Literary Orphans

The Pursuit of Happiness by Kate Hodges

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No one liked Henry. Wait that wasn’t true-Heather loved Henry. Heather’s friends didn’t.

 

Henry has an accent that would make James Bond jealous.

 

Henry calls her mad as a term of endearment.

 

Henry is leaving her for real. He’s been leaving her since she said hello. She pledged allegiance in his bed, her loyalty to his crown. He locks the bedroom door, protecting her from danger outside, and causing convulsions within. There is not an American who loves a union with Britain more than she does.

She met him on her first day in the UK. He knocked on her door and invited her upstairs for a drink. His accent excites her and begins to cause a domestic insurrection. She begins to question America’s place in the world, becomes Anti-Guns, Pro-National Healthcare. He makes her roast beef for dinner and takes her to a rugby game. They talk politics. They discuss the stock price of oil. She claims a spot in every queue. She gives up coffee and takes up tea.

They live an upstairs-downstairs life. They share custody of a mop. He trusts her with the large “cheffing” knife. They square off playing monopoly, where he calls her a capitalist when she makes him bankrupt. Enemies at war, in peace friends.

Heather wakes up and checks her phone, desperate for any scrap of news. Her spirit plummets. No red alerts to let her know that he’s thinking of her. She can’t help clicking on his Facebook page. Henry and Chloe are now friends. Is Chloe single? She goes to Chloe’s page. It’s private. Damn.

Back to his page then. There are pictures from the party last night. He wore his black sweater out. No-his jumper. (He taught her to speak British in the bedroom. The first lesson started as he undressed her, beginning with her jumper and ending at her knickers.) It’s her favourite jumper. There’s something about it that enhances every arm muscle. It makes his hair look like even more like copper. It makes his eyes a deeper blue. It’s a great jumper! It’s the jumper he wore the first time he bought her a drink.

She takes a closer look at the next picture. Is that lipstick on Henry’s cheek? She tries and fails to bite back jealousy as she sees that Gemma’s body is strewn across every inch of Henry (and her favourite jumper) in the photo. She’s not sure what’s worse, looking at Gemma look at Henry the way she looks at him herself, or looking at Henry checking out Poppy, a tiny doll, with porcelain skin in a very short gold dress (in the third photo). She already hates her. Them. She already hates them. Yet she can’t blame him for this treason, this intolerable act.

Last night was Henry’s birthday party-the one she wasn’t invited to. She cried herself to sleep, listening to the laughter above. Each lilting tingle compressed her lungs until she collapsed. It’s not his fault. He doesn’t understand her feelings. She tries to understand why she isn’t a friend, but this dismemberment by the British Empire is stunningly cruel. She can’t explain away this brutal kick in the heart. She goes back and finds Gemma’s breezy happy birthday message. “Hey Hun, can’t wait to see you, and hug you. I’ll be there soon. Happy Birthday!!!!!” On every message, Henry posted a thank you and a happy face. Gemma has three happy faces and two exclamation marks. Poppy has two happy faces, but three exclamation marks. She tries to work out which woman is the greater threat while trying not to notice that she only has one exclamation mark and no happy faces. He slowly eats out her substance, taking more and more of her as he backs away.  Will her heart ever learn to speak metric?

Heather scours the Internet and finds an article about oil stock prices rising. Surely, he needs to know that he’ll be rich by lunchtime! Let these facts be submitted to a candid world! She dashes off the message.

She gets ready go for a run – pauses at his bottle of sunscreen. (She can’t bring herself to return it yet.) She found her own bottle weeks ago. She can start the day with his smell on her skin. Or her own. He loves me. He loves me not. He likes me. He likes me not.

Heather looks through the spyhole and waits for him to come down the stairs before walking out her door. She imagines him carrying her over the threshold. Everyday, she gives him her life, fortune, and sacred honour.  She cooks him dinner. She remembers his favourite things, bearing witness to his life. She saves her pounds sterling to buy him “Happy Tuesday” presents. These acts of pretended legislation. Are they friends? More or less?

His good morning is wary. Is he tired of her or just tired? She has been plundered, ravaged, burnt, and destroyed. But she wants him back to do it again.

Yesterday, before the party started, he cleared off the top of his refrigerator and returned her red bowls. He sent the blue tea towel back downstairs. He is erasing her from his map, extraditing her from his flat. Is he abdicating?

As she stretches, she imagines that her mind is a free and independent state (how her friends think it ought to be). But she lives in a dream world of a more perfect union. Her phone chirps. She has a new message from Henry. “Thank you for the cinnamon buns! They are really, really good. Cheers!” A wide grin spreads across Heather’s face. He’s remembered how much she loves to hear the word “cheers.” He didn’t have to say that! He could have left it at thank you.

After her run, she needs to swing by Tesco.  She ticks off her list. Bleach from the cleaning supply aisle, then over to cosmetics for pure acetone (with the nail polish remover). She needs to grab a bag of ice before leaving the store. She can’t forget the ice! Chloroform must be chilled to avoid any accidents. She is going to make Henry a birthday cake.

Heather opens her locket and strokes his ginger hair. The strands were collected slowly, one by one, picked off a jumper, raised from a pillow, rescued from the floor, each one carefully preserved.

She continues to warm up and hits play on her IPod. She marvels at the degrees of separation that link her to Henry, to Prince Harry, to King George III as Guster starts to sing, “This Could all be Yours Someday….”

 

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Kate Hodges is a teacher turned writer. She has traded the Middle School Science Lab for the Uni Library. She is studying in Scotland. Growing up, she dreamed of being Ramona Quimby, Dawn Schafer, and Sarah, Plain and Tall. She still believes that you can a lot about person based on their favourite Wakefield Twin. She has fallen in deep like with Heathcliff, Laurie, and Moriarty. She has fallen in deep love with Gilbert Blythe. You can follow her on twitter @kateyfacewrites

kate hodges photo

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–Art by Kaia Pieters