Excerpt from the short stories: (cover photo by Lani A. Shumway Photography)
THE VIVIAN GIRLS
“Oh, Carla,” Sylvia said, annoyed. Everyone else was there and already halfway through their first round of drinks. “Does she always have to be this late?” A lock of hair fell across her forehead, which she pushed back in place each time before she took another sip of her drink, an Old Fashioned.
Frowning a bit and tilting her head sideways precisely the way her mother always did, all those years ago, Kathy said, “C’mon, Syl. It’s Carla. Let’s just make the best of it.”
Caitlin, a Norwegian looking blonde, smiling cheerfully and holding her menu, said, “We should just go ahead and order, I think, and if she’s late it’s her problem.”
I hope she’s all right, Laura, who was never late, would have said if she was there.
More drinks arrived and the other four women, minus the always late Carla, and the missing Laura, the reason they were all there that night, each held up a glass and made a sobering toast to the one person in their group who was never late to anything and always a relief to have around. But she was gone for good, now, after lying in a hospital bed for two and a half months with a ventilator stuck down her throat and no one there to comfort her but a cluster of hazmatted nurses who became someone else every twelve hours and a likewise hazmatted doctor, if they had one to spare, who came in for five minutes, looked, then disappeared. No one else was allowed to visit. For all anyone knew, Laura was parked in a hallway somewhere waiting for a spot to open up in a room on another floor. They couldn’t go to the funeral, either, because of the pandemic. Now they were here for a sort of memorial dinner a whole year later and had to worry they might be next. Some, at least. Not everyone was as concerned. Politics was not the glue that held this group together. These days it wasn’t clear to any of them what did keep them coming, but then again, the years between visits had been growing longer and longer over time.
That summer, the year our neighbors moved out and took with them their yellow lab and rambunctious kids, and a young couple moved in to replace them with their cats and their endless heartache, it never stopped raining. It came down in buckets for what seemed like the entire time from Easter to Columbus Day. There was a wall of green and above it a big expanse of gray sky out of which fell, like Biblical lamentations, an endless shower, lifting and floating from far away and condensing and falling, over and over and over. It had climbed high over the Atlantic and then, by low pressure, was pulled back, unavoidably westward across the mountains to condense and fall again, raining down onto the lawns and houses of the people where we lived.
The grass around our house grew tall and lush, as did the weeds and the honeysuckle and the sumac vines on the elm trees. It was a world of green. And of gray. And the tears that were not tears, but oceans leaving and returning, were like those new people that came and stayed for a while and baked cookies for the yard sale and held VOTE FOR signs outside the polling places at the schools, and let their kids play with our kids, and then left again for some other place, just like this one. I watched as the rain fell and Phillip sat in his chair and did his best to love me, but it was never enough until he too like the ocean went away and came back, a cycle of loss and love that seemed so inexplicable and yet has some purpose, I suppose. He was like the raindrops falling from the sky and I was like the grass and the evergreens soaking him up and thinking it would never stop until one day it did. What was it that year that made it rain so much, so green, so wet, and so sad? Was it the sky that made us feel that way? I’m tempted, here, to propose a theory. Like that new one, I’ve read about, to make sense of everything, a grand theory of us.