Holding the phone against her ear with her shoulder, she peeled the top off from a tiny tuna salad can and scooped a heap of the runny glop onto the only one of six pre-packaged butter crackers that hadn’t crumbled into oblivion.
As she crunched on what was simultaneously the healthiest and most repugnant dinner option available from the hotel commissary, she continued to endure another infamous audible torture session.
“You haven’t been home in almost a year. A YEAR! Did you know that, Naynay?”
“Mom, you know I hate it when you call me that.”
“Oh, Jesus Christ Naomi. Why do you have to be so uppity about everything? You’re just trying to change the subject. FO-cus on what I am SAY-ing. It has been three hundred and fifty two days since you last came home to see your family. I thought I’d taught you how important it is to keep family first. I just don’t know where I went wrong.”
“Mom, you know I’m busy with work.”
“You’ve been busy at work for ten years, Naomi! SOME people know how to talk balance their life and work. You’re all work, no life! Where are you right now?”
“Ooh, glamorous Ms Hollywood. Jet-setting on the West coast.”
Naomi looked around her cheap, nowheresville hotel room as her mother continued stabbing her ear with insults. If her mother could see the bedsheets covered in the previous guests’ hair and bodily fluids, she certainly wouldn’t call it glamorous. But it was still better than going home.
The venue reeked of spilled beer and cigarette ghosts. A middle-aged retired rocker stood tall amidst sea of bobbing heads and bad tattoos and focused on the stage. This was her night. Her show. Her time.
As the speakers blasted and lights shot through the fog, she felt his story move through her. It stroked her hair with the first chord. It held her heart in the chorus. And then it wrapped itself so tightly around her soul that she felt tears running from the corners of her eyes.
When he asked how the city was doing that night, she let out a primal scream. Her shell had begun to crack. And, this time, she was ready to help it shatter.
Before the bell even finished ringing, twenty ten-year-olds were already halfway across the football field. The record-breaking heat did nothing to stop their stubby little legs from propelling them over the beer bottles and cigarette butts left behind by the rebellious high school kids. Nothing could stand between them and the one playground installation they all fought over: the ratty old tire swing.
Ms. Autrive couldn’t understand what was so fascinating about this tired toy, but she knew that, like any other recess, she’d have to break up at least two fights between kids who believed it was their turn to go for a spin. So she stayed back behind the crowd of kids and pulled the joint she’d stuck into her bra that morning up to her mouth, sparked it up and took a nice, long drag. Ms. Aurtrive’s turn always came first.