Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Four

suspense thriller short stories

Short Story

After a relatively routine work day, and increasingly more routine parking ticket, Jennifer spurred her clunker of a car back to her driveway without falling apart. Her mother’s car was parked beside her own, shiny and freshly washed. Jennifer stepped out, chewing on a peppermint she found on between the seats, and pushed the door shut with her foot.

“Guess who’s back,” Jennifer called as she walked through the front door. Pulling off her hat, she hung it on the doorknob and untucked her work shirt.

“It’s me,” she yelled, responding back to the silent house. “Mom?”

Her voice, carrying a slight echo, was the only response. Sliding off her shoes next to the floor mat, Jennifer quietly padded through the living room, listening for creaks in the wood or shuffles of movement. Nearing the kitchen, she spied a foot lying sideways on the floor.

“Mom?” She said again, more softly. Entering the room, Jennifer found her mother on the floor, leaning against the wall with her limbs limp beside her. The chair she had evidently been sitting in was on its side and an old photo album lay opened on the table.

“Mom!” Jennifer shouted. She ran as fast as she could across the tile floor, dropped to her knees and slid next to her mother. “Mom! Shit! Mom!” She lifted one of her limbs to check for a pulse, but her mother thankfully pulled it away herself, albeit weakly.

“Oh my God,” Jennifer breathed, a nervous chuckle leaving her throat. “Holy…Oh my God, Mom. You scared the…” She trailed off. While her mother was alive, breathing, and awake, she still sat nearly motionless, staring through a point on the floor in front of her.

“Mom,” she repeated, this time giving her shoulder a firm shake. “What happened?”

The shake seemed to have done the trick. Her mother jumped at the touch and looked around, confused. Catching eye contact with Jennifer, she plastered on a pained, empty smile.

“Nothing, baby. It’s alright, Jenny. I was…looking through some pictures of…of your Dad. And…um….” She trailed off, still smiling dimly at Jennifer as her eyes quivered with the onset of tears.

“Oh God…Mom,” Jennifer said, pulling her thin mother into an embrace. “Why the hell did you do that?” She ran her fingers through her mother’s thin hair. “No, no… I know why. It’s okay.”

Jennifer’s mother knelt against her, burying her face in her shoulder. Jennifer felt hot tears bleed through her shirt as her mother sobbed into her shoulder. They sat on the kitchen floor for nearly fifteen minutes in that position, Jennifer cradling her sobbing, choking mother. This was not the first time she had broken down, but in those instances, Jennifer could see it coming and take her mother somewhere secluded. It was a shock to find, coming home from work, but something she was willing to put up with.

“Mom,” Jennifer whispered, moving her hand from her mother’s head to her shoulder. She had stopped jerking with sobs. “Mom? Sit up. C’mon.” With help, her mother sat up and rubbed a hand over her bloodshot eye. “I want to show you something. But you aren’t allowed to get mad. Okay?” Her mother coughed a small chuckle and nodded silently.

“Alright. You promised,” Jennifer said as she pulled back the sleeve of her jacket. On her left arm, going down her wrist, was a tattoo; thin, sharp letters that formed a signature reading ‘Jack Marsden.’

“Is that…” Her mother croaked.

“Yeah,” Jennifer said, looking away sheepishly. “It’s permanent.”

“No, baby. Is that Jack’s? I mean, Dad’s?”

“Sort of. I found an old report card from middle school in my closet. One I… didn’t turn in,” Jennifer grimaced and scratched the back of her head. “Dad had signed it, though. Last month was bad. Almost as bad as the when the accident happened, like a depression relapse. I thought about dropping out of school when I found the card.

“Most of the time, you signed my report cards, so it was weird to find one by him. I wanted to keep that part of him with me the rest of my life. I found a good tattoo parlor downtown and had the guy there copy the signature on my arm to a T. It hurt like shi- uh crap, but I even had him do some touch-ups on the stuff he messed up. Little signs and little symbols like the report card and the signature are important. I used to get sad looking at Dad’s old stuff because it reminded me that he was gone, but now I see them all as signs that he was here. Proof that he lived and symbols that keep him alive to me. Am I making any sense?”

Jennifer’s mother began to tear up again, but this time she pulled Jennifer into a tight squeeze herself.

“You are. And you’re my symbol of him. The best one.” She pulled in a tight, strong squeeze. “I love you two so fucking much.”

“Mom!” Jennifer gasped, laughing.

“I fucking do. I really fucking do, Jenny. I don’t even fucking care.”

“Quit! That’s so weird!” Jennifer said, pushing her mother off. Standing up, she picked up the photo album while her mother righted the chair. “Want me to put this up?”

“Leave it out, but put it to the side,” her mother said. “I was going to cook something, but now I just want some pizza.” She pulled her phone from her pocket and leaned against the sink. “What kind do you want?”

“I don’t care,” Jennifer shrugged.

“Good, because I’m breaking my diet and getting Meat Lovers and you weren’t ever going to stop me.”

Jennifer laughed again, but was cut short as her mother crossed the room and gave her another hug, one more tender than before.

“Thank you, baby,” she said, kissing her on the head.

Jennifer and her mother spent most of the night eating crappy delivery pizza and flipping through the photo album. Long after the pizza crusts had gone cold and long after the street lights had come on, the two of unanimously elected to go to bed early because the day had sucked for everybody and it would be better the faster it was over.

 

next chapters: Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Five

previous chapter: Cupcakes and Fingernails – Part Three

all chapters: Cupcakes and Fingernails

more by WILL HEMLEPP

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