Like Mangoes on a Vine
She twists her hair around her finger and then sticks the end in her mouth. She realizes what she’s doing and drops her hair and looks around the restaurant to see if anyone is watching her. A man by the window eating with his son meets her glance, and she quickly looks away, putting her hands in her lap, folding them over twice and then letting them rest.
For a minute and a half they rest, then she reaches up and tugs at her hair, pulling it in front of her eyes to see if there are any split ends. Eight split ends; she counts and starts to pull at them, breaking them off from the rest of her hair. The waiter comes by to refill her coffee, and she jumps, dropping her hair apologetically and placing her hands back in her lap.
The clock on the wall is too loud. She opens the menu again, even though she had already ordered and stares at it, pretending to read, but looking at the picture of a black and white rose in the upper right corner instead.
Five minutes pass. Ten minutes.
Bethany hates sitting alone. And when she goes out, she hates to go out alone. Which is one of the reasons she is so uncomfortable waiting for Alison to show up. Just one of the reasons, the smallest of her many reasons, but still reason enough. Bethany is sitting at the restaurant that she and Alison have met at every Tuesday for the last twelve years, ever since college. And she was regretting that she had arrived early.
Still. She hoped Alison wouldn’t come. “Yes,” She thought to herself, “Better if she doesn’t come. Yes, she probably won’t even come.” She was comforted by this thought for a moment, tracing the outline of the rose with the pad of her smallest finger.
The phone rings. It’s Alison. She thought about not picking it up. “Hello?” She picked it up and answered in a passive voice. ‘Oh, O.K. no problem. I’ll be here.”
Alison is going to be late. Bethany hates people who are late. She is often late herself, but doesn’t like it when other people are. In addition, Bethany hates being alone and now not only was Alison late, but Bethany was going to be alone for even longer. But this was the least of her problems. The smallest of her problems. But still.
She thought about getting up and going for a walk and coming back in forty-five minutes. She started to get out her wallet to pay her bill, but changed her mind and put her wallet back in her brown bag at her side.
Bethany couldn’t decide about Alison, her best friend from school. She thought she might hate her, but wasn’t sure. It was possible that she loved her, but she knew for sure that she didn’t like her. Bethany knew this because she had come home from work early with a headache several Wednesdays ago. A terrible headache; where you want to lay in the dark and put your hands in water, and then your feet in water, then your head in water, and she came home to fill the tub, or maybe just get a glass of water. She stopped in the kitchen and there they were—through the kitchen in the guest room. Bill and Alison, on the guest bed, their clothes on the floor like a pile of water. Bethany paused in the doorway thinking she was glad it was only the guest room, and she wondered if she loved them, either of them. But wasn’t sure. Does that mean I don’t? She wondered, watching for a second, shocked for a second by the thought that she might not love her husband—it had never crossed her mind before. Bethany turned around and walked back out of the house, got in her car and drove to the grocery store, where she waited in the parking lot, by herself, for three hours until it was time for her to be off work. She started the ignition and went home.
When she got home, Bill had kissed her and said, “How was your day?”
And Bethany had said, “Fine. Just fine.” And everyday after that had said the same thing, “Fine, just fine.”—‘Like mangoes on a vine,’ she’d add in her head, because that’s what her mom would have said.
Twenty minutes passed. Thirty.
Bethany is thinking about her childhood now. Something hard to think about because it tastes bitter; the comparison of then and now. And she sees her mother standing by her father in matching flannel shirts, like families should wear. And Alison walks in. She looks disheveled, Bethany thinks, and then thinks, perhaps she has been with Bill, perhaps that’s why she’s late—the thought was just now occurring to her and she wasn’t sure what to do with it. She rolled it around her head and opened her mouth, rolling it onto her hand like a marble and watching it shift back and forth, too heavy to lift up into the air and give away. Alison doesn’t notice the marble and starts to tell Bethany all about her day. Something about a long line at the makeup counter at Macy’s and five new employees to train. Bethany keeps looking down and rolling her thoughts on her hand.
“Are you listening?” Alison pauses in her story, feeling alone herself.
The marble drops and Bethany looks up.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED