The first lie was clean and easy. The whys weren’t considered. The whys came later.
Sandra started crying when she said it. Her face got hot and red and her eyes softened and opened up under the glass of her tears. Sandra put her hand on Joy’s arm and rubbed it, and Joy felt the face of the sun finally shine down on her. She had gotten caught up in it. It was a dream of a tangle to be in.
Sandra asked her questions she didn’t know the answers to, but it was ok. Sandra told her she had plenty of time to find out, but in the meantime she needed to take care of herself.
Before Sandra left, a thought crossed her face and she stopped to rummage through her bag. She skittered back to the table and held out a hand to Joy containing five white little pills. “Do you need these,” she asked. “Just in case?”
“Oh! Thank you. I think it would help,” Joy said, hoping she didn’t sound too eager. She did need them, she reasoned. Then Joy had a sudden thought. She grasped Sandras’s arm and looked at her intently. She focused on the luxury of the moment, the tingling immediacy. “Don’t tell anyone. No one at all. I plan to tell people in my own time.”
“Of course, Joy,” Sandra said, her face still red-splotched with emotion, her brow creasing in concern. “I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone.” When Sandra finally walked away, Joy thought she looked extremely tiny, but glowing. Sandra had been wrung out and shaken up. Maybe that’s something we all need sometimes, Joy thought, settling into her own feelings. Joy thought maybe she had done something good.
The world outside looked lush and new. Joy felt like a new being, like she could go out now and try everything again, as if for the very first time. She had scraped the rust of living right off of herself. It was therapeutic, just what she needed. It felt like a hard and clear answer to something she’s been searching for her whole life.
That night she did nothing but study. She was gripped by the passion of purpose and curiosity. Plans could be intoxicating. Plans could keep you alive. She even considered purchasing those expensive medical journal subscriptions. She should have waited, should have studied more, but it was hard to wait. The very next day after she told Sandra, Joy published her Facebook announcement, and then turned off her computer.
She watched the dead, dark screen; pure in it’s idleness. Her chest tightened and released. She deleted her Facebook app from her phone. The sound of silence in the room was tinny and sharp. She couldn’t take another sip of coffee because the rush in her veins was already swift. It was too calm, everything was too calm. She turned the TV on an off, finding it hard to pay attention. It was that electric quiet that only occurred after something had happened, and something had definitely happened. Joy had made it happen.
She finally decided to go out for a bottle of wine, and pick up some cat food while she was there. In the aisles she found herself humming “Georgia on my Mind,” carefree and dreamy. She was wearing her favorite perfume and imagined the fragrance announcing her to the store, bringing her in on a cloud of flowers.
“It this wine good?” she asked the boy in the wine section, but she immediately knew he didn’t know. Sometimes grocery stores had sommeliers, but not this one, apparently.
“Oh yes ma’am! It’s great. Goes well with steak or whatever you’re having for dinner,” he said. He showed his teeth, but it wasn’t a smile. Joy relished his fragility. He was drawn into himself and would say anything he thought would let him retreat even further. Joy used to be like that, and it made her hate him. He was so thin and gray. He probably wanted to be seen and invisible at the same time, nursing a painful want for impossible things.
He didn’t know. He didn’t know that you only got so much notice in life, and most of it is when you are young. He didn’t know that even small talk, even meaningless silliness, was better than being alone all the time. What did he know about life? Probably less than he knew about wine.
And, he had called her ma’am. She could not forgive him for that. She had picked out a different bottle just to spite him. The cashier asked for her I.D., which made her feel a little better. The girl also cooed when she saw the cat food, telling Joy that she fed her own cat, Mr. Wiggles, the same brand.
“It looks so good,” the young woman said. “I sometimes wonder if I wouldn’t like it myself!”
The cashiers have gotten friendlier at these stores in recent years. Maybe they were being trained better. It was nice, except when they dug too deeply into your purchases for conversation starters. Sometimes Joy was proud of what she was buying, like today, but other times it was a bit of an embarrassment. What you buy at the grocery store is very personal. She’d read somewhere that they could tell things about you by what you bought, these stores. They could tell if you were pregnant just by buying things like lotion. She wondered what these stores thought they knew about her.
Joy had made a vow not to check Facebook until the next day. It was like waiting for a present, drawing out the gritty pull of anticipation. She sipped her wine. The pills could wait for later. She watched DVRed episodes of Scandal until she fell into a blameless sleep.