Monday, January 2, 2017

Small-Town Girl - #mondayblogs #freewritechallenge



Small-Town Girl

Eve was curled up in her seat, pretending to be asleep. She’d trailed after her mom through the jet bridge, barely keeping up while harried passengers bumped and prodded her along. Once they’d boarded the plane and found their seats, her mom urged her into the row first, gushing about how fortunate it was that they’d been able to get a window seat even though she’d made reservations just a week before.

“The plane is full,” she said. “I’ll bet there isn’t even a single empty seat and yet here we are.” She balanced a bouquet of flowers their neighbors had brought over to the house before they’d left for the airport in her arms while trying to stow her carry on into the already overflowing bin above her head. “Go on,” she said, gently prodding her sluggish daughter toward the window. “It’s a clear morning. You ought to be able to see plenty before the plane gains altitude.”

Caroline Reilly really was a wonder. There were times when Eve wished she could muster up even a small portion of the excitement her mom seemed to feel about any number of different things. She wasn’t sure if all the enthusiasm that poured forth from Caroline in the form of smiles and overwhelming positivity was genuine, but she had to admire the effort the woman exerted. Although it was oftentimes annoying as hell—in this instance especially—but Eve had to admit, her mom’s optimistic tenacity was impressive.

The longer Eve was stuck on the plane, and the further the giant bird flew east, the more uneasy she became. It was as if her home town and her heart were physically and emotionally connected. She felt the strain grow more painful with each mile that separated them. She’d played with magnets before. She’d always marveled at how the stronger ones pulled from her fingers to snap together even when she held them apart. West Linn was a magnet. So was her heart, and the two of them were straining mightily to reconnect.

The house she’d grown up in, the one in West Linn, was a part of her. It had been for the last fourteen years. Although it was only a thirty-minute drive from Portland, West Linn had always seemed like its own little world. She’d been surrounded by hills, trees and rivers. There was the big Willamette River, and then Tanner Creek, which ran along the lower border of the Reilly property. That’s where she’d gone when she needed some time to think. It was so quiet, so isolated down there. The trees soared high, and when she looked straight up, she could see a wide expanse of dark, black sky. She’d even seen a shooting star once or twice. 


She’d thought about a lot of things over the years down there on the old bridge that stood above the cold, clear water of Tanner Creek. How was she going to hide that D she’d gotten in art class? Art class of all things. Was it her fault she wasn’t artistically inclined? And what about Micah? Was he going to ask her to the homecoming dance, or would she be stuck going with Amanda and Laura?

The question she’d pondered the most in the last couple of weeks while her feet hung over the worn, wooden planks of Tanner Bridge was how in the world was she, a small-town girl, ever going to survive in Manhattan of all places?  How would she ever see the stars in the sky through the glow of lights in the city that never sleeps?

“It won’t be that bad,” Caroline told her, bringing Eve out of her own thoughts for a moment. Eve could barely hear her mother’s voice with the ear buds she had stuffed in her ears. That was another annoying thing about her mom. It was almost as if she could read Eve’s thoughts sometimes. She thought about responding but couldn’t think of a single thing to say. It was easier to pretend she hadn’t heard, that she was asleep, even though it was obvious her mother knew better.

Any conversation Eve and Caroline had now would be no different than the ones they’d had over the past week anyway. Eve wasn’t interested in being told even one more time just how blessed they were that her father had gotten this new job. People were out of work all over the country, and her father had been fortunate for a long time. He’d survived years of cut backs and layoffs and had never been out of work. It was a wonder he’d gone this long the way things were going.

Even if she hadn’t been told a hundred times or more, Eve knew all these things were true. She was only fourteen, but she was a smart girl. She paid attention. And there probably wasn’t a single person on this planet she loved more than Craig Reilly. She was a daddy’s girl. She always had been. Although she wasn’t yet old enough to fully comprehend the situation from her father’s point of view, she understood well enough just how frightened her father was at the thought of not being able to support his family.

“It’s hard to find a good, high paying job,” he’d told Eve one night at the dinner table. “I’ve applied to at least fifty of them so far, but it’s like shooting craps.” His smile had been almost apologetic as he leaned closer to her. “You know how much I suck at gambling, right? I lose every time, but today I finally managed to get a good roll of the dice.”  

He explained that he’d been contacted by a company who was interested in his resume. He’d done an interview over the phone, then was told they wanted to see him in person for a more formal meeting. That had been two weeks ago. Five days after the interview, he’d called and told Caroline he’d received a job offer.

“The clouds are clearing,” Caroline told Eve that afternoon when she’d come home from school, her eyes bright with happiness. Eve had to admit, it had felt unusually stormy in the Reilly household for some time. The big lightning bolt of sudden unemployment had hit the family hard, and Caroline was sure that this new job was the colorful rainbow they’d sought, powerful enough to chase away the heavy rain clouds.

Eve was less convinced. Even if she was apt to find sweetness and light in even the darkest of circumstances like her mother was known to do, Eve knew what she’d discover at the end of this particular rainbow would be a high-rise apartment building instead of a shiny pot of gold.

The flight was a long one and Eve felt cramped as she heard the ding warning passengers that their seatbelts should now be fastened. She glanced up and saw that her mother held a book in her lap, a finger indicating her place in the text, but it lay unopened. The bouquet of flowers had been stuffed in the pocket in front of her mother’s seat. They weren’t looking so good, and the fabric below the wilted blooms was still a bit damp from the small, leaking vial that had once held water.
Eve blinked and tried to stretch her legs as best she could, catching Caroline’s smile as her mother turned her head.

“I did some research,” Caroline said. Eve reached up and wrapped her fingers around the wires hanging from neck and pulled the ear buds out of her ears. “I know you’re going to miss Tanner Bridge, but we won’t be all that far from Central Park. There are several bridges there you might grow to like just as much.”

Eve opened her mouth to tell her mom that none of them would be the same, but Caroline shook her head and hurried her own words.

“There are eleven of them,” Caroline went on. “And twenty-two arches.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve never seen them, but I suppose they might count.”

“Mom—”

“There’s the Gothic Bridge,” Caroline continued, undeterred. “It stands between the reservoir and the tennis courts. Then there’s the Gapstow Bridge. It crosses The Pond.” She tipped her chin down and watched her daughter. “That’s capitalized, by the way. The Pond.” She enunciated the words. “That bridge stands twelve feet high and was built in 1896.”

“That’s pretty old.” Eve felt the plane as it began to descend. Her stomach gave a little lurch and she turned her head to catch her first glimpse of New York City out of the small, rectangular window she’d been leaning against for most of the flight.

“The bridge I most want to see is the Bow Bridge. Remember watching that movie with me? You know, the one with Jenna Elfman and the guy who plays the Hulk?”

“Mark Ruffalo?” Eve hadn’t looked back over at Caroline. Her eyes were still staring out the window as the plane slowly fell from the sky.

“No, no,” Caroline said with a shake of her head. “The first guy. Well,” she amended. “Not the first. I’m not talking about the bodybuilder.” She was quiet for a few seconds. “Edward!” she exclaimed when she remembered. “Edward Norton.”

“Oh,” Eve said. “Yeah. Him.”

“Well, the Bow Bridge. It was in that movie. Edward Norton plays a priest. It was very funny. We’ll have to watch it again, and then we can visit the bridge. I read it’s the largest one in the whole park. It’ll be fun to walk across it after seeing it in a film, don’t you think?”

They were nearly on the ground and Eve scrunched her eyes shut. She’d always hated this part. Landing was the worst. She realized then that her mom must have remembered and was trying to distract her.

“Yeah, Mom,” she said, a bit of gratefulness seeping into the fear and sadness that crowded her chest. “You’re right. That will be cool.” She trapped the breath in her lungs and held it there. She felt Caroline’s hand cover her own just seconds before the wheels of the plane touched down on the runway. She braced herself as the pilot hit the brakes and kept her eyes closed tight.

It was official. The Reilly’s had become New Yorkers. In her heart, though, Eve knew she'd probably always be a small-town girl.