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Fern knows one of the women Bill Cosby wronged. Her name is Loretta, and she lives at the end of the road in the house by the pond, on Rambling Lane. All of her children have grown up and left, and her husband isn’t around either, and Fern wonders what she does all day, what she does all day in that big house.
She bakes pies, that’s one thing. Peach, apple, cherry. It’s not that Fern can smell them, wafting from the kitchen through open windows, or anything like that. Or that she’s ever invited over for pie. Certainly not. It’s just that Loretta seemed like the type who’d bake pies, is all.
Fern saw her in the market sometimes, hesitating in the dried food section, her cart in front of the different types of pasta, the cereals. “Pick one!!!” Fern wanted to cry out, overcome by passing hysteria. She wanted to cry out to everyone. “It’s all just – food!” Fern had grown up poor and though she hated the word impoverished, there was that. Now, in the middle of the night she’d go to the fridge and eat slices of dried coconut or leftover chicken wings just because she could. She could still hear her mother’s voice: Children should be fat, they should be fat! She could still her hear crying sometimes, next to her in bed. They slept three to the bed: Fern, Fern’s mother, and Fern’s brother, who’d died. Fern tried to get fat, now that she was older and could support herself on her executive-assistant salary, but she could not, she did not, she just didn’t have one of those bodies.
Loretta did, though. She was a large woman. She moved slowly, as if each leg was an animal she was walking. Heaviness rolled out from either side of her shirt, yet she dressed quite well, something Fern could see even from all the way over on her side of the street. Suit jackets that still buttoned over her stomach. Collars that lay flat, in colors you could tell were expensive. Taupe. Beige. Mint green.
Fern had been trying for some years now to come up with a reason to talk to Loretta, but she couldn’t think of a single one. Not one. Every now and then, she and Loretta will find themselves at the foot of their driveways, hands in the mailboxes. It’s only happened a few times. Loretta will wave, and Fern will wave back, and Loretta will say something about the weather. “Looks like rain tomorrow,” she’ll say, or, “My, it’s too hot for me.” And Fern will turn toward her and try to look her in the eye but Loretta will have already begun her way back up the driveway. She won’t even stay to make small talk, she won’t even look at her face. This makes Fern feel useless, though she doesn’t know why.
Fern has two friends that she sees about once a month each, on different occasions, since they are not friends with each other. Her boss is kind to her, even though he’s young enough to be her son; he treats her with respect, says thank you, and does not ask her to bring him coffee unless his other assistant is busy. Fern’s husband is gone now – he lives across town with a woman named Jamila who reads peoples’ fortunes for $35 – and even though the bruises are faded now, both emotional and physical, and she’s glad to be alone, truly glad to be alone, she drives by his new house sometimes, which isn’t even so new anymore, and tries to see if she can see inside the house.
Still, even with this, all these people in her life, she can’t seem to get Loretta out of her mind.
When the news was breaking about Bill Cosby, when his face was everywhere, on the TV and in the papers and everywhere Fern looked, it seemed, and the names were coming out one by one, when it finally happened, she couldn’t believe it. Loretta King. Loretta King! Loretta King was one of the names. The news anchor had said it casually, as if it were any other name. He said it in a long list of other names that Fern does not remember. She stared at the television for a long time in disbelief, wishing she could rewind. Then she called her husband. (He was, actually, still her husband.)
Jamila answered. Her voice, Fern had to admit, sounded like a movie star’s. “Hel-lo?” she said, like a song.
“Hello,” Fern said. There was a pause. Jamila did not ask who it was, and Fern did not say. And Fern did not say, “May I speak with my husband, please?” because that was surely why she was calling, which Jamila ought to have known, and she did, because after a few (rather long) moments, Fern’s husband came on the line.
“Fern?” he said. He sounded like he’d just woken up from falling asleep in front of the television.
“Loretta King is one of them,” Fern said. “Loretta King from across the street!”
“Loretta King is one of what?” he said.
“One of Bill Cosby’s – women!” she cried. She could not think of the right word to use; it wouldn’t come to her. Anxiety bloomed in her stomach, behind her eyes. “One of his VICTIMS!”
Fern’s husband was silent. And then he said, “And?”
“And!” Fern said. She couldn’t believe he didn’t have more to say, but then again, what had she expected? He hadn’t said much to her at all in the last few years together, not much at all. She hung up the phone, then picked it back up, as if he’d still be there, and then finally hung it up at last.
After that, Fern was glued to the news. She wanted to hear Loretta’s name again. She’d look, from time to time, out the window toward Loretta’s house, but either her car was in the driveway, that red four-door, or it wasn’t. She googled Loretta’s name. Small details surfaced, but eventually Fern was able to put together that it happened in the ’70s, between ’73 and ’77; that Loretta was working as a cocktail waitress at a bar at the top of a building called the Starlight Room (she must have been slimmer then, thought Fern); and that Cosby had drugged her with champagne and maybe cold medicine and something else. Fern thought about this very carefully, what the “something else” could have been, and considered whether or not she had any cold medicine in the house, which she did not. Fern had never been much for drinking, either, but she did have champagne on special occasions, and now, the idea of having a glass of champagne (which, she had to admit, she liked the taste of very much) sickened her, absolutely sickened her.
A few weeks went by, during which Fern slept fitfully. She’d never had trouble sleeping, but now, it was like her body didn’t belong to her anymore. She wasn’t even hungry like she used to be. She drained the food in the house, slowly, eating cold cereal or a microwave dinner; she wasn’t even binging at night anymore, which used to be her favorite thing to do.
Fern was a wreck. She was a wreck. And she did not know what to do about it.
Eventually, the news of Bill Cosby’s affairs and such quieted down in favor of more political news, and of course the weather, which Fern had a hard time watching because it was the one thing she knew Loretta liked to talk about. She thought of Loretta in her house, all alone, baking pies. She wondered where her children were and if they called her, or lived close, and if that was where Loretta was sometimes when her red four-door was missing – visiting her children. She hoped that was where she was. If, of course, it was where Loretta wanted to be.
She called both of her friends, the ones who were not friends with each other. To one of them, she said, “Loretta King lives across the street.”
“Who?” said the friend.
“Loretta King. One of Bill Cosby’s victims.”
“Oh, dear Lord. What a shame,” the friend said. “What does she look like?”
“She’s fat,” Fern said.
“Figures,” the friend said.
To the other friend, Fern said, “How do you make a cherry pie?”
“I don’t know,” the other friend said. “Can’t you go online?”
So Fern went online and learned all about how to make a cherry pie, went to the store, bought the ingredients, went home, and baked the pie. It was not as hard as she thought it would be. She thought about asking her friends to come over for pie (not at the same time, of course). She thought about calling her husband. And she thought about Loretta, about maybe saying, hello neighbor, would you like some pie? Or, would you like the pie? But she didn’t, she couldn’t, she wouldn’t have known how. She didn’t know how Loretta would take her pie, or if she’d take coffee, or tea, which she had none of, or what she would do or look at if she was actually that close to her. It was too much, it was all just too much. And besides, Loretta’s four-door was missing again; there was just a big gaping hole in the driveway where it usually was – although, lately, less and less.