It was fortunate for her that everyone took her tears for kindhearted nostalgia. For them too, it was beginning to creep up in their throats. A sharp tang of missing something right before its gone was building up in all of them looking into classrooms still stale with their bored thoughts and nervous pop quiz fumbling. Some remembered the sideways glances to the paper on the desk next to theirs while others recalled slouching down in their chair hoping not to be called on for the post-quiz overview. Only a handful reflected on the material learned, the teachers hopes, the aspirations met, but all were glad to be moving forward with their lives, nervous true, but still glad. Except Camille.
A bitterness had entered her mind. It had sunk in only last night that she had nowhere to go. Though she had struggled her way through the standardized tests, which forced her hand to answer questions she did not know, and the teacher’s assignments, which encouraged her, and even scored a few points above average on the exit exams, she had not received a letter of welcome to any school to which she had applied.
Around her mirror still hung several post-it notes, forgotten in the rush to finish applications, reminding her of the submission deadlines. She had made ever one of them, almost without even looking. But she stared at them the night before for a long time, thinking. The yellow, pink and green, color coded for organization, were faded. In the mornings the sun rammed in like a column on the corner of the mirror and it had sucked the color from them so that they were now almost the same shade of grey, with only tints that hinted at their former vibrancy. She kept the window shade open for the affect. In the mornings, as the sun broke through the diagonal beam of light would hit the mirror at just the right angle, waking her with dancing streaks of rainbows across her room. She loved that sight, waking up to the bright colors, the bouncing joy of the sun.
She hadn’t thought how much she’d miss it, since the post-it’s had covered the point where the sun had separated the light into so many streaks of color, but had instead been woken by the bright light and the shocking squares alerting her to deadlines, to goals.
Now those goals were gone, she didn’t know what to do tomorrow. The post-it’s were still sticking to the mirror, though dull in color and she awoke on graduation day to the boring squares of paper, now illuminated. The same will happen tomorrow morning, she thought, and the one after that, and the one after that. She couldn’t imagine waking with any sense of joy for this would be her life, in this room, in this town, dull, and grey and boring.
The dust of the room swirled a bit as her eyes pinched open at the glow of morning. She batted at the strays that lingered in front her nose. Behind the dust motes was her graduation dress, hanging limply on a hanger on the door knob. It too looked pale to her in the morning, though she had chosen a festive pink with little roses blooming in a bunch like a ready-made corsage from the strappy shoulders. From her pillow, face half obscured by sheets, it looked old and the hem line dragged on the carpet. Carpet stains were visible, even from buried under the covers. In fact one, an apple juice stain from her seventh birthday party where she’d felt grown up enough to ascend the stairs to her bedroom and sip the liquid from a champagne glass. The champagne glass was plastic, of course, and she could feel the tell-tale threads of plastic. It cut into her tongue slightly, but she pretended that the bite was what champagne tasted like. The spot still bloomed out by the door where she had turned to the sound of her mother calling her down to open presents and hooked her arm around the door knob. It looked like a pool or a shadow forming under the shade of the dress now.
Camille rolled over onto her back to stare at the ceiling instead. She had received her last letter yesterday. Technically the letter was an email, but their message was the same either way. No. She was not invited to attend. Wear the dress, she thought. Graduate and feel grown up and go to college, she thought. But the dress looked old, like something worn in the 80’s and the pink seemed childish and forced and reminded her of the color of the dress worn in Carrie before it was covered in pig’s blood at the prom. No.
A wind pressed in on the window pane and rumbled the glass there, further disturbing the quiet dust collecting in the room. She had always wanted to feel delicate, floaty and wispy, but as she grew up the body and mind suddenly came to the same sturdy conclusion that she was solid, rather than floaty, sturdy rather than delicate, and substantial, not wispy, except in the little baby hairs that twisted and played in a mess around her forehead. Not even a stiff slick of gel could keep those girls down. So many options lined the shelves of drug stores offering solutions to frizz, fine hair, coarse hair, heavy hold, moisturizing, deep cleansing, oil treatments (for which one would need a deep cleanse afterward just to be rid of the wet look that was left behind like the Exxon Valdez of hair). Yet the hair kept straggling upwards, striving to weave around in their natural curves where Camille pinched and cinched and tucked. It was a battle between the two, a trench warfare which encourage Camille to dig in deeper. So she combed and slicked and even in secret ran hand, licked, over the sides and top of her hair line a light volley to hold the line.
The small hairs that twirled around her face tickled her ear and she sifted back around and closed her eyes, wanting just a few more moments alone. Under the blankets she could not see her body, and it felt different to her somehow because of this. She felt slim, made slight by the smooth sheets. And with the covers up she could think she was this way, and not the other way that she didn’t like as much. The sheet balled up in her fists under her chin and became damp with her clutching.
Soft steps toed down the hallway, muffled by the closed door and the walker’s special care to make as little sound as possible. The old floorboards betrayed the careful walker and creaked mischievously. A pause brought the feet to the closed door of Camille’s room and kept them there, silent for a moment, waiting. Camille only balled her fists tighter and shut her eyes, hoping that if they looked in on her, they would believe she was still asleep.
Outside the bedroom door, her mother shifted from foot to foot, wringing a dish towel in her hands. She knew the acceptance letters should have arrived by now. Mr. Murray next door said his son had already been notified by all of the schools he applied to. Got into ever single one a them! Mr. Murray next door had proudly exclaimed. But the sparkling of emotion Mr. Murray held behind his eyes, while sweet, did nothing to lighten Clarissa Greene’s anxiety. Her daughter had applied to four schools. She knew, cause, her daughter had come to her and asked for a bit more money so that she could apply to yet another school. A safety school, her daughter had explained. But when she had given her baby girl that money, Clarissa had worried, for she had seen the growing wrinkle between her baby’s eyebrows and the way her head hung as she walked back up stairs to enter the credit card number in the online application system.
A timer went off downstairs, and Clarissa hurried down whipping the dishtowel still in her hand around the bannister in her rush to keep breakfast from burning. She had cooked up something special she hoped her daughter would love. Cinnamon rolls, with a crème cheese frosting. A little over the top, she knew, but it was kind of special, she told herself early that morning as she whipped the batter. Not every mother has a daughter graduate, and with good grades, no boy trouble, no drugs or alcohol. She was proud, and determined to show it in the stiffness of the crème cheese frosting, her daughter’s favorite.
Clarissa pulled down the oven door and reached in a deft hand, grasping the bars of the oven rack with the same dish towel she still had wrapped around her hand. The rolls came out looking puffed up, golden and glowing. Now to let them cool before adding the heavy frosting, otherwise the airy dough would sink. No one likes a soggy bun. So she set the pan on the counter and shifted her attention to the bowl of frosting and stirred it up a bit to break the skin that formed with exposure to the air. When the skin had been swirled back into the mixture, she continued to stir lastly, twirling in little figure eight designs.
A creak on the stairs made her head perk and twist, and the skin pinched in folds around her neck muscles one after the other. As Camille shuffled down the stairway she could see the rolls forming in rows down her mother’s neck and cringed a little, thinking how much older her mother was now. It didn’t seem like she’d been alive long enough to have an older mother, but looking at the wrinkles in the neck and the crow’s feet splaying their toes from the corners of the eyes, Camille saw an old woman. The smile beneath the lined eyes dimmed slightly.
“You alright, baby girl?” Clarissa cooed.
“Yeah, momma, I’m fine. What’s this?” Camille replied.
“Oh, well, this, honey, is something special for your graduation day. I whipped it up this morning!” The wide smile spread up the high cheekbones on Clarissa’s face again, showing her white, but slightly crooked teeth. The incisor on the right was tipped in front of its neighbor, encroaching further as the years passed, elbowing in on the good space up in front, willing to push others aside as if it were trying to look out at the scenery. Clarissa secretly liked the particular, cheeky character it gave her smile. Camille sighed.
“You shouldn’t of done that, momma.”
“Why not, honey? I wanted to do something special. It’s your graduation day after all.” She bent her hip to the side to emphasize her enthusiasm then turned, bringing the bowl of frosting forward for her daughter to see.
“See, honey, I even made you your favorite frostin’ from scratch.” She lifted the bowl up a little, hoping to see the playful daughter she remembered who would have chased her around the house just to dip her tiny finger in the bowl of frosting and then would suck joyfully at the sugar coated finger for a full minute just to soak up every bit of the flavor.
“Thanks mom.” Camille said, and sat down, hunched on the breakfast counter stool.
Clarissa’s mouth tightened sensing that something was wrong, but her tongue stayed quiet behind her teeth. She spun the spoon through the frosting one last time and then began to pour and scrape the mixture in dollops over the perfect domes of the cinnamon rolls and then spread the frosting around while watching her daughter from the corner of her eye. From the counter, she could only see her Camille staring off into space. Possibly, she was just thinking. Possibly dazed and staring off into space. Possibly just not yet awake, a kind of morning dis-alertness.
“Big day today.” Clarissa mumbled, almost quiet enough to just be speaking to herself, but Camille did hear.
“I guess so.”
“Well, that just cause, so far, you been treatn’ it like a regular day.”
And she set down the beautiful mound of cinnamon rolls, baked to perfection and glossy with frosting in front of her daughter, placing a knife and spoon on a plate next to it for her to serve herself. Then she turned around and grasped the handle of the coffee pot and poured some of the steaming dark brown liquid into a fresh mug from the cupboard and placed it down next to the rolls and the plate.
“Tastes really good with sweets.” Clarissa suggested. “You’re a grown up girl now, you can have some coffee to start your day.”
Camille nodded quietly to her mother and let a smile curve up halfway on the side of her mouth. It was unlike her mother to allow her to drink coffee, usually only offered on big test days, to get her through the lengthy hours. She sipped at it carefully and felt the warmth trickle down to her stomach.
Getting impatient, Clarissa dug into the cinnamon rolls with the knife and settled the middle roll on the plate, scooping up some of the extra frosting from the bottom of the pan to spoon onto the plate. An added temptation to eat.
Camille finally picked up the fork and began to tear into the flesh of the roll and grinned up at her mother watching her face for the desired reaction. The tension shook from Clarissa’s shoulders immediately and she smiled again, her skin crinkling happily to see her daughter enjoy the roll.
“I got to go get ready for work, now, but I’ll be at the graduation at 5 o’clock to see you walk, alright, honey.”
“You don’t have to, you know.”
“Yeah I do, sweetie. I wouldn’t miss it.” She tucked her daughter’s hair behind her ear as she passed and walked off to her own bedroom to wash up.
With her mother gone, Camille stabbed at the roll and smashed it into the frosting, pressing until the pastry deflated.