One Month Later by Martha Maggio
She didn’t look at me as she sat down at the table. Syl had grown distant from me over the last month. Understandably so. I was of no use to anyone, including myself. I did not usually even drag a comb through my hair. I had cut it all off the day after the funeral.
I just took the clippers I used every month on Harold, our dog, and shaved my entire head. No hair guides or tapering, just full on buzz. That was the first time I hadn’t cried about an activity in several days. I had always promised myself to shave it on some strange occasion and that day seemed like the exact moment to pop that cork. It was intensely freeing and satisfying, just as I thought it would be. With my preoccupation in crying and eating, I had no time for hair.
But this drastic measure had naturally disturbed my daughter. We didn’t talk about it. She casually rubbed my head one day and said with a small smile, “Feels like teddy bear hair.” I returned her smile with a solitary wink. And that was all the conversation we had regarding Mommie’s new do.
On most days, I would take a shower, towel dry my very short hair and collapse into bed. I wore sloppy shirts and dirty yoga pants. I waited around for breakfast time, fed Syl, walked her to the bus stop and quickly walked back home to take a nap. Today was different.
“Hi,” she whispered.
“How ya feelin’?” I asked.
“Okay.” And she immediately started eating her cereal.
We sat in the dining room for fifteen minutes. Silently. While she slowly ate her flakes. I read articles on my tablet and I could feel her eyes scanning me. But every time I would look up to catch her eye, she would automatically shift her eyes to the window behind me. The last time I looked up, she had stopped eating and was frozen, spoon in hand. Tears rolled off her cheeks and landed in the sweet milk.
“What? What is it?”
She couldn’t speak. She just kept crying into the bowl. Her hand finally released the spoon and it fell awkwardly to the table. She grabbed her face and finally let out a whimper. She sniffed and sucked the fluids escaping her face and hands. She lost complete control.
“Tell me, sweetheart.”
“I miss Daddy.” More sobs.
“Me too.” I touched her back and ran to the kitchen for tissues. I plucked one of the two boxes on the counter. It was too light and I shook it. Empty. I ran my finger inside to make sure. The other box was empty, too. No tissues, as we had used them all very quickly. I wasn’t ready to go out in public yet to get some and I forgot to ask my mom for more each time she brought groceries. I grabbed the paper towels off the rack and ran back to the dining room.
“Here.” I laid the paper towels beside her hand. She didn’t take them. She was sober and distant again. I couldn’t help but feel like a failure about the tissue.
Dangit. Dang Kleenex. I should have a pack of Puffs strapped to my friggin’ wrist these days and all I can think about is taking my nap.
“Mom.” she started. “Mom, I love you. But you’re making me miss Daddy more.”
I was gutted.
Oh my God. She’s right. I am a failure. Get it together. She needs you and you are freaking out. You selfish, horrible mother. You are letting your baby fall through the cracks. GET. IT. TOGETHER.
I took a deep breath. “Okay.” I smiled. “I’m sorry.” I felt like dying inside. I felt like smashing myself in the face a thousand times. I felt like flipping out and bawling my head off. But I just breathed deep and smiled. The tears came to my eyes, but I held them back.
She got up from the table after holding my gaze for a few moments and then took her dish to the sink. She went to the door, put on her backpack and waited for me. I grabbed my keys and put my arm around her. We walked together to the bus stop. We sat on the bench just a few steps from the stop and waited for the bus. We were really early, but we enjoyed just sitting together in the cool morning. She touched my hair and whispered, “Teddy bear hair.”
The bus pulled up and I didn’t want to let go. She pulled away and I saw my hand flop back to the bench. My hands. They were so pale and thin. They seemed just as old and wrinkled as my mother’s. When did they age?
Syl looked back at me and knew that something had changed. She knew that we could move forward now. And that she could count on me again. This seemed to make her happy. She didn’t smile, but I could see the light had returned to her eyes. She didn’t have to worry about losing her other parent to a mental breakdown.
“Have a good day, Sweetie.”
“Have a good day, Mom.”
A Pleasant Surprise by Lillian Maggio
I wasn’t ashamed to walk onto the bus, my face soaked with tears. I got quite a few odd looks from my classmates though. Even the bus driver seemed concerned. I suddenly realized I might look like a mental patient ready to be committed, and felt a warm sensation crawl up my neck and onto my cheeks.
Holy moly, this might just be the most embarrassing moment of my life.
I walked down to the back of the bus and sat down. I pressed my face against the window and watched as my mother disappeared into the distance. The moist, refreshing glass felt good on my embarrassed-hot face. I wasn’t happy, but I was… almost relieved. Things were finally going to change.
I hardly noticed him sit down next to me. “Hey.” It was a boy that I had seen wandering around at my dad’s funeral. I whipped around, hitting my elbow on the hard metal wall.
Stupid, careless, ridiculous.
The warm feeling came back. I hoped he couldn’t see me blushing, then immediately pushed that thought out of my head.
Why do I care what he thinks of me? I don’t need him. I don’t need anyone.
But who was I kidding? I would latch onto any friend I could find. “Hi.”
He looked away. It may have been the light, but I swore the tips of his ears were slightly reddish-pink. “Max,” he whispered, barely audible. So his name was Max, or maybe Maxwell. I held back a giggle as I thought.
“Syl,” I stated. “Short for Sylvestra.” I made a slight gagging noise and pushed my tongue out a bit while I laughed to indicate my acknowledgement of my too-big, too-formal first name. I shifted in my seat, studying him. He wasn’t exactly cute.
His skin was pale, as if he didn’t get much sun (but how could anyone, here in Oregon). He had shaggy brown hair and bangs that might have covered his eyes if he didn’t keep them tucked away behind his ears. His round-framed glasses gave him an almost-comical appearance, but he wasn’t smiling. I doubted he smiled very much at all. Neither did I, though, after everything. Only when I was nervous. Like now.
“Gum?” he offered. I took it, the polite thing to do.
Tropical Mango. Yuck.
I chewed it anyway, and was surprised by the taste. As a little kid I had always hated anything mango-flavored, but it didn’t seem so bad now.
“Thanks,” I muttered. “Can you keep secrets?”
His eyes lit up, but he didn’t smile. “Sure,” he said. “Can you?”
“One million percent.” I mimed crossing my heart, and he did the same. I felt about seven years old. “You first, or me?”
“I don’t mind,” he mumbled. He began absentmindedly tapping his fingers on the seat, in the few inches between the two of us. Taptaptap.
“I like reading. A lot.” People thought it was weird that I loved books, but for me it was like a portal to another universe. Another way for me to ignore the problems of my real life.
He stopped tapping, and his legs began to swing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. “My mom’s in the army.”
“I still play pretend.”
“I sleep with a stuffed dog.”
“I’ve watched R-rated movies since I was seven.”
“My dad wouldn’t let me watch R-rated movies until last year.”
It almost became a competition. Who has the most embarrassing secrets? Is it Syl, with her weird addiction to grape soda? No, here comes Max with his ten-second rule of picking up dry food off the floor. It seemed to go on and on. I didn’t care that he was almost a stranger anymore; everything we said somehow brought us closer to being friends.
It’s just like the pleasant surprise of mango-flavored gum. Something you didn’t think you’d like, might actually be pretty good. Someone you thought might be an idiot, could turn out to be the best friend you’ve got. Who knew what curveball life was going to throw at me next?
I certainly didn’t.