by Jay Merill
I saw her by the bus stop. Her body was drooping. So was her face. As though something weighed heavily on her; kept on pressing her down. Down towards the metal post, against which her left shoulder slumped. There was a sallow sag to her. She looked done in, said, “Hello,” to me after I’d stopped in my tracks, called her name:
This came out as a question because — was it really her? It was a while since we’d met, five years, in fact. Her plumpness had seemed solid then, her cheeks pincushion-red. When I was married to Matt, Jolene used to come round every week. And during the trial separation we kept up the friendship just the same. She liked nothing better than chatting across dinner tables over a brandy. At late night hours.
When I’d mentioned Matt and I were getting back together she’d said an unkind thing: That she wouldn’t want to know me if I took Matt back. Said she’d never speak to me again. He was a cheat and not worth having. She reminded me he could be arrogant, sarcastic, mean.
She’d sat at my table, a febrile loquacity frothing out of her. Bubble-like. As if there were a machine inside her which was programmed to churn out endless damning words. Since that moment I hadn’t clapped eyes on her. She’d moved to a new neighbourhood and I’d never tried to find out where.
At the bus stop I told Jolene that Matt and I had given things another go but it hadn’t worked out and we’d been finished now for quite some time. She asked me if I’d like to come to dinner at her place. I said that would be good.
It was blowy outside. We sat by the window of her swish apartment with a view of trees. They swayed like my emotions when Jolene said she regretted getting out of touch with me. But she had a confession to make. Said she hadn’t known how to tell me that when Matt and I were still together he’d come on to her in the bathroom once when she’d been visiting at our house. She flushed as she told me she was sorry for not speaking up at the time.
I invited her over to meet Del, my live out lover. She was on the move again and wanted some info on van hire is what she’d said. Del had some friends in the removals business and took her number, told her he’d be in touch very soon. Jolene was effusive; all a-glitter at these words. She seemed buoyant as her former self. I felt the sting of rivalry.
That was the last time I ever heard from her and any number of explanations could be given. The one I’m choosing is that she felt a compulsion to intrude on all my future fantasies in the role of dangerous beauty — as threatening as her namesake in the perennially popular song.
Jay Merill lives in London, is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing and is recently published in The Bohemyth, The Honest Ulsterman and Trafika Europe. Her latest stories will be appearing shortly in Fictive Dream, MIR Online and Unthology 10. Jay is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee and the winner of the Salt short story prize and is the author of two short story collections (both Salt): God of the Pigeons and Astral Bodies.