“Palliator” By JoAnna Novak

Image by Cynthia Rhee / cynthiarhee.com

My poor best friend. Her wealth. So real. Concrete. Last week, I saw her for a drink. We met in the suburbs—her and her boyfriend, me and my husband. February, Chicago: it should’ve been colder. It wasn’t so bad, though: 40s, windless, dead night, white-blooded moon. I wore shredded jeans. A black sweater. If he could’ve, my husband would’ve worn shorts. After all, we were moving across the country for a new job: mine. Soon, we’d be Angelenos. Shouldn’t life be good?

There was my best friend, then, dressed for the weather save for her irresponsible shoes. What were they? Heels, maybe Mary-Janes. I’m short; she’s tall. She wore a long dress patterned with flowers. She hugged a crocheted shawl to herself. Stevie Nicks, my husband said to me telepathically. Or maybe I just had a premonition that he’d make that remark later. Once, I’d told him my best friend likes Fleetwood Mac. Ipso facto . . .

What was troubling about my friend was her cleavage. Her neckline was scooped so low I could see a full roundness of breast. She and I sat on the banquette. We were in a corner, so we could sit perpendicularly. The men sat on chairs.

And the lights were low, and a fire burned behind a gray grate, and my pants were complemented, and we talked about New Orleans, where my best friend and her boyfriend had just vacationed, touring ghost houses and learning about nineteenth-century torture, indentured servants abused at the hand of one rich woman, and we ordered drinks with chartreuse, we toasted and clinked, and my best friend told me about the penthouse of the building she had just bought. Oh to be rich, I thought. Oh, JoAnna, shut up, I thought. I wanted to look straight at my friend, find her third eye, and tell her, from the bottom of my soul, how envious I was of her. It would be real. Legit. We’d been friends for nearly two decades. I found her face—a round surface lit by gin, gimlet-eyed, open. Her blunt bangs. And then, and then—the breasts.

I stood. Perhaps gravity would extrude my want. Well? But why not be jealous? “Excuse me,” I said.

I went into the bathroom. I pinched my stomach and did tricep exercises. Pushbacks, dips on the floor—the dirty floor of a nice restaurant restroom! I washed my hands and waited for the corpse reviver to kick in. I kept waiting. I looked in the mirror. For a second, I was very beautiful, for no one but myself. I had a premonition: I would get tan, poor, broken down, worn. Well. I was wearing a baggy sweater. Money, breasts: I had none.



JoAnna Novak lives in California, where she teaches in the MFA program at Mount Saint Mary’s University. With Thomas Cook and Tyler Dorholt, she edits Tammy.