2017 Lilith Fiction Contest: Third Place

“Shirley” by David Barnett,

“Shirley” by David Barnett,

Because when you listened to me, you did that tilty thing with your head, that thing that says, yes, yes, I hear you.

Because when we were roommates in the ’80s, you took a wire hanger and twisted it into a headpiece to hold your phone, hands free, so you could talk to your boyfriend and make moussaka at the same time.

Because once when I was sad, you wrapped seven bunches of your hair in tin foil ponytails, grabbed the guitar, and started singing “Hey There, Little Insect.”

Because you never said, “I’m half Jewish.”

Because you chose me to share a home with me after graduation, that brick place with the grassy courtyard and the Polish guy down the hall who farted so loudly we heard it, through closed doors, every time.

Because we bought the cheapest mezuzah we could find, a plain little wooden thing with a Star of David in black ink.

Because I chose you at my second wedding to hold the Chuppah and stand with us, steady us. Because you left us a surprise in our bedroom: hundreds of rose petals scattered over our bed, a soft sanguine duvet.

Because you said things that poked and punctured my insides, opening seeping channels of flow.

Because I got Bat Mitzvah’d and you didn’t. 

Because I got to be a mother and you didn’t. 

Because I got to be an artist and you didn’t. 

Because, secretly, I think there’s been some kind of mistake.

Because of Joni Mitchell and Monie Love and James Taylor and James Brown and those huge headphones you wore so the upstairs neighbors wouldn’t complain about the throbbing bass rattling through their floor.

Because I chose you, my best friend, again and again and again.

Because I forgave you, again and again, and again, because, after all, you were high.

Because all my words were once yours, borrowed, and now I’m giving them back.

Because Cheri called me, like she always does, saying, “My sister landed badly again.” Because she said you were going to rehab again, fourth time. Because, I thought, this time, you’re going to make it.

Because you chose me, again, on my fortieth, that card with the horse, your handwriting: “I love you with a fierceness I have in no other friendship.”

Because that fourth rehab place had hot yoga and art therapy and aquatic aerobics. 

Because when you got pregnant, I thought, this is surely the end and the beginning.

Because rehab was working until it wasn’t. 

Because you had an abortion because you knew it was the only way.

Because you chose me, and because I chose you, until I just couldn’t anymore.

Because we are chosen, and chosen is lucky and chosen is wrenching. Chosen is sitting in my basement office on Tuesday at midnight and seeing Cheri’s name on the screen and knowing, in my bones, that you were gone, and stuffing my face in the pillow to muffle the wails while my brood slept silently, devotedly, upstairs. 


Gail Marlene Schwartz is a widely published writer and a semi-finalist in the Tillie Olsen Short Story Award, 2017. She lives in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.