My friend and fantastic writer, Shawn Smucker, teased his adoring crowd this week by saying he planned to post a short story on his blog today. I plan to save his story for the end of my day, but he inspired me to do the same. Then, I went scouring my files for the story I really wanted to share, called Canada Dry, but it’s vanished into the wires. I hope to retrieve it shortly. In the meantime, I give you this short piece. In the communal spirit, please share links to your short work, or your favorite piece by someone else.
“I mean, I get it,” Heather spat, her pink lips dry at the edges where a small bundle of nearly white foam sat, heralding her need for a glass of cold water. “I get it. We’re here to celebrate Mom’s birthday.” She made crazy-lady swatting motions at her forehead, mistaking an oversized droplet of sweat for a swarm of flies. When she realized her mistake, her cheeks turned, impossibly, a deeper shade of the rosy, overheated and now embarrassed glow.
I took two steps away from her as her frantic motions hinted at the gathering storm of panic; if we didn’t get her calmed down, it’d be Thanksgiving all over again…another holiday marked not with sweet memories but pockmarked by another episode.
“Listen, Heather,” I started, then sputtered. I wasn’t prepared for a meltdown today, so my usual care with words around her needed a minute to arrive. The worst thing I could do is tell my little sister to calm down. Telling Heather to calm down is like inviting a hurricane to your shack built on sand.
“Okay. Let’s just get a drink and maybe sit in the shade.” I made a lame and aborted attempt to guide her by the elbow to the wraparound porch on which all manner of children and distant relatives wandered, shoving cake and potato salad into their faces, talking all the while.
She managed to free herself from my erstwhile ministrations.
“Derek.” She said my name like it hurt her mouth, like it was made of orange rind or soup with a hair in it. Over her shoulder I signaled my wife, who had spent the day avoiding Heather, for this very reason. I always say marry someone smarter than you. I begged her with my eyes, willing her to send a kid or an aunt or anyone over with a bottle of water, or better yet, a beer. I made a hand signal I hoped was both discreet and obvious: send help! Send water!
The blueness of the sky mocked the depth of black on her brow. “Look.” I tried again. Sammie’s bringing over a cold drink.” She glanced around and then back at me. “Heather, I know it bothers you. It bothers me. And yes, it would have been nice to discuss it before meeting him, but Mom has every right to enjoy her life and if he makes her happy, why not?”
Heather pouted. Believe it or not, this was the cue I’d been holding my breath and crossing all my fingers for. The pout. Heather’s pout. She is so easy to read. It means we’ve managed to send the hurricane back out to sea before it hit land. It means the rising tide of panic had receded. A pout I could handle. She said, “Daddy’s only been gone six months? What the hell is she thinking?”
“Hettie,” I said while she tugged at the water bottle, knowing the pet name was a perfectly aimed arrow. She threw the white plastic lid into the grass where it was swallowed by the long, soft summer blades. “I don’t know. When all this partying is over, we can sit down with her for a talk. But let’s not do it today. Okay?”
She heard my groveling intent. She pouted again. Then, she spit a mouthful of water in my face, laughed, and rose to run off. “Promise!” she hollered over her shoulder. “Not today.” And she was gone.