Jon Tribble Memorial Winner
She shows up early to the baby shower.
She brings a gift—a pack of diapers. She didn’t bother to wrap the box. She knocks on the door of the little brick house and tries hard not to think about how nice the area is, how the chimes hanging from the porch tinkle pleasantly. And she waits on that porch, face purposefully blank, until the door opens, and Tiffany appears.
Tiffany’s glowing. Her shoulders are still shaking from the aftermath of a joke Adam must have told her. The girl surveys her face with passivity: the same blue eyes, the same ringlets of red hair, but happier crow’s feet around her eyes added to the regular old aging lines. She drops her gaze to Tiffany’s stomach. The woman is finally showing, at eight months, and the baby bump extends the fabric of her bright blue sundress and matching navy sweater.
“Oh!” Tiffany’s face lights up. Tiffany does that whenever she comes around. Always exclaims, like the older woman’s happy to see her. Like she should smile back. She doesn’t. She lets Tiffany fumble her way into her arms, and rests her head on the woman’s chest, and tries not to recoil in disgust rom the feeling of the baby bump pressed to her own stomach. She feels sick.
They walk together, intertwined despite her best efforts, into the living room. Adam is balancing on a sofa, stringing up a banner that reads It’s A Boy! In big bubbly blue letters. When he sees her, he smiles.
“Hey there,” he says, and she echoes it back. What else is there to say to her mother’s boyfriend? Tiffany finally lets go of her. She places the diapers on the coffee table. She sits in the lone armchair, secluded in the corner, and takes in the scene.
She’s the first to have arrived.
There’s the banner, of course, but there’s a small pile of onesies, pacifiers, all baby commofities, laid up in a cutesy little basket. Tiny cerulean cupcakes with big curls of frosting, still in their box. The corner of a star-spangled baby blanket peeks out at her from beneath a throw pillow. There’s a rocking chair that rocks back and forth with the weight of a quilt, and in its seat is a teddy bear with the price tag still attached—$15.99 at Children’s Playground. The bear has a blue ribbon around its neck. Its marbled black eyes stare straight through her.
It’s a picturesque scene for a baby shower. She feels eyes on her, and looks to her left to see Tiffany entering the room again, holding a scrapbook, of all things. She’s smiling, a soft, tender smile, one so foreign to her that the girl must blink the confusion away from her face.
Tiffany leans, awkwardly, over the armchair. This close, their faces nose to nose, the girl can smell the older woman’s minty breath. Tiffany’s manicured hands open the page of the book, and the air is punched out of her. Inside are pictures- pictures of her.
She’s very young in these photos. There are baby photos and some from kindergarten and even a few from middle school, but most of them drop off by the time she turns fourteen. Tiffany is speaking, but she isn’t hearing the woman.
She’s looking at one particular photo. She’s about five, with a bad perm, staring at the camera and smiling. It’s a tiny photograph-obviously not an actual school picture, something Tiffany clipped out of the yearbook parents’ catalog to avoid paying. The picture is tiny and grainy. Still, she can see the big black bruise around her eye. If she squints, maybe she can even see the thin pink lines of adult-sized hands, hardly hidden by the curtain of her dark, unkempt hair.
She touches the photo, and tries to tune Tiffany out. Tiffany is staring at her with big, shimmering eyes. She doesn’t understand why. None of this is right. Nothing here is right.
She stands. She ignores Tiffany and Adam. And she really looks around, at the clean living room and the happy woman and the excited father and she thinks, Mom, why couldn’t you have done this for me? And in that moment, she knows Tiffany’s apologies to be the truth. Tiffany’s changes are genuine. Tiffany’s promises of a lowered fist are serious. She truly believes that Tiffany will never treat her son the way she’s treated her daughter.
It still isn’t enough. She still hurts. She’s still unhappy, and Tiffany is living, pregnant, excited, the very picture of a prideful soon to be mother. It’s not enough. It’ll never be enough. It’s not fair. Tiffany should be punished. She wishes she could punish her. She wants to punish her mother, and she wants everyone to know.
She pushes past Adam, who is staring at her with concern. And she grabs that bear, and clutches it to her chest, and just for good measure, rips the price marker off and stomps the pink tag into the patterned floor. She’s shrieking like a maniac, and Adam and Tiffany are both looking at her like she’s insane, and maybe she is.
She flails out her arms and legs and takes down presents, decorations, picture frames, screaming and screaming until Adam, six foot and stocky, grasps her around the middle, and wrestles her out the front door. She’s still holding the bear. Adam is yelling, and Tiffany is crying, and she is still clutching the $15.99 bear with a blue ribbon. She screams, and she isn’t even speaking, just screaming, guttural noises that make her mother’s suburban neighbors open their blinds and stand out on their front porches and watch.
Good. She wants them to see. She wants everyone to see what Tiffany has done to her.
Tiffany is coming towards her, holding out her arms, face devastated. She screams. And she rushes to her car, feeling breathless, feeling angry, feeling ruined. Most of all, she feels scared, like a little kid again, with an angry mother barreling down on her, and she wrestles the lock open, tossing the bear into the passenger seat. She starts the car and throws it into reverse and nearly hits Tiffany, who won’t move out the way.
Tiffany, whose hair has come undone. Tiffany, who runs after her on the sidewalk until she trips into the grass, and lays there, twitching, as Adam screams and she keeps on driving, tearing her eyes away from the scene behind her.
She’d used a map to get to their house – she circles around the neighborhood until she finds the entrance again, and then she veers a sharp left, nearly sailing onto the sidewalk, and gets out of the perfectly trimmed community altogether.
She’s crying now. Just crying. She reaches for the bear, and holds it to her chest, and she drives, far, far away from her Mom and her new baby. She leaves Tiffany face down on the grass, and she hopes her Mother tastes blood in her mouth, just like she used to. And she thinks, I just need this bear. This bear is for me. This bear is my justice. This bear is mine now. This bear is fair enough for me.
She wants to think it’s a parting gift, between her and Tiffany.
She decides she’s not going to see the woman who was her Mother again.