by J.D. Campbell
When Lizzie bent to tie her rolled-up sleeping mat, gravity broke open the remaining teardrop in the corner of her eye. It rolled slow and heavy down the side of her face. While rising she rubbed her cheek with the palm of her hand to look in the mirror. The waves were slept away, leaving her short blonde hair flat and disheveled. Her eyes were tired and red from crying.
She took a deep breath and turned to gather her things. It was then she noticed her journal on the nightstand. She went to grab it, but quickly stopped. There wasn’t a single thing she wanted to remember about her past sixteen years of life.
Just then, the tea kettle screamed – piercing every wall of the the two-bedroom apartment. Mom loved her tea, even during these delicate mornings. Lizzie summoned all her courage and came out with her belongings slung across her neck and shoulder. Her mother sat at the kitchen table, blindly staring at the wall. Lizzie scoffed at her mother’s pink robe which was now torn in the back. Her father had insisted on buying it for Valentine’s Day, even though Lizzie knew her mother hated the color. All she ever really wanted was an intimate conversation, or at least acknowledgement of existence. After last night, Lizzie wondered how she could even touch the robe, let alone wear it.
“Don’t just stand there, come sit down,” her mother said without looking. Lizzie walked over, but didn’t sit right away. She stood above her mother looking down at her, not to be intimidating or rebellious, but to fuel the courage she desperately needed now.
“I guess I have time for a cup.”
“Didn’t know you were on a schedule,” mom replied.
Lizzie winced reaching up to the cupboard door. She was surprised how her shoulders hurt worst this morning. Grabbing a mug Lizzie asked, “Where’s the sugar?”
Lizzie took her spot at the opposite end of the table, and noticed how her mother has aged. What was once a healthy head of sandy blonde hair, now hung flat and straight in lifeless gray strands. As a baby during her feedings, Lizzie would tug and play with her mother’s hair, grabbing fistfuls at a time until her mother shrieked with joy. Now, Lizzie would be afraid her mother’s hair would fall out with a gust of wind.
Lizzie steeped the tea and said, “Mom, you can come with me. I’ve saved enough money for the two of us to get by for a few days. Plus, I’ll find work soon and . . .”
“I won’t have this conversation again,” her mother interrupted, waving her hand to shoo away the thought like an annoying fly. Lizzie sighed and stared back down at her tea. She sipped leaving the tea bag inside the mug. Earl Grey was all they ever drank. It was his favorite.
Suddenly, the thought of his tea in her mouth made Lizzie sick with rage. She blew the contents out of and cracked the mug in half as she slammed it on the table. Tea pooled across the table like a tsunami, grabbing salt crystals and bread crumbs; destroying all that lay in its path.
The ringing of the shattered porcelain mug echoed off the walls, overtaken only by the slow steady drip of tea onto the floor.
“Fuck Earl Grey!”
Lizzie slammed the apartment door behind her, running down the stairs to the street. The night air chilled her bruised neck even though she was hot with anger. Zipping her black leather jacket and lifting the collar, she imagined her mother still sitting at the table, stupidly staring at the wall with the broken mug and tea stained floor. Lizzie told herself her mother wasn’t her responsibility, that she could take care of herself. But this was a lie, and Lizzie knew it.
At that moment a small alley cat sprinted by her and took refuge behind a trash can nestled against the brownstone’s stairwell. Three dogs then came barreling around the corner, blowing by Lizzie, and not even stopping to look for the cat.
“Dumb dogs,” she said to herself. She walked over to the cat, careful to keep her distance so not to scare it away. The cat peered its white and gray head around the can to assess this new threat that was Lizzie.
“Come here kitty, I’m not going to hurt you.”
Cocking its head, the cat lifted its front right paw, and for a moment, looked to come out from behind the trash can. But then logic got the better of it and the cat stayed in place.
“You’re awfully brave to be out here alone,” Lizzie said to the cat. She squatted down on one knee. “Frankly, I could use a bit of your courage myself.”
The cat pondered Lizzie’s words as if it could actually understand what she was saying. And whether with sheer will or an aura of confidence, the cat leaped into Lizzie’s arms and nestled itself against her body.
With cat in hand, Lizzie stood and walked to the curb. Cars came from both directions honking and braking and swerving from one another. This road seemed dangerous now, but as Lizzie looked off in the distance, she chose to only think of the opportunities that lay ahead.