Never in a Million Years
It’s May, and the peonies drip ants and bob with the wind. The college girls sit on the grass in nylon shorts and midriff tops with the names of beach vacation spots they may or may not have visited: Maui! Huntington Beach! Laguna! Inside, Joan moves a spoon around a bowl of Life cereal and watches them. It’s what she’s always done, study and then imitate. Otherwise, she has no idea.
Outside, robins chase each other from tree to tree. Hannah puts on her headphones, and Brielle pulls one side over to her ear. The two of them laugh and fall backwards on the grass, and their legs are touching. All Joan can hear is Hannah screaming, “Oh my god, literally everyone is named Hannah.”
Joan was raised by atheist academics to hate this kind of girl on sight, but here she is anyway. She moved in with them on a sublease. They were all education majors, and Joan was Classics. Their roommate had gotten pregnant, had an abortion, and moved home. Joan had had her own abortion after a night with a grad student who bought her dinner, and then she’d felt like they should probably just go ahead, even if he didn’t have any condoms because what were the odds. She’d told no one, and she certainly hadn’t moved out of any place as a dramatic gesture after. But then she’d spent her first two years of college living in her parents’ attic, so she was already living in the place she would have gone.
Joan goes to the living room where their rug came from someone’s mom’s discard pile, and it sheds white fuzz so unless they attack themselves with a lint roller, they all look one part Santa beard when they leave the house. She sits and then leans back while trying to smile and laugh like Hannah and Brielle and then does it again. There are things girls are supposed to be and do that she isn’t and doesn’t: tweezing, tube tops, blow-off courses, giggling, decorative drinks, saying “love you” at the end of every conversation. But she is trying. She tries.
Brielle walks inside followed by Hannah and Mia. Joan follows them into the kitchen where Hannah places a fully intact blue robin’s egg on the windowsill above the kitchen sink.
“This was right outside on our sidewalk,” Mia says, and then, “so sad, that baby bird.”
Before she can stop herself, Joan says, “well, the bird in the egg is not an actual bird, it’s just a bird embryo,” and they all blink for a few seconds too long and then go back to talking about Brad or Brayden, no one was sure, who stumbled out of Mia’s bedroom that morning and half-drunkenly peed into the mother-in-law’s tongue plant in the entry hall that no lack of water and light could kill.
“Beyond disgusting,” Brielle says.
“For sure, for sure,” Hannah says back and pulls her hair into a high messy bun and then asks Joan who is getting up if she wouldn’t mind carrying the plant to the dumpster on her way out if she’s going out, which she isn’t, but okay, she will, but instead she moves it to the sidewalk on the north side of the house where no one ever goes and then heads back in to the bathroom, closes the door, and stands in front of the mirror where she applies lip gloss and whispers to herself, “For sure, for sure.”
When they all get back from class, they take turns fixing each other’s brows and eye shadow and then sit in the living room waiting until it’s late enough to go out. They don’t eat, but they do drink. Joan sits with them, though she’s not sure she’s going. “You should totally come with,” Mia says, and Joan thinks she sees Hannah giving Mia a look, but she always thinks these things and maybe sometimes they’re not actually true.
“Hmm,” Joan says, “Maybe.” Joan is sitting on a clear inflatable chair in the corner that is hard to sit on without making squeaking noises. She sips tequila and tries not to move. As always, there is the rustling in the non-functional chimney. She had heard it every day she’s been in the house, and Hannah and Brielle and Mia often shudder when they pass it and usually don’t sit in the inflatable chair that is closest to the chimney.
Joan gets up and goes to the kitchen cabinet where someone’s dad has gotten them a pink toolkit inside of which is a pink-handled screwdriver. While Brielle and Hannah and Mia make more drinks on the kitchen table, Skinny Girl and tequila in clear plastic cups, Joan unscrews the four screws holding the round metal plate over what she assumes is a hole in the chimney. It only takes a second for the rustling to get louder and then for the living room and kitchen to fill with bats.
Maybe there were five bats, maybe there were seventy. Who could say for sure. What Joan does know is that girls in flowered rompers with plunging necklines and heels with complicated ties don’t respond well to blind flying creatures. They try to hit them with brooms and catch them in pillow cases. Hannah wraps herself in a blanket and calls her dad who lives in Oklahoma and can do absolutely nothing.
But to Joan it’s beautiful and hilarious, and she never wants it to end. She stands in the center of the room and holds her arms out and lets the bats run right into her and doesn’t even move. For a second, she feels sure the bird egg on the windowsill in the kitchen will swell and rattle until a head-sized robin emerges, glistening and fully formed and spewing proclamations about love and life. The room is limbs and wings, and Joan closes her eyes. “For sure, for sure, for sure,” she says again and again and again.