Real Life

By John F Duffy

The buzzing was overwhelming.  An avalanche of noise that muted the usual din of cars and air conditioners.  The seventeen-year cicada brood was big news in a very midwestern way.  Journalists interviewed entomologists to talk about cicada life cycles and to offer interesting trivia about the orange legged, red eyed creatures that felt like a rubber ball when they bounced off the side of your head.  Cicadas, according to the papers, spend most of their short lives underground, and when they finally surface, they mate, lay eggs, and then die, all within a handful of weeks.  Their mating call is so loud that the males turn off their own ears so as not to deafen themselves while seeking a partner.  Dragging her rolling suitcase behind her, Sarah waved her hands at the air to deter the hefty insects from flying into her face.  She was walking faster than usual as she rounded the corner onto Noyes Street, where she climbed the stairs to the Purple Line El stop.

 Alan had offered to drive her to the airport, but Sarah told him not to bother.  She deflected his kindness with fraudulent decency.  “I don’t want you to waste your time stuck in traffic there and back. Besides, the train is faster, especially during rush hour.”  She had smiled as she said these things knowing that she was lying, knowing that she was eager to start her trip and fearing that a long car ride to O’Hare with her fiancé would just delay the moment she was desperately looking forward to.  The moment when she would be alone.  Once she was a single unit, a person only concerned with her own needs, her own wants, no matter how miniscule or selfish, then she could relax.  Funerals might not be a common cause for relief, but ever since Whitney died, Sarah had been looking forward to going home.

 Waiting in the terminal with a paper coffee cup in one hand, Sarah held her phone with the other.  Whitney’s Facebook page was blowing up with comments expressing surprise and grief at her passing.  She was so young, she was so undeserving, it was such a tragedy, and even a host of statements suggesting that Whitney was now with a God her real friends should have known she didn’t believe in.

 Sarah’s thumb flicked the glass phone screen, then flicked it again.  All she wanted to know was if her briefest of high school boyfriends was going to be at the funeral.  Ever since getting word about the car accident, Sarah had imagined how she would approach the man who took her virginity if she were to see him again.  For the last three days she had silently practiced what she would say not only to Blake, but to all of the people who had filled her days so many years ago.  With as few words as possible and in the most bland of tones, she would tell them all about her life in Evanston and her job at the university.  Brevity would invite intrigue, and her old friends would all be left believing that Sarah’s life was far more interesting than it actually was.  Why she needed them to think this, she wasn’t sure.  Why she so often wondered about where Blake’s life had taken him, she also couldn’t explain.  Sarah did know one thing for sure; if it had been her who had gotten ripped in half by a FedEx truck, Whitney wouldn’t have sat around crying about it.  When she touched down in Chicago to go to Sarah’s funeral, Whitney would have exited the jetway in open toed shoes with a manicure and her blonde hair perfectly blown out, ready to cruise the airport bars for the hottest guy without a ring on his finger.  

 Though the service was going to be in Millard, Sarah stayed at a hotel in downtown Omaha.  Tonight, Whitney’s parents were having a gathering at their house for relatives and friends.  Sarah figured she would go to be polite and cross her fingers that Blake would make an appearance.  If he didn’t and she was bored to tears, she could always make her way back downtown for a drink.

 After showering and towel drying her chin length brown hair, Sarah stepped into a short black skirt and reached behind her back to drag up the zipper.  In the floor to ceiling mirror, she observed herself from all angles before settling on a T-Shirt that revealed one of her shoulders and a pair of black Doc Marten’s. Standing up straight, she proudly looked at her trim profile.  While fixing an out of place strand of hair that no one else in the world would have noticed, she wondered if her look was too casual, but decided to go with it because it was in line with how everyone would remember her.  Before leaving, she grabbed her phone and ‘checked-in’ at her location, hoping to subtly announce that she was back in town.

 Driving the I-80 to Whitney’s parents’ house, Sarah was subsumed by nostalgia.  She smiled as the projector behind her eyes cast her teenage life onto the landscape all around her.  In pale colors she saw the city as it existed at the turn of the millennium, complete with Whitney at seventeen, riding shotgun in a Pedro the Lion T-Shirt, taking long drags from a brown clove cigarette that Sarah could taste on the sides of her tongue.  Sarah sang loudly to Braid’s Hugs from Boys as her rental car took the exit ramp a little too quickly.  She was fully permitting herself to travel through time, to ignore the two decades that stood like a chasm between who she was, and who she long ago thought she would grow up to be.  Like an end times cataclysm, old music that no one remembered, and the imagined laughter of her dead best friend slammed that chasm shut, and now Sarah was deftly stepping over the hairline crack in the Earth that remained, banishing Alan, her apartment, her career, and everything else she woke up every day to bring into being.  She encased all of it in glass and left it on a shelf one thousand miles away, and as she pulled into the suburb where she grew up, her heart warned that she may never want to pick it up again.  


Knick-knacks filled every end table and shelf in Whitney’s parent’s house.  Impeccably dusted Hummels watched over Whitney’s father as he sat watching SportsCenter.  

“Sarah!” Whitney’s father said, pushing himself to his feet, his tan recliner clanging and clanking beneath him.  The chair had a permanent ass shaped depression kneaded into it by the man’s ever-expanding carriage, and looking around the family room, Sarah noted that his increase in size and the switch to a flatscreen TV were the only visible signs that time had passed in this home.

“How are you?”

“I’m well, Mr. Beck, all things considered.  How are you holding up?”  Sarah and Whitney’s father joined for a nearly imperceptible hug.

 “Oh, you know.  It’s hard.  Cathy is taking it especially bad.”

 “I can’t imagine.”  The kitchen was bustling with voices.  “Is she in there?”

 “Yeah, most everyone is out back.  Cathy is in the kitchen with Whitney’s aunts getting the food ready.”

 Sarah passed through the short hallway to the kitchen where Whitney’s pear-shaped mother and aunts were all busy bumping into and reaching past each other as they pulled casserole pans from the oven, chopped carrots, and poured whole bags of corn chips into floral print bowls.

 “Mrs. Beck,” Sarah said, announcing herself as she stepped onto the linoleum floor.  Whitney’s mother turned, and her eyes brightened.  

“Sarah!  Oh my God, come here sweetie,” she said with a booming smile and wide-open bosom. Sarah had known Whitney’s family since she was eleven years old, and as the plump, rosy cheeked woman pulled Sarah’s taut, spin-class frame into her doughy mass, the old woman’s eyes began to glaze with tears.  “Oh, my girl.  Thank you so much for coming!”  Mrs. Beck released Sarah just enough to be able to stare into her face, while still gripping her shoulders.  “It means so much to me, and I know it means a lot to Whitney.”

“Of course, I came.  I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” Sarah said as Mrs. Beck hugged her again, squeezing the wind out of her.  

 “I know you two grew apart a bit after college, but Whitney still thought of you as her best friend.  You brought so much joy into her life.  She was so excited to be your maid of honor next year, and…”  Mrs. Beck couldn’t finish her sentence.  She stepped back, gripping each of Sarah’s hands.  Sadness overtook the woman, and she began near convulsing.  Her face turning purple, Mrs. Beck threw her head back and wailed out, “Oh God!  Oh, God, oh God!”

 Whitney’s trio of aunts were frozen behind Mrs. Beck, the oldest and grayest of the three still squirting ranch dressing from a plastic bottle onto a platter.  Sarah was locked to Mrs. Beck who clamped her hands fast and poured forth her sorrow to a yellow water stain on the kitchen ceiling as if it had some connection to the divine merely because it existed in the space between the old woman’s head and infinity.  

“Why’d you take my girl?!  Why? Why? Why?”  Whitney’s mom was whipping Sarah’s arms like the reins of a racehorse with every “Why,” and Sarah, desperate to find a polite exit, was relieved to see Mr. Beck lumbering into the kitchen to take hold of his grieving wife.

 “It’s OK honey.  It’s OK.”  Ranch dressing farted its last onto a Disney print vegetable tray behind the distraught woman.  

  “Do you want me to take that outside?” Sarah asked a curly haired aunt.

  The backyard had twenty or so people gathered in small clusters of four or five.  Sarah dropped the plate of vegetables onto a glass picnic table and scanned the attendees.  There was an obvious demarcation between the mostly older family members and the younger, more sharply dressed friends, most of whom Whitney had met in college or after.  Sarah did see one woman she knew from high school named Dylan, so she moved towards her and the pack of young thirty-somethings she was standing with.  Sarah said nothing as she breached their circle, only laying a gentle hand on Dylan’s shoulder.  

    “Oh my God, Sarah!”  Dylan pulled her chest to Sarah’s, lifting her chin.  “How are you?” 

   “I’m fine.  Sad, obviously, but I’ll be OK.”

  “You guys,” Dylan said, turning to the group patiently observing the introduction.  “This is Sarah,” Whitney’s best friend from back in high school.”

  Not bad, Dylan, Sarah thought, as Dylan introduced her handsome, well-dressed husband.  Then there were Jim and Jenny, or John and Jenny, or whatever.  Both had “J” names that Sarah immediately forgot, and both worked with Whitney at the insurance company.  “I heard you were getting married, and that Whitney was going to be your maid of honor?”  Dylan said.


  “That is so, effing, sad,” Dylan offered, with her hand over her heart.

 Sarah stood and made small talk with the group, frequently looking away to the sliding door that led back into the house.  The first glass of drug store cabernet went down quickly.  Sarah split time listening to tiny conversations and looking at her phone.  During her second glass of wine, the sun began to fall behind the cluster of houses to the west, and Sarah ceded the event to Whitney’s older relatives and distant cousins who sat listening to stories about a relation they knew mostly from toothless elementary school photos and horrendously sweatered Christmas cards.  To them, Whitney was a fifth grader with high bangs and braces.  Mrs. Beck was at the center of them all, seesawing between laughter and tears as her husband clasped her hand.  Supportive aunts nodded at the tales they didn’t remember, or maybe never knew, in between bites of boxed coffee cake.  

 While draining the last drops of Malbec from her glass, Sarah told the group of reminiscing elders a story about being on the volleyball team with Whitney when they won state their junior year.  It was her way of tithing the pot.  Though the story didn’t capture the truth of who Whitney really was after editing the best, but most scandalous plot points out, Sarah saw the Beck’s both smiling, and she realized that the truth didn’t much matter.  These were people who needed to cope and to move on with what life they had left, and the truth would only hold them back.  They had a narrative of who their daughter was, of the parents that they had been, and keeping that narrative intact was essential for the Beck’s who were coasting towards their own fast approaching deaths.  So, Sarah withheld uncomfortable details as she told her story, and kept her telling in line with what the Becks already decided that they knew.  Sarah had her Whitney, there was no reason that the Becks couldn’t have theirs.  

 Showing excellent judgment, Dylan left early.  There was no way Sarah was going to suggest getting a drink with Jerry and Jessie, or whatever their names were.  She knew for a fact that Whitney must have thought these two were a galactic bore, and agreeing with her dead friend’s assessment, she yawned and lied, telling everyone that she was tired from traveling and that she needed to head back to her hotel for sleep. 

 Once downtown, Sarah sat at the bar of the Wicked Rabbit and drank a vodka martini.  She sipped it slowly, searching Facebook and Instagram for random people she knew from Omaha.  Classmates and coworkers with last names she fought to remember.  The bar was full of people, and Sarah made sure she looked very single as she played with her phone, but after her second drink she still hadn’t been approached by anyone.  Alan called twice, and twice Sarah silenced her ringing phone.  She planned to later lie and tell him that she got roped into staying at the Beck’s longer than expected.  Pulling an olive from a tiny plastic sword with her teeth, she looked up.  There was a mirror lurking behind the liquor bottles directly across from her.  Locking eyes with herself, Sarah wondered what the hell was wrong with her.  The vodka allowed her cynical inner voice a chance to speak, and it asked her why on Earth she was so desperate – not to see – but to be seen – by people she once knew, people connected to her by nothing more than the flimsiest accident of geographical proximity at birth, people who the passage of time had effectively rendered into strangers.  What did she think would happen if their particular sets of eyes passed over her?  Did she want the very average boys she once knew, who had since grown into spectacularly unimpressive men, to look upon her and to lust?  To question their own life choices?  To quietly scold themselves as fools for not having seen her potential so many years ago when she was an awkward alt girl whose great personality they never made an effort to know, and whose body would hold out much longer than those of all the popular girls they’d paid more attention to?  Why would it thrill her if this particular set of men, who she knew in name only, whose faces had grown weary and sad, agonized over her, if only for one night?  

 Between the necks of the glowing green gin bottles, Sarah squinted at her own sapphire eyes, cold with judgment.  On the bar next to her empty stem glass, Sarah’s phone began to vibrate.  She silenced it, stuffed it into her clutch, and gave a nasty look to the Sarah who was staring back at her from the mirror.



Your best friend’s funeral isn’t supposed to be the highlight of your summer social calendar, but Whitney was far too dead to be offended.  Sarah would certainly have preferred that it was a lesser friend who bled to death on the 480 loop, because Whitney would have made a fantastic companion this weekend.  Had they gotten to attend someone else’s funeral together, Sarah knew that she and Whitney, failing to lend the situation the gravity it demanded, would have been on the receiving end of many quick glances that would forever exist for them as a source of laughter.  But Whitney did die, and Sarah was on her own.  Leaning close to her bathroom mirror, Sarah carefully applied a heavy layer of bright red lipstick.

 On the expressway, Sarah listened to Mineral’s Five, Eight and Ten.  There was a voice in her head that tried to call her out, to make her feel silly for listening to twenty-year-old albums, but in the bright light of morning, that voice had no power.  Sarah turned up the volume and painted the world with the same panicked guitars that she and Whitney had screamed along to in their youth.  She was in it now, fully embracing her desire to play at being young again.  Fuck it, it felt good.  It felt right.  Was it really any more embarrassing to listen to her favorite records from high school and to hope to run into an ex-boyfriend, than it was to slouch forward through life towards an ever more dull, more overweight and under-inspired future like most people did?  And who was judging anyway?  Just the little voices in the back of her own head, and they could all just shut the fuck up as far as Sarah was concerned.  She wanted a cigarette and stopped at a gas station to buy a pack despite the fact that she was running late.

The funeral home in Millard was textbook.  Diffuse light restrained by gossamer curtains, buoyant salmon colored carpet, air conditioning cold enough to render embalming fluid unnecessary for those interred.  Mr. and Mrs. Beck were standing at the front of the large parlor room in their department store formal wear.  Brass rimmed chairs were occupied by black clad family and friends.  Whitney’s casket was open from the torso up, and a short line of people was making its way forward to offer condolences to Whitney’s mother and father, and to take their turns silently hovering over Whitney’s wax dummy corpse.

Sarah took her place at the rear of the line, her hands folded in front of her stomach, her back straight.  She looked side to side as she made her way to the casket.  When she saw a face she recognized in the crowd, she would offer a very faint, lips-only smile, enough to say, “Hello, I see you,” without robbing the room of the grief that everyone was working to collectively manifest.  

Amongst the strangers were thirty or so people from her graduating class.  A few had barely aged, but the rest looked as though they had done the excess aging for them.  Men were balder, with thicker necks.  Women were wider, with more lines on their faces.  Sarah absorbed their short nods and subtle waves like flashes from paparazzi cameras as if she was walking a red carpet.  Her dress selection was perfect.  From a few feet away, anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Sarah wore nothing but a layer of black satin paint.  She reveled in knowing that she was the best-looking woman in the room, that she had kept it together, that she not only hadn’t gained weight since she was seventeen, but that her figure was even more firm and toned than it was back then.  She didn’t decline, but improved, and she loved that the men whose wives were still carrying pregnancy weight were noticing. 

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Sarah said to Mrs. Beck, who was clutching a crumpled wad of tissue.  Mrs. Beck leaned in and embraced Sarah, saying, “No, it’s all of our loss.  But God called her home.”

Sarah nodded solemnly to Mrs. Beck and turned on her black suede heels towards the polished mahogany box.  Looking down on her dead friend, Sarah wondered if Whitney’s legs were there in the bottom of the box, and if so, whether any effort had been made to reattach them.  

Your make up looks like shit, she said silently to her friend.  And your face looks kind of smashed.

Gravity yanked all my face skin down and it hardened this way, what do you expect?

Sarah smiled at Whitney’s unspoken retort.  Who picked lavender eye shadow for you?

Ugh! Is that what I’m wearing? Dammit mom!

Well, now you get to look like a hoochie for eternity.

I got painted by a mortician, what’s your excuse?

Tears began to fall down Sarah’s cheeks.  Their years apart were a mistake.  Their belief that there would always be more time, that keeping up over text and Facebook was enough, it was so foolish.  Sarah found herself audibly crying, and her hand flew to her bright red mouth to keep the sound in.  She hadn’t expected this.  She hadn’t imagined crying in this moment.  As Mr. Beck came to escort her to a chair, Sarah caught hold of her choking breath.  Once seated, she dabbed at her wet eyes and wondered who she was actually crying for.

A pastor spoke.  Whitney’s father spoke.  Whitney’s college roommate read a poem and the veggie platter aunt led the room in a prayer.  And that was it.  It was over.  Across the foyer was a dining hall with several long folding tables that absorbed the shuffling guests.  Steel coffee carafes, one with a black lid and the other orange, stood as sentinels on a ghastly yellow countertop.  Several cakes, all of them store bought, waited to be devoured next to a stack of paper plates and plastic forks. 

The guests who didn’t find their way into the dining hall littered the parking lot, sucking on vapes and hunching over their phones.  Sitting amongst her former classmates, Sarah sipped black coffee from a Styrofoam cup.  Many of these people still lived in Omaha, and it was the few like Sarah who made it out and established a life elsewhere, it was these individuals who had something to report, who had to be caught up with, who may just have returned from the wider world with some insight not available to those who had shamefully continued living their lives where they had begun living their lives.  But it was bullshit, and though Sarah knew it, she pretended she didn’t when it was her turn to tell the group what she had been doing all these years.  

“It’s no big deal,” she said of her position at Northwestern University.  She spoke this line as if behind her humility, maybe there was a big deal, some mystery that should be scratched at with further inquiry.  Sarah was deferential.  She asked all the right questions and made every effort to appear interested in the lives of the rest of the group, with special attention paid to those whose existence was so obviously the most mundane, those whose last seventeen years were the most aimlessly shambled across.  Muted envy was palpable, and it warmed her.  Tiffany Schwartz, a girl that was never anything more to Sarah than just another kid in the hallway, a blonde girl in sophomore English, a black and white postage stamp in the yearbook, she hated Sarah right now, she hated that she was elegant and educated and probably highly paid, and that she was pretending that she was none of these things.  She hated how by Sarah’s pretending that she didn’t possess them, that all of her qualities were on full display.  Sarah felt Tiffany’s bitterness, and she gathered it up inside of her, folding it like a cardigan she was saving for a cold winter day.  Around the table there was adoration, lust, and even genuine glee for Sarah, and she wanted all of it despite judging herself for the wanting.  I’m such shit, she thought to herself.  Then Blake stepped into the room, and her heart was a kick drum.

“Hey everyone.”

“Blake!” came the chorus.  

Sarah didn’t react as men rose from their seats to shake Blake’s hand, and to do that thing where guys use the handshake to pull each other into a one-armed hug.  Not wanting to stare, Sarah only nipped at Blake’s visage like a child stealing a few candies at a time until they have eaten the whole dish.  His black hair was held askew by product.  His beard was full but well-trimmed and seasoned with silver strands.  Blake’s black suit was not expensive, but it was a good cut, and it hugged his frame expertly.  Tattoos on the backs of his hands added to his quality.  Though he didn’t look outwardly muscular, he had filled out, and Sarah generally approved of his appearance.  The men who had been greeting Blake returned to their chairs, and Sarah finally turned her head to truly look at him, forcing him to meet her eyes.

“Oh my God, Sarah, you came!”  Blake stepped to where she was seated, and deftly, Sarah pushed her orange vinyl chair backwards, and rose.  She stood erect in her heels making sure every curve screamed at him from above and behind her flat stomach.  Opening her arms, she grasped him as intimately as she thought he could get away with in front of so many sets of eyes.  He said, “It’s so great to see you!  I didn’t think you’d show up.” 

It was plain to everyone watching the interaction that these two people were going to fuck, even to those who knew and enjoyed Blake’s girlfriend Candace, and especially to those who listened carefully when Sarah bragged about her fiancé, Alan.  What they didn’t know was how quickly it would happen.  It took less than an hour for Sarah to excuse herself to the restroom, for Blake to tell the group that he had to step out to make a call, for Sarah to peek out of the bathroom door to make sure no one was looking, and for Blake to close that door behind himself.  In the dining hall, Sarah’s classmates continued to talk about the old days, stabbing their forks into artificially moist, artificially yellow cake, while Blake lifted Sarah by her trim waist and set her down on the edge of the sink.  Her eyes were wide, staring past Blake’s ear, the sweet tobacco smell of his pomade drawn deep into her throat by her muffled gasps.  The last time Blake was inside her she was sixteen and terrified.  She hadn’t expected to have sex that night on the trampoline behind Carolyn Bartlett’s house, and though she was eager to get past her first time, teenage Sarah was convinced that she made every wrong move, including having thrown her bloody underwear away in the kitchen trash can after not so subtly rejoining the party.  Tonight, she wasn’t wearing underwear, and she was on birth control, and she was doing everything right, rolling her hips in time, holding her mouth just agape, and making eye contact as she whispered, “Your cock is sooooo big.” 

Blake came in less than three minutes.  Resting his forehead on her shoulder, he exhaled deeply.  Sarah waited, hoping he hadn’t finished, hoping that he was changing his tempo, when he groaned, “Fuuuck, that was good.”  He chuckled, and added, “I have thought about doing that again for a very long time.”  Before he pulled out, Sarah tried to kiss him, hoping to reignite his interest and to keep the moment alive, but Blake turned his head to the side, only allowing her lips to glance off of his.  “We should get back,” he said.

And then she was alone again, sitting on the toilet to drain what Blake had left behind.  She washed her hands and fixed her lipstick.  Into the mirror she asked, “Was it good for you?”

Whitney was alone, too.  The room in which she lay dead was empty of mourners when Sarah returned to walk down the aisle between now vacant chairs.  She stopped at the side of the casket.

“I just fucked Blake Lewis in the bathroom.”

Whitney didn’t respond.

“It wasn’t much better than last time.”

Whitney didn’t respond.

“I don’t know what I expected, coming here.  I just feel like…” Sarah paused to find the right words, then continued, “Like since we graduated, there was a big bang and everything just started expanding away from me in every direction, and I felt that if I didn’t move too, faster and further than everyone else, that I would be left…floating.”

Whitney didn’t respond.

“When we were in high school, I assumed everyone felt like I did, that the lives we were being primed for were bullshit.  That waking up every day to drive to some job that we hated so we could get a mortgage to buy a house in a suburb that was just as boring as the one we came from, I thought we all knew that it was a lie.  A trap.  And I thought that that was what all the music, and the drinking, and partying, and wanting to get tattooed and to dye our hair pink was all about.  I thought the rebellion was real, that none of us wanted to be our goddamn parents!  I thought we had all seen how they chose to live and that we saw the results – their misery, their stress, their demoralizing acceptance of life on a couch, and I thought that we were all saying, ‘Fuck that!’”  

Sarah recognized that she was raising her voice, so she looked behind her to make sure the room was still empty.  Seeing that it was, she returned to her dead friend, and sighed.  “Maybe there is no escape, no path that actually leads to a life that would feel like more than a shuffled deck of workdays and weekends, meetings and grocery runs, but I thought that the burning need that I felt way down deep in the basement of my soul, to look it all in the face and to say, ‘No!’ I thought we all shared that.  I thought we were alive, and that no matter what, we would be different.  Maybe not all of us, but people like you and me, who had felt a taste of what life could be on so many crazy nights.  I thought that you and I at least, that we were something special.”  Sarah had been gesturing to no one, and finally she rested her hands on the rim of the casket and brought her eyes down from the ceiling to which she had been appealing her case and looked hard at Whitney’s petrified face.  “Do you remember when we drove to Lincoln to see Jimmy Eat World before anyone knew who they were, and my car got towed, and we went to that weird after party and had to walk around taking donations so we could afford to get it out of impound, and when we finally did, it was like four in the morning, and even though we knew we were in total deep shit, we said fuck it, and stopped for French toast before driving back to Omaha?  That was the best night of my life.” 

Whitney didn’t respond.


Sarah texted Alan that night before falling asleep on one side of her king-sized bed, telling him that it had been a long day and that she would see him tomorrow.  The next morning while waiting for her flight to board, she listened to Rainer Maria’s Ears Ring while scrolling through photos people had posted to their Facebook and Instagram profiles from outside Whitney’s funeral.  They all justified this vanity by captioning the pictures with some words of tribute to Whitney.  Sarah swiped her index finger up the face of her phone, clicking her way through a series of options until she found what she was looking for.  A link that read, Delete Account.

 Back in Evanston, Sarah clung to the silver bar that kept her upright against the heaving and jostling of the Purple Line train.  She decided not to tell Alan about Blake.  Not yet anyway.  She was numb to herself.  No choice seemed obviously right or obviously wrong.  Should she go forward with the wedding?  Could she?  Was it terrible that she felt that either path forward was just as good as the other?  That she felt entirely indifferent to all of the decisions before her, and that this worried her more than the decisions themselves?  As all of these thoughts and questions passed through her mind, an electronic voice was calling out train stops from a speaker.  Sarah snapped back into the present as the voice declared, “This, is Noyes.”  The double doors of the train car parted, and Sarah stepped out into the world.

 On the sidewalk, dying cicadas inched along while the already dead curled their limbs towards the blue sky where their brethren zipped through the air on their way to mates and meals, to trees where they screamed in a mighty chorus and laid millions of eggs, before scattering at the sight of birds who ripped their tender bodies clean in half, leaving only their exoskeletons to float back to the Earth like brittle autumn leaves.  It was a seventeen-year-brood.  In a few more weeks they would be forgotten, and the hum of passing cars and air conditioners would be the only sound.

About the Author: John F Duffy is originally from Chicago, but currently lives in the backwoods of southern Indiana.  His debut novel, ‘A Ballroom for Ghost Dancing,’ will be available in the autumn of 2022.