arley Pinkus had spent the entire morning watching the X-Files on Netflix. Prostrate as a log of Duraflame, she gazed drooly-mouthed at the TV screen, the episodes merging together in a slog of redundant similitude. She hadn’t seen the show in nearly 20 years – it was a random Sunday impulse. It hadn’t changed. Mulder was ever the dreamboat and Scully was still a willfully obstinate, disbelieving pain in the rectum. All my life I’ve never had a reliable flashlight, she thought, as she watched the duo flail about in a Stygian forest for the umpteenth time. How am I supposed to navigate my way through the dark without a proper flashlight? She’d been brought up frugally, in a modest split level ranch whose drawers were stuffed with cheap Evereadys – she’d carried on the tradition. Ever Ready? Never ready! And she was…or wasn’t.

At eight o’clock, her best frenemy Suki Fishbein would be holding court over her 40th birthday celebration, her sycophantic entourage regaling her with mendacious flatteries about the quality of her skin or how her new bob complemented the shape of her jawline. Lurch-faced bitch. Brandy had never fully forgiven Suki for the time at the Smith when she had tipsily ‘praised’ her Rubenesque body in front of a crowd of bullet-headed, suspender wearing, Wall Street bros. That was three years ago. Brandy had a long memory…like an elephant. Wincing, she shifted her body to the side, the acid gurgle in her stomach reminding her that she’d forgotten to eat breakfast. The event would be held in Greenpoint…there’d be tapas – or was it tacos? The idea of making the trip from the upper east side was wearying. In her refrigerator, a half-consumed carton of chow fun was marinating in its own slime. Was it still safe?

Harley was waiting on a text from a recent Tinder suitor with no small measure of anticipation. They’d hung out one time at the Subway Inn and it had gone better than expected. Over the course of a few hours and several shots off Bushmills she learned that he enjoyed camping, had a penchant for saddle shoes, and felt very passionately about the unfair, meritocratic nature of the New York City educational system. He was a teacher. He had kind eyes. Is he the one? If he reached out for a date, she would forego the party…if not, she would most likely endure the arduous trek to Brooklyn – or she wouldn’t.

It was definitely getting darker outside. The shadows were getting longer in the room…imperceptibly. Creeping across the furniture like cold tar.

She had a pound-cake heaviness in the hollow of her chest. Is he ghosting me? She had sent him a prompt, thoughtful message after they met: I had fun…let’s do it again…I dig a man who can pull off saddle shoes…blah fucking blah. Not a word in response. Radio silence. That was four days ago. What kind of shmuck goes camping at the age of 45, anyway? She hated the chase…but the jellyfish sting of rejection was even worse. I’ll bet he has a decent flashlight, probably a Coleman lantern…I dodged a goddamned bullet. Checking her phone – yet again – for signs of life, she repeated to herself in an audible hiss, dodged a goddamned bullet.

Harley rubbed her left calf; the muscle twitched angrily at her touch. Friday she’d taken an awkward step on her way home from work and came up lame. That’s all it took, that’s all it ever takes…one…awkward…step. I’m breaking down and I’m going to die alone.

She was six years older than Suki. How had that soulless, Lurch-faced troll wound up with a lawyer, a pair of twins and a Pekingese? Harley couldn’t keep pets in her overpriced smudge of an apartment…she’d never been able to keep a man either. It’s the gestalt of New York City…it’s the non-committal manboys…it’s the pervasive hyper vigilance…it’s... The phone buzzed in her hand sending her heart a jolt of gorgeous expectation. I won’t look right away…if I look right away it’s bad luck. She kept her eyes trained to Scully and Mulder — still lost in the forest — for about three more seconds before she read the text. Thanks a lot, I had fun too, but

She’d be going to Suki’s party after all — or she wouldn’t. But first she would finish the chow fun.

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