“The bitch is back,” Esther says, and slams a chipped-China mug on the hardwood dining-hall table, sending her coffee sailing.
“Excuse me?” I say, a spoonful of granola-and-milk halfway to my mouth.
“You may have to clarify which bitch you’re referring to,” Pearl snorts, dabbing at the creases of her lipsticked mouth with the corners of a paper napkin. “We know a lot of bitches.”
“You know,” Esther says. “The queen bitch herself. Priscilla Martin. She’s back.”
“Priscilla?” asks Pearl, and drops her napkin onto her plate, over her mostly-uneaten pancakes. “No shit. I thought she wasn’t coming back ‘til next semester.”
“So did I. But I swear to God I just caught sight of her poring over the pastry in there,” Esther says, and gestures with her spoon to the severy. A flick of yogurt flies off of the spoon and attaches itself to Pearl’s wool jacket. Neither Esther nor Pearl seem to notice. I direct my focus to the paper napkin I am tearing into shreds under the table.
“I swear to God. Bitch disappears in the night, doesn’t tell us where she’s going––sends a postcard weeks later saying her parents have sent for her from the Italian Riviera, and then just turns the fuck up back here, out of nowhere. No warning. It’s exhausting.” Pearl sits back in her chair and crosses her arms across her chest, which strains against her too-small blouse in a way she clearly thinks is sexy but to my eye looks more like desperate.
“Exhausting? Don’t see why it should be exhausting. Seems to me that the where and why of Priscilla Martin ought not to concern you, Pearl.” Esther stirs her yogurt vigorously until it is worked into a froth.
“Esther.” Pearl puts her spoon down and looks Esther dead in the eye, her horn-rimmed glasses sliding down her nose. “You cannot possibly understand the mental and emotional energy I expend just breathing the same air as that girl. She drains me.”
“Well––whatever. I, for one, am vaguely happy to hear that she’s back. At least now, we can try to get some answers out of her. When I saw her, just now, the bitch looked thinner and paler than ever, and just about as not-relaxed as I’ve seen her. Italian Riviera, my ass.”
It is fine, it is easy, for my friends to sit and gossip, despicably, endlessly, about the questionable circumstances under which Priscilla Martin disappeared. After all, Esther and Pearl were not the ones who sat with Priscilla Martin’s head in their lap that night that she slit her own wrists with a box cutter, who listened as she cried and repeated in a voice not so much losing as already lost that she’d made a mistake and she did not wish to die. They were not the ones who, wordless, terrified, wiped her tears as they collected in the bags under her eyes the same way they wiped her blood from the bathroom tile They were not the ones who saw their friend, small and helpless, leaking blood and Calvin Klein perfume, a tangle of messy hair and exhausted nerve and torn skin, looking less like a girl than a handful of broken glass on the stretcher where they laid her when they took her away.
Pearl had been throwing up in the toilet in the back of the sculpture studio that night. Esther had been chasing Patrick O’Malley from party to party. It was only me who’d saved Priscilla. Me and the ambulance. Me and the 911 call. Me and fate or coincidence or good timing or God’s sick sense of humor that had kept her from dying that night.
When she didn’t come to breakfast the next day, Pearl and Esther did not ask me why and I did not tell them. The next time I heard from Priscilla, I received a phone call from a restricted number on a Sunday morning and picked up to hear her frail whisper on the other end.
“Henrietta,” she’d said, urgently, as if there was only so much time in which to get the words out. “Listen. I’m fine. Well––I’m not fine. But I will be. I’m upstate. Don’t tell them.”
I knew that by upstate she meant that she was in what would have been called an institution in our parents’ age but that was now called a treatment center. I knew that by don’t tell them she expected me to lie for her until she could do it herself.
Then the postcard arrived. My friends didn’t believe it for a minute. They suspected academic probation, then pregnancy, then rehab. They didn’t suspect the Italian Riviera, but they didn’t suspect the truth, either. I kept the secret under lock and key.
“Well, would you look at who the fuck it is,” Pearl not so much says as announces. A shadow is suddenly cast over my breakfast bowl. My gaze rises from my lap. A hand curls around my shoulder. There is a smell, overpowering and pervaded with the memory of the night I’ve been keeping secret, the night I’d give anything to forget. Calvin Klein. Eternity Night.
“Hello, Henrietta,” Priscilla says.
Charlotte Freccia is a second-year student of English, Creative Writing, and Women's and Gender Studies at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where she also enjoys an associateship with the Kenyon Review. She is a winner of the Philip Wolcott Timberlake Award and has recently published poetry and creative nonfiction in Zaum Magazine and Newfound Magazine. Her short story "Baby Teeth" was published by POTLUCK in June 2016.