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Fiction Funny

I see a familiar person coming down the street. She reminds me of my mother but twenty years younger. She is beautiful, relaxed, and glowing like she’s been on vacation, just had mind blowing sex, or she’s rich. Maybe all three. She looks that good. As I get closer, I see she’s carrying a canvas bag. Leafy greens poke out from the top. I assume she’s just been at the farmers market. She also has a bag from Choc, a pastry shop further uptown.

Her stride is very familiar. Her shoulders are back. She swings her arms easily. I can almost hear her humming Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.” When I’m able to see her face, I recognize the twinkle in her eyes and the slight smile of her closed lips. She’s happy. Suddenly I realize she is me. I look around to see if anyone else notices. We’re in New York City walking on Broadway where no one seems to notice anything. And if they do, after a quick sideways glance, they keep moving.

I study her as if I’m a curious but cautious dog. I sniff the air around her as I look her up and down. She’s real. 54. Divorced. She lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment in upper Manhattan with a cat. She writes and makes art. I smell the cat, the ink, and the oil paints. My nose itches from the overwhelming interest in her.

“Hi,” she says, startling me out of my strange, animal-like behavior.

“Hi,” I say at the same time.

“It’s nice to see you,” she smiles knowingly. “I bet you want me to get straight to the point as to why I’m here and, because I’m you and you’re me, small talk would be gratuitous.”

We both nod.

“Well, you see, we lived the same life up until the point when we didn’t. A few days ago, you were thinking about finally quitting your job and giving up the health insurance and the steady income and the social aspects of work you enjoy, just like you thought one year ago when, instead of quitting then, you took the job you’re in right now, a safe job doing events again at a local college. It was a step back, as it turns out. Which you knew when you took the job, but did so because it felt safe. And here you are, a year later, in the same place, but now you’ve got an autoimmune disease and you’re experiencing a nasty flare up of lesions on your back and in your mouth due to the stress of being with people who won’t do things differently from how they’ve done them for thirty years and who micromanage you. And frankly, you got the flare up because you’re not happy doing something you don’t want to do. You’re not being true to yourself. It’s making you stressed. And let’s face it, life is short and getting shorter by the second. You and I both know that. We all know that.

Well, this time, last Friday, I quit the job, and you didn’t.”

We push hair out of our eyes at the same time.

“Now, I’m pursing my dreams wholeheartedly. I’m finishing the final draft of the manuscript about being the creative daughter of an artist and what it’s like to live a creative life and fulfill the promise of art legacy. The book will be finished in August. I’ve told Martha, and she’s already lined up the editor and the agent who are excited to read it. They also know about the second book and are certain it will be well received, and that the museum bookshop will stock it. The collages that I made during the artist residency two years ago will be on the walls at the local coffee shop in June. There will be a reception. You should come. If not then, there will be another opportunity to see the work at the Alumni Art Show reunion weekend. It’s a Saturday. It would be great to see you there. Maybe we can go up together. My artwork will also be featured in a literary magazine. You’re on my mailing list, so you’ll know when it comes out.”

In a pause, she catches me looking at the bag from the pastry shop. We like sweets.

“I stopped at Choc on my way home from the farmers market,” she continues “where they hired me part-time to bake celebration cakes. I’ll try the recipes at home and give the cakes away to people who want homemade birthday cakes but don’t have the time or the means to make them. I’ve always wanted to do that, to learn to bake fancy cakes, but you know that already.”

We laugh. Her laugh is hot-chocolate-with-marshmallows warm. Mine is prickly and self-conscious.

“Oh, and I got into the writers’ conference on a full ride. That’s not until mid-August, so I’ll take a short trip to the Jersey Shore in June. I don’t need too long at the beach, I just want to be by the ocean to hear the waves, smell the salty air, take long walks in the sand. I’ll go to Houston in July to visit Emily and then to Chicago for a long weekend to see mom.”

I stare at myself impressed and slightly annoyed by my narcissism.

“And,” I watched myself look around as if we’re being listened to, “I just met someone. I’m seeing them tonight. We’re going out to dinner and then to hear some live music.”

I watch myself hold up the bag from Choc suggesting that if things go well, there’s dessert to be had.

“I think this might turn into something.” I hear myself say. “I better get going. I want to write a little and take a nap before I go out. Have a good time at the market, they have a lot of beautiful greens today, and the fishmonger is back. Let’s get together soon!”

I watch myself turn and walk away.

Standing on the sidewalk I feel my shoulders droop. Envious of myself and impressed by the guts it took to do what I knew had to be done to be happy. Tears form in the corner of my eyes.

“Why can’t I be like her?”

And then without thinking, I run as fast as I can towards her. As I get closer, I don’t slow down, but instead pick up speed. I close my eyes just before impact, like diving into the deep end of a pool for the first time. Our bodies collide. At first it hurts. A shock of electricity runs through me, but then I feel radiant, relaxed, content. I look down at my hands. My hands are her hands. Soft and gentle, holding the Choc bag and a bag of green market vegetables. I see that the fluke and scallops are wrapped in plastic bags packed with ice. My stress is gone. The sores in my mouth have disappeared. My back has stopped itching and I know the rash is gone. I pull myself together and walk towards home feeling whole again.

April 30, 2023 18:17

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2 comments

Rama Shaar
16:23 May 10, 2023

This is exactly what we should all be feeling! I love the premise and the way you wrote it made it feel real and achievable!

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Tiffany Dugan
22:06 May 10, 2023

Here’s to all feeling our biggest selves!

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