This short story was first published in the RTE Guide last year. I hope you enjoy it!
A Small World by Niamh Greene
“Anna Reilly! Is that you?”
Anna was perusing the pizzas in aisle three when she heard the high pitched voice call her name. She didn’t have to look up to know who it was – she recognized the shrill shriek immediately: it was Ginny O’Brien. The dreaded Ginny O’Brien.
In the split second that followed, Anna weighed up her options. Would it be too late to pretend that she hadn’t heard and make a run for it maybe? But no, one glance to her left proved that her very worst fears were about to be realized – Ginny was bearing down on her, like a predator on its prey, her mouth an enormous O of feigned surprise, her large white teeth glinting under the fluorescent supermarket strip lighting. There was no escape. Not unless she threw herself head first into the freezer and tried to hide underneath the icy piles of thin crust specials. It didn’t seem like such a bad idea, faced with the alternative.
“Oh hi there,” Anna said, trying to fix a smile on her face, all the while silently cursing that she hadn’t taken just an extra thirty seconds to apply some tinted moisturizer before she’d ventured into the supermarket in the first place. Why, after so many months, did she have to bump into Ginny here and now? Her face was bare, her hair was lank and she was wearing a fleece that smelled strongly of wet dog. It was a disaster. Especially when Ginny looked as if she’d just stepped out of a beauty salon. Everything about her gleamed.
“Oh my God, it is you! What a small world!” Ginny gasped, looming ever closer. In one final step she clasped Anna dramatically to her bosoms and hugged her tightly, like a long lost friend. Ginny had always been one for grand gestures – she prided herself on her longstanding commitment to the local drama society.
“Yes. It’s me,” Anna squeaked as she lay pressed against Ginny’s sizeable chest, struggling to breathe. Had Ginny’s bosoms somehow increased in size since she’d last seen her? She couldn’t remember them being quite so….buoyant.
“So, how have you been keeping?” Ginny’s face creased into an expression of concern as Anna came up for air. It was the same look that everyone had pulled round her these past few months - ever since Edward had left her for the slip of a girl young enough to be his daughter.
“I’m good,” Anna replied evenly.
“Really?” Ginny raised two perfectly plucked brows, like she didn’t believe that this could be in any way true. Then she blatantly peered into Anna’s basket, clocking the pizza, bottle of wine, and tub of ice-cream. Everything about it screamed “shopping for lonely singleton.”
“Honestly, I’m fine,” Anna said, hugging the basket protectively to her. Trust Ginny to be so obvious – she’d never been much of an actress, which was why she was usually relegated to small, walk-on parts in all those drama society productions.
“You can confide in me,” Ginny went on, clutching Anna’s arm in what she clearly felt was a kind gesture of comfort. “There’s no need to keep up this pretence.”
Anna thought about this for a moment. Was she pretending to be fine? No, she didn’t think so. Of course, she hadn’t been fine at first, back when Edward announced that he was leaving her. It had all been so out of the blue - it had come as quite a shock.
But, once Anna recovered a little, she realized that it was the idea of Edward that she missed more than anything. Now that he was gone, she was quite enjoying herself. For one thing, he’d always hated pizza. How he would frown if he could see her now – the idea tickled her, just a little.
“Have you been getting out much?” Ginny went on. She was eager to get to the nitty gritty of the situation, that was obvious. If there were juicy details to be had, preferably tales of Anna wailing inconsolably in bed through the long, lonely nights, then Ginny would ferret them out.
“Not so much,” Anna admitted.
This was true. She’d been staying in quite a lot these past few months, but that was no torture because she’d found she quite enjoyed her own company. And when it did get lonely she just chatted on-line. She’d met some wonderful friends there, which was lucky because quite a few of the old gang had fallen by the wayside since Edward had left. It was almost as if they were afraid their own marriages would be tarnished with failure by what had happened so they kept a very safe distance.
“You should take up walking,” Ginny said, looking her over appraisingly. Anna knew she was trying to decide if she’d lost or gained weight. At least the smelly fleece wasn’t making it easy for her to see – even if the doggy fumes were pretty potent.
“Maybe,” Anna was non-committal. She already walked plenty with the dog - it was another one of her new pastimes. She didn’t want to divulge that to Ginny though - heaven forbid she suggested joining her.
“It takes discipline of course. I walk five miles a day,” Ginny said proudly.
“Do you?” That was impressive to be fair.
“Yes, I did a half marathon last year. Jack can’t keep up with me these days!”
There was that little tinkle – the same one that had driven Anna slowly crazy during so many dinner parties. Of course, she hadn’t been invited to any of those recently. Apparently, it was extremely inconvenient for seating arrangements when your husband ran off with another woman. It had rendered her almost invisible in some social circles. But that was OK – Anna had lots of other pursuits to keep her occupied these days.
“It keeps me really toned,” Ginny continued. “Once you get to our age you have to work so much harder to look good, don’t you?” She sighed then.
“Well, yes. If you don’t then your husband might swap you for a younger model!”
Anna wished she had the nerve to say this aloud, but she didn’t so she just nodded sagely instead. Ginny didn’t have a sense of humor about the aging process – it was pointless to joke.
“That’s why I got some work done,” Ginny whispered, glancing about to make sure none of the other shoppers could overhear.
Anna looked at Ginny’s bosoms – was she admitting it then? But no, Ginny was pointing to her teeth.
“I got veneers!” she whispered, triumphant now.
“Right,” Anna said. So that’s why they were so alien looking – it was as if they didn’t really belong in her mouth at all.
“Best investment I ever made!” Ginny continued. “I went to Bulgaria, far cheaper over there. Not that money’s an issue of course.”
“Of course not,” Anna murmured. She knew the truth was far different, if even half of what she’d read in the papers was true. Ginny’s husband Jack had been involved in some sort of pyramid scheme and charges were pending. But Anna didn’t want to mention that, it seemed rude to.
“Yes, I decided to kill two birds with one stone: get the teeth done, have a holiday at the same time – it was absolutely fabulous – you really should consider it.”
The idea didn’t appeal to Anna, but she didn’t say that either.
“Anyway, now that I’ve found you, we must keep in contact.” Ginny was all business, searching in her bag for her phone.
Anna cringed. Now there would be the swapping of phone numbers, the hollow promises to meet for coffee. It was all so false and exhausting.
Ginny paused, mid rummage. “I don’t suppose you’re on Facebook yet?” she asked. Then she rattled on as before, not bothering to wait for an answer. “It’s simply fantastic! I’ve caught up with people I haven’t seen in years.”
“Really?” Anna started to edge away, sensing the time might be ripe to escape.
“Oh yes, it’s a blast. You’ll never guess who I “poked” last week – Barry Cox! Do you remember him?”
“Yes, I think I do,” Anna replied.
“God, he was so gorgeous wasn’t he? He hasn’t replied to my message yet, but I live in hope! Didn’t you two used to go out, years ago?”
Anna felt her cheeks redden slightly. “I’d better fly,” she said quickly. “I don’t want my pizza to melt!”
“Oh, OK,” Ginny was taken aback. “Well, keep in touch!”
Anna nodded wordlessly and then sprinted away, trying to suppress tears of laughter. Just wait till Barry heard. He’d told her all about Ginny’s Facebook “friend request” last week when he’d called over. They’d had such a giggle as they’d curled up in front of the fire with their wine and pizza, as they would again tonight. Then they’d thanked their lucky stars that they’d found each other again on-line after all these years. It really was a small world.........