(I had a spare 30 minutes in my crazy schedule and managed to write something for this week's Search Engine Fiction prompt- Water Colours)
The Colour of Water
It had been 18 years since she’d last seen her. Time enough for a child to be born and grow and leave, to start a new life. Almost a lifetime. She sat on a white plastic chair one of the many lined along the store-front window, smoking. The clunk-clunk sound of someone’s sneakers in a clothes dryer hit against the cinder block walls of the dingy laundromat. She stared blankly in front of her, lost in the white noise of the machines.
She flattened herself against the pillar outside next to the open door, trying not to be seen. She hadn’t yet made up her mind. She didn’t know if she wanted the rolling counter that ticked off the years since seeing her mother to come to a stop and reset itself to zero. She’d thought through it constantly since she got the call, she’d even made a list written in bold block letters at the top- ‘PROS’ and ‘CONS’- with a ruler-straight line separating them down the middle. She tried to pull apart the tangle of emotions that her mother created and place them in the tidy columns with the headings that would point her to a decision. Everyone knew the longer list was the right, rational decision. That’s why she was here. She’d done it and the ‘PROS’ had won out. She even had her list in her pocket, though now it showed itself for what it was- a fraud. Nothing about her mother could be rational. There were no straight lines and degree-measured corners. Even colours didn’t fit anywhere. Nothing could be sorted out, or seen clearly. Nothing could be understood or named. It was like describing the colour of water.
Despite her hidden position, she had a clear view of her mother. She was older of course; everything being pulled downward, her hair died a flat dull auburn, an insult to its once radiant colour. Her lips were dashed red with a shade popular in the 1950’s, the time where she’d got stuck. Pharmaceuticals, procedures, therapy- all tried in the perpetual optimism of Western medicine’s belief that all could be fixed. They attempted to force happiness where it didn’t belong, to un-stick her, but they failed. She was unfixable.
She watched her light another cigarette. She eyed the cheap nylon stretch pants, the light blue freebie windbreaker with a beer brand logo at the back. She searched every detail of her mother from her hidden place. She wanted to decipher from these details what would happen if she walked through the door. She wanted a clue. The dream story meeting in her head was all she would be able to handle and before taking the few steps required to stop the counter, she needed some assurance. She studied the way her mother brought the cigarette to her lips and how she placed her feet on the floor. Were any of those the evidence that it would be safe? Perhaps it was the smudge of mascara on her eyelid or the way she kept worrying the elastic of the free beer jacket too tight at her wrist. She searched for the one solid right answer that would release her from her indecision.
Her mother stubbed out the cigarette and reached forward to the scratched, wood chip table in front of her. It was dirtied with drink tins and candy bar wrappers. Magazines and newspapers were thrown with the care afforded to communal property. She began picking up the rubbish and putting it in the nearby bin, stacking the magazines and newspapers, sweeping crumbs into her hand.
The common everyday-ness of it was an insult to what should happen if she stepped through the door. She couldn’t bear to look. Ordinary could not stand up to what she needed. With the certain answer she required, she turned and headed back home.