In this desert town, an oasis finally appeared as a text, inviting her for a girls’ night out. Maggie read it twice to make sure it was real. She showed her phone to Frank.
“I knew you’d feel better once you made some friends, babe.” He smiled. It was the right thing to say after months of not saying anything at all. After all, Maggie couldn’t cry anymore; her loneliness had flattened and dried her out. She cried a lot in the beginning, when neighbors seemed to regard her like a specimen under hot glass. Her green eyes, uneven brown skin, and coarse hair were enough to mark her as other. She resented that no one seemed to look at Frank like that, but then again, he was a native son, come home to roost.
Maggie took her family to Nora’s house, where she watched her daughter Anna join the children in the rec room, leaping off the couch onto floor pillows. A cartoon blared in the background. Satisfied, Maggie blew air kisses to Frank, who was already in the garage with the other dads and jumped into the Uber with her new friends. Already, the air smelled of whiskey and weed.
At the restaurant, Maggie hesitated, unsure of where to sit. She watched as Nora took the seat with the best view. Hannah, still wearing hospital scrubs and green crocs, sat beside Nora. Maggie grabbed a chair near Marty, whose given name, like Maggie’s, was Margaret, but since they were both Asian and new to town, they had been already mistaken for each other. When it first happened, Marty had winked at Maggie and whispered, “All Asians look alike, amirite? We gotta stick together.” Maggie had nodded, grateful.
Maggie opened her menu and was horrified to see that it featured Vietnamese food. She worried the others would ask for recommendations; the very idea burned hot in her gut, making its way to her forehead, where she felt droplets of sweat forming. Luckily, Marty spoke up, ordering apps for the table, which were met with nods of approval. Their food arrived, its richness producing laughter, gold coins tinkling from their chopsticks and wine glasses. Maggie swallowed the last of her sweet wine and relaxed enough to get mean, slyly poking fun at the dim moms who always forgot Show and Tell or to send extra snacks on Friday. She saved her lethal jabs for those who never checked homework assignments or attended parent teacher conferences. Maggie’s best memory of the night was seeing the grins on the other moms’ faces. Her oasis, at last.
The next morning Maggie carefully opened her laptop, her head glasslike yet heavy. She eagerly checked her messages. Anna shuffled in. “Super-Bear did a funny thing last night,” she announced.
“Super-Bear?” Maggie echoed, wondering if Anna was moving out of her American Girl Doll phase and into superheroes. If so, she would have to research Asian ones.
Anna nodded, sitting down at the table, forcing Maggie to look up. “Yep. Super-Bear touched Willa…” Anna pointed to her lap. Maggie stared at her. Was Super-Bear taking a nap?
Anna frowned. “No, Super-Bear kissed her. Theo made him do it. He said Willa should take off her pants and let Super-Bear kiss her.”
Maggie slammed her laptop shut, sent Anna away, and called Frank at work. Did he know about this? Of course not; he was in the garage with the guys, sipping scotch. Perhaps Anna had misinterpreted it. Maggie texted her friends, each click was a firecracker.
The responses rolled in, hot and quick.
Nora: Oh, those kids, LOL!
Hannah: Are you sure?
Maggie clicked on Marty’s text, hoping Marty would save the day again, but her response blew Maggie’s low-level panic into code red: “Colin said Willa had refused to remove her pants. Theo then tossed the doll to Colin, telling him that Super-Bear needed a special hug and that Colin should kiss Willa. Colin just asked me ‘What’s a BJ?’ WFT?!”
Maggie took a deep breath and closed her eyes, trying to ignore the cacophonous pinging of her phone. She was afraid to touch it, that the furious messages would singe her fingertips. Eventually she scrolled, wincing as she read from Nora, “Not my Theo. He and Willa are friends.” From Hannah: Kids have such vivid imaginations! But the final hit was from Marty: Nora, take your son to therapy because, clearly, he has issues.
Maggie leaped to do damage control, suggesting they meet over drinks. Surely, they
could talk this out! Yet she wasn’t surprised when Nora refused, citing that Marty should make Colin apologize for lying—and keep him away from her Theo! Maggie put her phone down, but a minute later, it pinged. She saw it was a text--only for her--from Marty that said, “I’m OUT! Have fun with those hens! PEACE.” Maggie frowned. What kind of insult was “hens”?
Maggie sat at the dining room table, cradling her head, defeated. That hadn’t taken much time at all. A few minutes, perhaps. Just the amount of time to crumple a piece of paper and throw it in the trash. There would be no more drinks or playground gossip. At least not shared with her. Was she wrong to have mentioned Super-Bear in the first place? She didn’t look up when Frank gently suggested purchasing a book about the birds and bees for Anna…in case she had questions. Maggie nodded. Yes, of course, they would talk with Anna about the birds, bees, Super-Bear, and later, about boundaries and friendship. Maggie deleted Nora and Hannah’s numbers from her phone, but she kept Marty’s. She looked outside, the desert stretching far and wide, prickly and hot, begging her to touch it, no oasis in sight.
J. Leon has a BA from Bryn Mawr College and an MFA from Mills College. She was a resident fellow at Hedgebrook, accepted as a fiction candidate at Voice of Our Nation Workshop (VONA), and attended Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference on the prestigious work-study-waiter scholarship. She was also a part of the 2008 Emmy-winning writers’ team at “One Live to Live.” Her fiction has been published in the anthology, “Philly Fiction,” and YARN (Young Adult Review Network). Her essays and articles can be found in Full Grown People, SoapNet.com, ABC.com, Seattle Weekly, haveuheard.net, AsianAvenue.com, and in the critically acclaimed anthology, “All the Women in My Family Sing,” which was chosen by Vogue as one of the top ten books to read in 2018 that will change your life.