I boarded the train. Although I shed my work uniform the hospital smell was still imprinted on me. The twelve-hour shift passed like some hazy nightmare. My matronly shoes – which promised comfort – started to pinch as I got off at Northcote. I dreaded my dinners with Evelyn, but even after all the years, I couldn’t say no to her. A part of me still thought there was something to resuscitate, some common thread keeping us together.
We met at a gentrified pizzeria, where the flour was organic, the pizzas were undersized and the prices were steep. Evelyn was early and she met me with a huge hug, smiling as if she’d had a lobotomy or fallen in love with some charismatic cult leader. Knowing Evelyn, it wouldn’t surprise me if she had. She looked fabulous, wearing her willowing bohemian dress, her hair like an alluring siren.
‘Ciao, daaaarling!’ Evelyn kissed my cheeks. ‘How’s the house hunting, Frankie?’
‘Oh, it’s horrendous, half-a-million dollars for something the size of a prison cell,’ I joked and grabbed the menu. ‘Prisoners at least get free gym membership and meals.’
‘That’s an awful thing to say, we have a terrible justice system,’ she pouted.
‘Yeah because every thug is out on bail.’
‘Frankie! You are so bad!’ she playfully slapped my hand. She was still full of the fervour and naïveté which I had outgrown. Evelyn lived in a pink fog of delusion and good intentions. Sometimes I envied her innocence.
‘What’s new with you?’ I asked and waited to hear a deluge of adventures.
‘Still studying, but I got to take a break and visit Nicaragua to volunteer,’ she took a sip of her mojito. ‘It was just so powerful, so humbling, makes you realize how lucky we are – besides, which employer wouldn’t hire someone who decides to uproot their life and do something radical?’
‘I mainly saw photos of you getting plastered drunk with other aid workers. Perhaps you should finish your degree before you talk about employers. You’ve dragged a four-year degree into seven.’
‘Don’t be such a prude. I’ll finish it, eventually. It’s a bummer I can’t get more government allowance, some rubbish about my parents being doctors and earning too much!’
I didn’t know whether to laugh or slap her. She ordered a pizza which was three times as expensive as the one from my local and didn’t bat an eyelash. Hers was a charmed life. While I worked in a kitchen through university, paid rent and studied at dawn, Evelyn snorted cocaine at nightclubs and holidayed in Ibiza. Naturally, it all worked out for her.
‘Can’t believe you’ll be in the northern suburbs, man, you’ll miss this,’ she looked around and spread her arms like an earth goddess.
‘If I want to rent forever and fight some hippie housemate over kale, I could continue living here. Look around, these people are so spoilt and entitled, they can’t even be bothered to pick up their food,’ I pointed to the line of Uber drivers loitering near the kitchen, waiting to pick up orders.
‘Drivers earn a wage from people’s laziness, that’s the world we are living in.’
‘That’s kind of cool, isn’t it? Ten dollars don’t mean much to one person, but a lot to another.’
Evelyn ran her fingers through her hair and stared into space. She meant well, but she was testing my patience.
Her parents sheltered her from the world and all its ills, wrapped her in cottonwool and filled her pockets with money. I remembered the first time we met at university. I found her crying outside the library because she couldn’t decipher the campus map. I was drawn to her, she reminded me of a stray kitten. I was living alone for the first time and her sobbing revealed all that I had bottled inside me. I led her to her room and she hugged me. From that day on she clung to me like a child. She was my shadow; until she learnt to stand on her own two feet. Then we saw less and less of each other.
‘Can’t believe you are married! It’s crazy that we live in a world where marriage is still the norm. You’d think we would’ve evolved past it. I’d only marry if the detention centres close, or if Harvey buys the pear-shaped diamond ring from Tiffany.’
‘You are a real riot girl,’ I rolled my eyes. Evelyn fished for coins from her hemp wallet. I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t have enough money for her dinner.
‘Oh man, being a student sucks. I’m in poverty,’ she sulked. I didn’t say anything, I pulled out my wallet and paid the bill.
I walked her to her car. We walked past dreadlocked men drumming for coins on the kerbside. Evelyn’s eyes twinkled and she started to dance. People stared.
‘Don’t you just love exotic men?’ she laughed. ‘Melbourne is just so multicultural, I love it.’
‘Evelyn, you hadn’t met a Middle Eastern person until you started university. You didn’t believe me when I told you Niger was a country, you thought I was being racist. You constantly called Macedonia macadamia.’
‘You just have a snarky comment for everything,’ she waved goodbye to the kerbside drummers, not even thinking to spare some coins.
She had parked in a No Standing zone and a ticket was stuck to her dashboard. I couldn’t help but smirk.
‘Look at you Evelyn, an eco-warrior driving such a petrol guzzler.’
‘Present for my 25th birthday and for breaking up with Amir,’ she shrugged.
‘Do you have any plans for tomorrow?’ I suppressed a yawn, dreading returning to the hospital for another mind-numbing shift.
‘It’s just so hot this week. I was planning to go to a rally against racism, but I think I’ll hit the beach. Harvey’s parents own a beach house, you know.’
‘Have fun, don’t forget your fine,’ I handed her the slip and watched her speed away.
Months later I received an invitation in the mail. The cream envelope was covered in graceful calligraphy.
Evelyn Haze and Harvey Garret would like to invite you to their marriage ceremony in Bali. Instead of a present please donate to a charity preserving Bali’s cultural heritage.
‘I guess he bought the Tiffany ring,’ I said and threw away the invitation.
Image: Patryk Sobczak
Maggie Jankuloska is a Macedonian-born and Melbourne based teacher, writer and book hoarder. She writes short stories which have been featured in the 2016 Award Winning Australian Writing collection, The Regal Fox and N-SCRIBE. Find her on Twitter @maggiejank