‘So, this is, like, from back in Native American times, is it?’ Madison skips up the rickety wooden stairs onto the porch of the Hawkeye Log Cabin, sitting slightly proudly, and yet equally as ill-at-ease, by the edge of Crapo Park.
The sky above the cabin hangs heavy. Full. More than a suggestion of rain to follow. The early June air, cloying and uncomfortable in its humidity, pertains as much.
‘Hmm, I’m not sure, I think so’ answers Emma almost indifferently. She paws briefly, and nervously, at her newly-shorn, ‘sober’ hairstyle. One that hangs, straight and conservatively, slightly above her shoulders.
‘No, don’t be silly’ says Chloe, glancing up from her cell phone. ‘You think they would have let something like that stand in amongst all of the killing and raping and pillaging of the Natives? No way.’ Hearing the supercilious vein coursing through her words, she attempts to dial it back a touch. ‘I mean, at least I doubt it anyway.’ The ghost of an apologetic smile added on for good measure.
‘Yeah, she’s right,’ says Hannah, ‘Jack took me here once. On a date. We star-crossed lovebirds get to all the romantic places, don’t ya know girls. We probably followed it up with a succulently passion-filled Seven Eleven gourmet meal afterwards.’ She smiles. ‘But yeah, I remember them saying then that it was built or reconstructed as a kind of monument, sometime in like the 1800s, I think.’
The girls look round at Rosa as she slowly walks up the stairs to join them on the porch.
‘Say again, Rosie?’ says Emma with a smile, two parts genuine and only one part façade, appointing herself the spokesperson for the group. These being almost the first fully-formed syllables Rosa has uttered to them all afternoon.
‘It was built in 1910. I read up on it a while back’ says Rosa.
‘Well, there you go then.’ Hannah smiles. ‘I knew our local Amateur Historian would have the answer.’
Rosa smiles at Hannah faintly before averting her gaze.
‘Why is it closed anyway?’ says Madison, yanking fruitlessly at the door handle. ‘Pretty shitty tourist ‘attraction’ if it’s closed all the time.’ She withdraws her hand, wiping what she perceives, or at least imagines to be, dust and grime or some other source of germ from her neatly manicured fingers.
‘Opens at weekends only I think. And only in the summer.’ Emma scans the information board slightly to the left of the locked door.
‘Another jewel in the crown of Crap-O Park then!’ Madison places the emphasis on the ‘Crap’ as she slowly walks back down the stairs.
‘Talking of ‘crowns’ Madison, is that you making an audacious bid to steal my ‘funny one of the group’ crown? Shame on you.’
‘No, you’re welcome to it, Han. I’ll stick to being the film star of the group. M’kay?’ Madison flashes her an arrogant smile. Hannah laughs. ‘Ok, you do that.’
The girls begin to walk away from the Log Cabin. Emma, glancing up to the gathering clouds, decides to tighten her coat around her slim frame. Hannah looks back at the cabin and sees Chloe still standing on the porch, looking at her phone.
‘Argh, this shitty phone. I swear, I’ve barely had a signal since coming back here! Might aswell just throw the fucking thing in the Missis…’ Chloe stops herself. As always, aware of her carelessly-uttered words just that split-second or so too late. She looks over at Rosa, trying to detect any reaction, negative or otherwise. Nothing of note. She continues. ‘I might aswell just throw the damn thing in the trash. Ugh.’ She harshly pushes the cell phone into her handbag and marches down the stairs, adjusting her glasses nervously as she walks over to the group, surveying whether the deflection tactic worked or whether it was DOA.
‘Right, let’s go and see how our once-feathered friend is doing, shall we?’ says Hannah with a mischievous smirk bending the corners of her mouth.
‘Fuck. Off.’ Madison’s face drops.
‘Well we never got the chance to last time did we, I’m sure he or she would like us to give him or her a visit after all this time, don’t you?’
‘Ugh. Grow up Han, you weirdo. We’re not little kids anymore. We’re 23, well Chloe’s old and grey and 24, but the rest of us are 23. We’re adults. Some of us are even married,’ she not-so-subtly flashes Hannah her ring finger. Hannah rolls her eyes.
‘Oh, live a little Maddie. I’m sure you can get back to your oh-so-mature Hollywood career when you fly back there in a few days. What was the last one you starred in, again, Killer Alligators vs Strippers, was that it?’ says Hannah.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Absolutely nothing, my dear, absolutely nothing.’
‘Now, now girls.’ Emma interjects.
‘Yeah, leave the fighting to me and Em’ says Chloe, catching up to them. She flashes a weak smile at Emma who returns it in kind.
‘Yeah, anyway let’s make it quick if that’s ok because Andy will be wondering where I’ve gotten to.’
Rosa looks up at Chloe. The latter’s face clenching in an obviously internal tussle between the act of her holding her tongue or saying what needs to be said. She sees Chloe’s chest expand and then retract, the sight of a deep, calming breath intended to force down the words vying for prominence on the tip of her tongue.
She’s getting better at that, thinks Rosa. She’s not perfect yet, as evidenced by that near slip about the Mississippi (Oh imagine the horror if she had finished that word…) but she is improving. The thing is, she’d be right to say something. We all know it, thinks Rosa. We all know Andy’s no good for Emma. We’ve always known it. He’s controlling. He’s jealous. And he’s violent. We all know that he’s hit her, at least once. Probably a lot more. That’s probably why she’s wearing that coat. I mean it’s not a glorious summer’s day or anything but it’s still far too warm for a coat. I think even Emma is starting to see it now. She doesn’t want to be stuck here in Burlington, Iowa for the rest of her life. She used to be infatuated with Andy. Worshipped the ground he walked on. She genuinely did love him. Maybe she still does, I don’t know. But that spark in her eyes, the one she used to have when she spoke about him, that’s gone. I mean, I know 10/11 years is a long time for any relationship but it’s more than that. Take Hannah for instance, she seems happy with Jack, still. Sure, she makes jokes, that’s just Han being Han, but she does seem genuinely content. But with Emma, with Emma it’s different. He’s broken her down. She used to have a smile for everyone but now…well. But we’re not here for Emma’s problems, are we. Oh no no. We’re here for little suicidal Rosa. I’m the focus of today’s reunion.
‘You okay Rosie?’ she feels Chloe’s hand touch her shoulder gently.
Right on cue, Rosa thinks to herself.
‘I’m good Chloe, don’t worry’ she half-turns her head and smiles as the group continue to walk through the park.
Don’t get me wrong, Rosa thinks, it’s coming from a good place. It’s coming from a place of love, I know that. And god I appreciate that. But they just don’t know. They can’t know. In the same way that I don’t or can’t know fully about their problems. About what they’re really going through. Can I? You can talk all you want, you can share all you need, but can anyone really understand entirely what is going on in someone else’s mind. We can view as spectators, yeah, we can read the plot outline, absolutely, but you can never quite know. I mean, how do we know what Emma’s really going through? Is he really hitting her? Does she feel trapped? Scared? Helpless? I don’t know. Is she actually happy? Probably not but who knows. Or Chloe, yeah she’s graduated from Harvard with a first, we all knew she would, but how do we know what kind of pressure she’s putting herself under? Being a Junior in a law firm in New York City can’t be the most relaxed of jobs can it? Plus we know she still hasn’t come out to her parents yet. I know she hasn’t. From this point of view we’ve always known she was gay. Hell, you could see by the way she looked at Emma all those years that she felt something far more than friendship for her. We’ve known, we’ve never even had to discuss it, it just seems natural. Because it is for her. So why not tell her parents? Do they know? Does she think they’ll be disappointed? I mean, they always seemed to push her and put her under so much pressure, in a school and law sense, but surely their daughter’s happiness is a different matter altogether? So, you just don’t know. You never can know.
‘Shit, this walk is bigger than I remember, how fucking big is this park, I don’t remember it being this big!?’ says Madison.
‘That’s because you’re wearing heels the size of tentpoles, Maddie. No wonder you’re struggling to walk. Still, they’re probably the perfect size to be able to kill a Killer Alligator aren’t they should we be so unlucky to stumble across one on the way…’ answers Hannah, wryly.
‘I’m warning you Hannah…’ Madison’s lips purse as she stumbles from one foot to the other.
Rosa smirks and lets out a quiet laugh. Hannah’s always just taken things in her stride, she thinks. Out of all of us she’s always been the one that seems to have it together. She never seems to let anything get to her. To let anything ruffle her feathers. She just seems…well, happy. Content. Satisfied. But then, again, how do we know that’s true? It might just be a cover, a face she’s putting on. Humour is often used as a defence mechanism after all. But is that just me being cynical and projecting my own failure to deflect misery onto her. She seems happy in that office job after getting her Business degree at University. But can anyone truly be happy in a 9-5 office job? Or again is that just how I think of things? I know I can’t but maybe Hannah can, maybe anyone can?
Or even Madison. On the face of it, you’d think she has everything. The film career, the husband, the money. The lifestyle. And all the rest of it. But I know she’s not happy. She said as much before. We know how dearly she’d love to ‘make it’ in the movie industry. And yet she’s plugging away doing these bit part roles in these trashy B Movies from time to time. I know Maddie, I know she can’t be happy with that. And that so-called producer husband of hers, Harry, they’re just using each other. What is he, like 54!? She could have anyone, look at her. Any man would give their right arm to be with her and yet is that all she’s seen as? A ditzy, peroxide blonde pinup? She’s not, she never has been. She’s so much more than that. So, is she happy? Can she be, really? She always gives off this selfish, arrogant vibe but we know the real Maddie. The one that shines through when needed. She was the first one to call me, the first one to come and see me at the hospital. I’ll never forget that. She never judged, she never second-guessed, she just showed up. She was just there for me. As a friend. She never asked me why. She never told me I was wrong or that there were other ways to go about things. She was just there. When I needed someone. You see, the other three, you can tell they’re struggling with how to deal with the situation. How do you reconcile yourself with the fact that one of your best or oldest friends walked into the Mississippi River and tried to drown herself only a few months ago? How do you talk to your 23 year old friend who is now, and always will be, by any definition an alcoholic? How do you tell your friend things will be alright when she knows that they can’t or won’t ever be? When she knows that nothing in this world can bring her true joy anymore? When everyone is tinged with a little bit of darkness, of disappointment? When nothing seems to soar much higher than average? Not without her Dad or brother in the world anymore? How do you do that? Even Chloe. I mean, she’s the smartest of the group by a long way. In fact, she’s smarter than most people on this planet I would bet. But she seems to be the one struggling most with this. Because you don’t know. You can’t know. Not truly. But Madison, somehow, beneath all that show, all that makeup and façade, she just knew. What to say, what not to say. And she was the one that managed to round up the others.
‘Oh,’ says Emma, ‘oh no. Look there’s fences up around it.’
The other girls step through the woods and notice the barrier of fencing skirting the ground around the disused rollercoaster segment.
‘Fantastic’ exclaims Madison.
‘About time they got rid of that thing,’ says Chloe, holding her cell phone up the air. Still no reception. ‘Shit.’
‘Yeah, we’ve truly had a rollercoaster of emotions in this spot over the years, haven’t we guys…’
Madison and Chloe look at Hannah and groan in unison.
‘Yep, my bad’ says Hannah, ‘that one was really bad, even for me.’
‘At least the wild roses are still going strong’ says Emma as she walks towards the flurry of pink but the edge of the clearing, now almost completely submerged by a ring of tall grass. ‘That’s something.’
‘Yeah,’ scoffs Madison, ‘I suppose that’s one in the ‘win’ column for good old Crap-O Park.’
‘Cray-Po Park, Madison,’ says Chloe in her best schoolteacher impersonation, ‘it is pronounced ‘cray’ Po Park.’
‘Oh god Chloe, I obviously know that, do you never switch off?’ Madison scowls playfully.
‘Nicolas always used to call it Crap-O Park aswell,’ Rosa smiles at Madison. ‘Anytime I mentioned I was coming here with you guys that’s what he would call it.’
Madison smiles, a hint of sadness within it, as Hannah moves over to Rosa, gently placing her hand on her friend’s wrist. Chloe quickly joins them, caressing Rosa’s back.
The four of them turn to look at Emma, apparently in a world of her own, kneeling down by the wild roses. Her back turned to her friends. She delicately runs a finger up and down one of the thorny stems. Almost distractedly. As if in a trance of some kind. She glances up to the skies, again noticing the greying demeanour, again pulling her coat tighter around her body.
‘I need to tell you something…’
‘What is it Em?’ Chloe slowly pulls her hand away from Rosa’s back.
‘I’m thinking about leaving Andy.’