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Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey Read Online (FREE)

But I’d recently weaned my son and one of the moms, Dominique probably, offered me a glass of wine and why not. Dominique was French and so carried with her a particular air of authority. In her presence excess was authorized, encouraged. She’d eaten raw fish and soft cheeses all nine months, drunk red wine, and look at Élise, she was fine, perfectly fine. That air of authority: it also prevented me from asking how a French girl had ended up in the ugliest part of California farm country.

 

Yes, it must have been Dominique who poured me that first drink, Dominique not taking no for an answer, telling me it would loosen my shoulders, help me sleep, and then I was halfway through my second glass of sour white and I was clearing my throat and saying, “What if we played a game.” Dominique looked at me, one eyebrow raised, and it occurred to me that her encouraging me to drink, in part it was a perverse curiosity. And why not, sip of wine, grimace, let her have her fun. Fun here was hard to come by if your hopes soared higher than the second story of an air-conditioned shopping complex. We single mothers more or less had to make our own.

“When what happened?” This was Sandra. Sandra was slightly older than the rest of us. Not that the rest of us were young, mid-thirties, late thirties, but Sandra was in her early forties, married twice and divorced twice, thought she was too old to get pregnant, got sloppy with birth control. Or so I imagined. It was in her apartment that we gathered, and sometimes, though not on this occasion, she furnished snacks, thin, greasy blondies, crackers and sweaty chunks of mild cheddar cheese. Effort marked her difference as much as age. Not that the rest of us had given up, just that you could see her trying. Or so I assumed because we did not, though some of us had known each other for years, though we had been gathering in Sandra’s apartment for months now, putting our babies down in her spare bedroom, the babies arranged in a circle around Sandra’s single baby monitor, despite all this, we did not, did not ever, discuss our lives before. Not who the father was, not our relationship with him. Not our mothers and their eagerness to spoil the baby versus their desire to judge us. Not siblings or first loves or difficulties dating or which members of our families did and did not help with babysitting. Dominique and Sandra had been at the firm when I was hired and I didn’t know where they’d worked before. I didn’t know where Fran worked, period. Sandra’s two marriages, her two divorces, I was just inventing. Anyway, I was tipsy and it seemed suddenly not just odd to me but wrong, this not-knowing.

 

“I mean,” I said, “how we got here. Not the baby part, not how we got pregnant, who the guy was. I mean, you can tell that, too. But what I mean is the moment when getting here, to this room”—I gestured with both hands, pointing down at Sandra’s thin carpet as if it might be possible to misunderstand which room I meant—“with the wine and the kid and the no partner, the moment when that became inevitable.” Sandra’s carpet was a collection of stiff loops, the loops the color of brown rice.