Who Are You, Really?




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by Kathleen


Violet looked like a fairytale princess, waiting outside her daughter’s nursery school. The other mothers were older and dowdy, the nannies frazzled. But Violet possessed primacy as a young mother.

Leigh arrived late, still unfamiliar with the roads. Violet glanced up and smiled. “Finally.” She extended her hand.

Leigh and Violet both lived in cramped apartments, both put their children first, and were both twenty-three. “Stick with me,” Violet said. “We’ll have fun.”

She phoned her mother-in-law and asked her to watch Gretchen and Jonathan. “Two hours, Mama. We’re hitting Nordstrom’s.”

Violet headed straight for Chanel cosmetics, ready for her make-over. Leigh refused, hands over her face in embarrassment.

“Why are you being like this? A little eye-shadow won’t kill you.”

Violet bought a pink tulle skirt. “Leigh, try this.” So Leigh bought a blue dress, agreeing that she could wear it anywhere, for anything.

Violet arranged a picnic for the families that weekend. At a riverside park, she introduced her husband, Doug, who sold pharmaceuticals. And Leigh introduced her husband, Garett, who produced infomercials.

During October, the families visited the zoo, the nature preserve, and many playgrounds. “Gretchen and Jonathan behave better together than apart,” Leigh said. “The boy-girl combination works at this age.”

“No sex battles at three.” Violet sighed. “When do they start?”

“In your case,” Doug teased her, “three and three days.”

“No, I think they started when I met you.”

Doug lifted Violet, hugging her. “Touché.”

On Halloween they finished in Leigh and Garett’s neighborhood. “See if you can get a babysitter,” Leigh said, “and come back for drinks after the kids are asleep.”

Soon Garett was serving his special Margaritas.

“They’re too strong.” Leigh added water to hers.

“Margarita and I are in love,” Violet said, after a long sip. “Famously.”

Doug shook his head. “Do you even know what’s in a Margarita?”

“Tequila. That’s what matters.”

Leigh leaned forward. “Alone at last. So tell us—who are you, really?”

Garett said, “Leigh, Don’t scare our guests.”

Violet emptied her drink and turned, relevé, arms reaching up. “I am: Actress and dancer. Tisch School.”

“Do you audition for parts?” Garett refilled Violet’s glass.

Doug spoke against the side of his hand. “Yes, sir. An ex-teacher comes to town and she sleeps with him.”

“Shut up.” Violet pushed him, in fun.

They drank for hours like that. Afterwards, Leigh and Garett agreed—success!

Monday morning, Violet phoned, saying thanks for the splendid time. She and Gretchen were leaving Doug. Flying to her parents’ in Michigan.

“How awful. Why?”

“Why do you think, Leigh?”

“Violet, come on.”

“You asked the question, Leigh. ‘Who are you, really?’ Well, I’m not just some housewife. Bored by my plain vanilla husband. So what if I don’t know who I am? I’m definitely not that.”

4 comments:

Rufus said...

Great story, and told almost entirely in dialogue! Amazing.

Stella said...

Rufus stole my comment.

Paul said...

I always enjoy stories about empowerment or being placed on the brink of change. I like the way this happens in this piece, Kathleen.

kathleenmaher said...

Rufus and Stella, When I first thought about writing extremely short stories, a friend advised me to avoid dialogue; there would be no room for it. But more often it seems the only option if I want any hint of character in there.

Paul, thanks as always. I hadn't thought of it as empowerment, but rather, what happens when someone takes an off-hand question to heart. You saw much more--she wouldn't have noticed if she weren't on that brink.