CW-allusions to death
The notification indicating a missed call had occurred sounded off. DING. Kim turned her phone over and shook her head. Soft, calming music filled the room. The pungent odor of incense burning and the soft flickering of tea candles gave the impression that this was a calm space—an inviting space. She breathed in deeply. She exhaled slowly. Her groin ached slightly because it had been at least 10 years since she last sat in the butterfly pose with the bottoms of her feet together. Kim bobbed her knees up and down to relieve the pressure. Her mind was racing as she felt the soft vibrations through the floor indicating that she was receiving yet another phone call. Kim’s green eyes reflexively began to roll back inside her head. She picked up the phone and hit the red decline option. DING! Voicemail.
Another heaved sigh.
Kim stood with a groan, stretching out her long legs. Her black cat, Midnight, walked lazily across her path.
She rolled her shoulders back and popped her neck. Kim blew out all seven little tea candles. She cleaned up the incense. When she went to turn off the music she saw the three missed calls, two texts with big bold letters demanding CALL ME, and of course the voicemail. Kim began clearing the notifications, choosing to ignore each of them. Her mother could wait, she decided. It was her birthday, not her Mom’s, after all.
After a shower, she consulted her closet for about thirty minutes. On her lilac bedspread was a red skirt and a pair of jean shorts with a blue t-shirt. As she was sorting through her options, Kim noticed an old white dress with blue flowers. It was one her mother had gifted her a couple years ago during her first trip back home from college. During the week they spent together, they had discussed life out in Colorado, no less than four separate times. Karol had demanded to know if her daughter was seeing someone. Kim had lied and said she was. She even made up a fake backstory. And sometimes she still got texts asking how that “Tony” boy was doing.
Ultimately, Kim chose black leggings and a simple white tee. She meandered from her living room into the kitchen where she opened her fridge, peered in to see nearly naked glass shelves, and instead snagged her purse from her counter. It was right beside the little white box her mother had sent her gift in this year. The sight of which irked Kim because it was no doubt filled with dollar store quality junk.
She rolled down all her windows on her little red Bug. She blasted loud music from her radio. Her hand flew out to relish in the cool, fresh spring air as she wove her way through her neighborhood down to the local bakery where maybe, just maybe, Asher would be working today. The drive went by quickly and just her luck, a spot right up front! Kim pulled in. She opened her mirror to check her cherry red lip gloss. Damn her eyebrows were well behaved today. Kim practiced her best coy smile, her best birthday beam, her best flirty eyebrow raise. After sprtizing a bit of perfume on, she exited her vehicle and swung open the glass door to the shop. Instantly, decadent smells of sweet breads and coffee filled her nose. There was a line, but she also caught the figure of Asher bustling from the warming ovens to the display case. She pretended to look up at the menu, contemplating her choice. When she noticed Asher had stepped up to the register, she stepped up, too.
“I’ll take a large Chai latte and a chocolate scone and,” she reached into the refrigerated case by the registers, “This yogurt cup, please.” On went the birthday beam.
“Please put in your rewards number, ma’am,” said Asher with a grin. On went the coy smile as Kim punched in her number. “Oh, and I see today is your birthday! You get a free cookie,” he said while indicating his freshly stocked case.
“Which one would you recommend?” she asked, barely noticing the whines of a child tugging on her mother’s hand with desperation.
“Uh, chocolate chip of course,” Asher said, stepping over to his case and pulling out one of the decadent desserts which were the size of her palm. The birthday beam returned while he put the cookie in a little paper bag. Kim finished paying just as he handed over the treat with a wink. Kim took her breakfast to a table and found herself in the very last booth available! The cafe was bustling with noise from students furiously finishing their term papers, to the girlfriends catching up, to the little old couples chatting over their morning coffee.
A few moments after Kim had taken her seat, the little girl and mother from the line sat at the table directly across from her. The mother whispered a command. The little girl was left to kick the legs of her chair with the heels of her red rain boots. Kim noticed the girl had paired the boots with a blue jean dress and matching hat. It made her smile.
Before the mother could catch Kim’s lingering eye, Kim’s beeper began vibrating which indicated that her food and latte was ready. She leapt up, snagged a straw, and returned to her booth where she checked her social media which was chock full of well wishes for her 21st. They made her smile. She took a photo of her latte and her cookie. The post garnered instant likes and a few comments from stragglers who didn’t offer well wishes on her wall.
After a few sips of the decadently spicy chai, she opened her cookie. The taste was divine! Better than her mother’s stupid mishapen cookies that were baked every year for her birthday. Every year Kim had begged her mother not to bring them to school. She desperately wanted store bought cookies like all her friends. Kim turned the bag over and noticed the chicken scratch of a boy: Birthday date tonight? I get off at 6. Pizza’s on me? -Asher The birthday beam was back.
Kim added the unfamiliar number to her phone and sent a quick text agreeing to the date. She guzzled the rest of her drink and wolfed down her yogurt cup, realizing she was hungrier than she had thought. The woman brought the food back to her daughter who began gleefully squealing like a baby bird at the sight of a warmed chocolate croissant and the mountain of whipped cream teetering on a mug of hot chocolate. The woman with her long, red hair sat across from the girl. Out of the corner of her eye, Kim noticed that she seemed to watch her daughter eat.
Kim rolled her eyes, gathered her trash, and headed out the side door so as not to see Asher again because the sight of his green eyes might cause her to melt into a puddle.
Back in the car, she rolled down her windows and headed for the local outdoor mall where a nice dress shop was located. The AC made goosebumps appear on her shoulders and down her arms. Kim walked past the summer shorts on sale and the slinky spaghetti strap neon on tank tops to the dress section. She pulled a few options and draped them over her arm. As Kim passed a teen in a polo, she inquired where the dressing room was. Kim stood at the desk waiting to be let in.
She heard the sound of a pleading parent, “Please, please, please try on the dress, Alexis. You can’t just wear the same shirt every day for summer camp.”
“No!” screamed the child.
“Ok, can we, maybe,” the sound of rustling fabric and hangers hitting the walls of the changing room echoed in the mostly empty area, “Maybe we try on the shorts?”
“No!” screamed a child. Her voice began to hit decibels that caused ringing in adult ears.
“But you can wear your favorite shirt with the shorts!” said the mother. “Please, Lexi. We need more outfits for the summer than just this one.”
“Noooo!” screamed the child. Kim cast her eyes to the bright lights on the ceiling. She held up two of the dresses to her body. As she looked down, she desperately assessed if a try on was really necessary. Kim heard the exasperated sighs of the mother and out the woman flew. Her hair was in a messy ponytail with strands going everywhere. She was pulling on the child’s hand before she decided to pick her up. Kim watched as the child curled into her mother’s arms. Her little pink cheeks buried themselves in the crook of the woman’s neck. As they got closer, Kim noticed a few beads of sweat on the parent’s forehead.
“Can you take these?” she asked Kim who nodded and took the crumpled clothes from her hands. Kim placed them on the counter. “Uh, I think I left the door open so just take our room,” she said with a smile. “Thanks!” she called over her shoulder while rushing out the door.
Kim walked down the long, white hallway to the waiting cracked door. On the pristine white bench was a little doll. It had long, red hair. It was wearing a blue cotton dress with little white flowers. Kim frowned and left her dresses in the fitting room. She dashed from aisle to aisle searching for the mother and daughter, but to no avail. Finally, she decided to ask a cashier for help who told her they just left.
“Can you take this?” Kim asked. “Would you please just leave it at customer service? The little girl might want it back.”
“Sure, Sweetie,” said the cashier. Kim walked back to the fitting room trying to recapture her birthday beam.
She tried on all three dresses: the bright red one was too tight in the bust, the navy blue one gave her no shape, so the little black one with the lace at the neck was the best choice. Kim abandoned the two dresses she hated at the counter, pausing for a moment to notice the clothes the little girl was trying on were gone. It made Kim sigh. She walked slowly back to the register-the same one she had left the doll at.
“Hey, Sweetie. We’ve got a coupon on dresses. Let me get it for you,” offered the cashier. The birthday beam came back for real this time.
Kim paid and made her way home where she took a long cat nap. Midnight joined her. She decided to wake up with enough time to curl her hair and redo her makeup. She noticed the collection of three freckles that were arranged into a triangle on her nose were starting to fade. Kim brushed on mascara and a touch of foundation.
She found her mother’s words echoing in her mind, “The right boy will love those freckles even when you can’t.” Kim put on a thin layer of gloss after brushing her teeth. When she checked her phone, she noticed she had half an hour to kill. She once again meandered to the kitchen, grabbed a knife, and impaled her birthday box. Inside was a big, pink, bag with sparkling glitter. Kim rolled her eyes and decided to leave the gift unwrapped. She dialed her best friend, Callie’s number. It rang a few times and went to voicemail. Kim didn’t leave a message. Instead, she headed back to her car and double checked her makeup in the mirror before driving back to the cafe. Although she was early, Asher stood outside. He waved.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” she echoed.
They began the walk to the pizza shop a few doors down from the bakery. He smelled like sweat and sugar. Kim felt her fingertips graze his softly when he began to swing his arms. She did most of the talking. She told him about her birthday plans which included a girls weekend starting tomorrow. He asked if she got any cool gifts and she lied saying she didn’t have time to open her mother’s package.
Asher held open the door for her. The pizzeria was bustling. They placed their order-a large pizza with pepperoni to split. Kim also ordered her first beer. “I’m glad I’m here for the milestone,” Asher said when they took their seats at the sticky red booth. Kim placed her phone on the table. It began to ring. It was an unknown number so she sent it to VM. The number called again. “Do you need to get that?” he offered. She smiled and silenced her phone.
Her legs swung beneath the table-her little black flats grazing the greasy tiled floor. She began to memorize his laugh. And he began to figure out how to make hers come out. Their tongues were singed with hot pizza. The cheap beer tasted better since it was legal. He told her that he would call her and she drove the long way home with the windows rolled down and the music turned it.
Once at home, Kim began taking the glittery bag out of the box. Sparkles covered her counter. Even more fell when she undid the silk bow. She sighed. Inside was a bag of misshapen chocolate chip cookies and a card which began singing when she opened it. Her mother’s flowing cursive bore a message of love on this special day. Kim impulsively rolled her eyes. A single twenty fell onto the counter with a sticky note: Buy your first drink on me! Kim was about to send a thank you text when she noticed another voicemail.
Kim pressed play.
“Hi, this is an urgent message for Kimberly Smith. Her mother was brought into our hospital after a stroke. Please call…”
Kim’s ears began ringing. She dialed the number, vaguely aware that it was 11:30 on the east coast. A kind sounding nurse gave Kim the rundown of the incident and explained that her mother was in a medically induced coma. The birthday beam would not be back that day.
After the phone call, Kim began booking her flight. She packed an overnight bag and began the drive down to Denver. Her body had gone numb as she stumbled through security. Kim flopped down into one of the hard chairs in the terminal. One other man in a suit sat several rows away from her. Outside, a plan began moving around on the tarmac. Kim plugged in her earbuds. She picked up her phone and clicked play on her mother’s voicemail.
Her mother’s voice began singing Happy Birthday. Tears began rolling down Kim’s cheeks as she heard her mother add, “Hey, Baby, happy birthday. I love you. I miss you. I love you.”