The idea for this story was born after reading THIS POST by John Blase at The Beautiful Due. If poetry is your thing, you should be reading John Blase. His verse is good for the soul.
Twila used the tip of a long, acrylic fingernail to push the “unlock” button on her key-fob. Flipped her long, platinum colored hair.
“Hey, Olivia,” Twila called, pulling open the door of the SUV. “Come on, honey.”
The girl slumped out of the house. All long legs and arms. Too big of feet. Stringy hair. The awkwardness of twelve years.
“Come on, honey,” Twila said, waving her daughter over with a bony, too tan hand. “Let’s go. We gotta get your school clothes.”
Olivia rolled her eyes. “Whatever,” she sighed.
“What?” Twila jutted out a hip. Thrust her fist to it. Made her artificially plump lips smash together. “You just want me to go pick out all your school clothes for you?”
“Yes.” Olivia rolled her eyes back the other way. Stood, shoulders rolled forward. Gawked at her mother. “You go do it.”
“No. You want to go. Come on.” Twila put her high-heeled foot up into the truck and hefted herself in. “Come on, girl.”
The girl climbed into her side of the truck. Shut the door. Buckled her seat belt.
“I knew you wanted to come,” her mother said, looking in the rear view mirror. “A girl can’t resist shopping for clothes.”
The drive to the mall took them nearly twenty minutes. Twila sang along with all the boy bands and pop divas on the radio. Bopped her head. Smiled at all the cute boys she passed.
Olivia stared at her big, flip flopped feet. The scabbed up toes. The hair on her legs that she’d need to start shaving off. She just couldn’t figure out how to ask her mother for help. Twila didn’t seem to notice.
She was too busy with her own smoothly waxed legs. Pedicured toes. $200 shoes.
“Honey, what look are you going to go for this year?” Twila switched off the radio.
“I dunno.” Olivia swiped overgrown bangs from her eyes.
“Oh, come on. You have to know what look you like. Do you want to be a hipster? Or a prep? You’d look real cute as a hippie chick. You know. Kind of a Bohemian look.”
“Whatever. I don’t care.” The girl looked out the window. The world swirled by her faster than she could track with her eyes. “I like blue.”
“So, you just want blue clothes?” Twila’s tone turned. The tone Olivia knew better than the sticky sweet, buddy one of only seconds before. “Really, Liv. Nobody’s going to even see you unless you stick out. Make a statement.”
“I don’t care.”
In silence, Twila found a parking spot. Turned off the engine. Climbed out of the SUV. Slammed the door.
Olivia hesitated before following her mother.
The lights in the mall were too bright. The music too loud. The smells of candles mixed with fried food mixed with the cologne that the trendy stores pumped through the vents.
Every store looked the same.
Twila thrust variations of the same pair of jeans at her daughter. The same cut of shirt. The same style of shoe. Over and over. It dizzied Olivia. The bags, busting with fabrics, weighed her down as she walked through the mall.
Half of the clothes were for Twila.
And each item purchased, every credit card swiped, set in more and more emptiness into Olivia. More space in the chasm between her and Twila.
“You would be so pretty if you just wore more pink!” Twila would say.
“You know, my daughter just HATES getting dolled up,” she’d say to the cashier. “Do you know how many times people mistake her for a boy?”
“That shirt would look better if you had some boobs.”
Olivia followed her mother. The bags nearly dragging on the floor.
Twila charmed a security guard into carrying a few of the bags to the truck.
Olivia rolled her eyes.
On the drive home, Twila stopped at a fast food joint. Ordered a shake for Olivia. A Diet Coke for herself. She parked the truck. Watched her daughter drink the thick ice cream.
“So, here’s the thing,” Twila said. “You’re acting weird.”
Olivia sucked on her straw. Looked at the vents that pumped out cold air.
“No. I’m serious, Liv.” Twila looked in the rear view mirror. Puckered her lips. “It’s like you’re upset about something.”
“I’m fine.” Olivia put her shake on her lap. Felt the ice cream turn into a boulder in her stomach.
“Well. It’s like – well, I feel like it all started when your dad left.”
Olivia stared at her mother. “You mean when you kicked him out?”
“We just didn’t love each other anymore.” Twila sipped her soda. “You can’t understand that kind of thing. You will when your get married someday.”
Twila looked at her daughter.
“So. Are you going to be cool about things?” she asked. Flipped her hair. “It’s not like anyone blames you.”
Olivia tried to put her shake in the cup holder. Missed. It spilled all over the floor. On her legs. Her dirty flip flops.
“Damn it, Olivia,” Twila yelled. “Geez. I just had this truck detailed.”
“I’m sorry,” Olivia mumbled. “I’ll take care of it.”
Twila grabbed a tissue from her purse. Wiped a spot of ice cream from her daughter’s leg.
“Don’t touch me!” Olivia screamed.
The two looked at one another. Both surprised.
Twila started the SUV. Drove the two of them home. Fast. Recklessness of rage. The radio as quiet background music.
Olivia slumped in her seat when they drove up to their house.
The lights were all off at the house.
The big house.
Six bedrooms. Three and a half baths. Formal dinning room. Breakfast nook. Gourmet kitchen. Three stall garage.
For just the two of them now.
Large enough for them to live different lives. Together. Apart.
Twila parked in the driveway. Left Olivia to carry the bags. To clean up the spilled milk shake.
She clip clopped her high heels to the front porch. Marching. Waved her arms to turn on the motion sensor lights.
Olivia watched her. Looked at her mother. So thin. So artificial. A woman who had so much. But had nothing.
Twila stopped. Turned to look at her daughter.
“Well, you coming in? Or you just gonna stand there staring at me like an idiot?”
The girl grabbed hold of the bags. Walked, almost ran to catch up with her mother.
She noticed something on the sidewalk. A lump of brown and gray. Were they feathers?
“What’s that?” she asked, putting the bags on the ground. “See that, Mom?”
“You know, I spend all that money on you and you don’t say a word. Then there’s a dead bird on the sidewalk and you get all stirred up.” Twila kicked the dead bird into the grass. “Gross.”
“What should we do with it?”
“Leave it, Liv. Some cat’ll come get it or something.” Twila unlocked the front door. “Come on. Pick up the bags.”
Olivia obeyed. Carried the burden of expensive clothes. Walked to the front door. Turned her head to look at the bird. Its body in the grass.
Sat on the step.
Mourned the death of a lonely little sparrow.
Good job, Susie…I love seeing where the words of one take another.
Thank you for the inspiration.
It always amazes me how quickly I enter the hearts and minds of your characters. You have such a gift! Loved this one too!
Thank you, Kathi. This one got to me, to tell you the truth. Olivia was someone I really felt for.
I find the story quite compelling, but feel that there is no need to throw in the divorce as a motivating factor. As the father of teenagers, and as a person who had a very difficult time relating to my own parents, I can completely relate to the child who is frustrated by her apparent inability ot meet her parent’s expectations simply because she is a teenager, and that is what happens. Parents always create imaginary futures for their child and imprint them with their own likes and dislikes, wishes and desires, sprinkled liberally with all their unfulfilled aspirations. And children, if they wish to avoid years of psychotherapy, cast out all those horrifying parental expectations and start to form expectations of their own. And the inevitable clash comes when the child doesn’t know what she wants, but she knows she doesn’t want to become her mother; and the mother is doing everything she can to give her daughter the life she never had.
I think you’re right. It’s difficult to be a pre-teen/teen. I wanted to add the pain of divorce to the mix because Twila needed to see her daughter suffering and still step over her, ignoring her pain. Like the bird.
Oh…and I should write a story about not living up to expectations. Maybe we both should write that story and see how differently they come out!