Every Bad Thing
Bertie feels like she’s being filled with helium. She’s expanding moment to moment. Any minute the director chair’s bottom will sag so low her butt’ll sit right on the porch. She is waiting for the phone to ring, for her new boss to call her and say that she’s in fact her new boss. It’s a terrible temporary job that requires cold calling. Actually, Bertie would rather be dead.
On her notepad she writes, You are here. Yesterday you were there. Tomorrow you may be someplace else. Dead. Dead. Deaddeaddeaddeaddead. Footsteps: her neighbor, Jane, who’s into intermittent fasting.
“Bertie?” Jane holds something purple and white. She leans over and sticks it in front of Bertie’s eyes. It smells familiar.
“WHAT?” Bertie says. “I’m waiting for the phone to ring.”
“It says pregnant,” Jane tells her. “Jesus fuck.”
“Every bad thing you imagine exists in the world and is lying in wait,” Bertie says. It is what she has wanted to say for a very long time. The Knockout roses are so pink they’re almost red. She doesn’t want the phone to ring. She never did.
“Bertie?” Jane still stands there with the pregnancy test in her hand. It is digital. Bertie would never trust something digital.
“Whose is it?” She asks Jane. Jane in her birdleg capris. This summer everyone’s ankle pants are tapered so they’ll roll. Jane’s so short hers almost hit the tops of her dead gray running shoes. Jane’s never run a mile in her life.
“I don’t know,” Jane says. “It could be anyone’s.”
In Bertie’s head, a white butterfly, a humming bird, a dragon fly, a firefly, all things magical and full of summer. But here the landlord’s let the lawn turn brown. The roses are the only miracle. Bertie hates kids as much as Jane. They are needy and loud. They grow up, leave home, resent you.
“Bertie.” Jane scrapes the other director chair over to the table and sits. She looks behind Bertie and Bertie knows what she sees: that farmer’s corn grown so tall it’s almost ready. A Harley Davidson goes by, two people. A couple in love. Some people are in love: the thought hits Bertie like knowledge. Love.
“What do you want from me?” Bertie says. Jane places a large wad of keys on the table. Then she picks them up and throws them off the porch onto the lawn. They lie there on a bald patch of grass. “You throw like a girl,” Bertie tells her.
“I hate being a girl,” Jane says. Then she throws her pregnancy test near the keys. It hits the ground and bounces.
“No,” Bertie says. “That shit’s yours. Get it off my lawn.”
“I live upstairs,” Jane says. “It’s my lawn too.”
“Why are you still here?” Bertie asks her. She wishes she could quit asking questions. Jane never answers anything. She never even answers her door. She comes outside when she feels like it. She is a bottomless pit of need.
“Help me,” Jane says. They wait. They wait forever. They are still waiting.
Anne Dyer Stuart