An excerpt from
by Kris Neri
If you’re lost, how to you find your way to where you need to be?
It troubled Plum Tardy that she couldn’t answer that question. Her mom, Crystal’s, life depended on it. Plum scooted her chair closer to her mother’s bedside.
“Come on, Crystal,” she said, her desperation only barely controlled. “Follow my voice back to us.”
Crystal was stretched out, as always, with her closed eyes facing the ceiling. If it weren’t for the apparatus keeping her heart pumping and making air whoosh through her lungs, she looked as she might have in a coffin.
“Listen to my voice. I’ll lead you.”
Crystal’s doctors insisted she never would return, describing her condition as a vegetative state. But Plum considered doctors such alarmists. She thought of it more like a coma. People came back from comas all the time. She clung to that belief with all the tenacity of someone gripping a life preserver in a flood.
Still, the hand Plum clasped felt unnatural. Oh, it was warm enough, alive. The machines made sure oxygenated blood flowed through all of her vessels. What the hand lacked was energy—the boisterous, pulsing, shouting-from-the-rooftops energy that had always defined Crystal.
“We’re all here for you. You need us.” And we need you. I do anyway. “Wake up. I’m begging you, Crystal.”
Plum struggled to remember a computer-related term she’d learned. She wasn’t really computer-literate; she was actually more of a digital disaster. But there was a concept she’d discovered from computer work that pointed to an amazing way to solve most of life’s problems: rebooting. With a reboot, everything simply resets to the original place, like the mistake or tangent never happened.
“Reboot, Crystal. We need a reboot.”
We? Wasn’t this all about Crystal?
After an unspoken silence, Plum admitted that maybe it wasn’t. Well, sure it’s also about me, she admitted to herself. Everyone needs a mom. The admission, and how lost it made her feel, stunned Plum.
It couldn’t be about her now. Crystal was the one trapped somewhere. Even if Crystal had never been enough of a mother for her, a rare admission from Plum, somehow Plum had to be all the daughter Crystal needed now.
But when you’re lost, how do you find your way to where you need to be?
Plum wasn’t sure anymore which of them she was asking for.
The rain bucketed down in drops as big as quarters, thousands and thousands of them. A rarity in sunny Southern California, where traffic now snarled in every direction.
Plum stared through a rain-soaked windshield, which the wipers couldn’t begin to clear, at a line of cars jammed up before her. “Move, dammit!” she cried. Nobody budged. Within the sultry confines of Plum’s aging Jeep Wrangler, she sighed, not a sound of frustration, but of confusion and loss.
“It never rains unless it stalls,” Plum muttered aloud. That was one of the many proverbs Crystal often quoted. Crystal had an adage for every occasion, although others never seemed to find the wisdom in them that Plum did.
Is that what’s wrong with me? Is my life just stalled?
It had been two days since Plum had tried in vain to awaken Crystal. Two days in which she’d remained brittle, seemingly without cause.
Plum knew her reaction to today’s conditions was excessive. Rain wasn’t an everyday occurrence in Southern California, but when Pacific storms did hit, they were usually heavy. And traffic was always ever-present. This wasn’t much worse than usual.
But she’d faced some tough truths during her time with Crystal. She hadn’t uttered a word since about her needs and Crystal’s inadequacy, but she feared those revelations still cried out inside of her, in some emotional language she didn’t want to translate.
Plum suddenly gave her head a shake, as though snapping out of it. Why was she making so much of this? Finding meaning where there was none. She was just overworked and under-appreciated. Plum had a great life. She did! Well, she would if she could wrestle Crystal’s house into shape. And fix the problems at work. And maybe squirrel away some time alone with her fiancé, Noah.
Besides, Plum almost never became angry. If anything, she was the type to take it on the chin and say nothing about it.
Only…Plum wasn’t sure she was willing to keep silent anymore.
Grasping for something that would boost her sinking morale, she reached into the bulky tote bag filling the passenger seat for her cell phone. She skipped using the earpiece in her glove box, and just put it on speaker, resting the phone on her thigh. She punched in her fiancé’s office number. It went straight to voicemail.
“You’ve reached Noah Rowle, of Westside Homes and Offices,” his voice proclaimed in a tone of boundless enthusiasm. “If you’re calling to sell land that will allow you to become part of Budget-Mart’s most aggressive expansion in decades, press one. If you’re an existing client….”
“How about if I’m a fiancée, in need of a verbal hug?” Plum muttered, while the menu rattled on. Finally, after the beep, she said in a too-bright tone, “It’s me. I hope your meeting later today goes well.” Actually, she hoped it would end early. That way Noah might be there when she stopped home before work. “See you tonight…. Hey…I miss you,” she blurted, immediately regretting that she sounded so needy. She clicked the call off before she could say anything to further humiliate herself.
At thirty-six years old, it was past time she figured out how to hold a relationship together. Still, no matter what she did to try to stop it, she knew that she and Noah were drifting apart. “You’re like ships passing on the Nile,” Crystal had once observed, which Plum recalled now with uneasy desperation.
The line of cars finally began inching forward. At a crowded intersection, Plum glanced to the side. The pelting rain and the low cloud cover made the small houses lining the road—the little Spanish or seaside bungalows, punctuated by the occasional modern home—appear as murky as a dream. The ocean off to the right, which should have been visible, wasn’t today. Yet in her mind’s-eye, Plum could see the rising charcoal waves, topped by angry whitecaps, twisting and swirling in a furious show of might. After a lifetime there, she knew the ocean’s every mood. Maybe too well….
* * * * *
Hopscotch Life, Kris Neri’s first women’s fiction title, was recently published by Cherokee McGhee Publishing. A multi-award-nominated and winning author, Kris also writes the Tracy Eaton mysteries, featuring the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, and the Samantha Brennan and Annabelle Haggerty magical series, which features a questionable psychic who teams up with a modern goddess-FBI agent. She makes her home in Silver City, NM.