Means to an End [short story]

Fiction By Madeline // 11/20/2017

1990

June

The form was perforated, and Suzanne plucked it out with glee. Lorna raised her hand from a frosted-flakes stupor. The room fell silent but for the scratch of her mother’s ballpoint pen against cardstock, and the grit of the last bite between Lorna’s molars.

“Momma,” she tried. Suzanne’s nose hovered a breath above the stream of her writing, her elbows cocked and crooked, like she always wrote. Then, “Momma.”

Suzanne glanced up. “You’ve got milk on your chin.”

Lorna swiped at her mouth with the back of her hand. “What’s that?”

“This—” Suzanne stood and scooted her chair back with a screech, metal against linoleum, “—is a surprise. But I have a good feeling.” She spun for the door, grabbing her quilted fuchsia jacket, the one she always wore, and plunged the card into her back pocket.

Lorna scooted toward the lip of the couch. “Wait, wait—where are you—”

The door slammed behind Suzanne and the air settled in a whirlwind of dust motes. Her murky perfume lingered. Lorna clamored to hop down, trying to get to the window, wriggling to the precipice. The bowl between her legs—a blue plastic relic from early childhood—tipped. Milk everywhere.

By the time she made it to the window, sopping pajama pants in hand, her mother was gone. Down the street, heading somewhere, back whenever.

 

October

They got the call when they least expected it, a hot minute after the phone had been turned back on. The whole week of the lapse Suzanne was an anxious, twisted mess. She wrung her hands and paced and snapped more fiercely than what was warranted. When her paycheck came in the mail, the phone company was the first place she went, this time with her hand wrung around Lorna’s.

“Ma’am,” she pleaded at the customer service counter, “I’m so sorry. This is—it’s a rarity, for us. You’ll see that if you give our file a look, huh?”

The woman, whose name tag said Cheryl and whose blonde hair glowed neon under the florescent lights, stabbed at a keyboard with ring-stacked fingers. “Honey, it says here you’ve had this happen a couple times before. Back in March of eighty-seven and in December of eighty…five. Yes. Eighty-five.”

“See, but that was around Christmas time. And Spring break. Not a lot of extra funds.” Suzanne glanced down at Lorna, who smiled obligingly up at her, and her mouth tightened. “Ma’am—” She turned back to Cheryl, giving Lorna a squeeze. “Well, frankly, I can’t afford both the late fees and the phone bill. So—so it’s one or the other.”

“We’re waiting on a very important call,” Lorna interjected, her voice high and light.

“Oh, are you?” Cheryl leaned forward to have a look-see at the slip of a girl, soft blonde hair and freckles. “From whom?”

“The men who’re Gonna Decide Our Future,” she declared, each word un unequivocal capital. “That’s who.”

“Well, that’s something.” Cheryl settled back into her seat, refocused on Suzanne. “Dear. Dear, I wish I could. But we have a strict policy—a one-time policy. One late fee forgiven. And I see here we’ve forgiven one of yours before. So my hands are tied, and there’s not—”

“But couldn’t you make it go away?” Suzanne’s voice had begun to curdle. Lorna dropped her eyes. “I mean, you heard my daughter. We’re anticipating a very important phone call. Life-changing.”

“Life-changing?” Cheryl’s rings clinked when she raised a hand to brush away the pieces of hair that were sticking to her cheeks, tacky with foundation.

“Life-changing,” Suzanne affirmed.

“Well…” She contemplated the computer screen. “Here’s what I’ll do.” She disappeared from Lorna’s sight for a moment as she dove down, resurfacing with a bulging, teal handbag. Her volume dropped as she cleared her throat. “I’ll pay your late fee myself. And you pay the phone bill.”

“Oh!” Suzanne raised a trembling hand to her lips. “Oh, ma’am—that’s unnecessary. That’s not—I mean, we’ll make do.” She smiled down at Lorna, her eyes translucent behind a sheen. “Won’t we, baby?”

“Course,” Lorna agreed.

“No, no.” Cheryl waved them off as she pulled out her wallet, and then a wrinkled fifty. She typed something into the computer, and the cash register dinged. “Pay it forward some day, dears, okay?” She emerged with change—eleven dollars—and extended it over the counter.

Suzanne’s eyes widened. “Ma’am.”

“It’s for the little one,” Cheryl said, all wink. “Spend it however you like, sweetie.”

Lorna reached up, up for the money. She folded it in half and then half again, lifting it to her nose, inhaling. Musty.

Suzanne must have paid while she was absorbed in her cash because now her hand was on Lorna’s shoulder, kneading with insistence. “Come on, my love. Let’s go.” She turned them toward the door and raised her hand in a good-bye. “You’ve made our day, Cheryl! No, our week!”

They went out into the cold night with a dingle and turned down the sidewalk, stopping just outside a CVS. Suzanne held out her hand.

“Lorna.”

“What?” She squinted up at her mother. The setting six-o’clock sun, reeking of the impending winter, hovered behind Suzanne’s head. She was a silhouette: slender neck, frizzy hairs, limestone jaw.

“I need that, please.”

“The money?” She lifted it, the punctuation to her question, and Suzanne seized the opportunity to slip it from between her fingers.

“I gotta get some tampons. Wait here?”

“Yeah.” She sank down on a red bench, leaning against the plastic sign affixed to the back. Flu Shot Clinics, it advertised, Beat the Bug! Mondays and Wednesdays from 11-5.

“Momma?” Lorna posed, a lasso cast around Suzanne.

She stopped in her trek towards the sliding door, offering a beatific smile. “My love?”

“Do I maybe need a flu shot?”

“Oh—no. No, that’s silly.”

“But what if I get sick?”

“You won’t get sick.” She rose up on her tiptoes, hands in her pockets. “Just wait here. I’ll be right back.”

“But—” Lorna’s protestation halted Suzanne once more. The look she shot her—exasperation, pure and unadulterated—caused the words to congeal on her tongue.

“Nevermind,” she said, but Suzanne was already gone.

Later, when they got home, the call would come as Lorna sat in front of Full House eating her frosted flakes. You’ve been selected as the next Lands' End family! They’d front the Christmas issue. They’d model the clothes. They’d get to take the garments home with them—nice, thick sweaters and padded jackets and heavy socks.

Lorna did not know that right then, though. It’d been five minutes already, and her eyes were dropping, so she stretched out on the bench.

 

December

They were mailed fifteen free copies of the issue for distributing to family and friends, but they really had neither, so instead Suzanne slipped them into a canvas tote bag and pulled on her new boots and dragged Lorna to the library.

The walk was nice, snow blanketing every blemish of the town—the place where the roots of a tree had driven a sidewalk toward the sky, the numerous potholes and asphalt cracks, the trash that inevitably spilled from the overstuffed cans. Lights had been strung: pretty, multicolored, twinkling. Lorna tipped her head back until it was just she and the sky, until everything receded.

“Stop that,” Suzanne chided. “Baby, you’re gonna break your neck.”

Lorna brought her chin back down to the ribbed collar of her sweater. A boy’s sweater, but Jessup said she could have it. He wasn’t a big fan of the Lands End-style clothing, and had said she could keep the items. Peter had taken his clothes, though.

Suzanne held the door for Lorna and she slipped through, waiting for her mother to take the lead. She’d not been in the library much—actually, most of the town was unexplored to either of them.

This much was confirmed when she flagged down a name-tag-wearing employee to ask where she should drop off a magazine donation.

“Oh, I can take them,” the girl offered, holding out her hands. Her features were mouselike: beady eyes, small nose, round mouth. Her expression shifted as she accepted the stack of catalogues that Suzanne pulled from the tote bag. Her eyes flickered from Suzanne, to Lorna, to the cover of the issue, to Suzanne, to Lorna. A seemingly endless cycle.

“Is this—”

“It’s us,” Suzanne confirmed. “Yes.” She shrugged and grinned, highlighting the apples of her flushed cheeks. “Our family.”

“Oh my goodness.” The girl shook her head. “Well, how exciting. Lands End!”

“It’s a little contest.” Suzanne leaned forward to tap at the faces. “That’s me, of course, and this is Lorna. Peter—” Blonde, and beaming, “—and Jessup,” —with sandalwood hair.

“You guys are a stunning family.”

“Oh. That’s so sweet. Thank you.”

“I have to show this to my manager, Marie. This is so cool. I don’t think—I mean, nobody’s ever been in a magazine from our town. Far as I know.”

“We have a little feature in there too,” Suzanne supplied, as they followed the girl toward a flight of stairs. “It’s just a few paragraphs, but still. Talks a little bit about us.”

They made a display: Famous Locals. It was them, and some woman named Deirdre who’d sold a million dollars worth of Mary Kay and won a car, and then a middle-school teacher who once had worked for NASA. That was it—the six of them. Small town famous.

 

June

It was supposed to be just one time. A new family, a change, every year. But then, their story had really resonated with people—they’d clung to the bit of unexpected humanity sandwiched between a fifty-dollar set of thermal underpants and a color chart that boasted seven nearly-identical shades of red. Peter has recently taken on the management of his family’s car dealership in a slowly-dying town. Wife Suzanne plays both supermom and super customer care representative for a small loan company. Their children Jessup, 11, and Lorna, 8, are enjoying elementary school.

So when the call came, Suzanne said, “Yes, we’d be honored.”

Later, her mother and Peter sat at the kitchen table, rife with divots and watermarks from sweating glasses. Jessup and Lorna had spread paper and crayons on the floor and were working on fashioning a comic book, but the grease on their fingers from hot pockets made it impossible to grab anything without leaving a damp spot.

“I can’t believe it, Pete.” Suzanne arched forward in her seat, her shoulders raised and giddy with delight. A wine glass sat empty to her right, the rim spotted with plum lipstick. Lorna couldn’t seem to look away from her mother, the slender line of her. She lurched forward and neatly slid off her seat, clutching white-knuckled to the side of the table.

A chuckle emerged. Lorna wrinkled her nose and glanced at Jessup, but he was oblivious.

“Gross,” she muttered, so deep and quiet she felt it in her chest.

She thought she’d gone unheard as Jessup slid another completed sketch across the floor to her. “Can you color him in green?”

She resumed her task, trying to ignore Suzanne’s cackle in the background.

Then, softly: “We are family. We are family.”

Lorna tilted her head at him. Their eyes met for a brief moment, his crystal-clear ice, and then he refocused on his work. But he continued, barely audible: “We are family. Yeah, yeah. I got all my sisters with me…

 

1995

October

She’d been working at it all morning, but the green sliver persisted.

Out to dinner the night before, they’d had appetizer salads—little chunks of iceberg lettuce drizzled in peanut sauce—before the Philadelphia and Spicy Tuna rolls came around. It was an annual tradition now: sushi and a movie the night before the shoot, so they could all feel close and grin beefy grins and bicker endearingly. It was both the worst and best non-holiday night of Lorna’s year because, until the moment when she walked through that narrow front door into their house, she was floating. She didn’t need to go the the theater, because she was the movie herself.

It was fairytale-esque, the way they so effortlessly forgot themselves for four hours. And then she’d come back in and grope the wall for the switch, and the sickly yellow overhead would come on, and the ceiling fan would start its creaky whir, and the pilled couch would seem to have settled into itself even more. Eventually it was going to be a nub, is what she kept telling her mother, but Suzanne just laughed or rolled her eyes or got up and left the room.

She jammed a toothpick beneath the lip of her gum and blinked at her reflection once, twice. She let go and it hung there for a minute, a miniature walrus tusk. Suzanne rapped her knuckles against the door, then, and Lorna could feel the vibration in the plywood beneath her bare feet.

“Hurry up, baby! I need to do my makeup.”

“I’m hurrying.”

“We gotta leave in ten minutes.”

“I know.” She slid the toothpick up further, winced.

A block of serenity lapsed by. She picked up her toothbrush again, which had already been used four times this morning, and brought the bristles across her mouth with a vigorous swipe.

Lorna!” A pound on the door, vicious release. “Now!”

“One second, Mom.” She scrubbed harder. The bristles came back pink.

Open the door now—”

She reached the two feet over, flicking the lock. With a bang, Suzanne flung the door open.

“What are you doing in here?”

“Mom, I’m sorry—I’m sorry.” Lorna held up the brush, tasting copper and salt.

“Jesus. What’ve you done?” She clamped Lorna’s chin between two cool fingers, tilting her head back. “Where’s the blood coming from?”

“I had a piece of lettuce from last night stuck in there.”

“Oh, baby.” Suzanne released her chin, but Lorna kept her gaze affixed to the overhead light. It was rectangular and fluorescent, illuminating a modest collection of dehydrated insects. “It won’t matter. Nobody’d be able to tell because of the braces.” She stopped, sighed. “You look nice.”

Lorna was wearing a red turtle neck and corduroys. Last year’s fashions. They’d make her change immediately when they got to the studio, give her a box of things tailored to the measurements they’d sent a month ago that hadn’t changed one bit since the year before, and she’d lean on Suzanne with Paul’s arm across them both and Jessup standing immediately behind, just a little farther back. He was taller than all of them, now.

“I just didn’t—” She squinted at the ceiling. “The braces are bad enough. This stuff’ll be preserved forever—”

“Stop that, you’re spitting blood.” Suzanne pressed something against her shoulder—a wad of toilet paper. Lora brought her head back down to earth. “Clean yourself up and go get in the car, will you? Paul’s waiting.”

Lorna nodded, pressing the tissue between her lips. Outside was frosty, but she didn’t care—she stepped through the creaking door and onto the rickety porch, pulling it shut behind her with a smack. The first snow had melted into gray slush, and she was wearing tennis shoes. She thought about going back in and changing but she didn’t, because they’d give them boots. They always got new boots.

“Hey,” she managed around her mouthful, as she pulled herself up into the station wagon. Paul gave her a nod in the rearview mirror, but Jessup grinned as he leaned forward.

“What’s this?”

“Braces casualty.” Except more like brashes cashtee, but he understood. He followed the sound of the front door as it opened with a pop. Suzanne emerged—makeup perfect, hair naturally windswept, she wore her quilted fuchsia jacket.

Lorna pulled the wad of tissue from her mouth. “I hate these braces.”

“I hate this day.” He pawed at the strands of hair against his forehead, darting his eyes about the car. They settled on her. “I mean, not you. That’s not what I meant.”

“Yeah, no. I know.” She thought of the night before—sushi and Se7en, which was really quite terrible. The end had elicited a chuckle she’d concealed with her palm—surprising and absurd and so horrifying it was hilarious. “I hate it, too.”

 

December

The smell of spice woke her. For a moment, it could’ve been Christmas—the ginger rolls crisping in the oven, the packages with their silvery paper stacked on the floor—but then, it was the first week of December. They hadn’t even decorated yet. Cinnamon was an unusual odor to encounter in their household,  though, so Lorna sloughed herself out of bed. Her fuzzy slippers helped to revive her. 

Down the hall and around the corner, Suzanne was hunched over the stove, sprinkling and flipping. A series of lumpy and blackened pancakes had been produced and were stacked on a plate. Lorna took three, thought better of it, and put two back. Her mother wasn’t exactly a world-renowned cook.

“Mom.” She paused before the fridge. What had she come for? Milk. And a glass—that, too.

Suzanne contemplated a shaker of cloves and tipped some in with three sharp twists of her wrist.

“Mom?”

“Oh—hi, honey. Good morning.”

“Morning.” She put the milk back, noticing their five total glasses stacked in the sink, foggy and rimmed with lipstick. She’d just drink late out of one of their Dixie Cups. “You made breakfast.”

“I did.” Suzanne teased the corners of a pancake with the spatula. “What do you think?”

“I haven’t tried them yet.”

“Well, do. It’s a recipe. I made a couple modifications.”

Lorna obliged, closing her teeth in a half-moon bite. It was an assault to the tastebuds. “Oh!”

“Right? They said make it strong.”

“It’s like potpourri.”

“Stop!” Her laugh was tingling, fringed with ferocity. “Just sit down and eat, my ungrateful child.”

“Okay.” It was hard to be dragged down, on a morning like this.

Suzanne selected two pancakes for her own plate, following Lorna to their sinkhole of a couch. The room filled with the elasticized sound of their chewing. Suzanne swallowed with a gulp and finally admitted, “This is kind of a special-occasion breakfast.”

“What?” She met her mother’s eyes. Earnest, brown. Translucent eyes.

“What do you mean, ‘what’?”

“Like—like what kind of occasion.” She set her pancake down. One-third in.

“A special one.”

She couldn’t find tactful works. “Are you pregnant?”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous.” It was Suzanne’s turn to set aside her food, hooking her arm over the back of the couch. “Believe me, you were a one-and-done.”

“Okay.” Her voice hedged around the word.

“We got invited—I got the email last night, actually, but anyway—we got invited to be in the Christmas parade this year. Our own float!” She flung her fingers wide. “Which is an amazing honor. I mean, there’s a limited number. So it’s next Saturday!”

Lorna lifted her palm to her forehead. “A float, Mom?”

“A float. They’re decorating it for us with past issues or whatever. And we’re supposed to wear out outfits from this year’s cover!”

“Oh.”

“Don’t sound so excited.” She shook her head, reaching down to fork off a piece of her pancake. Pausing it before her lips, she nodded. “This’ll be good for you, before you start worrying. The exposure and whatnot. You need to be more outgoing.”

“I do not. I’m—I’ve been exposed for the last five years, Mom.” 

“Now what’s that supposed to mean?” She dropped the fork.

Lorna slowed to a mumble. “Nothing.”

“It means something. It sounds like you’re saying I’ve done something bad.”

“Not bad.”

“Wrong—whatever. But I haven’t. This gig has clothed you for the past five years. It’s given us a check to cover the cable, and the electric and gas. Your beloved Full House? That’s Lands' End—”

“I know.”

“—and don’t you forget it. So you’re doing this float.”

“But why? There’s no reason.” She was getting fired up now, as her mother’s words piled on—fact after baseless fact after baseless fact. “It’s bad enough this year, having to do it with my braces. My friends saw that, Mom. The people who aren’t my friends saw it. And it’s dorky, and it’s also stupid because everyone knows—I mean, they know.”

“Know?”

“You know what I mean.”

“No, I don’t, actually.” Suzanne lifted her chin, lengthening herself even more. “Please, please do spell it out for me. However you see it.”

“Mom—”

“And you’re doing this parade, Lorna. I don’t care what you look like, and neither do the Lands' End people. I know what I’m talking about.”

“Yes, Mom. But I—”

“—don’t want to hear it. Enough. It’s final.” She grabbed her plate and rose, the heat on her cheeks deepening. She took a step away, and Lorna let out a breath, relieved to be left alone. But with a scathing look over her shoulder, Suzanne added, “And if you honestly think the Lands’ End catalogue is costing you a social life—that it’a keep people from being your friends—I think you need to take a look at yourself. You are your friendships. If they’re not around, you’re the reason.”

She strode her way out of the room, moccasins scuffing agains the floor. Lorna sat there a long while in a lump. Then she got up and poured her frosted flakes and turned on the TV. Full House was on reruns. She’d seen this episode five times.

 

2000

 

June

Suzanne drew her finger across the pixellated image on the screen. “It has parquet floors.”

“Really?” Lorna cocked her head.

“It’s just a bad photo, baby. It’s really great. You’re going to love it.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure.” She stepped back from the laptop’s glaringly bright screen. On the table, her mother had spread the paperwork which she was meticulously filling out, stopping every-so-often to resurvey the green-sided split level that was going to be hers come August.

Lorna left her to it, drifting into the next room. The plush carpet on her bedroom floor was matted and peppered with dusty footprints. There were six-year-old Lorna feet, and twelve-year-old Lorna feet, and seventeen-year-old Lorna feet. They’d painted the paneling white ages ago, to brighten it up, but the color had started to dim. She was going to miss her room.

“It won’t matter anyway,” Suzanne had informed her when she broke the news a couple days ago. She turned the key in the car’s ignition, and it hacked in response. “You’ll be off to school anyway, so it’s not like you’re living with me, right? ” She maneuvered to kick at the door. “Stupid car.”

Maybe you need a new car instead? Lorna wanted to venture.

She paused by her desk to open the top drawer, which held a militia’s worth of applications, and acceptance letters, and extra copies of her—admittedly slim—resume. She lifted the top layer to pull out last December’s catalogue. There they were again: her family. So grown now. Every year they got the call, and every year they packed into Paul’s minivan and drove the hour-and-a-half to the satellite location, where they dressed for December and gave brief interviews and grinned when the camera flashed.

She wondered if they’d get a call this year, now that both children were adults. Now that her mother’s eyes had started to crinkle at the corners. Now that Paul was married.

He’d called last week and Lorna had pressed herself up against her door to listen, Suzanne’s tone fervent, each word more urgent than the last and melting into the next: “You have to do this Paul or we lose everything you understand I don’t care what Edith thinks she’s certainly appreciating the kickback huh so yes don’t tell me this and don’t call me again unless it’s to schedule our get-together you got that and no I don’t care if you bring Ellen why would I?”

When she slammed the phone down, she cast a curse into the air like a condemnation, and Lorna didn’t come out of her room for the rest of the evening.

Now she drew a breath and replaced catalogue but turned it facedown, so she didn’t have to look at herself. She hated the way she looked on those magazines. She hated the way the people behind the camera grinned at them and fawned over what an adorable family they were. She hated that her chest tightened more every time she looked at her mother.

A knock—Suzanne at the door. Lorna called for her to come in.

“I’m going to drop this off,” she announced, holding the stack of papers in her hands, the ink still wet. “Should we go to dinner after? To celebrate?”

“Sure.”

“Good. Thanks, baby.” She leaned forward to press her lips to Lorna’s forehead, though she had to stretch to do it. “This is exciting, no?”

“It is.”

“I cannot wait. We’ve lived in this dump long enough.” She backed up, her face frozen in a grin, turned with a whirl and was gone.

Lorna sank down on the end of her twin bed, the quilt her Grammie had made soft against her legs. She grabbed at her own laptop, her mother’s from before she’d bought the new iBook, and flipped up the screen. There was an email from the college, another one about the balance on her account. The third this week. You need to have this paid in full before the start of the year, or your semester will be suspended. A loaded threat.

She hit reply and composed a brief response: Are there any payment plans? I’m not able to pay the balance right now, unfortunately, and won’t have family help. Send. Out into the void.

She laid back on her bed, ignoring the beginnings of a throbbing headache, until the slam of the front door announced Suzanne’s return. She breezed through the house and leaned across the threshold into Lorna’s room.

“It’s final! We’re going to Outback.”

“I think—” She closed her eyes. “My head really hurts, Mom. I think I need to rest.”

“What? Oh, honey, no. Take some aspirin. Come with me—I want to celebrate.”

She drew a breath. “I got another email.” Exhale.

“From…”

“The college. About the balance.”

“What about?”

She’d talked to her mother about this many times before, but okay. “If I don’t pay the balance before classes start I’m not going to be able to go.”

“Oh.” She let out a laugh, sliced her hand through the air. “Honey, that’s ages away. You’ve got plenty of time.”

“I don’t though, Mom.” Lorna sat up, her head swimming. “I mean, isn’t there—could we do something about it? It’s not much.”

“Baby.” Her voice turned to steel, and she backed up. “I just put down a down payment on the house. Okay? I don’t have any extra money. Any whatsoever.”

“Jessup got helped with his school.”

“Well, Paul has a higher-paying job.”

“Not really.”

“Lorna—”

Mom.” There was a prick in her tone that stopped Suzanne. “Jessup told me—I mean, we talk sometimes. And he told me they sent both he and his dad checks.” Her heart was pounding so hard she felt it in her throat. She’d told herself she wasn’t going to ask. She’d told herself it didn’t matter, they’d needed money, and yes, it had paid for her Full House. “If I’ve been getting money, and you had to use it, that’s—whatever. But I need some of it now.”

With a spark, Suzanne was reanimated. “What are you insinuating? I’ve taken money from you? You’re my child. I have a right to everything with your name on it. More of a right.”

“I’m not, that’s not what—”

“I got us the gig, and I earned that money. Do you understand me?”

“Mom.” She scooted forward on the bed. Suzanne locked her arms across her chest, eyes flinty, lower lip quivering. The small weakness reassured Lorna. “I’m not mad at you. I’m just saying that I had to do the pictures, and that was a lot, and I think that I at least should have some of it to pay the balance on my account. You know?”

“No. No, I don’t, and it doesn’t matter anyway.”

“But—”

“All of the money is gone. As of this afternoon. Down payment on my house, remember?” She stepped back, her hand on the doorknob. “Don’t ask me ever again. I’m going to dinner. There’s pizza in the fridge.” She pulled the door closed, and the sound echoed.

Lorna drew her knees up to her chin. She couldn’t cry, although she wanted to. She couldn’t scream, and she couldn’t speak. She’d tried. Honestly tried to be good, and to listen, and to be there when she was needed. And this. This was how her mother repaid her.

She lurched off of the bed. Outside, the car sputtered to life and then roared down the street, Suzanne squealing the tires like she did whenever she got angry.

Lorna strode through her door and up to the phone. It hung crooked on the wall, a menace. She wished the nice woman had never paid their late fee for them. She was so well-meaning. But then she remembered the heat of her mother’s breath against her neck as they stood outside the building, her whisper: When I look at you, you tell her we’re going to have an important call, okay? There are people who are going to decide out future. If you say that, I’ll let you stay up extra late.

But Lorna was nervous, looking up at her mother. What if I mess up?

Well, then our lives are screwed. Because of you. You understand? When I look, say it.

Her small-voiced okay rang in her ears now. She pressed her shaking hands against her legs to ground herself. She drew a deep breath, and then she dialed the number that she’d been rehearsing in her head for a number of years.

“Yes, hi. This is Lorna Stevens. I need to speak to—to the department that takes care of our magazines. The cover. Yes, I can hold.”

She held. And then when the smoke-laced voice came on the line, she told it everything in a big, gelatinous glob. It asked some questions, and she answered. It thanked her for her honesty. She said goodbye.

Afterward, she poured herself the biggest bowl of frosted flakes she’d had in a while and sank onto the couch. Full House wasn’t on. The Fresh Prince would do.

 

October

Suzanne told Lorna the fuchsia quilted jacket had finally been retired. Lorna stood at the payphone and nodded and nodded when her mother said she regretted donating the other coats, but, “it doesn’t matter. They’ll be calling any day now. I’ll just get another.” She said she had to go back to her schoolwork and hung up. She should have felt guilty.

 

December

The new family on the cover wore matching toboggans. Lorna smiled at their picture.

Comments

ok i haven't read this yet

ok i haven't read this yet because i have 3 projects, 2 papers, and an exam right after break, but i just wanted to say that i'm super glad to see a short story from you! also i hope that you're enjoying your creative writing class as much as i enjoyed mine and that you find it super insightful!!!

Erin | Tue, 11/21/2017

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

Navigation

User login

Please read this before creating a new account.