Published online with On the Run, 2022
“Are you sure you wanna do this?” Maggie asked through a mouthful of greasy takeout. “Can’t you just tell her that I need to spend some quality time with my beautiful wife?”
I shoved my foot into a tired sneaker. Flecks of house paint speckled the drab fabric. Jesus, I don’t even wear these to work. Shit gets on everything.
“I wish I could,” I said, “but you know Linda’s been having a hard time with her husband. I already canceled our last meet-up at that Italian place. She needs the support.”
“Listen,” Maggie pressed, “I’ve been Googling this Luxe Living Health and they’re a giant pyramid scheme. Half the products are pumped full of corn starch or some shit. Most of the saleswomen don’t even make a dollar a month in commissions. One woman on TikTok said the fertility supplement gave her kidney stones. I wouldn’t go. You’re just begging the breeders to sell you trash.”
I stole a bite of Maggie’s chow mein.
“Damn, that’s pretty good.”
“Hello? Sylvia? Did you hear a word I said?” Maggie scoffed as I planted a fat kiss on her forehead.
I made my way to the front door, waving my hand in casual dismissal.
“Yes, yes, I heard. I know they’ll be selling stuff. That’s why I’m not taking my wallet. And before you ask, yes, I do have my driver’s license. I’m just going to support Linda. Save me some of that chow mein, will you?”
As soon as I took a bite of the pizza Linda had put out for everyone, I felt myself praying that Maggie had honored my request and saved a bit of Chinese for me in the fridge. This wasn’t Round Table or even Little Caesar’s. It was some sort of Gluten Free concoction baked in huge, misshapen rectangles. It was thin as communion wafers. The crust, from what snippets of jumbled conversation I caught on the subject, was some blasphemous labor of canned chicken, arrowroot powder, and egg yolks.
“It only took about fifteen minutes in the oven,” Linda crooned.
“That’s so quick!” a woman in Scooby Doo scrubs said with a toothy smile.
I watched the circle of women around me, chewing feverishly as the “pizza” became sticky the more I worked at it. It’s gonna glue my damn mouth shut, I thought. Half the women, including myself, sat on folding plastic chairs that Linda had set up in her den. The other half had plush armchairs or a seat on the cushion-laden sofa. I shifted my weight in the stiff, unyielding chair. They must’ve got here early, I thought, watching the sofa-women with increasing jealousy.
“So, now that we’re all here, I think it’s time to talk about some of the new products this month,” Linda began.
As soon as she spoke, a hush fell over the room. The sudden silence and the ribbons of golden light streaming in from between the dusty Venetian blinds transformed the room into a solemn chapel.
“You girls loved the Luxe Living Foaming Facial Cleanser so much that we’ve released an electric face wash brush to go with it!”
Linda held out a thick pamphlet with garish graphic design to the woman to her left. The woman took the proffered pamphlet with a slightly bowed head.
“Most facial brushes on the market take a charger but here there are no annoying cords to worry about. The Luxe Living Facial Scrub Brush takes batteries so it’s portable and can go with you wherever.”
Wouldn’t the cost of batteries add up though? I was running my tongue over my teeth thoughtfully, trying to remove every bit of stuck food, when Linda called out to me.
I bit my tongue in surprise.
“You’re working construction now, aren’t you?”
“Not exactly construction,” I muttered, my tongue throbbing. “Renovations, more like.”
A woman to my right with bleach-blonde extensions leaned back as though I might be contagious, a look of shock on her face.
“Right, right,” Linda said with a nod. “Well, this brush would be perfect for you. All that sawdust and dirt and whatnot. Not to mention all the chemicals from cleaner or glue or housepaint. I see your shoes.”
Linda craned her neck forward and pointed a pale finger towards my sneakers. The woman in Scooby Doo scrubs shaped the letter L across her chest like it was the sign of the cross. What? A second woman performed the same, solemn sign. I remembered an aged, faded photograph propped up on posterboard near the front door to Linda’s house picturing women performing the same symbol. The Luxe Living sign? I guess? Is that a thing?
“Oh, right,” I muttered, my face growing hot.
Just say no. Nine pairs of eyes were staring at me. I felt my chest grow tight. Just tell her you aren’t here to shop.
“Listen, Linda, I’m sorry but I didn’t bring my wallet,” I said in a rush, the syllables tripping over one another.
The silence returned to the room then. It was heavier now. The only sound was the groan of the nearby air conditioner. I could feel the chill of air passing over my head. The women all turned to Linda then, expectantly, reverently.
“You knew this was a Luxe Living Health party,” Linda said stiffly. “Sylvia, I don’t know why you’d be this selfish. You know I only want what’s best for my friends but how can I help you connect with products that will let you lead a Luxe, healthful life if you want even given these products a try?”
The silence grew expectant, hungry even. The stranger beside me gave me a forceful nudge. I turned and saw that she was offering me the pamphlet that Linda had passed around. She held it gently, her hands supporting it, cradling it carefully from below as though it were holy scripture.