“What’s your name?” asks the girl sitting across the picnic table from her.
With the table’s leg wobbling against her lap, she automatically answers, “Cynthia.”
“Good,” the girl nods, “Let’s proceed.”
Raising an eyebrow at the girl’s demeanor, its briskness more applicable to a business meeting than a so-called spiritual encounter, she quips, “And how do to propose we proceed.”
The girl focusing on her amber, green eyes on her mouth murmurs, “That depends on you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like how do you want to connect?”
“Connect?” she gulps, as she turns from the “you suck” scrawled on the pavilion wall to the glass and steel structure down the beach.
Where her father flinched at her pirouette and then murmured through pursed lips, “Cynthia, people are staring at you.”
“They are?” she asked since her facial features were, so ordinary, strangers often stopped on the street thinking they knew her.
“Yes,” he replied, “After all this is not a ballet recital.”
“Thanks, Dad,” she muttered remembering how her seven-year-old thighs were too hefty for ballet.
“Now don’t start getting your feelings hurt," he scolded when he saw tears brim in her eyes.
“I just meant," he explained, "That this is a wedding, and a formal one at that," eyeing the linen covered tables filled with silver.
“Oh," she replied turning crimson, "I guess I forgot where we were,”
"That’s obvious," he murmured casting a glance to her dress filled with yellow handmade stitches.
"What happened there?" he asked.
"Oh," she shrugged, "I scorched it."
"Scorched it?" he barked back, “How in the hell did you do that!"
"With an iron, Dad,” she replied rolling her eyes.
“Which made me mad,” she continued more to herself than to him, “As I loved the periwinkle color, matched my eyes, your . . .”
But then she paused when she observed the squint of his eyes as if she and the dress were causing them irritation.
“Sorry Dad,” she muttered through clenched teeth, “If I, or my dress, offend you.”
His reaction, unexpected, because instead of continuing their conversation of rancor, he recoiled as if he was the one scorched instead of her polyester.
“You need to leave,” he murmured.
She saw his shoulder slump, then heard him say, “Because, I need to be away from you.”
She took a step, then stumbled, and then with one foot at a time walked towards the glass windows facing the Lake. She threw open the large glass panel back on its treads and stepped out onto the large flagstone patio.
Then she began to trot over the uneven surface until she reached the area where the stone met the beach, then reached down, slipped off her silver sandals, and threw them into the lake. She felt the sand within each of her toes, the sound of her skirt whirling between her and Grant Park and the waves pounding in her ears. The scents of dead fish mingled with gasoline fumes filled her nose until she could run no longer and collapsed against the Grant Park seawall.
“Are you alright?” she heard a man say over her head.
Between breaths, she gasped, “Yes.”
She heard a chanting sound coming from the Park, turning she saw a gaggle of men and women prancing in front of a pavilion dressed in hippie garb.
“Who are you?” she whispered to the man.
He didn’t answer but instead asked, “Do you want a spirit reading?”
“Yes,” he nodded, “It’s only fifty-five dollars.”
Running her eyes over his dreadlocks down to his Jesus sandals, she began to shake my head.
“I don't think I need one," she muttered backing away from him.
"Sure, you do," he nodded reaching out his hand.
She saw the gentleness in his eyes, how the breeze caught the folds of his peasant shirt, so she reached out and grabbed his hand.
"What do they look like?" she asked him as they walked toward the pavilion.
The medium’s voice brings her back to the present.
“Close your eyes,” she commands placing a rock in her hands.
She examines the rock closely in her hands, the milky surface reminding her of sidewalk chalk when wet except with rough edges.
“Om,” she hears the medium chant.
With eyes focused on the rock, she continues to hear the medium’s hum of OM, OM, OM, vibrate from the ceiling to the foundation inside the pavilion.
She feels a switch go off inside the center of her head, a buzz in the ear, and then a tinkling sensation down her back like a zipper slider as it proceeds down its chain.
Raising her head, she finds herself staring in a bathroom mirror where scents of orange, cinnamon and patchouli fill the air.
“Cyn…,” she hears what she assumes is the beginning of her name.
Turning, she sees her mother slumped against the bathroom door.
But she is not the mother who was confined to a wheelchair and died over a decade ago, but the mother with the puffy face and dark circles under her eyes was the one she lost in her toddler days to alcohol.
“What are you doing,” her mother slurs the question.
“I’m. . . I’m. . . ,” she begins, but stops when she sees her mother has on the orange knit dress she remembers picking up off the closet floor each morning when she was around 12 years of age.
“I told you to stay away from those,” her mother says focused on her hands.
She looks down to see a bottle of Youth Dew perfume in her left hand and an empty Jim Beam bottle in her right.
“Well, I . . . I can’t,” she begins muttering the well-worn phrase while spraying the perfume to cover the stench of liquor down the drain.
She sees her mother staggering towards her from the corner of her eye. Her stumbling steps reminding her how at one time everyone used to speak to her mother, like a long lost friend, but now they look the other way.
Including her father, she thinks when her mother’s thick thighs brace her against the bathroom counter, and she jerks the bottle of perfume out of her hands.
“No need for that,” her mother quips throwing it on the counter, “Your gig is up.”
“What gig?” she asks through tight lips.
“The one that you try to do each day,” her mother replies pointing to the Jim Beam bottle, “To make me think you didn’t do that!”
“Well, I do it,” she barks back, “To save you!”
“Really?” her mother raises an eyebrow, “More to protect yourself, I'd say.”
“Is there a difference?”
Her mother closes one eye to focus and then asks, “Don’t you want friends to come over?”
She feels tears sting her eyes.
“What friends?” she replies because her mother forgot her long ago promise. The one made one day to her when she found her in the sandbox crying because she didn't have friends. Saying as she stroked her tears away that she would teach her, someday, how to connect with others.
But that day never came.
“You’re so like your father," her mother suddenly mumbles.
She turns to mirror. Her face appearing to have no cheekbones compared to her father’s prominent ones. The bridge of her which flairs at the nostrils dissimilar to her father’s patrician angle. Hairs with streaks of blond the same shade as her mothers together with her stout figure.
“I'm nothing like him,” she says turning back to her mother.
“Really?” her mother replies, “Your eyes are the same, remember periwinkle.”
“And your hair,” her mother continues touching a blond lock, “It might be a different color, but like his, full of curls.”
“But most of all,” she says sounding alert and clear, “You are sensitive like him with feelings that can easily burn, and then cover it up by becoming aggressive.”
She opens her mouth to reply, but halts when she sees her mother’s head begin to bob and body weave. Believing her mother is about to pass out, she reaches for her, but instead of touching her skin of leather, she feels velvet.
“Mom?” she asks when her mother’s arms embrace her.
“Mom?” she cries when she feels her butterfly touch brush her cheek.
And then, “Mom!” she sobs when she hears her mother murmur against her ear, “That's how you do it.”
“What?” she mumbles nuzzling into her neck.”
“You connected,” she hears a voice call out from her right ear.
Shaking her head, she sees the “you suck” on the walls, the feel of the wobbling picnic table leg against her lap, and the sound of the lake’s waves lapping onto the beach.
Her body aches as if it’s just recovered itself from a fall.
“Take your time,” the medium whispers lighting a candle.
She sees the glow of the flame on her blue dress, smells the vanilla, patchouli, and orange fill the air, and then she feels her mouth form into something long ago lost—a smile.