This Friend of Mine

I keep thinking of the voice on my  answering machine. The small, tinny voice.  Distant and full of echoes,  as if my friend is at the bottom of a deep well, and she has a phone and calls.  She calls to say she can’t  make it to the wedding.  I don’t remember why.   She leaves a message on my work phone a few days before the wedding.  As if I’d be there to get the message.  I get it weeks later. I  hoped that maybe, this friend of mine, would show.   I mean it’s not like I cry and carry on or the wedding doesn’t start  or  I faint and the groomsmen  go dashing about for warm towels or whatever to place on my forehead, consoling me that nay the woman of my friendly affections so did not show.  I mean really.  But I was, well, disappointed.  And people?  They ask but I shrug my shoulders and make things up like “in a well I think” or something along those lines.  Not that I’m  snarky about it or anything.  Snarky won’t  do.  I want them all to think she so wanted to be there but something just terrible came up.

Anyways, we try again later to get together, me and this friend of mine.  I’m pregnant and call her with the exciting news. 

“Definitely,” she says.   “We have to get together.”

But things never really happen as expected and then the baby is born and so on and so forth.   Then one day she calls out of the blue.  I am so happy.   

“You have to meet the baby,”  I gush into the phone.  

 “Definitely,” she says.  “For sure.”

So we make plans. Once, twice, and then on the third time, it all seems a go so I mobilize me and the baby.  Out the door we go, and into the car. Alone.  No help even.  There we are with diaper bags, and a car seat, and little playthings.  Our first time out, just the two of us, sitting in the restaurant, waiting.

She has the most beautiful eyes, this friend of mine.  Blue.  Not like mine which are blue too. Hers are a deeper blue, a more unfathomable blue, like the blue at the bottom of a very deep and clear lake.  The kind of blue that tempts you to dive into cold waters, swimming toward bottom until your lungs feel they might burst.  There you are swimming around,  trying to find the blue, to touch it, hold it, and take it back to the surface.  As if it that might be possible.

Maybe her black curly hair makes the eyes so startling.  Boys love the combination.  So many times I fielded questions when we went out.  Into the night.  Maybe after a day of trail building or a week of fighting forest fires.  How she loves to get dirty and swing a tool.   That’s what is so disarming. The way she and all that beauty like to get down in the dirt  like the rest of us.  The way she smiles she could  probably get  away with working less.   Her porcelain face blackened from the ashes of a forest fire  caused many a firefighter to swoon, finding her as they might at the end of a day, in the evening chow line, talking and smiling as she does.  Tossing her hair.   There was so much we’d all forgive.

There are the times we drove to the lake, me and this friend of mine.  The lake that shimmers blue like her eyes. The one just past the guard station bunkhouse where we lived while fighting forest fires.  The lake is deep, and cold, and surrounded by white jagged peaks, and a distant volcano.    We sometimes drove there at noon for a quick swim during our lunch break, on the days when the crew waited for fire calls to come in. Bored silly.   She is the braver,  the one to go first, her lean body arcing off the floating logs, the ones we walk out on, as far as we can, and then dive into the cold water.

Later, we move apart, she to one town and me to another.   I come to visit but she is so good at double or even triple booking herself that many times I’d be gussied up and ready to dance only to find  a note tacked to the door.  The note partly for me, partly for the other folks she’d made plans with.  Out, it  might say.   Be back later.   Make yourself comfortable.

Sure,  I demur to myself, sure.  Of course.  So many other places  to go.  So many things to do.   She’s busy. No big deal.  The first time I wait hours, the second time too.  And the third, and forth.  And there I am again, just me and the little guy, waiting.   Sure, I say to myself, sure,  she’s busy.   I’m sure she so wants to be here.   I think about the lake as I sit. As I eat my lunch. As I slowly drive home.   I think about the beautiful lake up in the mountains, the one we dove into on hot summer days,  waiting  for something to happen.  Diving over and over, down through layers of light and cold, down through water that gets colder and colder the deeper we go, water that gets darker and murkier and farther and farther from blue.

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