by Kathy Lanzarotti
I’ve only just sat down and now I’m wondering why I ever thought this would be a good idea. Jess and I ran in different circles. We weren’t exactly friends.
I watch her pull the bottle of wine from the brown grocery bag that holds the lasagna and the ready-made salad. I’m hit by a waft of unwashed cotton which I’m pretty sure is coming from her sweatshirt, as she wobbles to one of the frosted glass cabinets.
‘I’ll get you a glass,’ she says.
‘Oh, no thank you,’ I tell her quickly.
‘Why not?’ she asks as she turns from the opened cabinet. ‘Because you’re driving?’
‘No,’ I hold the vowel longer than is polite before I recover. ‘Because I’m an alcoholic.’
She turns slowly, one artfully arched brow raised, a little twinkle in her eye and a small smile on her chapped bare lips, but only for a second. Before all of this nastiness this would have been a hot bit of gossip for her and her recently scattered friends. But now, well now, it hardly matters at all. ‘I didn’t know that,’ she says as she turns, tucks the long front portion of her pixie cut behind her ear, and returns to her seat. She takes a corkscrew from the table, expertly opens the bottle with a hollow pop and refills the glass in front of her.
‘It’s not something I advertise.’ I can’t take my eyes off of the deep ruby pool settled contentedly in the bowl of the lovely cut crystal glass. The wine is my favorite, a rich and spicy Cabernet. It sparks the muscle memory on all the good parts of my tongue and the back of my throat.
‘Yet you brought it for us.’ She raises the glass to her lips and takes a sip. Her throat moves and I hear a small hum of pleasure as she drinks.
‘It was my favorite,’ I say. It sounds insipid under the circumstances.
When I was putting together the meal, I thought about what I would want most of all in these circumstances, other than the ability to go back in time. To raise the dead. To simply disappear in a puff of smoke.
What could one possibly bring to the woman whose son killed himself and a bunch of his classmates with a burst of rounds from an AR-15?
I settled on thick lasagna stuffed with spicy meat and smothered in several different cheeses. And a bottle or two of Cabernet.
‘Well, I’m sorry about your…’ She tilts her glass in my direction. ‘Problem.’
‘It’s okay,’ I tell her. ‘I got help.’
‘Ah.’ She takes several large gulps from the glass in front of her. ‘I suppose there’s no helping me.’
We’re silent then. There’s a glass cake stand on the white marble countertop behind her. Inside sits what may have once been a banana cake. It’s furred with a glam rock frock of blue mold.
‘Trina,’ she says quietly.
Trina was my daughter’s best friend since pre-school. Trina and Becca two dark haired little girls in paper birthday crowns who spent most weekends at either my house or Sheila’s. Who did each other’s hair and makeup for middle school dances, homecoming and probably would have for prom, too, if that not so long ago Thursday had never happened. Trina was in the library. Just in the library. AP Bio. That’s the only reason.
‘How’s her mother? Sheila. She’s a friend of yours, isn’t she?’
‘Sheila is devastated.’ I watch her flinch and reach a bony hand to her throat to worry a gold cross between two fingers, the nails uneven and broken.
‘How’s your daughter?’
‘Not much better than Sheila.’
‘Does she know you’re here?’ she asks, eyes wide as her refined nose dips into the bowl of her glass.
‘No.’ She places the glass down with a heavy clunk. Her eyes blaze beneath jet-black hair. ‘Sheila.’
I swallow. ‘I told her.’
She presses her lips together so tightly they disappear, squeezes them into a smile and reaches for her glass. ‘And what did she say?’ she asks as she spins it. I’m spellbound by the mini-maelstrom.
‘She accused me of being a Christian.’
She nods and sips.
‘I mean, she meant the phony kind of big box church Christian. Which, you know, I’m not.’ I press a hand to my heart. ‘I’m old school. Irish Catholic.’ I bat a hand in the direction of the wine. ‘Hence the, you know…’
She tilts her head at me.
‘It’s the right thing to do,’ I say finally.
‘To come here…’
‘You lost a child too,’ I tell her. ‘Jason.’
She shuts her eyes tight and lowers her head.
She lowers her head to the table. One hand absently spins her glass like a pro, stem between index and forefinger.
‘And everyone’s left you.’
She raises her head to drain her glass.
‘And I know what that feels like, too.’
She raises the bottle and pours another.
‘And it’s not your fault.’
‘This is really delicious,’ she says.
I stand up. She doesn’t.
‘Enjoy the lasagna,’ I tell her. ‘350 degrees for 35-45 minutes, until it bubbles. There’s a packet of shredded cheese in the bag. Don’t top it until the last five minutes.’
I’m fairly certain she’s not listening.
‘You really need to eat something,’ I tell her. ‘I left my number in there, too. Call me if you need anything. Or even if you don’t.’
I‘m halfway to the door before I hear her quietly reply, ‘Thank you.’
Kathy Lanzarotti is co-editor of Done Darkness: A Collection of Stories, Poetry and Essays About Life Beyond Sadness. She is a Wisconsin Regional Writers’ Jade Ring Award winner for short fiction. Her stories have appeared in, Ellipsis, Creative Wisconsin, Platform for Prose and Jokes Review.