Here’s a short, short story I wrote a couple of years ago (you’ll notice outdated topical references), not without its flaws but worth a read!
A CIRCLE of COMPASSION
After pilates, the four of them went out for lunch, Elizabeth, Marcy, Kim and Joanne, the four happy gals as Joanne had once dubbed themselves, though none of them could remember exactly why. They went to the El Cholo there in Santa Monica because it was close by and because Marcy was craving a margarita. Elizabeth worried about Marcy, noticing how much she drank each and every time they went out. She knew, of course, that it was none of her damn business, but still – you should show concern for friends, you should care.
But a margarita did sound good to Elizabeth – that and a nice chicken enchilada.
The place was nearly empty, yet they had to wait about ten minutes before being seated. Of course Joanne started in on the poor hostess, a wisp of a thing with big brown cow eyes who looked all of seventeen and ready to cry at any minute. “Listen, sweetie, you’ve got four hungry, thirsty broads here who would prefer a nice comfy booth but will take any one of the empty tables here. What’s the hold up?” The hostess patiently explained that they were expecting a large group any minute and suggested that Joanne and her “party” could wait at the bar.
Joanne was just starting to go off on this not being much of a party when, thank God, a table opened up. Then the four of them were ensconced – it was a booth!— the margaritas arrived and the chips and salsa, and then they were all yakking away, four very happy gals indeed.
“I swear, if you bring up Tiger Woods one more time . . .” Marcy, on her second margarita, was hollering so that everyone around them turned to stare.
“Shhh!” said Elizabeth, stifling an embarrassed giggle.
The waitress came, for the second time, to take their order and now they were finally ready. Marcy ordered the combination number one — a cheese enchilada and a beef taco – and another margarita, por favor. Elizabeth asked for the Enchilada Suiza. Joanne ordered the Carne Asada (“with mucho carne, sweetie!”)
“I’ll have the vegetable fajitas, please,” said Kim, at twenty-six the youngest in the group, younger even than Elizabeth by a good seven years, with a shyness to her that, along with her small, soft voice, made her seem all the more like a little girl in the company of jaded older women.
After the waitress left, Joanne leaned her ample bosom over the table and said in a loud stage whisper, “Oh shit, Kim – – – are you going vay-gun on us??”
Kim looked like she wanted to slip under the table but took a breath and answered, ” I don’t know, Joanne. I mean I’m just thinking of making some changes. I’ve just been reading this book by Jonathan Safran Foer . . .”
“Wait, ” blurted Marcy, “I know, didn’t he write that novel that got made into a movie a while back. Something about light . . . The Unbearable Lightness of Being?”
“No, you ninny,” shot back Joanne, “that was, what’s his name – Milos Forman.”
“Kundera,” replied Elizabeth.
“Who you callin’ a kundera!” chortled Joanne.
“Milan Kundera wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” said Elizabeth. “Milos Forman is the director.”
“He directed Unbearable Lightness of Being?” This from Marcy.
“No, that was Philip Kaufman.”
“Oh, I didn’t know he was also a director. He’s a good actor!”
“I think you’re thinking of Philip Seymour Hoffman.”
“Everything’s Illuminated,” said Kim.
Joanne leaned back and belched. “Not quite,” she said, ” I think some of us are still in the dark!”
“That’s the name of his first book” said Kim. “The book I read is called Eating Animals.”
“Here, here,” declared Joanne, raising her empty margarita glass, “I’m all for that!”
“Anyway, in it he talks about extending our circle of compassion to include all animals, even the ones we think of as food . . .”
Just then the waitress arrived with their orders.
Joanne rubbed her big hands together. “Speaking of which, let’s eat, ladies!”
“How about that poor Brittany Murphy, huh? ” said Marcy, “Jeez just, what, thirty-two. What a shame!”
“But I wasn’t finished,” sputtered Kim.
“Kim, sweetie, girlfriend – let it go. APB, darling: no one’s interested.”
“Joanne!” said Elizabeth. “Joanne, that’s terrible.”
Preparing lamb cutlets that night, in the kitchen they had recently remodeled –she loved the new granite counters! –Elizabeth thought about poor Kim. She was so idealistic, so sweet and yet such prey to the caustic sarcasm of the Joannes of the world. It was like Kim was an innocent little lamb and Joanne was the wolf. Elizabeth immediately saw the irony of what she was doing and what she was thinking but didn’t allow herself to dwell on it. Didn’t even dwell upon the memory of her horror when she was a little girl of five, about the age of her son Bobby, and her mother told her that the delicious meat she was eating was lamb. How she had run crying from the table. How it took her a long time to accept the fact that we actually eat animals, that sudden realization. But isn’t acceptance of such things part of growing up? I mean, come on, animals eat animals, we can’t fly off the handle about such natural things. Like those horrid people on the Promenade showing those graphic videos of animals being slaughtered. And with little kids being exposed to such stuff. But these nuts didn’t care what harm they did to such innocent, impressionistic kids. Such awful images! Talk about lack of compassion. The poor little things. The poor little things.
Bill called from the other room when he heard the sobs coming from the kitchen. “Honey, are you okay?” No reply. “Honey?” Then, finally Elizabeth answered.
“Dinner’s ready,” she said.