Aunt Jenny suggested sharing a chicken salad sandwich at a café we discovered on 23rd Street after returning three white nylon tees to the Gap on Tuesday. No, it wasn’t my purchase, Melinka. Actually, I haven’t worn white since my wedding reception at the “Bells of Hell” on 13th Street. Well, the former “Bells of Hell,” in the West Village. It was an old hangout of mine – before your Dad came into my life and, of course, you and your sister. So long ago. And, oh, I had such a crush on the bartender, too. I haven’t thought of him in eons! Larry – that was his name – he let me sit for hours nursing a white wine spritzer or a rum and diet coke while I batted my eyes at him for at least 90 full minutes, I swear! Sometimes longer! Bat bat bat, flutter flutter flutter, bat bat bat – until my black mascara flaked down my cheeks. Haven’t worn it since.
And! – on a related subject – do you know what your aunt slipped into my pocketbook yesterday? A package of three exfoliating facial razors, uh huh. You couldn’t make this up, Melinka. Aunt Jenny demonstrated the efficacy – you know I love that word – by removing several of my longest chin hairs with the “high quality blades,” she said, while I read the directions in French. Not that there’s a likelihood that I’ll travel above 59th Street this year, let alone a foreign country … but I enjoyed putting my high school French to good use. “Sculpte les sourcils de façon experté …” And that’s all I remember. Besides, I found a better use for the Schick pre-Thanksgiving sale. Tonight, I removed the skin of a leftover turkey leg with the God damned razor – okay, so I’m still feeling a little resentful – the big drumstick that your brother-in-law saved for me from Thanksgiving. Dropped it off with my doorman. It was a nice gesture since Michael – this is funny – he cooked a 17 pound turkey for the only healthy guests – three vegetarians, three toddlers, and two meat-eaters. And, oh, you should have seen the emails, Melinka. Cousin Kate wrote: “Full disclosure. Mary vomited this morning but I think she ate too much cereal. Can we still come for dinner?” Surrrre, Kate, surrrre. Like Aunt Jenny had allergies, not Covid. Your Aunt Jenny wrote: “Full disclosure. I have Covid. So does Uncle John. Wish we could make it.” And from Uncle Billy Dean: “I’m sick.” Boom, that’s it. Cryptic, yes and, sure, he’s not much of a talker. But it’s a little suspect, you know? On your sister’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day – he said the same thing. Just … “I’m sick.” Boom. Makes you wonder if Billy Dean is just sick of our family, right? I mean, what do you think? Am I right or am I wrong? Hmm. Delete, delete, delete, delete.
Why the hell did I go with your aunt for a chicken salad sandwich on Tuesday? – excuse my French. Wait, let me say it again en Français. FUCKEZ VOUS, JENNY! I mean, I missed Aunt Lucy’s sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, I missed watching “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” with the grandkids, I missed being with family while I navigate – while I navigate … losing you, Melinka. Do you know that I cried when I ate half that chicken salad sandwich? Okay, I’m exaggerating but I had tears in my eyes. All welled up in my eyes, and I said to Aunt Jenny – this is funny – “My mascara is running.” And my clueless sister just nods and wipes her own watery eyes and snotty nose. Allergies. Yeah, right. When all I could really think about were the chicken cutlets in my freezer that … that I’ll never defrost for you, Melinka. Never. Never again.
So, this is funny. Well, it wasn’t funny at the time but I think you’ll get a kick out of it. Uncle Andrew called me a couple of hours ago while he was doing another pukey laundry, and he said to me – I’m going to try to repeat him exactly. Okay, I think I got it. Uncle Andrew said, “So, a woman runs into her vet’s office, carrying her dog, screaming for help. And the vet rushes the dog back to an examination room and puts him on a table. The vet examines the dog and after a few moments, says: ‘I’m sorry, but your dog is dead.’ And the agitated woman screams, ‘NO, NO! I DON’T BELIEVE IT! I WANT A SECOND OPINION!’ So the vet goes into the back room and returns with a cat. He puts the cat down next to the dog, and the cat pokes and sniffs the dog’s body. Finally the cat looks at the vet and meows. And the vet says to the woman, ‘I’m sorry, but the cat thinks that your dog is dead, too.’ The woman, finally – finally! – resigns herself to the diagnosis, thanks the vet and asks how much she owes. The vet says, ‘$450.’ The woman is horrified. She screams, ‘FOUR-HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS TO TELL ME THAT MY DOG IS DEAD!?’ And the vet answers, ‘I charged you 50 dollars for my initial diagnosis and another four hundred dollars for the cat scan.’
Full disclosure, Melinka. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. You are affectionate and oh, so funny – even your stinky breath made me laugh. Bottom line? You’re the best dog a woman could ever dream of having for a companion. And I am grateful for – delete delete delete – I offer my deepest thanks for our … profound friendship – today and every day. Rest in peace, my love. I miss you more than … than my Mom and Dad, my natural teeth and, you got it! – wearing mascara.
Je vous aimerai pour toujours. I’ll love you forever.
Bara Swain’s prose has been published digitally and in print in Exposition Review, Literature Today, Fresh Words, Blood & Thunder, Molecule Magazine, and Lodestar Quarterly, among others. Her plays and monologues have been staged in 200+ venues in 28 states and abroad , including 45+ virtual performances and ten short films. Her plays are anthologized by Smith & Kraus, Applause Books, Oxford U. Press, and Art Age Press. Titles include Unconditionally, Unfathomable, Saving Grace, I Love Lucy, Extraordinary, Rachel Holds Court (short plays), as well as monologues from The Color Enthusiast, Choose!, Turn! Turn! Turn!, Spreadin’ the News, Bereavement Group, P.O.U.G.H.K.E.E.P.S.I.E, and Protocol. www.BaraSwain.com