Marcus Grant | Managing Editor
Pearl cracked an egg into the pan below, watching the whites spread thin and turn solid in the hot oil, the edges beginning to brown as she salted and peppered the top. The toaster went off with a ding, alerting her that her bread was ready. She allowed it to sit for a moment, moving to flip her egg before the yolk solidified; there was nothing more disappointing than cutting into the soft center, only for the anticipated eruption to halt, remaining still and unmoving.
It was only 6 o’clock and the sun had just settled beyond the view of her small apartment, ducking its head beyond the skyline of buildings. Boxes of books and records laid scattered in front of the couch and television. She pushed some out of the way to make room for her legs as she clicked on the television, allowing the reality show that was already on to drone behind the noise of her phone. Scrolling, she shoveled eggs and bread into her mouth, sometimes stopping to take a sip of the warm citrus tea she had picked up on the way home from work.
Updates from friends and acquaintances and even those she didn’t particularly like flashed across the screen. Isabella was engaged to her girlfriend of three years, displaying a glittering diamond on her left ring finger surrounded by the perfectly sandy beaches in Nepal; Sean and Jamie were pregnant with their third child; Quin was set to finish grad school – Harvard or Brown or something impressive – next month.
And there she was, a stream of yellow running down her chin and dripping a stain onto the white of her top. She could hear the creak and shuffle of lovemaking from beyond the drywall and the roar of tires just outside the window as she balanced her plate in the already overflowing sink basin.
Pearl walked into the cramped bathroom, shoving half-used tubes of concealer and cracked compacts to the edges of the counter. She set two candles in the newly made space. As she lit them, the sweet aroma of Warm Vanilla Sugar and Sugared Lemon Zest wafted in the air, the orange glow of the dancing flames lighting up the room. She turned the water on. The heat caused the mirror to fog, rivulets running down the glass without care.
Closing her eyes, she settled in the water, allowing it to cover her like a blanket. Here, in this moment, she was able to forget about it all. She didn’t have to think about the mind-numbing desk job she would be returning to in the morning or the perfect lives other people presented on the internet.
Her mind drifted, floating off to a simpler time. She was back in a classroom, bright colored posters with grammar rules and cursive practice hung on the walls. The phases of the moon were drawn across the white board in blue dry erase marker, waning and waxing in an imitated cycle of nature; starting as nothing and ending just the same. Her eyes were drawn to the bright pink words scrawled at the top of the board: “Spelling Bee This Afternoon.”
The class lined up. She was sandwiched between Sadie and Isabella as they moved forward towards the auditorium, their excited giggles filling the white bricked hallway of the elementary school. Her mind lost the words and the places but kept the butterflies that filled her stomach and the pride that rested on her cheeks as the principal placed a medal over her head. She had won.
Out in the crowd stood her parents, ready to take her to a celebratory dinner; it wasn’t often either could take time off of work, let alone scrounge up the money to go out to eat but here they were in the local Olive Garden. Posh music played overhead as the waiters offered her parents fancy wine and delivered breadsticks at her beck and call. She ate all she could. Chicken Parmesan. Mashed potatoes. One of those lemon cakes that came in the small glass cups.
In her mind, she saw her parents looking at her, their eyes softly holding her and bright smiles plastered to their faces. Her mother took her hand. “Honey, we are so proud of you.” “So proud,” her father echoed, combing the hairs of his mustache with his fingers. “We can’t wait to see how much you accomplish in the future.”
Pearl ran her hands through her hair, soothing herself with the memory of her victory. Looking at her fingers, pruned over from the oversaturation of soapy water, she stood up, quickly rinsing off and stepping in front of the fogged-over mirror. Her hands smeared the steam away, revealing herself.
Her eyes ran over the parts of her body she wished looked a little different, heavy eyes falling deep in her face, dark crescents waxing out on her skin. She stretched the skin of her cheeks. A new wrinkle made its way just beside her lips in a permanent frown. Blowing out the candles, Pearl chose to get dressed in the dark, throwing cotton shorts and an oversized tee before leaving the confines of her bathroom.
Her bedroom was a mess. Pillows were strewn lifelessly over the carpet and her plants stood limply in their pots; she couldn’t remember the last time they had been properly watered. Crawling under the mass of blankets, she clicked on the television, putting on whatever Disney movie showed up in her recommendations.
Her alarm was set for 7 o’clock the next morning. She would hit snooze approximately three times, just as she had the day before. This would mean she would have to skip breakfast, instead shoving an energy drink into her purse while applying a quick coat of lipstick on the way out the door. Her car would get stuck in traffic on Holiday Ave and she would have to park her car at the very top of the parking garage. Because the elevator was still out of order, she would take the stairs to the sidewalk below, earning a new blister from the heels she wore. She would work; perhaps she would have a meeting or answer a few calls. And then she would come home and try to recover yet again.