Lilac Mist This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

August 22, 2012
The vinyl bus seat clung to my thighs and the sharp cracks jabbed my skin. Raising my legs, I rearranged the polyester fabric, and felt the collection of sweat along the creases of my navy blue skirt.

I remember when I found this skirt last summer. It was a muggy afternoon, and my mother had dragged me to her monthly hair lightening appointment. While approaching Curls ’R Us, I noticed a Salvation Army store.

“Mom,” I stuttered, interrupting her hip-swinging walk through the crowded parking lot. Stopping, but not responding, she waited for me to continue.

“Mom, tomorrow is the first day of sixth grade, and I still don’t have a uniform,” I said quickly, sensing her impatience.

“Damnit, Misty,” she muttered, reaching for her purse. My heart lifted as her skinny fingers and sleek red nails groped in her leather handbag. I hadn’t actually expected her to acknowledge my need for a uniform, even though it was required.

Handing me a crumpled five-dollar bill, my mother grumbled something about wishing she’d left me home.

“Spend this wisely, it’s all you’re getting.” With that she swiveled her spandex-bound hips 180°, and clicked her magenta pumps across the asphalt.

Elated, I gripped the money and skipped into the second-hand clothing store. I remember the moment I laid eyes on the skirt in a “Two for Ten” bin. Ignoring the wrinkles and price, I tried it on and admired how the waist clung to my middle and hung so nicely right above my knees. In the cracked mirror, I pranced around, falling in love from all angles. I imagined I was Mary Ellis, or one of her perfectly dressed and admired friends. I giggled and laughed, spinning in quick little circles. The boys liked me, and I liked them, and we sipped Clearly Canadians all afternoon at each other’s houses.

I was walking on clouds when I entered the beauty parlor with my new-to-me skirt tight in my hands. I clenched it even harder when I noticed the look in my mother’s eyes. She and her yellow-haired beautician laughed about their children’s stupidity, but once we were alone in the car, my mother reminded me what was what. I had to go to school the next day dressed in my new prized possession, a stained white shirt and a black eye. I did not giggle or dance and Mary Ellis continued to drink her Clearly Canadians oblivious to my longing stares.

I took a deep breath, slowly sucking in the thick diesel air. I pretended the stench was a light lilac fragrance, a perfume Mrs. Engerly, my teacher, wore every day.

Breathe it all in, I thought. Breathe it in until you are there. And then I was not on the yellow bus, but next to my teacher in her log cabin on Lake Ariel. Her husband and house were my father and home. We all loved each other dearly, and Mama and Daddy had recently told me I was about to have a baby brother. It was just us and our playful golden retriever named Skip, so I was ecstatic for the addition to our loving home. It was perfect now, and in nine months it was going to be even more perfect.

But the diesel aroma this afternoon was almost too foul to be transformed into lilac mist, and the squealing giggles around me interrupted my thoughts.

It is my birthday today, I remembered. I am 12 years old and not one single person on this bus knows. My mother doesn’t even remember it is my birthday. She did the day before though, when I asked her if she

would bring birthday cupcakes to my classroom. Vanilla sprinkled ones and fruit punch Kool-Aid like the other kids’ denim-clothed and lilac-smelling mothers brought. It had been a good day for her, that is why I dared to ask. But the question had caught her off-guard, and with a moment’s thought she said something about me being too old for that type of thing. I had never had classroom birthday treats, even when I was younger, but I didn’t said that. I only shifted my eyes to the soap opera she was watching, and desperately prayed she would forget my request. And she did.

With the screeching halt of the bus’s tires and the opening of the door, I stood up. Waiting a moment to regain my balance, I began to walk down the narrow aisle. Walking down that path every morning and afternoon was reason enough for anyone to boycott community transportation for life. The cruel remarks and revolting gestures thrown at me made my stomach churn, and my cafeteria lunch crept up my esophagus.

The walk home from the bus stop was long, but a peaceful release from the school day. I used to tell myself it was an opportunity for my mind and thoughts to embrace solace, but I have since realized that my lack of social interaction already allowed endless hours of silence for my thoughts.

The wild daffodils were in full bloom that week. That’s how I always know my birthday is coming. Without them, I am afraid I might forget. Before walking up five flights of stairs to my mother’s apartment, I picked and gathered a couple into a fresh bouquet. They were for my mother. She loved daffodils, and she loved surprises. I knew they would brighten her up if her day wasn’t going so well.

She’d had a job interview that morning at the bakery department in a supermarket. Before leaving for school I had watched her fret over her outfit, her hairstyle, what jewelry to wear. This job offered benefits, she told me, very nice benefits, and security too. I liked the security part, so I let my ears make music out of every sound of every syllable.

But I knew how things worked. Employers didn’t like my mother’s look.

“They’re just jealous of me,” I heard her say once after another failed interview. And maybe that was the truth. So I nodded, and dished out whatever compliments made her downtrodden face smile. I loved it when she smiled. It brought me back to the days when we lived with Grandma Pam in North Carolina, and I loved going to school. It was only pre-school, but I still soaked in every bit of information my teachers shared with me. Hand in hand, my grandma would walk me home from Tree House School, and I would spend the rest of the day eating warm goodies and watching “Winnie the Pooh.” When my mother came home at night, her face would light up like the sun, and she would run to me with open arms, squealing, laughing and showering my face with kisses. Every night I would go to sleep with the soft voices of my grandma and mother in the other room, the constancy of their tones taking me into a dream world. Those perfect days and nights with Grandma made all my mother’s bad days appear not as awful as they were. I knew I was safe when Grandma was there.

But Grandma died, and we moved away. Mother said she didn’t even want to think about Grandma or North Carolina anymore, so we drove for days, maybe even weeks. That’s when the smiles left. Every now and then when they do resurface, even if just for a moment, I take a huge breath. I concentrate on sucking it all in and keeping it inside me for as long as possible. I can almost feel the smiles inside my lungs, pumping my heart so I can live. I keep them there, mentally documenting their arrival and gestation, and embed them deep within so they cannot escape.

The living room in our apartment that afternoon was cluttered as usual, so I carefully held the flowers in my left hand and picked up empty chip bags and clothes with my right. The TV was frozen in black and I knew that my mother was not back. She always had the TV on.

Reaching for the power button, I pressed the box back to life. Sound filled the room, and I headed for the kitchen. Finding a cup in the sink, I filled it with water and placed the daffodils in it.

I pictured my mother’s face as she noticed the beautiful display of yellow flowers.

“Oh, Misty!” I imagined her exclaiming, tears welling up in her darkly lined eyes. “You are the most thoughtful daughter in the world!” And then she would hug me and tell me about her wonderful job interview, “I start tomorrow, and the manager says if I am a hard worker, I might have a shot at a management position!”

But my mother did not come home that night. I went ahead and made dinner when she didn’t show up by eight, but her macaroni and cheese congealed after an hour on the coffee table. The next morning I went to school as usual, and came home as usual. But the house was empty, and the television set was still silent from when I had turned it off that morning.

When I came home from school the day after that, the door was open. My heart beat wildly as I peered through the narrow crack, and called out to my mother. Nobody answered, but when I entered the family room, I saw her, passed out on the stained orange carpet, both eyes black and swollen.

“Mommy …” my voice quivered as I gently lifted her head. The revolting smell of alcohol was thick in the air. Her eyes were puffed as large as golf balls, and her lips were cracked and bloody. Draping her wobbly head over my shoulder, I stood up and carried my mother into her bedroom. Her sleeping body remained motionless as I removed the torn blouse she had so meticulously picked out three mornings before.

A warm washcloth easily melted away the dried blood on her swollen face and the stench that surrounded her. Making sure she was covered with blankets and safely on her bed, I left.

Returning, I carried the almost-wilted daffodils to her nightstand. I sat next to her, and pictured the flowers as they had been when I first arranged them.

“These flowers are for you, Mother,” I said softly, knowing she was too far away to hear or understand my words. “I know how much you love daffodils. I saw them and thought of you.”

This would make her smile, I knew it would. Her pearly teeth would display themselves, all 24 perfectly in a row. And I would smile, too, because she smiled. And then I would breathe. One large, deep breath that could take it all in; the yellow daffodils, my mother and me, and both of our smiles.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Join the Discussion

This article has 1 comment. Post your own now!

ToInfinitySkittles said...
Jun. 9, 2013 at 5:51 pm
I loved this piece of writing! This is one of those that I think will stick with me for a while. This story definitely had an air of sad happiness (if that makes sense to you XD) and mystery. Loved it!
bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback