A short story by Annalisa Mastronardi 

My phone lit up.

Here. Where are u?

She was early, as always.

I closed my book and left the bench. The sun beat down that afternoon. The trees projected their tapered shadows on the scorching pavement.

I walked to the café. A curly-haired young woman was standing in front of the sliding door. She hadn’t changed much since the last time I saw her. Same proud look, same elegant bearing as… How long ago was it? Seven years? I raised my hand and tentatively waved to her.

We hadn’t spoken to each other since we were in secondary school. We were inseparable at the time. There wasn’t a day we spent apart. Our bond seemed indissoluble. Nothing and no one would interrupt it, or so I thought. But events soon took a different course. We started losing common ground. I felt unease when I was with her. I couldn’t feign the opposite. So, one day, I decided to broach the subject.

A true friend wouldn’t do that,” she said. She accused me of having questioned our friendship. Did she really want me to continue pretending everything was all right? We drifted apart.

Maybe she now wanted to dredge up the past, clarify that outstanding question once and for all. Would this be another occasion where it would be determined which of us was the culprit? I loaded my tongue with defences and accusations.

After the usual pleasantries, we sat at an outdoor table and ordered some wine. She turned a tissue over in her hand.

 “It’s been ages. I know. I just wanted to see you again,” Megan said after a brief silence.

“Yeah. Abigail told me you work for a transport company, right?” I spoke confidently, making sure my voice didn’t betray any emotion.

Two old women sat down at the next table. 

 “Yes, for a couple of years…” She cleared her throat a little. “I live by myself now.”

I wondered if she was still on bad terms with her sister, Fiona. Their parents had turned them against each other by casting them as competitors. Her mother never missed the chance to rub her sister’s school achievements in Fiona’s face.  

The waiter placed two glasses on the table.

“What about you? You live in England if I’m not mistaken?” Megan asked.

“I’m teaching English literature in Manchester now. I’m in town for a few weeks.”

“Well, do not tell me you’re still a bibliophile?” She widened her eyes.

 “I never stopped actually.” I grinned shily.

“Hold on.” She caught her bag and took out a book.

An old copy of The Country Girls glowed in the sunlight.

“No way.”

 “I still read the books you recommended to me when we were in school. I’ve been meaning to text you actually. But you know what pride is like…”

And here I thought she still hated me. I couldn’t believe it. How was it possible that, despite the years of silence and tension, I had somehow remained a part of her life? I felt happy and confused all at once.

I chuckled softly and took a sip of wine.

“Do you still want a female pope?” I inquired.

“Sure. Even if I’ve a sort of set aside my protesting spirit lately…” She seemed saddened.

“Do you remember the telephone conversations on speaker with my brother?” I went on. Memories began to storm in my mind.

She burst out laughing. “Gosh, yes.”

The two old women looked at us with quizzical expressions.

Wives, be subject to your husbands,” she said, mimicking a man’s voice.

“Do you remember?” A huge smile appeared on my face. “And Luke kept saying St. Paul wasn’t a misogynist.”

She chuckled while carrying the glass to her mouth.

“That he wrote the same about husbands and that his letter was just an invitation to unconditional mutual love,” I concluded, amused.

Christ, how did we screw all this up? We were young and even the slightest affront seemed to us an irreparable offence. Perhaps ours was just adolescent stubbornness, an obstinate search for what we thought back then defined what was right and wrong.

“How crazy we were.” She shook her head. “Those were good times…”

“Would you like anything else?” The waiter interrupted the conversation.

I made eye-contact with Megan. She nodded.

“Yes, more wine please.” I said, turning to the young man.

“Sure. Coming right up.”

“You’re still the same as ever.” She placed her hand on her chest. “I knew I was wrong about you.”

Megan kept on talking about the good old days, alternating rapid hand gestures and abundant sips of wine. I liked contemplating that fire sparkling in her big dark eyes. We chatted for hours. Our minds had reconnected, our gears had once more realigned. I told her about my life in Manchester, my students. Megan said she had dropped out of university. She fell in love with a prick and fucked up all her projects but now wanted to get back to studying. I encouraged her to get her degree. I told her to take the flight, to go conquer the world. After all, she had the capacity to rule an entire country. It was something I believed even back then. Why would she have to suffocate her talents? For a man? For fear of taking risks? She asked me to meet again before I left. I didn’t know if I could trust her. They say that those who wound you once might do it again. But, do we really need to always reason through cliché? Even in relationships? Despite my uncertainty, I said I’d love to.

When it came time to say goodbye, Megan moved close to me and took me by the arm. She was about to embrace me. I hesitated for a brief instant.

 For years, I felt responsible for the breach of our friendship and blamed myself for the way things had turned out. I tried to reason this through once again. Why would I feel guilty after all? For having expressed my unease when the situation required it?

I looked at Megan briefly, and after taking a deep breath, put my arms around her, abandoning myself in a long and affectionate embrace. Clutching her tight, I hugged not only her but, most of all, myself.

Annalisa Mastronardi viene da Roma. Ha ricevuto una Laurea Triennale in Lingue e Culture Straniere a Roma Tre nel 2016 e completato la Laurea Magistrale in Letterature e Traduzione Interculturale nel 2018. Dal 2019 vive a Dublino dove sta svolgendo un dottorato sulle eredità Joyciane nella narrativa contemporanea femminile irlandese presso la Dublin City University. Le sue precedenti pubblicazioni sono apparse su HeadStuffWriting.ie contemporaryirishlit.wordpress.com.

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