Yesterday I had lunch with two of my friends; Jessica and Lena. I was going to write 'close friends', but that would imply that they know me; which of course isn’t true. More the point would be to say they have known of my existence for many years. They have never really known me.
We met at a local restaurant which I’m sure if Jess were writing this story, would be described as our favorite; which also isn’t true.
I hate the place, with its sparse, trendy decor and too cool, L’Oreal Blonde #27 hostess, who I swear smirks at my tangle of red curls.
You imagine things Lena says as she reaches over and tries to tuck one of my criminal curls behind my ear.
I do imagine things, but not that smirk I say plucking the curl free again.
Lena rolls her eyes and sighs: And you don’t smile enough. You’re so pretty when you smile.
Lena always seems so disappointed when I don't match her expensive designer purse.
Before we’ve even ordered, Jess blurts out what’s really on the menu: Tony said he saw you downtown last week, talking to those homeless people again.
She spits the word 'homeless' as though it tastes too awful to keep in her mouth.
Thanksgiving is coming I say with a shrug, as if that explains everything…which it should.
I can see Jess is already exasperated with me; a new record.
I drop my eyes to the menu so she can't see my thoughts: Tony, her Brooks Brothers perfect husband. I can imagine the disgust in his voice as he reported seeing me, his wife's strange friend, downtown communing with the homeless.
Funny how he didn’t find me all that strange when he was groping my ass in their kitchen at last years Christmas party; whispering suggestions dirtier than any of the great unwashed whose company I prefer.
We promised we wouldn’t do this. I look up at the sound of her voice. Lena, always the peacemaker is glaring at Jess.
We promised her, just lunch she says.
Which of course isn’t true. Once a month for six years, and it has never been just lunch.
Ever since my husband died. Ever since I stopped being part of their Noah’s Arc triumvirate, where we all walked two by two, it has never been just lunch.
It has been reassuring. I soothe their guilt that in spite of my banishment from their couple’s world, I am really ok…often better than ok.
It has been manipulative. I use their middle class guilt to garner donations for causes I support.
It has been anesthetic. They are comforted imagining that their soccer mom world is somehow more secure than mine. That it could never happen to them.
It has been agonizing. They prod my old wounds to reassure themselves that I have healed.
It has been sanctifying. I am their favorite project, their favorite good deed.
It has never been just lunch.
Did you bring your stories? Lena asks in an attempt to derail what she can feel brewing between Jess and myself.
I pull the copies from my battered leather satchel. Lena eyes it with disgust.
I can’t believe you still carry that thing. It’s god-awful. You really need a good bag she says, looking lovingly at the new Prada purse sitting by her feet.
She reaches for the stack of stories in my hand that I’m suddenly wishing I hadn’t agreed to let them read.
I imagine Lena in her pristine kitchen, perched on a stool at her cold marble topped counter, her sharp, perfectly manicured fingers dissecting my words looking for some sign of dysfunction or disease.
I imagine Jess shaking her head as she reads them in bed, while Tony sleeps beside her dreaming of my defilement.
As Lena takes the papers and is about to begin reading, our food mercifully arrives. She puts them aside and the waitress sets Jess’ cup on top of the small pile.
They begin to eat but I don't touch my food. I’m nervous about the stories. Lena and Jess don't seem to notice. They prattle on about kids, the PTA and Kenneth Cole’s latest collection.
I don’t say a word. I’m too busy focusing. I'm concentrating, staring at Jess' cup on top on the stack of stories. I'm trying to use my mind to force it to topple and spill across the pages; to obliterate my written words with a sweet puddle of Cafe au Lait.
Jess misinterprets my staring at the cup as a sign that I am anxious for them to begin reading.
Gimme one, before her head explodes she says reaching for the pile.
She slides the first story, one titled “Dancing With The Dead” out from under her cup and begins reading between bites of smoked salmon.
She reads a bit and then blurts: You don’t really see ghosts! in the same matter of fact tone she uses with her children.
Yes I do I reply. That one just ordered the Chicken Rochambeau I say, slyly tilting my head toward an empty table.
It’s more than Jess can stand. She looks across at Lena, who is smiling in spite of her best efforts not to.
She just insists on being so..so…HER!!” Jess sputters and loudly slaps the pages onto the table, upsetting her cup.
The contents spill and splatter across the stack of stories, then run in a stream off the end of the table, puddling right on top of Lena’s new Prada purse.
Lena shrieks and jumps up, toppling her chair. The blonde hostess rushes over to shush Lena and help mop up the mess.
I remain seated, ignoring the commotion. I calmly take my first bite of food, push a lock of red hair out of my eyes, smile and say: I think my next story is going to be about telekinesis.