Sorry for the extreme lack of posts. It’s been a busy semester/year. This is just a quick update that I may, as the tide tells throws me, post drafts of works I have no intention to publish at the moment. To begin this new trend in posts, here is a short story I wrote for class this past weekend.
How to Ruin Someone’s Life in Five Minutes
She’s in there now. She’s in the house at 3535 Elmwood Drive. The house is surrounded by a white picket fence, lined with geraniums and tulips. A yard of blue-green grass stretches out from the front steps, lightly brushing against the sidewalk. A blooming hawthorn shades the windows while a tire swing sways in the breeze. The house is a pale pink, trimmed with white, to her taste. The woman, the mother, the wife, is in there now, doing what she always does on a Sunday morning.
She is baking. Usually, she is baking bread, preparing for Monday’s tuna salad, Tuesday’s ham and cheese, Wednesday’s Reuben, Thursday’s salami, and Friday’s BLT. Usually, she is kneading the bread with her computer on, playing NPR podcasts. Usually, her brow relaxes as the chemical reaction of eggs, yeast, flour, and water release a pleasant perfume into the air. Usually, the perfume lingers and seeps into the curtains, the leather chairs, her denim jeans and white cotton blouse. But that’s not today.
Today is her son’s birthday. He has turned 7 at exactly 5:35 am. That morning, she had prepared breakfast as he was getting dressed. Today, he would chose his clothes; the X-Man T-shirt he worn the day the Giants won the World Series, the tattered denim shorts bought the previous summer (peppered with stubborn grass stains). His mother laughed at the sounds of his heavy feet as he stomped upon the hardwood floorboards upstairs. She cracked an egg into the pan, imagining him rushing to the bathroom in the hiking boots his father had bought him last August. The sound of 7 years of life mixed with the sound of sizzling bacon, eggs, and pancakes.
Her husband came down before their son, walked up behind her as she was washing her hands, placed his thick arms around her waist, and pulled her close to him. She leaned back into him, taking in the cologne and after shave with a kiss. Her husband was muscular, but his height always gave the illusion of a slim frail man. As their son raced down to dining table, hopped into his favorite chair (the one closest to the living room and TV), and began piling his plate with food, both smiled at the stubby child they’ve made. Her son poured strawberry syrup straight from the bottle onto his pancakes. Her husband had winked his left eye at her as he took his seat at the head of the table. She had chuckled, then, before announcing the necessary errand. They were out of several sundry items but she needed to be home to watch for a special delivery from Grandma. She had already missed the delivery man twice this week; if she missed him again, the package would be sent back to sender. Her husband volunteered to do the shopping and urged their son to come along for the trip. At first, their son looked up at them, wide-eyed with strawberry syrup dripping from his lips. He had asked why he had to go too and what about his birthday and several other questions of the like, but eventually her husband convinced their son to join in on the grocery expedition. Before he entered the blue-grey station wagon, she kissed her son on his forehead, brushing flaxen strands of hair away from his eyes. His eyes were the color of hazel nut butter and shone in the morning light. They were the same eyes as his father. They were lovely eyes.
She had watched them drive off towards the Safeway in the next town over, waving her hands as the car faded out into the distance. Once the car was out of sight, she went back inside and began making phone calls. First she called her brother, who lives three streets down the way. Then, she called the families of Emily Johnson, Thomas Fresno, Erik Bernard, Jacob Featherweight, Michael Ocean, Jessica Bunny, Susan McLanester, Anthony Bee Suzette, Rachel Airline, Desiree Jones, Frankie Miles, Jonathon Jacob, Ginger Jiggle, Frederick Hammersmith, Abby Church, and Mitt Vandersmith. She called each in turn, announcing her son’s departure and when they would be expected to make an appearance at 3535 Elmwood Drive.
“Oh, I hope you can make it Mr. Johnson. How is Tommy today, Mrs. Fresno? Are you free today Mr. Bernard? Yes, they just left, Mrs. Featherweight. Their welcome to come, Mr. Ocean. Yes, of course Mrs. Bunny, thank you. No, Mr. McLanester, that isn’t necessary. Yes, thank you Ms. Suzette. Whenever you’re able to make it, Mr. Airline. Yes, please bring the streamers, Mr. Jones. Please be sure Frankie will behave this time, Mrs. Miles. Oh, that’s fine Mr. Jacob, no need to worry. No, thank you Mr. Jiggle, I have that covered. Of course, Mrs. Hammersmith. God bless you too, Mr. Church. See you soon, Mrs. Vandersmith.”
That was a while ago. Now, the backyard is full of colorful streamers, packages wrapped in ribbons, cards signed with happy wishes and stuffed with the occasional President Jackson. Adults are wandering around the yard, children are playing around their feet, and she is inside, baking the birthday boy’s cake. She has preheated the oven to 350 degrees and lightly oiled and floured three round pans. In a large clear bowl, she sifts together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another, she whisks together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, red food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. She uses the standing mixer she got on her wedding day to mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, until the batter is smooth. She is dividing the cake batter evenly between the three pans. She is placing them into the oven. She is sighing and wondering where her family is.
Five minutes from now, the cake will be forgotten. After my car pulls up to the house on 3535 Elmwood Drive, after she opens the door, after “Hello, Officer Hammersmith. What brings you here? Frederick is out back with the others.” Five minutes from now, I will have to sit her down and say “Mary, Henry was in an accident.” Five minutes from now, she will ask a torrent of questions, “What accident? Is Henry okay? Where is he? What about Bobby?” And to each question there is only one answer, an answer that will toss a black shroud over her small frame.
But that’s not now, that’s five minutes from now. Currently, she is baking a cake for a little boy who will never see the sunset on his 7th year and for the man who kissed his wife goodbye.