For thirty-one of their thirty-two years together, Lydia and Meredith shared an evolving dumb joke which started one day in 1992 when Lydia came home from a rehearsal with a rash on her neck and claimed that she had Tennis Elbow. They would deliver increasingly outlandish maladies with straight faces, even in the midst of for-real pain. Such occurred the night Meredith was going down on Lydia, and Lydia suddenly cried out and clutched her left foot. When Meredith said, “What’s wrong?” Lydia, still clutching her foot, said, “Unicyclist’s Foot Cramp!” That made Meredith howl.
Today, Meredith lets herself into the house, quietly-quietly because Lydia might be resting, but Lydia is lying on the couch, with her eyes open. “How are you feeling, Babe?” Meredith says, and Lydia says, “Meh, Violinist’s Colorectal Cancer.” Without putting down the Walgreens bag, Meredith starts to cry. Lydia says, “Hey, hey, I thought that would be funny! In a kind of meta way? I thought you would laugh.”
“Material to use for your memorial service,” Meredith concedes. But she’s already thinking ahead, to how hard it will be to survive Lydia, how fucking impossible it will be to ever meet someone else with whom to invent and then nurture over decades, beating into the proverbial dust, some ridiculous private joke.
Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the English Department of Mills College at Northeastern University. She is the author of the short story collection How Far I’ve Come (2022), published by Gold Wake Press; the novel The Light Source (2019), published by 7.13 Books; and the short story collection Undoing (2018), which won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her fiction has been published in Colorado Review, Craft Literary, The Gettysburg Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many other journals. Her stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf‘s Top 50. She is the Editor-in-Chief and Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com
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