“Who wants what to drink? It’s nearly lunchtime.” I open our second bottle of Merlot and take a swig.
Talulah groans from the picnic blanket. “Can’t move, bring wine. Grace has fallen asleep on me.” Grace rolls her eyes and releases Talulah, who grabs the bottle and walks into the rose bushes. They are my closest friends, my goddesses. Vulnerable women who have been through too much.
Grace is a failed ballerina, hit by a truck when she was a rising star. The ballet bitches sliced her off and she thudded into depression. She eventually landed in the streets, selling her exquisite body, sleeping against grates, powerful muscles growing brittle. I met her two years ago when I was volunteering at a women’s shelter at my psychologist’s suggestion.
Talulah is made of love and joy and mindless banter. Once secure in her career as a talent-spotter, she was at a concert when a suicide bomber killed 22 people, shattering not her body but her mind. I offered her a ride when I saw her hitchhiking. When she told me her story, I invited her to move in.
Now I live with my two rescued friends, Grace and Talulah, in the house my husband left to me when he married his new executive assistant. I was his executive assistant when we fell in love. I became his ex when we fell out of love. Executive. Ex. All tied up neatly.
The flush of wine in my veins relaxes me, but then the baby cries. I go to search for it; not behind the hydrangeas, not under the sink or in my sock drawer. Was that a dream or an ultrasound or a baby? I don’t remember if it’s been taken from me or if it’s dead or if it was never born, but I hear it cry for me every day and I turn the house inside out looking for it. That plaintive baby call is the only thing I can’t control, so I take medications that wrap me in plastic so I don’t feel anything, and sometimes that silences the baby’s cries. I work on things I can control. I count things. I collect friends. I choose when people come into my life and when they leave.
I give up on finding that baby and group my prescription bottles on the garden table by colour—the pinks of hormones, the blues of sleep, the yellows of jitters. I hand out a few to Grace and Talulah. It’s a baking hot day so I make fruit and vodka smoothies. Sweet frozen cherries hide the bitter coating of the sleeping pills. The goddesses are thirsty and toast me before we gulp down the smoothies. I know what’s good for them. I understand their path to redemption.
The glue of wine and sun sits heavily in my stomach. There is somewhere important I should be. Is it about that baby again? The thought is slippery and I can’t hold it. It glides away into the hydrangeas. I’m not surprised when a fairy peeks her head around a blue hydrangea. The fairy is Talulah grinning at me.
She cups her hands and calls in her fake British accent, “Dahling! Take off your boots.”
My feet seem to be in grey iron boots. My legs are stuck and I can’t walk. The boots are nailed to the patio stones, holding me to the earth.
“Don’t worry, old thing,” Talulah smiles. “Just leave your feet behind.”
I push off experimentally and float upwards leaving my feet in the boots on the ground. Without feet, my legs taper into glowing points. I kick up and swim through the air, trouble-free, pain-free. In my long, floaty dress, I’m one of the butterflies circling my friends, serenaded by the birds in a hazy cocoon of rose fragrance. My goddesses are finally resting, empty wine bottles spread over the grass, at peace and free of sin. They are too good for this world. An idea is forming in the back of my head but it’s fuzzy. My reverie is broken by my cell phone ringing. I answer. It’s my ex-husband.
“Sorry, can’t talk now,” I giggle. “I’ve left the ground. Look who’s doing the leaving now! How is your new assistant, I mean, your new wife? Executive assistant, that is. Execute the assistant. Assist the wife.”
“Calling to check in. How are you feeling today? Do you want me to come by?” His voice is concerned and soft, and I melt a little, but the phone has gone mushy in my hand, and I drop it in disgust.
The unwelcome phone call sends me tipsily down to earth, back into those heavy boots. But there’s an intruder yelling at me and that damn baby is crying again. It’s Grace’s husband, the policeman—in my backyard staring at his wife, who must have tripped over my water fountain. She’s fallen at an awkward angle, her head resting in my rosebush with the sharpest thorns, its creamy buds just blooming, blood and vomit on her lips.
“What did she take?” he screams at me as he drops next to Grace. He scrapes stuff out her mouth and flips her to one side. I wish she could see him being all policeman-ish.
“Leave her alone, she needs to sleep,” I tell him. He’s disturbing my goddesses, trying to take them away from me.
He radios, “Emergency ten thirty-three at 532 Clinton in the backyard. Two females with no vitals. Suspect is the homeowner, impaired. My wife is one of the victims. Please, God, hurry.”
“What the fuck have you done, you crazy bitch. What did you give them this time?” He grabs my arms and twists me and shackles my wrists. I can’t help my friends anymore. Please, may they already be resting in peace.
Seldom does so short a story do so much. The phantom (or real) baby thread is wonderful in its awfulness. I followed the author on Twitter right away.
Thank you very much, Ron.
Wow! I was so in the moment with this one. Well done.
Thank you, Ephra!
This is one of the best stories I have read on FFM. So good.
So kind, thank you!
This is very well written. For this reader you’ve really captured the internal monologue of the protagonist with intensity and a compelling quirkiness.
Also, has the surprising twist of the fatalities.
Thank you so much for reading my story and giving this specific and encouraging feedback.