She and I, the Movie

We’ve never met, but I know her name – and apparently, she knows mine. We are college graduates, mothers, managers; we are Molly Ringwald fans; and – as the universe possesses a gleeful, damnable sense of humor – we land in the same work project, twelve time zones apart. (#seamlessteams, per corporate Twitter). Her name flickers into my inbox, and my stomach lurches:

Does she know?

I reason with myself: Technically, nothing happened. 

(The half-sincere defense of the minor antagonist in an ‘80s movie.) 

I respond, point for point, to her message, leaving nothing to ask or answer. Best regards.

I’ve been running feral through Zoom/Teams/Skype-land for months, gloriously camera-extinguished and anonymous, but in those 83 blank seconds before the group call really starts, her voice rings out:

“Hello. Laura.”

How to normal? Lips, air, human sounds? “Uh… hi, Lisette.  It must be getting late there.”  All those seminars on managing workplace conflict, now paying dividends. I endeavor to prevent my breakfast from making a discourteous reappearance. 

Were we inhabiting that 80s movie, Lisette would break the fourth wall; she’d offer the camera an electric-blue, steely gaze, then call me out in front of the team. Using the word sleazy.

“Thank you for your email. I should get back to you.”

“No worries. I know you’re busy.”

She must know.

She’s got her camera off too; I can’t see her.

And I can’t see him. Though he must be there, scrolling through his phone – enjoying a nightcap – depressing the electric piano keys. But – having settled for an indifferent instrument – nevertheless trying to wring something real from –

No. No. My imagination, only.

Not invented: soft-focus hours in his office. Him at his computer, me perched on his desk, a sleeve’s-breadth away.  Composing strategy opuses, pheromone-drunk. 

Confidences that belonged, by right and law, to his wife. 

Two years ago. Three? 

They got the plum assignments abroad. I stayed –

I can hear her breathing.

She says, “I’m afraid the whole family is distracted lately. We’re coming back to the States soon.”

Before tact – before consciousness – I blurt out, “Maybe we can all get together!” His face rises before my mind’s eye…

In that same movie, I’d remain oblivious to the downbeat chords of Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love” playing over the scene. 

“I couldn’t stay away,” she says. But there’s a little half-laugh between the words. 

I couldn’t. 

Stay away.

Linda McMullen

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over ninety literary magazines. She received Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations in 2020. She may be found on Twitter: @LindaCMcMullen.