As Marnie Stern says, "Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket." As stated on my AOL Instant Messenger away message, my previous story, "Failure, Inc.," had a bit of precognition working for it--as today, (in 38 minutes, I will leave for it) I am going on an interview on the 14th floor of a building in Century City. What wondrous madness literature can wreak in our minds! Yes, I am meeting with a woman named Amy, and so, as Marnie has suggested, I have not spent the day looking for any more jobs. That is my egg-basket approach while job searching. Do not complicate matters more greatly by continuing to look when you have an interview. Just watch that basket. And write stories while you wait for the interview, which occurs at 6:30 PM, making it the latest interview I've ever done in my life. I spent the day writing this story, which is notable for many reasons, not the least of which is my attempt at writing from a female perspective, a coup that always seems to fail for me. It is 1,401 words under 5,000, making it a bit more digestible than "Failure, Inc." However, it's subject matter is a bit extreme. I hope no one finds it overly naive.
Every Day is Worse than the Last
Brenda Lowery ambled through her local Farmers Market on a Sunday morning in July. She saw hundreds of people stopping at little produce stands, buying organic jams and jellies, chatting affably with the proprietors. It was a large-scale local community scene, with everyone in the town coming together to enjoy fresh goods from farms, and amidst it all, Brenda forgot her purpose. She did not remember what she wanted to buy. All foods suddenly struck her as unappetizing. She did not want to eat anything, but she knew her pain would only increase if she did not. She found a stand that was blending fruit smoothies, and she decided to get a strawberry, banana, and blueberry smoothie. She sipped it through a straw as she walked the fifteen minute walk home.
When she came to her apartment, her smoothie had already been depleted. She threw the cup in the garbage. It was a Sunday afternoon now. Tomorrow there would be work, and while Brenda thought she might call her friend Jillian, she did not feel like putting on a sociable face. Of course, Brenda had confided in Jillian many times, had talked to her often about the unhappiness in her life, and Jillian had never expressed impatience. A few of Brenda’s friends from the past could not put up with such depressing comments, and so she had learned to filter her moods according to the situation at hand. Since meeting Jillian six months ago however, Brenda had opened up anew, and it had more than a little to do with Jillian’s own willingness to validate Brenda’s emotions—that is, Jillian understood Brenda, because she too was unhappy.
Brenda opened up a recent Nick Hornby volume, read a chapter, and decided she didn’t want to spend any more time reading today. Reading got her nowhere. Oftentimes, she would try to tell her co-workers about the plot of the novel she was reading presently, and they would respond with a disinterested “oh really?” or “that’s good that you read so much.” Later she would hear them talk with great enthusiasm about movies that had opened up the previous Friday. Brenda secretly thought everyone was less intelligent than her, but she never once betrayed this thought by allowing it to issue forth into the atmosphere.
She turned on her television, which came complete with digital cable due to the post February 17, 2009 date. Brenda had thought that change strange. It was as if now there was no option to use outdated technology. Crusty old professors could still utilize twenty-pound laptops, but nobody in any home could watch a lower quality picture on TV. However, nobody complained particularly about this. If it was a serious issue for you, you worried too much about TV. Brenda did not worry about TV; she just found it strange. She couldn’t turn it on without being persuaded to try a new product. Increasingly that became the case with the internet as well. Still, she flipped between movie channels, doing her best to avoid persuasion.
She finally cracked and flipped open her cell phone, highlighted Jillian’s name and called her. No answer. “Hi, this is Jillian, leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” Beep.
“Jillian it’s Brenda. I’m just wondering if you’re doing anything this afternoon because I really don’t know how I’m supposed to spend the next three hours. I’ve got nothing going on and company seems the best way to make the hours pass more quickly, and be more worthwhile. Eh, but you’re probably busy, but if you feel like it, give me a call. Bye!”
Jillian sent a text message a few minutes later that asked Brenda if she wanted to visit at her apartment. Brenda did not want to bring her unhappiness with her into someone else’s home, but the invitation had been extended and she often found it rude when they were declined, and so she texted back that she would be there in a half hour. She went into her bathroom and freshened herself up, then went out to her car and drove to Jillian’s.
Brenda rang the doorbell and Jillian opened the door, and opened up her arms to welcome her friend. They walked into the kitchen and Jillian asked if Brenda would like a cocktail or a cup of tea—which was she in the mood for? Brenda said a cocktail, and Jillian said okay, made two gin and tonics, and brought them into the living room. They said, “Cheers,” and took a first sip.
“So how has your weekend been?” Jillian asked affably.
“It’s been slow. I didn’t really do much. I went to the Farmers Market this morning,” Brenda answered factually.
“Ooh, did you get any yummy fresh produce?” Jillian asked appearing excited.
“It was weird. I wanted to get all of this stuff, and make a really nice dinner tonight, or something. Then I just forgot what I wanted to make, and I didn’t know what I needed anymore. So I bought a smoothie. That was all,” Brenda admitted.
“That happens to me sometimes,” Jillian assuaged, “Sometimes I just go blank, or I’ll leave my bag somewhere and completely forget about it, then two hours later I’ll realize I’m missing it, and it’s too late.”
“It was sort of like that. Just, everyone around me scared me. Like, they were judging me based on what I was looking at, what my dietary habits might be. I feel bad enough that I’m not vegetarian…”
“I know what you mean, but trust me, they’re not worried about vegetarianism. You’re at that Farmer’s Market, you’re on their side.”
“But then I feel compelled to support them, and I couldn’t think of anything except the stupid fruit smoothie that I wanted.”
“Well, that’s supporting them. At least you didn’t go to Jamba Juice for it.”
They each took another sip from their drinks, then Brenda asked Jillian the same question:
“What about yours—did you do anything fun?”
“Oh God, I went out to Pink Taco after work on Friday with my co-workers. I got so wasted. I met this guy there, Sam. We made out, but I regretted it immediately, and now he keeps calling, and I don’t know how to let him off easily.”
“I wish I got wasted and made out with some guy named Sam on Friday. Instead I was watching that movie Evening with Vanessa Redgrave and thought about how all the best moments of my life were behind me. Ethan.”
Ethan had been Brenda’s greatest love, and they had been broken up for two years now. They had met at the end of college, had begun dating shortly before graduation, and did so for roughly one year until Ethan had to move away for medical school. Brenda had toyed with the idea of moving with him—taking their relationship to the next level—and Ethan had said of course he wanted to stay with her, but he didn’t want her to turn her life upside-down for him. She considered that his convenient excuse to break up, had thrown a fit, emphasizing that she knew he really didn’t want to stay with her, was met with piteous glances, and was left by Ethan shortly thereafter. He had said something about how she always had to be right before he left her apartment that night more than two years ago. Now he was swiftly making his way through the program, would be a practicing doctor in another five or six years, and Brenda would not be the doctor’s wife, as she frequently dreamed.
“Trust me, you wouldn’t want to make out with this guy,” Jillian said, “He’s very horny and desperate. He texted me yesterday saying, “I want you to come over and get naked,”—he doesn’t have any tact.”
“I want a guy that doesn’t have any tact,” Brenda said, “I have no tact.”
“Well do you want me to say, ‘Hey Sam, I don’t really like guys without tact, but my friend Brenda does, maybe you want to see her instead?’ I guarantee he’d go for you.”
“That’s okay,” Brenda said, “That’s kind of an intimidating situation.”
“Suit yourself, it would have been a good way to get him off me,” Jillian said.
“Just tell him you’re not interested,” Brenda said.
“No, that’s mean,” Jillian said, “I don’t want this kid to get all depressed and start calling me and asking, why, why, why? I have to do it some better way. I think I’m going to tell him I’m moving away.”
“You can’t really go wrong with that,” Brenda said.
“Unless he asks to see me before I go,” Jillian said.
“You can just say you already left, it was an emergency personal situation,” Brenda said.
“Well I can never go to Pink Taco again, because if I see him it would be really bad.”
They took another sip of their drinks. As if out of nowhere, Brenda began crying.
“Oh Brenda, don’t be upset, what’s wrong?” Jillian asked, immediately moving closer to her friend, putting her arm around her and rubbing her shoulder.
“It’s just hopeless Jillian, I feel so hopeless,” Brenda let out between sobs.
“Why, what’s hopeless? You’re an amazing person—how could it be hopeless?” Jillian said in an attempt to cheer up.
“I’m not, I’m not an amazing person at all,” Brenda said, “I just hate everything. I hate my stupid name, I hate my stupid body, and I hate everyone in the world.”
Jillian said, “Wait, do you hate me?”
“Everyone except you, but I hate the way I have to act around you, making you put up with all of this useless complaining,” Brenda said, her sobs subsiding slightly, her sniffles and heaves coming in intervals.
“Oh, I don’t mind your complaining Brenda!” Jillian said, “At least you’re being real.”
“Yeah but I hate that this is me being real,” Brenda shot back, and began sobbing anew. Jillian continued to rub Brenda’s arm in care and sympathy.
“You’re my best friend, Brenda, and I just want you to be happy,” Jillian said.
“But this is the condition. I’m never happy—I’ve never been happy—except with Ethan.”
“It doesn’t do you any good to think about Ethan,” Jillian said in a concerned tone.
“What would you know is good for me?” Brenda snapped, “I loved him, and he loved me. It was the only truly happy period of my life.”
“Don’t you believe it’s possible to have another happy period?” Jillian asked.
“What do you think I’m going to say? Yes?”
They each took another sip of their drink, Brenda more with an affectation of desperation.
“Just relax, Brenda. Something good will come your way if you just accept your situation for what it is. You always talk about making a change—what’s wrong with what you’re doing now? You have a good job, you’re living in a very fashionable city, you have friends that really care about you. That’s not so bad is it?”
“No, no, no, I hate my job, I hate this city, and I can’t be real around any of my friends except you,” Brenda stammered.
Jillian was running out of ideas.
“I really don’t know, Brenda. Is there anyway I can help?” Jillian asked.
“Just keep holding me,” Brenda said, curling up into a smaller ball as Jillian continued to comfort her.
“I think we should text this guy Sam,” Jillian began, “And we should have him come over here.”
“I thought you didn’t want to see him ever again,” Brenda sobbed.
“It will be a moment of comedy, and if you want to take him home with you, nobody will have to know,” Jillian said, opening up Brenda’s options.
“But why would I want to get involved with this guy?” Brenda said, in an almost angry tone, “You said yourself you regret making out with him.”
“It’ll take your mind off depression,” Jillian said, “Your concerns will change when he comes through the door.”
She texted him a message that said, “Why don’t you come over to my house and have drinks with me and my friend Brenda?” And a few minutes later, Sam texted back saying, “I’ll be there in a few.”
Forty-five minutes later, Sam arrived. Brenda’s face showed no signs of sadness. Indeed, she and Jillian had been laughing as they heard the doorbell ring. Sam entered Jillian’s house, and indicated to Brenda that Jillian had made reference to her in the text message by saying, “You must be Brenda, I’m Sam.”
“Would you like a gin and tonic, Sam? That’s what we’re drinking,” Jillian asked.
“That sounds great, I’d love a gin and tonic,” Sam said.
As Brenda made more drinks in the kitchen, Sam began quizzing Brenda.
“Are you from here?”
“No, I’m from Ohio,”
“How did you end up here?”
“It just seemed like the best city to move to.”
“Have you lived many other places?” “Not really.”
“Where did you go to school?”
“Haha, goodbye Columbus,” Sam said.
“Yes, goodbye Columbus,” Brenda echoed, surprised.
Jillian arrived at this comment with three more drinks in hand.
“So Sam, do you still want me to come over and get naked?” Jillian asked. Brenda and Sam were both shocked.
Sam appeared nervous. “I’m sorry if that was in bad taste, I was just really horny,” Sam said.
“Ooh that’s such a nasty word, ‘horny,’ it sounds so crass,” Brenda said, sensing the comedy.
“Yeah,” Jillian said, “But it’s honest at least. You admit you have no excuse?”
“No excuse beyond wanting it,” Sam said.
“Notice, Brenda, how he says ‘it’ and not ‘you.’ Sam, is this your notion of tact?” Jillian toyed.
“Yes, I’m sorry, I’m just not very tactful.”
“You know, I don’t like tactless guys, but Brenda does.” Jillian uttered.
“It’s because I’m tactless, too,” Brenda said, sensing an opportunity, “But I need to know I’m not going to be outdone in the tactile department.” She was enjoying herself now.
“Well is there some way I have to prove I’m more tactless than you?” Sam asked Brenda.
“I think you need to get naked,” Jillian said.
Brenda looked over at her with a look of mild concern, but also appreciation. Sam took off his shirt without a word, untied his shoes, pulled them off, pulled off his socks, undid his belt, unbuttoned his button, unzipped his fly, pulled off his pants, pulled off his boxers, and sat back down on the couch, saying “Satisfied?” to Jillian.
“Yes, I think you’ve proved your tactlessness. You will really do anything if it means getting laid won’t you?” Jillian continued to bait.
“Anything within reason,” Sam said, taking another sip from his drink.
“What do you think of that body, Brenda?”
“It’s okay. I’ve seen better, but it’s okay.”
“Okay enough for you to fuck?” Jillian said the word with devilish indifference.
“It wouldn’t be right,” Brenda said.
“Oh, why wouldn’t it be right?” Sam started, disappointed.
“These are weird circumstances,” Brenda said, “It’s not the way it should be done.”
“I don’t think Sam is going to complain, you said you wanted to make out with him instead of watching that movie Friday night,” Jillian brought out.
This perplexed Brenda, how Jillian had become forceful in her silly game, and so she decided to put forth her own perplexing comment:
“That body is only okay enough for me to fuck if you fuck it too,” Brenda said.
“Oh you’re making this so complicated, Brenda,” Jillian said.
“I’m serious. If I do it alone, you’ll always be able to hold it against me.”
“I wouldn’t hold it against you,” Jillian tried to interrupt.
“But if we all do it, then we’re all implicated, and really then, nobody will have to know. I won’t constantly be scared for the rest of my life that you’re going to drunkenly mention it at a party or something.”
“You don’t think she’d mention it drunkenly at a party if we all did it?” Sam asked philosophically, but then quickly added, “Whatever, I won’t complain either way.”
“No, put your clothes back on you moron,” Jillian said.
“Really?” Sam said.
“Yes, really,” Brenda said, “I don’t know what you’re thinking Jillian but it’s not working.”
“Man! You can’t do that to a guy!” Sam protested.
“Well no matter what you say I am not going to suck your dick,” Jillian said, “So I’d suggest putting your clothes on, retaining whatever small dignity you have left.”
“That’s just cruel, Jillian!” Sam said, pulling his boxers back up.
“Don’t blame it on me—it’s Brenda’s fault.” Jillian said, “If she didn’t have to go ahead and try to get me involved.”
“You’re the one that started it all!” Brenda said.
“You’re the one that called me and said you wanted to hang out!” Jillian said.
“This is the stupidest fight in the world,” Sam said, “Can we just forget this happened and have a nice afternoon?”
“No!” Brenda said, “Nobody is going to have a nice afternoon now. This is so fucked up. I think you should just go, Sam.”
“Really?” Sam said, looking at Jillian.
“Brenda, you still have a chance, do you want to take him home with you?” Jillian asked.
“Excuse me, do I have an opinion here?” Sam asked.
“No, you don’t,” Jillian said, “You’re a boy, and boys are stupid.”
“Fine,” Brenda said, “Sam, please get dressed and come home with me. Jillian, this has been one of the most fucked up afternoons of my life.”
“But it worked out well, didn’t it?” Jillian asked, a mischievous smile coming over her.
“Yeah, I can tell this is going to end really, really well,” Brenda said, taking Sam’s hand as she walked out the door.
Outside she told Sam to follow her in his car to her house. When they arrived at her apartment, she mechanically pulled him inside, became undressed with him, fell onto her bed with him, and spent twenty-three minutes feeling indifferent and mildly entertained, surprised that the day had led to such an unlikely end. When they had had their sufficient fill of each other, Brenda asked Sam if he would not expect to see her again.
“Of course I want to see you again.” Sam had said.
“It’s only because I put out, isn’t it?” Brenda said.
“No, you’re beautiful,” Sam said.
“You’re just saying that,” Brenda said, “You want to stay on my good side.”
“What’s so bad about staying on your good side?” Sam asked.
“Due to the nature of the circumstances, this should only be a one-time thing,” Brenda said.
“What do you mean, ‘due to the nature,’ we had a good time didn’t we?”
“I don’t know. If I stay with you, Jillian may not respect me,” Brenda worried.
“Are you kidding me? She begged this to happen.”
“Right, exactly, it’s so perfectly planned by her.”
“Look, she did a nice thing. She knew I wasn’t good for her, but she knew you’d be good for me.”
“What!” Brenda said, shocked.
“It’s true. She’s a very astute matchmaker,” Sam said, trying to save himself.
“But you make it seem like she was trying to help you out. She’s trying to help me out. Get it straight!”
“I don’t see why the phrasing makes such a difference,” Sam started.
“It makes all the difference. You guys are always so self-centered. You don’t give a shit about dignity. All you care about is your stupid conquests. The more one-night stands, the better! Oh, it impresses your friends all right, but do you know how it makes me feel? It makes me think you’re more likely to have herpes.”
“What are you talking about conquests? Do you want me to tell you how many women I’ve slept with in my life?” Sam asked.
“What, tell me,” Brenda said.
“Three, you are the third.”
Brenda tried to stifle a laugh, but could not help a smile from creeping over her face. “Three! That is pathetic! Oh my God, and with your gyrations back there, I bet this is actually only the third time you’ve done it period—once with each!”
“It’s true—does that make you feel better?” Sam asked.
“God, you really are inexperienced! That’s almost endearing but I have to say we have to consider this a one-night stand. You’re not my type. So thanks for the night, but I think it’s best if we both get enough sleep before work tomorrow.”
“Right,” Sam said, “Thanks, I guess.”
“Thank you too, bye.”
The next morning Brenda went to work, boring old work. During the eight hours she spent in her cubicle, she thought of the previous day and her moments with Sam. She began to feel bad, that she had treated him in that manner. During her lunch break she walked up and down a two block stretch of Santa Monica Blvd and continued to feel guilty. She left a message on Jillian’s machine saying she wanted to get Sam’s number. Jillian texted it to her. Brenda texted Sam saying, “I’m really sorry about what I said last night—do you want to have dinner together tonight?” Sam wrote back, “Just tell me where and when to meet you.”
Brenda left work and went to her car. She sat in rush hour traffic for over an hour. At some point during that hour, she pondered and decided she had not felt so happy in years.