Anne Dyer Stuart

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