Once again: content warning! And not just for language. Some scenes may be disturbing.
Even though Cherish already knew – after all, that’s why she pretended to go to work on her day off – it still came as a shock, as though everything had been going perfectly fine, too see The Man She Used To Know currently (and quite ferociously) in the act of infidelity in full-colour, high definition.
Guard your eyes! Potentially offensive language ahead!
The Bitches follow Cherish home. All the way home.
“Tsk, tsk. 30 years old and still taking the bus.”
“That’s what happens when you’re a minimum-wage loser – can’t afford a car!”
“But wait – don’t you need a license first?”
“That’s right!” Cackle. High-five.
“Oh my God – she’s checking her cell phone!”
“I mean, why even bother having a phone? It’s not like it rings, ever!”
“And it’s not like she has anyone to call.”
“It’s so old-school, too. No one has a phone like that anymore.”
“Except maybe Zach Morris!”
“Ha! And everyone has a smartphone now, like a Blackberry or iPhone or whatever. But a flip phone? Really? Come on!”
“Well that’s what happens when you’re a minimum wage loser – can’t afford a decent phone!” Cackle. High-five.
“I don’t even know why she’s looking at that guy. He’s too good-looking! Waaay outta her league.”
“I don’t know why she’d look at ANY guy. They’re all outta her league!”
“She was lucky to have had a man at all!”
“He must have been blind, deaf and dumb.”
“At least he came to his senses and left her ass.”
“I know. So I guess that means she’ll be alone forever!”
“Will never have sex again.”
“Except with herself!”
“Hopefully she can make herself come, because she couldn’t do it for him!” Cackle. High-five.
“Really?! This is your neighborhood?”
“Talk about classy.”
“There’s, like, a vagrant sleeping on the sidewalk over there.”
“I’ll bet he makes more money than she does.”
“Oh, looky – she lives on top of a laundromat.”
“I guess you could consider this the penthouse!”
“The stairwell smells like piss!”
“Holy shit – she doesn’t even have her own bathroom! She has to share it with the other tenants!”
“Look at this room!”
“It makes a closet look like a freaking MANSION!”
“There’s barely any elbow room!”
“Jesus – she doesn’t even have a proper bed! 30 years old, working minimum wage – oops, wait: now unemployed – living above a laundromat and she sleeps on a futon.”
“Cereal for Chrissake.”
“She sure knows fine dining!”
“I’m surprised she can afford this gourmet meal!”
“Aw look – she’s a’cryin.'”
“I don’t blame her. I ‘d cry too if this was the state of my life: no friends, no man, no money, no car, no job, and nothing to show for it but 30 extra pounds and a futon.”
“And what do we have here? I shouldn’t be surprised: basic cable.”
“The picture isn’t even clear! Why bother? And I mean not just watching TV, I mean, her life!”
“Wonder what else she has planned for this super exciting evening. Carving her ex’s name into her arm? Nope, already did that. Calling him just – ha! – to hear his voice? No, she already did that enough times so he had to change his number.”
“What about writing pathetic poems about her crappy existence.”
“Maybe she should call one of her friends. Oh wait, my bad, she doesn’t have any.”
“Time for bed already?”
“Don’t you mean time for futon?” Cackle. High-five.
“She can pull the covers over her head all she wants – we know she can hear us.”
“That’s right. She can pull them as far as she can but it won’t change the fact that she’s a loser. Her man chose wisely.”
“Hmm. But maybe, just maybe we would leave her alone – at least to sleep – if she’d do one thing for us.”
Slowly, Cherish lowers the covers, pulls her face – sticky with tears – from her pillow, and listens.
Content may not be suitable for virgin eyes.
Cherish had finally managed to fall asleep. When she woke up, they still weren’t there. And when she called him, it went straight to voice mail. She texted him several times, too, but got no response.
They still weren’t home by dinner time, and he still wasn’t answering Cherish’s calls or texts. Same for when she left for work. When she called yet again on her break, she got worried that they were either lying dead in a ditch or hooking up in some posh hotel room. (Actually, Cherish didn’t care if The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters was lying dead in a ditch. In fact, she hoped she was.)
She came home to an empty house. Finally, he answered.
“You need to relax,” he’d said. “Stop blowing up my phone.”
“But you’ve been out almost all day with another woman!”
“So? I told you: she’s an old friend. Can’t I go out once in a while without you hassling me?”
“I’m not hassling you; I’m just-”
“I’m hanging up right now. I’ve been having a really good day and I’m not going to let you ruin it.”
They returned in the wee hours of the morning just when Cherish finally managed to fall asleep. There was a lot of whispering and giggling. Cherish strained to hear if there was any kissing sounds.
Then, for the next half hour, she could hear talking, which started – once again – as whispers, then ascended until it became a touch below shouting. There was the sound of the TV being turned on, glasses clinking. They seemed to laugh with every second word, until they seemed to be laughing more than talking. Cherish’s heartbeat reverberated loudly against her pillow.
When he finally slipped into bed beside her, his name barely left her lips before he snapped, “I’m tired. I don’t want to hear it.” He smelled of alcohol. “Goodnight.”
And that was his standard response over the month and a half that The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters stayed with them.
“She said she was only staying a week!”
“I don’t want to hear it, Cherish. You heard her – she said maybe a week.”
“She ate the leftovers that I was planning to take to work for lunch!”
“I don’t want to hear it, Cherish.”
“She’s been in the bathroom for forty-five minutes and now I’m gonna be late for work!”
“You’re exaggerating, Cherish. I don’t want to hear it.”
“She left the door unlocked! We could have been robbed – or worse!”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Look at this bill! She’s been making long distance calls on our landline!”
“Dammit, Cherish! I’m sick of hearing you bitch and complain about everything she does! Do I have to remind you again whose money pays for this place?”
“Do I have to remind you that you wouldn’t have this place if it wasn’t for -”
The Man She Used To Know put up both of his hands, his face hard and expressionless. “I don’t want to hear anymore of this. I’m walking away.”
That night, Cherish woke up prematurely, thanks to a nightmare about burning flesh and screaming. The Man She Used To Know was not beside her. Once her sweat cooled and her heartbeat slowed down, she got out of bed.
When she crossed the TV room to the kitchen on the pretext of getting a glass of water, she witnessed his lame attempt at scrambling from his place on the couch beside The Woman To Whom She Isn’t Related and onto the floor where he’d set up a makeshift bed. (He’d even had the nerve to pretend to be asleep!) Cherish was sorry he hadn’t smacked his head or probably erect penis into the coffee table on his way there, and wished she could see, in the dark, if he’d at least had his clothes on.
What she did see was the silhouette of The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters, who did not pretend to be asleep and was in fact sitting right up facing Cherish. Cherish didn’t have to see the expression her houseguest was wearing on her face – she already knew what it was.
Once again, Cherish resisted the urge to toss her beverage in the other woman’s face, instead going back to bed and laying there wide awake, wondeirng if she was finally experiencing karma – a suspicion that was confirmed when she found them banging three days later on the same couch where she’d first encountered The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters.
Language warning! Language warning!
The manager’s office is about the size of a closet. There’s a desk, which houses an ancient computer, a stack of old flyers, multiple empty take-out paper coffee cups, and an overflowing paper tray. There are two chairs on either side of it. Cherish sits in the one in front of the desk; her boss sits in the one behind the desk. The Bitches perch on each front corner of the desk – delicately, gracefully – long legs crossed, sardonic smiles in place.
“I’ll get straight to the point, Cherish. You’re just not working out here anymore. You’ve been declining steadily for weeks now, but today is the last straw.”
“Aw sheeit,” says Bitch One.
“Here it comes again,” says Bitch Two. “Fired. How many times has this happened?”
“This year alone? Let’s see. There was the wine store…”
“I’ve never had so many complaints about a single cashier over the course of one day – ever! Five! Five! i got five complaints! I’ve been a manager here for over ten years and have never had five complaints about one cashier in one day! Hell, I’ve never had five complaints in a single week about one employee.”
“…file clerk at the gas supply company…”
“…administrative assistant at the childcare centre…”
“I don’t expect my staff to be perfect. You’re human and you’re going to make mistakes. And I watched you make mistakes over the past few weeks and let them slide.”
“…the 1-hour photo lab…”
“But this – this I can’t. Today was just a spectacle. You’re dropping things, forgetting people’s change…did you know we lost a customer today who has been shopping here since this store’s opening? She said she’d rather go to our competitor and pay a little more than put up with such incompetence.”
“Dumb. As. A. Chimp,” says Bitch Two.
“I’m sorry,” Cherish splutters.
“Well, it’s too late for that now. It seems like you’re going through something, and it sucks, but you know what? That’s life. Everybody is struggling with something, but you need to leave whatever it is at home, just like the rest of us, suck it up, and be ready to work as efficiently and competently as possible.” He taps a pencil against the desk. “Since you’ve failed to do that, and, especially, based on today, I’m going to have to let you go. But maybe you can take this experience to your next position as a chance to do better.”
Bitch One says, “Now it really is a shame she can’t suck dick – that’d convince him to keep her!”
Once again, language may offend!
Cherish had woken up to their voices the next morning. She went into the kitchen and found them drinking cappuccinos from the espresso machine she’d bought The Man She Used To Know for Christmas and complained he never used. The Woman On The Couch was still wearing the tiny camisole with thin straps and shorts (the kind that Cherish’s dead sisters used to call “batty riders”) that she’d slept in. Her legs were incredible.
“‘Scuse me-” Cherish was about to admonish them for talking so loudly when she was still sleeping, but then The Woman On The Couch turned to look at her, bearing such a strong resemblance that she got dizzy and forgot what she was going to say. That was when The Woman On The Couch became The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters.
“Hi!” she’d chirped, offering her name and her hand to shake. She’d been way too friendly, way too eager: overcompensating. Her eyebrows were immaculate, smooth as satin, and her eyelashes looked fake.
That was probably what he was looking at when Cherish had come in the kitchen. They’d been a little too cozy-looking. He’d never sipped coffee with Cherish leaning over the opposite sides of the counter, practically nose to nose. It’d looked to Cherish as though The Man She Used To Know and The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters were sharing the same cup when she’d walked in.
Speaking of which! The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sister was drinking out of her favourite mug, the one which Cherish expressly told The Man She Used To Know not to let anyone – guests included – use. Even he never drank from it. And now she was. Inconsiderate and inappropriate, just like the nipples protruding from her shirt. Cherish wanted to throw the contents of that cup right in the area between this intruder’s breasts, right where her little pendant dangled. The Man She Used To Know had probably been staring there, too, the way they’d been leaning over the counter.
(Cherish might as well have been related to this woman, because she was just like her dead sisters: pretty on the outside, poison on the inside.)
She waited for an apology, waited to be offered a cup of coffee, but instead, The Man She Used To Know just said, “Hey. We’ve been catching up. We go way back – and have had some good times!”
“We grew up in the same neighborhood.” The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters looked Cherish up and down, probably at her flannel pajamas. Maybe that’s what they had been laughing at as she’d come in. “I’ve known him longer than anyone.”
Cherish’s jaw twitched. “Funny, he’s never mentioned you.” She cleared her throat. “Could you please keep it down? I worked the late shift, remember?” She directed the last sentence more towards him.
“At the grocery store…right?”
Cherish wanted to headbutt the smirk off of her houseguest’s face. Instead she narrowed her eyes. “Weren’t you evicted?”
The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters held up a finger. “Negative. I was about to move into my brand new condo, but it was delayed by a week. But since I’d already vacated my old apartment I just need a place to stay until my brand new condo is ready. And he was kind enough to offer.” She linked her arm through The Man She Used To Know’s. Cherish shot him and incredulous look, but he just shrugged.
“So you’ll be gone inn a week?”
“No, it’s ok. Maybe a week, maybe longer; it depends. That’s the thing when you buy a condo: the wait times are unpredictable. But I guess one who’s never bought one, or, at least, has had their name on the lease would be familiar with the process. But it’s not your fault, I mean, it’s easier fo me to afford one because I’m an investment banker. It’d be next to impossible to do so as a grocery store clerk. Luckily, you’re living with a best-selling author!” The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters still had her arm linked to The Man She Used To Know, who didn’t even admonish her the way he had Cherish.
Instead he’d chuckled and said, ‘True that. Okay, we were going to eat breakfast here, but maybe we should head out since you need your sleep.”
“Sounds good,” said their houseguest, and they left Cherish in the kitchen, whose fingernails made half-moon indents in her palms, drawing blood. They shouldn’t have bothered leaving, though, because when Cherish got back to bed, she lay there wide awake.
Warning: The following contains explicit language.
There they stand, visual perfection as always, down to each strand of hair, each eyelash. They’re wearing the same uniform as her, but have tied the shirt to expose their tight midriffs, and accessorize their look with jewelery. They stand so closely that they serve practically as one unit, identical sardonic smiles on their faces.
“We’ve been waitin’ for you,” Bitch One says. Cherish ignores her and pushes her way in front of them. She enters her password into the register and the drawer clangs open, then shoves the till into the register and slams the drawer shut. She flicks a switch that lights up her lane number, then removes the “Next Cashier WIll Be Pleased To Serve You” sign from the counter. “I can take some customers over here!”
Bitch Two imitates her wobbly voice, which earns her a high-five from Bitch One. They cackle.
Then, as Cherish starts to scan: “Nice job,” Bitch One says, “Thirty years old and making minimum wage. But hey, it’s still more than I thought you’d accomplish!”
“Would you like cash back?” Cherish asks.
Bitch One and Bitch Two fall into a fit of giggles. “That’s like the new ‘would you like fries with that?’” Bitch Two manages to say.
“Totally,” agrees Bitch One. “How pathetic are you?”
“Excuse me, miss, but you scanned my can of tuna twice!”
The giggles start up again. “Oh my God, you can’t even do such a basic, braindead job! You really ARE an idiot!”
“I’m sorry,” says Cherish. “I closed the register before I could give you your change. Just give me a minute.”
“Wow,” says Bitch One. “Too bad you’re terrible at sucking dick, because you could work the streets instead of failing at a job monkeys could do!”
“But if she was good at sucking dick, maybe she’d be able to keep her man!”
They high-five and chuckle again.
“You overcharged me! I want my five bucks back!”
“Just a minute, ma’am,” Cherish says. “Just let me finish with this customer and-”
“I’m in a hurry! I want it now!”
“So, let’s see,” Bitch One says, “let’s count down the list of why Cherish is a loser and couldn’t keep her man. Dumb as a box of rocks…”
“…can’t suck dick…” Bitch Two continues.
“Miss, that’s not mine; that belongs to the customer behind me.”
“So sorry. I’ll just void it.”
“…works a dead-end job…”
“…is as big as a bus. But then, sitting around eating potato chips and ice cream by the bucketful would give anyone a sloppy ass like that.”
“Speaking of sloppy – look at her! It’s called a comb, sweetie!”
“I know, right? And how about a bath once in a while? I thought we were next to a garbage dump, but it’s just you.”
“Oh my God, oh my God. I am so sorry. I wasn’t looking at what I was doing.” Cherish grabs the phone next to the register, pressing a button to activate the speaker: “Custodian to Lane 5…custodian to Lane 5 please. Thank you.
“Again – I am so sorry. I’ll be happy to go and get you another jar of pasta sauce.”
“Forget it. I don’t have time now.”
“She has nothing goin’ on for her.”
“Uh-huh. Nothing at all.”
“She could try wearing makeup.”
“All the makeup in the world can’t fix ugly.”
“Yeah, that’s why he moved on to someone better. To someone who’s pretty, someone who’s thin and smart and has a decent job…”
“And someone who certainly knows how to suck dick!”
“That’s probably what they’re doing right now,” Bitch One murmurs, close to Cherish’s ear. “They’re probably in bed, naked, wrapped around each other while you toil behind the cash register at this lame-ass job. He’s probably thinking, ‘Oh, how I’ve missed out on good sex. Finally I’m with someone who knows what they’re doing.’ ”
Bitch Two is at Cherish’s other ear. “She probably makes him harder than he’s ever been in his life. He’s probably coming as he never has before. And it’s not just sex…he’s truly making love for the first time.”
“He’s whispering sweet words to her which he’s never said to anyone else. He’s saying ‘I’ve never been so in love before.'” Bitch One’s voice suddenly sounds remarkably like his. “He’s never loved anyone this much before. This is why I’m marrying you. This is why you’re wearing my ring.”
Cherish isn’t sure how she’s managed to do this, but the next thing she knows, she’s overturned her till. It lands on her feet with a bang; the coins sounding like shattering glass. It seems to reverberate throughout the store, seems to stop everyone n action: the customers, her fellow cashiers, the stock boys, the produce staff. (“Whoopsie daisy!” The Bitches sing-song.)
And her boss, who’s standing in front of the Special K display at the end of the aisle facing Cherish. He doesn’t look happy. At all.
“Uh-oh,” says Bitch One. “Looks like we’ve gotten to her!”
Cherish stops walking and looks up in the direction of the familiar voice, its owner standing in the “Please Wait To Be Seated” line, looking as polished and groomed as Cherish’s dead sisters used to. And she isn’t alone.
Cherish promptly loses her appetite. All she’d wanted to do was go home with her takeout dragon roll. It was bad enough that she couldn’t even afford wine to go with it. Hell, she could barely afford the sushi itself. And now this.
God hates her.
The Woman Who Looks Like Cherish’s Sisters is with a man, a man Cherish knows (or, at least, used to) very well, a man who happens to be in her every thought, whether or not she’s awake, who’s taken permanent residence in her heart even though she hasn’t seen him in months. His arm is linked with The Woman Who Isn’t Her Sisters’.
Then, very deliberately, without taking her eyes off Cherish’s, The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters raises her left hand, yawning luxuriously, patting her open mouth, fingers splayed just so.
“Oh,” says Cherish, then looks at The Man She Used To Know. He raises his eyebrows, shrugging and grimacing as though to say “What?” or “What did you expect?”
“Oh,” Cherish says again, as the takeout bag slips out of her hand. But she doesn’t even notice. Instead, she pushes her way through the rest of the line and out of the restaurant. Just in time, too, as she retches into a nearby trash can.
Last year Cherish came home from her late night shift to find The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters sleeping on the couch.
She’d stormed into the bedroom. “Why is there a naked woman on our couch?”
The Man She Knew – who, by then was becoming The Man She Didn’t Know Anymore (though not quite yet The Man She Used To Know) frowned and answered her without taking his eyes off of the TV. “First, of all: keep your voice down. Second: stop exaggerating. She isn’t naked just because she’s not swaddled in flannel. Third, she needed a place to crash, so, as a friend, I’m letting her sleep here, because friends help each other out.” He turned off the TV, shut off the lamp, and slid under the covers. He’d put his face in the pillow, but his final point was loud and clear. “Fourth, don’t forget who owns this place.” (The Man She Used To Know was – is – the author of a series of self-help/motivational books and has done very well for himself.)
Cherish was puzzled, then surprised that she was surprised. He’d been like this for weeks and she didn’t know why. She remembered how sweet he’d used to be, how he’d comforted her when both her older sisters had gone missing during their road trip, when their charred bodies were found days later in their burned out red BMW, and when the case went cold due to lack of evidence. How he hadn’t judged her for not crying. “Everyone works through their grief differently, baby.”
But now he’d become a completely different person. The Woman On The Couch was much hotter than Cherish. And The Man She Used To Know had made that comment about flannel. She’d thought about asking the opinions of the women with whom she worked the next day, but no one ever talked to her. “Maybe it’s because you’re so weird,” The Man She Used To Know had told her. She’d thought he’d been joking at the time, but tonight she knew differently. He’d never said things like that before; that must have the beginning of him becoming The Man She Didn’t Know Anymore. He was being weird and distant and it had to do with The Woman On The Couch.
The day after Cherish saw The Man She Used To Know and The Woman Who Looks Like Her Sisters, ran out of the sushi restaurant and puked in the trash can outside (much to the disgust of a passing group of teenaged girls, who’d squealed and laughed at her, The Bitches showed up.
Riding the bus on the way to work, Cherish swears she can hear familiar sounding whispering and snickering, but mentally brushes it off.
More whispering and snickering follows her as she signs in at work, puts her coat and belongings in her locker in the staff room, throws on her smock and grabs a full till from the cash office, but fails to find the source.
Until she reaches her workstation.