Archive for women and friendship

Carmen, Still

Posted in The Word: Stories with tags , , on 11/21/2012 by Janet Fitch

The Word: FOIL

Yes, I’m her foil, her heterosexual Alice B. Toklas, her dogsbody, her step n’ fetchit man.  Companion was the term they used in the dear old days back when we met at Mills, that during the War. Carmen and Addy. Who was the comic who put us into the same room. Both from Southern California, poor dear. They must have supposed we knew each other. Or at least traveled in the same circles.  That we’d take comfort in one another, being so far from home.

But Carmen was from Bel Air, and I was from Whittier. Her father was a big man in the studios, while mine edited a small town newspaper. (No one ever asked what the mothers ‘did,’ but for the record, hers collected art, and mine went to church and grew a Victory garden.)

Sixty-some years ago.

Who would have put money on us?

Carmen still glittered, I’ll give  her that much.  Even as a college girl she had. I’ll never forget how a car came for us, to take us to the Opera in the City. Girls spied on us from the windows of the dorm.  I’d needed a formal gown, I remember.  I made mine, pale yellow with a jewel neck, a color I thought looked well with my pale hair, and my blue eyes and my freckles. But I disappeared next to Carmen, with her luxuriant black hair and olive green dress with the plunging back.

I don’t mean to sound envious. Who would want to be Carmen? It would be like wanting to be a hurricane. Tearing through the world, knocking down trees, drowning everything in her path.  Ruin in every direction, ruin of your own creation.

Girls didn’t like her. Women,.  She had to wait until she was so famous, everyone admired her–and took her peculiarities as part of the package. But back then, they expected you to be just another nice girl from a good family, which meant–behave. She scandalized them by being both nouveau riche, and–they didn’t have to say it–Jewish.

But I was dazzled by her.  And I was her friend.

Tonight, the hair was silver and wound in a thick chignon I knew was half purchased, her bony arm bore six inches of jeweled bangles, the dress was scarlet. Oscar de La Renta. At eighty, she was still the most daring thing in the room. And I was myself, as ever. Gray hair bobbed,  black pants elastic-waisted, wearing a silk kimono bought on a trip to Hong Kong in the ‘seventies.

“Addy! Take this, dear.” She thrust a half-eaten strawberry into my hand, a balled up napkin, turning to smile at the photographer, arms around two young glittering friends.

Yes, that was me, there to hold her sweater or a wet glass when the photographers came around,  The gooey feeling of the strawberry in my hand. I wanted to throw it at her.  People said, yes Carmen’s a handful, but it must have had its moments–a girl from Whittier, you’ve stayed at the Dorchester, you’ve met Picasso, You fly first class, there’s a a car and driver in every city.

But I’ve  been well-paid– in wet glasses and half-eaten strawberries.

I drifted back to the catering kitchen–there was a personal one and a larger one for parties–where black-and-white-clad boys and girls smoked and gossiped as they cleaned up.  I liked they didn’t stop when I came in.  I dumped the strawberry into the trash, and wiped my hand, asked a young man for a cigarette–my once a year treat.

I have been her shadow for sixty years.  Good old Addy. Through all seven of her marriages, one more disastrous than the next.  I wear the same dress to them all now–it seems ridiculous to buy new ones.

I remembered the gown she wore for my sole trip to the altar. Schaparelli pink. For a Methodist wedding in Whittier. Ha. My mother was appalled, but I should have  known. She just couldn’t bear to be in anyone’s shadow. Not even on my wedding day.

But when Jim lay dying, in the bed at Cedars with all his tubes, she brought us pastrami and pickles and scotch. Her then-husband couldn’t bear the sight of the dying–he was, as she would say, a piece of work. Number six, the designer. But Carmen stayed with us, night after night, playing gin rummy, running to the nurse’s station to bawl them out, she snapped at their heels like a border collie. She’d invited me to come live with her after the funeral.

“I can’t live under the same roof as that,” I said. The husband, Danny somebody, waiting by the Bentley.

“It’s not the same roof,” Carmen said.  “It’s the carriage house. There’s a huge lawn between you.”

Then Danny was gone, and the one after that.  But I’m still here.

So funny, who proves the most important person in your life.  I poured myself some scotch. I could hear her out there laughing, she had a big braying laugh, the girls at Mills used to mock it, but she’s known for it now.  And I toasted her. For she was my foil as well.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: DARK


A Lean Cuisine

Posted in The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , , on 12/20/2010 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Nose

Melody sat curled the on her couch, watching a Hugh Grant movie. She loved this film, but this afternoon, she couldn’t concentrate. She glanced at her cell to see if Geneva had called yet. She couldn’t wait to hear what had happened with her and Mike. Was she going to finally dump his sorry ass? Or would she let herself be sucked in again? And who was Mike, anyway, just some guy, just a dumb guy with a dumb job, she could never even remember what, some job type job with the city.

Still no call. Ever since Geneva and Mike got together, her friend had become nearly a stranger. She used to share every crisis, each triumph. She couldn’t go a half-day without checking in. It didn’t have to be a big thing. A DKNY jacket found for $40 at the Jewish Women thrift store. Or the dozens of near-misses with near-celebrities she met on the magazine she worked for. Her tangled relationships with exlovers and siblings. Every day there was something, Pete the photo editor had stood closer than usual, did she think she something was going on? Her mother had taken to wearing animal prints–should she tell her it was beyond the beyond?

After the parties Geneva attended for her magazine, Melody could hardly wait to get the call the next day, find out how it had gone, if she’d met anyone, what the guy had said and where they’d gone, what his apartment looked like, the things they did in bed. One had the equipment but didn’t know what to do with it, another was tiny but surprisingly inventive. One pulled her hair, another, a famous actor, wanted her to put makeup on him.

And now Melody couldn’t even get a callback. They’d been so tight, since elementary school. She remembered the time in 11th grade Geneva thought she was pregnant! And time she picked up a TV actor in the vegetable department at Trader Joe’s. And now it was like Melody was shit on her shoes.

The phone rang, but it was just Greenpeace. And then Elissa, the receptionist at the law firm, who had even less going on than Melody did.

It was five, the time on Sundays they’d usually chat, but now Geneva was with Mike, and suddenly, it was like she’d forgotten Melody’s number.

Melody had seen this movie three times already. She adored Hugh Grant. Hughie was her idea of a heavenly hookup–though to be sure, getting caught with an ugly hooker having car sex in Hollywood showed less suavity than you’d imagine. She had promised herself she would not call Geneva again. But she couldn’t resist. She just had to know.

She called the familiar number, Geneva’s picture on the screen, her big dark eyes and longish nose, the bangs she’d worn since forever.

“Hi, Mel.” Melody could hear music playing in the background, rock, a boy singing, something cool and original. Geneva always had something new and interesting playing. Never TV.

“Hi Gen. I was just thinking of you, haven’t heard from you in a while. I left a few messages–” but better not to mention that. “What’s up with you?”

She could hear the band in the background, and then Geneva’s sigh. “Let’s talk about you, Mel. What’s new with you?”

It was a strange thing to say. “Oh, same old same old.”

“Oh, surely you’re doing something,” Geneva said. Something in her voice. “Gone anywhere interesting? Seen a new show? Met anyone?”

Was she mad at her? “You know I would have told you if I had.”

“Would you?” Geneva said.

“Are you mad at me? I haven’t even talked to you for two weeks. You never return my calls.” She could feel her chest tightening, the tears welling up.

“Look, Mel, I’m just a normal person, now. I make dinner. I get the flu. I go out with Mike and have beers with his buddies at Parks and Rec. You’re the single girl. Why don’t you entertain me for a change?”

That band, the cool, nasally sound. Now she wished she hadn’t called. Why was Geneva mad at her? “Are you bored? Why don’t you tell Mike to take you somewhere.”

“So I can tell you about it?” Geneva said. “No. No, Mel. This is the way it’s going to be. From now on, I’ll call you and I’ll say, ‘hey what’s up?’ and you tell me. I think that’s what I’m going to do. So I’ll call you Wednesday, okay? Wednesday. And you tell me what all’s going on. Bye, Melody. Have fun.”

And there was a dial tone on the line.

Melody closed her phone and put it on the coffee table. Have fun. What was Geneva getting at? That Melody had nothing to do but snoop in Geneva’s life?

She turned back to the set, Hugh and Drew Barrymore, the car sex guy and the juvenile drug addict turned producer. Suddenly, she didn’t want to watch them. She would never be like these people, with their glamorous problems. She thought fleetingly of the Lean Cuisine she was going to nuke for dinner. Monday morning at the law firm. Why did Geneva be so mean. It wasn’t fair. Did she think people could just decide to be interesting? That they what? sort of fell out the door into an interesting life?

She stared at the blank TV screen, listening to the guys upstairs bicker about who would take the dog out in the rain. Was that all she had?

Okay, she could go out. She could show Geneva, she could be interesting. She could brush her hair and put on some lipstick and go out to some restaurant by herself, some bar. Maybe meet someone, why not?

But she as she imagined it, it just seemed depressing. Schlepping out, sodden and dripping wet, to some restaurant, some bar, and trying to have an adventure. Meet some pathetic boring guy, and pretend to be interested in his stupid life. She could even take him home with her. and pretend it was fun. “Oh yeah, Bill, I met him at Chin Chin. Yeah, I took home.”

And then what. Maybe he would steal her blind, or give her the clap. Maybe he’d fall in love with her and she wouldn’t be able to get rid of him. What if he was a junkie? Or didn’t like her enough to call her again?

If only Geneva hadn’t gotten so boring. It was so infuriating when women got stuck with men like Mike. They just drained the right life out of them. Who needed friends like that anyway.

Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

Next week’s word is: RAZOR