Chilly Spring Mornings
The birds chirping filled my ears with a sense of hope, the fresh spring air felt as if I were starting over again. That was just what I needed, to be given permission from the universe to start over again. My knees hurt every time I took a step, but looking at the beautiful pink flowers that lined the walkway made my new home seem a little more inviting.
The Uber driver watch with an awkward, uncomfortable look on his face. I dragged my suitcase behind me while trying to balance a duffel bag awkwardly hanging over my shoulder. As I entered the corridor, the neon green walls and bright purple curtains took me by surprise. It was vibrant; it was bold. It made me uncomfortable!
My phone did its sing-song ringtone.
“Hi, Mom!” I answered, trying not to sound as tired as I felt.
“How do you like the new digs?!” my mom said in that happy mom way.
“It’s very bright,” I said as I got comfortable sitting on the floor and readjusted my phone. I could almost hear my mom smirking.
“Once you get some furniture in there, it won’t be so bad. Remember when we moved into the house on 8th Street and it was wall-to-wall fuchsia? We put some white furniture in there and it got a little better.”
I smiled slightly. The house smells like fresh paint. I can’t ask for a new paint job just yet.
After a while, the smell of wet paint got to be too much. I grabbed a cup of coffee, my favorite worn out a copy of Jane Eyre, and settled myself on the window seat, looking out the window at the dozens of purple flowers in many hanging baskets. I fell asleep watching bumblebees collect nectar.
I woke with a start as I heard a light tapping by my left ear. Turning on my phone’s flashlight, I discovered an orange and white striped kitten. Despite the warm spring weather report, the thing was shivering. You could see its many bones through clumps of matted fur. Being the bleeding heart that I am, I instinctively reached out the window and picked up the kitten. It finally retracted its claws after I brought it a saucer filled to the brim with hot milk and a piece of day-old pizza crust. It managed to fall asleep as we laid on the pallet I laid out on the icy cold, hardwood floor of what would become my bedroom. The kitty was curled up on my tummy, purring loudly. I watched the ceiling fan swirling above our heads.
I couldn’t sleep—the smell of the wet paint was giving me a headache. I grabbed my phone, being careful not to wake my new pet. According to Google, realtors will sometimes place tiny cans of paint in cupboards, leaving the lid off of a fresh box of color gives the impression that a place has been freshly painted.
“Could the real estate agent have left cans of paint around when staging the house and forgot about them?” I wondered. Somehow, I managed to fall asleep.
Morning came quickly. I woke up to my kitten softly kneading my face with his paws. I gently pushed the kitten’s paws away. Only then did I discover that there was fresh green paint on my fingertips.
I made my way to the bathroom; my new pet was meowing and following close behind me, leaving a trail of tiny green paw prints in his wake. I picked up my kitten and ran his paws under a slow stream of cold water. He hissed at me and tried to scratch my bare arms.
“Sorry, buddy, we got to get the stuff off of ourselves. We want to eat today don’t we?” Seemingly, the kitten understood and relented.
I looked in the mirror and cleaned a little streak of blood from my cheek. I took my hand and wiped some tiny red spots off of the mirror, leaving a sticky film. I peeked under the sink and found it empty.
“Remind me to get glass cleaner,” I said, looking down at the kitten.
I heard a knock at the door and ran to get it, still holding my new pet.
“Hi, Phoebe,” my mom said while struggling to give me a hug and holding a big coffee cake.
We were sitting at my brand-new kitchen table, gathered around a large hostess snack cake box. I smiled.
“I’m getting the same China,” I said, gathering a couple of my new blue marble plates and my whimsical donut-shaped coffee cups.
“How do you like your new place?” mom asked. Has she moved her work around her plate?
“It’s different, that’s for sure,” I said, trying to hide the twinge of disappointment in my voice.
My mom took my hand in hers. Her hands were ice cold and sweaty at the same time. “We had to scramble after the accident to get things put in place, Phebes.” The sadness in her voice hurt my soul.
I added milk to my coffee and watched the tiny swirls dance around the inside of the cup.
“I know the reason you’re not looking at me and I’m sorry I brought up the accident. You can’t change what happened to you,” she said as she grabbed my hand off the coffee cup and placed it in hers again. I was glad for the heat from the bowl as her icy fingers wrapped around mine.
“I shouldn’t have had that second cup of coffee,” I said as I rushed to the bathroom. The warm water coming out of the sink was a welcome relief from the time spent in the freezing cold kitchen. I enjoyed the warmth of the water a little longer than I should have.
When I returned to the kitchen, my mother was gone. A gush of warm spring breeze came in through the open door. My kitten was sitting by the door wagging his tail slowly, and the hair on his neck was raised. I picked up the kitten and cuddled him until, eventually, he fell asleep.
I was still holding the kitten in my arms when I decided to call my mom to apologize. When the phone stopped ringing after two rings, I began my awkward attempt at speaking. “Hey, Mom, I just called to say I’m sorry. I know none of this has been easy on anyone in the family, and it’s been a crazy few months. I really do appreciate everything you did for me. By the way, my kitten doesn’t have a name. Want to help me pick one?”
I heard only static. I turned over on my makeshift bed and went into a dreamless sleep.
Morning came quickly. I made my way into the bathroom; the hot water worked its magic on my tight muscles, and the birds chirping outside made for a beautiful, relaxing soundtrack. I got out of the shower and made my way to the kitchen.
As I filled the coffee pot with water, I saw a person out of the corner of my eye. I jumped and turned around only to realize my mother was sitting at my kitchen table again. in front of a white Entenmann’s box. She waved at me, her bright pink nails were a distinct contrast to the cornflower coffee cup.
I smiled. I silently thought of the time that she grounded me in my teens for not turning in homework, and then bought me three tubs of Ben & Jerry’s when the teacher admitted that she lost my book report.
I sat down at the table and said, “apology accepted” before taking a bite of coffee cake. My kitten was sitting by the table, waiting for a piece of coffee cake. I picked it up. “So, have you thought of a name for this little guy?”
The kitten squirmed uncomfortably in my arms. The second I loosened my grip, the kitten jumped out of my arms and disappeared. My mother just quietly sipped her coffee.
Later that night, I found my kitten hiding under the bathroom sink. I picked him up and was horrified to discover that his paws were covered in a sticky red substance. I called my mom to let her know of the day’s events.
“Hey mom, just letting you know I took the kitten to the vet straight away. The vet said Dasher—that’s a synonym for gray, by the way—has perfect paws. They said the substance was blood, he more than likely got a hold of a mouse or something. He’s up to date on his rabies shots. Is your phone forwarding calls to voicemail again? Just want to let you know your phone’s been acting weird, you might need to update it.”
I fell asleep again on the loveseat that I bought from Goodwill that day. When I woke up, I could barely make my way to the shower. Once I got in, the steaming hot water relaxed my aching legs. When I went into the living room, Dasher was playing with his new jingly mouse that I bought him.
My mother was sitting at the kitchen table again, and there was an open box of coffee cake beside the comics section of the newspaper.
I picked up the paper. “You ever wonder why they call it Peanuts?” I asked. My mom just looked at me confused. “I’m serious, why do they call it Peanuts? It has nothing to do with peanuts!” My tone sounded angrier than I had intended.
We sat at the table sipping on coffee in silence.
Without a word, my mother turned and walked away. I went to push in the chair this time and I noticed that the one she had been sitting in was speckled with green paint. I don’t know why I had seen it before; the chairs were painted a distressed white.
I was about to give the moving company an earful for dirtying my brand-new kitchen chairs. I figured I’d better calm down first and took a sip of coffee. As I sat on the chair, I called my grandpa.
“Any clue what’s up with Mom?” I asked.
I heard nothing on the other end of the phone and took his silence as confusion. Then, in that sympathetic tone he’s famous for, my grandpa said, “We went to you mom’s funeral. Remember?”
I dropped my coffee cup and it shattered into a million pieces.
“Remember, she fell off the side of that green building. She had broken her skull and was panting when she died.”
I remember it all so distinctly now; she didn’t want me to come out here. After my accident, I went on one of those, “you only live once kicks,” packed up and moved across the country. I took a red-eye to the funeral. We had a Sunday morning ritual where she would bring me coffee cake and we would talk about life.
I was trying to convince her to come out here to stay with me. I thought she could retire at the end of the school year and everything would be back to normal. I was wrong.