Lawrence’s friend Carla had been staying with Lawrence and Bernie for two and a half weeks. She was staying in the guest bedroom because she and her girlfriend Roisin were having problems. The very first time Bernie had met Carla and Roisin, she hadn’t been able to think about anything but how astoundingly beautiful they were. Together, it was almost too much to handle. Their combined beauty was distracting. And then they had given Lawrence an enormous oil painting of his own face for his birthday, which now hung in the living room and startled Bernie to wakefulness every single morning on her way to make breakfast. The painting had been the first sign that maybe Carla and Roisin had a touch of eccentricity in them. The fight about Roisin’s feet was the second.
According to Carla, during an argument about Carla leaving dirty dishes in the sink, Carla had retaliated by asking Roisin not to borrow her shoes any longer because her monkey toes were stretching them out beyond repair. Carla claimed she was very polite while requesting this, but Bernie wasn’t so sure there was a polite way of telling someone they had monkey feet, at least not completely. It seemed fairly obvious to her that Roisin would get her feelings hurt. Bernie definitely would’ve felt the same. What she wouldn’t have done was light one of Carla’s sneakers on fire and chuck it off the balcony. Fortunately, Roisin and Carla lived on the second floor of a six-story walk-up. Unfortunately, the blazing sneaker caught a shrub on fire. Carla said it could’ve been worse, but Bernie wasn’t sure relativity was that big of an excuse where fire was concerned. Once something was on fire, the size of the flame pretty much came secondary to the flame’s very existence.
In any case, Carla and Roisin had had something of a falling out. Lawrence said it happened all the time. Bernie wondered why no one seemed very concerned if that was the case. She had obviously had fights with boyfriends before, but never once had she felt the need to light something on fire. And if one of her boyfriends had lit something on fire to make a point, she absolutely would’ve broken up with them. It seemed like the kind of poorly thought out, impulsive reaction that would lead to someone’s accidental, yet untimely death; third-degree burns or a skin graph at the very least.
Although, admittedly, the concern lessened as the days passed and it became increasingly clear that Roisin’s initial distress over the dirty dishes was not without basis. Carla was pretty much the worst houseguest ever. Not only did she never offer to help with anything, dishes included, but she left a trail of crumbs behind her wherever she went. One morning, Bernie had found dried drops of tea in a little trail from the kettle to the living room, back to the kitchen, and then to the bathroom, which was weird and worrying.
“She’s like a really shit low-budget version of Hansel and Gretel in real life,” Bernie complained to Priscilla, Tallulah, and Helen after work one day, having stopped by for a brief reprieve from Carla before finally returning home for dinner. “And let me tell you, it’s not endearing behaviour in an adult. Fat, German children obsessed with candy? Sure. A grown-ass woman who told her girlfriend of six years that she has the feet of a monkey? Not as much.”
Helen raised an eyebrow. She was at Priscilla and Tallulah’s apartment to escape the sound of her grandfather unwrapping and eating hard candies. She did that a lot.
“What does that mean? Feet of a monkey?” Helen asked, grabbing a banana from the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter.
“How can you possibly be unclear on that?” Tallulah retorted. “Presumably it means that she has the feet of a monkey.”
“Yeah, alright,” Helen said, giving Tallulah a withering look. “But what specifically does that mean? Like, picture a monkey. Now picture a woman with the feet of a monkey. It’s startling. So perhaps Carla is right to be concerned. Her girlfriend is devolving.”
“She’s not,” Bernie cut in dismissively, rolling her eyes. “Carla was just angry because Roisin told her she was a dirty slob, which she is. I swear every dish she touches becomes caked in dried peanut butter. I don’t think I’ve ever once seen her eat peanut butter. Roisin is insanely beautiful anyway so there’s no way she can actually have monkey feet.”
“Well, we don’t know that for sure,” Helen retorted. “Tallulah is also very beautiful, but she has the personality of an irate donkey.”
“Thank you,” Tallulah replied quite primly. She looked genuinely pleased. She probably was.
Because Carla was always hanging around their living room, Lawrence’s other friends began hanging around as well. Bernie developed a newfound appreciation for all the crap Lawrence must’ve been putting up with as the result of all her friends. Although she had moved into Lawrence’s condo, her new place was only a short twenty-minute subway ride away from her old apartment, which meant that she still saw a lot of her friends, Jemima, Priscilla, and Tallulah in particular. In their defense, that was what she had wanted. She did feel a bit bad for Lawrence, though. Granted, she was sure they weren’t as bad as his friends. Carla was awful and Roisin had lit a shoe on fire and started a small bush fire. His only two friends who were alright, Mickey and Georgia, were the only ones who weren’t over more frequently. They were too busy being successful adults. Keith, on the other hand, appeared to have nothing but free time on his hands to spend in their living room, eating pretzels at an alarming volume and yelling at soccer games on the TV with Carla.
“Now there are two people making crumbs in my living room,” Bernie hissed into her phone to Sybil. She was holed up in her walk-in closet so that no one would hear her badmouthing Carla and Keith. Lawrence had told her earlier that day that a little sympathy and kindness usually went a long way in making Carla feel secure and happy enough to return home, like a flyaway bird. Bernie wasn’t sure if this was just an off-hand comment or if he had noticed her growing frustration. Either way, she had made a promise to be less noticeably annoyed. Of course, that was before Keith had turned up with a six-pack of beer and an unnecessarily gargantuan quantity of pretzels.
“So now it’s even more like Hansel and Gretel,” Sybil returned. Bernie had called her for two reasons: first of all, she would understand more than anyone Bernie’s frustration because Sybil hated most people and every annoying habit anyone was ever capable of developing; and secondly because Sybil hated talking on the phone and, cruelly, Bernie wanted someone to be as annoyed as she was. She was very petty. She was mostly okay with it.
“Christ, I don’t know how Priscilla dates this man,” Bernie continued, grumbling bitterly into her phone. “I can hear him chewing even from the inside of my closet. From a woman who once told me that the sound of me playing with my hair annoyed her, it’s a remarkable show of patience. I have considered smoothing him to death with a throw pillow several times now.”
“Just an aside here,” Sybil cut in. “Why are you inside your closet?”
“I had to make this phone call in secret so that no one can hear me talking shit,” Bernie explained as though it should’ve been obvious.
“You know, a well-crafted email could’ve fixed that problem,” Sybil pointed out.
“Oh, you would’ve liked that,” Bernie returned vindictively. She was being vindictive toward Sybil for absolutely no reason, and she realized that, but she also didn’t care much to stop.
“Yes,” Sybil answered bluntly. “But also it would’ve saved you from having to crouch in your closet and whisper into your phone like a nutcase. People have been committed for less.”
“Sure, in 1910,” Bernie retorted, rolling her eyes, despite the fact that Sybil couldn’t see her. In fact, no one could see her. She was sitting in the dark in her closet.
“You need help,” Sybil told her.
“Yes, I know, that’s why I called you,” Bernie huffed in response.
“Oh no, not from me,” Sybil replied. And then she hung up.
Carla left the following week. Roisin stopped by late one Wednesday evening at which point she and Carla had a tearful discussion about their relationship while Lawrence and Bernie hid out in their bedroom. Lawrence spent the entirety calmly reading from a mystery novel on their bed. It made Bernie wonder if she had this to look forward to for the rest of her life. She hoped not. She could only spend so much time in her closet before she felt she would have to be committed as Sybil had said.
Bernie had a grand total of three days to revel in the peace of having her home restored before Carla was back on their couch. She and Roisin had had another fight, this time about Carla’s man-hands.
“I’m beginning to suspect this hell will be a part of my life forever now,” Bernie complained to Sybil the night Carla returned, hiding in her closet once again.
“And apparently a part of mine as well,” was Sybil’s snarky response.