by Jen Grow
Brenda talks to the mirror.
“Why, yes. I’m a floral designer,” she says to an imaginary acquaintance. “I create arrangements for some of the most high profile weddings in town.” This is only partially true, but it makes her feel good to say it.
“How creative,” someone will comment.
“I bet you see some interesting places,” someone else will marvel. “Old mansions and cathedrals.”
“After a while you get used to it,” she answers herself. “All the brides, how beautiful everything is, knowing that you had something to do with it.” She puckers her lips to check her lipstick in the mirror. She curls her hair, draws sparkling shadow across the hoods of her eyes, puts on her best padded bra. She’s dressing for her 20th high school reunion, trying on different outfits. Brenda smiles at herself and winks.
She plans to avoid all direct questions about her own state of marriage by standing next to the food table and eating hors d’oeuvres. “Excuse me,” she’ll say if someone asks. She’ll chew her teriyaki chicken wing and look around the room with a napkin to her mouth. She’ll excuse herself to get a drink at the bar and ask someone, “Have you seen Clyde?” Clyde sat in front of her in her ninth grade science class. She imagines he will remember her with the same crush of fondness she has for him. She hasn’t seen him since graduation. If he’s there, if he remembers her at all, she knows she’ll look good.
Then, when it’s time to leave, she hesitates. She doesn’t want to be early, she says. She sits on her sofa in her dress clothes for a moment and turns on the TV. Old humiliations float around her like ghosts. She was shy and graceless in high school, always embarrassed. A half hour passes. There is still time to go to her reunion, but something holds her back, and for the time being, it’s a program on TV about a woman who believes her husband was wrongfully accused of a crime and is being framed. The investigative reporter seems to have evidence to the contrary, and Brenda is interested to see how it turns out. She’s hoping the husband isn’t lying. She’s almost crossing her fingers about it. This suspense is why she tells herself she can’t leave just yet. She’s waiting for the commercials to be over so she can find out more.
When the story ends in a predictable way, Brenda scolds herself for thinking it might’ve been otherwise. She stands and checks herself in the mirror again. She knows she could still change her mind and go, but she changes the channel instead. She gets absorbed in something else. More time passes. I will leave just after this, she tells herself. But she doesn’t move.
If Brenda had gone to the reunion, there’s this: a mirrored bar, carrots and dip, teriyaki chicken wings, people gathered in a dark room trying to recall faces. They squint at each other’s nametags made of old photos from the yearbook. They secretly note who has aged and gained weight, who’s improved, who’s gray, who appears to be alcoholic. Some of the wives pack leftovers from the buffet to take home and make meatball sandwiches. Near the end of the night, a woman wearing gold lamé skids across the wet floor as she exits the bathroom; she falls and sprains her wrist. A few husbands bend to help the woman off the floor. The deejay stops the music for a moment, but no one was dancing anyway.
Jen Grow is the fiction editor of Little Patuxent Review. Her writing has appeared in Other Voices, The Sun Magazine, Hunger Mountain and many more. Her story collection, “My Life as a Mermaid and Other Stories,” was the 2012 winner of the Dzanc Books’ Short Story Collection Competition and is forthcoming in 2015.
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