Today's Reading

"What did you say?" Gretchen asked Joanie, and Joanie told her again that she was going to make the Black Cake Emily Dickinson had talked about. She said she'd go to the library where she used to work and research the recipe. Joanie liked any excuse to go to the library; she liked it especially if a patron came up and said they missed her.

"That was your takeaway from the performance?" Gretchen asked. "The cake?"

During the play, Gretchen herself was all Miss Pittypat, her bosom practically heaving, her eyes damp enough to require Gretchen dabbing at them now and then with a balled-up Kleenex. Gretchen was the first to rise for the standing ovation, which the actress did deserve—my goodness, all those lines, all that feeling—but Joanie got a little annoyed that she had to move her jacket and purse and then push up hard on the armrests to stand, which hurt her elbows, because even though she's only sixty-five, she has awful arthritis. Then she had to endure what she thought was excessive—really, just excessive—applause from the crowd (one person shouting, "Brava!" with a rolled r, for heaven's sake!). All that clapping and clapping and clapping, Joanie's hands got tired, but who wanted to be the party pooper and stop clapping first?

Well, that's what you get when you leave the sensible little town of Mason, Missouri, and drive all the way to Columbia, everyone putting on airs all over the place, even the waitstaff in the restaurants: "Good evening, I'm Thaddeus, I'll be your server for the evening. May I start you out with one of our signature cocktails?" And then that business of not writing down anything she orders, which always makes Joanie a nervous wreck. Joanie prefers the greeting offered by the waitstaff in restaurants she frequents in Mason: "Well, look who's here. The usual, hon?"

Still, one must endeavor to incorporate a little culture into one's life. One can't rely on the Town Players and the Gazebo Summertime Band and Poulet Frisée Olé for everything. Joanie also attends the monthly poetry readings at the library, but that is less culture than charity, Grace Haddock and her impenetrable lines of alliteration every time. Alliteration does not a poem make, thinks Joanie, and she's not the only one, judging by the gritted teeth and crossed arms of the people around her whenever Grace grips the edges of the podium and lets fly. Most of the poems the participants present aren't very good. Still, each time Joanie walks home from one of those readings, she thinks about something she heard. Once a man wrote about his first kiss. "Lips as soft as petals," he'd said shyly, his head down, and it made Joanie go all melty inside, which only went to prove that she was, too, a romantic person, never mind what others sometimes said about her. (Once, at Confession Club, they were talking about first loves and someone said Joanie's first—and only—love was Dewey Decimal.)

The poet that night said something else, too, about eyes shining in the dark, and Joanie liked thinking about that, those young eyes, that first kiss. It made her think about her own first kiss, which was in a basement and, oh, Lord, it was her cousin, which she will never tell anyone, and she hopes he never will, either. He doesn't live in Mason anymore, thank goodness. It still makes her squinch up inside to think about that kiss, which was the best kiss she ever had, and isn't that sad, to have had your best kiss when you were twelve years old? If she'd known that at the time, she might have felt like throwing in the towel. But there's more to life than sex, especially at her age. She's at a kind of tipping point, she feels. Not young anymore, not old, but looking down at old like it's a pool she's going to have to dive into soon. But not yet. Not yet. She's glad many of her friends are younger. She and Gretchen agree that it's good to be around younger people. Things rub off. Totally, Joanie has begun saying, with no self-consciousness at all. Gretchen has yet to follow, but she does say cool. She also says that cool was created more by their generation than by this one. So.

Confession Club started accidentally. It used to be Third Sunday Supper Club, formed from a group of eight women ranging in age from their thirties to their seventies, all of whom had taken baking classes with Iris Winters. After the women grew comfortable enough with one another, they began sharing things they'd done wrong. It just became, as they say, a 'thing,' and after a while, they decided to meet more often, twice a month, then weekly. At each meeting, someone confessed to something she'd done recently or long ago. And just like in church, it made people feel better, because at the end of the meeting the group said in unison to the confessor, "Go in peace." Very powerful words, whatever your belief system. On certain days, those words could make you feel like crying.

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