Ah. All is vanity. With the long weekend and the stress I’ve been under, I didn’t think I could produce a quality piece for today. So I thought I would share a piece of fiction I wrote that fits my Sex in the Suburbs category. This was first of four pieces in the Wendy series. Let me know if you want to see more.
Wendy closed her eyes, trying to sneak a nap in between bites of her Eggos. Unable to drift off completely while sitting upright, she opened her eyes and tried to read the paper. Though she could make out the words on the page, she simply could not manage to assemble them into a series of cogent sentences.
She was about to take a sip of coffee but hesitated when she realized that the caffeine would not rouse her even to the level needed to read the comics page. It would instead merely prevent her from falling back to sleep, which was what she really needed. But she felt almost hypnotically drawn to the liquid, so she drank. The coffee was good—very hot and nearly flavorless in comparison to the waffles, which were soaked in the gooey sweet syrup she’d bought for her sister’s children when they’d come to visit. She hadn’t tasted the stuff until today; she ordinarily did not eat a breakfast that required syrup, starting each day, instead, on a diet that she always abandoned by dinner time.
This morning her dieting inhibitions were down right from the start. She wanted food—hot, plentiful, and absorbent enough to soak up the toxins that were still dancing in her blood stream.
Feeling as she did, she knew she would fritter away the day, lying in bed trying to reconstitute herself. The day would be as disposable as leftovers. But at least she did not have a headache. It was true what they said: Scotch did not cause a hangover, at least not one of the pounding head variety. The Scotch hangover was sneakier than that, lurking beneath the surface, though blunting her senses with the same effectiveness as any of the more forthright ones.
Before the first drop of amber liquid passed her lips, she could have predicted that the sweet and smoky whiskey essence would still fester in her senses the next day, beating her normally energetic spirit flat and lifeless. In fact, the die had been cast hours before the first drink with the news that she was going to a party. She knew she’d be drinking. None of her sensible parts could have stopped her. She knew better than to waste energy arguing with herself over these things.
She had very little memory of the previous night, could recall only the initial phases of inebriation, when she was at the top of the slide from charming to disgraceful. She tried to reassure herself. Maybe she had walked out of the party with only a trace of a stagger. Perhaps a slur was present in only the vaguest sense. This was possible, she supposed, though not likely given the large gaps in her memory. Alcohol-induced amnesia and coherent speech did not tend to go hand-in-hand.
But how much harm could she have done? She hadn’t known anyone at the party before she went except Kim, who’d brought her (and, thankfully, had driven her home). Even if she’d embarrassed Kim by being an obnoxious drunk, what was the worst that could happen? The host was not Kim’s boss; she was just the person in the next cubicle. Kim would apologize for Wendy’s behavior, be pissed at Wendy for a week or two, and get over it when she realized she needed Wendy as her “date” for some other event.
Wendy felt a bit relieved after she followed the path of the worst scenario she could imagine and realized there couldn’t be far-reaching ramifications, even if she’d danced on a table with a lampshade on her head. Not when she really thought about it.
After she finished her coffee, she dragged herself upstairs and turned on her computer to check her mail. She wasn’t expecting anything in particular, just the Word of the Day, her attempt to build vocabulary in a brain in which a new word hadn’t stuck since high school.
Her mailer was set up to play a little tune whenever a new message arrived. She noticed this morning that it was taking an inordinately long time for the melody to start playing. Perhaps the word of the day was running late and she’d received no mail at all, she reasoned. But when she looked at the mail tool, she could see that it was still receiving messages. How odd for her to get more than a message or two on a Sunday morning!
The tune finally played and Wendy opened the incoming mail folder. There were quite a few new messages. She did a quick scan of the names of the senders and froze. Paul McCann? The guy from the online dating service whom she’d blown off because he was too intense? She thought she’d made it clear to him that— Wait a second. Sue Golden? Wendy had dropped her old friend after a nasty exchange of revelations between them, what, at least two years ago. She scrolled through the list and her mouth fell open. Peter Simpson, the Peter Simpson? From high school? Was that possible? And, of all people, Douglas Sloan, the guy she’d dated, or more accurately slept with, when they both worked at EN&C Systems many years ago. How would he even have gotten her e-mail address? There were several more new messages—fifteen in all including a few that looked to be undelivered messages that had come back to her.
Full of anxiety and very confused, she tried to choose a message to read first, at the same time trying to figure out how these communications from ghosts had all found their way to her at once. Then her eyes opened almost as wide as her mouth when the realization hit her: there was only one plausible explanation for the barrage of messages, barring an insanely unlikely force of coincidence. She clicked the outgoing mail folder and her hand went to her face, covering her cheek and eye.
In her “sent” messages folder was a slew of messages that had been sent out between the hours of one and two in the morning…just hours ago, when the last of the Scotch was hitting her like an ocean wave, smashing her to the ground and dragging her under.
She stared at the screen, immobilized, trying to decide whether she should first read the messages she’d written or the responses. Then it occurred to her that the incoming messages would probably include the text from the ones she had sent. From those messages, she would get a fuller picture of the damage she and the Scotch had done.
She evaluated the list, nervously twirling a chunk of hair around her index finger. Whatever it was Sue Golden had to say, the very thought of the possibilities made her cringe. What had Wendy said to her? Had she repeated the old accusations, telling her off all over again? Whatever she had hoped to accomplish last night in her mixed-up state, in the light of morning she wanted nothing more than to let sleeping dogs lie, to leave Sue Golden where she’d been napping for the past two years—out of her life.
“What the hell,” she said out loud. “Might as well face the music.” She opened the message from Sue. It read:
I literally screamed when I saw that there was a message from you. I’m still wiping the tears away after reading your note. You’re right. It’s time to put what happened behind us. We have been friends for too long to let a little argument get between us. Like you said, you are my friend for life. I am really glad you apologized and I just want to say…I forgive you.
Wendy let out an aggravated shriek. She quickly scanned down the page, catching a few relevant phrases of Sue’s: takes a big person to admit you were wrong… now that we’re back in touch… invite you to my new house… just redecorated… marble countertops… furniture from Roche Bobois… why not? I said to myself, I deserve it…
What had she done? What had she said to merit the return of Sue Golden, whom she’d taken such pains to eradicate from her friends list? She didn’t want to hear about all her acquisitions or her “me-me-me,” which was as apparent in this note as it was the day Wendy called her a horse’s ass to her face. She scrolled to the bottom of the page and found her own message to Sue:
Dear Sue, dearest Sue, moy oldest dreaest friend.
What can I say except there is a giant whole where you once were. I was a jerk, so so jerky when we had our little discuesssion that time that went so poorly. Totallly not what I meant to say.or how I meant to say it. MAybe I was just heurt by you and… I can’t even remember what it was about. BUT I am sorry, soo soo sorry and of course I was wrong to say whtever the hell ti was I said/
There was more nonsense in the same vein, which Wendy read with surprising speed (given how dull her intellect was that morning), frantic to get to the crux of it. Her note ended thus:
We have been friends for a long time and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to make it up with you. (Oh my God!) You are more deer to me than you can ever imagine. Please rwight ass soon as you can to let me knwt if we can be friends again.
Love always and forever,
She let out another shriek. “Oh no, oh no!”
After that, she had a pretty good idea of what kind of mood she’d been in and the tenor of the other messages she’d sent. She winced as she considered what she must have said to Doug, for whom she’d once had strong feelings.
But she couldn’t have written to Douglas Sloan; she didn’t have his e-mail address. Yet there was a message from him. She opened it tentatively.
I am not the Doug Sloan you are looking for. Good luck in your search. I hope it will work out for you two when you find him.
Douglas R. Sloan
She felt a whoosh of relief that her message had not reached the intended party—she must have somehow found this address on the Internet—and was even more relieved when she saw the message the right Douglas Sloan would have received:
I’ve thought of you so many times ofver the years since those days back then at EN7C and have wondered how things turned out for you and if you ever miss me oops I mean to say thingk of me because I do still think of you sometimes believe it or not. I think you know we had something really special even if ther waswn’t much we did toghether besides have some prtyy amzing sex. I don’t know if you are married now—Did you ever mkarriy that girl you were seeing when we were together? If so, I’m so so sorry Mrs. ‘Slooamn and never mind. And if so I mean not you can write me here. it would be great to hear from yhou again.
Wendy shook her head, horrified that she had not just written this message (and several others to old boyfriends that were so similar in content that she had apparently copied parts of one message and pasted it into the others, spelling errors and all) but that some of these notes might have hit their targets.
She was about to read the message from Peter Simpson (surely she hadn’t actually found her high school crush, though she had the frightening sense that she might have been enterprising enough to have searched for him on a reunion website) when she let out a gasp.
What about Michael?
Panicked, she searched her outgoing mail folder, her hands shaking. These other people, these long lost friends and lovers, they could laugh it off, but if she’d written to Michael, of the more recent past, she’d be in real trouble. She quickly scoured the outgoing mail folder and heaved a sigh of relief when she did not find his name.
She chuckled. It was actually kind of funny, despite the temporary chaos she’d created with her high-jinx. Whatever she’d done to these folks, she’d straighten it out. As long as she hadn’t contacted Michael.
Then the phone rang.
As always, it took a moment for the name to register on the caller ID box. She watched the LED screen patiently, her head tilted at a quizzical angle. The phone was generally silent on Sunday mornings. She figured Kim would probably call later (if she were still speaking to her), knowing that Wendy would be recovering for most of the day.
As if seeing the name Michael Schofield on her caller ID box wasn’t bad enough, she’d configured the contraption to announce the caller’s name. The volume on the speaker was set loud enough for her to hear it throughout her two-story town house. And so, a moment after seeing the name, just as the words were resolving themselves in her brain and being converted to a resounding, “Oh, no!”, a mechanical voice drove the point home:
Your call is from…Sss-Cho-Fye-Eld, My-Kale.
She stared at the box in horror as it repeated the butchered name.
She lifted the phone from the cradle very carefully, as if it had been sprayed by a skunk.
“Hello?” she said tentatively into the receiver.
“Hi. It’s me.”
She didn’t know what to say. So she simply repeated, “Hello.”
A long silence followed.
“I told you I’d call this morning. Were you up?”
“I, yes. Just, uh, catching up on some e-mails. Heh.” She grimaced.
There was another long silence, the subtle hissing on the phone line seeming to get louder as the seconds passed.
“So I suppose,” she said, “I must have called you last night?” She waved her hand around as if the motion might help her locate the answer.
“I woke you.”
“Yep. You woke Danny, too. But don’t worry. He doesn’t even remember.”
“Oh, God. I woke Danny?” Perfect. The fact that his three-year-old son didn’t like her—and that Michael wouldn’t make an effort to work through the problem—was one of the central factors that had led to their breakup.
“Yeeup. You don’t remember that?”
“To tell you the truth, Michael…” She started to delete the bounced messages in her incoming mail folder. “…I don’t even remember calling you.”
“Oh. So you didn’t mean…”
She pictured him gulping as he swallowed the rest of the sentence.
“What? What did I say?”
“Not much. We really didn’t talk for very long. I told you I’d call you this morning to talk about it.”
“Well obviously there was something I said. And now you have an unfair advantage over me by knowing what it was when I do not.” She thought about the content of the e-mail messages she’d sent and began to form a picture of how the conversation must have gone. The Scotch had turned her conciliatory, making her reopen doors her sober self would never have touched again.
“It didn’t occur to me that you were as out of it as all that. Maybe it would be more gentlemanly of me if I just dropped it.”
She leaned back in the chair, put her foot up on the desk, and shut her eyes, listening to the sound of his voice. She’d always been undone by it, by the cadence and the way it conveyed the things she loved about him.
“Maybe you ought to. Drop it.” With her eyes shut, she was starting to feel a bit dreamy. The thoughts weren’t forming themselves particularly well, weren’t under her command as they made their way to her lips.
“Maybe. But I have to admit, what you proposed… It was tempting. Mighty tempting.”
She sighed. Exhaustion was taking over. “What? Out with it already.”
“Well… What you suggested was… You said… We should start seeing each other again, but, uh, basically on my terms. You said—honest, you really did—you said you didn’t want me to worry about your needs—”
She let out an incredulous laugh.
He continued. “And that nothing else mattered as long as we could still see each other.”
“Isn’t that special. You didn’t actually bite on that, did you?”
“You sounded like you knew what you were talking about when you said it. Very convincing. I didn’t realize you were so loaded you wouldn’t even remember the conversation.”
“Come on. You should have known better. After all our attempts to stay together, after everything you know I feel about you and everything you know I want from you, wouldn’t I have had to have been awfully blotto to have suggested that?”
“I guess.” He let out a little laugh after he took a moment to think about it.
She echoed his laugh then fell silent. She waited for him to say something.
“It’s nice to hear your voice, anyhow,” she said when he did not speak. “I mean, nice talking to you. But I shouldn’t have called you. I wasn’t in a very rational state of mind. I’m sorry.”
“It was my mistake to have taken you seriously.”
He sounded so disappointed. Hope rose in Wendy. The sincerity and vexation in his voice were telling her how much he wanted—
No! Oh God. Not that again. Talking to him was a disaster of enormous proportions. Because, unlike the e-mail from her spunky online suitor (she’d glanced at his response and he was very interested in reestablishing communications), she could not delete the flesh-and-blood Michael who was breathing on the other end of the phone.
She forced herself to do the next best thing. “I really should go, you know. I shouldn’t have called.”
She said goodbye and hung up the phone.
After taking a moment to regroup, she looked again at the computer screen, clicked the message from Peter Simpson (yes, the Peter Simpson) who was no more interested in a drunken, 31-year-old Wendy than he was the flirty, 18-year-old one.
Some hangover, she thought. This one’s going to last a while. Besides the electronic bedlam she’d created that would probably stay with her for days or even weeks, she’d just had the hair of the dog that bit her by way of the phone. A dose of Michael could keep the buzz going for a long time if she was stupid enough to drink from that glass again.
She tried to force her attention back to the e-mail situation. How was she going to deal with Sue? Should she send an apology to Peter? She found she couldn’t focus on any of these matters, thinking instead about the ridiculous conversation with Michael. On his terms? Dream on.
She stared at the computer screen blankly for a long time. Ridiculous.
It didn’t take long for her to realize, just as she’d known yesterday afternoon, that she’d be getting drunk again, this time with the most toxic spirit of all. There was no point wasting energy arguing with herself over these things.
She picked up the phone.