Talking to Lily
    Jai Clare
"And I'm sorry that it happened."

Vivien wanted a reconciliation. The note here was full of it: please phone please write. Lily holds the note: a triumphant smile on her face, then she re-reads it, and shows it to her husband, who had been insecure because of the years Vivien and Lily, as best friends, had known each other before Lily had met him. Mart, who had never liked Vivien.

Mart says, "Well, it's your move now, you've got her now. You're in control." Lily smiles again and drops the note on the kitchen table, its Rossetti red-headed woman indistinguishable amongst the mess.

Lily goes to work. Walking to the bus stop her stride is confident. The normally tense inner city street is like carnival day; she smiles at people, they smile back at her. No furtive, paranoid glances over the shoulder to check who is walking behind. She doesn't think about Vivien, and on the bus offers an old woman her seat. Only later does she wonder about replying to the note.

Mart tells Lily not to. She is unsure. Mart's protection of her is something she adores about him.

                 * * * *

Vivien is waking. In that in-between state of consciousness and unconsciousness she sees Lily. She sees her note. Talking to Lily is something she does when her mind is caught unawares, unoccupied: "If I was such an awful friend Lily, why did it take you so long to tell me?" Lily's replies are always ones Vivien has the right answer to. The actual argument went so fast that Vivien can only remember bits of it.

She had said, laughing; listening to the CD player, that some rock star was pretentious. Lily defended him, and after a while said, "You always were good at forcing your opinions down my throat."

Vivien was shocked and asked for evidence. And all the little incidents from the past, the horrible nicknames, the jokes, came back on Lily's tongue. Ten years of grudges. Vivien, stunned, couldn't answer and left.

In her imagination Vivien is trying to communicate with Lily, speaking the way they never could. She tries to tell her she can't make up for how she behaved when they were kids, she can't eradicate what happened, all those times she told Lily, a shy child, what to do, all the times she laughed at her, made fun of her, ran away from her; Lily should've said something at the time. Vivien is reminded of a Blake poem: 'I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end.' She tries to tell Lily she's sorry, that she wishes she'd been a better child.

Vivien imagines them meeting again in the street and Lily looking down to the ground as they pass, showing the undyed blonde roots of her brown hair. Or Lily turns her head away, afraid to smile. Vivien thinks about speaking, but the moment has passed, and she stands watching Lily, slightly pigeon-toed, walk away.

Sometimes Vivien longs for them to really meet, to see if Lily's face wears that stiff, uncompromising look she has so often imagined. She really hopes Lily would break out into a smile. The postman thrusts the post through the door. No letter from Lily and when Vivien picks up the phone it is never her.

When Vivien passed her driving test she shouted out: "Look, Lily, I did it, I did it!"

But Lily never hears.

                 * * * *

Vivien's note is sitting on Lily's kitchen table, covered by the latest overdue phone bill on top of which sits an empty cat food tin. Mart pushes a used teabag into the tin. The bin is full again. The teabag drips orange stains on the phone bill and onto the exposed part of Vivien's note. Mart doesn't notice this. But if he did he would laugh his loud, unsettling laugh: high-pitched and manic. Later Lily spots the note while looking for this month's bank statement. She traces the pattern of the orange tea stain over smudged ink, smudged like mascara.

Vivien's words are indecipherable but she knows them off by heart: "Don't you think it was silly of us falling out like that? It feels strange not being able to talk to you.

                 * * * *

It does feel strange to Vivien. She can't just pick up the 'phone and say, "How are you!" Tell Lily about her latest news, her promotion at work, her forthcoming wedding, the divorce of her parents. It was if a door had closed on her life at the time she and Lily had gone their separate ways. Lily knows only so much about her, and not what had happened in the last two years. The best two years, when finally she'd really grown up, and settled down - a time when everything was coming together. When talking to other people Vivien can now only say: "I used to have a best friend who... " She wonders if Lily ever says the same.

                 * * * *

Lily is still fingering the note. Nice picture, she thinks. Trust Vivien to pick something she knows I'll like. How can she pin it to the board knowing it's from her? Lily wonders if she should reply. She is tempted. But why should she? Vivien had said some terrible things, and Lily had never forgiven her for her bossiness when they were children. Mart says she's better off without Vivien. Vivien was too much effort; Lily feels happier without her.

It's not as if the words on the card had been straight. Oh it was all there, in a sort of code, but Vivien couldn't come out and be honest. If she had written, I miss you, I was stupid, please ring me, then Lily might have contacted her - for old times' sake. Mart said Vivien should have grovelled. She loves it when he says such things about Vivien.

Lily drops the card back into the mess.

                 * * * *

Vivien gradually realizes, as the weeks pass, that Lily is not going to reply. In the bath she ducks her head under the water, rinsing off the shampoo, and thinks back to the time when together, aged eighteen, they had moved from their home town to the big city to their first flat, high in the servants quarters of a Victorian house. Without each other it would have been doubtful if either would have moved at all. Lily quiet and insular, took the large room that doubled as their living room, and squandered time with crosswords and puzzles. Vivien, with all her parents' furniture, had the smaller room to herself where she played records at all hours and made lists for the future. She was ambitious and pushy. If Lily had dreams, plans for her future, she never told Vivien. The bathroom, in comparison to the huge kitchen with its 1950s' freestanding units, was tiny. The bath slotted in under the sloping eave. It was so small. Vivien couldn't take a bath in the winter without her knees freezing, squashed lip against the wall. Inside their new flat, trying to save electricity, they had waited for something to happen.

From a club dance floor Lily ran, uncharacteristically, to lose her virginity. Vivien didn't approve of her choice; she could do so much better. Eventually Lily agreed, kissing only a few more men in the years before meeting Mart. And Vivien met someone she shouldn't have, who moved into her room and gathered new possessions around him. A man who treated a dumbstruck Vivien with a mixture of contempt and possessive love. Lily, sitting in her comfy old armchair said: "It's none of my business who you sleep with.'" And she meant it. Whatever Vivien did, Lily agreed to.

Lily didn't feel capable of standing up to Vivien, while Vivien longed for Lily to come out of her shell and get emotional. Later, when Lily met Mart, she moved out of the flat, and acquired noisy laughter and a liking for obscure soft metal bands. A new Lily emerged, a confident, capable Lily Vivien, trying out different men, never really settling down, lessened in importance. She accepted this. It was the way of things.

At Lily and Mart's wedding Vivien was happy for them. With her new job, Vivien moved away. Mart encouraged the physical and emotional distance between the two women, because he was jealousy of their friendship, until Lily and Vivien argued. Some of Lily's unsaid resentments at last found a voice.

But Vivien never told Lily of the time, after a gig and before Mart and Lily had got together, that Mart had come on to her, complimenting her, touching her, and had been repulsed. Vivien kept this secret to herself.

Like a hurt love, Vivien took all the things Lily had bought her - the things for her birthday: all the cards, the bracelets, the little ornaments, the scarves, the cassettes, the postcards from Dorset - and put them in a tin box, which she hid it at the back of her wardrobe, beneath the clothes she couldn't bear to throw away even though she hadn't worn them for years. She even scrubbed out Lily's address from her address book. She couldn't imagine Lily doing anything so childish.

Two years passed and Vivien missed her. Missed their history together, Lily' s humour, and her level-headedness. And she wondered if she ever passed through Lily's mind- She'd never been happier and wished Lily was there to tell.

Sometimes Vivien dreamt about Lily and woke to the realization that they hadn't spoken to each other for two years.

The note Vivien had sent was carefully worded. It said she was sorry without directly appealing for Lily to reply. It would be up to Lily, and then, once they were talking again, then would be the time to clear the air. She hoped Lily would decipher what she meant.

After there was no initial reply Vivien had decided not to write again, but now she thinks, willing to give it another try, that if Lily doesn't respond this time, she'll keep writing till Lily gets sick of her and has to reply, if only to get rid of her.

                 * * * *

One day, Lily decides to clear the kitchen. It really has got into a worse state than usual. Walking around its dirty, red-tiled floor barefooted, she removes empty cereal packets from the shelves, old cartons of milk, mouldy mayonnaise jars and moves over to the kitchen table. Only a small space can be seen where Mart usually pushes the rubbish to the middle so he can put the breadboard down. Holding out a huge plastic bag Lily tips all the rubbish, the papers, the empty cans, the ripped Rizla papers, ancient envelopes and Vivien's card into it and puts the bag next to the dustbin.

Jai Clare lives in Cornwall, UK, on the edge of Bodmin Moor. Recent publications: Barcelona Review - 'Ramblista' issue 23 March/April 2001,Winedark Sea, volume I, Australia Redsine (print vol I), Australia Deeply Shallow, Spring 2000, Zoetrope ASE, for Liza Blooming, April 2000. She was a guest editor on Zoetrope All-Story Extra: December/January 2000/2001.


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