There were four missed calls and none were from her mother. Lucy didn’t want anyone to think this bothered her and she wanted to be seen as someone who didn’t let things get to her, but it did. She remembered the ugly sweaters her mother made each year and this was the first time she felt like she missed them.
It was nearing noon on the Embarcadero, the pier by the ocean, and it was a grey, cloudy Tuesday. Living in San Francisco was full of opportunities but it also came with dense fog that looked like smoke from a thousand cigarettes. The occasional tourist shuffled past and business people ran to catch the next subway. Normally Lucy would be exactly like them, but instead she was watching a mother and her college-age son arguing on the bench next to her. She didn’t know why she felt the need to extend her lunch break; she usually never even took a lunch break and kept working. Right now she should be holed up inside her postage-stamp office.
She scooted a little closer to the pair, struggling to make out what the mother was saying. She caught a disconnected string of words that sounded like ‘New York City’, ‘Home’, and ‘Thanksgiving’. Lucy stiffened- she felt like she was intruding on a personal conversation, and she could think to her own family, in her own home, in her own Thanksgiving.
It was times like this when she felt vulnerable and emotional. If anyone had cared to look they would see a twenty-three year old woman who could tell someone her life story from looking at her eyes. Lucy remembered the last Thanksgiving with her family- the turkey her mother had spent so long on, the argument, and being dropped off a the airport.
“I’ll be home soon,” she had said but she lied.
She continued staring at the couple. The boy suddenly stood up.
“If that’s what you want than I’m not coming home with you.”
He yelled at his mother and she looked at him like he had just slapped her. She burst into tears. It was a long time since Lucy had talked to her family, and this was one of those times she was happy about it.
Then Lucy remembered her family’s house in Minnesota- the welcome mat on the door, her mother’s sweaters, the big tree in the front yard, and her tire swing she spent hours playing on.
It had been seven months since Lucy had spoken to her family. It seemed like whenever Lucy visited her family, dilemmas happened- when her uncle’s beard caught fire, for example. Everyone was mad at her for that, even though she had tried to explain that she hadn’t meant to drop the candle.
Lucy was certain this was for the best. They blatantly avoided each other, but Lucy couldn’t deny the hurt she got when she saw her mother Facebooked the plans for Thanksgiving instead of directly telling her.
Lucy wasn’t friends with anyone. She worked so often and had no time for any sort of a social life. The closest she had to a friend was the intern Melinda.
Looking back at the mother and son, a lump formed in Lucy’s throat. The boy was sprouting apologies and his mother way trying to say that it was okay. It wasn’t okay, for Lucy or the mother and son.
“It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” the mother soothed her son. Lucy blinked back a tear- the mother was doing exactly what her mother had done and Lucy had ignored.
The boy just nodded and pulled his mother close. Lucy sucked in some more air and turned away from them. She thought of her old elementary school and how it would look this time of year. Cut-out orange pumpkins would be plastered on the windows, and the classrooms would smell like glue and finger paint.
When something is hard to admit, you try to ignore it.
Pausing, she stood up from the bench and walked a little down the dock, trying to clear her head. Lucy thought about the cellphone in her pocket. Her family was just a phone call away.
Then there was the idea that they didn’t want to talk to her-, which they didn’t. The last time they had met ended badly, and Lucy didn’t want to go home. She knew she didn’t.
There’s a contact in your phone that’s named Home.
Lucy grimaced. She walked away from the mother and son, who were hugging again, and made her way to the barrier overlooking the bay.
Across the water Lucy could see Oakland. Sometimes she went over there for business meetings, but mostly stayed in San Francisco. She picked up a stray stone by her feet and slung her arm back and shot the stone into the water, like it could fly over the ocean and land on one of the houses in Oakland. It would clatter down the roof and land on the gravel by a child’s foot, who would examine it and show it to her mother. Her stone made a tiny splash amid the crashing waves and sunk.
The stone was probably down at the bottom of the ocean, being battered and choked by water and sand. Lucy didn’t want to turn out like the stone, but she felt like she already had.
Lucy took the phone out of her pocket. She unlocked it, went to her contacts, and clicked the one called Home before she knew what she was doing.
It rang a few times before hitting voicemail. She listened to the happy-go-lucky message and waited for the tiny beep.
“Hey, Mom? It’s Lucy. I just wanted to call and say I’m coming home for Thanksgiving.”
© Emily Winn, Denver School of the Arts, Denver, CO