portion of the artwork for Patricia Parkinson's story

Giggly Girls
Patricia Parkinson

We stand between the front and back yard, keeping an eye on our daughters swimming in the pool. Joanna’s eyes dart from the kids to the front lawn to my flip-flops to her van to my garden.

“Your yard looks nice,” she says. Bright red geraniums pop up along the border of my garden. Purple lobelia drapes over the edging.

Her eyes are red. Her lipstick is a pink like Calamine lotion. I want to scratch her back. I motion for us to walk away. She squints and watches her daughter, Sarah, jump in. In and out the kids go—from the edge into the deep end. They holler and laugh.

“Giggly girls,” my mother would say, like she did when I met Joanna 35 years ago.

Joanna continues to stare and takes an uneven breath.

“I found something on the Internet,” she says. “He’s doing it again.”

I wave to the girls and walk toward the front. “They’re good swimmers,” I say, and Joanna follows, walking backwards. It isn’t until we’re out of eyeshot that she faces me.

“She’s 26,” Joanna says, searching through a pocket of her capris. She pulls out a wad of torn paper and holds it in her fist.

“We could be her mother!” I say, and we laugh and sink to the lawn.

That we know of, Joanna’s husband, Mike, has cheated on her once before. It was when she was expecting their older son. She speaks of it dismissively. “I was so fat. I didn’t want him dicking me anyway.”

Two years later, they diagnosed her with breast cancer. I ran into Mike in the patient lounge at the hospital.

“There’s a sofa I want to buy for the living room,” he said, showing me a picture from the flyer. “What do you think?” he asked.

You’re a fucking asshole, I thought.

I wanted to take my friend, wheel her away, whisk her to self-esteem and good health.

“I love him,” she tells me.

“I love you,” I say.

The doctors told her to not have any more children. “It’s related to your milk ducts,” they said.

Then came my Emma and Joanna’s Sarah.

“You can’t do this,” I told her when she gave me the news of her pregnancy.

“But it’s a girl,” she said, holding my hand across the table. “A girl. And it’s been a long time. Past five years. I’m cancer free. I know it,” she said, so happy, so in love with with Mike again. So hopeful that this baby would change things.

And now here we are, the best friends of best-friend daughters. We nursed them together, sitting on the couch talking trash, hoping they’d nap so we could go outside and smoke. Joanna’s last diagnosis required a radical mastectomy. Because of the previous radiation, the left implant had to be removed.

The lawn is cool and tickly on my bare legs. I pull up a bunch of grass and sprinkle it on Joanna’s head.

She shakes it off and opens her hand. She drops the pieces of torn paper onto the lawn.

“It’s an email,” she says, “To the 26-year-old. I read her profile. She says she likes older men. Mike says he likes romantic dinners. Romantic dinners? Can you believe it?”

“He’s a fucking asshole.”

“Susan, you know,” she says, sitting back on her heels, “that doesn’t help.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Stop it, OK. I need you to help me here,” she says, and busies her hands over the pieces of paper, jigsaw-puzzling them together. “I found this in the garbage,” she says, looking up, eyes triumphant. I picture her standing on the curb in the dark, rifling through bags.

“Why are you doing this?”

“I want to know what it says.”

“Why?”

“Because I need to know. Here. Here. Look,” she says, holding a scrap of paper to my face. “It’s part of an email address.”

“Joanna, honey.” I place my hand over hers and still the movement. “You already know.”

She fights against my hand, tugging swiftly a few times, then pulls away and stands.

“I knew he’d start looking for someone else again,” she says. “I mean, really, look at me.”

The reconstructive surgery left Joanna with one breast without a nipple and one ice cream scoop hole on the other side of her chest that won’t heal.

I look at her. Her hair is growing out, touching her shoulders, thick and blonde and natural. Her legs are long and lean. Her face is that of the girl I first met—my beautiful friend.

“You still have a great ass.”

She smiles, turns around and spanks herself. “You know it. What is it with guys and all that ass stuff, wanting anal sex? Like, fuck off already.”

“They’re all gay at heart.”

We laugh and she sits back down. We lay across the lawn, pulling at grass together. She rolls toward me. “You know what I mean, though. I’m tired all the time, the chemo fucked my joints, and there’s this,” she says, touching her chest, “hole. It’s no wonder.”

“So this is your fault?”

“No,” she says, and swats my arm. “But I understand.” She looks away. “I haven’t been paying him much attention. Men and their needs. I can still give head,” she says, laughing, gathering the ripped pieces of paper. “I can figure this out. The things he wrote to her, though …” she says, her voice catching.

“Joanna,” I say, and touch her. “You don’t have to do this. Leave him. This time. Leave.”

“No. No. It’ll be fine,” she says, standing, blowing up at her eyes and checking for running mascara. “But look at this,” she continues, smiling, composed, too happy too quickly. “Your geraniums are beautiful.”

We hear a loud splash followed by louder squeals and laughter.

“Let’s do it again!” the girls yell.

Their voices fill the air with joy so thick I can hold it my hand and give to her, give it back to her, to my friend who has walked away to watch over the children.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 45 | Spring 2015