WordWorks 2020 Volume III

Page 18


iley Ho Winner of the BC-Yukon Short

Masquerade We see each other infrequently now, usually at your parties. Or whenever you need a good cry on my shoulder. You adore fancy parties, cooking for everyone, being mistaken for a woman of leisure with all the time in the world to make dinner for twelve or more. I know better than anyone you’re not a trophy wife, despite your pearl-lacquered nails and perfectly toned body which you’ve wrapped tonight in a champagne-coloured gown, the plunging neckline outlined in angora. I see you’ve invited new friends this evening, and their plus ones. As you gradually bring out—like fresh canapés— little details about yourself throughout the evening, these acquaintances will be genuinely surprised to learn that you’re a single mom. How, besides a busy career, you make time for bake sales, sports games, the arts, and—of course—friendship. At this, you catch my eye even though I’m standing apart from the others, raise your glass of sparkling water and send me a wink. You introduce me as your oldest friend, leaving “oldest” to interpretation. You don’t mention how far back we go. Or the rehab. Your expensively dressed guests turn to take stock of me. Loose grey hair, faded sweater, saggy pants. I can tell, from their slightly bemused looks, that they are surprised we are friends. I tolerate the smirks because I have dressed for myself, despite your warning it would be a dressy affair. It’s my protest costume, a subtle middle finger at the one-percenters masquerading as the middle-class, the put-together pretending to be all together. I know that you—the flying phoenix tonight in your resplendent dress—grudgingly admire this about me. We know each other, after all. I am so proud of how far you’ve come, how high you’ve clambered from those bottomless nights, gripping the toilet, retching and shivering uncontrollably, bawling you would never do it again. Those pre-dawn phone calls when you bled out your anemic heart, your voice a cracked whisper in my ear, trying not to wake your sleeping daughter dropped off for the weekend by your ex. I yelled at you 16 WORDWORKS ︱ 2020 Volume III

then. I implored for you to keep your seams together so you wouldn’t lose your daughter. Trust me. If you lose your child, you will never forgive yourself. I have watched you transform, bit by bit, marshalling the madness in a new direction, into a different addiction. You went from getting high to getting promotions, from a rented basement to a penthouse suite. I know that I have become the single incongruity in your life. Yet you hold onto me like cool porcelain. A touchstone. Tonight, your place feels like a gala reception. The living room is an eruption of fresh flowers, hothouse beauties in reds and purples to resuscitate the hibernating pulse of winter. A jazz trio massaging the air from a corner. Tables laden with finger food: baby quiches dusted with paprika, rosettes of prosciutto, spears of grilled asparagus, cheeses hard and soft flown directly from Europe. A forest of green wine bottles on the granite island, their grown-up labels facing the world. No inferior grape here. The doorbell chimes again, and you pull me with you towards the door. More guests arriving. Blinding smiles, half-kisses, introductions. “Welcome, please make yourselves at home. Allow me introduce you to my oldest friend.” This is my cue. Curving my lips into a smile, I extend a damp palm. Over and over again. Pulling me aside, you ask what I think so far. I gush that the place looks gorgeous, that you look lovely. I know how much work you’ve put in. No, no, you laugh, tilting your head towards your new man who is leaning against the fireplace, chatting with a group of his tribesmen all in the uniform of the sports jacket. I do not say that he looks like X or that he sounds like Y. Or am I confusing him with Z? It’s not only their names I’m forgetting but also their faces. The preternaturally well-preserved faces of the distinguished gents I’ve met across your threshold are blending together. Tanned visages creased by midday golf and convertible coupes. Clean-shaven and cologned, their gazes are accustomed

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