55 comments

American Contemporary

Of course, Missy was making a scene at the reception's welcome table. 

Thirty-five years had not blunted Missy’s expectations that she should be greeted by anything but a bevy of uncaged doves and a fanfare of trumpets.

She seemed disappointed with us. 

“I don’t see my name,” she asked, blinking at the table cards. “Do you think there’s been a mistake?”

“Apparently,” we replied.

Over Missy’s carefully coiffed head read a banner: “Jessi & Clive - Still Alive!” 

Black and gold balloons attempted to make the church’s musty multipurpose room more festive for Jessi and Clive’s 35th wedding anniversary celebration. They'd married right out of high school.

“Well, check again please,” Missy insisted. “I’m sure my husband sent in the RSVP card.”

“You aren’t on the list,” we said, offering Missy little consolation. “But we can pencil you in. There’s room at Table 29. It’s in the back near the restrooms.” 

“My husband assured me he sent everything in on time,” Missy mumbled, her head on a swivel, looking for someone to blame. “He’ll be here any minute. You remember Todd—”

Yep. We remembered Todd. Todd the Rod. He was the only student in our graduating class that was prettier than Missy. While Missy kept her knees locked together, Todd ran through the freshmen and sophomore girls and—rumor had it—a few of the substitute teachers, two lunch ladies, and possibly half the PTA.

After all, it was the Eighties.

“Todd will be by later to handle everything. I’ll just fill out this nametag.” 

Missy grabbed a purple Sharpie and wrote her name in large curling letters. She still dotted the “i” in her name with a little heart. She peeled off the backing of the nametag and slapped MISSY on her left tit.

“Okay, Missy. Have fun,” we said. 

After they married, Missy and Todd moved up north. We'd heard she had quite a career in the city that left no time for family reunions, summer trips home, or long lunches with old acquaintances. We found it strange, though. Missy had been so involved in high school, in the local church, in the community. But, like all small towns, more people decided to leave than stay. Those who stayed cleaved unto each other especially tight. 

Those who left, left. We didn't light too many candles in the windows. 

We watched Missy expertly sashay into the small throng, her chin tilted upward to give her crepey neck a more swan-like appearance. Her high-waisted pencil skirt showed off a narrow waist and impressive calves, her legs capped off by impossibly high heels. Our bunions hurt watching her click around in shoes so orthopedically unsound.

The rest of us had acclimated to our fifth decade of life, happily shoveling down spoonfuls of potato salad and cramming wedges of chocolate sheet cake into our laughing mouths, our ample bottoms overhanging the metal folding chairs. 

We sat in semicircles about the room, clustered by gender. Our husbands talked about sports teams and vented about politics. We gossiped about other people’s bad decisions and whispered words like “cancer” and “biopsy.” 

But we all watched Missy from the corner of our eyes. 

Missy circulated around the hall as people conglomerated, leaving Missy a lone gazelle amongst wildebeests. She saw one or two of her old friends who let Missy air kiss them. Like a game of musical chairs, her form grew more and more solitary as intimate friend groups found each other. 

We could see her calculate the decades she’d missed.

Missy put on a coquettish smile and walked by our husbands, hoping to start up a conversation. The men looked sheepish, offered her a small nod, and then resumed their conversation about the new chicken place near the hospital. 

With each passing rotation around the room, we watched Missy’s chin droop. Her eyes watched the doorway. She pulled out her iPhone. She put it away. She walked to the refreshment table, poured a cup of punch, tasted it, then threw it out. She crossed her arms and tapped her long lacquered nails. She pulled out her iPhone, texted something, then frowned.

There was nothing here for her.  

We looked at each other. We were the minor players in high school, the quiet girls who said little but saw everything. Wordlessly, we moved en masse over to Missy, full of strange compassion.

“Is Todd on his way?”

She startled. We had interrupted her private reverie.

“Uh, no. Todd isn’t coming,” she smiled thinly. Her dental work was breathtaking, her teeth as straight and white as when she called out cheers on the football field. Her lips were accentuated by pretty plum lipstick. We preferred our tubes of Chapstick.

“Oh, I guess we’ll see him another time,” we said.

“Absolutely.” Her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Todd was really hoping to see you all again.”

Todd the Rod would be hard-pressed to remember any of our names, we thought. 

“So, are you visiting for a while?”

“I’m home,” she said flatly. “For the duration.” She looked distracted, attempting to find her bearings, everything appearing both familiar and not. 

“If we can be of any help—” we offered.

“Thanks, but I’m good. I’m—We’re really good. I’m just back in town for a little while,” she added and quickly turned her head. 

We collectively envied the wave of her thick blonde hair, cared for with biotin supplements and hot oil treatments. Our hair was brown and frizzy, clogging up the shower drain as it thinned. 

Missy had had enough. 

With a final look around the room, much smaller now than she’d once remembered, she took long strides toward the exit, not acknowledging anyone before pushing open the door to the parking lot and disappearing into the night. 

Her departure left waves of nostalgia trailing in her wake, and for a moment we felt like guilty conspirators. But in the closing moments of Jessi and Clive’s 35th wedding anniversary celebration, there were dishes to clear, tables to wipe, chairs to fold, and balloons to pop. 


June 09, 2023 18:49

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55 comments

Michał Przywara
21:50 Jun 12, 2023

"There was nothing here for her." That sums up the story - both her return, but it sounds like, also her personal life. Or alternately, "you can never go home again." Missy's irrevocably an outsider and she no longer fits in with those of her youth. Perhaps she never fit in in the first place. And now, "the quiet girls who said little but saw everything" see Missy's discomfort, have reasonable insight into her married life, and offer to help her. Or do they? As much as Missy is a stranger to them, they are also strangers to her. Who know...

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13:19 Jun 13, 2023

As the ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher with the most unfortunate name, Heraclitus, once famously said: No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. You make an excellent point about Missy not fitting in anywhere, which is probably what underpins most midlife crises. We humans cannot help being herd animals, but what if we can't find our herd? You make another excellent point of the townies' schadenfreude. Of course they are hoping Missy's life implodes ("bless her heart"). Hypocrisy...

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Chris Miller
09:53 Jun 11, 2023

Really well written, Deidra. Great short story writing which suggests lots of things without laying them out, like how the women actually feel towards Missy, other than strangely compassionate. They could have enjoyed her isolation, but they didn't. I would like to see Todd the Rod have to face the balloons, but Todd's never coming.

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12:23 Jun 11, 2023

Thanks, Chris. Missy has reaped what she has sown. I think in the end, life is all about relationships... rich friendships carefully cultivated and nurtured over the years. All that time at the office is impossible to get back. And I think the pandemic showed us how important a work/life balance is -- and what a "successful" life looks like. (I dated Todd the Rod in HS. Awful then. Still awful now.)

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Mike Panasitti
13:14 Jun 13, 2023

Deidra Lovegren, no you didn't! Oh, Deidra, yes you did! Make "feels too good To be bad" Judgment calls As a high school kid. Why the Rods of this world get away with the things they do, I can understand. That they're permitted to be "awful then and awful now" by the discontented (and lesser endowed) is something I'll rail against till my dying days. I hope you're well and over the worst part of grieving for Van the cat.

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13:25 Jun 13, 2023

Hi Mike! Yeah, I could have made some far better choices in my youth :) but I would have missed all the life lessons (and been a lesser writer.) It is weird that the Rods and "mean girls" tend to get away with their narcissistic terrorism throughout their lives. But I'm sure the universe evens it out (e.g., they come back as vermin in the next life?) Thanks for the Van condolences. I found an 11-year-old deaf cat with few teeth at the shelter to love. We call him General Sherman (since he looks like he's survived a few wars.) Volunteering...

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Glenda Toews
00:56 Jun 19, 2023

Oh. My. Goodness. Deidra, I laughed out loud! Thank-you for that! Loved this "Todd ran through the freshmen and sophomore girls and—rumor had it—a few of the substitute teachers, two lunch ladies, and possibly half the PTA." The whole story called my era and I enjoyed it. Gooooo ladies of the eighties :D

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11:11 Jun 19, 2023

"Ladies of the 80's" --> we need some pink jackets, Love's Baby Soft perfume, and some really thick lip gloss.

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Glenda Toews
13:16 Jun 19, 2023

...only the rollerball kind will do!

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Sherry Bazley
00:23 Jun 19, 2023

Great story, Diedre. Tightly written! I like how you use witty, colorful commentary by the narrator(s), (clever choice, a 'we') to draw Missy's character. Though the story is punchy and direct, you manage a subtlety that gently hints at the complexity of human beings. Really enjoyed the read. I'm new to this site and hope to learn writing skills here. Thank you for sharing.

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11:14 Jun 19, 2023

Welcome to Reedsy! Lots of very talented people here. Some of us chat on a Discord channel about writing, tips, contests, etc. Link's in my bio. :)

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Zack Powell
21:50 Jun 18, 2023

I've seen a study before that claimed reading (literary) fiction improves one's empathy for and understanding of other people. And this story seems like such a prime example in favor of that argument. Wow, this made me feel things. First: I'm very jealous of the use of first-person plural POV. It's been on my writer's bucket list for years, and I've just never been able to succeed (and it's even rarer that I see it out in the wild). Want to congratulate you on not only writing it, but writing it well. Perfect setting and situation for that ...

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11:25 Jun 19, 2023

Mr. Powell (!) Thank you for the magnificent comment. As an English teacher, I have seen students change their perspective by simply reading a poem -- but yes, reading anything increases knowledge, compassion, and empathy. It's the ultimate safe space. I've rarely used the plural POV, but some cohort groups are comprised of such a mob mentality that there isn't any other choice. (I just finished a year teaching at a rural school. Brigadoon, 'merican style.) As for Missy, if she peeled back the façade, what would be there? At the core, are...

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Delbert Griffith
13:28 Jun 15, 2023

Deidra. My friend. How could you? How could you take an overused, predictable plot and turn it into one of the best tales I've read this week? I suspect there's some wizardry afoot. LOL Seriously, echoes of "The Last Picture Show" resonated through this story. Profundities abound. I think I know everything about Missy's life - and Rod's life - with your spare descriptions. I'm simply in awe at how you can create a riveting tale out of nothing. Also, it was a master stroke in leaving Rod out of the picture, as it were. Missy, alone with her...

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18:14 Jun 15, 2023

To quote the Good book: "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity."

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Tommy Goround
21:30 Jun 12, 2023

"Coiffed." Yum. "Slapped it on her left tit." "Those that stayed cleaved unto each other....tight." This went from sexy to sad.

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01:24 Jun 13, 2023

Yep. High school.

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Lily Finch
15:24 Jun 11, 2023

The story leaves a lot for the reader to infer. I like that in stories. The writing was superb---as always. The trouble with Missy goes far beyond the anniversary/reunion ceremony of her peers. I sense there is trouble in paradise with Missy's marriage, So well done Diedra! LF6

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20:34 Jun 11, 2023

I appreciate your kind remarks, Lily. Yep. I don't think Todd the Rod was good for Missy, or maybe she was terrible for him? Either way, the small-town gossips will love debating that over pork BBQ.

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Russell Mickler
02:36 Jun 10, 2023

Hey Deidra - We leap right into the action with Missy. Your characterization of this woman is drop-dead funny. This could have easily been a high school reunion. I liked the uncaged doves line, and the "Still Alive!" banner. Okay, sorry, but I'm going to make those and put'em on Etsy. This para cracked me up, "Missy grabbed a purple Sharpie..." Expert mode: "Our husbands talked about sports teams and vented about politics. We gossiped about other people’s bad decisions and whispered words like “cancer” and “biopsy.”" A lesson in immedi...

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11:54 Jun 10, 2023

Thanks for the read. Class of '84 here. Impossible to really explain how the 80s vibe was to the uninitiated. High school is completely different now. The students aren't unified, as everyone buries their faces into the black mirrors in their pockets, co-existing together but worlds apart.

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Mary Bendickson
19:48 Jun 09, 2023

Typical high school politics. Glory days hard to relive.🥺

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11:50 Jun 10, 2023

In the words of the immortal Bruce Springsteen: Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture A little of the glory of, well time slips away And leaves you with nothing mister but Boring stories of . . . (sing along now) Glory days

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Darvico Ulmeli
14:13 Mar 11, 2024

I used to imagine how I would look when I met people I hadn't seen for 20 - 30 years, and I guess it would be similar to something like this. It can be avoided because they are not the same people I knew; they are strangers. I think asking questions and observing people is our way of searching for something familiar in them as proof that they are the same people we used to know. I think. Nice story.

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17:27 Mar 11, 2024

Brilliant comment about our searching for real (or imagined) connections with present and past. Thanks, Darvico.

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Bruce Friedman
21:33 Jul 04, 2023

Great story Deidra. Reminded me of the dynamics of a high school reunion and made me want to write something about one or two of them that I have attended. I have a question about this quote: “I’m home,” she said flatly. “For the duration.” She looked distracted, attempting to find her bearings, everything appearing both familiar and not. “If we can be of any help—” we offered. “Thanks, but I’m good. I’m—We’re really good. I’m just back in town for a little while,” she added and quickly turned her head. She's back for the duration but o...

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Amanda Lieser
01:47 Jun 26, 2023

Hi Deidra, Oh my goodness, if only we could speak to our younger selves! The nostalgia that you created for this piece was palpable, and I loved the way that you decided to structure the story by using the term “we”. It instantly brought me into the story! You layered Missy like a beautiful chiffon cake, and I was left intrigued by her. Of course, there are the obvious questions, is she truly happy, is she truly satisfied, are any of us truly ever satisfied, would our high school selves be proud of us today? But the way you ended it, keeping...

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17:50 Jun 26, 2023

“And so it goes...” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

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Helen A Smith
11:33 Jun 23, 2023

Very enjoyable to read with many undertones and references to the past. The eighties was an amazing time! Inferences were drawn more from what Missy didn’t say and the way she held herself than what she actually did say - which I really liked. In spite of her “success” she cut a lonely figure which me me feel sorry for her, even if she did have a high opinion of herself. It was interesting to depict the group’s point of view rather than the setting the story in the first or third person. It made Missy’s isolation all the greater. Beneath t...

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18:03 Jun 23, 2023

Thanks for your generous comment :) This comment gave me a lot of food for thought: "Beneath the surface, you depicted a slight savagery to this kind of social occasion." This made me wonder: are ALL social occasions savage, on one level or another? The competition for attention, for resources, for babes 'n beer? Are we herd animals, all jockeying for position? As for Tod the Rod, I think I'll work on a sequel. Surely that idiot must have a tale to tell :)

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Helen A Smith
11:56 Jun 24, 2023

I’d love a sequel on Tod, the Rod. It would be interesting to see whether he has changed. I think we are all herd animals on one level and on the other, humans are individually capable of great kindness and generosity.

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Wally Schmidt
03:32 Jun 23, 2023

Of course, Missy was making a scene at the reception's welcome table. Thirty-five years had not blunted Missy’s expectations that she should be greeted by anything but a bevy of uncaged doves and a fanfare of trumpets. She seemed disappointed with us. This opener just sets us up for her Missy-ness and everything we need to know about her. Everyone knows a Missy and it makes this piece so relatable. It is also what makes me love everything you write. The fact that you write characters we all know and can relate to (or loathe or pity or lau...

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11:34 Jun 23, 2023

Wally -- thanks for this magnificent comment. A perfect start for a Friday morning. I think most of us feel "other-ed" at some (most) points in our lives. It sucks not to have a tribe, not matter what that tribe may be. In our heart of hearts, I think we all want to "come home." The problem is where to find it.

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Evelyn Griffith
15:30 Jun 22, 2023

Wow! Great job with this! I love how relatable this story is for people of all ages, even though its meant for one specific age group of women. I think it's interesting that even as a relatively recent high-school graduate I resonate with the "There was nothing here for her" line, but in a different way than perhaps Missy does. I think it offers a really interesting sort of connectivity between generations of readers. Very relatable and well written! Nice work!

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15:32 Jun 22, 2023

Evelyn, as an old woman and crazy English teacher, I assure you there is just one human condition. Everything we (authentically) write (from the heart) will touch others. That's what I love about writing: the more brutally honest, the better. :) Thanks for the read. All the best.

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Mostafa Fayad
08:51 Jun 22, 2023

Deidra, good morning from Egypt I would like to tell you some great news, I'm going to put my E-mail address to let you know more when you send me a message, here it's: mostafa.fayad2009@gmail.com This is carrying a great news just like what happened between me and Thomas Brodkin If you have Facebook you can find here: www facebook.com/mostafa.ahmed6020 On WhatsApp you can message me here: +201145711080 What I will tell you, will make you happy Waiting your reply for really great news

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15:25 Jun 22, 2023

You have piqued my curiosity. Email sent.

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Sophia Gavasheli
03:01 Jun 22, 2023

As someone who was not popular in high school, I've always been bitter about the "upper echelons" of my classmates, and this story was fascinating for me. I wonder if I'll be like these women, nostalgic about high school and lost in the past where all that mattered was how popular you were... I love the POV of this story, how it's told from the "we" perspective. I've never seen anyone use that, but it accentuates Missy's outsider-ness so well! And it also gives the story a creepy atmosphere, especially when they advance on her, almost as if...

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15:30 Jun 22, 2023

After teaching high school for many years and was not popular either, I now wear that as a badge of honor. Late bloomers do 100% better in life. Bonus: we learn hard lessons, though painful in our youth, that serve us quite well in the adult sphere. I'm of the mind that people never change. Jerks are jerky all through their jerkoff lives. I think youth and beauty allow us (collective "we" again) to tolerate them, but when the bloom is off the proverbial narcissistic rose? Hoy boy...

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Nina H
16:02 Jun 21, 2023

I know (knew) that Missy (with a heart), as well as the other players in your story and maybe that’s why I loved it?!? Great story and writing.

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15:31 Jun 22, 2023

Thanks, Nina. Always fun to write free therapy for myself :)

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02:12 Jun 21, 2023

Weldone, Deidra. Nice story. I felt a kind of pity for Missy but I also think it's her fault. She was based on the city without paying more attention to her relationship.

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