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Ashley Lopez

Well and Good


You always ask to meet in Dumbo. When we first started seeing one another I tried to get you to come to my neighborhood, with its structured grid of tapas restaurants and bike shops, brownstones regulated respectfully to side streets. In your part of Brooklyn, the pedestrian lanes bisect traffic at random, walkways elbow into corners and end in lopsided intersections. But you love it here. And I know it’s easier to meet you where you are.


You picked the restaurant, showing up post-yoga with an empty water bottle you place on the table so you won’t forget to fill up before leaving. You order oatmeal, hold the cinnamon, add a fruit cup that you’ll pick strawberries and blueberries out of before sliding me the honeydew.


I keep my quiche to myself as you detail a session with your lactation specialist and the recent gossip in your Mommy Mammary Mondays group. Other neighborhoods are satisfied with Alcoholics Anonymous and Bitch ’n Stitch, but the women of Dumbo take social gatherings to a primal level.


This week, the group focused on how to see the outward signs of ovulation. There’s a pinkness to the tongue, you tell me, a brightness in the whites of the eyes. You reach across the table, thumbs padding my lymph nodes. You can tell I’m on my luteal by the girth.


Our friendship has undergone cycles. Right now, we are at our closest. A gestating mother and a former alcoholic: We both can’t drink. After a year’s dry spell, you flung invitations at me to see red-light district beds from Amsterdam installed at MoMA, a weekend stroll through Little Island’s perch on the cheek of the Hudson. But your daughter is arriving soon. I gaze beyond the birth, see our flow of brunches ebbing.


I will get my period in the next few days. You say it with certainty. I take a sip of my water, enjoy the cool nothingness on my tongue, enjoy the sharp cluck your mouth makes when I say I don’t keep track.


You’ve always been a numbers girl, you say. You’re just good like that.


I’ve noticed the way you speak about goodness, and the tightness in your jaw when we avoid the dirt-streaked palm of a panhandler. I know I’m a good person, but it’s hard to give tough love, you said.


I pick up my green tea, imagine the peaty taste rolling over me the way bourbon once did. I was good at hiding how little I was sober. A whiskey at the restaurant far from the office could get me through the afternoon, a beer in the morning to keep me golden until lunch. I don’t like tea, but I’ve taken to copying your order. There’s comfort in running around with you, a surety that whatever choices I make will be seen as too righteous to be corrected.


The waiter comes to check on us and you assure him we’re fine. We turn back to glands, how they are the fortune tellers of wellness. This reminds you of a holiday party you’re hosting and the tarot reader you’re hiring for it. She comes highly recommended. You pull up her website to find her photo. A manicured smile that makes you want to believe. No crystal ball. After the baby is born, you’re going to one of her ayahuasca retreats upstate.


You want to know how I celebrate the holidays. You’re collecting family traditions to start with your baby. I’m tempted to tell you about my childhood, the liquor cabinet overflowing like a second Christmas tree. Instead, I talk about blowing eggs, how us kids pricked pinholes and pressed our mouths to one side of the shell, breath releasing a river of yolk into a communal bowl. We would glitter and dye the emptied bulbs, hang them on the tree with delicate precision. Christmas Eve, we’d feast on egg scramble. Mom knew how to pepper them so they sat on your tongue long after you left her table.


Sounds like a recipe for salmonella, you say, padding your lips with your napkin’s corner. You only eat at places with real cloth. A year into my sobriety, I tried to take you to my bourbon lunch restaurant. I wanted proof. If I could sit at my regular spot, smile my regular smile and order a tea, I could call myself well. But you tugged at my arm, said we could do better than paper napkins in a dispenser on the table. I didn’t know how to explain the disposable napkins were a kindness to the waitstaff, how intimate an act it is to wash away someone else’s mess.


You place your hefty AMEX on the check, ask what I’m up to for the rest of the day. A moving truck stops outside the window, its white side bouncing light onto your beefed up cheekbones and extensive lashes. When we met, your nose was pug-shaped. You would stand in the office bathroom, pressing the bridge skyward with both thumbs as if training it to sit upright.


Advice from my dad: People never ask how you spend your money, only how you spend your time. He meant time was the valuable commodity. He was a drunk. You were the first to call him that. The word was heavy on my tongue, but you were used to it, accustomed to naming things as you saw them. We would not be here at this table together if you had not witnessed me turning a corner. Other people’s weaknesses give you security. But you don’t know what it is to call your father a bottle in and hear him slur he loves you. To know he is more than what he does with his money or his time.


The merchant copy is signed, and we are leaving. You pause by the door to fasten your coat. I fuss with my own zip-up fleece, eyes on the tree near the vestibule. A star hangs from a bough nearby, my face spinning lazily in its mirrored belly. You ask, Wasn’t that good?


I want to tell you the meal was safe. The meats well-cooked, the tea caffeinated under the recommended amount. None of it guarantees a long life, a well-birthed child. I want to tell you I am not safe, but I do feel better. I want you to know that when the baby comes I can show up sober. I know how important it is to not let children see you drink.


We pour out of the restaurant, the heavy door forcing us through quickly. There's a hug on the street, your refilled water bottle thudding against my spine before we walk in opposite directions. Later, I find a bruise bluing from the impact. You never followed up on what I planned to do with what's left of today.

 

Ashley Lopez received her MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Split Lip Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, Columbia College Literary Review, and elsewhere. She works in publishing and lives in Brooklyn.


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