Dot and Fran

                                                                                                (the coast before Jim)


          We think—we always used to think, What if someone’s watching right now?  They must think we’re crazy.  But it didn’t take long for us to think, We hope someone’s watching right now.  This ought to be fun for someone besides us.  We were always falling all over the place, laughing at something.  Ask her.  She was there.
What I would like to ask her, if she were still alive today, is where she thought she was going.  When we got in that car to the Oregon coast.  When we went the second time, in an airplane, years later, chasing after Jim.  When she went off so early in our old age and left me here with my head to echo in.  We were planning on being here together.  When we were thirteen, we knew what the front porch would look like, and we knew we’d be there alone by then, our kids grown and our husbands in husband-heaven.  We knew we’d be loud old ladies, and we’d be laughing about the same old stuff, grumbling about it together, drinking some kind of punch.  We wouldn’t worry if we had to cough.  We wouldn’t even cover our mouths.  We’d just sit on the porch like we were.

          I was coming with her, every time she had a dream.  We had a good long life of it.  In our early thirties, she wanted to see the Oregon coast for some reason.  She never said why but we figured why not drive out there?  We left our husbands at home, we put our kids in a big car and we drove to Oregon.  We camped.  We ate lunch on the beach.  We saw the cheese factory.  By the time we rolled back into her driveway a few weeks later, her husband was packing his bags.
I gave her some time.  I had all our kids at my house most afternoons.  Then, when it had been long enough, I said, Good riddance, and we both laughed.  


          Her phone rang out of the blue, ten years later.  Jim from high school, calling from the Oregon coast.  Suddenly she knew why she’d been drawn there ten years before, on that road trip.  She knew why we’d driven all the way across the country without our husbands.  She told me she’d always known she’d see Jim again someday. 
Her head was a mess from that phone call.  I didn’t tell her, but I’d never wanted to see Jim again since the first time he broke her heart.  Or since before that, probably.  I never liked him.
Of course she wanted to see Jim again, see if he was the guy she fell in love with the first time she fell in love when we were seventeen.  Even though he was a dirt bag.  That was my word for him.  But everything had meaning to her, every last detail.  The way she thought about fate made me have to see it differently than I would have.  I didn’t remember all the details the same way, but I had to see what she saw and I got better at it the longer we knew each other.

We kept getting older.  We had opportunities to see some things.  It’s a span of time.  We saw a few rainbows.  We saw huge fish, a few bears, a few famous people stepping into their cars.  We saw each other’s babies, divorces.  Our parents all died.  We saw the sun come up.  We were always there together.  We did what we did best; we got old together.  We did it right from the start.  From the day we met.  We met and then we knew each other.  We lived in a house.  Then we married and lived in two houses.  We got lives of our own, then they decayed and died.  All along we still had each other.  Old ladies are lucky that way.  They survive.  Then there was losing each other, but she didn’t have to lose me, I just had to lose her.  I guess that was a relief for her. 
I think she decided, when it was time.  One friend always leans toward another.  Maybe she thought I’d been standing up straight the whole time.  That I wouldn’t miss the extra weight.  People do that kind of thinking when they feel bad about themselves; it’s how they sometimes describe a lonely teenager considering suicide.  They think either no one will notice if they disappear or, finally, everyone will.  But I knew she knew I loved her.  It’s not that.  She was tired.  She probably thought I’d been doing all the work.  I knew what she thought when she didn’t say it.  I wasn’t worried about that, but I think she was.
The first time I met Dot, I introduced myself as Franny, which is what my friends had always called me, but she heard Fanny.  That’s what my mother called my bottom when I was little.  My fanny.  My grandmother always used to buy me underwear for Christmas.  She had just died and now it was up to Mom and me. Then I met Dot.


          The first time I saw her, she was following the outline of a parking lot by the auto repair shop in the rain. I was going home, trying not to get my shoes wet. She looked sideways at me, waved one hand, low near her hip, like it was a secret.
          Some people are here when they’re here.  They look you in the eye.  Some people are only here from a distance, some people are only thinking about their pasts.  Some people leave before you can figure out where they are.  Dot always stopped walking in the middle of thinking.  When we were young, and then, again, when we got older, I always checked to see if she was breathing.  She was, as always, still breathing.  She was still breathing. 
We got to be eighty years old.  Well, I did.  But that first day we were thirteen.  That was the age that “fanny” makes you giggle so we giggled plenty.  She sounded familiar, whatever she was saying.  She called me Fran.  That’s what everyone else after her called me, too.

Once we did see a bear.  We were in a parking lot.  Our kids were in the car.  We weren’t letting them out because we were just stopped to switch places so she could drive for a while.  I don’t remember whether he made any sounds—I called him a he, so she did, too, and then the kids, for the next three days in the car, too—all I remember is that he was far enough away, already walking in the other direction by the time we saw him.  That was one thing.  We saw other ones when we got closer to the coast in Oregon.

When we were forty-five, we took an airplane to Oregon.  Jim lived in Tillamook.  He had reappeared from nowhere where he should have stayed.  Now he was calling her all the time.  He was asking if he could be back in her life again.  She decided she should go see about him.  Dot came out the other end of Oregon with her heart cracked deep, the way your heel gets in the summer without shoes or socks.  It was broken before he had a chance to break it again.  She was so confused she couldn’t tell which end was up.  I was the only one that saw.  She couldn’t even tell it had happened until he told her he was through later that year.
Jim left her when we were 17.  Then she and I went chasing after him thirty years later when he decided to show up and wink a little.  Of course we went.  If it had been my Jim or John or Joe we would have gone, too.  I think, now, we shouldn’t have gone.  But it’s a long life, and it was for Dot.  Of course we went.  But I worried about her.

I’m coming with you, I said. 
She wanted the window seat and she didn’t want to bother me but she did want to talk.  She offered me gum, said it was good (that they said so) to chew gum at takeoff to make your ears pop. 
I said, I know, Dot.  You’re nervous.
She turned away and said, Oh!  She pointed out the window, We got a prop!  Propeller plane. 
I said, Okay.  Calm down, Dot, maybe you should take some of that Dramamine.  We looked good for our age and she was divorced and I was still married.  What were we doing?  I knew what we were doing.  What did we think we were doing?

Later, when she pointed out the sun above the clouds, I said, Hush.  I was trying to sleep.  She looked scared, so I told her that I was tired, touched her shoulder, I said I’d be nicer once I got some sleep.  I’d been up since four that morning.  She’d been up since two.  She woke me up at four when she finally stopped waiting and called.  Woke my husband, too.  That’s what she did that year.  She went to bed at ten and got up at two.  We didn’t need to leave till seven but she was awake so I woke up, too, and my husband went back to sleep eventually.  The kids were sleeping in since it was Saturday.  I couldn’t blame her. 
She said she hadn’t slept well because she was about to travel.  I said, I know, Dot, I know.  It’s okay.  Maybe you’ll sleep now.  Now that we’re on the way.  We were above the clouds and we had a few hours.  I hadn’t slept either.  Then I went to sleep. 

Are you cold?
A little.



          When we landed in Oregon, she looked at me, I could feel it through my eyelids.  She said, Landed, and looked away.  She didn’t want to bother me.  But she was nervous so she had to say.  It was like calling me at four in the morning.  I knew.  That’s why I came with her.  We could do these kinds of things for each other.
I said, I guess I didn’t have any trouble sleeping.  She said she’d dozed, too.  She said there were clouds on our side of the plane the whole way, but blue sky on the other side.  She said we were early.  She liked to think about the way that airplanes can catch the wind right and get there early.  This time we were early by eleven minutes.  She was going all the way across the country to Tillamook to meet her first boyfriend.  They had been in love, then he had gone away for college and stopped returning phone calls.  She always told it that she was the one that got left behind.  She got married, had a daughter, got divorced.  Then, too much later, there he was. 
When he first came looking for her, he came all the way to our town, and he stood in the A&P all day.  He thought she must still live in town.  He was waiting for her to buy groceries but she didn’t. 
When he got back to Oregon and finally called her, I said, Get him to send a picture, let’s make sure his eyes are the right color.  The picture was black and white.  When she decided she was going, I said, I’m coming with you.  Dot?  We turn around and come home if this isn’t good.  You hear me?
I knew about this kind of feeling, and I knew about Dot.  She had to follow through or she wouldn’t know.  She needed to know.  I’d have needed to know, too, if I were her.  I worried about her, so I went with her.  She was going to wait till the summer when he came to see her but she started having trouble breathing, having a hard time making decisions.  She told me she needed to know sooner whether it was worth it, all those strong emotions.  Like I said, I understood. 
If he’d found her in the A&P that first time he came back, she wouldn’t have gone ahead and bought the house that year.  She was talking about leaving town, and I thought she might do it.  She needed to do something with her life.  But then she bought the house and I was glad.  She wasn’t okay in that little place with her daughter.  Her daughter needed space.   

I’m the only one that remembers when we were 17.  What her face looked like, for months, not wanting to leave her house in case he called.  When I reminded her, she said it took her a while to get over him. 
I said, You’re telling me. 
When he called, she told him she didn’t want to shoot him down anymore, even if he did deserve it.  He said she should hit him over the head with a frying pan, but she told him she wasn’t going to do that, either.  I said, Maybe you should say that my jury is still out.

Dot said, He wants to go fishing and walking on the beach.  He has three sons and I have one daughter, and he said he’d always wanted a daughter so I could have his sons and he could have my daughter. 
I said, I know, Dot, I know.
She said, he said, You changed your name. 
Dot said, I got married. 
He said, How did it work out?
Dot said, I got divorced.
She said, I always knew I’d see him again.  I knew it would be in Oregon, Fran, I knew it.  I always had this clear idea.  You know I did.
I said, Use your sixth sense.  I’ll use mine, too.  Let’s see, okay? 

Here’s what Dot imagined would happen when she saw Jim again when we were forty-five.  I was her chaperone.  He was going to come to our hotel the first night and bring a bottle of something nice.  We’d sit on a porch and look at the ocean or the trees or whatever we could see from the hotel.  When I got tired and went inside, they’d talk until midnight.  The next day, he’d come back and they’d go walking on the beach.  The next day, he’d come back and they’d go for a long drive up the coast toward Washington.  The next day, he’d come back and they’d go shopping for an expensive gift for her.  Then we’d fly home in our second airplane ever, and she’d stay in the clouds the whole way home and the whole two months until he came east to see her again.  It did happen that way.  It does.  It can.  I’m not saying it doesn’t happen that way. 
My father wrote a card to the widow of his best man—they always wrote each other cards—but after they were both widowed, he wrote to her and it got sent back.  So he got on a plane to Florida and went to the place he’d been sending all those cards.  The neighbors said, Her son works downtown. 
So he found her son, and then he found her, and they’ve been together ever since.
It happens like that.  Jim came back.  They fell in love again in Oregon at our hotel.  Or before we even got there, on the telephone.  He came to see her.  They made a lot of plans.  Then somewhere in the months of that year, he stayed in Tillamook, stayed off the phone, stayed quiet, out of the way. 
There wasn’t much to talk about, but she wanted to talk about it.  She didn’t understand, again.  I told her to wait a little.  I convinced her not to buy another airplane ticket.  I could tell from the start, like I said.  I just had my hunch about him.  He was the same old Jim, after all.  Two months later he apologized over the phone.  He told Dot he wasn’t up for the task, he was not the man she needed.  His voice broke some to say he was only going to be the guy who’d probably end up doing something awful to her.  And he loved her.  And he couldn’t bear to do it again.  He was too clumsy, he said.  He was like a bear with a baby.  He actually said that.  And she deserved better. 
Of course she did.  Of course he’d already done it again.  He wasn’t the one who had to watch his best friend’s heart break twice.  I was looking around for a shotgun, planning our next drive to Oregon, and she was staring at the neighbor’s car, parked across the street from my front porch.  Like there was something to see.  Like she would see it if she kept looking.  Doing the math about what she could possibly have said.  Or done.  What she did wrong this time.  The idea that she could have done wrong! 
Sometimes it’s not about that, Dot, is what I said.  Sometimes it has nothing to do with you.  It’s bad luck you got the same dumb man twice in your life, but it’s not a lesson you have to learn about yourself.  She nodded, but she didn’t look at me.  I said it a few times, but I don’t think she ever heard me when I said that.  I understood.  When you’re young and you love someone—well, it’s something that holds harder than other things. 
That was forty-five years ago now and I am still sitting on the porch, and I can still feel her sitting next to me with her eyes low and long on that car across the street, a different car across the street at the new neighbor’s house.  People leave, people die, you let it happen.  What else are you supposed to do.  And then you spend all your time with them anyway.


When we were first married and my son was old enough, we went camping up north.  The babies were loud in the car, but they were the kind of babies that went completely still when they heard birds.  They listened.  Being outside was good for everyone.  Our husbands fished.  We swam.  The babies learned to crawl in the grass.  One morning when we were drinking coffee, a park ranger came around telling us about bears.  He said there was a mother bear and she had three cubs.  Someone had seen them all the night before, about a mile from where we were.  He recommended we leave the site and told us about another one.
Dot surprised me.  When the boys had started to take down the tents, she told me she wanted to stay.  She said it to me so they couldn’t hear.  She told me she had a feeling about bears, she always had.  Especially a mother and some cubs.  She knew what it was to be a mother.  She told me she thought we’d be safer if we stayed.  It was like getting on a plane to Oregon with her, every time.

          You do some things to make money, and you do some things to make love and you do some things to survive.  For instance.  Sleeping at night.  Taking a walk to get your bones loose.  If a bird builds a nest on your doorstep, you start using the back door instead and you wake up early to watch the front door.  Dot would come in the back door at six in the morning and we’d drink our tea at the window.  Try to keep quiet so the birds wouldn’t leave.  So that we could watch the babies eat.  They were ugly at first, that’s for sure.  We watched anyway.  We kept the cats inside.
Some days, I still can’t see reasoning with her.  We can’t see a reason.  Then I remember she died.  Sometimes I can see the mole on my left cheek when I look down; it confuses me.  So much depends on the weather.  I understand that now.  I am happy it is sunny.  I am sad it’s a cloud.  The cloud is shaped like an ankle and I feel a little stuck.


          Today I was crossing in front of the sidewalk where someone has written “God’s House,” with an arrow pointing to the front door of the nearest house.  There is always a family living in God’s House, and every time I check, it is always a different family.  This spring, God drives a new blue pickup with dark windows.  Someone washes it regularly, I can tell, though I never see anyone out there, washing.  Last week, there were empty juice containers all over the lawn. 
I saw the woman walking with her dog on this street.  We had a dog when I was a kid.  Now that I am old, I know I must look old to her.  When she looked up this time and smiled at me on the sidewalk, as I said, Hello, I saw.  Maybe it was the phone call today to my granddaughter who asks me questions all the time, but today, this young woman with her pit bull looked out at me from the face of my friend Dot, dead now for ten years.  She looked scared. 
Sometimes this happens.  I have held onto Dot’s last word to me, but I’ve never known what it was.  Maybe it was “when,” or maybe it was “where.”  She was trying to ask me something, but she lost it.  Her tongue was dried out.  I looked at the swelling in her arms.  She didn’t try to say anything else.  I stepped away from the foot of her bed, went out into the hallway of the hospital.  Her kids would have to take it from there, since she was done talking to me.



Dorothy Albertinireceived her MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College in 2008.  Her work has appeared in H_ngm_n, Drunken Boat, Tantalum, the Brooklyn Rail, and NANO Fiction, where she was the winner of the first annual NANO fiction contest.  The winning piece was also nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  She’s been a Fellow at the MacDowell Arts Colony, Ucross Foundation, and Blue Mountain Center.  She was lucky to co-curate the Bard Roving Reading series with Elizabeth Bryant.  She writes in Poughkeepsie.