After finding a note she didn’t write in her husband’s pocket (“Imagine what I can do with my entire body”), the unnamed narrator of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s “The Right Company” rents a cottage already inhabited by two stray cats, attaches an oil painting of the Virgin Mary to her headboard with a Chip Clip to encourage celibacy, and starts having breakfast with Al, a fat food critic, at Ella’s, a mom-and-pop diner on the harbor.
Bergman’s narrator doesn’t move on from her husband’s affair as much as she runs away from it, and “The Right Company” is full of revisionist history: “Better not to try at all, I figured. Better to cut out the complexity and admit that I never really believed in marriage, the power of a vow between flawed people.” She revisits and revises her marriage first figuratively and then literally with a misguided motel rendezvous with her ex.
She also attempts to revisit the origin of human connection, that first meeting of like minds. But the other relationships she forms are tenuous; bonds of friendship tinged with revulsion. She wonders “just how bad Al looked without clothes on.” Mussolini, the man who owns the market across from Ella’s, is an animal abuser “weighed down by his name.” Rhea, her childhood friend is “outdated” with a bad perm and cuffed jeans. If the narrator is searching for the right company, it seems that she’s missing her mark.
But the narrator’s awkwardness and self-awareness lend themselves to the comical cynicism that pervades the story. Of her post-separation relocation, she says, “When your husband cheats on you in a small town, everyone knows, and then you have to move away to hold your head up and stop being the person everyone hugs.” The story isn’t laugh-out-loud funny as much as it is painfully, hilariously true – a sharp edge that pokes at you until you’re forced to smile to relieve some of the tension.
The story climaxes with a failed attempt to free Mussolini’s mistreated dog, a rescue mission that fizzles out when he refuses to flee. The rest of the story spins around that moment – it, too, a refusal to flee in spite of finding yourself drowning in all too familiar waters. “In towns like these,” the narrator says, “there are no perfect rescues.” Everyone must captain their own sinking ship.