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Passion Pit -- fiction by Abbey Griffin

“Mary! It’s wonderful to see you. I’ve missed you fiercely,” Sandra says as she throws open her frosted door and ushers Mary through the foyer, into the freshly waxed Pink Room. Mary’s doc martins track rain and farm dirt behind her, but Sandra doesn’t care a lick. 

“I was only gone a week, cookie. Surely your left neighbor can keep you company that long?” Mary says, eyes sparkling, “Besides, I don’t think it’s possible to miss me more than I missed you.”

“Oh, stop it—” Sandra hides her smile in the heavy swish of her skirts as she sits.

“No, I’m being serious! I swear, without you Pastor Johnson would have me half asleep in those purple pews—”

“Mary! You can’t talk like that.”

Mary raises a bushy brow. She sweeps her gaze across embroidered pillows and thick draped curtains. The white-gold chandelier kisses her upturned brow with all the gentleness of a summertime breeze against peach skin. 

“And you’re going to go run and tell him, then?” It’s a blatant challenge with no discernible backdoor, the Margret Holden specialty. One day they’d be crinkly and gray in the old people’s home and Mary would still be coming up with ways to swipe extra pudding, Sandra knows it. She knows she’ll still be by her side looking out, too.

“God sees everything, Mary.”

“I certainly hope not. That would be improper,” she says, whip fast, and Sandra finally stumbles into unattractive, parrot belching laughter. As they both knew she would if pressed close enough to propriety’s razor edge.

“Oh my gosh. You’re just impossible. How does Ronnie put up with you?” 

Mary wilts, beam slipping and leaving her small, as if she drank an Alice potion. Sandra frowns—she can count on one hand the amount of times Mary shrank for others, and it’s never been her fault.

“You know,” she eventually sighs, tossing her shoulders back and pinning on her poker smile, “what do I care about the inner workings of men?”

“Is something going on with Ronnie? Last I heard, you went to the movies a few weeks ago with Norman and Linda to see the new Rita Hayworth.”

“We’re fine as we’ve ever been, Sandy.” Which isn’t a denial. In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite.

“Mary... you know it’s okay to struggle with your relationship, right? Just the other day William and I had an awful debate about buying Thomas white or blue shoes.”

“God, that’s just like you two. It’s not a squabble over sneakers.” Her face pinches in a distinctly Un-Mary grimace. She throws her mucky shoes up on the coffee table, and Sandra winces.

They stare at each other for some time after—a flint eyed, nose-up standoff. Sandra knows she’ll win, though. Mary is stubborn as the Culvers’ mule with everyone except her.

When they were fourteen, Sandra accidentally broke her favorite Vicky Schipitcsh. Mary swore by the north star she wouldn’t ever talk to Sandra again. Every day for a week Mary refused to borrow her pencils, share her pickles, or even save her seat in English. 

Sandra ached from afar, cady corner to Smelly Pete, longing for Mary’s soft hand on her wrist or scathing sarcasm in her ear. Right when she’d resigned herself to growing gray and crinkly alone, Mary caved. 

She stormed over Friday at noon in a swirl of sun burned scalp and road burned knees. She plopped down with her lunch sac, grumbling, Were you lonely? You looked lonely. I think you were lonely, without me. 

I think you don’t want to do that ever again. Right? 

Sandra smiled with her full chubby face. She said sure, Mary; she knew with startling sincerity Mary could have asked for the sun in exchange, and Sandra’s pitiful teenage heart would’ve leapt to obey.

“He wants to start trying.” 

Quiet. Deafening quiet, filled only by nail gun thunder and rattling windowpanes. Mary worms her hands past robin’s egg skirt to worry at the crinoline beneath. It bends under her blunt nails, groaning, crying.

“Okay,” Sandra says. Mary doesn’t even look up. “Alright. We’re going to figure this out, don’t worry. I’m here for you. Look at me, honey. What exactly is he trying to do?”

“No, not he. Us. He wants us to start trying together, because it takes two, and we have to be on the same page where everyone gets a vote. Except for me, apparently. He doesn’t like my vote, so my vote doesn’t exist. Even though I’m the body the baby is going in!”

Sandra blinks once, twice. “You’re upset about... having a baby?”

“I’m not upset! Everyone keeps putting words in my mouth. I’m just not ready, okay? That’s not a bad thing. I mean, think about it. Men strut around however long they want without children, and nobody thinks any less of them. How come I’m a monster for wanting to wait a bit longer?” The couch squeals as Mary violently kicks back, drawing up and planting herself firmly, like she expects to be ripped up by the roots.

It reminds her of the first time Mary ever convinced her to go to the passion pit. William and Sandra had just started going steady, and Mary was going through a spiky phase. 

Will drove his dad’s car—the convertible with the scratched up red fender. Mary and Ronnie, then just her recent flavor, Ronald, sat in the back. He made eyes at her down three blocks and into the drive-in while she flapped a paper in her face to cool off, playing hard to get. 

Sandra knew Mary wanted him bad, though. Whenever the four of them went out, Mary wore cerulean, and she called blue her “fuck-me” color.

Will brought sugar packets to pour on Sandra’s popcorn, because he remembered her sweet tooth. Sandra, eighteen and drunk on giddiness, kissed him on the cheek. He grinned like a chipmunk.

Halfway through the film, Sandra jerked out of Will’s arms as Ronald shrieked. Mary stood above him, an avenging angel, upturned cola glass dripping like a broken nose onto his new loafers. She’d scowled at him so ferociously, Sandra thought she’s gonna kill him, right here and now. Snap that bottle in half and stake his heart.

She didn’t. Will made some joke, as he did, and Ronald laughed it off, as he did, and Sandra watched Mary for what to do next, as she always would.

Mary looked back for a minute, chapped face set in a furrow. Sandra mouthed please. Slowly, like a comet passing, Mary sank down into Ronald’s waiting lap and nodded at her tightly. His thick palms clamped down on her hips.

It was the first time Sandra ever realized Mary would set a church on fire for her.

“Mary. You’re in your thirties,” Sandra says, shaking her head slightly.

“So?”

“So, how much longer do you expect him to wait?”

“What?” She looks suddenly, wildly out of place, her damp frock against Sandra’s towering cocoa-gold-rose furniture.

“Just that- well, I assumed you’d been trying and it just wasn’t working,” Sandra says, “Creating life is such a blessing. I want you to feel that. It makes all the swollen ankles and achy tits worth it, promise.” 

Mary leans back and lets the loveseat swallow her stout figure whole. Lightning paints her brown eyes amber. She can’t remember when Sandra stopped reading her cover to cover—maybe when she married Will, and suddenly there were entire crossword puzzles within Mary that she didn’t take the time to fill out.

“I’m sorry, Sandy. I don’t expect you to understand. The happiest I’ve ever seen you was on your wedding day. God, you were a beautiful bride. I thought, when you gave me your lilies and I swiped your tears real quick with my sleeve, I thought ‘I can do that. If she can do it, it can’t be hard.’” She stalls, like the raindrops freezing midair behind her. Mary—rough-edged, honey-blonde, waspish, witty, avenger Mary—begins to cry. 

Mary’s wedding day was her twentieth birthday. Pastor Johnson asked if there were any objections, and by her side Sandra shivered hard enough to give her hope. She should’ve known better. 

“Nobody told me sex would hurt.”

“Oh honey,” Sandra breathes, crestfallen and mildly scandalized. Even Mary has never dared to talk about this so blatantly. “It always hurts the first time.”

“No. No, Sandy, it’s not ‘just the first time.’ It’s every time he looks at me. It’s the size of his hands, all fat and veiny. It’s the scrape of his calluses on my back when I’m sick and he carries me to sleep. It’s the crease of his pants. Not even the feel. Just the way they look makes me so fucking mad I don’t even know what to do with myself.

“Is it never like that for you?”

Sandra’s chest burns and her vision swims. No, she thinks she says.

It’s a half-truth, the Sandra Walker specialty. She never has with Will, sure, but before him.... With Pastor Johnson’s nephew in junior high, she flinched every time he reached for her hand. His skin felt like pig leather, especially compared to Mary’s, soft as baby’s breath.

Mary buries her head in her hands and shatters. She’s always cried quietly, and this is no exception. It’s like watching a hailstorm approach; Sandra sees the impact as it hits, her shoulders heaving and relaxing like a heart contracts, before she hears the hiccups. 

“Hey, none of that.” Sandra stands quickly and slips around the table, kneeling. Her dress crumples against the ground. “My darling girl, don’t do that. We can figure this out, alright? No matter what. You know, Sharon from down the street got a divorce a few years ago and she’s right fine now. If that’s what it takes, you know I’ll be there. And I don’t think any less of you for feeling what you’re feeling.” 

Mary reaches, trembling. She grasps her so firmly by the collar there’s no choice but to tumble forward. Her legs wobble and her face is right by Mary’s as the sky pours open. She sees specks of her mascara cake, freckles near her wispy widow’s peak. 

She watches Mary shut her eyes, like Rita on the big screen, like Will when he sleepwalks. Pucker.

Her lips are gloss soft and salty. It’s strange, like sucking on her wrist as a girl. Sandra doesn’t close her eyes. She absorbs Mary beginning to move against her, soggy tongue poking at her mouth, and it’s empty. Empty as skipping stones with Will at the lakehouse and hearing each of hers plunk. No gliding. Just plunk 

plunk 

plunk all the way home.

Sandra shoves Mary back, gently. She watches her eyes flutter and can’t help but think of Will. Their smiles cleave the same way, wide as a calving glacier.

“Mary,” she says. It tastes different now that she’s known her up close, carbonated and burning.

“Sandy,” she breathes, like it’s all she wants to say for the rest of her life.

It’s everything she ever dares to wish for. Sandy was gentle with her, so gentle its like she was barely there at all, but she was. She’s shaking a bit around the edges, but that’s fine. It’s all fine, because when Ronnie stumbles home with lipstick smeared across his neck in sticky clumps, now Mary won’t lay awake wondering.

Now she won’t waste time picturing high school under the bleachers with Sandy in that sleeveless dress, hair tied up, leaning too close. Sandy in a graduation cap, sweeping her up in a bone creaking hug, laughing low and throaty when Mary pressed a chaste kiss behind her ear. Sandy the night before her wedding, eyes downcast and hands twisting nervously, admitting that she loved Will but marrying him felt like the end of... something. 

She doesn’t need almost-kisses ever again, now.

“Why would you do that?” Sandra says, and Mary’s fluttery pulse freezes in her chest, like an ice cream headache.

“What?” Like a heart headache.

“Why would you—Will is visiting his parents in Florida. He’s going to be back any day now, I—What will he say to me? What will he think of me?”

Ten-year-old instinct sees Mary sinking off the couch so they’re eye level. Their knees knock. Sandra’s skull cracks Mary’s jaw. The ribbing in their dresses digs into her chest. Still, Mary clutches at Sandra’s head with such conviction it certainly musses her curls. She rocks them in the crevice between couch and table, friends and not, humming soft shh noises.

“I can’t face him like this. He’ll see it all over me. God, what if he leaves me? What if he doesn’t stay with me and I have the baby alone and we never see him again all because I’m a bulldicker?” 

“Sandy!” Mary goes ridged. She expects this from her parents, Ronnie, all the Godfearing pigeons in this place, but Sandra? It doesn’t make sense. Sandra’s just like her. Sandra practically is her.

“I love him, Mary. All I’ve ever wanted was to make him happy. I’m a good wife and a good mother and a good person,” she says, barely louder than the growling thunder. “I’m a good wife and a good mother and I didn’t mean to—to lead you on, or do anything wrong—”

“I know, cookie.” Her eyes are so round and so full, unlike anything Mary’s ever seen before, and in them she sees the girl who loves her more than anyone in the world superimposed over pitchforks and baseball bats and a noose. A bird-like body in a pink dress swaying in the wind. William wailing in his church blacks. Mary alone. Mary despised. Mary, Mary, Mary.

“I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just scared, is all. It wasn’t anything. Like sisters.”

It hovers in the air, fluttering on nervous wings. Ronnie killed a butterfly once, when he was blackout drunk, and Mary still feels those wet wings plopping into her cupped hands. She stares at Sandy and wonders if this lie will be their butterfly.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.”

Sandra lets her head fall onto Mary’s shoulder. Rises and falls with the heave of her. “What are you gonna do about... about Ronnie?” Mary scoffs, as hollow as the grayscale world around them.

“Oh, you know. We’ll fight a little more, eventually he’ll win and I’ll say some choice words to God and we’ll both get real drunk and he’ll stumble home reeking of L’air du Temps. Then everyone forgives everyone and moves on. Like clockwork.” She’ll keep sleeping in the bed, he’ll pass out on the floor, and Mary will stare out the window as all Sandra’s lights flicker off one by one.

“And you’re gonna be okay?” Sandra’s hands relax for the first time in eight lightning crashes.

“I’ll be fine as I ever am,” she says, suspending all movement just as brilliant white flashes across her face, “I’ll be fine as I ever am.” They sit, entangled, and wait for the thunder.





 

Abbey Griffin (she/her) is a writer in Northeast Florida currently attending Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. She is excited to be attending Sarah Lawrence College in New York this fall. What the Living Do by Marie Howe is the book that sparked her love for poetry, and inspired her to devote her life to writing. Her poems have been published in Elan Literary Magazine two years in a row, and will be featured in Blue Marble Review’s summer poetry collection. She hopes that everyone discovers their own unique understanding and love of the arts.



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