“Can you meet for Greek today? It’s sort of urgent.” Margaret’s voice was tense. Illy wondered if Margaret was upset at her about something.
“Of course. When should I be there?”
“Maybe thirty minutes? And invite June too. I have to go. Louise is coming.” Margaret hung up before Illy could say goodbye. She felt slightly consoled that June was invited too—at least Margaret was upset at them both, although she couldn’t come up with any recent offendable encounters. She called June, who said she’d try to come by at least for a few minutes between classes.
When Illy arrived, Margaret was already slouched into a corner booth, a pile of balled-up serviettes on the table in front of her. Her face was streaked with turquoise mascara. It didn’t look as poetic as Illy had imagined it should—more smudged and watery like a week-old bruise. Illy slid into the booth.
“Margaret, what’s going on? Are you okay?”
Margaret stared at the soggy serviettes. She looked up at Illy for a second, but that just triggered a new round of tears, so she looked back down without saying anything. Illy felt tears gathering in her own eyes, even though she didn’t know what she and Margaret were crying about. Thankfully June arrived in that moment, breathless as usual.
“Whoa, what’s going on, you two? What have I missed?” She squeezed in beside Illy, gathering her hair into a pile on her head and fanning the back of her neck.
Illy shrugged her shoulders and mouthed, “I don’t know.” They both turned to Margaret.
“I applied.” Margaret’s voice was small and distant. Teardrops were gathering on her jawline, but she didn’t bother wiping them. “I applied and I didn’t get it. That’s all.”
Illy was shocked. She’d never considered the possibility that Margaret wouldn’t get the editing job. She couldn’t think of anything to say.
June reached across the table and squeezed Margaret’s hand. “Oh, Margaret, I’m so sorry.” They sat like that for a while—Illy staring blankly at the table, Margaret dripping shimmery green teardrops onto the Formica, June holding Margaret’s hand. The server walked up to take their order but turned away without saying a word at the sight of all that emotion.
“I submitted my resume a few days ago,” Margaret was whispering. “But I didn’t tell you because I wanted it to be a surprise. So this morning Louise called me into her office.” Margaret stopped and reached for another serviette. Illy and June waited without moving. “And basically lambasted me with a hundred reasons why I wasn’t qualified to be any sort of editor and probably never would be. After all those years of hearing her tear into other people, I should have been prepared. But I wasn’t. I started crying by Reason Number Three.”
“You’d think she could have taken that as a cue to ease up a little,” June interjected. Illy and Margaret looked at each other. June had obviously never met Louise.
“Eventually the phone at my desk started ringing and Louise just looked at me like I was shirking my duties and proving her right in all her insults, so I left. That was an hour ago. I haven’t stopped crying yet.”
The server appeared again, standing silently a few feet from the table. June pushed the closed menus toward him. “We’ll have three pitas. Extra tzatziki. And three Cokes.” The skinny boy looked relieved that he didn’t have to speak. He grabbed the menus and darted away.
Illy still didn’t say anything. She watched her friend across the table, tears spilling steadily over her eyelashes like an IV drip. These were her most helpless moments. She wanted so badly to do something, to make a list or plan an act of retribution involving Louise’s pets or at least pass a brownie across the table. But there was nothing to do but fiddle with the serviette dispenser and cry a little and wait with Margaret in all that swampy despair.
They still hadn’t said another word by the time their pitas arrived. June passed them out and they all unwrapped the white paper slowly and at the same time. It had the feel of a solemn ritual to it, the three of them enacting the same ceremonial parts they’d done countless times before. At first Illy wondered if eating was insensitive, and she was hesitant to take a bite. But then she saw June and Margaret pick up their pitas and it didn’t feel like an act of callousness, so Illy started eating too, glancing up at Margaret occasionally, who gave her little nods to assure her it was okay.
It wasn’t until the last bits of lettuce had been gathered in small piles and eaten and the drips of tzatziki had been wiped off their chins that Margaret finally spoke. “Thanks you two.” Her face still had that blurry, bruised look to it, but her voice was a little louder and she didn’t look quite so much like a shivering castaway. “I should probably get back to work. Wouldn’t want to add tardiness to my list of unforgivable traits.”
“I should go, too.” June had already dropped some coins on the table and was putting on her sunglasses. “I give a lecture in twenty minutes and I still haven’t completely decided on the topic.” She stood up and opened her mouth as though about to say something more, but instead leaned over to kiss the top of Margaret’s head before turning and rushing out of the restaurant.
“Bye, Illy. Thanks again.” Margaret stood up, slid her money across the table and smiled at Illy. She took a deep breath like a kid about to jump into a pool and then walked away.
It wasn’t until she stepped out of the restaurant that Illy realized she hadn’t said anything in response to Margaret’s news or even given her a hug. She wondered what exactly Margaret kept thanking her for. She walked down the sidewalk a while, trying to remember to look at the sky occasionally, even though the bright sunlight stung her eyes, and savoured the sharp taste of onion in her mouth.
Continue Reading: Chapter Thirty-Seven