This evening after work, I helped Jenna harvest the last of her tomatoes. (Around here, everybody but me uses their large yards to cultivate a secure food supply. I’m sure Dr. Cohen helps Jenna with her crops, because I’ve seen him leave her property looking sweaty.) We pile red tomatoes in one basket to be made into sauce, and the green ones in another, to let them either ripen further if they’re willing to do so, or if they don’t end up ripening, so they can be cooked into some dish that features green tomatoes. Don’t ask me, I wouldn’t know.
Anyway, we’re standing out there with cicadas singing around us and one of her kids high in the limbs of an oak nearby. I’m trying to pick, but I’m also getting bitten by monstrously aggressive mosquitoes when Jenna asks if I’d like to participate in a women’s group with her. She says that before the SUCs, there used to be eleven participants in this group she’s in; seven were taken out by one catastrophe or another, leaving four; since then, they’ve recruited two new women and would like to add at least a couple more to replenish the group.
“If they’re the right women, that is. We don’t want to add just anybody, just to build the numbers.”
“What’s the point of the whole thing?”
Jenna stopped to laugh at this. “Jane. You are always so direct. It’s a women’s group—you know, we gather together to support one another.”
“Okay. So you sit around on flower-upholstered sofas and talk about boys and periods.”
“We discuss politics or art or our own lives. Sometimes we have a specific agenda—an issue someone wants to discuss or a problem they need help with. Often, we play games together and don’t talk much at all. The point is to come together on a regular basis.”
I’m imagining the kind of cooperative activities a group of women might do at this sort of gathering. “Games. Like team-building exercises, that kind of thing? Trust falls, whatnot?”
“Well, like what, then?”
“More like—risk-taking games. Games that teach you to take chances and games that teach women that it’s okay to win. It’s okay to beat somebody.”
“I don’t need to be taught that.”
“Okay, then maybe you can teach other women who need help in that department. And maybe you’ll find that there’s something one of the other women can help you with.”
“There’s no singing is there?”
“What do you mean, singing?”
“No one plays the mandolin or anything. That’s what I’m getting at.”
“No, there’s no singing. No plinking stringed instruments. This isn’t Vermont, you know.”
“Okay, just checking.”
“Can’t blame you. So will you come check it out this Thursday night? We’ll meet at my house at seven-thirty.”
Thursday is the night I’d planned to have dinner with Dr. Cohen. I’d intended to sleep with him again, and am quite looking forward to that. But I can reschedule. Or I can skip having dinner with him, go to the women’s group instead, and then sneak over to sleep with him afterwards. “I don’t have to bring dessert or coffee or anything?”
“Not if you’re willing to bring the sandalwood scented massage oil.”
Good lord. When I turn to see if Jenna is serious, she reaches out and slaps me on the cheek. She pulls back her hand. Her fingertips are bloody from a successfully swatted mosquito.
“Gotcha. I’m kidding. Just come.”
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.