(For the <a href="http://www.scriptic.org">Scriptic</a> prompt exchange this week, <a href="http://ashortaday.wordpress.com">dailyshorts</a> gave me this prompt: Start your story with: Alice tried to remember who had given her the key. I gave <a href="cheshirecatsmile.blogspot.com">Bran mac Feabhail</a> this prompt: "And sometimes ... it almost seemed to him, that he ought to be happy." -Heinrich Von Kleist)
Alice tried to remember who had given her the key, or what the key was doing there, loose among the pens and tissues and lipstick at the bottom of her purse. Alice was sitting by the window of Starbucks, staring out at the reflection her salmon pink shoe made in the glass. She looked at the mirror Alice, sipping at her unsweetened iced tea, the lines her thighs made under her calf length dress, the way her new haircut made her face too angular, too bony and old and Mom looking. Alice wondered if mirror Alice compared her fading looks to the other women in the locker room after spin class, still measuring, still ranking, as if she were still an insecure youth. It wasn't a lie, looking maternal. After all, she was a mom, on her way to pick up her Jacob at hockey practice, but she was still vain enough, at age 49, to still want to not look the part.
Alice traveled quite a bit, to seminars, or to meetings, or to visit her sister in Eugene, or to deliver her son to his father once a year, but she had quickly learned to dispose of those plastic credit card like hotel keys, after one too many nights when white wine fogged her brain to the point where she couldn't recall which pizza place advertisement was from this week's hotel. She made it a rule at that point- after getting home, you pitch the key. Now here's a rogue, a white plastic card with a Domino's Pizza ad on the back with an area code she couldn't place. Where had this one come from?
The store had the usual collection of students reading or studying, moms with strollers, and a businessman in a nicely cut suit, having a break, she assumed, between sales calls. The employees were young, moving back and forth briskly, stocking, reshelving, making drinks for the drivethru. Alice watched a blonde short haired girl reach high to get something off a shelf, and her shirt gapped, showing a sliver of tan skin above her hips. Alice wondered what she was studying in college, what her major was, whether it was a boyfriend or a girlfriend who held her tiny perfect heart.
She was actually digging for her phone when she found the card, needing to check the time. She had spent her morning on the phone and the laptop, checking on leads, leaving messages, returning emails, until finally deciding to get out of the office and give herself 20 minutes of solitude before the hurricane of the afternoon of child care and dinner and homework and more phone calls. She knew that by the time the Catholic school across the street let out, and a troop or two of uniformed and unformed girls come through, laughing and talking and ordering their low fat drinks, it was time for her to pack up and leave. But since she didn't know when the school was in session and when it wasn't, she needed to check her mental clock, which told her they should be here by now.
The Heedless Ones, she called them, tiny skirts and polo shirts, with a kaleidoscopic variance in body shapes and sizes that somehow still made them look the same. Their thighs were too big, and too visible, their skirts hiked or pinned to the very edge of decency. Alice remembered being horrified at possible exposure of her upper thighs when she was in high school, a fear obviously not shared by today's young people. Their bodies were almost comically perfect- women, but without any scars, without any evidence of achievement, of battles won and lost. She knew they cared about overexposure, to some degree- female psychology hadn't altered that much- but they threw off the aura of not doing so as readily as the perfume they wore too much of.
She liked to watch them laugh, watch the attention they attract and reject simultaneously. She categorized them, the alpha, the quiet one, the tall one, the big girl, the skinny one. Alice wasn't so old that she didn't remember the tension of those groups- the layers of mistrust and envy and slights that a gaze and a facial expression and a sharp cutting remark would punctuate. The bitterness, the drama, the raw power politics of who liked who that got more rhetorically violent when slow, witless boys entered the calculus. She loved their life, the way they were passionate and full of themselves and sparkling with potential, their thrilling adventures right in front of them, but she didn't envy the new minefields her girlhood never required she cross.
Alice fingered the card, watching the water condense on her iced tea. Was it Houston? Kansas City? Omaha? She watched the Heedless Ones walking across the parking lot, right on time, a tight little group of five, with a boy in a similar polo shirt and slacks trailing a little bit behind. She watched him look at them, the expressions of fear and joy and lust chasing each other around his little peach fuzzed face. They approached the door, the pretty one, who Alice assumed was the alpha female, yanking it open with too much force, allowing the whole crew to crowd into the small space. Their voices were loud and tinny, suddenly bottled by the walls and ceiling.
Alice stood, arranging her dress around herself, still eyeing the teenagers as they diffused towards the counter. Alice wondered who decided that a short skirt was a scholastic outfit, and decided it was probably a man. Alice let them drift away from the door, and then gathered her bag and her iced tea and walked through it herself, on the way to her car and her son and her life. Alice wondered about the mysterious key that she had found, and for a moment, sinking into the seat of her BMW, she wished she had a passionate, heedless story that went with it.