Siobhan Neile Welch (fiction)
Faye stopped mid-sentence when she realized the sun had fallen behind the row of run-down apartment buildings across the way. The windows glowed against the bricks through broken blinds, as lights flicked on for dinner and prime time programs.
The last few hours were lost, and now it was settling into seven thirty — too late, Faye thought, to have not yet picked up Nora from an after-school play-date. Instead, she drank a bottle of wine with an old friend, reminiscing about times, years ago, that neither of them could fully remember.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Sorry for what?” Audra’s feet were propped up on the coffee table, and she was painting her toes a purple color she found in the bathroom. “Moonlight mauve, by the way,” Audra said, “is a grandma color.” The balls of her toes left smudges on the tabletop, like lip prints left on the rim of a glass.
Faye came in from the balcony. “It’s Nora’s,” she said, but Audra was singing along to the Beastie Boys and didn’t hear. They were close once — when they were twenty and in college, just bones and smooth skin and smiles. They ended up as roommates by way of the U of H lottery and lived together almost three years until Faye got pregnant and had to drop out.
Tonight they were going to give each other facials, go through old photos of them dancing, fucked up in clubs, but now the idea seemed silly, made interesting only over the humdrum of gossip and cheap Merlot. Faye thought if she hadn’t run into Audra again, at the Wal Mart of all places, she’d be in her slippers, heating up leftovers and getting Nora ready for bed, like she did every night.
In the kitchen, Faye rummaged through drawers stuffed full with takeout menus and old junk mail, but couldn’t find the number of Mr. Baker, the man who had picked up her daughter just four hours before. Faye panicked. She hadn’t bought a school directory, had forgotten to bring cash to Pine Creek Elementary’s fall orientation that week –why would she? Besides, she didn’t get paid until Friday. “I know I wrote it down somewhere.”
“What’s that?” Audra, pink-faced and buzzed, was wiggling her toes so that they dried. She had plans, she said, to meet a man at a bar in West U. Faye couldn’t remember what it felt like to flirt with a man, someone who would buy her bright colored drinks and tell her things about her eyes, things she always secretly admired about herself but would never admit out loud.
Mr. Baker was a deacon at the big Baptist church in town, a widow, and his daughter was in Nora’s class. This had been enough information for Faye to gladly kiss her daughter goodbye when he came by their apartment and honked. She had waved from the sidewalk and watched as he scooped Nora into a black Cadillac that gleamed in the sun as it sped off. She had imagined a snack waiting for them at his house, a breakfast table in a patch of sunlight, someone in the background practicing piano.
Faye fumbled around for the number in her purse, found it among the gum wrappers and receipts for gas station coffee, a neon yellow Post- It note covered in Nora’s cinnamon graham cracker crumbs. The phone number scrawled in cursive, her rushed handwriting, indicative that she had been thinking of other things at the time.
She laughed nervously, and said to Audra, “See? I knew I had it all along,” only she could not be heard over the loud bass of stereo, the sound of her voice coming out faint, like the fading heat of the afternoon.
by Siobhan Neile Welch