Handbag Parade

On Thursday afternoons, Stephanie and Carol visited their friend Gia. They went every Thursday because Gia had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and though they had nothing to do with it, no one did, they felt guilt by proximity. Gia was their friend and she was dying of a diabolical disease. Gia, Stephanie, and Carol had met in the agency mailroom when they were just out of college and copying scripts on giant machines in the basement. None of them became agents, or mothers, but for twenty years they’d kept in touch. Gia lived in a bungalow in West Hollywood. Thank God, it’s one story, Carol said. Gia used a cane and then a walker and now the home nurse pushed her around in a wheelchair.

And the hallways are wide, Stephanie said.

But the wheelchair never bothered Stephanie. What bothered her: as of last month, Gia lost her voice. Her body had silenced her. She was alive inside a frozen woman doll, like a Stephen King horror story in reverse. Talk about torture. But no one talked about it. There was a sister in San Diego who tended to things. Stephanie might have been the friend who drifted away near the end, or now if this wasn’t the end, but she couldn’t because of Carol. Carol gave her a spine or turned her spineless, she wasn’t sure how to look at it.

Stephanie kissed Carol hello on the sidewalk, and Carol turned her left cheek for a kiss, then her right, and her left again like some European. Carol’s husband Phillip was producing an alien series for Syfy in Croatia. He’d left seven days ago on a ten o’clock flight which Stephanie knew because she’d dropped him at the airport. Carol thought he’d hired a car. Stephanie waited to feel guilty about Phillip, but instead she felt a tinge resentful toward Carol.

Gia’s bungalow was low to the ground and painted a cream color. A patchwork of little pink and white flowers bordered the path through Gia’s front yard where once there had been tufts of wild grasses. Gia’s sister was a legal secretary who liked to garden. Over the past months as Gia declined, she’d recast the modern bungalow with suburban charm.

As they headed up the path, Carol passed Stephanie a bag of take-out like she always did so Stephanie wouldn’t arrive empty-handed. “Genevieve told me the nurse is from the Philippines. We should ask after her family. They had the hurricane.” Genevieve was Gia’s sister.

“The hurricane was in Puerto Rico.”

“Chef Andres is down there feeding starving people rice and beans. I saw a picture in the paper, he wears a fishing vest with thirty pockets to keep organized.”

“In Puerto Rico.”

“Okay, Puerto Rico.”

Lately, Stephanie considered herself for the people and Carol of them.

Carol pushed her black sunglasses higher up her nose. “It’s not my fault I was born in Orange County. I’ll die out and the world can be a better place.”

“You’re like pine beetles eating the forests of America, and you’ll never die out.”

“Maybe that’s true, darling, but let’s stop the death talk.” Carol waived an arm at Gia’s house, a stand in for the dying going on inside.