Two affluent women sat together drinking coffee, the TV playing softly in the background. A man who was visiting had just left.
“Oh, he’s left,” declared Wanda, sipping her coffee, her smile subtly betraying her.
“Good riddance!” responded Alice, with glee. “Now we can get back to the inane chatter!”
“Oh, joy!” celebrated Wanda, back in her element.
She continued, “What is life but a series of mundane trivialities, and what greater activity than to endlessly talk of such events in their absence?”
Alice was nodding enthusiastically. “That’s something he doesn’t understand. Some people are just so foolish and self-absorbed, they can’t even experience life… imagine that,” she added, pity written across her face.
“Alice – you feel sorry for that weirdo?” said a resentful Wanda, face scrunched up in disbelief.
“Did you not hear what he said? We were talking about brands of coffee and he started spouting off conspiracy theories about the government.”
Alice felt cornered by force of will, but relented. “Au contraire, my dear Wanda, he just had some good points, that is all, and I often found myself agreeing with him, although he was difficult to understand,” she trailed off, recognising the danger of her situation.
As Alice broke eye contact, Wanda’s eyes flashed. She had the upper hand.
She roped Alice back in (after all, every one needs a companion). “Well, anyway, he was weird. I didn’t like him, and I have a good intuition for these things. You should know,” she snorted.
“Oh, absolutely, Wanda. You know I didn’t mean anything by it,” apologised Alice, quickly. Smiling, sensing validation, she regained composure, and eye contact.
Wily Wanda was pleased with the outcome of her manipulation, as always. Leaning her head back pretentiously, her eyes twinkled. She was an expert at exploiting the good will of others. She suffered for it, morally, but there were many perks, and in her mind she supposed she wouldn’t change a thing.
Wanda’s grand thoughts were interrupted by the ostensibly inferior Alice. She simultaneously resented the interruption and appreciated the attention. This ambivalence made her face inscrutable.
Alice was anxious to win Wanda back over, having perceived loss, and resorted to gratification.
“So, I see your horse is doing well in the races,” announced Alice, nodding her head towards the TV. “You always were lucky.”
“There’s a reason I have a French penny on the porch, my dear Alice.”
‘Superstition?’ thought Alice.
She swiftly uttered the next best thing, to some avail.
“Oh, they’re there for luck. I just thought you liked the look of it.”
“Indeed, they are. Although they keep quite nicely, too,” answered a chipper Wanda.
“As for the races, my Basil ought to finish first – it was how he was raised, his breed.”
Alice was nodding again. “Such a fine horse, might I say. Exemplary.”
She said this too flatteringly, for Wanda backed up slightly.
“Well, you reap what you sow.”
She changed the topic.
“So, tell me how your darling husband is doing,” snarled Wanda, swirling her coffee connivingly.
Sensing the undesirable shift, Alice dodged and threw a red herring.
“He’s been quite occupied lately, Wanda. We both worry for the current state of affairs, especially in politics, and for the health of the troops. But we always take solace in the fact that we live in the greatest country on Earth, and, as such, only good ought to come to us.”
Wanda reeled it in.
“Quite, quite,” she agreed, expressively, “Amen.”
She persuasively performed the sign of the cross on her chest, head bowed virtuously.
“May God serve those who protect our way of life, for ours is paramount to all others, and I say that with absolute confidence, never having travelled, for I am in no danger of offending my countrymen, one should hope, as I happened to learn in school, and was never once contradicted upon reiteration, until that weirdo came along.”
“You’re quite right,” said Alice curtly, as she briefly dropped her head to her chest to hide her small sigh.
Alice had been played once again. This time she realised.
‘That’s not what happened.’ The thought kept scratching at her brain, and she responded by shaking herself out of said lull, and animating herself toward the discussion, no matter its content.
“And Jeffrey is doing well, mind you?” asked Wanda, who had been carefully watching Alice.
“Oh, absolutely, he is excelling in all of his classes. It appears we chose the correct advisors.”
“Very well, very well,” said Wanda, satisfied.
But she noticed the near-imperceptible change in Alice’s demeanour.
“Something the matter, Alice?”
Alice was conscious of being gaslighted, and dissociated in response.
Her eyes clouded over and her mind went blank, calmly following a rabbit hole of thoughts, as if she had suddenly entered a hypnotic state devoid of the dimension of time.
‘What really did happen? I ought not to forget.’
A shabbily dressed man entered the periphery of her mind’s eye. Come to think of it, Alice noticed it was perhaps the lesser quality of his clothes that vexed Wanda most of all, and this may have sowed the seed of unfavourable preconception before anything else.
This was probably the case, as she recalled, the man was kind, considerate, handsome, and, perhaps most threateningly of all, smiled generously – something Wanda would never achieve.
It was precisely his passionate nature, juxtaposed with his shabby clothing, which grazed Wanda so, and had her caricature him a “weirdo”, having no other recourse than to accept and dispossess.
Although he had proposed some provocative ideas, he made sure to treat his interlocutors with respect, his ideas were typically supported by evidence from the public record, and he always invited debate, careful not to be pugnacious, derogatory, or snide. Maybe this clear distinction between their characters, annoyed Wanda most of all, as she did not like to be made to look bad, even when she herself merited the perception…
“Alice!” Wanda’s shrill voice pierced the veil.
“Oh! Sorry,” acknowledged a startled Alice, as if woken from a dream.
“Just what were you thinking about?” prodded Wanda, anxiously.
“Oh, nothing, just about how I ought to get myself a French penny for my porch. That’s all,” she lied.
She was good at lying, for exactly this reason, in it being a necessary adaptation to this particular environment, and, relieved her lie was sold, Alice observed as the conversation naturally devolved back to its former lifelessness.