A feeble voice from the bedroom replies, “In here still.”
“How pathetic,” Zara mumbles. She slams the door shut with her foot and tosses Jan’s spare keys on the countertop. Six plastic shopping bags, two to an arm and one in each hand, cut into the sleeves of her jacket and across her palms. She hoists the bags upward with a groan and deposits them beside the splayed keys. A quick survey of the apartment reveals that Jan hasn’t made much progress in the hour Zara has been gone.
“Oh, hey…you brought food,” Jan says. “Thanks.” Her slippered feet scuff the hardwood floor as she shuffles into the living room. She wears a nappy, pink robe over the faded Superman t-shirt and sleep pants Zara found her in that morning. A black and white photograph in a silver frame rests against her chest, safely embraced within her arms.
“I thought we agreed you’d start clearing out Jay’s stuff while I was gone,” Zara says. She shoves perishables on the refrigerator shelves, cans and boxes in the cupboards. Then she turns her attention to the newspapers and magazines strewn across the coffee table, couch, chairs, and floor.
“You don’t have to do that,” Jan says when Zara scoops up a stack of Jay’s photography magazines.
“Yes, I do.”
“No—you really don’t have to do that.”
Panic and annoyance strain Jan’s voice. She abandons the photo on an end table to follow Zara to the garbage shoot in the hallway. A brief wrestling match ends with the magazines scattered across the hallway floor. Zara plants balled fists on her hips and taps one Christian Louboutin; the red sole is soundless on the sculpted carpet. Jan cannot look at her best friend when she stands with the magazines clutched to her heart.
“I’m not ready to let this stuff go yet,” she offers as an apology and walks back to her apartment.
Halfhearted attempts at straightening no longer appease Zara, and she knows it’s time to confront Jan. She lures her friend’s attention by sitting on the couch with legs crossed, arms folded.
“I thought you said we should get busy cleaning,” Jan says.
“It’s past the time for cleaning, Jan. We need to talk.”
“It’s too soon.”
“No, it’s been three weeks since Jay left you for his assistant, Chrissy, and in those three weeks you’ve allowed your life to—I don’t know—something between fall apart and explode.”
“Are you judging me? How can you expect me to deal with this right now? I didn’t think you’d be so cruel.”
“Oh, spare me. Just because everything in your world is going to hell in a handbasket doesn’t mean it’s affected everyone else. I haven’t changed, and for that you should be glad.”
Shock etches Jan’s face, drawing her brows downward, and she says, “Damn, I admit I was just trying to buy some time, but you really are being mean and hurtful right now.”
“You need me to play it straight with you,” Zara says, punctuating the air with a condemning finger.
Jan knows this to be true. She crumples into an armchair, still holding the glossy magazines. Emotions sting her eyes. She sniffs hard to keep from sobbing and pulls a wadded tissue from her robe pocket to dab at the wet trails on her cheeks.
“I’m just so embarrassed. In front of all my friends and family. My co-workers even. For something like this to happen. I mean…no one—no one—saw it coming. Least of all me.”
Zara remains seated, aware that this little outburst confession is Jan’s way of softening up the other person thereby distracting them from what needs to be dealt with. It would be so easy to slip into the crowded space of the overstuffed armchair and wrap her best friend in a hug. But then Jan would never get out of Jay’s old pajamas and on with her life.
Instead, Zara claps her hands with a slow, rhythmic beat. Twenty claps before Jan bursts out, “Okay—fine! What the hell do you expect me to do? You’re so smart? You have all the answers? Well, I’m listening.”
“Getting pissed off about this is a start. At least I know you’re still alive, that there’s a hot-blooded woman in there. You used to be so strong—”
“I am strong, Zara. I’m just tired.”
“Yes, well, stewing in your own misery isn’t the answer.”
“Then what is?”
“Tell me something, Jan.”
“How is it that you can wear his pajamas and sulk around this apartment all day, holding photographs that he took in Hawaii and act as if Jay’s not the reason you’re so miserable? I mean, he up and left you in a single, freakin’ day! Who does that?”
“Obviously Jay does.”
Zara startles when Jan bursts out in maniacal laughter. She uncrosses her arms and leans forward, ready to catch her friend if she starts running and shrieking hysterically, which is exactly what Zara expects from her friend right now.
“Oh, oh my god…how did I fall to such depths?” Jan asks through laughter and tears. “And don’t even think of saying this isn’t my fault.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“Yeah, well, maybe Jay leaving me isn’t, but allowing myself to get like this is.” Jan indicates her unwashed, disheveled appearance with both hands. The magazines fall from her lap as she stands, spilling into the piles at her feet. “You know what’s been on my mind today?”
“Will that bitch show up at Jay’s funeral or will she be granted calling hours of her own? You know, like when feuding families host separate baby showers or something?”
“Now that his body washed up on shore, it’ll be sent back to me. The wife.”
“Do you need me to go with you to identify it?”
“No, his brother flew down to Cozumel to do that. Then there was a bunch of paperwork, and the authorities acting all superior because Jay’s brother is American, and finally they cleared the body for shipping. So much for their Caribbean vacation.” A derisive snort is on the cusp of more crazed laughter, but Jan reigns in her emotions. “The body. Because that’s all Jay is anymore.”
“I guess what I don’t understand is why you aren’t furious with him for what he did.”
“You want me to hate him, I know you do, but I can’t, Zara. There wasn’t enough time for me to become angry with Jay as the cheating husband. He left me on Friday and died on Monday when his boat capsized in a storm. For me, he was still the man I loved, the man I married. Does that make sense?”
“I suppose so. No, not really.”
“If he hadn’t drowned in that storm, if he and Chrissy were still touring the world and taking gorgeous, award-winning photographs for prestigious magazines a year from now, then yeah…I’d be looking at this from a whole different perspective.”
Zara sighs and tosses her head from side to side. She still cannot comprehend Jan’s passivity, but she hopes to give the appearance of understanding.
“All right, then. The order of the day is to find a new perspective for you,” Zara says. “One for you, about you. Okay?”
“What does that mean? I’m still not quite ready for any major changes.”
“The only thing you need to do right now is get out of those smelly pajamas and into a hot shower.”
“One thing at a time, Jan.”
“Then we’ll see about getting some orange juice—”
“The orange juice turned.”
“How the hell does orange juice go bad?”
“I don’t know, but the last time I tasted it, it was fizzy.”
“That’s disgusting. Okay, shower first then tea and toast afterward. One little thing at a time.”
“That’s your big answer for fixing my life? A shower, tea, and toast?”
“I don’t have the answers for your life, Jan. You do. I’m just here to help you unearth them.”