Today's treat is a short-short from Caeli Widger, a writer/editor friend I met through our mutual friend Linda Davis, featured author of the three part piece "THIS HOUSE". Caeli and I have worked together editorially on an upcoming novel of mine and have also had the pleasure of hanging out in person with our little ones when my book tour stopped in California last October. She was dear enough to let my baby-obsessed kids maul her littlest one while we chatted books and writing way too briefly. I'm excited to share this piece of hers, originally written for the "Dime Stories" (micro-fiction that must be readable in under 3 minutes) series. SOME TROUBLE won her a reading spot at the LA Book Festival. I look forward to reading more of Caeli's work soon!
The house is full of people Gail likes, but she she doesn't want to talk to a single one of them, because they'll ask her where Lorelei is, how Lorelei's doing, what Lorelei's doing. And what can she say? So she overfills a glass of tempranillo and slips away to the den at the far end of her sister's Pasadena almost-mansion, where she finds her niece’s new boyfriend parked on the couch, headphones engulfing his ears like giant clam shells. He’s the guest they're murmuring about back in the Great Room, where the party is humming, because the family's never met him before, and because he’s the lead singer of a supposedly famous band in New York, where Gail’s niece, Paige, goes to Columbia. She considers backing out of the room but it's too late – he senses her, and looks up, pulls the headphones off.
“Howdy,” he says easily. “I’m Jonah.”
“I'm Gail. Aunt Gail to most people here.”
He offers his hand, and it’s large and warm, like a smooth bear paw. She’s unnerved by his looks: the dramatic cheekbones, the alpine blue of his eyes, the profusion of dark hair at haphazard angles. Paige's boyfriends have always been handsome, but this one is in a different league. It occurs to Gail, who frequently doodles in notebooks – one of her secret tonics for anxiety, along with the Xanax she buys online from an offshore website – that he'd be a pleasure to draw.
“Want to sit down, Aunt Gail?” Somehow, he calls her Aunt with no weirdness at all. It doesn't strike her as impolite, or as overly familiar, or as an unsubtle recognition of their considerable age difference. He just says it, kindly. She's 50 on the nose now. But could pass for as low as 38, she reminds herself. In certain lighting.
She lowers to the couch uneasily, leaving a full cushion between them, and grasps at small talk. “So you're in town from New York? With Paige?”
“Yep. I finished my junior year at Columbia last spring. But I’m taking time off to work on music.”
“So you’re what, about 21?”
Reflexively, Gail says, “My daughter's 21,” and then can't believe she'd let it slip.
“Oh yeah? Is she here now? Seems like a serious all-family bash.”
In her chest, the familiar clutch. “Lorelei? No.”
“Oh. Where's she live?” He sounds genuinely curious.
Gail opens and closes the clasp of her handbag. He's making her feel inexplicably confessional. “Honestly, I don’t know at the moment. She’s going through a…a troublesome phase.” She’d meant to say troubled but it hadn’t felt right.
Jonah grins, his teeth white as polished chalk. “Oh, most of us go through one of those.”
“You think so?”
He raps his knuckles above his left knee. “Hear that? That’s the titanium rod in my leg, where my femur used to be, before my troublesome phase.”
Jonah slides over, closing half the cushion-gap between them. “Promise not to think less of me?”
“Promise,” Gail says, startled by how brazenly he’s entered her physical space. He’s a baby, for God’s sake. Like Lorelei.
“Senior year of high school,” he says. “We were snorting white diamonds. Then we thought it’d be fun to hop in a car and see how many stop signs we could run.”
“What’s white diamonds?” She plants her right hand on the remaining slice of couch between them, and an absurd piece of knowledge descends. A clairvoyant certainty she hasn’t experienced since the night she met her husband 1982. A single fact, radiating both nausea and electricity: tonight, Jonah will kiss her.
If she could just throw up, nothing but euphoria would be left inside her. Maybe one day she can ask Lorelei if this is what heroin is like.
* *** *
BIO: Caeli Widger writes and edits fiction in Santa Monica, CA. Her stories have most recently appeared in Another Chicago Magazine and The Madison Review, and she's just completed her first novel. She also teaches fiction classes for the Brooklyn-Based Sackett Street Workshop (www.sackettworkshop.com) and mothers one small boy and one smaller girl.