One Day

One Day

This story follows a socially uncomfortable 18 year old through one eventful day in her life that changes everything.


Literary fiction


Ashley Fontana (United States)

“I hope you packed your patience folks, because the roads are packed as New York City does its annual disappearing act for the Fourth of July.”
I don’t tend to listen to the radio, but sometimes I enjoy mocking the absurd ordeals today’s society is taking part in. As traffic report after traffic report is relayed in between upbeat songs about love and happiness, I become even more amused. This weekend’s obnoxious ordeal entails thousands of people sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours just to reach the crowded horror movie that is The Hamptons. How could people honestly enjoy piling onto a beach at the tip of this godforsaken island to watch fireworks that sound too loud and drink alcohol that tastes too bitter? Fed up with the stupidity of the millions of people that inhabit Long Island, I turn off the radio and head downstairs.
I see mom in the kitchen slaving away at some Independence Day dinner for whomever it may be that she invited over later. It is likely that I won’t like them but, regardless, will be forced to make small talk with them for hours on end. It's all because, lately, mom has been making an effort to dig herself out of her depression. I am doing everything I can do to help, even if that means convincing her I have an abundance of friends or absently going along with her pointless celebrations. I love her, and we lie for the people we love.
“Where are you going, sweetie?” She asks.
“I’m going to meet some friends.” I say, heading towards the back door. I sense the smile that spreads across her face as she replies, "Be sure to ask them to join us for dinner later! I would love to meet them!"
In an attempt to avoid letting myself slip into a hyperverbal psycho-babbling spell, I quickly slip out the back door. I find that the longer I sit in awkward silences, the more likely it is that I will spill every little thing that is on my mind. Luckily, I have become quite skilled at getting myself out of uncomfortable situations.
Once I reach the end of the block, I slow my nervous jog to a stroll and admire the emptiness around me. New York City and vacant are not two words commonly used together, but they could not be more appropriate today. Surrounded by only my thoughts in this desolate city is a frightening feat. The path I follow as I leave the house is all too familiar. Not more than 10 minutes after I leave my back door, I arrive at the entrance to the park.
When I was a kid my dad used to take me here. He may have always left me so that he could smoke with his “co-workers” or bang the nearest lonely housewife, but never the less, when he was alive, I was always here with him. Being that he left when I was only eight, I don’t remember much. I think that’s a good thing because even today, ten years later, he has a reputation in this town, and it’s not a good one.
Every few minutes I find a new innocent child staring at me. I constantly will myself to look away, but in the end I always turn. I loved to see the joy that came with not having a care in the world, and it was written all over their faces. Was I ever like that? Did I ever feel that free or that innocent? Growing up in a family like mine never felt easy, but what if it’s even harder to grow up in an environment where everyone loves you but you still feel alone? For sake of the former, I guess I will never find out.
I nuzzle up under my favorite tree and begin scanning the park for someone interesting to watch. I like to imagine I am living their life. People begin giving me disturbed looks. Granted, maybe hanging out at the community park on the Fourth of July dressed in all black with my dyed-red hair in a tangled mess isn't the best way to go about things, but I wasn't about to head home and get changed either.
Eventually, listening to the sound of birds chirping and children laughing, I drift off into a deep slumber.
It is not long before am shaken awake by an innocent presence seated at my feet. I slowly peel my eyes open to find a small grimy pair of hands gripping the tips of my beaten down converse.
Before I am even full awake she begins to run her little mouth.
“I’m Suzie. I’m seven. I like spaceships and sand castles and my favorite color is blue.”
She says it all in the most mater-of-fact voice—as if I had just asked her these questions and was eagerly awaiting a response. Each statement comes out simply and easily. I turn my head a little further and peer upon the curious faces watching from the jungle gym.
“Where’s your mommy, Suzie? I don’t see any mommies over there.”
“All of the mommies are on a walk. All of the kids here have mommies that like to walk. I’ve never met a lot of their mommies, but I know they have them because they all get dropped off in the morning and picked up when the sun sets.”
“What about the daddies?”
“I don’t have a daddy.”
As she says it, her face fills, not with sadness, but with confusion, as if her mother had never before told her what happened to the mysterious father-figure whose absence is omnipresent.
“Neither do I,” I respond, a little too quickly.
Little Suzie doesn’t notice though. Her face lit up instantly.
Then, time stops for a moment as a shocking realization sets in. I am making a friend…I’m becoming friends with the spunky seven year old that spends her days at the same park I spent my childhood at. We have something in common and that common ground is blossoming into a friendship right before my eyes.
The thing about little kids is that being friends with them is a hell of a lot easier than being friends with teenagers and adults. Older and more mature beings are complicated and dramatic and full of secrets and unanswered questions and confusion. Children are free and careless and kind and accepting.
Suzie and I talk for the rest of the afternoon. She tells me about her sisters and her brothers and her pet dog, Shelly, and her favorite stuffed animal. Then instinctually, she asks about my favorite things.
“I like reading books and listening to music alone in my room—I like being alone. I also like playing my cello,” I tell her.
She sits with the information for a moment and then asks a million questions about my cello. She skipped to the easy stuff, without completely avoiding the hard stuff. The face of concentration that arose when I first started talking showed that she cared about everything that I said, but only felt comfortable talking about the cello, and that’s okay. She knew, somehow, that I didn’t want to talk about the hard stuff either because sitting there and explaining the bliss I find in being lonesome was the last thing I wanted.
After a little while the sun began the slip behind the trees.
“It was so nice to meet you Suzie, but I really should be getting back home. My mom will be wondering where I am.”
“That was fun…I’m gonna miss you Emma,” She said, turning towards the jungle gym.
And with that I start to head home.
The streets were still deserted and the sun was setting quickly. It was rather eerie.
I jogged up to my house and shoved open the door. The house smelled of burning hot dogs and overcooked beans. I headed out to the backyard. Nobody was there except my mother.
She was facing the other way so I made my way over, cheerful as ever.
“Hey there mom! Where is everyone? I have great news! At the park I met…”
She toppled off of the chair as I touched her shoulder. She fell limp to the ground. All at once it set in: the lack of guests, the burnt dinner—she wasn’t there to answer the door…wasn’t there to turn off the stove. Her face lay, staring up at the starry sky covered in bloody gashes and fresh bruises. A flood of uncomfortable memories spread through my mind and I had an uneasy feeling my dad was the culprit.
I had gone for one day. One day I hadn’t helped her. One day I had left to concern myself with my own happiness—my own bliss. And in that one day, her life came crashing to an end—all because I wasn’t there to stop it.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1



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