“I can’t move my right arm anymore,” she said, moving her right arm, “Do you see what I mean? It won’t move. Not an inch.”
Back when they were living together, Marcy would have corrected her. In their twenties, every moment was an opportunity for explosion. Their friendship was held together by nitro and lit matches. They could fight about anything--a quality most of their rotating boyfriends loved to mention as though it were some great insight. That’s why the boys never lasted and the friendship did.
Until it didn’t.
“Brett doesn’t want me putting radiators in anymore,” Tanya said, still moving her right arm as though doing so might eventually break it and then she’d be right, “But I told him we got girls in college, we got boys living in the basement. Seven kids. How the heck did I wind up with seven kids? I never wanted any kids. You were the one that wanted kids.”
It was true. Marcy had wanted kids. Marcy had wanted a husband. Marcy had wanted a home in Allstone Park where they had their own water slide and an apple orchard that was just for them. When she heard Tanya and Brett lived there now with their family, she took a bottle of mayonnaise that had been in her fridge for six years and threw it through her sliding glass door. She told the landlord it was hooligans.
Mayonnaise throwing hooligans.
It had been fifteen years since Marcy and Tanya had seen each other. The last time was at Tanya’s wedding. Marcy was the Maid of Honor and she had failed spectacularly at a job that seemed designed to ruin friendships. First, she screwed up the bachelorette party by booking a limousine through a company that turned out to be a scam. When no limo showed up to take the girls to the airport, they missed their flight. When they missed their flight, Tanya screamed at Marcy until security showed up and kicked them all out of the airport. They didn’t speak until the day of the wedding and even then, all they said was “Your train is caught on that nail” and “Thanks.” Marcy thought it would be just another one of those fights, but a week after the honeymoon, she still hadn’t heard from Tanya.
She decided she would not reach out. Tanya had been a Bridezilla and now that Tokyo had fallen, she should be the one to make amends. The trouble is, not talking to a friend after a fight is like not getting a job right away after you get fired. You start to get used to the way things are even if you don’t like it. The next thing you know, it’s been fifteen years, and one day you have a Facebook message from someone you used to consider family asking if you were okay.
“People were dropping like flies around here,” Tanya says, taking a sip of her coffee. She still orders it the same way she used to when she was twenty-five--French Vanilla extra extra so that it resembles milk more than coffee. They were sitting at the new Dunkin Donuts on Grand Mason Boulevard near the apartment they used to live in back when they were right out of college. Marcy was out because she graduated. Tanya was out because she dropped out and started working for her father installing radiators and furnaces. Her brothers had all quit the family business because the work was too hard, but Tanya seemed to love it. She met Brett when she and her father were replacing a heating system at his dental office. He complimented how fast she worked. She told him a dirty joke about a penguin and a haberdasher.
The rest was history.
Marcy was supposed to marry a dentist. Or a doctor. Or somebody who could help her with the come up. Instead, she kept cycling through guys who kept breaking up with her for girls with bigger smiles and smaller brains. By the time she turned forty, she had resigned herself to a life of monotony broken up only by brief vacations to Aruba with her two girlfriends Gina and Gina. She only ever really liked one Gina at a time, but they were nice enough for a woman who had decided that she didn’t really care for people. She had also decided that while it was possible to live a good life without a man, it was hard to talk yourself out of loneliness once it sat down next to you during Jeopardy.
When Alex Trebek died, she thought--Great. My last successful relationship with a man has ended in tragedy.
The pandemic certainly didn’t help matters. Her job doing data entry for the hospital went remote--first temporarily, then permanently. She set up a small office in her dining room, which was fine since she never really dined there anyway. She got some fish. They died. She got more fish. They died. At that point, her aquarium became strictly decorative. When she allowed herself to be vulnerable and tell one of the Gina's over a Zoom date that she was feeling isolated, Gina suggested she try a hiking group.
“Like outside,” asked Tanya, “Like in the outdoors?”
She was joking, but not really.
Life was normal and then it wasn’t. This was the new normal. The normal that looked like working next to the large wooden spoon you’d inherited from your grandmother’s house after she died and hung up next to your dining room table. The normal that was only seeing one Gina in person, because the other Gina was immunocompromised. The normal that was a friend reaching out after fifteen years, because the pandemic had made us all reconsider old grudges and try to revisit better times at new franchise locations.
“So how you been,” Tanya asks, taking a bite out of her jelly stick, “You doing okay?”
Something about the authenticity in her old friend’s voice is what broke her. Or maybe she’d been broken for much longer, but the glue gave out while staring down at her untouched Boston creme. She began to cry. No, that’s not true. She sobbed. She sobbed right there in the Dunkin Donuts across the street from a Best Buy that would be out of business in a month or two once everybody finally conceded that online shopping was the only acceptable form of shopping. Marcy felt the earth spinning, and it made her dizzy. She felt gravity holding her down and she wanted to toss it off like a constrictive scarf around her neck. She felt time moving forward despite the inequity it presented to people like her. People who didn’t get the most from it. People who didn’t know that time’s tail had a little bit of luck stuck to the end of it, and you were meant to grab the luck as the time went by you.
Tanya was never good with emotions. That was always Marcy’s job when they were friends. If someone was crying, Marcy took care of them. When Tanya’s kids cried, it was Brett who tended to their emotional fiascos. Tanya had been raised around Midwestern, Scandinavian men. Her mother had died when she was two. After that it was just her, her father, and her four brothers. She looked at Marcy sitting there crying hysterically all over her donut and she tried to think if there was someone she should call or if there was any comfort she could impart.
“You always made fun of me for ordering jelly sticks,” she said, choosing to state a fact as though it were a fun fact. A nice memory. Something that it wasn’t. It was just something to say. You said it, because what else could you say? What was there to say? That the world was a pit? That they were both so much older than the last time they’d seen each other? That things hurt that never hurt before and only seemed to hurt worse with each passing day? That forty was supposed to be the new thirty and instead it felt like the old forty-five?
“Remember,” Tanya said, clinging to the best she could come up with, “Remember how you used to make fun of me for ordering the jelly sticks?”
Somehow, this did bring about a settlement in Marcy. Her breathing stabilized and the trickling of the tears came to a slow stop.
“Yeah,” she said, a little laugh escaping the back of her throat, “Why did I make fun of you for that? What’s wrong with a jelly stick?”
Tanya shrugged, and now they were both laughing. Laughing at how much they used to bust each other. Laughing at the little things they could go to war over, and how the memory of pain lasts longer than the pain itself.
Laughing over jelly sticks.
“I missed you,” Marcy said, in spite of her better judgment. Telling somebody you miss them always seems like the biggest risk in the world right up until you do it, and then you’re glad you’re did. Marcy was glad, but she was still embarrassed. They became friends the first day of first grade when Marcy shared her lunch with Tanya, because her father had forgotten to pack one for her. They stayed friends until Tanya got in a limousine with a dentist and never looked back. In all that time, they’d said “I love you” or “You’re my best friend.” They weren’t those kind of people. They kept it all in. Everything they had. If you let it out, who knew what might happen? You might let out too much.
“I missed you too,” blurted out Tanya, a tear or two forming at the side of her eyes, “Why do you think I reached out? I’m sorry, you know? I was--I don’t know what I was, but I’m sorry. It’s been too long, you know? Don’t you think it’s been too long?”
Before Tanya could say anything else, Marcy got out of her seat and wrapped her arms around her old friend right there in front of the straw and napkin station. The old men arguing about politics tried not to stare, but they couldn’t help themselves. It wasn’t everyday you saw two women crying in a Dunkin Donuts.
Apparently today was special.
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A great story about friendship in a time when we have more ways to connect, but seem to do it less. That they are connecting at a Dunkin donuts seems perfect. And I *really* want to hear the dirty joke about a penguin and a haberdasher!
Thank you, Marty! I'll tell you that joke one day.
Ok. I'm ready for the joke. This read is worth a second. Yum yum.
Hi Kevin! This was such a beautiful story! I love how you made the rift be about a wedding, because I can definitely remember some pretty intense weddings that I’ve been a part of and being that bride before. I also really loved the way that you focused on each of these characters’ journeys equally, and I was incredibly impressed you manage to do it in 3000 words I picked a favorite line for you: Telling somebody you miss them always seems like the biggest risk in the world right up until you do it, and then you’re glad you’re did. Nice job!
Thank you so much, Amanda. I really enjoyed writing this one, because my favorite kind of stories start with a moment and expand outwards.
Very readable. I can relate to the story. At my age, I have had quite a few friends that regrettably stayed in my past. Well done.
Thank you so much, Ron. I've had the same experience and it was helpful being able to write about a fictional version of it.
Great story! I really enjoyed it. The two characters were believable and their journey from friends to not-friends to friends was compelling. Your descriptions were awesome too. Great job! I’d love for you to check out my newest story and leave some feedback. Thanks!
Thank you so much, Antonio. I'll be sure to read yours today.
Thank you, Rabab!
You reaaaaaally went in on the complicated and entirely confusing emotions that humans experience when it comes to their own lives and the delicate balance of friendships that are too intense because there's history and love, and everything together at once. I loved this! I struggle with characterizing in the narration like this, its super impressive. Plus I read it very fast, so you know I was engaged from start to finish, haha.
Thank you so much, as I get older I have these kinds of interactions more and more. It felt good to give these two a happy ending.
Kevin, a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings dried the story's tears. Reconnecting is such an energy-boosting pastime. I've recently done this with someone I hadn't seen in 50 years. He lives in the Northern Hemisphere, and I live in the Southern Hemisphere, but that has not stopped a steady stream of weekly email catchups, filling each other in with 50 years of life stories. I will beware of those mayonnaise-throwing hooligans from now on; however, a lovely warm story about friendship. Well done!
Thank you, Chris!
Thank you, Tommy.
Awesome opening, very attention grabbing :) The story is a touching moment in a friendship where the two members realize that time, in fact, is not granted. And it just keeps sliding away. Suddenly all the stubborn points they once held so dear don't really matter - but they realize it, and are able to focus on what does. "When she heard Tanya and Brett lived there now with their family, she took a bottle of mayonnaise that had been in her fridge for six years and threw it through her sliding glass door." Excellent specific characterizat...
Thank you, Michal. I can see how that would be confusing. I'll give it another look.