NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here.
Back to School
Aug. 20, 2018 ~ Tumbleweed Motel, Coldwater, N.M.
Morgan’s head throbbed dully as she rolled over and shut off the alarm on her phone. Her sinuses ached, and her throat burned. So much for starting the new school year on a good note.
As if there are any good notes left, she thought, wincing as she sat up. All the good notes died with Daddy.
She shoved her feet into a pair of dollar-store clogs she’d bought at the beginning of summer. They didn’t exactly fit, but they were less uncomfortable than anything else she owned at the moment. Grabbing the clothes she’d laid out the night before — underwear, jeans, and one of Daddy’s old T-shirts — she schlepped into the bathroom to get ready for school.
“Hurry and get ready, Morgan,” her mother called from the other room. “Your grandma is making pancakes for breakfast.”
Morgan didn’t feel like eating, but she appreciated Grandma Sandy’s effort. She turned on the shower and glanced into the mirror while she waited for the water to warm up. Her eyes were bloodshot, with dark rings under them that stood out against her pale skin, and her black hair was a tangled mess. I look like death, she thought. Feel like it, too. This would have to happen the night before school starts back.
She felt a little guilty for grumbling, even if it was only to herself. Brother Jerry’s wife didn’t die last night just to inconvenience me, she thought, and poor Brother Jerry got up this morning to face the day without her for the first time in probably 50 years or something. I shouldn’t stand here feeling sorry for myself just because I have a headache. I know what it feels like to face your first day without someone you love. She choked back a sob as she stepped under the water, dreading the sight of somebody else taking Daddy’s place in the all-district assembly they’d have that morning.
By the time she finished her shower and her cry and padded into the kitchen, Morgan felt a little better.
“Good morning, Morgan,” Grandma Sandy greeted her. “Are you ready for a new school year?”
Morgan shrugged as her grandmother dished pancakes onto her plate. “Not so many, Grandma,” she said. “I’m not very hungry. I cried too much last night.”
Her mother and grandmother held a silent conversation over her head. She stared down at the pile of pancakes, willing her appetite to come back. The last thing she needed was to throw up in class. She sighed.
“Would you like some orange juice?” her mother asked.
Morgan shook her head. “Tea,” she muttered, rising.
“Sit. Eat. I’ll get it for you,” Grandma Sandy said. Morgan glanced up at her with a grateful smile.
“You’ll be OK,” Mom said. “I know it’s hard to be there without your dad, but you can handle it.”
Morgan made a noncommittal sound and took a drink from the cup her grandmother set in front of her. “May I have the syrup, please?”
Her mother passed her the bottle.
“What can we do to make this easier for you?” Grandma Sandy asked, pouring herself a cup of coffee.
“Nothing,” Morgan said. “I’m just tired.”
“I’m sorry.” Grandma Sandy sat down next to her. “It’s hard being different.”
“I’m not just different. ‘Different’ is having glasses or dyeing your hair blue or liking girls instead of boys. I’m not different. I’m a monster.” She speared a bite of pancake, wincing as her fork screeched against the plate. She put her fork in her mouth and forced herself to chew and swallow. “I really can’t eat this, Grandma. I’m sorry. I just — you know how it is after I’ve cried.”
Grandma Sandy nodded, her eyes sad. “I know, Sweetie. It’s OK.” She squeezed Morgan’s shoulder. “Hang in there. Maybe today will be better than you think.”
Morgan finished her tea and grabbed a handful of peppermints from a jar on the counter. “I’d better get to school,” she said, pocketing the candy. “I don’t need to start the year off in trouble for being tardy. See you later. If you see Brother Jerry, tell him I’m sorry about his wife.”