GIRL #1 met Girl #2 for lunch at the [Diner] on [Highway] in [Town], [State]. Girl #1 was ten minutes late, so Girl #2 stared at the convex reflection in the back of the spoon while waiting. As Girl #1 approached, Girl #2 stood and they kissed the air around each other’s cheeks. Each immediately said how great the other looked. Girl #2 meant it. Girl #1 was trying to remember the last time they had seen each other. Girl #2 said that it was at [Mutual Friend]’s little girl’s birthday party, but Girl #1 was certain that it hadn’t been that long. Both girls looked at the menu with expressions that implied concentration.
Girl #2 asked Girl #1 how things were going at her job. Girl #1 rolled her eyes and they both laughed. Girl #1 said that seriously, things were really crazy now and she had trouble even getting out for lunch. Girl #2 said she knew what that was like, even though she didn’t. They smiled at each other for a long time. Girl #2 thought Girl #1’s smile was patronizing. Girl #2 thought, God her hair is fantastic. The waitress came and Girl #2 ordered a ‘full stack’ of pancakes. Girl #1 ordered a ‘short stack’ with eggs and toast. She asked the waitress if they had banana syrup, adding that sometimes they had banana syrup in the back but that you had to ask for it. The waitress said she would check. Girl #2 excused herself and went to the bathroom. The bathroom’s fluorescent light made her skin look jaundiced. She stared at her face in the mirror. She pulled her lower eyelids down and looked at the spider web of veins that reached through the whites of her eyes toward her pupil.
To the right of the mirror someone had carved ‘slut’ into the wall.
She turned on the faucet but didn’t wash her hands. She put a [Medication] under her tongue and let it dissolve. A metallic taste flooded her mouth. She considered waiting in the bathroom for the [Medication] to kick in, but decided not to. Girl #2 opened the door and looked across the restaurant. The faces and voices had become an indistinguishable mass, and a bad electricity ran from her feet up through her arms and fingers.
When Girl #2 returned to the table, their food had arrived. Girl #1 was holding onto a glass bottle of banana syrup and was smiling. Girl #1 repeated that you needed to ask for the banana syrup if you wanted it. Girl #2 said that was interesting. There was a child at the next table who was screaming in fifteen- second bursts. Girl #2 said that it sounded like death metal. Girl #1 said that was funny. The silverware scraping against the plates made a noise that hurt Girl #2’s teeth. Girl #1 noticed that Girl #2 still ate with her mouth open, and she tried not to look. They chewed their food in silence until Girl #1 started telling Girl #2 about something that had happened to [Mutual Friend].
[Mutual Friend]’s oldest son had vanished in the middle of the night, leaving only a one-word note, written in crayon for his roommate. Girl #1 waited for Girl #2 to ask what the note said. Girl #2 asked. The note said “China.” Girl #1 said that [Mutual Friend] didn’t hear from him for more than a year, which is when he resurfaced in town as a Bhiksu, shaved head and everything. Girl #2 resented that Girl #1 made her ask what a Bhiksu was. When Girl #1 explained that it was a Buddhist monk, Girl #2 asked why she couldn’t have just said Buddhist monk. Girl #1 waved this off and continued with her story. [Mutual Friend]’s oldest son had been going door to door, begging for money for the restructuring of a stupa. Girl #2 refused to ask what a stupa was.
The [Medication] was kicking in now, and Girl #2’s limbs felt liquid. Girl #1’s words became nothing but sound. Girl #2 stared out the window, over Girl #1’s shoulder and watched the silver and red streamers decorating the car dealership across the street flutter in the wind, a thousand colorful fingers wiggling in the sunlight. The streamers made Girl #2 happy. She was missing the majority of Girl #1’s story, which also made her happy. Girl #2 tried to recall things that she hadn’t thought of in years, but in all her memories, Girl #1 looked exactly as she did at this table. It was impossible to recall her younger face. Girl #2 wanted to interrupt, but felt guilty.
When she returned to Girl #1’s story, it was in a different place with different characters. Girl #1 had started talking about herself and her kids. Girl #2 asked how [Girl #1's Husband] was and Girl #1 said Oh God and then asked how long it had been since she had spoken to Girl #2. Girl #2 put a forkful of syrup-saturated pancake in her mouth and instead of chewing and swallowing, let it sit on her tongue. The edges of Girl #1’s lips turned down. Girl #2 shoved another piece of pancake into her mouth and didn’t chew or swallow. Her cheeks ballooned.
So you don’t know what happened with [Girl #1’s Husband]? Girl #1 asked. Girl #2 shook her head no. Girl #1 used her toast to mop up the runny yolk that had puddled around the corners of her plate. She held the soggy piece of toast in her hand but didn’t eat it. Girl #2 swallowed her pancakes and noticed that Girl #1 was not wearing her wedding ring. Girl #1 said the story really wasn’t that interesting. Girl #2 said that she didn’t have to tell the story if she didn’t want to. Girl #1 said that she wished you could smoke in here.
Girl #1 exhaled and began to tell what had happened in a much more upbeat way than the story demanded. Girl #1 said that the two of them had given it their best shot but that over the years they’d grown apart and decided they should break it off before things got ugly. They’d both agreed on the separation, and it was fine for a while, Girl #1 said. Girl #2 said that was good. That made sense. Girl #1 said that everything changed when [Girl #1’s Son] decided to tell [Girl #1’s Husband] that he had seen her kissing someone. She said that [Girl #1’s Husband] had come over immediately and started shouting in front of the children. He said that if this was how she wanted to raise them, if this was the kind of influence that she was providing, maybe she shouldn’t have the kids. Girl #1 said that he said he didn’t understand who would want to sleep with her anyway, because her pussy was like a bird’s nest. Because it was dry and jagged and smelled like shit. Girl #2 asked if those were his actual words. Girl #2 asked if he actually said ‘pussy.’ Girl #1 smiled.
Even though it was loud and Girl #1 was speaking low enough so no one could hear, it seemed to Girl #2 that Girl #1 was unaware they were in a room full of people. Girl #2 couldn’t decide if it was the story that was making her uncomfortable, or Girl #1’s smile and the way she was telling it. Girl #2 thought Girl #1 was being ridiculously peppy. Girl #1 said that [Girl #1’s Husband] had called her a fucked-up slut. Girl #2 made a vague noise of disapproval.
A rolling cloud had overtaken the sun. The car dealership’s streamers hung dull and dead in the air. Girl #2 tried to think of a way to get her [Medication] out of her purse and take one without Girl #1 noticing. Girl #1 said that she had to get a restraining order when she started receiving envelopes in the mail that had intimate photos she and her husband had taken together inside. She said the photos had the private parts scratched out. The waitress came by and asked how everything was. Girl #1 said that everything was fine and just the check, please. Girl #2 said that didn’t sound like [Girl #1’s Husband] at all, which caused Girl #1 to cackle in a way that made people look.
Girl #1 excused herself and went to the bathroom. As soon as Girl #1 was behind the bathroom door, Girl #2 put another [Medication] under her tongue. She tilted her head back and looked at the tiles in the ceiling as the time release melted off and the pill began to dissolve. She started to count the tiny black specks. She thought about how afraid of her friend she was, and how easy it was to be envious. She thought about how she would react if her husband said those things and did those things and decided that she didn’t want to think about it.
When Girl #1 got back to the table, Girl #2 had already paid the check. Girl #2 noticed that Girl #1 looked flushed. Girl #1 said that she felt rude because she hadn’t even asked about [Girl #2’s Husband]. Girl #2 laughed and said that he was fine, he was still a [Medical Professional] and that he’d recently moved to a private practice, which was better for the kids. Girl #1 smiled and said that she’d always liked [Girl #2’s Husband].
They stepped through the glass doors into the first real cold of the year. They hugged each other—politely at first—but then let the hug linger until their bodies settled into one another and each could feel the other’s warmth. Girl #2 promised to call Girl #1. Girl #1 promised to call Girl #2. Girl #2 reminded Girl #1 that they had let promises lapse before, but Girl #1 said that wouldn’t happen this time. They smiled with real affection. As Girl #1 watched Girl #2 get into her car, she noticed the streamers flapping again. Girl #1 watched Girl #2’s car leave the parking lot and disappear down the highway. As she was driving away Girl #2 said to herself, That was good. She said to herself, I am happy.
BOBBY FISCHER is a recent graduate of the William Paterson University MFA program. His play, The Harrowing, was a finalist in the 8th Annual NJ Playwrights Competition. This is his first published work of fiction.