by Mardi Louisell
*This is serial fiction
In college, the woman looked up to a friend because she was smart, seemed confident and had a boyfriend four years older than she was. Her boyfriend was handsome, smart and funny. Also, her friend was a junior and she was a sophomore. At the age of twenty years, her friend had steely brown/grey hair; her beauty wasn’t a fashionable beauty but an unsoft Italian beauty, large breasts, long legs, sculpted face with chiseled nose. Her hair was cut in a stylish straight bob. Her friend stood as though she was about to tip over but that could have been the kind of heels fashionable at the time. Her talk, alternated astonishment and scoffing, ranged from the allure of a strapless dress to the philosophical challenges of life. “Wild,” her friend often said. “Fantastic. Isn’t life just too much?” For all these reasons, her friend seemed sophisticated. The woman felt privileged that her friend enjoyed talking with her. At the same time she worried that one day she might be the object of her friend’s off-hand scoffing.
When her friend graduated, she married her boyfriend and taught high school. When she proctored exams, she assigned herself one philosophical problem to solve during each three-hour exam. This confirmed for the woman how smart, intellectual and focused her friend was.
For the next thirty years, the woman lived 2000 miles away from her friend. The two didn’t meet but the woman sent Christmas cards. A few times in the first ten years she called and learned about her friend’s two children and lawyer husband. Her friend’s voice conveyed the same amazement and disbelief about her life as it had when she was a junior in college. For those thirty years, the woman had craved a friend like this, someone intelligent, witty, and fun, whose comments were unpredictable and who liked to analyze books as well as people. Although the woman coveted and searched for someone like this friend, she never found anyone. Eventually the woman resigned herself to going through life without that kind of friend.
One day, through the internet, the woman found her old friend and contacted her. It happened her friend was planning to visit her city soon so they could meet. With excitement, the woman realized she wasn’t a junior to her friend’s senior anymore but a woman with life experience and considered opinions. The woman would tell her friend what she was working on and her friend would have an unpredictable insight; her friend would tell her about her students and the differences between their own generation and that of her students’. They might talk about poverty, global warming, their families, people from college. Her friend would tell her about her husband, now a judge. The woman would tell her friend about her artist partner. They would talk about philosophical issues, the ones her friend dissected when she walked around the classroom proctoring exams.
They met on a popular San Francisco pier where sea lions honked and tourists bought locally-sourced and organic caramelized macaroons and grass-fed beef.
“Pigeons are underrated,” was what her friend said. “No one realizes how beautiful they are.” Her friend then gave an update on her two children who had both become wealthy. Just as in the old days, her friend scoffed about this, though proudly. She rarely saw her son and implied it was what one should expect. Travel, teaching, shopping for designer clothes – the conversation wasn’t what the woman had dreamed of. She had spent thirty years imagining a meeting of minds about life’s difficult issues, maybe even death, in which her friend would appreciate her and she would appreciate her friend and they would learn from and admire each other because they were both intelligent.
Although her friend continued to visit the woman’s city once a year, the friend never called again. Maybe the woman’s friend had never liked her? Maybe they wouldn’t have remained friends if they had lived in the same city? Had her friend changed? Had she? Did she imagine her friend’s brilliance or was her friend so brilliant the woman couldn’t keep up with her? What was so beautiful about pigeons? The pigeon in front of the woman’s house was eating her pansies.