Her friend spilled a Margarita on her. Mary was never fond of the smell of alcohol. Actually, she downright despised it. Perhaps it was the way it lingered on the breath like sweet spoiled nectar or the lack of coordination thereafter. Either way, the entire ride home she smelled like sour lime and southern Valencia, which now embedded itself in the car seats, no doubt. Why she even agreed to attend that party, she frankly forgot and was too exhausted to care. Tired blue eyes fluttered slightly closed and then open as she gripped the steering wheel tighter. With a quick swerve, she parked herself on the side street. Hair still dripped with the frozen green drink as she turned the key to her apartment. The complex was a 4 story grey rectangular-shaped building that resided on a slope.
Flickering on the lights, she weaseled off her alcohol-stained clothes and slid herself into the shower. The water bounced and rolled down her shoulder, causing the slushified margarita to fall to the floor and meet her toes, eventually dissipating in the warm water below. The faint alcohol-scented shower caused thoughts of Natalia to arise once again. Her friend, noticing her current bleak bachelorhood state, had been poking and prodding her to go out and meet a man for months now. Her frustrations reminded her why she agreed to go to that damn party, to begin with. Heaving out a sigh of hot air and breathing in the rose perfumed mist, she crawled out of the shower and dawned on a pink robe as she sat in her usual spot. A black leather chair by the window that overlooked the city below. The city lights glowed orange as her gaze rolled down to the cars, which zoomed by like blurred rainbows. For hours she sat cross-legged and stared at nothing but the lights below. The Tv flickered static in the background as her lace robe ran down the thigh of her leg. Briefly, she thought she had the appearance of being “put together.” Her tangled black wet hair and still present mascara made it appear as if she had heavy bags under her eyes, being the only evidence that she was in a state of desperation. Like many women in their late forties, with her age being 47 to be exact, she was tired, and she needed a smoke.
She popped open a box of American Spirit perique blend and clicked on the lighter. The calm soon washed over her as dry smoke swirled out of the roof of her mouth. She placed a damp hand on the window and let it slowly slide down to the hatch. The air greeted her, making goosebumps form on her exposed shoulder. Looking down to the side street, she saw her car parked, a dark cherry pearl Honda pilot, and some others bunched together like a colony of ants. Her melancholic stare had become a daily ritual for her, as she waited with bated breath to see her son once more. Matthew was an Honors student at Stanford. By all accounts, he was a good kid. Fit, smart, and ambitious. She loved him more than anyone else in the world; herself included. It had been months since he last called her. She didn’t blame him. Still, phone in hand, she watched the city lights and desperately prayed to one day see his car pull up on her street and open the door to his face. Blue glazed over eyes once steel and piercing fluttered closed as she listened to the bustling city down below. The city had an intoxicating mist to it. That same feeling you felt while going 70 on the highway while the windows are cracked slightly ajar. Faintly she could hear the passing of a railroad train. The city was always alive and bustled with life, even at 3 AM.
And that may have been what she hated the most about it.
Serving as an inescapable reminder of her self-imposed isolation.
She shifted her weight on the chair, which was already lined with stretch marks, and continued to stare, her gaze now focused on her toes. Red paint was chipped in various places, giving them the appearance of a cracked porcelain doll or perhaps a crashed car. She could have risen from her chair and floated her way to bed, burying her head in the satin pillow. But... what difference would it have made? She would still have to peel open her glued-shut eyes and, even worse, be once again greeted to her quiet home. That’s what she hated the most, aside from alcohol. The quiet. Moving to San Francisco was evidence of that. A place where it was legal to be naked on the street. A place that was often featured in the latest blockbuster getting destroyed by “Godzilla”. A place where the Golden Gate remained its true and most infamous spectacle. In short, it was far from quiet.
Often she stayed tight-lipped about anything that even remotely crawled under her skin. Actually, she was numb to it. The way she saw it was she could move on or be a shriveled prune filled to the brink with loathing. Which is why she didn’t feel anything when her boyfriend of 10 years left her. Even after he stormed out of her apartment and never even bothered to check in with Matthew. She just stood and stared as he packed his suitcase, called her a Bitch due to her denying him sensual pleasure for about a year, and slammed the door. She could have begged him to stay, and a part of her wished she did, but…what difference would it have made? Instead, she made dinner that night, as usual, ate cold lasagna at the dining table, and went to bed soundly. And even when he frantically called her back at 4 AM saying what a mistake he made and how much he loved her, she could do nothing but just stare blankly at the ceiling of her bedroom. It wasn’t long before he frustratedly hung up the phone. That was the last she ever heard from him. Matthew still hadn’t said a peep to her after the incident, saying he “needed to focus on schoolwork rather than trivial family drama.” Or something like that. He had been focusing for 4 years now. Of course, she knew it wasn’t about her and it was about his studies. He wanted to be a doctor after all… Still, would it have been so hard to call her? At least once?
She changed the channel of the Tv. Static quickly flickered away as the station changed to a cartoon. It was Zoe’s Ghost, a cartoon about an evil twin that was friends with a mischievous yet warm-hearted ghost. As a child, it was one of her personal favorites. Something about the dark laced overtones of an otherwise children’s show comforted her soul, like eating Macaroni and cheese at 3 AM after going through a highschool break-up. Her mother was always against watching dark tv shows while growing up. Such as Scooby-Doo, which wasn’t that dark in all honesty, or even Poltergeist when it came out. As a teen, she justified her secret nightly outings as her fight for independence against her mother’s “tyranny.” But… Perhaps if she had listened to her mother, she wouldn’t be so fucked up now, or at least she liked to think so. It was almost comedic to her how childish Zoe’s Ghost seemed now. Almost laughable that she wanted to be an animator for the show as a child. How the show was even still running was beyond her. Regardless, she was glad to be greeted with its nostalgic presence, even if the animation was almost as bad as one of those old stop-motion Christmas specials.
Feeling the rough staleness in her cheek, she begrudgingly rose from her chair and boiled a pot of tea. Her kitchen was fairly plain, standard white walls with wooden cabinets. On the far left wall the painting “Water Lilies” by Claude Monet, brought an artificial liveliness to an otherwise constrained room. A replica, of course, but she didn’t mind if objects were fake in nature but beautiful in its overall construction. The stove was your stereotypical white box with black burners, in this case, praising functionality over aesthetics. The platinum kettle shined dully as steam billowed out from the snout. After opening the cabinet and being greeted to an empty carton of Celestial’s Seasonings peppermint tea, she frustratedly gripped the handle of the kettle and drained the steaming water down the sink as she resigned herself to her bedroom. After another day filled with mediocrity, her head met the satin sheets, and body sprawled out spread eagle. In truth, she was far too exhausted to adjust herself into a more comfortable sleeping position on her twin-sized Murphy, nor did she care to. Briefly, she had the impression of carelessly floating on water, letting her problems slip away from her like raindrops.
Suddenly her phone rang. Her droopy hand reached for the Samsung and with glazed-over eyes looked at the screen. With a spring in her body, she sat up in bed, startled, and reexamined the number. It was from Matthew on WhatsApp. With a shaky hand, she answered the call, somewhat expecting it to be accidental. Even so, if she could just hear his voice again, she didn’t care if it was an accident. “Matthew?” Her voice croaked out like a desperate whisper.
“Is this Mary Loo?”
Her heart dropped. It certainly wasn’t Matthew’s voice. Similar in age, but lined with a thick Australian? accent and somewhat scruffy overtones.
“You’re Matthew’s mother, correct?”
“L’ight, well… I’m one of his friends-”
“Stanford? Nah, he left Stanford about a year ago, wanted to take a break and travel some places before graduation. You know how he was? Always had a knack for adventure. I’ve been traveling with him through Australia since early October.”
Her mouth dipped downwards and her heart sank…"Was?” She said silently to herself.
“Where is he now?”
“Oh- Well that’s why I called you Miss. Loo.” His tone lowered a bit and she could tell based on the brief pause in his voice that he shifted his weight while on call. She knew that tone of voice all too well.
“He uh… I am not sure how to tell you this, Miss. Loo but… Are you sitting down right now?”
“Well--” His voice trailed off again.
“Tell me what happened.” The sinking feeling in the pit of her belly had already given her the answer. A heavy sigh escaped his lips and finally, the man on the other end coughed up the truth.
“He passed away today.”
“Passed away?...” He couldn’t be dead, this had to be some kind of scam call. Why didn’t he call her and tell her he was in the hospital? He’s only 22, for Christ's sake! How could he be dead?! He can’t be dead...
“I’m sorry… he got bit by a funnel-web. We thought he was going to make it but… no. Their venom strikes quickly, you know?” He let out a heavy sigh and awaited her reaction.
Her mouth stood slightly ajar and all she could hear was the quiet, the sound she hated the most.
“You there, Miss. Loo?”
“Ye-a” She croaked out.
“You being his Mother and all. I am not sure how you want to work out the funeral arrangements. If you want, I’ll send you the hospital address and number. I’ll give you time, just to let you process this whole thing. My deepest--” Hanging up the phone as it nearly slipped from her fingers, she closed her eyes, trying to steady her breath. She needed a smoke. She really needed a smoke.
She held herself up by the arm of the chair and craned her body straight, sharply sucking in her fleeting breath. The image of him convulsing in the hospital bed. The light slowly fading from his eyes as he lay on the bed, alone. Her breath quickened as panic began to settle in. It just couldn’t be true… could it?
Her phone dinged as the message displayed on the screen, “Sydney Medical Centre- George, 580 George St, Sydney NSW 2000, Aust--” Blinking off the screen with a press of the power button, she slipped on a thin winter coat, a brown bowknot bowler hat and white gloves. It wasn’t that cold outside, just slightly below 50, but she liked the comfort winter clothes gave her. When she slithered herself into her Honda Pilot, it occurred to her that she didn’t even know that he had left the state, nor did she know how she would even be able to get out of the country. Her pitiful artist salary wasn’t enough to afford a ticket to Australia, let alone a trip back. How would she even pay for the funeral? So instead she drove to her local coffee shop, Warming Hut Book store & Cafe. A small white plain building with a red-tiled roof adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was one of those locations that nestled comfortably between quality and availability. As expected, by this hour of the night, it was vacant and hollow. With droopy, watery eyes, she watched it. She couldn’t even hear the sound of a truck or the old railroad train. The mountains stood sublime, which gave leeway for the gentle breeze to drift in. Often she would come to the Hut when she was going through a stressful paint project and wanted a location to get a cup of coffee and a smoke. As a child, Matthew would beg her to read the same Kangaroo book over and over again. His little head burying itself next to her bosom as he intently watched that same story unfold. It wasn’t so much the story he liked but gazing at the pictures of the tall animal hopping through the jungles of Australia. That’s when she first discovered his love for the unknown and, worst of all, a hunger for adrenaline. Inevitably, as a teen, he confided to her that he wanted to get married by the blue mountains in Australia. A fact she completely disproved of and one only she alone knew.
When she exited the Honda, she wasn’t sure where she would even head to. The hut was closed, as was everything else. She could sit by the ledge and stare at the open sea, but that would mean she would have to confront her thoughts, and worse of all, the quiet. Pulling out a cigarette as she sat on the hood of her car, she considered her options. A puff of smoke exited her slightly parted lips as she closed her eyes, focusing on the crash of the waves. It was always free to walk on the bridge.
Toes dangled over the edge teeter-totter as she gazed up at the starlit sky and then down to the indigo sea below. The waves were etched with white foam similar to a rabid dog. A bird perched itself nearby. Fluttering and ruffling its feathers, as it held itself steady with its branchy chicken legs before it, too, gazed at the open sea. The wind lick caressed her cheek and her heart pounded against her ears, the cold air slicing her throat from the inside out. Her tangled salt and pepper hair draped over her shoulder as fear swelled up in her belly. She didn’t realize, until now, how far down the drop from the bridge truly was.
She was being constricted, chest tightening with the aching feeling growing more prominent, almost as if she was about to have a heart attack. Her breath billowed out slightly faster. Her clothes that once brought security, restrained around her chest like a vice. She couldn’t take it anymore. Frantically, she peeled off each layer of her “winter” clothes. Her hat, shoes, gloves, and finally coat all descended liberally like snowflakes down to the murky water below. Her lace robe was the next to go, swirling in the wind as it slipped off her thin physique. Then bra and panties peeled off from her like goo as she shivered, her rib cage poked sharply from her skin with each deep inhale. Goosebumps formed along her body as her nipples stood up to the surprisingly chilly San Francisco night. Pale skin glistened in the dull moonlight as the wind brushed her hair to the nape of her back. She closed her eyes as she listened to the quiet, and for the first time in her life, she was free.
Her phone dinged again and glowed beside her. Somewhat hesitantly, she picked it up and looked at it for a final time. On the screen were three new messages from Matthew. She clicked on his name on WhatsApp, a task she had done almost religiously countless times, and scrolled up the message feed. The latest one being +61 2 9261 926, which was most likely the number for the hospital. The second being George, 580 George St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia, which was sent at 3:35 AM. That’s when she saw it. Her hand shook as she gazed at the message. At exactly 2:00 AM, during that brief period she had resigned herself to the shower, was a message that said, “I love you.” The Samsung fell from her loose fingers and disappeared into the water below.
The bird turned its head towards her. Her reflection swam around inside the watery pupil of its black eyes before vanishing in the void as it inevitably flew away. Breath became scattered, making each exhale come out with a sharp puff of fog-colored air. Her body shook and sight became unstable and blurred. She cupped her eyes, as she listened to the steady crash of the waves, and wept.