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The Literary Girlfriend: A Conversation Between Two Women That Has Nothing To Do With Men Or Relationships

December 7, 2013

Emma and Literary Girlfriend

It’s not often a man gets to hear two or more women talking when they don’t know they’re being listened to.  I don’t mean eavesdropping in a public place like a restaurant or library.  I’m talking about overhearing a conversation that is meant to be completely private, a conversation where nobody else was supposed to be around.  This has only happened once in my life (I think), and it happened with Danielle.

Danielle had a big bruise on her head from where Vin had punched her, but she flipped her hair over it, so hardly anybody saw it, and even when she danced crazy at Nero’s, the lighting was so bad (and men weren’t staring at her forehead) that nobody noticed it.  We didn’t talk about it much after our discussion in the car.  I was still trying to convince Danielle to come up to meet my family for Christmas.  Even though she was reluctant, I think I was getting close to convincing her.  At least I hoped so.  I had already bought the airplane tickets.

I came home from work at lunch one day.  I wasn’t feeling well, and I called and left a message (this was in the early 1990s before cell phones; we had to use land lines and answering machines, and some people still didn’t have answering machines, so we’d let the phone ring and ring and ring), but Danielle never picked up.  And when I got home, she wasn’t there.  I figured she was at the gym or at a movie.  I was pretty sure she wasn’t at the library or bookstore.

Once I was sure she wasn’t home, I fell asleep on the bed.  I didn’t even bother eating lunch.  I was dozing in and out with a bunch of weird half-dreams that I couldn’t remember afterwards when I heard the door to the apartment open and Danielle’s voice, which sounded distant and conversational.  She wasn’t talking to me from the living room, and it was weird that she was speaking because I’d rarely heard Danielle talk to herself (unless she was randomly cursing).  For a moment, I wondered if a guy was with her.

But then I heard a familiar female voice, but I couldn’t make out the words and I couldn’t place the voice.  After listening more closely (and waking up a little more), I figured it out.

Linda, Kirk’s ex-girlfriend.  They had broken up after Halloween because she wouldn’t spend the night with him.  As Danielle and Linda talked in vague distant voices, I heard occasional words, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.  I thought about calling out to them, just to let them know I was there.  I knew that was the right thing to do.

Instead, I propped myself up and began listening more closely.

“Which one do you think?” Linda asked.

“Take Emma,” Danielle said.  “I think I’m tired of Jane Austen.”  Pause.  “Here’s Jane Eyre.  But it’s not written by Jane Austen, so I think… I’ll read this next.  Do people get Jane Austen confused with Jane Eyre?”

“I don’t like book titles where it’s only the character’s name,” Linda said.  “That doesn’t tell us much.”

“I know,” Danielle said.  “Who the hell is Emma anyway?  At least Jane Eyre has a last name.”

“If anybody writes a book about me, I hope it’s not called Linda.  My name is boring.”

“Why don’t you go by Lynn?”

“I don’t know.  A one syllable name?  That’s even more boring.”

“My name is really Daniella, but… people kept leaving out the ‘a,’… so I just said ‘fuck it.’ And now I’m Danielle.”

What?  I didn’t know that.  But then again, Danielle (or Daniella) could have been lying.  Danielle lied a lot, but I couldn’t complain about that because I supported a lot of her lies (and plus I was eavesdropping when I should have let them know I was there).  I wasn’t sure why she’d lie about her name being Daniella. The name Daniella actually made sense.  She looked more like a Daniella than a Danielle, but I’d never tell her that because then I’d have to explain why I thought that, and I wouldn’t have an explanation other than “You just do.”  I got so lost in thought that I lost track of their conversation.

Linda said something about LA Law, and Danielle said that LA Law sucked.  Linda claimed that LA Law wasn’t as good as it used to be but it didn’t suck, and Danielle said it sucked.  I’d had this conversation with Danielle before (but not about LA Law).  Once Danielle decided that something sucked, it sucked, and nobody was going to change her mind.  They talked about a couple other TV shows, and I got bored.  They weren’t talking about me, and they weren’t talking about Kirk.  The least they could do was have a pillow fight.

“I think I’m going to quit my job,” I heard Linda say.

“Why?”

“I hate teaching.  I thought I’d like it.”

“Why?”

“I like books.  I like writing, but my kids all hate it, and they hate me.”

“So?  Kids are supposed to hate you,” Danielle said.

“I thought I’d be different.  I thought I’d be a cool teacher.”

“I hated the cool teachers,” Danielle said.  “You should never just… quit your job.”

“But I hate it.”

“I hate my job too, but they pay me money, so I go.”

There was a pause.  “I thought you didn’t work,” Linda said.

“I just tell people that. I’m embarrassed by my job.”

This was getting interesting.  Danielle was about to tell Linda that she was a stripp…a topless dancer.

“I’m a paralegal… for… Darren B. Smelley.”

There was another pause.  “That guy?” Linda said

I knew who Darren B. Smelley was.  He was a defense attorney who ran really cheesy television ads about how he could get you off if you’d been falsely accused or arrested by crooked cops.  He wore loud clothes on his ads and had a cheesy slogan: “Darren B. Smelley… because getting arrested stinks!”  I had no idea if he was any good as a trial attorney.  I just knew his ads sucked.

“I didn’t know that,” Linda said.

“I don’t talk about it.  Some people get really mad when they find out I work for a slick lawyer.”

“Is he any good?”

“He keeps a lot of guilty people out of prison,” Danielle said.

“That’s good… for them, I guess” Linda said.

For a moment, I was angry that Danielle hadn’t told me that she worked for Smelley.  Then I remembered that she was lying to Linda.  Then I got angry that Danielle hadn’t checked out her lie with me so that I could back it up, but I wouldn’t be able to talk to her about this because I wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place.

“I hate my job,” Danielle said.  “But I never know when I’ll need the money, so I work.”

There was another pause.  Then Danielle said, “Find another job.  Then quit.”

Linda sighed.  “You’re right.  But I really hate those kids.”

“Then it’ll be fun when you get another job… and you can tell those kids to fuck off.”

I laughed out loud.  I shouldn’t have laughed because part of eavesdropping is staying quiet, but the way Danielle had said it, the inflection, the way it came out of nowhere, it was funny.  Danielle was funny sometimes, even when she didn’t mean to be.  But she wasn’t going to think this was funny.

“Jimmy?” she said.  There was part caution, part anger in her voice.

“Yeah?” I answered slowly.  This wasn’t good.  Luckily, I was already wearing a robe and my hair was messed up from sleeping, so I stuck my head out of the bedroom door.

“You guys woke me up,” I said as groggily as I could.

Danielle was walking down the hallway toward me.  “How long were you…?”

And I closed the door in her face.

But I reopened it before she could kick it hard or beat on it or start a loud argument that I couldn’t win in front of Linda.

“I promise, I didn’t hear much,” I said quickly.  “I’ll close the door and turn music on.”  I could tell from the look on her face that I would hear about this later.

20 minutes later, Danielle opened the door a lot more quietly than I had expected.

“So… what did you hear?” she said.

I told her that I agreed with her that LA Law sucked.  I asked how much of the Darren B. Smelley stuff was true.  She said that when she smashed the bottle on her ex-boyfriend’s head, that Smelley got her off (in a legal sense) and that she got to know him pretty well.  I almost asked the obvious follow-up question, but it would have sounded vulgar and I might not have liked the answer.  Then I asked her the question that was really gnawing at me.

“Is your name really Daniella?”  I figured I might as well ask.

She blew some air out of her lips and then quietly said, “Yes.”

“Should I call you that?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It’s your name.  I don’t want to call you by the wrong name.”

“Then… call me Daniella.”  And she smiled a little.

I pretended to introduce her to invisible people. “Mom, Dad, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend… Daniella.”  I liked the sound of that.

“I never said I was going,” Daniella said.

“Mom, Dad, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend… who reads Jane Austen and puts ex-boyfriends in the hospital… Daniella.”

“Shut up!”

“I will, but I really want you to come up with me for Christmas.”

“Okay!” Daniella said with her arms folded.  I could tell that she had already made her decision, that it had nothing to do with anything I’d said or done.   “I’ll come meet your family.  But I have one condition.  And you’re not going to like it.”

*****

To be continued in… The Literary Girlfriend: A Very Merry Literary Christmas .

And to read “The Literary Girlfriend” from the beginning (it’s getting kind of long), start here.

10 Comments
  1. This is really hilarious! Is this a real life situation? Or not.. I can’t tell.. If it isn’t you’re an awesome writer, but I guess you’d still be an awesome writer to retell a real life event so well.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you’re enjoying this. But I really don’t want to admit how much of this… is… ugh… true… and how much is fictional.

  2. Please make sure Jane Eyre is not the first book Daniella actually reads. I don’t know if your protagonist has read it, but it’s poorly plotted and didactic – very 19th century. (don’t you love it when people tell you how to write your stories? 🙂 )

    • We don’t have to worry about Daniella reading Jane Eyre (I don’t think I’m giving too much away by announcing that). But NOT reading it could cause some problems.

  3. No good can come of eavesdropping on women talking, although I guess Daniell(a) is cool.

  4. annabelmcquade permalink

    I’m enjoying this story, but titling this chapter in reference to it passing the Bechdel test felt a bit… obnoxious. In the nicest possible way, it felt a little: “Look at me! I passed the Bechdel test. Happy now? Can I go back to writing normally?”
    I’m really trying not to make this sound aggressive, but I just kind of rolled my eyes. Passing the Bechdel test does not make a text feminist. Likewise, failing it wouldn’t make it anti-feminist.

    • I thought titling an installment “A Very Special Christmas Episode” was way more obnoxious, but maybe you haven’t gotten to that one yet. And there was “A Very Merry Literary Christmas.” I probably should have fired myself for those.

      Seriously, I appreciate you reading “The Literary Girlfriend.” There are a lot of episodes, and I don’t know if you worked your way backward, forward, or randomly, but the fact that you even got to that “conversation” episode and commented means a lot to me.

      • annabelmcquade permalink

        A Very Special Christmas Episode didn’t bother me. The Bechdel reference just… made me roll my eyes I guess.
        It’s good! 🙂 Well worth a read. I decided I wanted to catch up so I actually had a clue what was going on.

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  1. Reading An Abridged Book Is Cheating? | Dysfunctional Literacy

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