It was Monday night at the art gallery downtown. Mel Jenkins, fat, manic depressive, weird fiction writer, had brought Lollie Kyle to be her friend at the event.
Rarely did anyone accompany her to her own readings, neither her former husband or current nonwriting friends or dates, though she had made some friends in the arts community whom she greeted when she was out.
Sometimes she was jealous of husband and wife teams who sat together and sold books, usually the husband’s, and as much as she had wanted something like this when she was married, it was simply beyond the parameters of the marriage. Her ex hated her writing for one, and well, that was a problem. And her psychiatrist blamed her fat on their divorce. Luckily someone else was now dispensing her med scripts.
It was highly unlikely someone like Lollie would hang around Mel voluntarily. Lollie was skinny, tiny, social, wore gorgeous clothes, had long, straight dark hair, bright eyes, an infectious laugh.
At the art gallery when Mel introduced the sprite of a woman to her friends, she was grateful to Lollie for not saying the real reason they were hanging out together: Mel had hired Lollie to take her to an outpatient procedure, had hired her off of a caregiver website. Mel had to hire her because she had no one to take her – friend or family – to the embarrassing procedure, a colonoscopy, something she had to take care of earlier than usual having survived breast cancer a few years before.
She knew her friends and contacts at the gallery were surprised she was with someone so apparently beautiful and together like Lollie. Mel experienced a certain power, like the kind she had when she was younger and more beautiful and skinnier, married to a doctor, before she had been diagnosed and put on drugs that made her fat. She had thought herself beyond such artificialities. But maybe not. People seemed to notice her more and she glowed a bit in the attention.
As it turns out, Lollie lived in her neighborhood, so all Mel needed to do to pick Lollie up for their night out together was drive around the block to her door. Lollie was drinking, had put something strong in her thermos, the smell of it filled the car. Lollie was giddy and laughing. She was wearing the same ballet shoes she had worn at the outpatient clinic the day they met, the ones with wide ribbons crisscrossing on her delicate feet and ankles, displayed with jeans rolled up and cuffed. The doctor had noticed the shoes and stared at Lollie in the pre-procedure interview when Lollie was sitting with her in the prep area and not letting on she was hired, pretending she was Mel’s friend.
Mel had thought the doctor cute. Oh well, she also thought. So much for that. It was the downside of having a beautiful caregiver.
Mel had made some unfortunate choices in what to read that evening at the gallery. It happened sometimes. It was the moodiness and lack of judgement. She sometimes wondered if she didn’t have other things wrong with her, something that affected social abilities, the abilities to read others. Though often as a writer and a writer of weird fiction she almost always told others she didn’t care what anyone thought of her work. She had been tired of defending it to such people like her conservative ex and her family.
But then, that Monday night, having read her one piece about an alien who seduces a man – a piece that actually reads as a disturbing, serious story about mental illness – she wondered: Had she gone too far? Most definitely, yes. Her reading was met with a strange kind of complete, withdrawn silence.
Afterwards, when the crowd was mingling and talking, Mel returned to a table where Lollie was sitting with an organizer of literary readings. Lollie was flirting with him and they were laughing. Lollie laughed at her, said she hated the story, that it definitely was not the kind of thing she read. “Aliens!” she said. The event organizer laughed.
Mel and Lollie walked to the Irish bar next door to the gallery. Lollie kept drinking til she got pretty stone drunk. They sat in chairs outside the bar. Lollie hit on a much younger guy standing outside smoking and she bummed cigarettes off of him. One drink was enough for Mel. She was driving and hadn’t eaten all evening and her stomach was sour from nerves from the reading.
The young man eventually went away and Mel managed to talk Lollie out of yet another round. In the parking lot, Lollie smoked and pulled down the front of her jeans to shoe Mel a tattoo on her belly. Lollie may have well been the alien. Mel had not seen a body so small like that since she was in grade school.
She managed to get Lollie home. When she pulled up to the curb of Lollie’s townhome, Lollie said: “Do you have any oxy?” Mel managed a shocked response: “I don’t know,” she said. “Good night.” And luckily Lollie got out and got inside without involving Mel’s assistance.
Mel had time to think of this the next day. Had this been a kind of unspoken pact between them? The reason why Lollie hadn’t blown the cover of the real nature of the relationship?
It occurred to Mel that there was kind of an unspoken quid pro quo Lollie had orchestrated: She knew Mel’s desperation and she knew the flattery necessary to score free oxycontin. She knew Mel would perhaps have leftovers from cancer treatments and surgeries. Lollie probably did this kind of thing all the time as a caregiver.
Mel put one bottle of expired oxy in a bag and included a note: “This is it. I will not give you more, so don’t ask again. Don’t tell anyone I gave you this.” She hung it on Lollie’s front door
A couple of days later she received a text from Lollie complaining the strength of it wasn’t high enough. She ignored it and hoped she never saw Lollie again.
One afternoon when Mel was taking her dog outside her townhome, an hour which saw her unkempt, unshowered, her hair pulled up on her head and wild as an over-risen round loaf of mountain bread, Lollie pulled up next to her in her red SUV, smoking, calling her name.
Mel almost didn’t know who it was the inside of the truck was so dark and the day so bright. “Mel! Melanie Jenkins!” Lollie called out from behind the wheel. “I’m moving today, Mel! Going to Texas, wish me luck!”
Mel acquiesced and wished her well.
“I need you to review my caregiving on the site, so I can get more jobs,” said Lollie.
“Ok,” said Mel, though the thought of having to be so dishonest sickened her. She wasn’t sure if she would really do it.
And then Lollie was off, barreling down the narrow road between the houses and the woods.
It was perceptively quiet without Lollie and with the new thought that she was leaving. Lollie didn’t seem to be happy in Mel’s hometown anyway.
Mel’s little white dog sat down on the warm pavement, stretching her neck and sniffing. The trees seemed to move a little, as if taking a breath.