Pink Sky

A story of coming to terms with past, present and future love.

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2. Alone

 

Thirty minutes later, Maria opened the door to her Upper East Side apartment and tossed her keys gently onto the empty wooden table by the door. She kicked off her shoes, curled up in the chair closest to the large window and closed her eyes.

When she awoke, the delicate pink light had been replaced by a dark blanket with only the bright lights of neighbouring buildings suggesting that she was not alone. As she watched the black sky wrap itself around the city that was so full of life, Maria took comfort in its overpowering sense of sombreness; far from the obscurity and fear of time ending that it used to signify, the darkness now offered the tranquillity of protection from the outside world.

Unblinking. Lost in her own thoughts. Suddenly, the silence was shattered by the shrill ringing of the telephone. Heaving herself out of the security of the chair, Maria made her way into the small kitchen that had been left untouched for weeks.

‘Hello,’ she breathed quietly down the receiver.

‘Maria, it’s your mother,’ came the agitated reply, ‘why haven’t you been answering my calls?’

‘I’ve been busy at work, Mum. I just haven’t had the time.’

‘It’s not good enough, darling. I’m worried about you. I haven’t seen you in three weeks and aside from the odd text, I haven’t heard from you.’ Maria felt guilty. She knew her mum was concerned about her, everyone was. She just didn’t have the energy to speak to anyone at the minute; it was hard enough going to work but at least she could keep up the pretence there. She knew she couldn’t with her mum.

‘Maria! Maria! Are you still there?’

‘Sorry. Yes. I am. I’m sorry, it’s just…’

‘This is enough now,’ her mum interrupted, ‘I’m coming round.’

‘No. It’s late. Why don’t we go for coffee tomorrow? Bring Dad.’ Maria stumbled over her words, feeling that wave of panic she was becoming so accustomed to. She couldn’t face time alone with her mum, the only person left who could read her like a book.

‘No. I’m putting my foot down. I’m on my way.’ With that, there was a click and the line went dead.

Maria sighed as she glanced across the kitchen. It didn’t look too bad: a few dishes, a couple of stains and some recycling. Nothing out of the ordinary for a working woman. Knowing she only had ten minutes before her mother would arrive, Maria quickly changed out of her wrinkled work clothes into (equally wrinkled) jeans and a t shirt, put on a slick of lipgloss and brushed the knots out of her hair.

Before long she heard the quiet click of a key in the lock. She had forgotten her mother had a key from when they moved in. Neither had been able to take time off work and her mother had been a saint, directing removal men and ensuring that there was something delicious awaiting them for dinner when they arrived home. Maria felt a surge of love for her mum just then; sure, she was worried about her, but never once had she disrespected her privacy and used her key to ambush her.

She stood to greet her with a hug but quickly changed her mind and straightened up the couch, instead moving her bag to the floor beside the coffee table to make room.

‘Hi, mum,’ she said with the brightest smile she could muster.

‘Hello, my darling,’ Susan replied. She took a step towards her daughter then, noticing how tense she looked, thought better of it and took a seat on the edge of the couch.

‘How was work?’ ventured her mum after a brief awkward silence where the two just looked at each other.

‘Fine.’

‘Any interesting projects?’

‘Not really.’

‘Seen Louise recently? How’s she coping with the pregnancy?’

‘No. I don’t know.’

‘Well, I’m sure she’s just fine. You should arrange to meet her. It’s not like you two not to be in each other’s pockets!’

Maria just grimaced. She knew she was hard work but she didn’t know what to say. As for Louise, she desperately wanted to see her but she felt scared. She didn’t know what to say, she didn’t know how to act, she didn’t know how Louise would act. Louise had called everyday for two weeks but the calls had gotten fewer the more Maria didn’t answer. They had been inseparable since the age of 11 but, for some reason, the thought of seeing Louise terrified her.

‘Would you like a cup of tea? Coffee?’ She needed to do something, collect her thoughts and compose herself in order to have a proper adult conversation.

‘A cup of tea would be lovely, thank you. I’ll be up all night if I have a coffee at this time!’ her mum uneasily laughed.

Maria smiled and went through the archway that separated the kitchen from the living area. She noisily clattered about, opening cupboards to find mugs and sniffing the milk to discover that it had long since begun to spoil and gave off a pungent smell that choked her.

‘Is black ok? I seem to have run out of milk.’

‘That’s fine,’ her mum agreed as Maria heard her entering the kitchen. She kept her back turned. ‘Would you like me to add it to your shopping list?’ she added gently.

‘No,’ Maria quickly snapped. She steadied herself on the work surface. ‘I mean, no thank you, I’ll remember.’

Giving the tea a quick stir, Maria turned and handed her the mug.

‘Where’s yours?’

'I’m fine. I had one when I got home.’ Her eyes flickered to the empty crystal tumbler and opened bottle of tonic water next to her. She slid them out of sight and smiled a shaky smile at her mum.

‘Maria….’ Susan’s voice broke, for once at a loss for words, as she surveyed the kitchen. Maria looked up at her. Seeing the devastation in her mother’s eyes, she looked around the kitchen. She saw, for the first time, what her mum must see: the same mouldy dishes that had been there the last time she had visited three weeks ago, an old shopping list stuck on the fridge written in an untidy scrawl that was a million miles from her own immaculate style, and a stack of empty glass bottles drained of the nectar that she used to numb her mind so frequently nowadays. She faltered, unsure of what to say, and headed in a daze back into the living area. With her new perspective, she opened her eyes once more and felt hot tears prick the back of her eyeballs. Newspapers dated four weeks previous littered the floor, photographs were upturned on surfaces, and a man’s sports bag sat open on the floor in the middle of the room, clothes spilling out of it as though it’s owner had been in a hurry, a lonely running shoe lay dormant beside it. The only semblance of recent life was the chair beside the window; its seat was crumpled, a blanket lay haphazardly across the arm and a few tissues were scattered nearby.

 

Reality hit her like a sledgehammer.

 

She heard the tentative steps of her mother’s shoes on the tiled floor of the kitchen. They swiftly turned into a soft tread on the carpet of the living area. Maria focused her eyes on the bright lights opposite, her mind racing. She trembled as she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. As she turned around, her vacant grey eyes met Susan’s deep blue pools and she sank to the ground, her mother following closely behind her.

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