There had always been a rivalry between the two of them. Chloe’s mind goes back to the primary school playground, on Sybil’s first day.
They were seven years old, swinging on the monkey bars.
‘Where are you from?’ Chloe asked. Knees hooked over the bar, dangling. The ground was the sky and her hands could almost reach it from her bat-like position. She looked at Sybil hanging opposite. Her cheeks squished up against her eyes and her blonde ponytail tickled the tan bark.
‘I can hold longer than you,’ Sybil said, ignoring the question.
‘No, you can’t.’ Chloe’s legs started to shake. ‘Your voice is weird. Why do you talk like that?’ She back-flipped off the monkey bars.
‘Told you,’ Sybil said, still hanging. She poked her tongue at Chloe. ‘Wales. My family moved here from Wales two weeks ago.’
And so began a fierce and loyal friendship underscored with an often-unhealthy level of competition.
In their teen years, they competed for boys’ attention. Sometimes, even the same boy. As uni students, they competed for grades. On their graduation day, it was who could consume the most champagne without appearing drunk.
Now in their 40s, Chloe’s marriage in tatters, Sybil’s still vying to be the winner. Chloe is wearing her pyjamas for the fourth day in a row, her hair is a netted mess. Sybil, she notices, is in her usual understated style, with trademark heels.
Chloe holds her head in her hands and sobs. ‘I’m so over him and his shit.’ Her husband’s affair wore her down to the bone.
‘Come on,’ Sybil says. ‘Don’t give him your tears. You’re better than that.’
Chloe nods, but she doesn’t believe her friend’s words deep within. Not now. He’s destroyed her sense of self.
‘See Sibby, I just don’t think I am.’
‘Hey, no. You’re the most self-assured person I know. You’ve always had a handle on everything. You’re like Superwoman.’
Chloe scoffs in derision. ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ Her mind rewinds over the past few months. Marty’s many late nights at work—so he used to say. She was reduced to a shadow of her former confident nature. Tired of waiting up for his return, Chloe went to bed only to lie awake worrying, plotting, crying, shaking. Finally, she’d hear his car in the drive, his shoe-less feet tip-toeing up the staircase to the room they shared. He’d slink into bed, she’d pretend to be asleep. The scent he always brought with him danced in her nostrils. Teasing. Familiar.
She glances at Sybil and it hits her, like a sucker punch to the solar plexus.
‘It’s you, isn’t it?’
Sybil’s face hardens; her eyes flash dark black. Then, she has the grace to hang her head, as if in shame. ‘How’d you know?’
‘I think I always did. Somehow. But without knowing.’ Chloe sniffs. ‘Get what I mean? Little things, like the the perfume. Once he even had lipstick smeared over his neck. It was your favourite colour.’
The two friends stare at each other. Sybil finally speaks, ‘I guess I should be going.’
‘Yes, please do,’ Chloe says. She waits for the front door to close behind Sybil, before she screams.
Sybil won. She always won.