My mom was a starlet in make-up. When she’d kiss me goodbye on her way to work, I wanted to steal the black crumbs from her eyelashes and rub them into mine. She was magic, a magic flight attendant, I used to think. I thought she attended an airplane that traveled through time. Passengers needed free soda and salted peanuts and a nice face to remind them to be brave, even more. They needed my mom.
“It’s yesterday where I am,” she’d say when she called home from a trip, or “It’s night here and the moon is almost full,” but I’d be eating cheddar goldfish from a cup and watching Looney Tunes reruns after school. “Pacific Standard Time” and “Greenwich Mean Time” meant “after” didn’t always follow “before.”
“I should have said that I could travel time? I’m a bad mom because I never told you I was a time traveler.”
“You could have humored me,” I say. I’ve not seen her for seven years. She’s softer, gravity has relaxed her face. We’re sitting at a round table costumed in linens while my younger brother rocks his bride through Savage Garden’s “I Knew I Loved You.” Their first dance.
“So it’s my fault you’re not happy, is what you’re saying.”
I’d thought it was our secret. When I asked her if Noah’s Ark was smelly or whether dinosaurs were nicer in person, she’d say, “What are you talking about, honey?” I took it as an act, a wink-wink. I used to brag to my friends about all the historical people she was meeting. As they got older and stopped believing me, I pushed her to admit it.
“I’m not unhappy,” I say.
“Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba breaks the newlyweds apart. His dancing becomes the jut and thrust of his pelvis, hers mostly the pumping of her boobs. I can see how they make sense together.
“How’s art school? You’re studying painting?”
She swallows half a flute of champagne. Without a buffer—she left Donnie at home and I couldn’t find a date—it’s just us and everything we’ve never said.
“I was a dumb kid, that’s fine, but thinking you were doing important things—you know, fixing history—that’s what got me through you being gone.”
“Lacey, please. I should have said what? That I’d had lunch with Gandhi? That I’d found Amelia Earhart.”
“I mean, yeah, something like that.”
“Or maybe the truth, that I didn’t love your dad anymore, rest his soul. I didn’t set out to do it, you know.”
I didn’t set out to do it, you know. I didn’t set out to do it, you know.
Couples are rising around us, heading to the dance floor hand-in-hand. She sets down her glass and reapplies her slightly-orange red lipstick.
“Let’s go be there for your brother.” She stands and smooths her skirt. “Coming?”
“I’ll be there in a minute,” I say because I have the grace to.
Ricky Martin chants “Un, dos, tres” through the speakers, and the dancefloor erupts. A groomsman throws a fistful of confetti from a table centerpiece. On a clear day in Florida when I was in sixth grade, the space shuttle Challenger exploded into spiraling white plumes. Watching the news with my class, I conceded my mom wasn’t back in time fixing anything. I wept at my desk, letting everyone think I was mourning the loss of the first teacher headed to space, an ordinary woman brave enough to do extraordinary things.
Kara Vernor’s fiction and essays have appeared in Ninth Letter, The Normal School, Gulf Coast, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. She has received support from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference, and her writing has been selected for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, and Wigleaf’s Top 50. Her chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press.