness had, unbeknownst to her, turned into anger. And her anger had, within seconds, turned into action. And action took Erica from the couch to Staples, where she bought six boxes, bubble wrap, tape and large sheets of paper.

Erica circled their condo, taking her favorite possessions. Packing quickly, she drank coffee with spoonfuls of sugar. From their bedroom closet she chose only her most loved clothing, folding it in a small suitcase.

Logging onto airbnb she found an artsy, furnished cottage on the opposite side of the city. It was just a few blocks from the water and had a beautiful rose garden. She paid for three months rent and the owner offered to help carry her boxes inside, where she could store them in the den.

She cleaned the coffee pot and put her dirty cup in the dishwasher. On a leftover piece of packing paper she wrote a note to Paul:

You did not break my spirit. You temporarily took the air out of my spirit. You temporarily crushed my spirit. But my spirit is more powerful than you will ever be. My spirit has come roaring back with her drooping eyelids and my spirit has this to say:
“You were lucky to have me, but I’m gone now.”

Lucky Star

TRIGGER WARNING FOR SEXUAL CONTENT

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

“I love your earrings.”

“Thanks. I got them at Le Chateau.”

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

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

“They think it makes them cool.”

“As if.”

“I know.”

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

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

“Okay, okay, thx Jess.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“K.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She tried on the cobalt Swatch, it looked good.

A soft knock sounded:

“Jessie, you okay in there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

She sighed, “I know.”

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

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

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

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

“True!” laughed Derek

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

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

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

Jessie started to sit up.

“I feel gross. I’m going home.”

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

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

“Fine, but for like 5 min max.”

“So, are you and Mike still dating?”

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

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

Jessie laughed.

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

“I’m willing to take the chance.”

“Were you and Mike serious?”

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

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

“Kiss me.”

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

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

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

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

“Stop, it. I don’t want to.”

“Why not?”

Derek started pulling down her black tights.

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

“No one will hear you.”

“Derek, please.”

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

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

“Stop. You’re hurting me.”

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

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

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

Derek was now yanking her underwear down.

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

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

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

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

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

“Come on, you know this is better.”

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

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

Derek rolled off her.

“That was amazing.”

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

“I’ll see you downstairs Jess.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ya I’ll call now.”

Jessie was already on her way outside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanley

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

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

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

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

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

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Sally

Sally folded her socks into perfect little balls then lined them up in soldier straight lines. Next she tackled her underwear drawer, folding them in half and placing them in piles according to style: hipster, bikini, briefs.  She used plastic dividers that she had bought at the dollar store to separate them.  After adding lavender sachets to both drawers, she sat down on the edge of her bed and took a long sip of Chardonnay.

Sally had just finished reading “De-Clutter & Manifest your Dreams!” by Dr. Bryanne Goodwyn.  Dr. Goodwyn – a Lifestyle Psychiatrist – wrote that a disorganized home reflected a chaotic psyche, a psyche unfit to receive the universe’s abundance. Therefore, in order to manifest one’s dreams, a person had to first get their home in order.  “De-Clutter & Manifest your Dreams!” had come into Sally’s life at the perfect moment.  She had been struggling with how to talk with her boyfriend, Derek, about the fact that he had not yet asked her to marry him.  But since reading Dr. Goodwyn’s book, Sally realized that she was partly to blame for the fact that she still didn’t have an engagement ring. Sally’s closets, drawers and cupboards were completely disorganized, there wasn’t any room for Derek’s belongings.  The message that Sally was sending him was: “You’re not important enough to me for me to make space for you.”  Thank God for Dr. Goodwyn, it it were not for her book Sally would’t have realized that she could manifest her dreams, which included marrying Derek.

After organizing all nine dresser drawers and emptying out three of them for Derek, Sally decided to take a break and work on her visualization board.  Dr. Goodwyn recommended creating a visualization board for all the things that one wanted to manifest in one’s life. Every morning she advised focusing on the board while repeating these words:  “I have de-cluttered my life to make room for my dreams.  I am deserving.  Thank you universe for your eternal love & please help me on my journey of manifestation.”

Sally’s visualization board was massive, she had a long Manifestation List.  The top left corner was dedicated to her wedding, with photos torn out of bridal magazines.  It was going to be a summer wedding, the theme – Rustic-Chic, with flowers in mason jars and long, country farm tables.  Her dress, designed by Jessica McClintock, was strapless with a sweetheart neckline and was ivory – not white – lace.

The top right corner of Sally’s visualization board was dedicated to her obsession with Corgis – the breed of low-rider dogs that the of Queen of England was famous for owning.  She wanted two of them and she had already located a breeder in a nearby state.  Their names would be Petal and Charlie. Unfortunately Derek didn’t like dogs, he preferred cats.  In fact he took care of his neighborhood’s feral cats, about fifteen of them, leaving food and water out every night and building elaborate cat hang-outs on his front porch.  During the winter months he even had specially heated covered cat beds.  Sally had some serious visualization work to do on this issue – there was no way in hell that she was going to be known as The Crazy Cat Lady and she didn’t want Petal and Charlie getting fleas or worse, from the wretched creatures.  Sally drained her glass of wine and walked over to the fridge to pour herself another one.  For a brief moment she worried that perhaps Derek was mentally unstable. The feral cat caretaker thing was a bit much – I mean what kind of person does that?

At eight o’clock sharp the phone rang.  It was Derek, he always called her at 8:00 PM on nights when he had to work late.  “Guess what?!” he asked happily. “What?!” cried Sally, trying to contain her excitement.  “Remember how you told me about that de-cluttering book you were reading and about how in order to manifest our dreams we had to first get our house in order?”  Sally was pleasantly surprised that Derek remembered her telling him about Dr. Goodwyn’s book.  She always figured that he kind of tuned her out when she started talking about her newest self-help book.  “Yes, it’s such a great book, really empowering,” Sally said.  “I know, it’s amazing!  I read the whole thing in one sitting. Then I took the day off work today and re-organized my entire condo.  I gave away eleven bags of stuff to The Salvation Army.”  Sally felt a little irritated at the idea that Derek had co-opted her book and one-upped her by de-cluttering his entire place, Sally had only finished her bedroom.  “Wow. Congrats to you,” she said, “How do you feel?” she asked.  “I feel SO good!  Organizing and purging was somehow like the jolt that I needed to move forward with my life.  I see things more clearly now.”  Sally held her breath, this was the moment she had been waiting for.  Although a marriage proposal over the phone was not ideal, the important things was that it was happening.  She took a sip of wine as Derek continued.  “I’ve realized that my dream is to open a cat sanctuary.  I’m taking a six week intensive training course on Animal Rescue, it starts next week in Denver.  My neighbor, Mrs. Jubas, is going to take care of my feral cats while I’m away.”  Sally exhaled.  You have got to be kidding me, she thought.  “Sally, I have you to thank for this incredible turn of events in my life.  If you hadn’t told me about Dr. Goodwyn’s book, I never would have de-cluttered and manifested my dream.  I hope that you manifest all your dreams too.  Sally, are you still there?” Not only was her Rustic-Chic wedding not happening, but Derek was a better Manifestor than her.  Sally turned off her phone and walked over to her visualization board.  She tore off all the wedding pictures, but left up the sections entitled “Dream Home,” “Health & Beauty,” and “Career.”  She also kept her Corgi pictures up.  Tomorrow she would call the Corgi Breeder.  Fuck Derek and his stupid cats anyways.