Guaranteed Happiness

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by Kathleen

My family called me, “Pris,” which I hated.

It bothered me until I was thirteen and Felicity sauntered into our humdrum classroom, after being expelled from some top echelon school.

With several seats vacant, she collapsed into the one beside me, and blew bubblegum that miraculously didn’t stick to the gleaming swatch of dark hair covering half her face.

Behind her books, she exaggerated our teacher’s lisp. “Such supercilious pusillanimity.”

I laughed and spent the afternoon in detention. Thereafter we were best friends. Felicity lived in a mansion overlooking Lake Michigan. Her parents traveled and her brother Barret attended boarding school. A housekeeper existed, but barely.

In class, Felicity showed me her body-piercings. When nobody else was looking, she flashed her navel and budding breasts.

My parents didn’t miss me. They were happy I’d made such a rich friend. At Felicity’s, we watched movies, swam naked in the lake, and, fitting our bare- feet bottoms together, pushed, testing our leg strength.

That summer I kissed her in a webbed hammock, getting lost in her perfect, sweet face. Breathless, I asked, what next?

Her quicksilver blue eyes darted around. “Lots,” she said, “but you’re not ready.”

Then I fell in love with the backs of her knees as we bicycled along less fancy streets, which nonetheless maintained summer’s endless leafy green canopy. Splotches of sunlight shimmered over the asphalt.

Felicity’s instinct for houses where contented owners answered the doorbell rarely missed. Her game required genteel manners and a waitress’s receipt booklet. If the homeowner would sign the receipt—no money, don’t worry—Felicity promised she would think of the person every day. She’d say their name out loud, guaranteeing their happiness. As witness, I tried unsuccessfully to act solemn. After we collected signatures covering two booklets, though, the game bored her.

Halfway through August, everything bored her. Suddenly, Felicity refused to leave her darkened bedroom—or even talk. I visited and she ignored me.

Except, just before leaving forever, she said, “If you ever think of me, Pris, say my name. And I’ll say yours.”

That was ten years ago. Last week her brother Barret, whom I had never met, found me in Manhattan. He’d pay for the plane ticket if I’d visit the hospital—the same one where John Hinckley is kept.

A nurse led me to an unrecognizable Felicity, huge and twitchy from drugs. Her lustrous hair was hacked into a bowl-shape, her quicksilver eyes blank, and her tantalizing face hung bloated and vacant.

Appalled, I finally took her grossly swollen hand. Her voice burped like gas from a forgotten cave. “I. Know. You.”

“And Felicity,” I choked, “I know you.

Her laugh was guttural. “I don’t know me. But you…”

“I say your name, Felicity, every day.”

When I returned, my husband teased me for lying to her.

As if he could possibly understand. As if anyone could.


the Amateur Book Blogger said...

I love the darkness of this Kathleen. And the subtle John Hinckley / Jodie Foster link is really clever. It feels like there is so much more here and could be a much bigger story. Intriguing!

Rufus said...

I like the way you tie in the "name magic" from beginning to end. And TAAB is right. There is so much here, it's like a novel distilled into a shot glass.

Mike French said...

Powerful stuff Kathleen.

kathleenmaher said...

Thanks. I dreamed this one and it hurt a little to cut it short, but as I'm learning with these, most readers already know the parts I left out.

Stella said...

I'm almost nervous to see what you could do with a full length novel, Kathleen.