Outdated

by Angela Kempe

 

“What’s that?”

“Mom, don’t speak. I’m making a call.”

“I didn’t hear you making a call.”

“That’s because I’m thinking it.”

“Thinking it? I thought you were making the call.”

“I am making the call. It’s a new technology. You know what? Don’t worry about it. Just be quiet right now, Mom.”

Melissa clinched her purse nervously. The skin of her hands was spread so delicately that it was more like a thin layer of glossy sealant that had dried over her old bones.

She waited a few moments, then asked, “Are you done making your call?”

“It’s connecting. Just wait till you see Uralee Three, Mom… Oh, hold on!”

Melissa looked over at her daughter. Her expression was changing and concentrating, smiling, even appearing to laugh, yet she was not speaking. Melissa didn’t understand.

“Did they hang up?” she asked, her voice wobbling.

“No,” her daughter answered, annoyed. “I’m talking to him.”

“But I don’t hear you speaking.”

“Listen, Mom. I’m kind of new to this, so it’s hard for me to think at the same time I’m having a conversation with you. I promise I’ll explain later. Just be quiet, will you?”

At that, Melissa’s face became flush with embarrassment.

When did I become outdated? she thought angrily as she sulked in her seat.

She could see the planet growing larger and larger from her window. An orb of swirling blues and greens. She had flown a few dozen times in her life, but never really got used to it.

Just then, a stewardess passed by with a silver tray.

“Excuse me. Can I have a lemonade?”

The stewardess pressed a few buttons on her sleek tray and a coin sized wafer popped out.

“Here you go,” she said, passing her the wafer.

Melissa stared at the wafer, bewildered.

“No, I’m sorry. I asked for a lemonade.”

“Yes, a lemonade,” the girl smiled.

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Roots

by Angela Kempe

Maria stood in the driveway as her taxi kicked up a cloud of dust behind her. The country road was long and forsaken, and the driveway seemed even longer, and the way up to the old white porch, even lonelier. She dug the tips of her sandals into the dirt as she thought about the house and wondered even more at who might be inside.

Maria lift the backpack straps up off her sunburnt shoulders and shifted the heavy weight of it off her back. A few chickens sauntered across her path and the faint sound of clucking vanished down the driveway. She could see the pots of Marigolds set out on the steps like normal this time every year. She could see that rickety porch swing she used to sit in when her legs could barely reach the ground. Everything was as it was ten years before. The only thing different was her.

Maria took off her sunglasses and swept her gaze downward. Everything from her hair and makeup down to her summer dress had been transformed by Los Angeles. How did so much change when she swore she never would? Would they notice? Would they care? Maria thirsted for home like a poppy thirsts for rain out in the hot Arizona desert. With each step closer to the door, she felt in her veins a stirring of life, insatiable life. Like raindrops flowing down into the dry clay, making their way deep down through the rocks, Maria made her way to the front of the house. The rain rushing, Maria brushed a tear from her face.

My roots,  she thought solemnly. I’m home.

The Band

by Angela Kempe

Melissa stood on the lawn of the city garden as the bluesy sound of the rock band welled up through the park in a lazy summer haze. People were lounging in short folding lawn chairs, sipping cheap $7 beer out of plastic cups as the hot sun burned the delicate skin of their pale cheeks. Melissa wanted to stay and listen, but her kids were tugging at her arms. The heat had gotten to them and their patience for the fair had already run out.

“Do you want to play on the playground?” she asked.

Her daughter looked interested, but sweat was beading up on her hairline and she looked more like she needed a nap. Melissa wasn’t ready to admit it yet. Her eight-year-old son, Jerry, would do it for her.

“Let’s go!” he said, tugging at his mother’s arm. “It’s too hot!”

It was decided between the children. Her kids began pulling at her arms incessantly, leaning into their weight with all forty-some pounds of their little bodies.

Melissa stood looking longingly at the band. She remembered her dream of being a musician that had faded long ago. She felt the fat of motherhood gathering sticky sweat between her legs, reminding her that she’d never be a superstar. Melissa pressed her feet into the ground, turned away from her children, and leaned on her own weight to counter their effects.

At that moment, their small hands melted into heavy shackles and the heat formed a rippling wall between herself and her beloved. She turned towards the stage again, and suddenly she was standing in front of a mic with thousands of eager faces looking back at her.  She could still feel her children pulling, straining to bring her back from this new dimension she was lost in.

She could hear the band wailing. The drummer smiled at her and nodded for her to make her entrance. His sticks played a crisp four-four. The bass was repeating that soulful melody just for her. Melissa searched for some memory of the lyrics. She took a breath. Maybe something would come to her. Maybe she could still find the song deep inside. Then, she remembered.

“Summertime…” she sang.

The mic echoed over the crowd. Her children jerked at her and her body crossed briefly back into reality. She tried to stretch her neck forward. She could still see the crowd.

“…And the living is easy.”

Her children’s sweaty hands locked themselves on her wrists. They pulled her back. She stared at them defeated. The stage was gone. All was gone, but she was beyond crying.

“Good voice,” called out someone from the crowd.

Melissa looked over at a man sitting on a lawn chair. He took another sip of beer. His face had turned red from sitting for hours in the sun. He looked at her through his sunglasses.

“Wrong song though,” he criticized and he finished off his beer.

One Hundred Seats

by Angela Kempe

Sylvia clutched the tattered picture of her eight-year-old son to her breast. She closed her eyes and imagined her boy, long and gangly, smiling up at her. He wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. She bought him a telescope so they could gaze at the stars and they spent their summer nights imagining what life might exist beyond their solar system, studying the great scientists who dreamed like them, of uncovering the mysteries of the universe.

“You can be whatever you want to be,” she used to tell him. “Life is a blank canvas and you can paint any picture you want on it.”

But he already felt a feverish passion in his heart for science and decided that he was an astronaut as true as one could be. And so they embarked on a journey together, discovering every book they could, learning about physics, chemistry, and astronomy. Turning their house into a laboratory of science experiments and engineering projects.

Her seat shook violently. She remembered the call. The pain of hearing that his friend’s mom’s car had crashed on the way to the movies. The emptiness of knowing he was gone.

If he wouldn’t be one of the hundred travelers aboard the SpaceX shuttle to Mars, she was going to be.

“Here’s to your dreams, my baby boy.”

The Most Beautiful Day I Wasn’t Alive

by Angela Kempe

They say that I wasn’t conceived before my parents were married, but I remember it anyway. My mother’s strong cheeks were blushing like pink roses as she stared contentedly at her beloved. Her lace veil flowed gently behind her in the cool Oregon breeze. Long sleeved, holding a bouquet of wild flowers, she stood in her satin wedding gown as beautiful as the roses blossoming around her.

I rest my head on a chunk of wispy clouds hovering over them, and gazed longingly down at my parents. Under the white gazebo, my father smiled in a rented light blue suit. The red highlights in his thick beard glistened in the sun. He could only stare at her beauty as he listened to the Priest, white teeth beaming with pride.

Around them were gathered family and friends sitting happily in white fold-up chairs decorated with fake wild flowers and leafy garland. I knew it was time to go, but I dared to steal one more look.

As Grandma cried in the front row, a great peace came over me. That was my loving family.

“Bye Mommy and Daddy,” I said as I was whisked away by a strong force, sweeping me back to heaven.

When I Think of Mom

By Angela Kempe

We were both going through a hard time that winter. So, we decided to give up our issues for just one night and hang out. We were trying to rekindle that strong bond that had been so lovingly there before the teenage years. Before addictions. Before life hit us smack in the face and left us both flailing on our backs like fish flopping around on an old dock.

I remembered when it was okay to sneak into bed and cuddle. I remembered when you were still trying to make me proud by being a den mother. We both felt like something important had been stolen from us and we both desperately needed it back. But it was a time when there hadn’t been any resolution yet. Not then. We were still searching for a way to be together now that neither of us were so innocent.

You probably carried your one month sobriety chip in your wallet that night. And I carried a lot of memories that I wanted to bury. So, we did what any family would try and do to make things right again. We went out to dinner in San Francisco and walked around Little Italy together. All was going pretty well. There were those awkward moments of course. Moments when we both stuttered over saying something that may have offended the other over the warm smell of garlicky pasta. There were those moments when we came to that awkward break in conversation that asked, “Should we talk about this now? Naw, let’s have a good night,” and continued walking, paying no mind to the strip clubs that lined the busy streets. And so we made our way through our little mom and daughter date, and were making our way home, when you suddenly pulled over the car.

“Want to go to the Golden Gate Bridge?”

It was right there in front of us, standing tall and purposefully not golden. For a moment, I wondered why on earth someone would give the Golden Gate Bridge a name like that and then paint it bright red? But whatever my problem with the Golden Gate Bridge naming committee was, or what my problems were with you at the time, I was always up for a spontaneous adventure. So, you parked the car and we both got out, zipping our jackets up to our throats.

I looked around.

“Maybe it’s closed,” I concluded from the vacant parking lot.

The lamplight cast a warm yellow light over the hazy lot, and the Golden Gate Bridge looked gentle and quiet in the fog.

“When will you ever get to walk on the bridge? Let’s go for a walk!”

Well, I knew I couldn’t be misled by my own mother. So, we meandered over to the entrance. The gate was ironically still open. Now that I look back at it, I often wonder what time it was when we wandered onto the bridge. Was it left open due to a mechanical error? Did someone forget to do their job that night? Whatever the reason, it allowed us to pass freely onto the long suspension bridge that was San Francisco’s most prized symbol of the city.

We started walking along sightseeing on the bridge. Laughing, and talking, and pointing as we sauntered up the sidewalk.

I noticed the giant chainlink fence that guarded the red railing.

“Why is there a fence here, Mom?”

“So people don’t try and jump in. Some people would try and kill themselves.”

I looked down at the icy water below. It seemed like a scary way to go. There was no turning back once you jumped. I shivered a little at the thought as I untangled my fingers from the wire.

I gazed up at the huge red towers which stood over us like a strong red ladder ascending into a magical world built by giants. I imagined them slumbering in castles above the fog. And the cables which flowed gracefully from the tops of the towers were in fact rather large themselves and once painted, appeared to be like steel pipes streaming down with strong steel ropes, twisted and braided, hanging down from even that.

Suddenly, a voice rang out from the loud speakers.

“Return to your car at once. The Golden Gate Bridge is closed!”

We both flinched and looked around for the voice.

“I repeat. Return to your car at once!”

We stared at each other with that same look. It was the “oh no” look. It was the, “we better get off this bridge or they’re going to put us in jail for the night,” look. So, we scrambled back down the path where we came to the closed gate.

“We’re trapped!”

You tried shaking the locked gate.

“Hey! We can’t leave!”

I waved my hand in the air to get the guard’s attention. Then, the gate unlocked automatically and we ran off to our car, stumbling into your cold Ford. As soon as we got inside the dark car, laughter spilled from our mouths like a fresh batch of fish falling out of a fisherman’s net. I think I laughed so hard, tears started beading up. You turned the engine on and started the heater and our breath fogged up the windshield as the defroster warmed up and the heater vents sighed.

After that, we may have had our moments. Life has a way of catching you on a good barbed hook only to cast you back out into the water. But as the years go by, I always have that memory and know our bond is strong, like the cables of that great Golden Gate. I smile a little because I know life can get crazy, but that Golden Gate is always standing, like an old friend letting the cold Bay waters rise and fall against its strong towers. And I think of that night, when life was brought into perspective by the shear absurdity of the Golden Gate’s presence. I think of all those things, whenever I think of Mom.