Part 3 Penned by Lucy Rhodes
Cindy ran her tongue back and forth across her front teeth, then checked the rearview mirror again. Still there. She took her index finger to the smear of Ribald Ruby that stained her incisors. Apparently long-lasting lipstick had extra staying power when it came to teeth, too.
The morning’s fog sat particularly heavy and with a start Cindy realized that she was about to miss her turn. She swung Mama’s old Volvo around just in time. The car coming up behind her zipped out and around like a bat outta hell. No need for the dramatics, Cindy thought with an exaggerated sigh, and twinkled her fingers at the overdone harpy now flipping her off and she zoomed past.
What was the point with being so angry with the world? Much better to let it all slide right on by you. Water off a duck’s back, just like Mama always said.
Taking her next turn onto a quiet backstreet, Cindy caught her reflection in the mirror again and noticed that her mascara was sliding. She eased off the accelerator as she ran her forefinger under her eyelid, realizing too late that all she’d managed to do was leave behind a faint streak of Ribald Ruby. Great.
Nothing was going right this morning. Now was not the time to figure out how to fix makeup. No one told her that makeup like to slip and slide like a greased up piglet. Water off a duck’s back, water off a duck’s back. Mama could’ve been sitting there, scolding her right this second. Except she wasn’t. Cindy glanced in the rearview mirror again, this time eying the trunk. Water off a duck’s back.
There was a sudden thump as her car heaved over something solid and, like an echo, something heavy thudded in the trunk in response. She slammed on her brakes and once more looked in the rearview mirror. Through the fog she could just make out a dark lump of mangled fur splayed across the blacktop behind her. Cindy took in a shaky breath and turned her eyes back to the road in front of her.
Don’t look back. Water off a duck’s back.
She needed a drink.
Cindy reached for her purse, which had slumped over on the seat beside her, and rummaged around for her flask. The smooth, cold metal met her fingertips and she wrestled her old companion out from the detritus of her bag. In a deft move she unscrewed the lid with a twist of her finger and brought the flask to her Ribald Ruby lips. Vapors hit her tongue and little else. Cindy cursed and threw the flask against the passenger door, slamming her palms against the steering wheel for good measure.
What was the point with being so angry? Let it all slide. Water off a duck’s back.
Cindy clenched her teeth and took a deep breath. The dashboard clock told her that it was way too early to find somewhere to buy a proper drink. There was always a drink at home. It was the one vice her Mama did allow. But Cindy couldn’t go back. Not now. Not yet.
Her foot slammed against the accelerator again, tires screeching as she tore down the quiet street. She just had to keep going, for now, and then she could go home again. She ran through her list again.
No GPS. Stick to the back roads. Avoid traffic cameras. Don’t draw attention to yourself.
It wasn’t her ideal execution of The Plan, but things could still work out.
She really needed a drink.
Up ahead a neon sign amidst the boarded up storefronts caught Cindy’s eye. How had she made it back to the main road again? Come to think of it, Cindy wasn’t sure exactly where she was. She knew the city like the back of her hand. The back of Mama’s hand.
The neon coffee cup glimmered eerily against the fog. Coffee. Caffeine. That would have to do. She couldn’t keep going without something.
Be polite. Pay cash. Don’t loiter.
Cindy turned into the lot and parked Mama’s Volvo. She checked her reflection in the mirror again. $200 worth of cosmetics, sliding off her face. Water off a duck’s back. With a wry grimace she slid on her sunglasses and face mask, took a deep breath, and stepped out of the car. At least the wretched smeary mess was covered this way. Thanks, Pandemic.
The coffee shop was dinky and thankfully empty of patrons. She was a woman on a deadline—no pun intended—and the less witnesses to her horror of a morning, the better.
The young barista was decked out in a hokey black witch’s hat and a jack o'lantern mask, and surrounded by signed advertising Fall-themed beverages. How festive.
Cindy thought she caught a flicker of surprise in the barista’s expression, and her heart nearly exploded out of her chest.
Be polite. Pay cash. Don’t loiter.
“Hi there,” the barista greeted her.
“Good morning,” Cindy chirped, “I’ll grab a large Perfectly Pumpkin, please.” She smiled politely, forgetting that between the mask and Mama’s sunglasses the barista could see nothing.
The barista inclined her head slightly and her eyes crinkled, possibly kindly. “Can I get a name for that?”
Cindy’s eyes darted around the empty shop, wondering why it was necessary. “Uh, Sandy.” Better to keep things anonymous.
“Sorry, did you say Cindy?” The barista asked.
Cindy blinked and swallowed the bile rising up her throat. “Uh, no.” She cleared her throat and tried to project her voice a little more. “Sandy.”
“Oh. My mistake,” the barista replied cheerfully.
Cindy wrapped her arms around her chest, and moved to stand by the door. Her phone dinged from somewhere deep within the depths of her purse. There were only two people who messaged her and one was currently… indisposed. It must be him.
Sure enough there was a new message from Chad.
From Chad Bradbury: cant wait 2 c u 2nite sweatcheeks
Cindy blushed at the three eggplant and single peach emojis that followed, and replied with a heart-eyed smiley of her own. Only a few more hours, and then she and Chad would be free to be together for the rest of their lives. Mrs. Cindy Bradbury. Her phone beeped twice.
From Chad Bradbury: i still cant beleive shes letting u out
From Chad Bradbury: nuttin & NOBODY keeps us apart bb
Cindy’s heart stuttered. He understood. Of course he understood. He always understood. He was absolutely worth this, worth all of this.
She was out of the way now. No more curfews. No more sneaking around. No more being told what to wear and what to eat. No more endless evenings listening to Mama’s show tune records. When she went back, Cindy would smash each and every one of them. And grind her china cat collection to dust. With six inch stilettos. While wearing polyester. And a thong. She could do whatever she wanted now. With whoever she wanted. She could dance and listen to rap music and buy a microwave. Mama’s control had slid out of Cindy’s present and right into her past. Water off a duck’s back.
She automatically raised her head and moved to the counter, realising too late what the barista had called her. Oh well. Too late now. Nothing she could do but move past it. Duck’s back.
Cindy grabbed her drink with a smile, and handed over a few dollar bills. She hadn’t even drunk a sip and she already felt elevated. Divine. That was how her new life was going to be. That was how Chad made her feel. That was life without Mama.
Settling back into her Volvo, Cindy placed her coffee in the console. There was a strange little picture inked on the paper cup. Weird logo, she thought with a shrug, and reversed out of her park. The front corner of her car caught the back wheel-well of the car parked next to her, but she shrugged that off too. It was barely a scratch. Water off a duck’s back.
Pulling back onto the main road, she reached for her coffee just as she heard her phone ding again. Maneuvering the cup to her left hand, as she held the wheel between her pinky and her ring finger, she reached for her phone, Chad’s words were her siren song.
Bracing her right hand against the steering wheel, she took a sip of coffee and then shifted the hot cup to sit between her knees. The Volvo swerved slightly as she jostled around, narrowly missing another parked car. Cindy moved her phone up so that she could watch the still-foggy road while she read Chad’s sweet note.
She was just trying to swipe in her unlock pattern when something blood-red caught her eye. The logo on the coffee cup. Weird. She could’ve sworn it was black. Huh.
Cindy looked back up just in time to see the front of the Volvo wrap around a power pole.
Everything went black.
And then there were lights, strobing through the fog. Red. Blue. Red. Blue. Red.
What had happened? How long had she been out?
Someone was touching her arms. She was lying down. Who was talking to her? Why was everything so quiet? Why couldn’t she sit up? She could smell blood and burning and booze. Weird.
Were they talking to her? Cindy’s head hurt. Something was pinching her scalp. She tried to sit up, but she realised someone was holding her down.
“Three sheets to wind,” she heard that same someone mutter, somewhere in her periphery. She was sure she’d only had a few sips of coffee. Her flask had been empty. What were they talking about!
There was radio chatter. A siren. Real chatter. A crowd. Another siren. A commanding voice above the rabble. “Stand back. Move along.”
Another voice, panicked, barely audible over the hubbub. “Sir… over here... in the trunk… female… deceased...”
Cindy swallowed, nausea hitting her like a semi.
Her body heaved, her inside convulsing as she retched. The person holding her down turned her on her side as she emptied her stomach through Ribald Ruby lips. There was no going back. She opened her eyes and saw a spilled to-go cup of coffee splattered on the pavement. A weird little picture inked in black marker on the side. Vomit trickled down Cindy’s chin, like water off a duck’s back.