The doorbell rang which never happened anymore. Gordon was searing salmon in the kitchen and Fay watched him pause mid-flip to cock his head to one side like a sleek bipedal Labrador. She put her pen down on the topmost précis and rose, running through a list of potential ringers. As she left the bright kitchen, she had three possibilities: late delivery, neighbor in distress, unknown assailant.
The “Shhh...Sleeping Baby!” sign they’d hung on the doorknob last year had deterred ringers, and Fay couldn’t actually recall ever hearing the bell before. When it rang again in the dark hallway, it sounded gaily ominous.
When she reached the door, she rose on tiptoe to look through the peephole before remembering there wasn’t one. She thought that was an oversight, given the paranoid exurban infatuation with home security systems, so she rested her ear against the door and held her breath, listening.
She couldn’t hear anything except the sizzling pan and felt ridiculous lurking timidly behind her own front door. She opened it slowly.
Looking down, expecting to see a little brown package, Fay found a pair of tortured black Doc Martens. Stuck into them were two matchstick legs in beyond-ragged jeans below a leather jacket that was clearly too large for the narrow shoulders inside it. She couldn’t see a face, just the back of a head wreathed in cigarette smoke staring across the lamp-lit cul-de-sac.
Fay wavered in the doorway, poised to do nothing. The backlit face turned toward her and emerged from the halogen orange Marlboro cloud like some kind of grievous goddess. “Hey, Fay,” she said.
Fay tightened her grip on the door. “Diana,” she said.
Diana held up an arm and twirled a thin hand, Ta-Da, while she took a last drag. Then she dropped the cigarette on the stoop and flicked it with the toe of her boot into the azaleas.
Fay felt a stab of annoyance at the butt while she took an involuntary step toward Diana, who, taking the same step, wrapped Fay in a nicotine and leather embrace. Irritating and irresistible, Fay thought, just like home. They clutched and rocked until the stoop was gone and they were back in their shitty apartment above Iolo’s, dancing slow to a popping copy of Astral Weeks. Fay fought the urge to rub the bridge of her nose along Diana’s neck.
They parted after too long and not long enough and then they were in the kitchen and Fay was introducing her husband and explaining about the baby upstairs and worrying absurdly about the amount of fish. Gordon, surprised but game, played along by fetching three Mexican beers from the back of the fridge. They were reserved for Gordon’s father but could be replaced.
As they sat at the kitchen table and chatted, Fay watched Diana watch her life and tried to imagine it through Diana’s eyes. Fay was suddenly ashamed of the whole package: house, azaleas, job, Subaru, husband, baby. She thanked god there wasn’t a dog.
Gordon excused himself to deal with dinner and Diana excused herself to deal with a second cigarette, and Fay chose to follow Diana. She stood alone on the back deck, draped in light from the kitchen window, staring at the postage-stamp backyard. When Fay slid the glass door shut, Diana whistled.
“Oh me oh my oh, would you look at Miss Ohio?” Diana said, shaking her ever-shorter red hair. Fay noticed she’d started shaving the sides of her scalp. She liked it.
“I know,” Fay said, bemused, proud, rueful.
“No dog, though,” Diana said. Their smiles were sharp across the deck planking.
“Where have you been?” Fay said.
“Oh, here and there. After I couldn’t finish the diss, I swallowed the road instead of a shotgun or...” and she gestured with her cigarette at Gordon’s shadowy lithograph in the kitchen window.
Fay swallowed. “They didn’t do us any favors, setting us up for jobs that don’t exist.”
Diana looked up at the house. “You did alright.”
“I shouldn’t have left.” Fay omitted the “you” and it floated around the deck like the baby’s summer bubbles.
“I looked you up,” Diana said. “Tenure.”
Fay shrugged. “Victory through apathy.”
Diana snorted and Fay blushed and watched her savor the damage along with the last drag of her cigarette.
Fay managed not to wince as Diana flicked the butt into her hydrangeas. She could find it later.
“Don’t pretend you’re not happy,” Diana said. She brushed one long bang out of her eyes. “Especially for my benefit. I don’t need it.”
“So why come?” Fay said.
“Just dropping in on a friend from school,” Diana said. She crossed her arms and the jacket rasped.
Fay wondered just how skinny she was under all that leather. Could you see her ribs again? The twin knives of her pelvis? Could you still count each little bone in her spine, trace them as she had with the tip of a finger like a crayon through a maze?
“Stay the night,” Fay said, flushed and anxious to prolong proximity.
Diana laughed the old bark. “No, you’ve got a full house.”
Fay was embarrassed again but knew better than to flounder or beg or offer the fucking salmon. They stared at one another under the light-polluted sky.
Then Diana was kissing her. No other contact, just lips, a sharp bite, then lips again, and she was gone. Fay heard her in the kitchen making the soft-mouthed pleasantries about the lovely home and the lovelier family and no, not being able to stay for dinner but thank you anyway, Gordon.
After a minute or an hour Fay made her way back through the kitchen to stand before the closed front door. For the second time that night, she pressed her ear to it. She listened for the sound of retreating boots. She listened for Diana’s breath pressing back against the other side of her door.
teaches and writes at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. He is the author of a poetry collection, Yeoman’s Work (Bottom Dog Press, 2020). His work was published most recently in Cheat River Review and Great Lakes Review, and jury-selected for the Write Michigan Short Story Contest Anthology. He lives 39 miles east of the lake with his wife and twin boys.
Author’s website: https://garrettstack.com/
Fair, in The American Journal of Poetry
(Volume 7, July 2019)
Spectacles, a poem in Blue Mountain Review