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"Bitch of It," short story excerpt

Wednesday 6/9/21

“So do we still hate each other?” a friend named Clara asked a friend named Olivia as the latter sat down at the table that had been the table at the café they went to which was not a café anymore because now they were dead and the table was in the conference room of an investment firm whose employees could not see them.

“Ugh, I detest these people,” Olivia said, tossing her bag under the table.

“You don’t really detest them,” Clara suggested, trying to set the right tone and mood—a friendly vibe.

“No,” Olivia answered. “They’re just all the same.” She added an “It seems” because she didn’t want to fight.

They’d fought so much without ever fighting a lot of times because that is how people fight who do it severely enough that there are less opportunities.

Once Clara had said, “Jesus, I tell you things I wouldn’t even tell Brian,” Brian being her husband.

“Oh, you have to manage a marriage,” Olivia answered, like she understood that Clara and Brian were still as close as could be, there were just certain realities of some kinds of closeness.

They saw each other every day now that they were dead and had stopped seeing each other when they were alive. Bitch of an irony. Irony didn’t register much. They were here and they were a million other places, too. Present in one, present in all, though it always just felt like the one and that there was nothing else but the moment and who the moment was with.

“You fucking hurt me, motherfucker,” Olivia said. Well. That didn’t take long. Never did. Her feet were barely under the table.

“I’m sorry,” Clara said.

“It’s not enough, is it?” Olivia replied.

“I guess not,” Clara concluded. She meant “I guess not” like she wasn’t sure what else to say, not that she didn’t know or care.

When they were alive Clara’s husband Brian had died and Clara could not live anymore. She could not be a wife and she could not be a mom and she could not be a woman and she could not be a person and she could not be a friend and her daughter Goldie went to Olivia’s house so much because she had a friend there named Harry who was Olivia’s son and a little gay maybe but protective and strong. She was there all the time. For meals and movie nights and it actually cost a lot of money over time and was a burden though she was a good kid.

But honestly, Olivia thought, my family is my family, and one day she said something to Clara, said how her kid neglected herself just like her mom (though she hated to say it, she added), she even smelled bad, she had awful hygiene, she didn’t want to say anything, but really, you have to parent your kid.

“I can’t tell your kid to brush her teeth and wash her face for once and change her clothes that she washes in my laundry anyway. Damn, get a grip.”

Clara didn’t say anything. She took her daughter home. She thought how Olivia exaggerated, because most nights Goldie at least slept at their house, but then again, Goldie wasn’t there much at all since Clara had stopped being everything she was. She might not have even noticed, she was so lost and lost to herself. Lost to her kid. That made her ashamed.

“I’ve failed you,” she said at night in her bed with the new mattress, which was now kind of an old mattress, because people said you should replace the mattress you’d made your children on with your dead spouse, only they didn’t say it like that, they said after a loss or something, and they made just the one child. She said it to Brian who was gone, and then she said it during the first few days she thought she’d try again, really try, to Goldie.

“I want us back,” she said, and Goldie hugged her, though she thought it was “cringe,” which was something she said.

Clara hated Olivia after. But she was also grateful. Or she wasn’t sure. Grateful and hateful. She didn’t mumble a thank you or a fuck you. Talking about her kid like that. Her sweet kid who had been through so much. They got coffee less than they used to. Clara went in with a plan. To be colder, laugh less. Show the firm hand of a firm voice. Let it be known that she wore scars now from the friendship. She couldn’t help it though, sounding like she did when Olivia had a clever line. “Fuck,” she thought. No one tells you it can be as hard not to be a friend as it is to be one.

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