The mail­box had pink bal­loons. Alice fol­lowed a line of cars up the dri­ve­way where teenaged boys were scur­ry­ing around the front yard, tak­ing keys from dri­vers and park­ing cars in a large lot of grass. She rolled down the win­dow as a young valet strode to her. He was freshly shaven, the top two but­tons of his col­lared shirt un­but­toned. Alice re­mem­bered boys like him from high school—ath­letes, good boys, all white teeth and con­fi­dence. Alice smiled at him as he handed her a ticket, feel­ing sud­denly self-con­scious. “Just leave your keys in the ig­ni­tion, ma’am.” She re­al­ized she was wear­ing her glasses, they were new and she only needed them for dri­ving but that some­how made it worse. She fluffed her hair as she climbed out, pic­tur­ing the few wiry white hairs she’d been ex­am­in­ing in the bath­room mir­ror be­fore bed.

Alice made her way to the front door as a clus­ter of women car­ry­ing enor­mous wrapped gifts and bas­kets teetered on the steps to­gether. She won­dered what they’d bought and sud­denly felt self-con­scious about her own gift choice—bath toys that the baby wouldn’t be able to play with for at least an­other year. It was the only gift under forty dol­lars on the nu­mer­ous reg­istries. She’d ac­tu­ally seen a re­quest on one of the lists for a sil­ver, en­graved rat­tle. The women turned to­ward her after one of them rang the door­bell. Alice smiled tightly at them. “Hello there! Did you work with Heidi?” the youngest of the women chirped.

Alice won­dered if she re­sem­bled a teacher, she’d never thought of her­self as bor­ing look­ing. “We were col­lege room­mates.”

“Oh, won­der­ful! Do you live around here or…” The door opened and Heidi smiled at them so widely she looked slightly de­ranged. Alice knew that smile—it was one Heidi felt she’d per­fected their sopho­more year, show­ing off her teeth with­out al­low­ing her eyes to squint so that she arched her eye­brows men­ac­ingly. Age changes every­thing though, so now the wrin­kles in the cor­ners of her eyes were the only fea­ture that were high­lighted by the gri­mace. Heidi was wear­ing a tight, brightly printed dress that stretched across her preg­nant stom­ach. The neck­line of the dress was cut­ting in to her breasts caus­ing them to spill over the top.

The women took their time en­ter­ing the house, hug­ging Heidi awk­wardly in the door­way then block­ing the en­trance as they com­pli­mented every­thing within eye­sight. Alice had vis­ited only once, two years prior at a house­warm­ing party, and she and Mitch had stood to­gether by the pool, barely able to hear each other over the Jimmy Buf­fett-in­spired mu­si­cian that had been hired to pro­vide en­ter­tain­ment. It was just after an ex­tended ren­di­tion of “Mar­gar­i­taville” with a sing-along from the women seated around Heidi under a ca­bana began that Mitch and Alice dis­solved into laugh­ter and said their good­byes. Alice re­mem­bered they’d be hun­gry as they drove home and they stopped for tacos and ate them in the flu­o­res­cent lit park­ing lot.

As Alice moved in­side the home, Car­olyn came to­wards her in al­most an iden­ti­cal dress as Heidi’s and only slightly smaller stom­ach though she wasn’t preg­nant. “So good to see you again,” she said, open­ing her arms for an em­brace. Alice hugged her but felt her own body tight­en­ing. This al­ways seemed to be her re­flex with af­fec­tion, as though she ex­pected a hug to dis­solve into a punch to the stom­ach. “I’ll just put this with the oth­ers,” Car­olyn said, tak­ing the gift from Alice’s hands. Car­olyn moved with the ease of some­one fa­mil­iar with the house, some­one who watched movies in the the­ater room, and cooked din­ners with Heidi in the kitchen, giddy after a bot­tle of wine. She prob­a­bly had her own guest room.

Alice hes­i­tated in the foyer, she kicked off her scuffed clogs and see­ing no other shoes around, she put them back on. Groups of women were stand­ing in the kitchen and liv­ing room which had been dec­o­rated with pink flow­ers and table­cloths and more bal­loons. Servers in white col­lared shirts and black pants moved around the room with trays of ap­pe­tiz­ers.

“I’m glad you could make it.” Car­olyn had ap­peared again just as Alice was push­ing a piece of sushi in to her mouth. She’d put too much wasabi on it and her eyes wa­tered as she swal­lowed.

“Oh, yes, me too,” Alice said though just an hour ear­lier she’d stood in the bath­room, telling Mitch she could not and would not go. Mitch had pulled her to­ward him and said into the top of her head, “It will be quick. You’re in, you’re out. Irish good­bye if you can’t bear it, okay?”

“I only ‘Irish good­bye’ when I’m drunk,” Alice said. “It’s rude.”

“Well, use it if you need it.” It was al­ways their way to calm the other be­fore so­cial events. The promise that at any point they could leave un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously, and re­treat home to their one-bed­room apart­ment where they’d be greeted by their cat, Sharona, who would wel­come them by flop­ping down, squirm­ing around, and dis­play­ing her belly proudly whether they’d been gone fif­teen min­utes or five days. He pulled her shoul­ders away from him, smiled at her in the way that al­ways made her feel that if she were some­one who lived in the mo­ment then this would be the very best, great­est mo­ment. He kissed her on the fore­head.

Car­olyn shifted, palm­ing her glass and glanc­ing around the room as Alice searched for con­ver­sa­tional top­ics. A server with red wine came by and Alice plucked a glass off the tray. “I don’t think I’ve seen you since the wed­ding,” Car­olyn said, fi­nally.

Alice nod­ded, know­ing they’d seen each other at the house­warm­ing party but had not spo­ken to one an­other. Car­olyn had been Heidi’s maid-of-honor and Alice couldn’t help but think this was her way of re­mind­ing Alice of that. There had al­ways been some­thing a lit­tle sad about Car­olyn’s des­per­a­tion to be Heidi’s best friend, and Alice had sur­mised after she her­self had not been cho­sen as a brides­maid that what­ever com­pe­ti­tion for Heidi’s af­fec­tion they were in, Car­olyn had clearly won.

“Still nurs­ing?” Alice asked, set­ting down her empty glass. Car­olyn looked puz­zled, un­sure if it was a joke or in­sult. Alice re­al­ized how it sounded in light of the party theme and cor­rected her­self, “I mean, are you still a nurse?”

“Yeah, I’m doing pe­di­atrics now which I like so much bet­ter. I was doing hos­pice be­fore. I don’t know if Heidi told you.”

Car­olyn knew Heidi hadn’t told her. Heidi and Alice had chat­ted through emails off and on for the past few years, but Alice al­ways felt it was a chore re­ply­ing, try­ing to sound en­thused about Heidi’s new teach­ing job know­ing she’d mar­ried into enough money that she’d be per­ma­nently re­tired as soon as she got preg­nant.

At the house­warm­ing party, Alice and Mitch had taken a tour of the six bed­room, seven bath­room house. Alice pinched Mitch dis­creetly on the thigh when Heidi had said, “I know it doesn’t seem like it, but run­ning a house­hold is a full-time job.” That night when they re­turned home, Alice and Mitch show­ered in the dark. Nei­ther one of them turned on the fan and the bath­room was quiet and humid with­out it. They each lin­gered under the water until the other one com­plained or jok­ingly edged their way in. Sharona was wait­ing on the bath mat when they pulled back the cur­tain. “What do two peo­ple do with seven bath­rooms?” Alice had asked, wrap­ping a towel around her­self.

An older, well-dressed, stout woman, Alice re­mem­bered as Heidi’s mother-in-law, called out that every­one should make their way to the “sit­ting room” for gift open­ing. Alice grabbed an­other glass of wine and found a seat in the back. She hadn’t eaten all day and the first glass was mak­ing her feel warm and light-headed. Heidi took her seat in front of a mar­ble fire­place as Car­olyn sur­rounded her with gifts. All of the women vo­calised their de­light with every gift opened—blan­kets, clothes, de­signer di­a­per bags, one month free with a per­sonal trainer. “And he’ll come right to your house!” one of the women that Alice rec­og­nized as stand­ing on the front porch with her ear­lier said.

Alice’s wine glass was empty and she looked around for the servers, but they were busy cut­ting and serv­ing a three-tiered cake. Just as an­other gift was opened—it was the sil­ver rat­tle, from Car­olyn, of course—Alice stood to make her way to the bath­room. The bar area was un­at­tended and as Alice passed by she grabbed an open bot­tle of wine. She stood at the bath­room sink and ex­am­ined her own face, now flushed, as she sipped the bot­tle. There was only a quar­ter of it left and she fin­ished it within a few min­utes. Her teeth had a filmy red coat on them and Alice opened a few draw­ers be­fore she found a travel sized bot­tle of mouth­wash. She stuck the empty wine bot­tle among clean­ing items under the sink, and rum­maged through a few more draw­ers and the closet where she found a bas­ket of dis­carded make-up. Many of the items were still in boxes bear­ing de­signer la­bels and Alice sorted through them be­fore pock­et­ing an ex­pen­sive look­ing blush and spray­ing her­self with per­fume.

Cake was passed out and Alice found her­self re­pulsed by all of the women’s mouths chew­ing and talk­ing and run­ning their lips over forks or lick­ing frost­ing from their fin­gers when they thought no one was watch­ing.  Alice stood on the out­skirts of a cir­cle Heidi was a part of, poised to smile brightly and give her con­grat­u­la­tions and good-bye. Heidi turned, her breasts had shifted through­out the af­ter­noon and a nip­ple was dan­ger­ously close to being ex­posed, Alice thought she could make out its faint out­line.

Heidi rubbed her enor­mous stom­ach, “I can’t be­lieve it’s an­other two months until I can have a glass of wine.” The other women snick­ered, not yet im­mersed in their own con­ver­sa­tion though Heidi was no longer fac­ing them.

Alice sud­denly felt a warm­ness to­ward Heidi, the so­cial anx­i­ety soothed by the wine and she said, “Not drink­ing must be hard for you, Al­abama Slam­mer.”

A flicker of recog­ni­tion fol­lowed by a look of fear crossed Heidi’s face be­fore she re­cov­ered her­self, “Sorry, what was that?”

“Al­abama Slam­mer. Re­mem­ber that guy? What was his name? He al­ways called you…”

Heidi pulled the cor­ners of her lips back, ex­pos­ing her teeth in a poised snarl, then turned back to the other women who were lis­ten­ing ea­gerly. “Alice and I used to call each other a lot of funny names.” Alice felt a sharp pang of em­bar­rass­ment, and a vast empti­ness came over her. Too much his­tory, like too much truth, can prove a painful thing. “If you’ll ex­cuse me, ladies, I have to use the re­stroom. This baby makes me go all day!”

Alice moved closer to the front door as Heidi walked to the bath­room. “I guess if you pee your pants, you’ll have an ex­cuse now!” Alice said cheer­ily. Heidi and Car­olyn ex­changed looks. “You re­mem­ber how you al­ways used to pee your pants when you got drunk. She didn’t even try to make it to the bath­room,” Alice said to some of the women who were now look­ing at her as though it was the first time they’d no­ticed she was there. “I think the first time was when she did eigh­teen jello shots. ” Alice snick­ered at the thought even now of Heidi lying on their bath­room floor, laugh­ing un­con­trol­lably and then look­ing down to see her jeans soaked through and laugh­ing even harder. There was a dif­fer­ent woman fac­ing her now, some­one who clearly would not have ap­proved of the for­mer.

“Alice!” Heidi’s face had red­dened and she was rub­bing her stom­ach over and over like some sort of bloated good luck charm. Car­olyn ap­peared at her side and mur­mured some­thing to her.

“Well,” Alice said, and then she opened the front door and stepped in to the bright af­ter­noon.

The valets were stand­ing around, lean­ing on the cars, a few had rolled their sleeves up. Birds were chirp­ing and the ground was still damp from a snowy win­ter. Alice stalked to her car as the boy from ear­lier came jog­ging up to her. “We can pull it right around for you.” Alice ig­nored him and con­tin­ued walk­ing, squint­ing with­out her glasses to find her car which was parked at the back of the prop­erty. The boy walked after her, “Re­ally it’s no trou­ble.”

“It’s fine, it’s right here,” Alice said as the boy in­sisted on open­ing the door for her. “Sorry, I don’t have any cash.”

“Oh, that’s okay. We’re not al­lowed to ac­cept tips at pri­vate par­ties.”

Alice climbed in and pulled the door shut at the same time as the boy closed it so that it slammed harshly. She found her keys on the floor and pulled out of the lot as the boy lifted his hand, “Have a nice day, ma’am.”

She drove slowly down the long dri­ve­way and when she saw the pink bal­loons, she turned the wheel ever so slightly to­wards the mail­box until the wooden beam folded then snapped under the car. Alice as­sumed the wood had splin­tered and the bal­loons were now lying shriv­eled in the mud, but she didn’t look back to find out.

She put the win­dow down, but the air was cool and balmy and did noth­ing to sober her. The sun was just set­ting and Alice re­al­ized she was dri­ving with­out her glasses. She pulled off into a sub­di­vi­sion and searched her purse, but they were nowhere to be found. Alice pushed back into the head­rest and pulled the blush out of her pocket. It was a bright pink and she flipped down the mir­ror and rubbed some on to her cheeks. It made her look clown­ish, like a lit­tle girl wear­ing her mother’s make-up, and she rubbed it off with her palms. She shut the car off and walked around to the front. The li­cense plate was badly dented and there was a white scuff mark on the bumper. She shoved her hands into her pock­ets and began to walk. She and Mitch often vis­ited this neigh­bor­hood on sum­mer evenings, but she never paid at­ten­tion to where they parked or how they found their way back.

In the dri­ve­ways of houses she passed were aban­doned bikes and chil­dren’s toys, rem­nants from the first warm spring day. The side­walks were wet, the trees still bare, and Alice hugged her arms to her body with­out a jacket. She could still smell the per­fume on her, musky and sweet, and it made her feel like a dif­fer­ent per­son. The sub­di­vi­sion was like a labyrinth, roads lead­ing to more roads open­ing to dead ends and cul-de-sacs and more houses that looked the same. She walked quickly as lights in­side the houses turned on, and when she fi­nally found the car again she was out of breath. She was shaky and hun­gry and she turned the heat on to warm her­self. She pic­tured Mitch in their kitchen, shift­ing pots and pans on the stove and tying the waist of the apron she’d given him their first Christ­mas to­gether. Sharona would be weav­ing her­self in and out of his an­kles as he spoke to her. Alice turned the blinker on, though there wasn’t a car in sight, and made the last turn home.