Original Short Story: "Friends in a Circle"
Flaming Heart Scoprion
This story is fiction.
It does not depict
any real people or events.
"You pluck flower after flower—it is never the flower." —D.H. Lawrence, The Fox
Warm Letters - Cool Letters
Maldiva Clay never considered herself capable of being a good friend to anyone for very long. Perhaps a good shrink could tell help her find out why, but because she had always found herself more interesting than anyone with whom she had ever been acquainted, she had never been motivated to try to nurture friendships.
That was, until she met Scorp Dennis. She was teaching a workshop in fiction writing at Basket Grove College in Himpsted, Kentucky, as unremarkable a place as you'd ever want to experience, she would always say, and Scorp Dennis enrolled in the workshop. This workshop lasted only five weeks, but Scorp and she became close enough that even after the workshop was over, and she had returned to her panhandle town of Luna Mesa, Florida, and her job at the Pigeon Chronicle, where she was a senior editor, they continued to write each other via snail as well as e-mail.
Scorp continued to prey on Maldiva for responses to his stories, and after the exchange grew into passionate letters, they began meeting in Francis Town, Tennessee, for a weekend of merrymaking. This kind of communication went on for about three years; every month or so, they'd meet in little, nondescript towns somewhere between his Kentucky Himpsted and her Florida Luna Mesa. Scorp was about fifteen years her junior, but their romance seemed to proceed in what one might consider the usual way. With some glaring exceptions.
Sometime during the fourth year, Scorp's letters and e-mail cooled off considerably. He kept sending stories for critiquing, but there was never any more mention of meeting for those intense weekends and immersion in fiction. It was right about this time that he sold his first story to Extatic, a story to whose revision Maldiva had heavily contributed.
Maldiva was so happy for Scorp's success that she didn't really think much about the fact that he had dedicated the story to Katrina. She had no idea who Katrina was, but she didn't give her much thought either. Maldiva had been seeing a lot of a man she had met in graduate school at the University of California; she knew the relationship was headed nowhere, but they had a few laughs, some fun times on the beach, and she needed that kind of thing from time to time. Then Maldiva heard no more from Scorp for an entire year. She foolishly e-mailed him a few times, little chatty bits. But by the end of the year, she had given up and considered their little affair dead.
Then about three months into the next year, she got a message from Scorp, apologizing for not getting back to her or at least acknowledging her messages. He had been busy on a novel, and of course, you know how that is, how such huge projects just eat away at your time. He continued in this vein for about four months; then he told Maldiva that he and Katrina were getting married the next spring.
Scorp told Maldiva that although Katrina was very jealous of his other affaires de cœur, she wanted very much to meet Maldiva because she thought Maldiva sounded fascinating. He suggested that the three of them could become good friends. He also mentioned, by the way, that he was stuck with his latest novel and could use Maldiva’s insight and feedback to help him get going again.
Now is a good place to pause and tell you about how Maldiva really felt. Up to this point, she probably sounds as if she could take Scorp or leave him. But, in fact, she was deeply in love with him. She could not admit this to him—the age difference, the distance between their residences, the sheer impossibility of their ever sharing a permanent relationship all combined to make her bury her feelings deep inside her psyche, but the fact that she missed him so much made her cling to another young man who had started to spend time with her.
The Jamal Substitute
Jamal Shepherd was a copy-editor for the Luna Mesa CoastLine News. They met at a workshop at Luna Mesa Junior College. They had lunch from time to time, e-mailed a lot, and he began to show her his poetry. Maldiva enjoyed the relationship, maybe even had a little crush on him, but he did not fill the gap left by Scorp. Scorp sent Maldiva a message telling her that he and Katrina were coming to Luna Mesa for a weekend vacation on the Gulf, and he suggested that they get together because Katrina was eager to meet the writer who had been influential in her fiancé's life.
So Maldiva agreed. And they met. Katrina and Maldiva hit it off right away—kind of!. Katrina brought her stories and poems, and they had fun sharing and reworking them. Katrina seemed to enjoy Maldiva’s telling her about Scorp; Katrina would ask leading questions and watch Maldiva carefully as she answered. Their weekend vacation turned into two weeks, and then Scorp and Katrina began hopping down to Luna Mesa every other weekend.
Katrina always had poems and stories to try out on Maldiva; Scorp's novel needed constant responses, and they both became regulars in Maldiva’s Saturday evening creativity seminar; that is, as regular as they could, and still keep their teaching jobs in Kentucky. Scorp and Katrina were both working so furiously at their writing that they decided to put off their wedding until fall. And when school was out, they took an apartment in Luna Mesa in order to participate more fully in Maldiva’s seminar. As much as Maldiva enjoyed her conversations with Katrina, when Scorp was present Maldiva felt that same old urge to draw close to him, to kiss those soft, honeyed lips, and feel he warmth of his embrace. And then Maldiva would be dragged out of her reverie by Katrina asking her another question.
Over and over in her mind, Maldiva kept repeating, "In a few short weeks she will be his wife." And Maldiva figured he must really care for Katrina deeply, enough to be so honest about his affairs. Especially because Katrina was so jealous. And her jealousy showed; if Scorp and Maldiva left her out of the conversation for more than a few sentences, Katrina would pout, and pull on his arm, and beg them to change the subject. Katrina would never leave them alone, never take her eyes off Maldiva for more than a few seconds. Katrina seemed much more at ease when it was just she and Maldiva alone for lunch or shopping.
That Harpy Has to Go!
Maldiva decided that Katrina had to go. How she did not know. Not being a killer, she could not kill her. Not being rich enough, she could not hire a hit man. It occurred to Maldiva to introduce her to Jamal. Jamal needed someone to love, and Maldiva determined that someone could easily be Katrina. So Maldiva introduced them.
It was slow but Maldiva kept at it. The four of them met often for lunch, drinks, walks along the beach, poetry and fiction readings. They were quite a foursome, and Katrina remarked often that she felt so invigorated by her new "friends in a circle." It seemed more like a rectangle to Maldiva, or a triangle out of whack with an extra corner, but what the hay! As long as she was near Scorp, at least she could look into his eyes, fantasize about his lips, and brush his hand once in a while, and she was just sure one day she would find time to be alone again. Actually, just once Scorp and Maldiva had managed to enjoy a passionate kiss one morning while Katrina was in the shower. But Katrina must have suspected, and she was extremely alert after that never to leave Scorp and Maldiva alone together.
Scorp's mother had to undergo a mastectomy, so he had to fly to Kentucky for a few weeks. Maldiva persuaded Katrina that she would have lots of time for concentration on her book of stories without Scorp. So Katrina stayed, and Maldiva made sure Katrina and Jamal had lots of time together.
Match Making Maldiva
Maldiva tried to be subtle, scheduling late suppers and then being called away, leaving them to finish without her. Maldiva even encouraged sleep overs—all three of them working late into the night on their respective projects, and then insisting it was much too late for either of them to go home. Jamal and Katrina could just nap for a few hours on a mattress on the floor or better still, they could go down by the beach and catch a few winks. They'd just drag some sleeping bags down.
Scorp called and said he'd have to stay a few days longer than he thought; his mom had some complications, and he had to be there for her. Things seemed to be going Maldiva’s way. Jamal was definitely falling for Katrina, and Katrina was definitely enjoying the attention Jamal was showering on her. And it got so they paid less and less attention to Maldiva and more and more to each other. Then it finally happened. Maldiva had gone to the market for some items for dinner, and when she returned, she heard them in the loft: "Oh, Jamal, yes, yes, Oh, Oh, Oh, that's right, that's right. Oh God. Oh God."
Oh, God, Maldiva thought, thank You; this is the way it should be; now we are making progress. What Maldiva hoped to gain from this turn of events is still a mystery to her. She had long concluded that Scorp and she could have no future, and although she felt that she loved him, the idea of being married to him repulsed her. She reckoned she must have wanted that long distance affair to continue, intense messages, anticipation of meeting in obscure small towns like Himpsted, Kentucky. These romantic scenarios stimulated her as nothing else ever had. Why couldn't she have these with other men? She didn’t know, somehow it just wasn't the same.
Hearing Katrina with Jamal, Maldiva walked quickly to the kitchenette, noisily set down the grocery bags. She wanted them to know she had heard, and her heart raced in anticipation of gazing on those two freshly flushing bodies. What will their eyes say, what will Katrina offer her to keep this news from Scorp? Soon they appeared in the kitchen. Jamal blushing his beautiful deep rosy cheeks; Katrina with her sheepish smile that Maldiva knew would be followed by a whine.
Making Sense of Things
"Oh, Maldiva, you won't tell Scorp about this, will you? This was such a mistake. Jamal, tell her it was a mistake. I was weak, you were weak. Oh, Maldiva, you know how it is. You and Scorp made this same mistake. You know I would not want to hurt Scorp for anything in the world. Please, tell me you won't tell him."
"Wait a minute, here, calm down. Let's talk this over and make some sense of things," Maldiva said.
And the sense Maldiva made of it was to convince Katrina that she had no choice but to tell Scorp; after all, look how honest Scorp had been with Katrina. He would understand, and their relationship would be stronger for it. Katrina brightened up and agreed. Of course, what was she thinking? Scorp would understand, why wouldn't he? What was she thinking?
For Maldiva, the next five years are a blur of work. She had a novel accepted for publication and a job offer at the Sands College in Southland, California. Jamal, luckily, got over Katrina, but not without a suicide attempt. Maldiva nursed him through it, staying by his side almost constantly except for work, and she has more or less adopted him; he will be moving to Southland with her. He needs her to mother him, even though he has procured for himself an assistant editorship of the Southland Downtowner.
Scorp went on to reach some publishing heights with three historical novels and a collection of short stories, and his name appears from time to time in the Himpsted Observer, the newspaper Maldiva kept getting ever since she taught that fateful five-week workshop in that town. Last week she read that Scorp was offered the Prideworth Professorship of History at Basket Grove College, which also means Basket Grove has come a long way, now able to offer professorships with names.
Each of Scorp’s novels is dedicated to a different woman: Viola-Lee, Alcy, and Dorrie Fai. Maldiva doesn’t know what happened to Katrina. She never found out if Scorp and Katrina ever married; actually, Maldiva did once let her subscription lapse for a year or so right after Jamal’s suicide attempt, but she noticed today in the paper that Scorp has just married a writer from Quebec. The article says it's the first marriage for each. Maldiva reckons that is true. The Himpsted Observer wouldn't lie.
© 2019 Linda Sue Grimes