The following excerpt is from How Could She by Lauren Mechling, published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright (C) 2019 by Lauren Mechling.
Geraldine considered her grapefruit. To an observer it might have appeared that she was snacking, but anyone who knew her could attest that Geraldine Despont was a considerer. Perched on the window seat in her living room, her back upright against the washed‑out January sky, she peeled the skin into careful ribbons and arranged them in a pile beside her. Rotating the heavy pink sphere in her palm, she was suddenly overcome by the grapefruit’s erotic aspect. It was the fruit kingdom’s breast or, she determined with a little squeeze, more likely a buttock. Geraldine contemplated her own backside, which was rosy and muscular, with slight puckering by the thighs. The citrus connection certainly held up.
Geraldine let loose a snort and flushed, remembering she wasn’t alone this evening. Her roommate, Barrett, was in the den with his girlfriend, Katrina, who took epic showers in Geraldine’s bathroom most mornings and availed herself of other people’s bath products.
Ever since Geraldine had taken to keeping her shampoo and cleansing gel in a hunter‑green canvas kit that traveled with her to and from the bathroom each day, Barrett felt free to accuse her of not liking Katrina. Liking had nothing to do with it. It was just that she didn’t get Katrina. Her unintended roommate was a twenty‑ something woman who dressed in rave pants and baby‑size T‑shirts, as if airing out her navel ring were more important than avoiding looking like she’d wandered in from the mid '90s. Barrett, too, was bepierced and no stranger to the Toronto rave scene — God, could there be three uglier words in the English language? — but at least he was serious about his work and in the process of losing his hair. His head now resembled a half‑blown‑off dandelion, which Geraldine found touching.
And they had history. Back when Geraldine was assisting the managing editor at Province, Canada’s weekly newsmagazine, Barett, then in his second year at York University, was an editorial intern. He showed up for work in shiny button‑down shirts and, because no one else talked to him, eagerly fetched Geraldine cups of tea and typed up detailed pitches for longform features — mostly to do with food politics or the changing Canadian city (Jane Jacobs was a big influence).
Geraldine had no clue whether his ideas were special, but she was always good for a dose of encouragement. She even invited him to join her for tea a couple of times. Barrett had been terribly respectful of his colleague, never realizing that she was merely a 25‑year‑old who was planning on going to law school once she dug her way out of student debt. Geraldine did nothing to disabuse her intern of his perception that she was some all‑powerful entity, never explicitly telling him that she simply passed his memos on to her boss, Barb McLaughlin. Barrett felt safe in Geraldine’s hands, and who was she to take that away from him?
There’d been a chance encounter at Kensington Market nearly a decade later, and now here they were, living together in the second‑floor apartment of a peeling Victorian. Geraldine was no longer his superior, barely in his industry at this point, but he still viewed her with enough respect not to constantly make her feel like a loser for being on the verge of 37 and renting out the second bedroom of an apartment that wasn’t even her own. She was indefinitely subletting from her old friend Sunny MacLeod, who’d ages ago left town and moved to New York, where she was by all standards, measurable and not, winning the game of life.
“I’m not eating God‑knows‑how‑old leftovers. They’re stinking up the fridge.” Katrina’s husky voice entered the room before she did. Geraldine wiped her hands on her sweatpants and considered running into her bedroom and shutting the door, but it was too late. Now Katrina was on the couch, one hand fiddling with her limp ponytail, the remote control dangling from the other.
“Is it okay if Bear and I watch TV before we go out?” Katrina stared through Geraldine, her eyes blue orbs of indifference. She stalled at a promo for a Kids in the Hall marathon, then moved on to HGTV. A man with frost‑tipped hair and his Eastern European wife were touring a three‑bedroom condo on Vancouver Island. Garth, Geraldine’s boss, had urged her to spend time watching these shows that might inspire new ideas. Garth was editorial director of Blankenship Media, the company that had acquired Province seven years ago, after its longtime owner, the Ricker Family Trust, in a fit of consultant‑inflicted financial prudence, had decided to sell rather than fix it. She was a senior editor at Blankenship’s Special Titles, a division responsible for creating cheerful one‑off publications tied to holidays or popular movies or Canadian personalities. Geraldine didn’t know anybody who ever purchased these heavy‑stock magazines posing as coffee‑table books, yet they were a surprisingly profitable business. The Drake special issue kept reprinting, and copies with a limited‑edition fold‑out poster now fetched nearly eighty dollars on eBay.
“You in for the night?” Katrina asked.
“There’s a film screening I’m supposed to go to at eight,” Geraldine said, and when Katrina didn’t follow up with any questions, Geraldine made no mention of its being a science‑fiction movie, some of which had been filmed in Toronto.
“Oh, I thought since you were..,” Katrina said.
“In my happy pants?” Geraldine was wearing her beloved Kermit‑ green sweats with interlocking tennis rackets and orange stripes along the seams. When she’d found them in the bottom of a thrift‑store bin, they’d reminded her of childhood. Not her childhood specifically, which she’d gone through mostly dressed in cheap princess costumes from Winners, but an alternative version in which she’d cavorted in primary colors with an unbroken family.
“Hey.” Barrett arrived from the kitchen, cradling a bowl of microwaved popcorn that smelled vaguely vinegary. “Hungry?” he asked Geraldine. “It’s vegan.”
“Sure, but I’m not vegan,” she said with a slight laugh, and stood up to take a handful.
“I thought you’d converted for January?” Barrett cocked his head. “I did a dairy cleanse,” Geraldine reminded him. “For five days.”
Barrett settled onto the couch next to his girlfriend. “Want to watch with us?”
“Sure, for a little bit,” Geraldine said. One of her New Year’s resolutions had been to work at improving her home life. She was over thinking she had a shot at doing anything about her career. There was more room for growth on the home front. Living with harmless weirdos was so much better than cohabiting with a fiancé who thought it was his right to insert himself into any available orifice. Those days were over, thank goodness. Arranging herself on a low‑slung armchair by the couch — with limbs as long as Geraldine’s, she was never so much seated as she was arranged — she reached out for a second handful of popcorn and met Katrina’s curious gaze with a warm smile. Such was Geraldine’s determination to make nice.