The Girl’s Party

Editor’s note: Pauline Wanderer won first prize in poetry in the Pulse Writers Exposé this summer, but she is also a fine prose writer. Here is her take on women, men, and leaving your bicycle unchained.

Four women are sitting together on a deck overlooking water, talking and drinking. Three have wine in their glasses; one has Scotch. Two have boyfriends, sporadic live-ins; two have none. The two without men – until recent years – never had to wait for men to chase after them. All four are recent transplants to the Florida Gulf coast.

Talking under and through each other, they sift through the mysteries of men, attempting to pierce their communal essence as the late afternoon light moves across their faces, erasing wrinkles and softening their expressions.

All four have been married, have grown children and grandchildren, but no photos have been passed around; they did that the last time they met.

Helen, olive-skinned, small yet regal, wants to say, ‘I feel useless, even with my part-time job and volunteer work. Each of you, tell me, how I should be feeling.’ She says nothing for the moment, thinking she’d cause a flapping silence.

Finally, she looks at Suzy, tall, blond and chubby, her oldest high school friend. "Do you think a man would really disrupt my life?"

"You bet, baby," says Suzy. "He’d eat up all your time and maybe your money. Think twice."

"Oh, I don’t know," says her cousin Cheryl, a shorter, near carbon copy of Suzy. "I’m eating up his time and money. He likes to go out with the boys. I tell him, golf only. I let him play golf three times a week. He’d play every day."

"You let him. And you’re not even married," says Rose and pulls her cascading curls, once auburn, now gray, into a bun, fastening it with toothpicks.

"And they gamble at golf. Then they go to the bar and pay off debts. It’s after midnight and he’s not home."

"So, do you make him pay?"


"You know. Are you standoffish with him in the morning?"

Cheryl laughs. "You could say I make him crawl."

"And afterwards," says Helen, "you fix him a four course breakfast."

"Mine," says Suzy, "mine brings me toast and coffee in bed."

"I don’t miss a guy necessarily," says Rose. "I miss the touching. Sometimes I wish I were bisexual, but the plain fact is I’m not."

"Then get a dog or a cat," says Helen. "They say we should do that when we get older."

Cheryl reaches across Rose and fills her wine glass. "Or a massage."

"Right. I keep thinking about it but don’t do it."

"Do what?"

"Get a dog or cat. I do get massages but they’re a poor substitute."

"You can’t have everything," says Suzy and looks through her glass of Scotch and water at the sinking sun.

"Suzy, yes you can. We’ve all got friends with husbands, dogs, cats, birds. Even pedicures and facials."

"You could try the internet singles sites," says Cheryl.

"Forget it." Helen sticks two shrimps on a toothpick and eats them. "I could tell you tales."

Rose laughs. "We’ve probably heard them all."

"Most studies show…" continues Helen.

"Don’t start quoting that NPR stuff to me," says Cheryl.

"If you’d only listen for one minute. Studies prove…"

Suzy puts her hand to her ears, starts singing "Blue Hawaii."

"Studies show that real happiness comes from a walk on the shore, reading a book or listening to music."


Suzy stands up, pours wine and goes into the kitchen for a second Scotch.

"Grandchildren," says Cheryl. "Your study forgot to include that. And what I ask myself is why I moved so far away from my three precious grand kids. Everyone comes down at Christmas and Easter, but…" Her voice trails away.

Rose pictures her four-year-old grandson running up the driveway, arms out, yelling "Gamma." She pictures taking him to the beach with a kite. "Yes, they left that one out."

Somewhere, a mourning dove calls again and again. Not dark yet on the Gulf but headed for a meagerly sunset.

"Our stories don’t have any ending," says Suzy, rejoining the group. “We keep on repeating ourselves endlessly."

"Until death do us part," says Helen, helping herself to a large handful of almonds.

"You’re quoting the wedding vows." Suzy lifts her glass and toasts the group.

"I’d say it applies to friends as well." Rose straightens her shirt, thinking of the breast she left behind on the surgery table. "We’re lucky," she continues, "missing parts or whole. We’re still able to walk the beach and catch the sunset. Men or no men, we’re lucky."

The other three say nothing; they nod, remembering what terror Rose went through, their own terror at the possibility or probability of being next.

The moment is shattered by a sharp ring of the kitchen phone.

Suzy jumps up. "I Know it’s Dan. And I told him he couldn’t crash the party."

"But it’s over,” says Cheryl. "Go ahead, tell him to come show his face before we leave." She starts gathering up dishes and napkins.

"Maybe we can get some answers from a male point of view," says Helen who doesn’t want the party to be over and isn’t happy at the notion of another evening alone with a current novel or Saturday night TV.

Suzy yells from the kitchen, "He’s downstairs, on his way up. Says to call the police. My bike’s been stolen."

The bell sounds and Dan walks in. The three women rise to greet him. Lean, with a long weathered face and deeply tanned, he could be taken for an ‘old salt’, although he’s a landscape gardener, not a sailor.

"I saw this guy riding down the road on a blue bike, a woman’s bike. It rang a bell. When I parked, I saw Suzy’s wasn’t in her usual spot."

"What kind of guy would steal a decrepit woman’s bike?" asks Rose.

"A sleaze," says Helen.

"A shady character." Cheryl bats her eyes at Dan.

"You girls date yourselves."

"Look who’s talking. You called us girls." Cheryl hands him a glass of wine.

"I was told this was a girls’ night. I keep my language in tune with the company."

Suzy rejoins the group. "I have to file a report, though they think it’s hopeless. I can tell they have better things to do with their time. But if I see that guy…"

"Let’s jump in the car and go look for him," says Dan. "I bet he’s got himself a DUI and wants to go out drinking. What’s our options?"

They run down the stairs, spewing names of local cheers bars. Cheryl stops suddenly. "I’ve got to call Harry and I left my cell at home."

Rose reaches into her bag and hands her a phone."

"Is he going to be pissed?" asks Dan.

"Probably, but let’s go get this bicycle thief."

An hour later they’re standing in the entry of a noisy little bar on Highway 41, when a redheaded man in rumpled shorts and a tropical shirt approaches them.

"Sam," says Suzy, "I thought you moved to St. Pete’s after we split up."

"I did. Today I decided to drive down here to check out a few old haunts. But I ran out of gas up the road from your place. When I saw the bike I figured, well, it’s cocktail hour, she won’t be going out for a spin. So I rode it down to the gas station and back. Left you a note on the bike. Didn’t know if we were still speaking or I’d have called you."

Suzy looks over to see how Dan’s taking the encounter. He’s smiling.

"Harry, you bum, I called the police. You’re lucky they didn’t bother to go looking for you."

Harry glances around the group. "Let me buy you all a drink." He blows Suzy a kiss. "Come on, be a sport, Suze. What did that guy Shakespeare say, "All’s well that ends well.’" He throws out his hands in a gesture of supplication.

Helen speaks softly to Suzy as Harry leads them to a table. "And we thought we’d covered the subject of men inside out. No surprises left."

Suzy pulls her close for a moment, whispers, "Honey, don’t be naive. We’ll never scratch more than the surface."