“Fran! Your phone is ringing!” Eliza is yelling at me from the living room. I must’ve left it there when I was cooking. I can see it from the hallway, vibrating away on the wet bar. 

Eliza is folding laundry on the couch, watching a baseball game. 

“Oh shit,” I let out when I see who’s calling and feel my stomach clench up.

“What’s going on?” Eliza asks without looking up. It’s the bottom of the ninth and the full hamper next to her is a thin excuse for this indulgence of hers.

“It’s Mark.”

Instantly, she is on her feet and looking at me, unaware of who’s on bat.

“You don’t have to answer, Fran.”

I don’t want to either, but what if it’s important? He’s not one to troll and we haven’t spoken for months. There must be a good reason….

“Fran? You hear me? You don’t owe him anything.”

Except possibly half of my assets. Eliza can come on a bit strong but I appreciate her so very much right now.

“What if something happened to him? Or someone in the family?!”

“There’s no reason to think that. Either way, you have no obligation to answer.”

“It’s gotta be important. He hasn’t called in months.”

“Ok, now you’re spiraling.”

Before I realize what’s happening, she leaps over and snags the phone from my reach and sends the call to voicemail.

“What if he’s being held hostage?”

“Then he will leave the ransom instructions in the voicemail which you can forward to the police.”

“But….what about..” I try to plead but Eliza is unwavering.

“Fran, remember when you first moved in with me?”


“I was so proud of you because you were taking control of your own life again. Don’t hand it back to him. Here’s your phone. You don’t have to listen to this voicemail ever and you certainly don’t have to listen to it right away, okay?”

The TV errupts as everyone cheers for a historic home-run, breaking the post-season record.

“Thanks for making dinner,” Eliza says having cleaned out her plate.

“Are you ready for dessert?”

“Dessert? I didn’t see you make that?”

“Ok, I just picked up a pint of ice cream. Cashew milk snickerdoodle!”

“You know me so well.”

“Plus, I bet it will pair great with the bourbon you brought when they had you cover the Louisville line”

“Alright, bring it on!”

“Hey, I’m sorry I ruined your game,” I say as I set the bowl down in front of her. She scoffs at me.

“This isn’t 1985, I rewound it on the TV thing.”

“Yeah but it’s not the same.”

“Hey! You’re more important to me, okay? Besides, it was still epic. Now will you stop it with the dishes and join me for a drink?”

She gets up and raises her glass.

“To being brave and strong and to learning to be your own person again! To you my friend!”

“Stop it, you’re gonna make me cry!”

“Crying is allowed. Just don’t dilute the bourbon,” she says, taking a swig of hers.

“I haven’t listened to the vociemail yet.”

“You don’t have to either.”

She puts a spoonful of ice cream in her mouth and holds it in to sip bourbon over it. She savors it, evaluating the taste like someone at a wine tasting (except she’d never be caught with such low ABV). 

“Never thought anything good was gonna come out of me getting put back on a domestic line but I’m happy to stand corrected.”

“Eliza come on, you’re not serious.”

“Of course I’m serious. You’re my friend. I know you were in love and worked your butt off to make that marriage work, but it takes two to tango. I, for one, think you stayed too long. You’re a total badass and you’ve always forged your own past, but from where I’m standing, you’ve really learned to minimize yourself in that relationship. Before you met Mark you became the first woman on the Liberty Lanes all-time leader board, but now you won’t even come close to any bowling alley with me because so it’s become so intertwined with the relationship. This is not a criticism; you never have to go bowling ever again if you don’t want to, and I hope you know I’d be the first one to hand you a Molotov cocktail if you wanted to burn the Lanes down. But what I really think you need is to step into being yourself again, and to do that you’ll need time and space away from him.”

Her voice is trembling. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her like this. Is this who Eliza is underneath all her cool and accomplishments? I don’t know how to react–that was a lot that she just shared but some of it rings true and some of it makes me feel deeply uncomfortable, which means it’s also probably true. 

“So what I’m saying is, if you want me to delete that voicemail for you, I will.”

I consider that for a moment, but I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. If the shoe was on the other foot, I wouldn’t want Mark to ignore me. I have an idea and take a deep breath to gather my courage.

“Would you listen to it for me?”

“OK, you can relax,” Eliza says, taking the phone off her ear. “It’s nothing urgent, no one is in danger.”

“So? What did he say?”

She looks at me with a piercing look. 

“It’s late and you’ve had a lot to drink, I’ll tell you tomorrow.” Then she grabs my phone again and deletes the voicemail before I can say anything.

“But-but-you can’t do that.”

“Trust me, it’s nothing bad or crazy, I just think it’s been enough for one day.”

“I won’t be able to fall asleep!”

She laughs a hearty laugh, glancing at the empty bottle and ice cream container. Point taken. Except--

“How am I supposed to step into my own person or whatever, if you’re treating me like a child?!”

“OK, fair point. He wants to discuss some tax thing and catch up.”


“He said he’s been thinking about you and wanted to know if you’d grab lunch with him.”

“And you’re…..okay with this idea?”

“He sounded–I can’t believe I’m going to say this– nice? You’re still technically married to him, it’s not the worst idea to keep some level of cordiality.”

“That seems reasonable. And odd, coming from you. No offense.”

“None taken and don’t be stupid. I’ll come with you as the get-away driver.”

Eliza devised the plan with her signature touch of cynical brilliances. I would meet with Mark for lunch at the new falafel place. It’s casual but not too cheap. Since it’s new, it’s one of the few places in town not tied to our romantic history. Meanwhile, her and Nicole will hit our favorite brunch spot just down the street. Should things go sour, I’ll also text or call either one of them to get an “emergency” call that will get me out of there and I’ll run into their consoling arms. Or I can escape through the bathroom into the back alley and they’ll come to my rescue. If everything goes well, I will just join them for boozy kombucha and sourdough avocado toast. We’re meeting on Saturday because his bowling team practices that afternoon, so we know he can’t drag it out too long. I can do this. 

As Saturday approaches, I grow nervous. I’ve been trying to tell myself that this is a normal, adult, healthy thing to do. It would be unreasonable to completely cut off contact with someone who used to mean so much to me. Plus there’s the tax thing. It’s fine. I’m fine.

Except I’m freaking out. I had a visceral reaction to getting a phonecall from him and then had to have Eliza listen to the voicemail. How will I handle being with him in person, even if at a public place? Hard to believe that we used to share the same bed, naked. But of course we had for years and that’s what got me here.

“So, what have you been up to?” he asks, putting away his laptop. We were able to agree on how to handle our one remaining joint bank account and the health insurance plan it’s tied to. As for the tax issue, his lawyer actually thinks we can be divorced before the end of the year and thus file separately. That would be a relief.

I find myself wanting to answer honestly. I tell him about work, I ask about his cat. To be sure, I stay away from my feelings and this odd self-discovery and a new perspective I’ve gained on our marriage that isn’t exactly flattering. I think that’s only fair–I’m sure he has a version of the story that’s not so flattering to me. As Eliza says, it takes two to tango.

I tell him about the work conference I have coming up.

He tells me about an upcoming stand-up show that he thinks I’d like and ask if I’d like to come with him. I ask him to email me the details just so I have a way out, but I’m a little surprised to find myself considering it. 

He’s perfectly nice, charming even. I can see what I saw in him and that, in a way, is the biggest relief of all–I was not out of my mind to fall for him. 

Just was the check arrives–his treat, by the way, this is not the man I was married to–he mentions that he’s stopped bowling.

“It just isn’t fun anymore,” he lingers on the thought for a moment, but then adds, “Terry just had twins and stopped managing the schedule, so the other guys got flaky.”

“Too bad, I’m sorry to hear that,” I say, sincerely.

“That’s just life, things change,” he shrugs. “But hey, let me know about the show.”

It’s not until I walk into the brunch spot that I realize we actually talked for a long time. Without Mark’s bowling, there was nothing forcing an end time, and I didn’t need any rescuing.

“Thank god! You had us worried!” Eliza greets me from afar, perhaps a bit loudly, attracting the attention of the entire restaurant. 

“I’ll have the seasonal boozy booch,” I tell the server who is now hovering thanks to Eliza.

“Would you like a pitcher or a glass?”

I hesitate and look at Nicole and Eliza.

“Pitcher please, also some water and your hummus sampler.” We’re gonna be here a while.

“Wait, so are you getting back together?” Nicole asks when I finish the story

“Definitely not. I can’t wait to be divorced happily ever after.”

“Lunch and comedy show plans--sure sounds like a date to me” Nicole says, teasing me.

“Ok now you sound like a republican congressman. If that’s the definition of dating I’m way sluttier than I ever realized was possible.”

Eliza laughs out at that but then counters: “Fair point Fran, but also, you gotta admit it’s a little odd.”

“Yeah, sure, it’s new and unexpected. But we were married for years and while we’re definitely better apart, this show seems like something we’ll both enjoy.” 

They both seem like they want to object but can’t come up with anything coherent.

“First things, first, however--what are you doing tomorrow, I need to dust off my bowling shoes.”

May 09, 2020 03:52

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