Sunday Stories: “Relish”


by Amanda Claire Buckley

The hawks are circling fast in a dark blue sky. A slow breeze blows, shaking the chain-link fence around the yard. The sun is high and hot, and I am either humble or bored. Like everything has already been written, and I’m just highlighting the parts I want to remember.

I’m visiting my oldest friend who still lives in the neighborhood we grew up in. We’re eating watermelon-mint salad with feta cheese and balsamic dressing out on her patio. The conversation is rote. We drink lemonade. We talk about the magazine subscriptions we might cancel. We talk about our mothers: how we annoyed them as children, how much they annoy us now, calling constantly, wanting rides to the hair salon.

My oldest friend’s above-ground pool has a tight cover on it, keeping the leaves out and the heat in. I think about asking if we could go for a swim, cool off, but I’d have to borrow a bathing suit, a towel, and maybe a swim cap.

We are reminiscing about the time we caught my mother–my thin, starved, church-going mother–eating raw cookie dough straight from the fridge at two in the morning when my oldest friend gets a call from her husband. It’s about a work project or it’s about a dentist appointment or it’s about an uncle in town who wants to get a drink. He’ll be home late. It’s predictable as all this is: the salad, the pool, the fence, the lemonade. My friend tries to hide her resignation, keeps her face stony as I tap her ankles with my foot, but it’s clear when she hangs up, despite nothing changing all that much, that a thread within her has been cut.

We finish our salads, letting the conversation lull. The hawks move on from whatever they’ve been circling. I almost suggest swimming–the heat is almost unbearable, almost–but then my oldest friend grabs my wrist and says, “Let’s go for a walk.”

We rinse our dishes in her sink, put them in the dishwasher, but don’t start it. We set off down the road, towards the park with the swing set and baseball fields where we both had our first kiss one week apart. The boys were second cousins.

Our feet move in tandem as we talk about what our children might be up to–who they are with or what new experiences they’re having. Have they fallen in love yet? Would they tell us? We stop briefly in front of Mr. and Mrs. Paulson’s house so I can tie my shoes. The Paulson’s big old bulldog Buster presses his graying muzzle up against the screen door, barking at us although he’s seen us millions of times. Even though he knows we aren’t coming in, haven’t come in in decades.

The chains of the swings clink in the wind as we approach the park. My oldest friend grabs my hand and traces the lifeline on my palm. She tells me it’s too long like she always does. An aberration. I poke her between her bottom two ribs, where I know she’s ticklish. She swats my hand away.

We remember the way Mrs. and Mr. Paulson invited the whole street over for a barbecue every Fourth of July. The way they’d use too much of their homemade relish on their hotdogs. How we didn’t have the courage to say we didn’t want it. How we’d have to scrape it off when they weren’t looking or add mustard and ketchup to dilute it.

We get to the park and open the gate to the baseball field, the field that’s farthest from the parking lot. We talk about our prom dates, compare them, worry we’ve settled, as we head towards the dugout: the dugout where the seniors smoke weed, and our older sisters pierced each other’s ears.

We sit on the bench where we’ve sat so often before, waiting for out turn to play in the outfield. We wonder if the gum we chewed is still stuck under the splintering wood. My oldest friend starts to bite her nails: a habit she can’t quite shake. I push the spit-out sunflower seeds on the ground with my white sneakers, getting dirt on the toe caps, the aglets.

I’m about to ask again about swimming in her pool when my oldest friend kisses me, so lightly at first, I’m not sure it’s even happening. Tasting balsamic from our salads, I don’t pull away. She presses her mouth a bit harder and still I don’t pull away, tasting now the watermelon, the lemon, the feta. I hear an ice cream truck nearby and, put my hand on her cheek, tasting mint. I’m curious, so my mouth parts and my old friend slips her tongue in. I let her. She’s hesitant initially, moving her tongue left and right like a teenager who’s never frenched before. Like this is the first time. I put my hand on the back of her head, encouraging, letting her push me up against the dugout wall, rubbing her back and slipping my hands down her waistband, but her mouth closes when it should open, and her teeth keep hitting mine.

Or maybe it is my mouth that is thirteen again.

I try to guide her, or she tries to guide me, but the only thing that feels good is when she licks the side of my mouth by accident.

Still, this is different. A wormhole. A path to another set of rituals, another set of daily routines. Waking up in a different bed, different dish soap. I savor it: at my age, you don’t get very many chances to change course.

I let my oldest friend go on, her clammy mouth moving against mine harshly. I make sure to slip my hands up her shirt because once we stop, I’m not sure I’ll have or want the chance again.

It’s when she tries to give me a hickey on my neck that I start laughing and then everything falls apart, returns to the way it was. We are stuck in our ways again. We are more mother than daughter. Ancient and already written. We are the oldest of friends, and I don’t feel remorse.

When we pass Mrs. and Mr. Paulson’s house on the way back to her home, I realize that they are probably long since dead. They haven’t had a barbecue in decades. Haven’t lived in the house in years. The old, gray-muzzled bulldog Buster, viciously barking at us as we pass yet again, belongs to someone else.


Amanda Claire Buckley holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and is the Prose Editor at Pigeon Pages. When she’s not pursuing her artistic passions, she works as a private tutor and educator. She lives with her cat Yahz in West Philadelphia where rent is somewhat reasonable.

Photo: Adam Mills/Unsplash

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