Note: Sorry about posting half a week late. I was on vacation. Here’s the first short story of the blog! Woo! For clarification, formatting in WordPress is less than ideal at times, so the indented/blocked parts are flashbacks. I’d prefer to not tell my audience that, but it’s necessary to avoid confusion due to formatting issues. Also, read up on Icarus! Without further ado:
Some atrocious sex-like music played in fitting soundtrack to the gaudy, mahogany elevator.I kind of liked it. The saxophonist scaled up to a high note while the elevator began its descent. From the mess of paperwork in my arms, I pulled out a red folder. I wished it empty, but it wasn’t. I looked again at the memo and the elevator stopped at the next floor down.
It let off a ding like the alarm clock that had woken me up and my thoughts ventured back to my confused, pre-caffeinated experiences that morning.
I cursed the clock with a creativity worthy of verse and continued sleeping. Thoughts of work and handsome men blurred through my head and then the thing rang out again. I smacked the off button intending to oversleep, but as I rolled back into my covers, my hand grazed the ring that lay beside the clock. That diamond sat there like a shiny gravestone. I eventually looked away and forced myself up.
I expertly traversed the unpredictable sea of panties and Twix wrappers. My feet courageously carried me past the mountain of molding pizza and bottomless pit of trash to my end goal, the bathroom. Once there, I stared blurrily into the mirror. Like a connoisseur of over-worked 35 year olds, I criticized every imperfection in my trim figure and wavy red hair. With my face washed and my waves in a tight ponytail, I sailed back through the sea to my next destination: the kitchen.
While I was ruffling through the fridge, the phone rang.
“Psycho Bitch,” sang out the polite, robotic caller I.D.
I really ought to change that thing, I thought. I genuinely did consider answering it, but reached into the fridge instead. I was not in the mood for a conversation with my mother; especially considering that the week piror I had finally let loose on her, perhaps a little too hatefully, when she told me that her company was beginning to struggle. That one was still a little fresh.
Perhaps even more than the conversation, though, I realized that I was not in the mood for any of the food in my house. The fridge only had leftovers and the cabinets didn’t hold much more promise: an untouched bag of specialty coffee and some chips.
The door of the elevator opened and Ethan walked in. He made eye contact of course, smiled, pressed *1, and turned his back to me. He filled the elevator with subtle cologne, which genuinely did smell nice, but I chose to grimace at his thinning hair rather than enjoy any part of him. Was this asshole off to a cup of coffee while I was at risk for being downsized? He’d enjoy his cappuccino like a prick and I might soon be at home alone, hair in a bun, snuggling with disappointment and anxiety.
We rode down in silence.
It was a full, amorphous, unenjoyable silence, so unlike the tense and defined moment I forced on Nick a year ago.
We stood atop the flight of concrete stairs with the imposing Capitol building on our right. At its base were spotlights that forced a shadow of the structure onto the clouds. Thick pillars rose before two oaken doors and atop the building a golden seraph faced east, engulfed in night and snow.
Nick was kneeling in front of me. His ungloved and shivering but persistent hand held a small engagement ring.
“Will you marry me?” he asked.
I didn’t say anything. We had just eaten a meal that cost roughly two hundred dollars at the restaurant of our first date on a day trip to the city in which we first met. We had then picked up a bottle of red wine to enjoy in a hotel after our foray to the Capitol. We both knew he was going to propose. We both knew I was going to say yes, but man did he look cute when he doubted himself.
He squinted as the snowflakes began to crust onto the lashes of his blue eyes. His every quivering muscle encouraged movement, but he knelt on like a child waiting up for Santa. After a time, he stood and his shoulders ceased their shiver.
Feeling I had tortured him enough, I rocked back onto my heel, lunged forward, and jumped into his arms. It was December. It was Wisconsin. It was fucking cold, but our lips found warmth in that moment.
This floor was the company’s break room. The view was wonderful, but the coffee dismal. I had seen Ethan there many times before and never ventured to talk with him, but had many times read his articles in that room. He was a fellow journalist whose beat on crime usually carried him into the Metcalfe Park neighborhood. He had a clean-cut prose and I read every article he put out: a short piece entitled “Crime Rates Drop in 2013,” the front-page feature after the race riots “Board Seeks Change, Discussion for Education,” and other articles of the sort. The editors loved him, but I just could not imagine this scrawny, little guy comfortably walking those streets in a Sufjan Stevens tour shirt.
The gentle rumble of the elevator tensed me up as I imagined the subtle hum of my Mother’s car. It was a black, 1984 Mercedes.
My mother had been called and she was on her way. While climbing a tree, I had reached for a higher branch and it snapped as I pulled myself onto it. I remember the smell of the pine, my friends yellow shirt, and the blood on my shoulder. Still young, still innocent and jolted by the fall, I couldn’t wait for a hug from my mother. I tried to stay strong like her and fought back the tears as her car rumbled like a bull down West Milwaukee Avenue.
The black box pulled up and the door opened. Inside it my mother sat staring—not angrily, just staring.
Where’s my hug? I thought.
For her this trip was like one to the grocery store. It was part of a larger project. I got in and sat silently staring forward.
“What happened?” she asked.
I explained as quickly as I could. She replied with a mutter.
Finally she spoke again. “Do you know what Mommy does?”
I shook my head.
“I work at the tippy top of a company, honey,” she said “I hope you’ll be there too one day, but this horseplay won’t get you there. Do you understand?”
I didn’t. I pictured her sitting atop a mountain of flailing yuppies as she hurled down faxes, but I nodded anyways.
“How’s your day?” Ethan asked.
I replied with a mutter, too focused on the upcoming meeting with my boss, Hank Jackson, to worry about Ethan’s pleasantries. My eyes focused a notepad of seemingly unintelligible scribbles in my arms. It was a perfectly planned speech elaborating why I deserved my job. Through it I had detailed that, although the sales of newspapers were falling across the country, the company still needed journalists trained in print media; that my alma mater made me an asset that Hank will be hard pressed to find again; that my opinion pieces had a genuine social impact during last year’s election; and, finally my crowning argument: that contrary to Hank’s blatant sexism, I could out write that fucking simpleton Kevin any day of the week. Hank of course would reemphasize the falling interest in physical news sources, to which I would remind him of my dabblings in graphic design and website construction. I was set to secure my job. I reveled in my imagined, rhetorical successes until imaginary-Hank asked me the question I knew awaited me at the end of the meeting. I could almost hear him as he unknowingly called my spite and ambitions into question. “Why do you want this job, Ms. Deadalus? Do you want this job?”
Arguments and interrogations were my life.
“Ambition is the seed that will bear fruit in your life,” my mother told me. She had this odd inclination towards proverbial statements. It was so damn persuasive. “What do you want to be?”
“The editor,” I said. We were eating our warm, loving, weekly dinner together.
“Then Nicholas needs to be cut, pruned.”
“What do you mean?”
“He will take up time you don’t have to give. Every release you’ll miss and every article you’ll pass because you have a marriage to invest in will be a chance missed to earn your name the respect and prestige I know you want.”
“I don’t want to be trapped by my job, though,” I said. “Besides he supports who and what I want to be.”
“And so do politicians, honey. They say that until they’re asked to perform.”
“Nick isn’t a politician.”
“You’re right. He isn’t,” she agreed. “He’s a distraction.” She took a sip of wine and our attention turned to our food for a few moments.
“But we’re engaged.” I hadn’t told her yet.
“Look Frances, I want to see you achieve. I want to see you earn your worth, fly above to your aspirations, and I know you want that too so there is no time to laugh and no time to cry. There is no time to dance in some feigned happiness and no time to mourn over lost joys. What do lovers gain from their marriage? Nothing. What did I gain from mine? Nothing.” We were finished eating.
She had put words into my mouth that weren’t mine. She had spoken lies to my heart, but, regardless, that night I spoke them back out to Nick. It was the hardest I’ve ever hurt anyone else in my life, but it was over. She’d clipped my wings. She had won. I had fallen.
Ethan coughed. I shifted left.
With a shiver from the elevator, my thoughts returned to the night after my mother had so brutally ended my engagement.
It was heavily snowing. Each house I walked by peered down at me, glowing in the clouded night, sentries watching me as I passed. My hands were snuggled deep into the pockets of my peacoat and my feet in crocs, but my head was far from comfortable. I felt isolated and safe enough to finally hate my mother.
I saw now that she had directed the life I thought I had lived. She had been right. I was poised to reach editor, but ultimately what did I gain from my toil? I was going to run a company that was quickly shrinking and, thanks to her, I now had to face it alone.
As these thoughts rushed through my head, I tried to sing, but my voice was too broken to hold the simplest tune. I hadn’t prayed in years and was too timid too try again. It sufficed for me to instead just fall against an oak in some stranger’s yard, my back against the bark. The tree blew serenely in the breeze. I envied it. I was just as trapped as it was in dirt, but this thing needed only sunlight and water to grow above its confinement in soil. My life needed I knew not what escape this maze of disappointment.
If anyone asked, the moisture on my cheeks was a melted snowflake, but I knew it had fallen for the season that surrounded me; the ring I no longer wore; the future I had destroyed.
“So you like the new coffee?” Ethan asked.
No one talks on elevators, you ass, I thought.
“It‘s delicious,” I smiled.
“What’s on floor 4?”
“Just some work,” I lied.
“It’s too bad this place is downsizing,” he said. “I heard even the Wall Street Journal is going through similar struggles. Are you a Times or Journal person?”
My thoughts wandered again. This time they ventured to emotions that were not mine alone to grieve.
I had just walked in the door returning from school with a backpack slung over one shoulder. My mother’s car in the driveway had left me perplexed. It was never there that early in the afternoon.
“Mom?” I called out. No response.
I dropped my backpack and walked down the front hall. I walked into the kitchen to my mother sprawled on the floor and for the first time in my life, I saw myself in her. My mascara was running as I lay flat on my back. My heels were thrown against the wall. There was a dent. My marriage, bowing and bending for years, had finally broken. I was her daughter, she was my mother, and Dad had walked out on both of us for another. I knelt down beside her and held her as we both wept.
The elevator dinged and the doors opened. I wiped my eyes.
“Hey,” Ethan said.
“Yeah?” I paused halfway through the doors.
“If you’re not too busy, wanna join me on my walk to Colectivo?”
My phone buzzed right at that moment. I reached into my pocket. It was a text from my mother. She rarely tried to contact me more than once a week. I slid my finger across my phone and almost fainted from surprise. One little message consumed that moment:
“Company’s stocks dropped again. Got me thinking. I’m sorry. We should talk. ❤ Mom.”
I’m sorry. Those were two words I had never thought I’d hear from that woman. Two words that left my psyche reeling. I peered over my shoulder at the door looming at the end of the hallway, a nice cherry wood with a small plate that read:
I didn’t need to prove her wrong. I didn’t need to flaunt my success has her company failed. I could forgive and live free of her tyranny. I looked back at Ethan, the coworker I’d so successfully made myself hate. His brow was curled in patient confusion. He blinked.
“Yes,” I finally said. “Yes I do.”
Hank would be pissed and probably fire me for skipping the meeting, but I didn’t seem to care right at that moment. Maybe I’d try my hand at professional blogging. Maybe Icarus was actually meant to swim. I returned to my position next to Ethan. His cologne further calmed my senses and my thoughts happily awaited one of Colectivo’s famous Irish coffees.
Ethan turned to me. “And I’m so sorry,” he said “We’ve had so many meetings together now and always seem to catch eyes, but I’ve never managed to catch your name.”