page contents

FICTION
The Bachelorettes
Caryn Coyle

kelsey-chance-575541-unsplash.jpg

In Theresa's living room, Molly opens a bottle of wine.  Watching a dozen young women preening on television, she tilts the bottle and fills three glasses.  The TV show is called The Bachelor and Molly thinks it exploits the women.  Their passion for the bachelor does not seem real and he gives roses to the women he likes.  One of them is supposed to be his true love; his future bride. 

Molly's stomach aches; a dull pinch she has noticed all evening. 

She glances down and blinks at the spotted, damaged skin on the back of her hands.  A reformed smoker, Molly has not aged well.  Her forehead folds in five lines from her eyebrows to her hairline.  Lines also curve out from her light brown eyes.  Her lips are painted a bruised, brick color and she presses them together. 

She feels like she is intruding.  Molly is sharing Theresa with Amy.

Molly, Theresa and Amy are neighbors.  They live in a rowhouse community of brick homes, connected together.  Molly's and Theresa's houses are next to each other.  They share a wall.  Amy lives nine rowhouses away from Theresa and Molly.  They are all on the same side of the street, in the same block.

"This show is so addicting," Amy says, surveying the wineglasses and taking the one nearest to her.  She is pleased that it also appears to have the most in it.

Molly sits next to Amy on a deep blue sofa.  Before them is a low, glass-topped table.

Theresa sits in an identical sofa opposite them, on the other side of the table.  "I don't know why I watch it.  It's a glorified lonely hearts club," she says, picking up another glass of wine.

-o-

Theresa has looked forward to tonight's television show, but she senses something has shifted in Amy.  It has been a long time since she has seen her.  Theresa has spent more time with Molly who moved in last fall.  She has confided in Molly, looking forward to the sound of Molly's car engine which is loud, distinctive.  Molly usually parks on the street in front of Theresa's rowhouse.

"It's not too cold in here is it?"  Theresa asks.  She plucks a long strand of her hennaed hair, stroking it with her fingers.  Flicking her wrists, she places one over the other as her fingers sift through her hair, over and over. 

Amy takes a sip of wine. "Why?" she asks.  The room feels comfortable and she puts her wineglass down, turning to Molly, "Are you cold?" 

Molly shrugs, pulling the pink shawl she wears tighter, over her shoulders, "I'm fine." She does feel cooler, though.  She resents Amy's asking.  Amy is pretty; like the women on the television show.  Her smooth, porcelain skin is the first thing Molly notices.  Her eyes are slate gray and they penetrate.

"I haven't turned the furnace on yet!" Theresa says.  Buxom, she has wrapped a black sweater over a matching tube top, revealing a dark line of cleavage.  

"You don't have any heat?" Amy asks.

"Sure I do!  See that little terra cotta thing?"  Theresa lifts a fan of hair with her fingers as she points to what looks like an urn, on the shelf next to the TV.  Near its base is a bright red dot of light. 

"Wow," Amy says.  "That little thing is heating the whole room?" 

"Yup."  What Theresa doesn't tell her is that she is unable to fill her oil tank.  She lost her job as a teaching assistant after her husband, Ken, left her.  Theresa collects unemployment. 

The phone rings.  Amy looks at Theresa, "The phone?"

One of Theresa's wrists stops caressing her hair and floats in front of her face, dismissing it.

-o-

Ominous music plays on the television.  The three women turn to look at the screen.  The bachelorettes have taken a polar bear plunge with the bachelor.  They have all jumped into Lake Louise, which is freezing.  Hypothermia was cautioned.  "I think I watch this just for the scenery," Theresa gushes.  "Look at that beautiful lake!"

Molly and Amy do not see the lake.  The scene has shifted to a woman, covered in a bright orange blanket, being carried by two large men in dark colored parkas.  The men have insignias of a police force on their sleeves and they place the woman in an expensive looking sport utility vehicle.  The woman is being taken to a hospital.  It is the second time she has had a medical emergency on the show.

"Did you see the hotel they are staying, in?"  Theresa asks.  "All that gorgeous stone and wood.  Wow!"

Molly smirks, "Is that really what you are looking at, Theresa?  The pretty scenery?"

"Well, I wish I could go there," Amy says.  "With someone as luscious as that bachelor!"

Theresa thinks of Ken and the lodge in West Virginia's mountains where they spent their honeymoon.  How it snowed.  They watched it through the floor to ceiling windows that surrounded them; talking, cuddling.  There was a large, stone-framed fireplace and a stacked pile of wood that was seasoned, perfect.  For three days they stayed in front of a fire that Ken never let go out.

Ken is seeing someone, now.  That's why he left Theresa.  Though he hasn't told her, Theresa is sure of it.   For twenty years, it was torture watching the flirty way he always spoke to waitresses; all the neighborhood women who thanked him for helping them with "handy man" chores.  The phone calls when the caller would hang up on her.

"Commercial!" Amy says, "Ok, ladies, drink up!"

Theresa watches Amy sip wine, trying to think of the last time she'd seen her.  She can't remember.

She thinks that something is bothering Amy.  She does not look good.  Not that Amy isn't beautiful.  She is.  Amy is one of the prettiest women Theresa has ever seen.  Amy is still thin.  She was a runway model once.  Willowy.  Theresa hasn't been one hundred and twenty five pounds in a long time.  She thinks of the agency for which Amy now works; she's a graphic artist, with a steady paycheck and health benefits.  Amy is lucky.

-o-

Molly reaches for her wineglass, and takes a long drink.  The wine tastes good and she is relieved.  It is an old Australian cabernet, in a square based bottle that is outdated.  She bought it at half price at the discount liquor store near the dental office where she works. 

"This wine is great!" Amy says replacing her glass on the table.

Molly glances at her, "Thanks."  Molly isn't sure, but she thinks she saw Amy meeting Ken, Theresa's husband, in the alley behind Amy's house.  It was twilight and she might have been wrong.  Molly was in her car, heading toward them.  She passed close enough to see someone, who looked like Amy, in the gathering dark.  Most people park on the street in front of their rowhouses, not behind them.  In the alley. 

Unable to afford an apartment in a neighborhood that suited her, Molly moved into the rowhouse next to Theresa with Thomas, who owns it.  No one at her dental office knows.  Thomas is one of the dental patients.  Neither of them acknowledges the other when Thomas comes in to get his teeth cleaned.  Molly stands just behind Dr. Rowan, filling in as his assistant when she is not answering the phones.   Thomas keeps his eyes closed beneath his wire framed glasses when Dr. Rowan examines his mouth. 

Molly shares Thomas's bed with him when she cannot pay her rent. 

Molly has divorced badly.  She thought something was not right by the way her former husband smiled, happy to see her when she met him to sign the papers.  He bought her lunch at the cozy Italian restaurant in the mall near her dental office.

Molly signed.  She was stupid.  She honestly believed that he was being straight with her.  Their home had a second mortgage, he said.  They wouldn't be able to get what he had hoped from the sale. 

She learned about her former husband's affair from her mother-in-law, of all people.  Molly's mother-in-law had never been kind to her.  Calling to tell her, "I thought you should know," she told Molly that her husband had been seeing a woman in Louisville, Kentucky.  He now lives on a million dollar horse farm with her, raising thoroughbreds. 

"Yes!   This wine is good!"  Theresa says, "Where'd you get it?"

"Oh, you know.  That little place we like on the corner of Bellona and Gittings," Molly lies.  She will not tell them it was the shabby liquor store near her office.  The bargains are by the door, after she pushes through the turnstile.  To pay for the half priced wine, Molly slipped her credit card in the small space under a glass window. 

Molly is apprehensive.  She knows Amy and Theresa have lived here a long time, that they have been friends since their kids were young.  Thomas raised his children here, too.  Molly feels like she is on the outside, looking in on them, uninvited.    

-o-

On the television, the women who are after the bachelor sit for interviews.  Each talks of how she can't understand what the bachelor sees in the girl who got hypothermia.  They tell the camera of her lack of social skills, how she doesn't get along with them.  How they want to rip her throat out.

"This is so rich.  Do they realize that millions of people are watching them?"  Molly asks.  She glances quickly at Amy who returns her gaze.  Molly blinks. 

Amy's face heats.  She thinks about how much prettier she is than plain, old looking Molly.  But beauty has its drawbacks.  Being the one everyone stares at when she enters a room is thrilling, but it is also lonely.  Amy wakes frequently with an ache in her chest.  She tells herself to snap out of it.  Darkness will hover and anger will envelope her, like a summer thunderstorm.   

When her romance with the married father of her child came to light, Amy felt the sting of her mother's silences.  What she didn't say was clear.  Amy was a disgrace.  Immoral. 

Amy's daughter is grown now, living on her own, like Theresa's daughter.  They met in pre-school.  Amy thinks of how she used to enjoy gatherings with all of them, Theresa, Ken and their daughters.  Ken was the one spouse whose company Amy always enjoyed. 

She was grateful when Ken helped her with the analog television that she had to switch to digital.  Ken could do just about anything.  So handy.  Amy had offered to pay him, but he wouldn't take her money. 

Ken wore a cowboy shirt, checkered with a pocket over his breast.  It held a packet of cigarettes.  All he needed was a Stetson.  Ken was handsome.  Well built.  He had no middle-aged gut.  When he crouched to look at the television, he was so close to Amy, she could have touched him.  She remembers how he smelled like nothing.  Not sweaty, not grimy.  Clean.

Ken figured out the converter box so Amy could still use the old television.  And when it finally died, Amy purchased a new, digital television.  She couldn't figure out how to turn on the English language.  All that appeared on the screen was Spanish. 

She called Ken.

Calmly punching the remote, Ken guessed that the television had probably been purchased and returned.  "A previous owner has obviously selected the language," he smiled.  He had dimples.  The dark bristle of his beard deepened into two marks, like commas, on his face.

"Why didn't I think of that?" Amy smiled too.

She was impressed when Ken clicked his iPhone on a symbol that was printed on the television's box.  He called the TV manufacturing company and got the code to enter on the television's remote so the language could be switched from Spanish to English.

As she watched him, Amy felt lighter.  Giddy.

"There," he turned from the television screen to look at her.  The way his eyes moved over her made Amy's skin prickle.  She recognized the sensation.  Her daughter's father had been able to heat up Amy's face, make her sweat, just by looking at her.  

Amy has been seeing Ken ever since. 

-o-

On the low table between them is a pizza Theresa has baked on a stone plate with ingredients she's scrounged together; clumps of pineapple, some pimento.  It is an odd combination.  She used all the prosciutto, mozzarella and mushrooms she had on a pizza she made yesterday.  The pizza was for a man Theresa met at the deli counter in the super market.  Theresa was holding the number before his when he turned, looked her over and asked her if she could recommend the chicken salad.

He was a doctor, a specialist in allergies.  He was also newly separated, like Theresa.  They sat on the same couch where Molly and Amy now sit and ate the prosciutto, mozzarella and mushroom pizza.  Theresa had sex with him on that couch.  She doesn't want to think about it.  The doctor pressed his hand on Theresa's back and entered her from behind.  She felt humiliated, used.  Ashamed that she let him do that to her, she has not told anyone about him.

The phone rings again.  Theresa stands, walking into the dining room from where the sound comes.  But she returns to the sofa before the phone stops ringing. 

-o-

The bachelor and the women sit on a long, wooden bench in front of a fireplace, drinking.  It is the cocktail party before he tosses someone off the show.  The women vie for his attention and he leaves with one of them.  They walk together on a stone patio and sit on another bench, lined with pillows.  They kiss.  The audience can tell there is some tongue in their kiss.  Amy, Molly and Theresa watch.  No one speaks.

Another woman interrupts, "Excuse me," she croons, slithering in stilettos.  The bachelor pulls his head away from the woman, looks up.  Smiles. 

"Sorry," the woman stands above them.  All the audience can see is the back of her head as she tosses her hair in a wave of auburn across the television screen.  "I need to steal him for a moment," she continues.  The bachelor stands up.

"And she gets away with it!  Geez," Theresa says. 

"What did you expect?"  Molly asks.  She pulls a slice of pizza from the pie.  As she bites into it, chewing slowly, she wants to spit it out.  The crust is dark wheat and it tastes like cardboard.    

"C'mon girls, eat up!"  Theresa says, leaning over the pizza, separating another slice.  "Unless," she sits back.  "You don't like it, do you?"

"Oh no, it's fine," Amy and Molly say at the same time.  Amy has not touched the pizza.  Her plate, on the table, is clean. 

Molly takes another bite.  It tastes like what she thinks gravel would taste like.  "I'm not that hungry," she says, placing the slice back on her plate.

Theresa shrugs, "It isn't very good, is it?"

"The wine is," Amy says.  She drains her glass. 

The phone rings again. 

"Who is that?"  Amy asks.  Each word is clipped.  Sharp.

Theresa looks at her.  Her eyes are wet, "Bill collectors."

Amy snaps her mouth shut.

"I'm not going to talk to them," Theresa says.  "When I have money, I will send it."

There is a loud thump from the wall that Molly shares with Theresa.

"What was that?" Amy asks.  "Was that Thomas?"

"I don't know," Molly stands up.  As she turns, her shawl brushes her wineglass, which wobbles on the table, tipping over.  "Oh, God.  I am so sorry!"

Wine spreads over the glass topped table.  Theresa jumps up, grabbing a paper napkin and muttering, "Shit."

"I better go check," Molly says, slipping out the front door.  Cold air fills the room.  She has not shut it properly.

Theresa looks at the front door.  "Christ," she growls.  Holding the soiled napkin bunched in her fist, she pushes the door so that it fits into the frame with a burp. 

"She's banging him, isn't she?" Amy says.

Theresa shakes her head, sits down on the couch opposite Amy.  The soiled napkin is tossed on the table between them, "She says she pays rent."

"I don't believe her," Amy says, pouring what's left of the wine from the bottle into her glass.

The bachelor has handed out the last rose and a woman stands without one.  She is the girl who had hypothermia.  In the next shot, she is photographed in the back of a limousine, alone.  Crying.  She wipes the skin under both eyes with an index finger – carefully -- aware of the camera recording her.  She does not speak.

Theresa sits, nodding at the television.  Her arms and legs are crossed.  Her balled up paper napkin has landed on the stone plate in the space left from the slices of pizza that have been removed. 

Amy frowns, plucking a slice.  As she touches it, she realizes the pizza has grown cold.


Caryn Coyle lives in Baltimore and has been writing fiction for eleven years. Her work has been published in several literary journals and anthologies and she's been honored to win awards for her fiction from the Maryland Writers Association, THE DELMARVA REVIEW, the Missouri Writers Guild, the St. Louis Writers Guild, THE NEW MILLENNIUM and Hidden River Arts.