relationships

The Headache

Virginia glanced at her alarm clock as she fumbled for the phone. 2:55 AM. "Virginia! What took you so damn long? You let the phone ring six times!"

Mother always knew how many times the phone rang. She knew how many steps it was from the table to the stove, how many seconds it took for the TV to warm up, and how many cracks there were in the sidewalk between her house and the bus stop.

"Virginia! Are you listening to me?"

"Yes, Mother. I'm sorry. I was asleep."

Mother didn't need much sleep. She claimed insomnia ran in the family. Grandma Lou had done most of her sleeping in the late afternoon and Uncle Frank swore three hours a night was more than enough for him. Daddy had complained about the hours Mother kept for as long as Virginia could remember, but this was the first time she had called in the middle of the night.

"Virginia, you have to come over."

"Now?"

"Yes now! My head is throbbing. You've got to bring me some aspirin."

"Where's Daddy?"

Dial tone.

Virginia rushed to the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. Aspirin. I know I've got aspirin. She caught a glimpse of her reflection as she slammed the cabinet door. My hair's a mess. I should comb it. Brush my teeth. No. There's no time. Mother needs me.

She stuffed the aspirin bottle in her purse, threw her raincoat over her pajamas and ran barefoot down the driveway. Ten, fifteen minutes max. There won't be any traffic. I'll run the red lights.

As she turned onto Main Street, an ambulance whined in the distance. It got louder. Closer. My God, they're going to Mother's. The siren faded as she turned onto Elm. Someone else's mother. Not mine. Not this time.

She ran her tire over the curb as she pulled up to Mother's house. Leave it where it is. No time to back up. It's all right. No one will notice. The front door's locked. Go around back. Hurry. She's waiting. Virginia checked her watch. Only eight minutes. Mother likes to time things. She'll see how fast I got here. Mother will know.

She jerked the storm door open and dashed into the dark family room. "Mother, where are you?"

Silence.

She looked in the kitchen. The faucet was dripping. Her parents had discussed the faucet many times over the years. Mother said she could hear the dripping no matter where she was in the house. Daddy repaired the faucet when Virginia was in the fifth grade. Mother said he made it worse.

"Daddy?"

Virginia's feet didn't make a sound as she crossed the cold linoleum floor. Mother's sewing room. The living room. The den.

Empty.

The dining room. Mother and Daddy glared at each other from opposite ends of the long mahogany table, a full bottle of aspirin like a tiny nuclear warhead exactly half-way between them.

 

 

 

 

The Lake

The lake didn't look right when I got up. It was green. The sky was green too. A sailboat was out on the water. It was small and wooden, red and blue. It looked like an old-fashioned toy boat. But it wasn't. It was real. I'm not sure how I knew that. But I did. The wind whistled around the tree trunks and shook pine needles into my hair. The boat bobbed and turned and almost tipped over. It bounced back up and headed toward the shore. Toward me.

The hull scraped and screeched over the rocky beach as the boat slid out of the water on its own. I walked toward it. But just a little way. It didn't look right. It looked like a French painting. A man climbed out. He was my father and he was dead.

Omen

Three crows glide over the telephone lines and land in the tree next to the garage. They peck each other, beating their wings and squawking until black feathers shower onto the roof. I hear my mother's truck coming down the road. I don't look. I don't need to. I know the sound of that truck's engine better than I know my own name. As she pulls into the driveway, the crows screech and scatter. I stand staring at my feet. The truck door slams. I listen to her tiptoe across the crunchy brown grass. She taps me on the shoulder and tugs my hair. I ignore her and begin gathering the newspapers that have blown all over the yard. I try to read the headlines on a yellowed scrap, but the letters won't form words.

She's right behind me. I can smell her lipstick and feel her cool breath on the back of my neck. Maybe I can trick her. Catch her off-guard. If I'm lucky, I'll be in the house with the deadbolt locked before she even gets to the porch steps.

I whirl around and heave the newspapers at her. The pages flutter momentarily in the dying breeze, then vanish. I look at the empty driveway and wonder if it's all a dream until I notice my fingers, black from the newsprint and the crows' feathers on the roof of the garage.