Flash Fiction #134
“It’s an interesting phase everybody goes through.” Armei, Lulan look at their friend Pammy and reach a consensus. If somebody asks them what “an interesting phase” really means and why everybody has to go through it, neither of them can give a satisfactory answer. But still they know Pammy is in such a phase and they think it will pass.
Pammy is indeed behaving a little differently. It was several months ago when she stopped her polite laughter when she didn’t feel something was particularly funny during their conversations. Pammy’s friends didn’t even notice it at first. And of course it was inevitable that they eventually started to feel the change in their friend.
“Pammy, you are becoming more silent than usual.” Armei says politely. In the past, whenever Armei complained about her husband’s absence or Lulan whined about the weekend laundry, Pammy would jump right in and add more fuel to the fire of their communication. However now Pammy just sits there and says nothing.
“I try to be more truthful with myself. You know. I want to cut out all the unnecessary useless words or gestures or actions in my life.” Pammy says, ignoring her friends’ look of bewilderment.
Pammy’s new resolution is initially restricted to small issues and insignificant chats, but gradually it expands to more important things.
Pammy stops contributing to newsletters of her old high school–the best one in her country of origin–in which she has been a regular guest columnist, describing her life in New Jersey with her husband, her son, and her sales job. Her columns have been quite popular since people overseas are interested to know how immigrants live in America. In Pammy’s letter to the editor to quit this alumni responsibility, she says very truthfully that she has been painting an unrealistic rosy picture of her life. Mostly her home life is routine and uneventful, her chores are boring, and her work is uninspiring. The editor says that she is really shocked, not by Pammy’s embellishment in her columns (which no self-respecting editor will find it surprising), but rather by Pammy’s decision to admit to it.
Pammy stops praising her son Sam’s weekend art teacher. “Most of your students are talentless and Sam is no artist. The art classes are not held for the benefit of students, but rather for the benefit of you who need a side job and an extra income. I will no longer be your cheerleader.” Pammy says to the art teacher, who is speechless, facing such an honest onslaught.
And the art teacher hits right back, “You think artists like me are as nice and soft as a piece of tofu, don’t you? You can just throw insults on us whenever you like it. Can you tell this to Sam’s school teachers? Of course not unless you don’t want Sam to go to a good college. Let me tell you this, a significant portion of any education is not for the benefit of students. It is not. It is for the benefit of the institution, the teachers, and the maintenance of the system…”
The art teacher continues his tirade while Pammy has been long gone.
Pammy’s friends try to dissuade her from such a ridiculous practice, but Pammy is impervious to advice. And finally she takes on one of the most important problems of a woman’s life–beauty. She stops wearing makeup to hide the wrinkles, which are more visible in each passing year; she refuses to go to window shopping trips with her friends in Short Hill Mall; she cancels all the appointments to her favorite spas where she and her friends do facial and nails several times a year.
“Pammy, you got to stop this nonsense.” Her friends Armei and Lulan scream in protest. “If you want to keep your friends, you have to keep up the appearance. We have to tell you that people don’t admire or even think you are a truthful human being now. Instead people will think you are a slovenly woman who gives up on herself. How can we go out with you?”
And finally, Pammy’s husband started to voice his objection to Pammy’s new phase. Her husband Pan is a financial analyst and he wants what his friends want. Pan is one of the nicest and cleverest guys in the world, but unfortunately he has been among a group of friends who adhere to the traditional view of womanhood. Years of friendship has made Pan almost an exact copy of his friends. This traditional view dictates that a woman is supposed to hide her age as ardently as she hides her opinions. Pan is too nice and too polite to say anything too negative to Pammy, but he watches his wife anxiously and experiences the dreaded feeling of Pammy becoming too indulgent in a luxury they cannot afford.
Then one night, Pammy says suddenly to her husband Pan, “I think I want to go back to my old self. I don’t want to lose more friends.”
Pan looks at Pammy, feeling the immense relief. However he pretends to be calm and says gently, “it is your choice.”