“The noise the body makes/when the body meets/the soul over the soul’s ocean and penumbra/
is the old sound of up-and-down, in-and-out,/a lump of muscle chug-chugging blood/into the ear; a lover’s/heart-shaped tongue” – Li-Young Lee, “The Cleaving”
Maggie should have just deleted Zinna’s text and pulled out of the parking lot, down Burnside to her new apartment – the whole second floor of a Victorian house, thank you very much – where she would go in and work on the Holbrook account. She had a ton of copyediting to do on their catalog of recreational clothing. Not to mention her own fiction and poetry blog.
“I owe you an apology,” Zinnia had texted. Then, “Meet me inside the Starbucks?”
Maggie had spent many hours studying at this Starbucks back in the day. Back before she had her master’s in technical writing – “human-centered communication and design” – when she was still waiting tables on that BA in English she’d gotten from Portland State. The natural light flooded into the Starbucks space nicely from the north, winter and summer, and it was an good walk to the Food Front co-op grocery along 23rd before going home to the place she’d shared with Zinnia on 21st. Not to mention the miles of trails in Washington Park behind Zupan’s, if she felt like taking a wooded walk after cramming her head full of schoolwork.
So, fine. It was worth finding out what Zinnia had to say, even if Maggie still didn’t feel quite up to forgiving her. There had been a lot of other things – but Maggie wasn’t the kind of person to just turn her back on a peace offering. She came into the store and spotted Zinnia at the front of the line near the barista.
“Got your favorite – lemon loaf, right? And a cake pop. These things are ridiculously habit-forming,” Zinnia blurbed, as Maggie approached her.
It hurt to be reminded of how well they had known each other, back in the day. What had happened after Kyle was not pretty. Maggie said, begrudgingly, “Thanks.”
Zinnia looked relieved. And perhaps a little smug? “Half-caf latte with nutmeg, right?”
“I’ve already got my coffee,” Maggie said bluntly. She held up the travel mug she’d been carrying in Zupan’s when she first saw Zinnia in the produce aisle.
This was rewarding, as Zinnia looked slightly defeated at the turn-down. But when she offered the small brown bag with lemon loaf and cake pop in it, Maggie took it. Why not.
How did they meet? It had been so long ago, Maggie wasn’t sure for a moment. Then she remembered; Zinnia was the daughter of one of Maggie’s mom’s friends from art school back East. She had happened to move to Portland from Dallas at the time Maggie was looking for a roommate. They hadn’t been friends before moving in together. Maybe that was the mistake.
The big table up front was unoccupied, the table with the warm wood wall behind it and lots of space to spread out. The table in the way of the people walking in the door. Maggie strode to it and took a seat, Zinnia trailing. Zinnia talking.
“I’ve got this new job working at the Pittock Mansion,” Zinnia bubbled. The Pittock Mansion was just up the hill behind them. “It’s amazing. All sandstone exteriors, marble staircases, authentic furnishings. Tiled roofs. A few years back they did a major refurbishing after water damage was discovered.”
“Oh. So you’re working in a museum, then,” Maggie said. A long-held dream of Zinnia’s, working in a museum. Zinnia had done her share of temp jobs back when they were rooming together, when she hadn’t been able to find any museum work with her history degree.
“Well, actually, I’m a tour guide. Technically it’s volunteer. But it’s a first step, right?” Her smile was not exactly sunny.
Maggie split off a section of the lemon loaf slice from the tan Starbuck’s bag and ate it. The shimmery white icing was as sweet as she remembered it.
“You?” Zinnia asked. “What have you been up to?”
“Look,” Maggie said, “your text said something about an apology.”
“Oh, that. Yes. I’m sorry it’s been so long since we’ve talked. I mean, what’s it been, like a couple of years?” Zinnia ticked her painted nails on the dark-wood table as though clicking off the weeks and months that had passed.
“And?” Maggie waited for the part about stealing Kyle.
“Now that I’ve seen you, I’d love to start meeting again. I’m just around the corner at the mansion. Tuesdays and Fridays. – You could come up there, I could show you around!”
Maggie shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
Zinnia looked disappointed. “You’ve already seen it.”
“Come on then! It’ll be fun! Like old times.”
Maybe old times weren’t so fun, Maggie thought. “Like the times going out with Kyle?”
“Who?” Zinnia looked puzzled.
“Kyle. That guy I was dating.”
Zinnia seemed to consider this. Was she faking not remembering? Or was Kyle so forgettable that she truly didn’t remember him?
“I’m sorry -”
I’ll bet, Maggie thought. You’re not sorry, not really.
She remembered all those other times. The “borrowing” of shampoo when Zinnia “forgot” to go to the grocery store. The disappearance of savory leftovers Maggie sometimes brought home from the restaurant where she worked in the Pearl District. Leftover dishes in the sink. Pubic hairs on the floor in the bathroom.
But – she still had a lemon loaf to finish. “How’s your family?” Maggie asked. Zinnia’s father was a successful attorney in Dallas, her mother a society Someone there. “They must be happy you’re working in a museum, finally.”
“Oh. That.” Zinnia looked down. “My parents are splitting up. My dad’s got a new girlfriend, and my mom’s not happy about it.” She spread her fingers across the table in front of her. “But what can you do?”
This was getting better, Maggie thought. Here she was, having earned a master’s degree and freelancing – successfully – living in a cozy Victorian place with quiet downstairs neighbors. And Zinnia – model-beautiful, from a family with Money – was facing divorced parents and doing part-time unpaid work, even if it was in her chosen field, museology.
“You really don’t remember Kyle?” Maggie asked.
Zinnia looked puzzled.
“Dark hair. Rode a motorcycle,” Maggie prompted.
Zinnia shook her head slowly, still looking mystified.
“I introduced you,” Maggie said, exasperated. “Then he broke up with me, and you two started going out. Apparently.”
“When was this?” Zinnia’s expression was still confused. Could it be possible she really did not remember?
“Right before I moved out. Two – no – three years ago.”
“Kyle.” Zinnia paused. Then, suddenly – “Oh. He left me.”
Yes! This was even better. “Oh?”
Zinnia nodded. “Uh huh. Kinda funny how that turned out.”
“Funny?” Maggie took a last bite of the lemon loaf, getting ready to leave. She’d take home the cake pop. Not that she’d ever tried one, but it was a treat, and she’d have it later with a cup of Earl Grey tea she bought at Smith Teamaker over on Thurman.
“Yeah.” Zinnia frowned. Then she looked up suddenly, leaned over and said, “Turns out he was more interested in guys than in me.”
“Wait – what?”
Zinnia nodded. “Yeah. I’m not sure what happened to him. Lost track.” She sighed. “Better not to remember those things. You know?”
It was hard to know what to say. “I suppose,” Maggie managed.
“Listen,” Zinnia said, suddenly animated again, “let’s go down to the Pearl and grab a bite. There’s Altitude on Northrup – or 10 Barrel Brewing?”
Maggie shook her head. “I’ve got to work this afternoon.”
Maggie stood up. “Thanks for the – you know.” She waved the brown bag that still had the cake pop in it.
“And . . . sorry about your parents.” Maggie’s folks were still together, living in a new view condo down on the southwest waterfront, close to her dad’s work at OHSU; he took the gondola to work every day at the hospital. Her mom was an artist – metal sculpture. They were doing all right.
“Well, you know how it is -” Zinnia smiled, again not as sunny a smile as it could have been.
Outside in the car Maggie started the engine and turned up the heater. The weather forecast said something about snow in the next couple of days, and though it was relatively rare for Portland, the air outside had been crispy, biting, like it knew something about the coming storm that Maggie did not. Unusually, Maggie sat in the car for a few minutes, letting the heater start so it would be warmer inside. She only lived a short distance away by car, but something made her pause for a few minutes until the heat came on.
It was colder when the air was humid like now. The indicator on the dashboard said thirty-nine degrees. But then you couldn’t always feel how cold it really was just by looking at a number.
It wasn’t exactly that Maggie felt sorry for Zinnia. But the whole Kyle thing didn’t mean that much any more. Not to mention those other annoying things, all those things that happen when you room with someone you don’t really know. And they did have those good times of going out, eating at the pizza place Zinnia had mentioned, or down at Besaw’s. Besaw’s had a great brunch menu.
It was a good thing, maybe, that Zinnia still had Maggie’s text number . . . and vice versa. As the heat started to come up in her Honda Civic, Maggie pulled out her phone and typed in a response to Zinnia’s text.
At the least, she might make an interesting character. After all.