It was an hour wait for an oil change this time of day, the guy at Jiffy Lube told her. In lieu of her time, they offered Starbucks coffee and powdered creamer, which Amanda helped herself to before crashing into a green cushioned seat as far from the stack of tires by the door as she could get. The place smelled of rubber, oil and men.
Tendrils of steam floated from the surface of her coffee, pock-marked with clumps of creamer not yet dissolved. It was already half-past one by the time she saw her Kia Sportage levitate from the floor of the garage to the high corrugated ceiling. A man wearing a grease-stained red t-shirt looked up at the car, then at her through the plate-glass window that separated them. He winked.
She cursed to herself. Why didn’t she know more about cars? She should've listened to her dad when she was younger, taken that class on basic car maintenance instead of the photography course that made her realize just how mediocre her talents were. It would've been more productive, and hurt half as much.
Time passed slowly. Angry Birds caught her attention. She drained her coffee. People came and went and the waiting room chilled from the constant open and close of the door. She hunched closer to herself when someone sat next to her.
She jumped when she saw him, her iPad crashing to the floor. A poor attempt to recover; a laugh too high-pitched; an awkward hug; a kiss dodged. Her heart beat loudly in her ears.
”Hey, Alex, how are you? It's been a while.”
"Yeah. Uh, how've you been?" Distraction pulled him away from her. Two unruly blonde children screamed "Dad!" and demanded quarters for snacks in the vending machines.
"Fine." Too short and too vague. In desperation, she looked for her car but found it still defying gravity, happily hanging in the air like some 1950s take on the future.
"Good. What are you doing here?" Alex's eyes followed the children, who had nested inside one of the tires on display. A sign next to them read "Buy One Get One Free."
"Same as you, I guess. They only do the one thing, right?”
God, she sounded like a bitch.
Alex was unfazed. ”Sure. You still at KU Med?"
"Good job there, right?"
She nodded. He knew she had a good job there, why did he ask? Made more than he did and he had the two kids and a wife at home to support. A dull ache nagged at her chest. All of a sudden, she hated herself.
"How's the family? You must be busy."
"Yeah, especially now." He paused and she thought for a minute he was going to cry. Right there, in the middle of the Overland Park Jiffy Lube waiting room, while Starbucks coffee burned on the pot warmers.
And he did cry a little then, and she half-heartedly patted his arm. Hoped it didn't come across as fake as her intentions.
"What do you mean? Didn't you hear?" He blew his nose too loudly into a tissue he grabbed from a crumpled box on the coffee table. The other patrons stared and she worried they thought she’d made him cry.
She hadn't, had she?
And for just a second, she was glad. Hoped she had made him cry. Maybe he was the one being dumped this time. The one that sat alone at the dinner table drinking bottle after bottle of Sauvignon Blanc while the hours turned to days which turned to months and before you knew it you'd missed so many days of work you had no PTO left and your boss was threatening to fire you.
"Lindy. She died."
The greasy man in the red shirt called her name. Once, twice, then he walked up to her with scuffed boots scraping the muddy floor. The world slowed as she saw her hand reach out for the keys.
"I thought you knew. Breast cancer. We posted it on Facebook."
Facebook. Amanda shook her head. She had blocked Lindy a few months ago. She'd had enough of the feel-good christian quotes and anti-Obama crusading. It was more than she could take.
It was also more than she could take when Lindy and Alex started having babies. Pretty ones. And then the photos of their custom-built house in Nottingham Forest, not three blocks from where they all went to high school.
"Why didn't you call me?” She stood over him with keys clutched so hard they cut into her hand.
"Why would I have?"
"She was mine too, you know." It came out a whisper. It was meant to be full of emotion, but she felt strangely numb.
"She was my wife." Spit with venom.
Amanda backed away slowly, bumping into a man at the coffee bar.
"She never loved you,” he called, his voice muffled as the door slammed behind her.
The world blurred to a hazy blue. She made it as far as the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot across the street before she collapsed in a heap across the steering wheel. The memory of Lindy's soft hair alive on her fingers, the soft caress of her touch as they lay breathless in bed with limbs intertwined. Lindy, naked in the bathroom of their dorm, hard nipples pressed against the shower door. Lindy, hair wild and uncombed, running through the prairie where they picnicked, hands skimming sheathes of wheat. Lindy walking away from her and toward Alex. Lindy, hair dyed blonde and wearing a white gown. Lindy, belly round and body soft, smiling from the pixelated confines of social media. And now Lindy, dead.
Amanda sped home, fueled by fresh oil and the need for alcohol. Her hands trembled on the steering wheel until she pulled into her upscale apartment building. She called work and claimed to be sick again. Heard the threatening tone of her boss’ words come across the line but cut her off before she could finish.
Yellow pills tumbled into her palm one by one until the bottle was empty. She started on the next. They went down easier with wine. Better with vodka.
She lay on her side, staring at the setting sun through the bay windows while she waited for the world to disappear, and for Lindy to be hers again.
Jo Owen is a writer and nurse living in Kansas City.
Devyani Borade writes on the humour and pathos of everyday life. Visit her website Verbolatry at http://devyaniborade.blogspot.com to contact her and read her work.
Sariah Williamson was born purple and blue but not because she wasn’t breathing. She leaked colors, warm colors when she was happy and cool when she was sad. The nurses cleaned her up cautiously and handed her to her mother, and Sariah’s skin sweat shades of orange as she nursed at her mother’s breast.
Fearing their daughter’s life would be under a microscope somewhere, the Williamsons fled. They found a back country town few people wanted to visit and made a home for themselves. And Sariah would have grown up happy there had it not been for her mother’s discovery.
One morning when Sariah had soaked her cloth diaper, Sariah’s mother stripped her of her clothes and placed her naked on the newspaper. As her mother went about doing the laundry, Sariah leaked happy colors onto the paper. When her mother returned, she found a wonderful masterpiece under her daughter’s bum. She took it into town to show a friend and a passerby bought it on the spot. “It’s just so beautiful,” he had said.
From that day on, Sariah’s mother would place her down on a canvas to nap, and as the naked babe dreamt, the canvas would fill with colors that dazzled her parents and art collectors alike. And soon these paintings were sold all over the world.
Sariah grew older, creating masterpieces from her sweat and tears. Her parents built her a studio where she would strip her clothes off and ponder the day’s emotions over a canvas. She’d think about her poor brothers and sister who were constantly criticized by their parents for not being as gifted as she. The canvas would swirl in blues and greens. Sariah would think about learning to drive in secret, for she was the only Williamson child forbidden from doing so, and the canvas would soak in oranges and reds.
After the piece was finished, Sariah would promptly take a picture and send it to her agent who would then find a buyer. The Williamsons grew wealthy and their little cabin in the woods became a mansion with four wings, a high fence, and an Olympic-sized pool within it, though Sariah didn’t swim in it often because she’d dye the water for a week.
But lately, Sariah’s paintings were growing dim. “I think I’m running out of soul,” she explained to her mother.
“That’s ridiculous. How does someone run out of their soul?”
“I don’t know,” Sariah said. “I just feel really tired all the time, all dried up and spent.”
“Well, you can’t take a break. Perhaps you should drink more water,” her mother said.
Her father wouldn’t let Sariah take a break either. “How will we pay for all our things? Would you have your brothers and sisters wear hand-me-downs?” he asked.
Thus, Sariah was resigned to create more canvases, but sadness overwhelmed her. The artwork became grey and black with a rare slip of color or two when she thought about running away. Her parents grew angry.
“The agent says your work isn’t selling because it’s so lifeless. Paint something beautiful. Paint something happy,” they said.
“I can’t,” Sariah said. “I don’t know how.”
“Quit that silliness,” her mother said. “You’ve been doing this since you were born.”
“Don’t squander your gifts,” her father said.
But Sariah’s depression did not subside. She kept thinking of her family’s expectations, of her talentless brothers and sisters who depended on her, and the only color her soul let out was grey.
“You will stay here until you paint something happy,” her father said in desperation after a month of unsellable paintings. “Too many depend on you for you to give up.” He locked her in the studio for weeks at a time. Her mother insisted Sariah sleep on canvases like before when she was a baby, but there was no change. Every canvas was darker than the next until Sariah could only create pure black canvases.
Sariah stopped eating. Her eyes were blank, and she’d often spend hours staring at the same spot on the wall.
The Williamsons started beating her siblings. “Why could you not be as gifted as your sister?” they would scream. “Why can you not save us?”
Then one morning her eldest brother came to her side and held her hand. “Please, save me,” he said. “I will never ask anything else of you ever again.”
Sariah looked into his eyes and saw purple tears. “You must run away,” she said. “They will take your soul. Run away and take our brothers and sisters.”
Silently he packed the car, and the night they were to run away, Sariah approached her parents.
“I’m going to try once more,” she said. “But I don’t think it will work unless you watch me.”
The parents agreed, and that night Sariah made her last painting. She thought of her escaping siblings, and the canvas soaked in red.
“It’s working,” the parents marveled.
She thought of her life before the mansion, and the canvas soaked in purples.
“Keep going,” they said.
She thought of the gift she had never been free to use. She thought of every canvas she had ever been forced to paint, drew from that energy, and put what was left of her on the canvas, creating a ribbon of silvery black through its center.
“That’s enough,” they said, taking her worn body off the canvas.
“It’s your best one yet, Sariah,” her mother said in wonder. “What were you thinking about?”
But Sariah didn’t answer. She body lay silently on the floor next to the canvas, her soul used up. She was dead.
The next day Sariah’s agent called: “All colors on all the paintings are gone. It’s as though someone has whitewashed them all. People are demanding a refund.”
And this was the first time the Williamsons grieved.
Mandy Alyss Brown is a mother writer in Central Texas and A Room of Her Own Foundation’s 2013 Tillie Olsen Fellow whose work can be found at mandyalyssbrown.weebly.com.
Russell Buker is retired from Shead High School where he taught English and Creative Writing. He has also coached for many years: football, baseball, basketball and tennis.