Kim Magowan

The weekend before Hallie’s wedding to that schmuck Stuart, Hallie and I go to Sayulita to chill. Her stepfather Mort pays for everything, not just our plane tickets and hotel but also all our spa treatments. Mort is so thrilled that Hallie asked him to walk her down the aisle, he’s her own private expense account.

I want to sign up for facials, but Hallie rejects any treatments that might make us less beautiful for her wedding. She tells me the story, again, about how her friend Tabitha got a facial when she was in Indonesia. The technician didn’t sterilize her needles, so Tabitha had cystic acne and looked like shit for months. Every time I hear this story, I think the same thing: it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person. So we pick other treatments: mud baths, something called the “third eye” where they drip aromatic oil on the center of your forehead, a “hot stone massage” involving rocks lining my spine. Each stone feels like a snap, unfastening me.

Mort would pay our bar tab too, but Hallie doesn’t want to drink. She’s worried about calories. So instead we buy some pot from this guy Lorenzo we meet on the beach. We get more stoned than we’ve been since college, where we were once so loaded we ate a pizza that had dropped face-down on the carpet, and had lint sticking to the cheese.

The pot shakes something loose in Hallie. She says, “There’s more to life than sex.”

That comment makes me tap my knee, as if I were hitting a “pause” button on a remote.

We’re lying on our balcony, soaking up sun. My therapist Barbara is always telling me that I “read too much” into what Hallie says, yet even Barbara would concede that particular comment is not subject to misconstruction. Still I ask, “What do you mean?”

Stuart, Hallie’s fiancé, is fat and balding. He looks like the Penguin without his top hat.

Time has become viscous honey. Hallie says, “The guys who were my best lovers were ne’er-do-wells.”

That characterization makes me laugh, it’s as if we are in Victorian England. “Scoundrels,” I say.

“Remember Joshua?” she says.

Sure, I remember Joshua. He never returned my glass pipe. For weeks after Hallie broke up with him, I’d whine, “But my pipe!” At last Hallie said, “Nicky, forget that fucking pipe.”

Then Hallie says, “Men don’t know how to give head. Women are much better at going down.”

Well, that statement is a torpedo that hits the aerodynamic blimp of me. I’m torn pieces of gray siding and swirling engine parts. I wish I was recording this dialogue for Barbara, so she would let up on that “reading too much into” spiel.

I repeat, “Women?”

As in plural; as in, whom the hell did you sleep with, Hallie, female-genderwise, aside from myself?

Because for two weeks in college, we were lovers. It started sophomore year, when Hallie was reading a Jane Austen novel and had an epiphany. She handed me a card where she had written, in bubble cursive, this quote from her book: “It came to Emma with the speed of an arrow: Mr. Knightley could marry no one but herself!” Hallie looked at me expectantly while I read her card. I remember thinking, what the fuck? It didn’t occur to me that I was Mr. Knightley in this scenario, until Hallie palmed the sides of my face and kissed me. Those two weeks were the best of my life, before Hallie’s second epiphany that she was not a lesbian.

Hallie is unresponsive, so I repeat, “Women?”

And finally—seeds shaking out of a broken maraca—she tells me about Beatrice Meyer, her semester in Florence. I met Beatrice when I visited Hallie. She was in the same study abroad program, living down the hall from Hallie. I close my eyes to picture her, but all I can visualize is the bougainvillea vine, blood-colored, climbing up the wall of their Tuscan villa.

I’m way too stoned to deal with any of this—Stuart’s inadequacy in bed (unsurprising), another female lover (shocking). So I take fresh basil out of the mini-fridge. Mort has sprung for a suite. Hallie won’t eat anything fattening because of her damn wedding dress. I rinse the basil in bottled water—we are both paranoid about getting sick—curl it into a cylinder, and chiffonade.

I’m too stoned to be handling a knife, but the blade in my hand feels good. I don’t think I would mind cutting off a finger or two.

All night is like that: Hallie gives me drifty smiles, she’s a floating sky nymph, and says, “I don’t care if I never have an orgasm again,” and, “I need stability.” I wonder if these morsels are flotsam and jetsam, shucked off the shipwreck of single girl Hallie, or if they are a trail of crumbs supposed to lead me somewhere. What would Barbara say? I can hear her New Jersey accent intone, “Wish-fulfillment.”

Later Hallie passes out. Even though I have my own queen bed, I slip into hers. I hold her in my arms. I think about my maid-of-honor toast, which I’ve been working on all week. But all my diffuse brain can land on is an image of Hallie, sophomore year, at our dorm’s Halloween party. Dressed up as the burlesque star Dita Von Teese. She had a blue-black wig and a vinyl bustier. In my arms, Hallie’s skin is hot. I imagine twenty years from now, hosting her teenage daughter. I picture this girl at eighteen, Hallie’s age when we first met. In my mind, the daughter has Stuart-the Penguin’s round face but Hallie’s beautiful bow lips. I will be her cool godmother, Aunt Nicky. I will carve her an apple bong; I will introduce her to so many things.

Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the English Department at Mills College. Her fiction has been published in Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, and other journals.