MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
It was raining that morning, ten months ago. I remember because I’d gotten up early, hoping to go for a run. But it was already 8:15, and I was still waiting for the weather to clear. The streets were covered in puddles, and I’d recently gotten new running shoes—purple Nikes with lime-green swooshes and thick pink treads. Funny to think about them now, that I’d been so concerned about protecting my shoes, I’d let nearly a year of my life slip away.
Already dressed in my running gear, I turned from the window, knowing the clouds weren’t going to suddenly part. The sun wasn’t going to magically appear. The oil-stained puddles, with their spirals of blue and green, wouldn’t be evaporating anytime soon.
I’d wanted to be on the road by eight o’nothing. There was a cute runner boy I’d been hoping to see. We had this thing where we nodded to one another each time we passed, usually by the water fountain and always around 8:30. What were the odds that he’d be running in the rain? Should I just suck it up and wear old shoes?
I went to go grab a pair when my phone quacked with a text. From Shelley: Surprise! I’m home from Camping Hell a day early. Long story short: I rly need 2cu. Can we meet @9? Eggs & Stuff? Let’s salvage my bday disaster.
My gut reaction? Excitement. I hadn’t seen Shelley, my best friend, in over a week. But not two seconds later, my brain took over and I remembered: I’d left her birthday present at work.
Can we meet a little L8R? I texted back. I’m going for a run.
Pleeeeeease, she typed, adding a bunch of frowny-face emoticons.
I didn’t want to let her down. Her summer had sucked harder than leeches, and having to spend her seventeenth birthday on a camping trip with her show-tune-singing fam, with no cell phone reception whatsoever, was sure to have been no exception.
Ru there? she continued to type.
I looked at the clock. If I left now, I could open the store, grab the gift, and still have ample time to make it to Eggs & Stuff by 9:00. Cu then, I typed back.
Mom was already up, sitting at the kitchen table in her snowflake-printed bathrobe (even though it was summer). “Hey there.” She peeked up from her magazine—Knit Wit. The cover featured a dazed-looking chicken knitting a scarf that reminded me of candy corn. “Going for a run?”
“Great, we can chat over coffee.”
“Sorry, no time. You’ll have to chat with Dad.”
“Except Dad’s still in bed—that sleepyhead.” She grimaced. “Seems our days of Sunday brunch are a thing of the past.”
“Time to wake him up?”
“I already tried. But he worked late last night … didn’t get in until well past midnight.”
“I’d stay,” I told her. “But I promised Shelley I’d meet her for breakfast.”
“She’s home already?”
“Yes, so I need to get her birthday present—stat.”
“Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place. I have plenty of gifts.”
I didn’t want to argue, but when it came to gift-giving, my mother and I were from two entirely different planets. While she resided on Planet I-got-this-on-sale-but-have-no-real-use- for-it-and-so-it-goes-into-an-already-overflowing-bin- of-tacky-random-stuff, I lived on Planet My-friends-are-my-family-and-so-each-gift-has-been-carefully-hand-selected.
Still, Mom popped up from the table and bounded across the kitchen, en route to the linen closet, where she stored her trove of “treasures.” The idea of turning over some of the stuff in her stash was evidently far more enlivening than the dark-roasted coffee beans my dad had imported from New Guinea.
She came back a few moments later with a bin full of her finds and pulled out a baseball cap with melon-patterned fabric. “This would look adorable on Shelley, with her heart-shaped face.”
What melons had to do with hearts, I had absolutely no idea. Mom could sense my inner snub and dove back into the bin, producing a snowball-maker (!), faux-fur glovelettes, and a turquoise watch that screamed old lady.
“What’s wrong?” Mom asked, reading the repulsion on my face.
I bit my tongue in lieu of commenting. “I already bought a gift. I just left it at Norma’s. Can I borrow the car to go pick it up?”
Mom gazed out the window, and the corners of her mouth turned downward. She has this weird hang-up about letting me drive in rain or snow (not to mention fog, slush, sleet, hail, and darkness).
“You could bring me yourself,” I suggested, fairly confident she wouldn’t take the bait. “As long as you’re okay with waiting while I wrap the gift, and then driving me to Eggs & Stuff right after. I can text you to pick me up, unless of course you’d be willing to drive Shelley and me to the mall or a movie aft—”
“Take the car,” she said, cutting me off. “Just drive carefully.”
“Thanks,” I perked, snagging the keys from the hook.
When I finally made it home, nearly seven months to the day later, my pretty purple running shoes—with the lime-green swooshes and the thick pink treads—were still fully intact, sitting in the hallway closet, spared from the wretched rain puddles.
While I, on the other hand, was far beyond repair.
When I wake up this morning, I find my mother staring back at me.
On the floor.
Lying by my side.
In the middle of the hallway, right outside her and Dad’s room.
She reaches out to touch the scars on my hand—dark pink lines extending from my knuckles to my wrists like broken spiderwebs. Her blue eyes are illuminated by the soft glow of my flashlight. She starts to hum—one of the songs from The Sound of Music—just like she used to when I was little, when I’d crawl into bed between her and Dad after having a bad dream.
A puffy comforter covers me. She obviously did that. I only brought my pillow and the cold sheet from my bed.
How long has she been here, watching me sleep? I want to ask her, want to give some explanation as to how I got here too. My closet just didn’t feel secure enough last night.
Once she pauses from singing, I open my mouth to explain, but I can’t find the words.
“Sleep now,” she whispers, tucking her arm beneath her head. No pillow or blanket for her, just skin, bones, and the thin layer of her cotton nightgown against the cold, hard wood. “Tomorrow is a new day.”
Except I don’t want to think about tomorrow. I want to stay in the space between days—the space where I don’t have to worry about letting people down or saying the wrong thing.
The space with no expectations.
Copyright © 2019 by Laurie Faria Stolarz