This short story by Alisha Mughal appeared in the second print issue of Porridge which is available for purchase here.
Alisha Mughal’s work has appeared previously in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The
Nottingham Review, and Bad Pony Magazine. She has a BA in Philosophy from the
University of Toronto, and she currently resides in Ontario, Canada. She was born
The past must be beside the point, thought Julie as she touched the blue Follow button under the stats of Jenny’s Instagram account — the scoreboard. The button turned white and the lettering metamorphosed to ask her if she’d like to send Jenny, whose follower count increased by one, a message.
Jenny Pierangeli: 445 posts, 385 followers, 581 following.
Or perhaps the past didn’t matter at all, had evacuated even the periphery of the point, on account of its having disappeared.
A little red box circumscribing a white silhouette of a head and its accompanying shoulders popped up on the bottom of Julie’s phone screen, emanating from the little heart like a speech bubble — a new follower. Jenny had followed her back. Jenny didn’t remember. The past had disappeared. It did not matter.
But it did, thought Julie. Because Julie remembered. For though the past had disappeared, it hadn’t been erased. For Julie, the past was the point exactly.
Because what had happened was this.
Julie was in Mrs. Davis’ first grade class and it was March and she had finally managed to make a friend, and then friends. First with Megan — the most popular girl in class — and then with Megan’s friends.
“How come you’re so quiet all the time?” Megan had asked that morning, grey like melting ice cream, when the air rushed by wet and warm and made the winter drip from the naked and gnarled branches and bleak roofs.
“Because I don’t know what to say,” Julie had answered. It was the first thing that came to her mind. It was honest. Megan seemed to understand — she didn’t give her a quizzical look, she didn’t laugh at her, she simply started to talk to her.
Megan was nice to Julie. Megan introduced Julie — who had a tendency, because she was a bit too shy, because she didn’t know what to say, to not speak to others first — to all her other friends. They all got along swimmingly. But even so, when they’d all play together at recess Megan wouldn’t leave Julie’s side.
Sometimes Megan and Julie would pretend they were sisters. Sometimes even twins. They looked alike with their dark, almost black short hair and blunt bangs, and enjoyed confusing some of their friends, even some of the grown-ups. They’d make up stories — their mother had lost one of them long ago and now they’d finally found each other; their real parents had died in a car crash, but they’d survived and were adopted by different families, and now they’d finally found each other.
Megan and Julie had become best friends.
Jenny was in Ms. Donner’s first grade class and Jenny didn’t have friends. It was a cold and wet but sunny day in April when she was standing alone near the doors at recess and she stopped Julie as she was running inside for a washroom break.
“You’re in Mrs. Davis’ class, right?” she asked Julie. Jenny had seen Julie around at the book fairs, the school pancake breakfasts, sat in the row ahead of her at assemblies. “Will you be my friend?”
Julie had to pee and that was all Julie could think about, so she nodded yes and then ran inside. The bell signalling the end of recess rang as she was walking out the doors. She noticed Jenny lagging behind in the trail of Ms. Donner’s class’ line that was distractedly, haltingly making its way into the school.
That was a Friday, that cold and wet but sunny day in April.
Julie didn’t see Jenny again until Tuesday the next week, last recess — the final fifteen minutes of free time allotted before the day’s final period. Julie was the last person to leave the classroom because she hadn’t been efficient with her time, hadn’t cleaned up her workspace during Art Class satisfactorily. She was the last to leave and she ran right into Jenny who was standing with her hands stuffed into the pockets of her puffy baby blue jacket and her red nose buried in her pink glittery scarf right at the doors.
“Oh hi,” Julie said, reflexively. And then, an afterthought, “Sorry!” She jabbed her hand into her puffy purple jacket, trying to find the sleeve, her eyes scanning the playground for Megan.
“Will you play with me?” Jenny asked. Julie spotted Megan jumping up and down and laughing at the sandpit. She looked at Jenny, her heart beating fast, and said yes because she didn’t want to say no.
That Tuesday in April when Julie and Jenny played together for the first time was cold and dry and snowy. Back in class, Megan asked Julie where she’d been at recess, so Julie told her about Jenny. Megan suggested they all play together.
The next day at first recess, when Jenny came up to Julie as she and Megan came out through the doors, Julie hooked her arm through Jenny’s and swooped her along. They all tried to play foursquare. But then at lunch recess Jenny said she wanted to play with Julie alone and she took her to the opposite end of the playground.
Jenny had Julie listen to her as she told her stories about herself. Jenny was an only child. Her father lived in Calgary with a woman who wasn’t her mother and her mother didn’t like him even though Jenny liked him because he bought her nice things. At last recess Jenny had Julie play Red Devil with her.
Julie didn’t play with Megan again, though they did talk and play in class. Megan seemed to understand. But Julie didn’t — Julie felt guilty, like she needed to apologise, but she didn’t know to whom, so she never apologised. She just followed Jenny with a sadness coiled at the base of her stomach and a feeling of loneliness and forlornness pulsing behind and pricking her eyes. She wished she could play with Megan, but Jenny always managed to get hold of her.
The school year ended and Julie spent the summer with her family. Sometimes she saw and played with Megan when Megan wasn’t away with her own family — this delighted Julie no end. They talked and laughed and forgot about Jenny.
But the next academic year, Julie found herself in the same second-grade class as Jenny. Jenny squealed with delight and Julie smiled. Jenny made them inseparable. Nobody, not the students not the teachers, could seem to think of one without thinking also of the other. They were always paired. They always sat next to each other. They always played together.
Jenny was happy. Julie tried to be happy, too, but she never failed to feel the painful sadness that had returned to nest in her stomach, especially every time she passed Megan in the hallways — she would smile at Megan, Megan would smile back. And that was it. They weren’t friends anymore. Julie was Jenny’s best friend, and Jenny would at every moment declare it, would sometimes bring it up as justification or reason or excuse for the performance of some bad act.
“You’re my best friend,” Jenny said to Julie on Valentine’s Day when the assignment during Writing Class was to craft a rhyme for a Valentine. When Julie didn’t say or do anything, Jenny got hold of Julie’s arm and squeezed it tightly, as though she was squeezing a handful of Play-Doh. “I’ll never talk to you again,” Jenny whispered, her voice wet through clenched teeth. Julie thought she’d like it if Jenny never spoke to her again, but then she remembered she had no other friends, and remembered how lonely she’d been before Megan.
And so Julie spent most of the period trying to think up a rhyme, and when she had one she gave it to Jenny — Lemon lime, lemon lime, won’t you be my Valentine? Jenny jumped up and down and squealed and carried it with pride to Mrs. Varley.
Julie looked down to her own ruled page with the black-and-white stencil of a lace-bordered heart. She thought and thought but her mind seemed empty and the period seemed to be over. She had to stay in during first recess to finish her rhyme, because “You shouldn’t have spent all your time talking with Jenny instead of working on your rhyme,” Mrs. Varley said.
“I’m your best friend,” Jenny said one day at lunch recess. And when Julie still sheepishly and quietly said no, Jenny took hold of Julie’s arm and shook her. “Give it to me!” Jenny screamed into Julie’s ear, and because no one was there to stop Jenny, because it was recess and because kids everywhere were screaming, Julie handed over the small bag of chips she’d received with her pizza on Pizza Day. She watched Jenny eat all of her chips.
“I’m your best friend,” Jenny said before yanking from Julie’s hands the vanilla Lip Smacker she’d bought from Walmart with all the money she had in the small plastic pink purse she kept under her pillow. “I’ll give it back to you tomorrow!” Jenny said.
And when tomorrow came and Julie asked Jenny for her vanilla Lip Smacker back, Jenny said she’d forgotten it at home. “I’ll give it to you tomorrow,” Jenny said. Jenny never could manage to remember to bring Julie’s vanilla Lip Smacker with her to school. And Julie never could manage to forget about it.
One hot and sunny and almost airless Saturday in May, when Jenny had her birthday party and invited Julie along with a few other girls from class, Julie decided to lean wholeheartedly into the anger she had been feeling toward Jenny. Fuelled by birthday cake and cherry cola, Julie slid happily into her malicious mood, allowed herself to feel it fully, without restraint. The indignant cause of her lost vanilla Lip Smacker, she felt, vindicated her.
Julie declared to the group, during a round of Pass the Parcel, that she needed to go to the bathroom. But Julie had lied. She snuck upstairs and went into Jenny’s room and looked around for something she could take — steal, in the way that Jenny had stolen her vanilla Lip Smacker. The word steal sent a pleasurable shiver down her back. She looked on Jenny’s dressing table, but couldn’t get herself to like any of the pink and blue and purple sparkly things strewn about. She looked under Jenny’s bed but found only sagging, dust-caked cardboard boxes and rolled up socks. She thought about rifling through Jenny’s closet, but she worried that someone might hear her open the door.
She began to panic as she felt that she’d been away from the group for too long. Distressed and frustrated, she made up her mind to leave the room empty handed. But on her way out she stuck a finger into the water of the little fishbowl sat on Jenny’s dressing table and swirled it around — the little fishbowl with the two goldfish Jenny had received as a birthday present from her parents lackadaisically making the rounds.
The next Monday back at school, Julie asked Jenny for her vanilla Lip Smacker, and when Jenny said she didn’t remember what it looked like and, “Are you sure you gave it to me?” Julie asked Jenny how her goldfish were doing.
“They’re good!” Jenny said. They were doing just fine.
Julie and Jenny remained best friends until two months into fourth grade when Julie’s family moved to a different city. Jenny cried and made Julie promise her that they would remain best friends forever. Jenny’s mom would bring Jenny over to visit sometimes, and Julie’s mom would send Julie over to Jenny’s sometimes. But eventually, inevitably the back-and-forth became less enthusiastic. The intensity of the memories of friendship began to lessen for Jenny, and so the friendship lessened, and Jenny seemed to remember less and less until Julie stopped hearing from her altogether.
Julie, scrolling down through Jenny’s feed, her posed selfies with hundreds of likes, pictures with groups of friends at so many colourful parties and seminal events — birthdays, high school graduation, college graduation — thought maybe Jenny had papered over the past. She probably could still remember if she wanted to.
But that was just absurd, Julie thought. People didn’t think that way. Jenny had irrevocably forgotten, or worse yet and most likely, hadn’t even realized that anything was ever amiss, that anything of consequence was left to remember. Nothing would be revealed to Jenny, no truth would ultimately coalesce before her mind’s eye of its own volition. Because Jenny wasn’t thinking about the past. She seemed to be happy in the present. Even if Jenny could remember, she wouldn’t remember it as Julie remembered.
Julie tried to remember Megan’s last name but she couldn’t and so she couldn’t search for her on Instagram. Megan didn’t remember Julie, and Jenny probably only remembered her in the way that one can remember a childhood friend — vaguely and fondly.
But Julie remembered everything. She seemed to be the only one for whom it was all the point. It all, all of it, mattered. She hadn’t the privilege of forgetting.
And where did that leave Julie?
Julie Wheeler: 37 posts, 78 followers, 118 following.