Happy Monday! More of “The One That Got Away”…
Links to the previous chapters and the link to purchase the novel follow the excerpt.
Moving day. I had a nice headache to go along with it, but I persevered with my usual determination. I didn’t have time for headaches and other such things to slow me down. Maybe it would just go away if I ignored it. However, I was mindful not to get too crazy with the lifting and the carrying. I certainly didn’t want to be passing out carrying a big box of stuff. Especially on the stairs. My new apartment was on the third floor. It was actually quite cute. I thought that I would be grumpy and depressed about moving out of the three bedroom classic suburban house that I had lived in for almost fifteen years. But, really, I wasn’t. I found myself looking forward to residing in a small, self contained world. It felt like a fresh start. It would certainly be much more manageable in terms of upkeep and finances. Practically the whole staff at Jake’s Steak House was helping me to relocate. Jim the dishwasher even brought a couple of his scruffily, shuffling friends to assist. We started ridiculously early in the morning so that some of my coworkers could help with the move before the lunch shift. Leigh was quite exasperated that I elected to move into an apartment instead of living with her. Even so, she offered to keep Anna during the move. She also insisted that I come for dinner afterwards. She would not take no for an answer. I relented on the dinner part, but Anna decided that she wanted to participate in the moving process. She spent the day prancing amongst the hubbub. I was surprised to see that she didn’t appear saddened by the location change either. Well, good. I needed for things to start feeling positive. It’s funny how sometimes you don’t realize how downtrodden you’ve been feeling until things start looking up. This same day I also received a phone call from Anna’s father saying that he had found a job and would start sending child support money in a couple of weeks. Very welcome news, indeed. Anna talked to him briefly. She was always polite with her father, but never very interested or particularly animated. Anna was almost five and it had been nearly two years since they had actually seen each other. My attitude towards him was indifference. For the most part, he was successfully stored away in one of my mental boxes. The intense half year affair that I had with Anna’s father was of no interest to me anymore. On the other hand, the resulting tide of change from this affair would continue to have ramifications. Most notably, was my divorce from your father, your unforgiveness, Anna’s birth and my ever present financial issues. It doesn’t do any good to hash over the past. Learn from your past, yes, but then grab that and go. Mistakes are opportunities to learn. See what each day brings and from your experiences try to make the best choices from what’s laid in front of you. Of course, later on it may appear that perhaps you should have chosen differently. Such is the cycle in our lives. It can make you crazy thinking about it too much. It seemed that maybe I was going crazy. How do you tell if your reality is classified as crazy? After all, it is subjectively based on other people’s realities. I was itching for a cigarette. I was waxing way too philosophical. Enough, already.
All of my helpers had left and I had a couple of hours to unpack a little bit before heading over Leigh’s house for dinner. Anna was sitting in the hallway lining up her ragdolls in some sort of pattern that I wasn’t quite getting.
“Anna, go get your sweatshirt. Let’s go outside for a bit.”
“Just a minute, please,” she answered sternly without looking up, “I am organizing.”
“Well, finish up. I’m going to try to find a sweater for me.” She eyed me warily as I stepped carefully over her dolls. I entered my new bedroom and almost gasped at the sheer amount of sunlight flooding the room. Loved it! But apparently, I really did need some curtains. Looking past the sunlight and through the window I could clearly see a neighboring family through their window watching TV together. Looked cozy and all, but I didn’t need to be a part of it, nor did they need to be viewing my bedroom activities. Not that anything interesting would be going on in mine, I thought wryly. But, in any case, I needed to get something up on the window by tonight. I hoped that I would remember to stop by the store on the way home from Leigh’s house. I made a mental note to check if Anna’s room needed curtains. Recently, however, my mental notes were becoming less and less reliable.
I pushed stuff around my room until I located the ‘winter clothes’ box. I pulled out a cream cable knit sweater with an oversized turtleneck. I buried my face in it for a few seconds and inhaled. It smelled musty, but that was to be expected. It was just now becoming sweater season. I pulled it quickly over my head and readjusted my quirked, static laden pony tail. I snatched my denim purse from the jumble on my bed and ran my hand through it to make sure my cigarettes were safely inside.
“Anna?’ I called.
Anna appeared in the doorway wearing a blue sweatshirt. She had the hood on, but was struggling with the zipper. When I knelt to assist her she clasped her arms around my neck in a tight embrace. I toppled from a squatting position to sitting hard on the floor.
“Anna, I can’t help you with your zipper when you’re hugging me,” I teased.
“But I want to hug you.” She clung to me for a few seconds and then suddenly bolted from my lap. “My dolly!”
Initially, I tried to get up quickly, but felt the beginnings of a dizzy spell coming on. I braced myself, steadied my breathing and tried to clench my mind to prevent fainting. Anna reappeared in the hallway carrying her Raggedy Ann doll by one black foot. She stopped abruptly, her eyes round with apprehension.
I tried to relax my posture as the dizziness passed and I forced a smile. I stood slowly.
“You ready, girlie?” I asked brightly and stretched my hand out for her to hold. Anna dismissed her concerns instantly and began her signature skip-hop towards the front door, propelling me awkwardly in her wake.
“I want to bring some leaves inside, Mama. The colors are pretty.”
Yes, they were. The bright blue hue of the October sky splashed with autumn leaves was always breathtaking to me. Add in the crisp air, the particular way that fall smelled, the rustle of the leaves, a cigarette, and all of my senses were happy. Well, okay, maybe the cigarette didn’t exactly fit into the whole picture, but it did in my world. A cup of coffee would be nice too, but I didn’t want to take the time to make it. Actually, I wasn’t even sure where my coffee maker was located at this point in time. I wondered if there was a place to grab a cup of coffee near to my new apartment. I scanned my memory for such a spot and remembered a bakery a couple of blocks down the street.
“Anna,” I said as we traipsed down the stairs to the outside door, “how about a cookie? Let’s walk down to the bakery and get you a cookie and me some coffee.”
“Yes!” The delight was pure in her eyes. It’s funny how the mention of such a small thing can create such excitement in a child. I guess I almost felt that way about the coffee, but as adults our reactions to simple pleasures tend to be dulled by the cares and more important matters that we face daily. We forget. But children remind us. I felt oddly lighthearted. I breathed in the snappy October air as we stepped out onto the street. I would put these silly thoughts away later, but for now I would indulge. For a while, Anna and I would pretend like we had no cares. Even my headache was cooperating. It had lodged itself into a far corner, merely pulsating faintly. I lit a cigarette as we traveled the distance to the bakery. Anna chose a chocolate chunk cookie and I got one of those pumpkin spice grande latte things. I was always one for basic strong coffee with a dash of sugar, but I was feeling festive today. I parked myself on a little wood and iron bench in a small park area near the bakery. Anna instructed me to babysit her doll while she climbed up and around the compact playground equipment. I snuggled into my fuzzy sweater by dipping my chin into the cowl neck and pulling my sleeves down to cover my hands. I watched my daughter play and tried not to think about anything. To just be. Everything felt right with the world for about a half an hour. That was when the headache started creeping from its holding position in the back of my brain and lodged itself over my right eye. Very quickly, the pain became intense. I needed to take my medicine immediately. And lay down. Initially, Anna was not very understanding about exiting the playground. She protested and pouted. I tried to be patient, but was not able. My head was pulsating with pain. When I started yelling at her, she obliged. We walked home quickly in silence. I held her hand the entire way to prevent her from stopping to investigate an interesting leaf or rock. I needed my medicine and my bed. I couldn’t risk passing out on the street. As I was about to open the outer door to our apartment building, Anna whimpered at me imploringly.
“Mama, please may I bring in some leaves?” Near the door was a recently raked pile of brightly colored autumn leaves awaiting removal. I couldn’t refuse even though the pain was pounding in my ears.
“Hurry up, Anna. Mama needs her medicine.” I leaned my body against the building and closed my eyes briefly while Anna sifted through her choices. I quickly reopened them because closing my eyes was giving me a floating sense of vertigo. “Anna…”
“Ok, Mama.” She smiled with satisfaction and held up a fistful of beautifully colored leaves. She jumped up and opened the door for me and closed it perfunctorily after I slid inside. I sighed inwardly as I looked at the flights of stairs that we needed to ascend.
“Slowly and hold the handrail,” I whispered to myself. Anna was already clamoring up the first flight of stairs. Two burgundy leaves fluttered unnoticed from her grasp and landed on the fourth step. Without thinking, I quickly stooped to retrieve them. As I straightened, I realized my error. Waves of dizziness crashed from both sides of my brain and met in the middle. I gasped and clenched both of my hands on each handrail. I looked up to locate Anna. She was standing on the first landing chatting with a woman and showing off her leaves. I couldn’t hear what she was saying because of the buzzing in my ears. Anna and the woman seemed to flicker in my vision. Did I know this woman? She turned her gaze on me and smiled warmly. Her expression changed suddenly to concern as she ascertained my condition. I could feel myself falling, spiraling down within my mind. Shadows played at the edges of my sight while Anna and the violet eyed woman began glowing white and indistinct.