I was now a visitor, an invited guest to a home that was once my own. It was the first time I walked up these sharply pitched cement stairs, stood soldier straight and rang the doorbell. Ding-dong it sang. Ding-dong it repeated. It was the first time I was on this side of the door, and not answering on the other side.
It was bizarre looking through the front door to see the long hallway through vintage glass. Everything was out of focus, only slanted images and glassy pearls of reality. Even just observing from the doorstep the house appeared homier, a bit gentler than when I lived in it.
Coming into view a blurry image of a small figure eagerly grasping while on tiptoes for the door handle. Successfully opening the door, as if in celebration, she performed a wiggle dance. This hive of energy then rushed to hug my knees, “Mommy, you came.” It hurt more than a little that she doubted me. I knelt down to kiss her face in fast repetition, telling her it’s not every day a big girl turns six.
Hand-in-hand we walked into the party. My gaze immediately collided into my ex-mother-in-law. She palmed her scotch and gave me an indisputable look of disgust, as if she just sent back her dinner. The look on her face made me imagine the thoughts running in her mind – how did she allow her daughter to get into this circumstance of a turbulent divorce? Now, her only girl lived in a condition of singleness, being untethered – the worst offense for a woman, even a gay one.
My words came out all automatic, “Hi June, nice to see you.” She wielded a small, loose smile then sauntered into the kitchen while pulling down her long red bedazzled jacket. As if my voice was now foreign the hello to her mother startled Jillian. She stopped what she was doing to look up. “Nicki,” she nodded with indifference then returning to dolling out portions of mac and cheese to hungry children.
I needed to anchor myself. The scene was proving to be unsteady. I clutched the white granite kitchen island, long and geometric. My fingers ran back and forth with a compulsion, stroking over and again the imperfection in the countertop Jillian and I fought about for days. She ranted on and on as to why (why?) I accepted this piece of granite with a defect. It was now, as she said, literally “cast in stone” in our home forever. Over the next few weeks she asked the question in a loop, her abhorrence cascading everywhere like a cannon echo.
Alyson, Jillian’s longtime “best friend” from college, unexpectedly appeared. She was thinner than I recalled and dressed up a little more than everyone else in tall boots and tight black pants. Her hair was pulled back in a long ponytail that swayed with her hips as she walked. She was wearing just enough eye makeup for the daytime and her pink lipstick matched her green eyes. She hovered around Jillian as if spotting her on some type of gym apparatus.
“Hi Nikki, we’re glad you could make it,” she said opening and closing the refrigerator with familiarity.
While the rest of the kids played, my daughter clung to me, wrapping her legs around my legs, hanging off my arms and twisting around me slowly. Her laugh exposed her toothless smile. She snaked herself around me to gain enough momentum to kick her younger cousin as he bobbled by. Jillian’s stern look snapped on me, “Nikki, don’t let her do that.”
Alyson was on duty. She grabbed empty cups and dirty plates feeding the sink while whispering something in Jillian’s ear that made her laugh. The doorbell rang and Alyson sprung for it. My daughter followed behind running to see who was next to come to her party. In unison their movements carried a fluency making it obvious my daughter had followed this woman many places before.
At the door was someone Alyson knew well. Jillian waved a hello from her position in the kitchen telling me this wasn’t a stranger to her either. My ex mother-in-law caught my eye, smirking at the view. I was out of the loop.
When it was time to open gifts, Alyson lingered behind in the kitchen waiting for Jillian. She looked at her with a gaze that was a mixture of optimism and that specific kind of anticipation when you’re close to getting what you want. They stood close together almost touching surrounded by a sea of off-white cabinets and shiny silver accents. If they were conscious of my gaze, they didn’t show it.
Their lack of attention to all else allowed me to witness the unfolding of the moment and its quiet truth. There in full display Alyson’s eagerness; her mouth opened just enough to be alluring, her elbow extended to touch Jillian’s side, eyes darting up and down Jillian’s form as she licked ice cream that was melting down her hand.
I shuddered as if the air changed when it went into my body. The room blurred a bit for me. It was one of those singular moments when something changed for you but unchanged for the rest of the room. You’re alone in your new conditions. I stood off to the side smiling as the kids opened gifts pretending this wasn’t the final end in a long journey of endings.
For a moment the sun reflected against the window glass. The light cascaded into the townhome creating rainbow colors on the wall only sunlight can make. The cluster of light bobbed above and between Alyson and Jillian but they didn’t squint. The glare didn’t impede their vision. Rather they saw very clearly, and moved along walking together both holding a large birthday cake as the children cheered.
Pamela Picard is a media director, television producer and writer living outside of Boston. Her short stories have appeared in MOON Magazine, Down in the Dirt, Brilliant Flash Fiction and The Loch Raven Review. She has an MA from Emerson College in Media and Visual Arts. Twitter and Instagram @pamjpicard.