The next day, Franny’s head yelled her awake with lectures about mixing beer and wine, no matter how good either of them were. “I am way too old for this,” she muttered to herself, sipping some weak tea with lemon, trying to rebalance her internal systems. “For heaven’s sake, I’m nearly as old as Penelope.”
That thought, of being a peer with the aging diva, sweating in her cape at her ninth fiftieth birthday party, sobered Franny up better than any hair of the dog. And just in time. Her mobile phone buzzed at her with “Private Number” on the screen.
“Hello?” Franny answered tentatively, wondering who might call her so early. But the clock on the microwave oven chastised her. It was already nearly eleven.
“Oh good, you’re alive,” Marilyn’s voice sang through the speaker. “I hoped that would be the case. Are you ready for our date?”
A memory surfaced: agreeing to meet Marilyn for lunch and a walk through town, looking at some of her giant squid paintings. “Of course. Well. Um. What time were we supposed to meet?” Franny glanced at her slightly sweaty t-shirt, realizing she’d not troubled to change into pajamas last night. “I still need to shower,” she blurted, immediately thinking it far too intimate a thing to say to a new acquaintance, especially one as elegant as Marilyn.
The art professor’s laugh filled her ear. “Of course you do, darling. I thought I’d better call a bit ahead of time, to give you fair warning, or a chance to beg off, or admit you don’t recall a thing about last night, after all.”
Franny let Marilyn’s laugh ease her embarrassment. “I’ll be ready in an hour. Where shall I meet you?”
“Let’s meet at the coffee shop and fuel up on caffeine. We’ll both need it.”
Somehow Marilyn looked as elegant as ever, even in her weekend jeans and ice blue fleece pullover. Franny felt underdressed, wishing her own old but comfortable puke-green sweater fit her better, and wasn’t, well, quite such a puky shade of green.
Marilyn chatted with the girl who took their orders, introducing her to Franny as “Kassandra, who took a painting class from me.” The two women gathered up their coffees in to-go cups and walked out into the clean, chilly, pale midday air. Franny breathed deeply, inhaling ozone and roasted coffee odors that cleared her head.
“See? It’s not so bad, is it.” Marilyn smiled. “Let’s head that way,” she nodded north, “my first wall painting is about three blocks from here.”
The two women walked in silence, sipping hot coffee, matching their pace, a bonding ritual carried out by scores of female friends over the decades. Walking together with coffee is a peculiarly feminine pursuit. Men do not do this, as they feel the pressure to be purposeful far too keenly. Men, poor things, are forced to bond over making something or fixing something. Women are allowed the gracious luxury of bonding as they walk, smiling gently at the world and one another, steaming cups in hand.
By the time the three blocks had been traversed, and Franny stood enchanted by the wall of a small garage filled to the edges with a grinning, winking giant squid, these two women were fast friends.