We paid our friends who barely speak to each other a visit. Claire had been friends with Lily since childhood. Lily’s husband, Harv, seemed especially glad to see us. We sat on a sofa in their poorly-lit den, Lily to our left on a loveseat and Harv in a chair opposite us, an empty chair to his left.
“Can I get you anything?” Harv began. “Do you want a glass of water, a glass of wine? Are you hungry? Would you like a snack? I can get either of you a pillow for your back. Would you like a pillow? We have peanuts and some cookies? I could bring you a napkin. Are you comfortable there? One of you could sit in this chair. You wouldn’t have to turn your neck so much. Would one of you like to sit over here in the chair? How have you both been doing? Are you doing okay? I can get you an aspirin. We have aspirin. I could bring you a glass of water, or we have sparkling water. Are you thirsty?”
Lily appeared to be out of patience, struggling through his words.
“They’re fine, Harv.”
“Are you sure?”
We talked about our medical problems and our recoveries. Harv said he couldn’t tell if life was grinding him down or he was grinding his life down.
“Both,” Lily said. “Hand in hand.”
Harv and I had both had recent cataract surgery, and Harv said he feared he was putting his eyedrops in too often, because one of his bottles had run out. Lily said Harv still couldn’t see what was right in front of his face.
Claire described a recipe we’d made with penne pasta and pears.
“I’m impressed you can work together on a recipe,” Lily said. “If Harv tried to advise me on a recipe I’d run him out of the kitchen at knifepoint.”
“She would,” Harv agreed.
“He can’t stand a mess. He wants to clean up while I’m still working.”
“I like things in order,” Harv said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Do you need anything?” he asked us. “If you’re thirsty I can get you something to drink.”
We shook our heads. Claire spoke to Lily sometimes on the phone. Lily told her, I remembered, that she’d imagined a wild animal bursting from Harv’s mouth and devouring her.
We discussed books we were reading and shows we were streaming. Harv and Lily didn’t like the same shows so they usually watched TVs in different rooms.
Harv told us scientists had determined that the urge to reproduce was a significant part of human nature, but when he looked at how hard people were on the planet he wondered if so much reproduction was a good idea.
“Are you implying we shouldn’t have had our kids?” Lily asked.
“No, our kids are fine. I’m saying that masses of people are bad for the environment.”
“Are you saying our family is bad for the environment?” Lily replied. “Is this the topic you want to discuss with our friends? Are you trying to make them feel better for not having children? Why do that?”
“Not at all. I’ve been doing some reading on the subject and it’s been on my mind. Excuse me.”
A lull in the conversation followed.
“I was going for takeout later,” Harv then said, “but I could get it now and we could sit at the dining-room table. I have some good wine I could open.”
Claire smiled and said we’d better be getting back.
“Back where?” he asked.
“Back home, Harv,” Lily told him.
“Are you doing okay?” Harv asked. “You sure you don’t want a glass of wine? The takeout place is just around the corner. It wouldn’t be any trouble for me.”
We stood and thanked them for their hospitality. Lily hugged Claire, letting out a sigh, and Harv shook my hand all the way from the den to the front door.
“You sure you don’t want to stay longer?” he asked. “We could watch a movie. I don’t mind paying for one. Or if not, I could bring some takeout by your house later. I wouldn’t stay, just drop it off at your door. Are you guys making a recipe tonight?”
He walked us down the steps and stood on the sidewalk waving as we rolled away.
“Come back,” we heard him say.
Glen Pourciau’s third story collection, Getaway, was published in 2021 by Four Way Books. His stories have been published by AGNI Online, Green Mountains Review, New England Review, New World Writing, The Paris Review, Post Road, The Rupture, and others.
Art: Edward Hopper Public Domain ALT Edward Hopper painting of an older couple in a room. she’s sitting in a nightdress, reading a book, he’s in a suit, holding a cigarette, staring out the window.
If you like Jellyfish Review, please please please support us with a donation. We want to pay our writers this year and need funds to make that happen.
Next: Grandfather-Skin Gloves by Ana Gardner
Previous: Where There’s Smoke… by Liz Alterman
If you like this story, why not share it on social media and make a writer and a magazine very, very happy!