Page 21 of Bad Mommy

Jolene waved away my question, sending a cloud of smoke my way.

“Darius took her to his mother’s for the weekend. She lives in Olympia.”

“Oh,” I said, sitting down next to her. “Why didn’t you go with?”

“Because his mother is a cunt.”

“Oh,” I said, again. “What does Darius think about you not going?”

She stubbed her cigarette out on the concrete and looked at me, her eyes bloodshot.

“Does it matter?”

I had a million things to say about that, like—yes, it does matter. And—marriage takes compromise. And—when you get married to someone, you marry their whole family. But something told me my opinion wouldn’t matter tonight. Or maybe ever.

“Did you have a fight?” I asked her. “Is that why…”

“-Why I’m drinking and smoking?” she finished. “No, Fig. I actually do these things every once in a while and it doesn’t have anything to do with Darius and me having a fight.”

I felt stung. Chided like a small child.

“I’ll just leave you be then,” I said, standing up. Her eyes suddenly softened and she grabbed my hand.

“I’m sorry. Here,” she said, lighting up a cigarette and handing it to me. It was thin and long, something I imagined Cruella de Vil smoking. I wanted to tell her I didn’t smoke, but it seemed like a peace offering, and I wanted to hear if she had anything worthwhile to say. She lit up another of her own and placed it between her very red lips. Had she gone out? I hadn’t seen her car leave. She was wearing ripped black jeans and black boots. I suppose if you were the emo type or one of those suicide girls, you’d leave the house looking like that. I took a puff of the cigarette and immediately started coughing. Nasty.

“I want to be a good friend to you,” I said, suddenly. “It’s not always easy to talk to your everyday friends about things—they land up judging you and then things get awkward.”

She looked at me with interest now, so I kept going. “But, if you had a neighbor, someone neutral to bounce things off of—or maybe just to vent to—that would be perfect.”

Her stony face dissolved, and she readjusted the cigarette between my fingers so I was holding it the right way. I took another drag and this time I didn’t cough up a lung. It made me feel lightheaded.

“I love Darius,” she said. “We chose each other.”

I waited for her to say more, but when she didn’t, I started fidgeting with my cigarette until I burned my hand. I sucked on my knuckle, wondering if we’d sit here all night in silence, or if I should say something else.

“Is there a but to that statement?” I asked, after a while.

“No,” she said. And then, “I’m not good at monogamy.”

My heart rate sped up. Was she confessing something to me? Was I supposed to press or just let her speak? I decided to tell her something I heard on the radio.

“Humans are monogamous creatures. We stray when our happiness is threatened. Happiness is tied to survival. We feel as if we are failing if we aren’t happy, especially when we open any social media panel and see our friends hashtagging all the good things in their lives. It’s all fake. We are all more in limbo than we are happy.”

She stubbed out her cigarette and pivoted her body to face me. “He does everything right. He’s the best father, he lets me be me. He’s kind and gentle and spends his life helping other people be healthy humans.”

“Is there someone else?” My voice was low and conspiratorial. It reminded me of high school, how girls always had their heads together discussing the various dramatic happenings of their lives.

“No … not really…” Her voice dropped off and I knew there was something she wasn’t telling me. I decided to change tactics.

“Did you go somewhere tonight? You’re dressed up,” I said, pointing at her boots.

“Yes,” she said, lighting her third cigarette.

I shifted my butt around on the stair, starting to feel numb. I didn’t have as much cushioning as I did before.

“Do you not trust me, is that why you’re giving me one word answers?” I tried to look as wounded as possible, which I sort of was anyway. I’d not given her any reason to doubt me.

“I don’t trust anyone, Fig. Not even myself.” She sighed, stubbing out her cigarette before she had a chance to smoke it. “Come on,” she said, standing up. I watched her dust off the back of her jeans and walk through the door into the kitchen before I stood up and followed her. She was making tea, setting out the mugs and sugar cubes. She didn’t bother to turn on the light, choosing instead to fumble around in the dark.

“I saw an old friend today,” she said, setting down a mug of tea in front of me. “From college, actually. He was in town visiting his best friend and invited me to have dinner with them.”

“Oh?” I said, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Did … something happen?”

She waved away my question, furrowing her brow. “No, nothing like that. It was lovely to see him after all this time, you know? I think I’m having some sort of young and free college nostalgia.”

“Are you attracted to him?”

She paused. “I’d be lying if I said no. He’s very attractive.”

“Is that why Darius took Mercy to his parents? Was he upset that you went?”