MY FRIEND LOUISE… by Susannah Felts

MY FRIEND LOUISE… by Susannah Felts

…favors an electric-blue silk robe, keeps caramels in her pockets. She always looks elegant and shimmering, like she’s floating about. Today she smells faintly of food: chopped herbs, sautéed onions. She’s been feeding me well—not just caramels.  

We are at her beach house and she is on the phone with the internet people because the service has been spotty. I can see her from where I stand in the kitchen. Her mouth twitches, the only way I can tell she is angry. Her hair—a shade of auburn rarely found in the natural world but overfamiliar all the same, you know that color—today her hair is piled upon her head in a way I wish I could replicate, looks like it’s about to fall but it never does. Her arms, so often in motion—gesturing, stretching, grabbing—are still and folded. She speaks into the air. 

This house on the bay side of the island is scarce of color, a palette of milky whites and browns. But there are splashes of pigment that seem dropped from Louise’s body: a blue bowl piled with tangerines, a faded red floral tea towel with a hole in it––one I finger absently as I eavesdrop. I have been doing our lunch dishes, trying to make myself useful to her, showing my gratitude. Now she’s telling the guy on the other end to go fuck himself, never once raising her voice. 

Three days we’ve been here so far. Four to go. From my kitchen perch I can also see a tree down below, between house and bay, heavy with peachy blossoms; around it like a carpet lie dropped petals, disintegrating into the earth. Everything rots so fast down here, but everything grows fast, too. Louise is saying something is non-negotiable, and I think: Maybe that’s what my life lacks—not time, not money, not other people, but non-negotiables. 

A lizard scurries across the window, flicking its tail, and disappears. 

I used to see Louise at the Piggly Wiggly before she pursued me as a friend. I would see her always with her hair piled, as it is today, and carrying a giant bag. There might have been a rotting tangerine in that bag of hers. She has lived in foreign countries; she has shopped in clammy markets where the fruit is always overripe. I’ve never left the South. She drives a maroon Jag with tan leather seats that she heats when it drops below 50. She still smokes on occasion, hates puritanical attitudes toward health. She is glad there is less of that down here in Gulf Shores. 

She told me once she dreamed of acting in a soap opera, but thinks community theater’s beneath her. She wears a silk eye mask most nights. She is finishing up her call now, and I am afraid it has not gone well. 

Amber beads, electric blue billowing, jasmine. Here comes Louise, here she comes, into the kitchen. 

She’d had a daughter, born to her when she was very young, who died at 17. She told me this the first time she had me over, and she has never mentioned it again, but her impossible desire to bring that daughter back clouds any room she is in. Here she comes: Louise, my new, old friend. I understand now why she is always bringing new friends to the beach. 

The daughter had worked at a perfume counter the summer she died and came home with pockets full of samples smelling like citrus sugar––until she didn’t. A crash, a drunk driver. A man Louise knew, in fact, faintly, from her time working at the bank; a man who once flirted with her. He was killed in the wreck too, and she told me she was glad for that, she told me she had never once entertained the slightest notion of forgiveness. 

She picks up a tangerine from the blue bowl, examines it, and then, in a movement faster than I’d have thought her capable, because all I’ve seen is her languorous grocery shopping, her tasteful hostessing, opens the back door and hurls the tangerine out, down, toward the bay, which it of course does not reach. The water is too far. The fruit plops near the flowering tree. I am standing with my back to the range, clutching the dish towel, watching her. 

She comes closer and puts her palms on my face. Her fingers smell of onions.

Susannah Felts lives in Nashville with a husband, daughter, three cats—two of which are orange boys—and many books. She's the cofounder and codirector of a literary arts nonprofit, The Porch, and her work has appeared in Joyland, Guernica, Longreads, StorySouth, Lit Hub, the Oxford American, and elsewhere. She's really interested in crows and works hard to believe they are interested in her. Her Substack is called FIELD TRIP.

Art by Levi Abadilla

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