my dear friend rdf gave me a prompt: “Megan gives up sex for Lent. Something ensues.”
Megan has four tattoos, and she chose each one of them carefully, although not, initially, with much thought to overall design. Her second tattoo is a lily, its stem curving up the side of her left arm to flower at her shoulder. She’d thought about getting the petals filled with white ink, but Cara, the tattoo artist, told her she was too pale. “And white ink fades,” she added. “It won’t last.”
The lily on her shoulder isn’t white: it’s orange and gold and dappled instead. Sometimes she touches it and wonders what its faded ghost would have looked like.
Megan isn’t Catholic, but her roommate, Sarah, is. Megan and Sarah have lived together since their sophomore year of college, when they shared a tiny room that barely had space for a hotpot. Their current apartment is not all that much bigger, but it’s in Boston, which they both like better than they ever liked New York.
“I don’t see why you don’t get your own place,” Megan’s mother says, almost every time she calls. “You make enough money, even for Boston. You’re not in college anymore.”
It’s true. Megan’s a graphic designer working at a small but successful advertising firm, and she’s accumulating a comfortable nest egg. Sarah graduated from her social work program last spring, job in hand. They could afford a larger apartment, but their studio’s comfortable and familiar. Megan likes the magnetic knife rack from IKEA that everybody has, their scuffed old dining table, the little step stool that just fits between the oven and the refrigerator.
Megan’s last three girlfriends had the same complaint as her mother. “Why can’t we go to your place?” Lisa asked her. “Do I embarrass you or something?” Natasha was convinced that Megan was in love with Sarah. Jenna lived with her brother and three teenaged nephews, so that was doomed from the start.
It’s a week after Valentine’s Day and Megan’s fresh from her latest breakup, so she’s painting her toes and listening to all the sad tracks from 69 Love Songs while Sarah updates her blog. That’s another reason Megan likes living with Sarah – the unexpected popularity of her cooking blog has ensured that there are delicious quiches, soups, and experimental lemonades on hand at all times. Today’s recipe is for brownies with a minty ganache.
“Have at them,” Sarah says, sitting the whole tray, minus one neat 3″ by 3″ square, on the rug next to Megan. Then she sits down at her desk, stretches, and starts pecking away at the keyboard.
“Thanks,” Megan says, screwing the top back on the polish and wiping her hands with the roll of paper towels that she took from the spindle over the sink. She drapes another one over her chest and eats the brownies straight from the tray. They’re amazing. “You should make these every time I get dumped. I’ll be fat, but I’ll be way less sad.”
“Don’t get dumped before Easter,” Sarah says, distracted. “I’m giving up refined sugar for Lent.”
“I should give up something for Lent.” Megan licks some of the ganache off her fingers and wipes them down before she goes for thirds; the apartment is a judgment-free zone. “Celebrity gossip. Sex. Caffeine.”
“If you try to quit coffee or TMZ cold turkey, you’ll be unbearable.”
Megan closes her eyes. She’s been staring at the ceiling long enough that the afterimage flickers before her, aimless swirls of plaster that go nowhere and a few spider cracks near the northeast corner. “So, what you’re saying is, I should hold out for brownies.”
The keyboard clacks away. “So optimistic,” Sarah says. “That’s one thing I’ve always liked about you.”
Megan’s not religious. Her father is indifferent and her mother is a devout atheist – she considers it an ethical and moral calling. Megan finds her mother embarrassing, which she feels bad about. Her father finds her mother charming, but he wasn’t the one who had to endure a childhood of awkward playground Santa-debunking. When she was a teenager, Megan considered becoming a cryptozoologist, or joining the Wiccan group that met on Saturdays in the park by her house, but in the end, she gave up. Megan and the metaphysical are Just Not That Into Each Other, and that’s just fine by her.
She went to church once with Sarah, the first year that they lived together. It was really boring, but she didn’t want to say anything. “It’s okay,” Sarah said, after they filed out. “It’s not everybody’s thing.”
“Yeah.” Megan was still fumbling with the zipper on her coat. “Sorry, I know it means a lot to you-”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “God’s not like Tinkerbell, he’s not going to disappear just because you don’t like Mass.”
“Okay,” Megan said, stuffing her hands into her pockets.
“Let’s get tacos,” Sarah said. “Real tacos, I’m so over cafeteria tacos.”
“Sounds good,” Megan said. She looked straight ahead down Broadway, felt the cold air skate across her cheeks. Someone had told her that only tourists looked up in New York, and she never really stopped feeling like a tourist.
Sarah doesn’t always give up things for Lent. Their senior year, she attempted to go vegan while living off a campus meal plan and the experience was sufficiently traumatic that she abstained the next two years. Megan’s not sure what inspired this recent bout of piety, but she’s pretty sure it has more to do with cooking blogs than Jesus.
“The nice thing about Lent,” Sarah says, tweaking the light balance of the brownie photos, “is that lots of people are trying to make changes. If you want to stop doing something, or start doing something, you’ve got a lot of support.”
“But no more brownies.”
“The recipe’s tacked on the refrigerator, I got the brownie base from your mom.”
“Ugh,” Megan says.
Sarah spins around in the desk chair. “You should call her and tell her that you’re giving up atheism for Lent.”
“She can always tell when I’m lying,” Megan says miserably. Imagining her mother’s horror does cheer her up a little, though.
“Chin up, girl,” Sarah says, nudging Megan’s shoulder with her foot. Her socks have monkeys and tiny bananas on them, and there’s a hole in the toe of the one next to Megan’s face. Her toenails are neatly curved, trimmed, unpolished. “There’s a big wide world out there.”
“Yeah, I know,” Megan says to Sarah’s foot. “But it’s nice in here.”
Erin K. BartuskaI'm a writer, artist, and feminist-of-all-trades living in San Francisco. My passions include baking, social justice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and God.
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