“Forgive and forget” is my life’s guiding policy. That’s why I don’t murder people—I forgive them. Only then can I find blessed forgetfulness.
Like last week, when my neighbor took my mail by mistake. I told her she was forgiven, and I meant it. Then there was the clumsy barista who splashed espresso on my new white jacket. It left a memorable stain, but in the end, I forgave her, too.
And I’ve already forgotten how I caught my husband fucking my best friend in the employee lounge yesterday. That image has completely disappeared from my mind.
I did not purposely disguise myself as my friend Gretchen.
It was the end of my shift at the Grande Hotel, and my feet hurt. Eight hours of pushing a room service cart left my toes throbbing. I changed out of my waitress uniform and shoved it into my locker. Then I noticed Gretchen’s locker was open.
Her pretty red peacoat hung inside. The same coat that had been rumpled on the floor while she and my husband…well, I’d forgotten that incident. They both had sworn it would never happen again, so, just this once, I altered my routine. I excised the affair from my memory, skipping that oh-so-crucial step of forgiveness.
But that red coat.
It taunted. Reminded me.
I suppose I wasn’t thinking clearly when I reached past my own stained jacket and yanked the tarty red peacoat from its hook. I don’t think I intended to take her cell phone out of the pocket, or scroll through her text messages. I’m sure I didn’t whimper when I read the new plans they had been making together.
Call me naïve, but I’d believed my friend when she said she wouldn’t betray me a second time. Her treachery hurt even more than my husband’s. Mitch was just a man. But Gretchen? She was a best friend. I buttoned her coat tight, right up to my chin, to keep the memory sharp. I couldn’t allow myself to forget.
Perhaps I had an inkling of a scheme when I strode through the hotel’s fancy main entrance like a legitimate guest, wearing Gretchen’s pretty coat and matching hat. I might have known what I was doing when I pulled her credit card from the pocket, signed her name in the register. Maybe it was a premeditated choice when I requested a suite on the 25th floor, the floor she and I worked together.
I admit, I did admire my image in the mirrored walls of the express elevator. The coat colored me stylish and carefree, eager for adventure. Too bad it was so itchy.
I didn’t order the Steak Frites. It was Gretchen’s favorite. She liked to sneak the crispy fries from the guest plates before delivering them. Denying her that last treat, I instead ordered a plain salad and a piece of cheesecake. The cheesecake was for me.
My hands didn’t tremble as I prepared. The desk chair broke into club-sized pieces with one precisely placed stomp; I’m sure my high school gym teacher would have noted my lack of grace, if she hadn’t had that tragic accident, all those years ago. What a funny thing to remember. Anyway, I appreciated the heft of the mahogany chair leg as I gave it a test swing.
Lights dimmed, I waited, listened for the clink of the cart, watched her push it into the room.
It took several heartbeats for her to understand it was me in the fancy suite.
“You were my best friend,” I whispered.
She inhaled, surprised. “You ordered room service? Hey, that’s my coat!”
I’d always approved of the way her eyebrows crinkled when she was annoyed. I wish I could have allowed that crinkle to last a little longer, but her head was surprisingly fragile. I sat with her until her brow smoothed, caressing her hair over the seeping gash.
Then I paused to take a bite of the cheesecake. I uncovered the salad, too, but the leaves were already wilted and limp, clinging to the edge of the plate. Suddenly, I wished I’d ordered the fries. She had been my best friend, after all.
“I forgive you,” I said. And I meant it.
Bliss flooded my mind, promised to wash away the tainted memories. But Gretchen’s coat prickled against my throat, grated my skin. Held me to task. The rough red fabric reminded me of that other betrayer: Mitch.
Bliss would have to wait.
I pulled Gretchen’s phone from the coat pocket and sent him a quick text, adding to the plans they already had underway. “Join me in room 2502?”
The reply came immediately. “Can’t get enough of me, huh? On my way!”
His enthusiasm dashed any smidgeon of hope, or love, that might have lingered. I turned up the peacoat’s collar, accepted its chafe. Thrummed with the need to forgive.
Myna Chang writes flash and short stories. Her work has been selected for Best Small Fictions, Fractured Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, and Bending Genres, among others. She has been nominated for Best Microfiction, and she is the winner of the 2020 Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction. Read more at MynaChang.com or @MynaChang.