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HUGEPOP!!!Bedtime StoriesOne Man's WorldThe Mispronouncer


               In middle of a mid-Saturday afternoon lunch at The Delicafé in downtown Multioak, Francesca rose from her seat in the middle of Bernadette’s explanation of her daughter’s voluntary withdrawal from the gifted-and-talented program at school and poured her bloody mary over Bernadette’s head. The drink ran down Bernadette’s face, it stained her mint-green shirt red-orange. She gasped, flailing at the table for her napkin, forgetting that it was in her lap. She used her knuckles to clear the stinging liquid from her eyes and saw Francesca standing next to her, empty glass in hand, a satisfied smile on her face. The restaurant had fallen silent, meals ignored while the other patrons waited to see what would happen next, watching with unconcealed interest.

               “Why did you do that?” asked Bernadette. She couldn’t fathom it. She and Francesca were best friends. Francesca was not a prankster, was not cruel, did not have an explosive temper. She was the kindest, sweetest person Bernadette knew.

               “All right, all right,” said Francesca, chuckling to herself as she returned to her seat. “I’ll fix it.” She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them again. She stared at Bernadette in apparent alarm. "You’re still wet!”

               “Of course I’m still wet!” said Bernadette. “You poured a drink on me!”

               “But I fixed it,” said Francesca. Her confusion seemed genuine.

               “Fixed it?” asked Bernadette. “No, you definitely did not fix it. I’m so upset with you, Francesca. That wasn’t funny. Why did you do that?”

               Francesca’s face flushed red. She began to speak, then stopped. She closed her eyes again, pressing the palms of her hands against her cheeks.

               “What are you doing?” asked Bernadette.

               Francesca opened her eyes, wincing again at the sight of Bernadette.

               At last discovering the napkin in her lap, Bernadette gave her face and neck a thorough wipe, then stood and tossed the napkin on the table. It landed on her plate, dirtying her half-eaten food. “I’m going home,” said Bernadette, blinking back tears. “Call me when you’re ready to explain. And apologize.”

               “This won’t last,” said Francesca, her voice desperate. “This will all go away. I’ll figure it out.”

               “It happened,” said Bernadette. “You did it. The least you can do now is own up to it.”

               Francesca said nothing. She couldn’t meet Bernadette’s eyes. She glanced around at the other people in the restaurant, absorbed a fraction of their disapproval, curiosity, amusement, and retreated into herself, hiding her face in the crook of her arm.

               Bernadette left. She was shaken and shaking. She squeezed the steering wheel with both hands to still her trembling as she drove home. The spring sunlight was getting all over everything outside. It contrasted with Bernadette’s mood, which was thoroughly overcast. She had hoped to change clothes before her husband and 17-year-old daughter could see what had happened to her, but when she walked into the kitchen from the garage, they were both there as if waiting specifically to foil her plan.

               “What happened to you?” asked Kiersten. She stood at the refrigerator holding the door open wide, the world’s greatest boon to imprisoned coldness.

               “Francesca spilled her drink on me,” said Bernadette.

               Barney sat at the kitchen table sorting mail. He looked younger when he didn’t wear his little half-glasses, but sorting mail was the main task he used them for, so he was wearing them and looking old. “Spilled it?” he said. “It looks like she poured it over your head.” The half-glasses did improve his eyesight, that was for sure.

               “I think it was a prank,” said Bernadette. “I don’t know. I got mad and left.”

               “A prank?” asked Kiersten. She paused to consider. “Hmm. A prank. Well, I guess it could be a prank.”

               “It wasn’t funny,” said Bernadette. “And I don’t know if it was a prank. I don’t know what it was. I don’t want to talk about it.” She went upstairs to spray off and change clothes. After her brief shower, Bernadette, wrapped in a towel, was crossing to her walk-in closet from the master bathroom when her cell phone rang. She retrieved her phone from her bedside stand and saw that the call was from Francesca. Calling to apologize, Bernadette assumed, and to provide some kind of explanation that Bernadette hoped would be sincere enough to put her mind at ease.

               “Hey, Francesca.”

               “Bernadette, I wanted to call you.”

               “Which you did.”

               “Yes, which I did. I’m calling you now to…about earlier.”

               “You poured your drink on me,” said Bernadette. “In front of all those strangers. And they may not have all been strangers. I may have known some of them and just didn’t notice.”

               “Right, OK, so that happened?” Francesca phrased it like a question. “You remember that happening? To you?”

               “I just said it, didn’t I?” Bernadette felt her temper rising again. This was starting to not seem like an apology or an explanation from Francesca. Just more of the same weird responses she’d displayed at the restaurant. “How would I be able to tell you about it if it hadn’t happened and I didn’t remember it?”

               “I don’t know,” said Francesca. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out.” She paused for a long time.

               Bernadette didn’t say anything. She refused to accept the burden of carrying this conversation to a conclusion. If Francesca had something to say, she could say it. Bernadette wasn’t going to waste time trying to drag it out of her.

               “I need to come over,” said Francesca. “To your house. I need to see you in person, Bernadette.”

               “To apologize?” asked Bernadette. “I’ll accept an apology over the phone, Francesca.”

               “Not just to apologize,” said Francesca. “To try something. I need to try something. To see if it will work. Because if not, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

               “What are you going to try?” asked Bernadette.

               “I can’t tell you,” said Francesca. “In case it doesn’t work. Because then you’d know, right? You’d remember it forever, probably, unless you eventually get dementia. Alzheimer’s or something.”

               “Is something going on with you?” asked Bernadette. “Are you going through a tough time? Are you and Will having problems?”

               “Hmm,” said Francesca. She paused for a while.

Bernadette looked at her phone screen to make sure the call was still connected.

“I can’t think of anything in particular,” said Francesca. “You think it could be something like that, though? That something in my personal life could affect this?”

               “I don’t know,” said Bernadette. “I don’t know what this is. But I think personal problems could cause people to, you know, act strangely.”

               “No, no, not that,” said Francesca. “Not like that. Never mind. I’m on my way over. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”

               Back downstairs, Barney and Kiersten had migrated from the kitchen to the living room. Barney was on the couch navigating menus on the TV with the remote. Kiersten sat on the floor scrolling her phone.

               “Kiersten, did you eat something?” asked Bernadette.

               “No,” said Kiersten. “I wasn’t hungry.”

               “So you were just standing there with the refrigerator door open for no reason?”

               Kiersten gave her a dark look.

               Bernadette turned to Barney. “Francesca is on her way over.”

               “Look,” said Barney, pointing at the TV screen. “It says the captions are off. But I guarantee you they’re not.”

               “I talked to her on the phone just now,” said Bernadette. “I think there’s something going on with her. I’m a little worried.”

               “Scared she’s gonna pour another drink on you?” asked Kiersten.

               “I’m worried for her,” said Bernadette.

               “You’re gonna pour a drink on her?” asked Kiersten, smirking to herself.

               “She’s my friend,” said Bernadette. “And I think she needs help.”

               “What should I do if she attacks you?” asked Barney. “I’d feel weird punching her.”

               “She’s not going to attack me,” said Bernadette. “But you’re allowed to punch a woman if she’s physically assaulting your wife.”

               “Really?” asked Barney. “Are you sure?”

               Kiersten raised her eyebrows but didn’t say anything.

               The doorbell rang. Bernadette jolted in surprise. She hadn’t heard Francesca’s car pull up out front.

               “Whoa, Mom, watch out!” said Kiersten. “She’s out there on the porch with a giant travel mug full of grape juice! Better put on a raincoat!”

               “That enough, Kiersten,” said Barney. To his credit, he wasn’t laughing. “If one of your friends poured a drink on you, we’d never hear the end of it.”

               Kiersten scowled but said nothing. Everyone in the room knew it was true.

               When Bernadette opened the door to find that Francesca was, in fact, waiting for her on the porch, there was a part of her relieved to see that her friend was not carrying any sort of cup, glass, or mug. Granted, she had her hands tucked in the pockets of her pale pink windbreaker, but the pockets did not seem large enough to conceal a drink.

               “Wanna go for a walk?” asked Francesca. “Just around the neighborhood. So we can talk.”

               “My hair is still damp,” said Bernadette. She paused long enough for Francesca to figure out why Bernadette’s hair would be wet right now, why she would have needed to wash her hair after returning from their lunch date. “But yeah, that’s fine, let me get my jacket.”

               There was still plenty of daylight left. More than enough. An excess of daylight, plus a breeze, so Bernadette’s damp hair quickly dried as she and Francesca strolled along the sidewalk saying nothing for the first few minutes. Bernadette didn’t want to be the one to break the silence. She wanted to help her friend if her friend needed help, but Francesca was going to need to take some initiative. Although she had asked to come over and then done so, right? Was that enough initiative? Bernadette tried to guess what could be going on. Some sort of mental health crisis, maybe. It seemed like there were a lot of those these days. Something in the air, something going around. Making everyone’s mental health fluctuate. Bernadette watched Francesca out of the corner of her eye, the way she kept looking over her shoulder, peering at houses on both sides of the street as if someone might be watching from behind –

               Bernadette tripped and fell, hands outstretched toward the rough cement, anticipating the impact, the injury. She had enough time to hope for only scrapes. Please, not a broken wrist. She hit the ground, felt the jolt in her arms, the sting in her palms. Her chest hit the ground and her breath fled her lungs in a rush. She felt warmth on her knee that she feared was blood, but no, it was just a tear in her jeans, her knee-skin resting against the sun-warmed sidewalk. She had not broken. Bernadette groaned and rolled into someone’s yard. Lying on her back in the grass, she looked at her palms, which were red and speckled with tiny pebble bits and dirt. There were a few patches of peeled skin, a bit of blood.

               Francesca came into view above Bernadette, looking down, closing her eyes and then opening them, closing her eyes and then opening them, her level of concentration indicated by the depth of the furrows in her brow.

               “You tripped me!” said Bernadette. “You stuck out your leg and you tripped me!”

               “I know, I know,” said Francesca. “Just give me a second. It’s still not working. Is it gone forever?”

               “You tripped me!” shouted Bernadette. “On purpose!” She sat up, brushing her palms together, mingling the blood of her right and left hands. She wished Barney had seen what had just happened, and that he had taken her seriously when she’d told him that a man could hit a woman if the woman attacked his wife. It would have made her feel a lot better to see Barney, or anyone, really haul off and punch Francesca right about now. Well, what was stopping her from doing it? If she wanted to see Francesca hit, then she could take matters into her own hands.

               Bernadette scrambled to her feet. This was not going to be a slap. This was going to be a punch. But did she know how to punch? She knew how to make a fist, of course, but where did the thumb go for a punch? Inside or outside? She had heard there was a right way, but now she forgot what it was.

               Francesca was crying. Which annoyed Bernadette because that made it harder, on an emotional level, to punch her. Maybe she could downgrade to a slap.

               “I don’t think we can be friends anymore,” said Francesca.

               “I don’t think so either!” said Bernadette. “I really don’t!”

               “Without…if I can’t…” Francesca heaved a feeble sigh, wiping the corners of her eyes with her fingertips. “You’re just too annoying,” she said. “I can’t cope any other way. And now it’s gone, I guess, and I don’t know if it’s ever coming back.”

               “I’m annoying?” Bernadette was conscious of a certain shriekiness finding its way into her voice. A not un-annoying shriekiness. “This was all a setup! You pretended like you wanted to talk, but you were just creating another opportunity to be mean to me!”

               “No,” said Francesca. “You won’t understand, Bernadette, but that’s the opposite of what I was doing. I was hoping desperately that I could still be nice to you. But I can’t. I think it’s over. It is. It’s over.” She turned to walk by herself back to her car parked in front of Bernadette’s house.

               But Bernadette’s rage had returned. Francesca, after the events of the day, having the nerve to call her annoying? To act like it was her decision to end the friendship? That was plenty to stir retaliation. So Bernadette ran up behind Francesca and shoved her in the back, sending her stumbling off of the curb where she finally lost her footing and sprawled in the gutter.

               Francesca rolled onto her left side, whimpered, and held up her right arm. It did not look good. There was a weird, incorrect kink in her wrist.

               Bernadette gasped and covered her mouth with both hands. The severity of what she had done landed heavily upon her. This was not what she had intended. “Francesca! I’m so sorry! Here, let me help you.” She scurried to her fallen former friend and squatted next to her, taking her by the elbow of her less-injured arm and trying not to look at the more-injured arm. She wasn’t good with gore or anything like that. Nothing graphic.

               Francesca allowed herself to be helped to her feet. She looked stunned, dazed. “You’ve never done that before, Bernadette. Not once.”

               “I know, I’m sorry,” said Bernadette.

               “No matter what,” said Francesca. “No matter what. You just took it, pretty much.”

               “I think you’re delirious,” said Bernadette. “You’re in shock.” Although, it wasn’t like she’d been making good sense before her wrist snapped, either.

               Francesca teetered on her feet. She tried to blink her dizziness away.

               “You should sit down,” said Bernadette. “I’ll call Barney and tell him to come pick us up so we can take you to the emergency room.”

               Francesca nodded, but it was not a crisp nod. It was wobbly.

               Bernadette helped Francesca lower herself to the curb. Francesca cradled her broken wrist in her other arm and leaned forward to rest her head against her bent knees. “I think I might throw up,” she said. “From the pain.”

               “Try not to,” said Bernadette. She called Barney and explained some of the situation to him. Only the most pertinent details. Not how Francesca’s wrist had become broken. That, she omitted. After Barney assured Bernadette that he was on his way, Bernadette put her phone back in her pocket. She looked down at Francesca and felt odd looming over her, so she sat down on the curb next to her.

               “Maybe I am delirious,” said Francesca.

               “Yeah, maybe so,” said Bernadette. She patted Francesca on her shoulder.

               “Because I’m really tempted to tell you about it,” said Francesca. “To explain it.”

               “To explain why you poured the drink on me?” asked Bernadette. “And why you tripped me?”

               “Yes,” said Francesca. “Maybe it’s because you shoved me. You fought back. I can’t figure out my own motives.”

               “That’s common,” said Bernadette. “Everyone has that problem, even people who think they don’t. Especially people who think they don’t. You shouldn’t let that stop you from telling me what you want to tell me.”

               “You really want to know?” asked Francesca. “I don’t think you’ll believe me.”

               “If it’s true, I’ll believe you,” said Bernadette.

               “All right, then,” said Francesca. “I’ll tell you while we wait for Barney.”

               “OK,” said Bernadette. “So what is it?”

               “I used to be able to do things to you and then undo them,” said Francesca. “But as of today, I can’t. Not today, anyway, but maybe never again.”

               Bernadette didn’t know how to phrase any follow-up questions.

               “I’ve poured drinks on you dozens of times,” said Francesca. “Maybe hundreds. It’s one of my go-to moves when you’re boring me. But today was the first time I couldn’t undo it. Where I couldn’t just close my eyes and make it like it never happened. I tried, but it didn’t work. Once it happened, it happened. It was stuck in history.”

               Despite the absurdity of Francesca’s delusion, Bernadette couldn’t help but take offense. “When I’m boring you? You think I’m boring?”

               “Yeah, sometimes,” said Francesca. “A lot of times, actually.”

               “But you’re such a good listener,” said Bernadette. “You always seem interested.”

               “That’s because I could pour a drink on you to take out my frustration and then undo it,” said Francesca. “Or do something else. Throw food at you. Throw anything at you. Or scream, sometimes, or say something really insulting to you. And then wait just long enough to see your reaction or the reactions of people around us. And then, once I got it out of my system, I could undo it and then focus again, I could be a good friend.”

               “This…is very hard to believe,” said Bernadette.

               “You said you’d believe it if it was true,” said Francesca. “And it’s true, so you should believe it.”

               “How can it be true?” asked Bernadette.

               “That’s why I wanted to come try again,” said Francesca. “Tripping you while we’re walking is one of my classics. It’s another one of my go-tos. I have different go-tos depending on the circumstances. But when we’re walking and I don’t have the energy to be creative, a good trip is always a solid choice. So I needed to try again, right? After I couldn’t undo the drink-pour at lunch, I had to see if that was a one-time glitch, or if I’d completely lost the ability. And I guess I lost it, at least for now, because I couldn’t undo the trip either.”

Francesca’s voice sounded hollow, distant. Bernadette felt like she was losing something in translation even though they were speaking the same language and no one was translating. In one sense, what Francesca was saying did explain her actions over the last few hours. But in another sense, it was not believable. Maybe Francesca really was having some kind of severe breakdown with delusions and irrational behavior and everything. If so, Bernadette felt even worse about shoving Francesca into the street. It was like blaming her for the symptoms of her illness.

“Could you do this to anyone else?” asked Bernadette. “Undo things that you’d done to them?”

“No,” said Francesca. “Only you. That’s why we were such good friends. You were the only person I could stand to spend much time with.”

“Because you could hurt me and not suffer any consequences,” said Bernadette. She was trying to keep the state of Francesca’s reasoning abilities in mind, but it was hard not to note the cruelty of her delusion.

“Exactly,” said Francesca. “Hurt you, humiliate you, shock you.”

Bernadette spent a few moments trying not to fume. Then she said, “Francesca, earlier you said I’d never reacted like this before.”

“Yeah,” said Francesca. “You never have. Usually you just look stunned. Sometimes you cry. Or shout ‘WHYYYYY?’ in this really drawn out way. It depends on how long I let it go before I undo it. But this time you shoved me!” She held up her disgusting wrist and chuckled in disbelief.

Bernadette felt her stomach clench and she looked away. “So that’s what you think of me. That I won’t stand up for myself. That I’ll always just let myself be abused.”

“That’s not what I think,” said Francesca. “That’s how you are. Trust me, if anyone knows, it’s me. But you surprised me with the shove. Maybe it’s because you still remembered the drink-pour when I tripped you. Since I’ve always undone the mean things I’ve done to you, you’ve never remembered a previous one when I’ve done the next one. But this time you did. If the drink-pour hadn’t happened, I don’t think you would have shoved me after the trip. I think you would have just looked stunned or cried or shouted ‘WHYYYYY?’”

Bernadette couldn’t help but realize that there was truth to what Francesca was saying. It was the series of things Francesca had done to her that had pushed Bernadette over the edge: pouring the drink on her, not apologizing, tripping her, calling her annoying.

“Do you believe me?” asked Francesca.

“I can’t,” said Bernadette. “It’s too…out there.”

“Maybe it’s for the best,” said Francesca. “I’m already regretting telling you. Here’s Barney.”

The family SUV pulled up to the curb and Barney hopped out. “Yuck,” he said. “That looks terrible, Francesca. Does it hurt?”

               “Yes,” said Francesca. “A lot.”

               Bernadette rose to her feet and helped Francesca stand. Everyone got into the SUV and Barney drove them to the emergency room. On the way, Francesca called her husband Will and he met them at the hospital. Neither Bernadette nor Francesca told anyone what had actually happened. Francesca said she had tripped on a sandal that someone had left in the middle of the sidewalk, which Bernadette thought was a dumb lie, but no one questioned it. Francesca and Will insisted that there was no need to hang around the ER, that Francesca would be fine, that they would text an update when they got home. So Bernadette and Barney left, grabbing a quick Chinese food dinner on the way home. Bernadette did not share any of Francesca’s ravings with Barney.

               That night in bed, the bedroom illuminated by the numerals of three different digital clocks, Barney asked Bernadette if, before the accident, the walk had been good, if she and Francesca had cleared things up.

               “Yes and no,” said Bernadette. She had pulled the sheet and comforter up to just below her eyes. The palms of her hands still stung. In all the excitement over Francesca’s wrist, no one had noticed Bernadette’s minor wounds.

               “That’s good,” said Barney. “About the ‘yes’ part, I mean. Not as good about the ‘no’ part, obviously.” A minute later and he was softly snoring, the sound Bernadette always waited for to cue her own descent into sleep.


               Bernadette and Francesca were walking along the top of the Brip Dam in a giant western state. Their husbands were back in the gift shop hyping each other up to haggle over prices with the bored college student running the cash register during her summer break. Kiersten was with them, only ten years old at the time. The time which was now, right? Wasn’t this the present?

Bernadette ran her hand along the hot metal railing beyond which the face of the dam plunged hundreds of feet to the river below. She was talking to Francesca about the other time she’d been to the Brip Dam. She’d been a kid, probably younger than Kiersten, and her dad – Bernadette’s dad – had gotten them all lost on the way to the dam. All he’d needed to do was just follow the signs, but no, that was never good enough for him, he said the signs were misleading on purpose to guide people past shops and restaurants that had paid bribes to the sign-makers, and when Bernadette, probably younger than Kiersten at the time, certainly not older, had asked her dad if maybe the fault lay with the road-makers, if maybe they had made sure the road leading to the dam, for example, went past the shops and restaurants that had paid them bribes, and the sign-makers were just honestly conveying the true directions that had come about as the result of the road-makers’ corruption, when she had asked him that – not in those exact words, of course – Bernadette’s dad had flipped out and shouted at her for daring to question the integrity of road-makers, especially relative to the integrity of sign-makers, who had none, zero integrity.

Bernadette was just getting to the part of the story where the family had finally arrived at the dam two hours later than planned when Francesca drove her shoulder into Bernadette’s chest and slammed her against the railing. Before Bernadette could recover, Francesca had crouched, grabbed her around both calves, and stood, dumping Bernadette’s legs over the other side of the railing, the wrong side, the death side. Bystanders were screaming. Bernadette clung to the railing with both hands, she was dangling now, she’d never been good at pull-ups, but she only needed the strength for one, just enough to get her knee to the level of the handrail’s middle bar, but now Francesca was feverishly prying at her fingers, prying them loose, and once Bernadette’s left hand gave way, her right hand gave way immediately after, and as she plummeted she cried out, to her own shame, only one word, long and drawn out, a plaintive wail: “WHYYYYY?”

When she woke up, Bernadette saw that she had only been asleep for less than an hour. Barney snored still. The room was still mildly awash in clock-light. Bernadette sat up, her covers piling at her waist. That had not felt like a dream. That had felt like a memory. A forgotten memory, erased, or – no, not erased – an undone memory from the vacation her family had taken out west with Francesca’s family almost seven years ago. Every element had been correct: the place, the clothing, the weather, the specifics of the conversation. But Francesca had not pushed Bernadette over the handrail to her death. But what if, this dream – this memory – seemed to propose, she had?


At 8:00 in the morning, Bernadette got into her car and drove to Francesca’s house. She had not slept, she had not eaten breakfast. She had sat in the living room letting the hours crawl by until she knew Francesca would be awake. Then she had left, Barney sleeping, Kiersten sleeping, the whole house quiet as she closed the door behind her and locked it with the key.

When Bernadette pulled into Francesca’s driveway, she saw that Francesca was sitting in a rocking chair on her front porch. She had a glass of orange juice in her left hand, filled one sip from the brim.

“Good morning,” said Francesca as Bernadette approached her on the front walk. “Did you come to sign my cast?” She held up her right arm. It was encased in a purple cast. “Will thought purple was too juvenile, but I always wanted a purple cast when I was a kid but I never broke any bones. So now that I finally did, I didn’t want to miss my chance.”

Bernadette stopped at the base of the porch steps so that she and Francesca were nearly at eye level with each other. “What’s the worst thing you’ve done to me?” asked Bernadette.

               Francesca took a drink of her orange juice, but not a very long one. There was still a lot of juice left when the drink concluded. “This is about yesterday? What I said to you yesterday?”

               “What’s the worst thing?” asked Bernadette.

               “I suppose when I tripped you,” said Francesca. “But pouring the drink over you was pretty terrible, too. In front of all those people. I’m so sorry, Bernadette, I was having an episode. All day. I honestly don’t remember all of it, but I think I said some pretty strange things to you, and I’m sorry about that as well, I think I was trying to rationalize –”

               “Not yesterday!” said Bernadette. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to me? What’s the worst thing you’ve done to me and then undone because you were so sure I’d never know?”

               “What’s this about?” asked Francesca. “Is this about something I said to you yesterday? When we were sitting on the curb and I was just babbling to you? It’s so confused in my head, now, I can only recall bits and pieces…”

               “Seven years ago,” said Bernadette. “We went on a family trip together to the Brip Dam. Remember? You, Will, me, Barney, and Kiersten?”

               Francesca said nothing. A frosty expression had come over her face.

               “Do you remember that trip?” asked Bernadette. She would not be put off, diverted, denied.

               “I remember it,” said Francesca. “Of course I remember it. So much fun.” Her tone did not match her words.

               “Did you push me off of the dam and watch me fall to my death?” asked Bernadette.

               Francesca barked a laugh. “I don’t know, Bernadette, did I? Have you been dead for the last seven years?”

               “Did you push me to my death and then undo it?” asked Bernadette.

               “No,” said Francesca. “I cannot undo things, Bernadette. No one can. That’s impossible. You should know better than to listen to someone who’s been acting crazy all day and then starts talking even crazier because she’s in shock from a broken wrist.”

               “So you do remember what you told me,” said Bernadette.

               “Some of it,” said Francesca. “Bits and pieces. And it’s all nonsense. I thought you knew better than to believe it, though. You said you didn’t believe me. What changed? Are you having an episode now? Wow, I hope my craziness isn’t that contagious.”

               “It came back to me,” said Bernadette. “In my sleep. I remembered it all. I remembered what you did to me, Francesca, and it’s disgusting, horrible. Even knowing you could undo it, why would you want to see that? Why would you want to see me fall and scream and die?”

               “What you’re describing is a dream,” said Francesca. “A bad dream. Brought on by all of yesterday’s excitement. Me pouring a drink on you, tripping you, then the shove, my broken wrist, everything I said. That got into your head and cooked up an awful dream.”

               “It wasn’t just a dream,” said Bernadette. “It was a memory. An undone memory. Undone by you. I know the difference, I know what a dream feels like and it didn’t feel like that. You even got my scream right. Yesterday when you were describing my reactions. The long, drawn-out ‘WHYYYYY?’ That’s exactly how I screamed when you pushed me off of the dam. That’s the scream you were referencing yesterday.”

               “You’re getting this all backwards,” said Francesca. “If you screamed ‘WHYYYYY’ in your dream, it’s because I told you that yesterday and your brain used that in the dream.”

               “No,” said Bernadette. “No. You did it. I know you did it.”

               Francesca leaned forward in her chair. “Look, I know yesterday was a rough day. For me, for you, for us. But I don’t want it to come between us. I want it to be a day we can look back on and laugh. I want to be friends again, Bernadette. I want everything that happened yesterday to make us even closer because we went through it together.”

               Bernadette took one step back from the porch, then another. “It’s working again, isn’t it? That’s why you want to be friends again? It came back.”

               “What did?” asked Francesca. “What do you mean?”

               “How many times during this conversation have you thrown that orange juice in my face?” asked Bernadette. She paused. “Did you do it again just now? Are my reactions even more amusing now that I know what’s going on?”

               “Bernadette,” said Francesca, her face abruptly oozing sympathy. “When I’m in my right mind, I would never do something like that to you. Even if I could undo it. I would never want to see you suffer.” A hint of a smile played on her lips, though, just the faintest suggestion of one, a phantom of a smile, a whisper of a smile, a whiff of a smile. And that was all it took.


               At home, Bernadette found Barney at the kitchen table eating his way through a small pile of powdered doughnuts. She plopped down in the chair opposite her husband. She closed her eyes, then opened them again. She closed her eyes, then opened them again. Closed, then opened. Closed. Then opened.

               “What are you doing?” asked Barney. A puff of powdered sugar came out of his mouth like a heavy breath in cold weather.

               “Shh,” said Bernadette. “I can fix it.” She’d been trying the whole way home. It had interfered with her driving. But she couldn’t stay there on Francesca’s lawn, of course. She couldn’t stay at the scene, just waiting to be caught.

How would she know when it worked? She would feel it, surely.

Eyes closed, eyes opened.

            Closed, then opened.

Discussion Questions

  • Who do you think is more corrupt: sign-makers or road-makers?

  • If your best friend pushed you off a dam, what one word would you choose to cry on the way down?

  • Should I have made it clearer that “Delicafé” is the word “delicate” with one letter changed and an accent over the “e” and also a compound word made up of the words “deli” and “café?”

  • Whose head would you pour a drink over first if you could just see what happened, then undo it? Who is the first person you would trip? Who would you first push off of a dam?

  • Would you accept the knowledge that someone was abusing a theoretical version of yourself as a worthwhile cost of that same person being a good friend to you in actuality? Or would you flip out?