Taking no prisoners. Including herself.

(A short fiction)

My best friend Charlotte, who I’ve known since our colored tights underneath ripped Dickies-jeans days of seventh grade, was returning to the city where I lived after an eight-month stint at an ashram on the east coast, getting in touch with ‘something deeper’ I knew I could find, too, but hadn’t the patience or time to find it. I had anticipated this homecoming because it felt something different—something more than the I’m-home-for-Thanksgiving visits usually awarded to us in California during our years in college. She was bringing with her her new boyfriend, Charlie from England, who I instantly liked before I even had a chance to meet him in person because I was introduced to the idea of him when Charlotte said she thought she fell in love with him as she found him to be a male version of myself. I found, in subsequent voicemails, that he had in fact progressed from boyfriend to fiancé as of two weeks ago because they decided: yes—we think we can tolerate each other for another sixty years, the Grand Canyon can be so romantic at sunset, and hey—don’t ya’ know it, we both want to have kids, too.

She’d never been to England, so they gave it a shot.

I’m not sure what got into me. I was fighting it. I decided that I wouldn’t eat much for the day, to prove my dedication to just how unsure I felt. I had three cups of espresso, and dizzied around my apartment cleaning. That helped, but when I got a headache and realized I still was upset by the news that my good friend had found the man of her dreams with whom she would happily spend the rest of her life, I got a cigarette and smoked it.

When I opened up the window the wind blew in so hard I felt like I was falling. I turned up my slow, plodding music so I could hear it over the dishwasher. Then I masturbated; really more out of spite than pleasure; less like satisfying a scratch and more like picking at a scab; and brushed my teeth while I took a shower. None of this did any good. I nearly poured myself a drink but the clock was too apparent in its display of three in the afternoon that I decided not. I’m not sure why I feel this way, I thought as I consoled myself over a bucket of dried plums—a fruit which I find consoles so well, despite the fact that their rightful name of prunes have been denied to the poor, shriveled fruit for something more marketable. And what was more painfully pathetic is that I love Charlotte and loved that she was happy and would most likely love her fiancé and god-damn it knowing me I would love the whole god-damn thing in another few months but right now I had a thin, sliver of spite lodged in the back of my molar.

It wasn’t jealousy. I had a perfectly human boyfriend that was the perfect companion and gracefully suffered through my neurological disorders I liked to call “being complex;” Charlotte hasn’t lived in California for five years, so it’s not as if this Charlie from England was stealing her out of my daily life; I had no reason to feel threatened by this new decision. And yet, I ate prunes.

I needed something: Another cigarette, a drink, a nap, confirmation that I, now, wouldn’t have to get married; confirmation that I, too, would someday get married), a really big—I don’t know, hug? Maybe some more prunes—I wasn’t sure, and I kept shuffling through ideas in my head.

She called and we planned for dinner at six—to be joined by the fiancé and her other best friend—and I knew I had to figure out what I needed before I saw her lest I keep looking up to the ceiling and grunting, rolling my eyes leftward, searching for the answer.

Finally I settled on watering my plants and applying for a job online I didn’t want so if they called me I could say I was already taken. I called and made reservations for three at the vegetarian joint down the street. I started to grumble about yogi vegetarians in all of their ‘finickiness’ until I reminded myself gently that I would be a vegetarian, too, had I a little more self-discipline. It wasn’t anything on Charlotte’s behalf that made me simmer with the beginnings of resentment. It was that she had rocked the boat—she had become the first to take the plunge and I resented her for it. I felt bitter only because she had inadvertently reminded me that we would not be kids forever, and the once-stable dream of “the girls” converging in the same town next door with husbands who watch football together and kids that call the other “aunt” was fast becoming the ephemeral fantasy of teenagers drunk with the possibility of happy endings. She reminded me of the point shoved down my throat daily, which daily I found alternatives to swallowing; usually in the delusion of my still-present but eventually-fleeting youth: that there was no set plan, no script to follow, no high school reunion relevant enough to be worth attending. Life moved forward with shocking velocity, and there was a constant reorganization of what one’s future would consist of—people, plans, events, places—all to be sooner or later scrapped, repositioned, or cemented in the past.

I ended up having that drink. When Charlotte arrived, it was the usual deal: There were girlish squeals, there were generous rounds of hugs; and, I admit, there was the heartache that accompanies any sort of joy.
I adored Charlie from England.

He was sweet, charming, and looked at Charlotte the way my cat looks at tuna—not as if he must ravish the bowl the moment he gets it, or even with feline-like indignation, as if he has always deserved the bowl of tuna, knew he deserved the bowl of tuna, will forever deserve the bowl of tuna, it’s only been a matter of how fucking long it took for you to get around to serving up that god-damn bowl of fish—like you’d expect a cat to.

No, he looked at her how Whiskers surveys the blue ceramic dish I place nightly before him: as if something magical, monumental, unusual but stunning lay before. He’s a tad trepid, because this thing here holds such beauty he’s not used to—he’s not sure that it’s actually for him. There must be some mistake, he looks up at me, some mistake, because, really, this can’t be for me. I’m much too common, he seems to say, much too common and humble to deserve this plate of such wonder. But, after a nod from me to hurry the fuck up because damn! cat, it’s a frickin’ bowl of tunafish, eat up! he proceeds. Slowly, with appreciation, he proceeds to accept what has been given him. And he is grateful. And, when he finishes, I turn off the light and walk out of the room, grateful, too.

§213 · By · June 23, 2006 ·

3 Comments to “”

  1. alia says:

    I had forgotten about this story, which you read at my “hen night”. I’d been really thrown off by it at the time and couldn’t take it on properly. I think I was a bit upset by it, actually. I was going through so much of my own processing at the time, coming to terms with the monumental event taking place. And despite my happiness and the loveliness of seeing everyone again and feeling really honoured that night, I felt more alone than ever. By being “the first,” I was alienated. And what it also brought up for me was the feeling that I’ve always been in some way separate and alienated from the girls, because at heart I’m a loner, and that’s what I prefer.
    Yet the events that swept me away from my friends and have kept me away for so many years felt… feel… completely beyond my control. And now, reading that again, I think I understand utterly how you felt… and I can appreciate it as an exceptional piece of writing. Which is all it is anyway, right? It’s not like it’s about us or anything! God!

  2. Emma says:

    It’s been a while, so I thought I’d touch base. Sounds like you’re out of the country! I also got a returned mail prompt on your mac email adddress.

    Hope all is going well for you.

    Maybe we can find time to visit this Summer. I’ll be in Summer school, but should be free occasionally.

    Take care,

  3. Kari says:

    Shannon, this almost made me cry (don’t ask why I’ve done that twice today, I don’t know). A Little like when my sister got married, except that we’d known him for a couple years already. And when four friends were married in the same year. Wonderful, I suppose, but incredibly bittersweet.

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