Short Story Excerpt

From an untitled short story I am currently writing


Callie got off work at three-thirty. Behind the sulking clouds, the sun lay mute and subdued. The sky spat an oily rain that ran like ink down the pavement. A light buzzing whispered in her right pocket.  Her hand dove excitedly into the denim and pulled out a cell phone. Mom was vibrating across the LCD. Ben’s joke jabbed in her ribs like an insult. She wouldn’t rust, she lived a twenty minute walk away—what did she have to fear? She didn’t need her mom to give her a ride. She didn’t need an umbrella.

As she listened to the tapping of drizzle on the marquee, she thought of her dad typing on the keyboard in his office outside of the living room. Sometimes her father would be on the computer for hours while she sat on the other side of the wall, the television’s volume turned down low, coloring. Callie would listen for when the sounds of light rain would stop upon her dads keys and she would sneak around the corner to the office to see her father, leaned back in the reclined suede chair, one hand stretched above his head, holding his glasses, the other smearing his tired eyes. He would lean forward and fold his hands in front of him, elbows on the desk, and rest silently. When he did this, Callie would tip-toe into the office and crawl into his lap. Her father would wait for her to be fully buried in the chair with him, curled and cozy, pretending not to notice her presence.  Then he would peek over the top of his glasses, the lines at the corners of his eyes would slant into a deep smile with the tender squint. His cheeks would blush and his nose would become like a magnet, slowly being pulled toward her nose to tickle it. He would lift her up and lock her into the seat of his body and chin and blow in her hair until Callie threw a little fit of smiles.

She remembered on some nights she would squirm free from his grip of laughter and run out of the room. The rain of the keyboard would play loudly, almost in a pretend get-your-attention kind of way. Then it would stop. Callie would hear the creaking of the chair as it rolled backward and then forward and come to a rest. She would sneak off the couch and into his lap. On those nights, it was almost as if he knew she was coming. His eyes would already be smiling when she looked up at him from the warmth of his chair.

The cell phone started humming again in her hand. She could walk. Callie turned off her phone, shoved it into her pocket and headed down the street in the direction of home.

Callie turned the front door’s handle slyly and slid through the thin crevice she created in the doorway. She had barely snuggled the door quietly into the frame when she heard her Mom’s voice bellow out of walls and rooms like an omnipresent high-school loudspeaker.

“I tried calling you four times,” she said.

Callie paused, “My phone died.”

“You should have called from work,” her mother replied.

“Didn’t think of it.”

Her mom began to say something else, but Callie cut her off. “I’m soaked from the walk. I’m gonna shower.” She whizzed past the kitchen, ignoring the glare of her mother that she new would be hot as a laser beam on her conscience. Her feet rumbled up the stairs, squeezing out of their rubber the inky residue of her walk. She scurried across the hall carpet and into her room, whipped the door closed behind her and locked it.

Callie dug through the bathroom drawer until she found what she was looking for. She set it on the pink tile countertop and turned toward the shower. Rotating the handle, she set it perfectly to the usual placement for a comfortable warmth. She leaned against the grimy porcelain walls, holding one hand underneath the flowing fall of water while she did. The water heated quickly, she made minor adjustments both hotter and colder until the dial was back to where it was when she first turned it on. Perfect. Callie pulled her sweater over head, then her shirt. The cool air of the bathroom touched her naked back and sides. She tapped the handle hotter. Callie leaned into the shower. A cascade of water flowed down onto her head and rolled through her hair.

The pipes moaned as Callie turned the water off.  She leaned deeper into the shower and shook her hair out like a disgruntled dog. Grabbing a towel from the rack, she draped it around her head and tosseled it until it became a frizzy mane. Callie stood in front of the mirror. She reached down for the drawer and grabbed a brush. Gripping the tails of her twisted curls, she started pulling the bristles aggressively through the coarse rug. Her eyes were focused on herself in the mirror.

She felt the warm calloused fingertips of her father resting on her shoulders. “Callie me lad,” he teased in an Irish accent, “Your prom date, Mr. O’Conner is here.” Dad! She remembered shrieking with delight, the embarrassed smile spreading over her face at the same time the warm blush of blood pooled beneath her cheeks. She was holding a small tube of lip-gloss up to her mouth, padding it on lightly, blending the color like paint onto her lips. “You’re beautiful,” he whispered over her, resting his chin on her head. Dad. Again, that’s all she said, this time the rosy cheeks flashed and flooded all the way down to her chest. She pulled the silky emerald green dress up higher around her collar. Her father stared at her in the mirror. The moment felt endless—and awkward. Her dad in jeans and a T-shirt he had bought on a family trip to Yellowstone, and her, sitting in a formal gown, long and sequined. “Now lets see of we can make those eyes pop,” he finally said. Callie’s hair was parted down the middle and fell in waves all around her face. Her father reached out in front of her, twirling with the pointer fingers of each hand, the waves that rested nearest to her eyes like bangs. He pulled them back behind her head and held them in one hand. He reached for a hair-tie on the counter and twisted the two strands into a ponytail. Callie’s soft forehead glowed beneath the drawn back hair that formed a blonde crown around her head. “There you go Cal, now your green eyes put the green in that dress to shame.”

The mostly unknotted hair fell damply on her tense shoulders. They were raised a little, locked in place by the shallow breaths she took as she watched herself in the mirror. Callie smoothed the hair over her head and out of her face. Her forehead was white and shaded light red in spots where blemishes might appear. She shut her eyes and exhaled. The shoulders fell slightly. The weight of the head pulled the back of the neck forward. She peered down into the bright white light reflecting off the bathroom sink. Another deep breath. Her hand stretched over the countertop slowly, hovering over what she had set down earlier. Her fingers tickled the plastic handle. Her mind was needled with thoughts of her mother, stabs of guilt shot through her veins. She thought of her father.

She slipped her fingers and thumb through the one-size fits all loops of the scissors and raised them up to her head. Callie grabbed a chunk of hair, dead center above her forehead where she parted it. With three fingers to measure the length, she slid the open scissors into the wild blonde forest until the metal points disappeared. She slowly squeezed the cheap black handle together. The hair almost seemed to crunch as it resisted the sharp blades. Tension built in Callie’s grip as the severing continued. The curved strands toppled down into the sink and onto the floor, others clinging to the cracks of the metal. Finally, the scissors chirped with the final snip. It looked like a single patch of a lawn had been freshly mowed. Callie drew in several rapid breaths. She had forgotten to breathe. She turned her head from side to side to examine the damage. A nervous smirk curled at the corner of her mouth. Somewhere an echo of what have I done bounced around in the cave of her brain. She ignored it. The smirk smiled. Callie grabbed another fistful of hair and sliced it off. Then another.


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