A STORY by LINDA MCMULLEN

ON THE SCENT


Congratulations, fuck you!

I hadn’t thought it possible to fuse those two concepts, but Elizabeth – may God rot her putrescent soul – managed to do it, by presenting me with an Air Wick.

A year ago, we were friends.

Walk-each-other-to-the-car-after-dark friends, huddle-together-at-happy-hour-to-avoid-the-fondlers friends, confide-secrets-about-our-dating-lives friends, cover-for-one-another-in-front-of-the-boss friends.

Eleven months ago, Jack started working in our office. He possessed all the young Hugh Grant’s incandescence, minus the jackassery; he smelled of sandalwood and low-vanity intelligence. Elizabeth and I were pheromone-drunk by lunchtime.

We performed the delicate do-si-do of ferreting out one another’s seriousness: Do you like him? Do you?

And the promise, before its inevitable break: This can’t come between us.

Our boss, Henry, displaying savage indifference to swirling lust and/or resentment, assigned the three of us to the same project.

Jack asked Elizabeth out. I wished her well, digging five scarlet fingernail-crescents into my left palm. Elizabeth’s beaming smirk eclipsed the fluorescent lighting through several dates – until Jack mentioned that he planned to take her to The World’s Your Oyster, the new restaurant downtown. Off her feed – and, one supposes, off her game – she ended the evening early.

And called in sick the next day.

Jack appeared bewildered. I sympathized. “She hates the smell of seafood,” I said. We waxed enthusiastic about crevettes sautées at Famiglia’s, gambas at Wild Lotus, popcorn shrimp available for true- and non-believers at Chez Ma’s, every Friday night. A slow smile rose to his lips.

Point, Laura.

We sampled Salem’s choicest restaurants, hiked together, swapped books. We curled up on my loveseat to watch rom-coms and I inhaled, contented, the sandalwood-scented curve of his neck.

Elizabeth wished me well, and smiled, and told Jack how happy I looked: almost as cheerful as when I’d been dating Steve-from-product-design.

The said Steve: Kissing, 7/10; conversation, 6.5/10; general adult functionality, 8/10. But he wanted the kind of wife who actually runs things and presents him with honey-do lists on Saturdays.

Just – no.

But Elizabeth’s words gradually crept into Jack’s ears like those screechy beetle-things in The Wrath of Khan. My amicable breakup with Steve changed from a “we literally stayed friends” benefit into a new-relationship liability.

Jack broke our cuddles: “Wouldn’t you rather be with Steve?” Then he accepted a job with our competitor.

In another time zone.

I hardly remember applying for the promotion afterwards, much less getting it. Nevertheless, one day, at an in-house happy hour (barely-thawed shrimp trays, tepid champagne) Henry formally announced me as his deputy.

Elizabeth applauded dutifully, presented me with the Air Wick. “I’m so sorry to announce,” she said, barely concealing a grin, “that I’m leaving for a new job. But I want to make sure Laura won’t ever forget me.”

I pressed the button.

Sandalwood.

When she scurried off to claim everyone’s congratulations, I located her purse, used her nail file to slice an invisible hole in the black lining, and ensured that she wouldn’t forget me, either.

After secreting several shrimp shells in there.

Game, set, match.

 

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over one hundred literary magazines. She received Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations in 2020. She may be found on Twitter: @LindaCMcMullen.