WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR CHARM
and your horniness? my friend Shadow’s wife Wanda blurted out during Thanksgiving dinner. They had invited me to join them because I was a lonely widower, but Wanda was talking to her husband. I felt like a dog watching an airplane, so I said, Maybe you should spend more time in nature?
Dinner was delicious. We retired to the living room and my friend Shadow put on March of the Penguins. I found it horrifying and relatable. I knew everything about Thanksgiving, even the bad stuff, but being grateful felt nice. Friendship was difficult for me. For the longest time, I wanted a friend I could say to, you didn’t let me down when I was freezing to death in Antarctica, and I won’t abandon you now. My friend Shadow and his wife Wanda were quoting the movie’s narration back and forth to each other. It was a tidy routine, a ritual. Something was being reset and clawed back. Of course, it was time for me to leave, but I didn’t want to. My friend Shadow had made a plum tart. Their dog Apple was growling with her head on my shoe. If I went home, I’d be forced to check the vile messages on my dating app.
We ate the tart finally. Perhaps, instead, what I needed was a rival.
The Old Rats are out collecting money for sick kids. They fail to elaborate. They’ve claimed to be the filthiest motorcycle gang around. But after brunch, they shake their change buckets at the stop lights and glare at drivers.
The world has changed. No one in Bramble carries cash. Of course, my friend Shadow’s wife Wanda is a software developer. She could build them an online portal for donations that would accept credit cards, ApplePay, CashApp. They could track donations over locations and times to identify the most lucrative intersections. They could even generate an email list to solicit donations without The Old Rats having to stand in the middle of the street with buckets. The website could profile the sick kids who have been made well, showcasing the good work of The Old Rats. Wanda could also use the projects to add to her professional portfolio demonstrating her skills, as she prepares to launch her own application. Of course, this collaboration first requires a conversation, and The Old Rats don’t talk. For myself, I always carry change precisely for these encounters. It would be naïve to think The Old Rats don’t know who paid. I remain grateful for their work
THE ATTACK WAS DELICATE AND PRECISE
Can you defend each other? a counselor asked my friend Shadow and his wife Wanda this during a sex therapy weekend. That wasn’t the real name, but the troubles in their marriage bed needed addressing. Weird question though. Wanda had whispered, an empathy exercise, and closed her eyes. When she woke, she was in the elevator, going up. My friend Shadow didn’t notice anything strange. Their hotel room was cold and humidified. A king-sized bed and an open shower, but there was never any sex during sex therapy weekend. My friend Shadow left his wife Wanda to get ice, and he heard a crash while waiting at the elevator bank. He took the stairs. He was still reeling from how Wanda had responded to the counselor–he had gained insight. The ice machine was rattling and dripping at the end of the hallway. Nothing strange yet, but any minute, there would be sirens, screaming, chaos.
You want to matter in this culture? my friend Shadow would say. Not me! Wheel of Fortune is not an intellectual endeavor and your team’s playoff run is not passion or drama. He would give these speeches. He would give his mannequin heads smokey eyes and an embarrassed blush. He would pat Wanda on the back after she prepared dinner. But I was there the night my friend Shadow did his wife Wanda’s makeup for the first time. It was delicate and sensual. He was respectful—to the point of restraint—of her natural beauty, which wasn’t abundant. When he held up the mirror, Wanda was disappointed.
Why did my friend Shadow retreat sexually from his wife Wanda? It was a good question. I would have advanced–it’s easy to see the advantages. But I am not my friend Shadow. Objectively, Wanda’s forbearance was very attractive. Also, that freckle on her neck. But I am not my friend Shadow. He wanted no distractions while he prepared for his cosmetology certification exam. My role as third wheel in this relationship seemed vital for stabilization. Some nights, my friend Shadow fell asleep while studying in their home office, and I’d get him a blanket and lock up on the way out. Wanda and their dog Apple would be sprawled and snoring in their marriage bed. We were all so close.
Sean Ennis is the author of CUNNING, BAFFLING, POWERFUL (Thirty West), and his fiction has appeared in Bending Genres, trampset, and the Best Microfiction 2023 anthology. More of his work can be found atseanennis.net