Hangovers and Ashes
The doorbell wakes me up. Sun is filtering through my windows like pointed claws, and I get a splitting headache as soon as I’m conscious enough to feel it.
Something about last night… Confetti. No, plastic straws? Definitely champagne. And something smells like strawberry. Arm. Not my arm.
I sit up, startled suddenly by the realization that someone else is in my bed. I look down at the fair-skinned arm slung over my midsection, then at the mess of short black hair and glittery eyeshadow on closed eyelids. It’s just Jamie.
Jamie’s one of those types of friends that you just acquire. He’s great for livening up an otherwise sub-par party, and decent at listening to laundry-list complaints about my family and work. Plus, he’s gay, so he’s the best to talk about guys with.
I throw his arm off me, and he groans, and I note that a clothing tornado has flown through my room. A wave of nausea hits me, and I stumble to the bathroom, trying to recall the details of yesterday. The bathroom clock says it’s 3:44 pm.
Yesterday, I went to the coffee shop with Bram. Bram. Bram phone. That’s right. He’d called me, and I hadn’t answered, since the last thing he’d said yesterday was “Don’t call me,” and I love being petty. And then he texted me, and I’d ignored it, and I recall hazily that I’d almost called him last night, later, and Jamie had taken my phone and blocked his number. It’s for the best. He’s trying to put me on a plane to freaking Illinois, after all.
He says I’m not ok. On the contrary, I had one hell of a time last night. Granted I’m only remembering bits and pieces: flashing lights, lips, jean shorts, alcohol. Hula hoop? And music. I do know how to throw a party.
Speaking of throwing, I do throw up. And then I hear the doorbell again, and I’d forgotten that it had woken me up in the first place, and I glance at myself in the mirror and… Not good. My hair’s stuck to itself in weird places, and when did I dye a pink streak in my hair? My makeup is still on but smudged everywhere, except for my eyeliner, which actually looks fantastic. I don’t recognize the t-shirt I’m wearing.
Quickly, I clean my face and fix my hair (kind of), and the doorbell is still going off--is it legal to have it removed? I put on a lime green exercise set and pull my hair into a ponytail.
Downstairs looks like a scene from an apocalypse movie in terms of destruction, but at least there are no people. Visibly. They could be underneath the half-empty bottles of alcohol. There is confetti, I was right about that. And a lot of starlight mints. I can’t explain why. I glance into the living room and see the furniture all rearranged, with the couch pushed back against the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the onyx coffee table in the far corner. It brings back a memory of last night.
“Get down, you brute!” Jamie’s shouting at a large man standing on the coffee table. It has the same effect as a cat bristling its fur at an elephant. “That’s expensive,” Jamie slurs at him.
The man is hollering, and the music is loud. I need more alcohol, and I tell someone I don’t know that they should invite their friends over.
Jamie’s yanking the man’s arm, and I realize that if he falls he’ll flatten Jamie, who’s built like a twig. I make my way over. “It’s fine! I’ll buy a new one!”
“All this is yours? Or you have a rich husband?” The man asks me. He’d be more attractive without the stubble and the glasses, but he’s not too bad. He’s clutching a bottle like he’s going to christen a ship with it.
“Mine,” I confirm. “Mine, mine, mine.”
Jamie throws his arm over my shoulder and hangs off me. “Rich mother.”
I shove him, and he loses his balance and falls onto the pink shag carpet. “I’m successful! I'm an author!” Jamie laughs uncontrollably, and the man does too.
“Nepo baby. So many nice things to play with,” the man coos. His glasses swim into my vision, then his nose, very close.
I spin away, shouting into the room, “WHO WANTS SHOTS?”
The doorbell’s still going off like the world’s most insistent metronome, so I trudge over and fling the front door open. A swirl of black-and-white striped fabric proceeds my mother as she whisks past me. I expect her to comment on the mess or the smells, or at the very least my appearance, but she doesn’t. Shocking.
It takes me a moment to realize someone is still standing on the doorstep. It’s Graham, my mother’s current empty-headed boyfriend. He steps into the foyer and holds out a golden cat statue that’s about a foot tall. “Masie. This is for you.”
I pointedly don’t take it, and grudgingly let him in. The three of us stand in the foyer, which is an architectural beauty. It’s two stories tall, with a spiral staircase that I custom-ordered on the far end, and a geometric light fixture that’s about as big as my body directly overhead. It’s securely suspended from the ceiling, but right now I’m wondering what it would feel like if it fell down and crushed me. It can’t be anything worse than my current headache.
My mother, in all her bleach-blonde glory, is touching up her red lipstick in the foyer mirror. I catch another glimpse of my own face and cringe. Graham is holding the cat statue in two meaty hands, making it look smaller than it is. He’s a huge person in general, which isn’t surprising, considering my mom’s current type is ex-pro-football players.
“Why are you here?” I ask the room. My voice echoes. I hear Mom smack her lips.
“Coco died,” Graham supplies, lifting the cat statue like a shrug.
I blink at him. Coco is--was--Mom’s cat. Then I hold up both hands in front of me to ward him off. “Oh god, don’t tell me there are ashes in there.”
I hear a sniffle from Mom’s direction, and I turn to see her patting the skin under her eyes. It’s hard to tell whether she’s actually crying or not.
“She wants you to spread them on the beach,” Graham says.
“No, why would I--Mom didn’t even like that cat!”
Mom’s red lipstick starts to tremble. “My poor Coco,” she says waveringly, throwing her hands into the air. It’s then that I realize that the black and white smock she’s wearing has some kind of wing-like feature that connects the arms and torso. She runs off to the kitchen, and I glare at Graham.
“Don’t you dare leave that cursed thing here,” I tell him, pointing at the golden cat. Its painted-on eyes pin me with a soulless look.
I find Mom deftly making two sangrias, completely ignoring the mess this is my kitchen. At least the ingredients were already out. “Seriously, Mom, what are you doing here?”
She hands me a small round glass of reddish liquid. “This will help with the hangover.” I roll my eyes and accept the glass, taking a sip. She’s very good at mixing drinks; I think she used to be a bartender in a former life. “I think we should have a farewell ceremony for Coco. Before you go.”
“You don’t even like Coco, you only have him because--” I stop. “Before I go? Before I go where?”
She sips her drink with a dainty pink straw. There are a bunch of bags of plastic straws on the counter. Why? “On your quaint little trip, darling. Bram told me about it.” She fluffs her bangs and looks at me like I’ve got half a brain.
I set my drink down on the counter with a loud clack. “Bram? He’s my agent. Why on earth are you talking to him?”
“Let’s not get jealous, Masie. You know--”
“Jealousy adds wrinkles to the brow. Yeah, I know, Mom. You say that all the time.”
She purses her lips into a smile. “Now, honestly, fix yourself up for the beach. You look like you’ve been dragged to hell and back. We need to spread Coco’s ashes before the sunset. You know he never liked the dark.”
I’m momentarily speechless, which only happens when Mom is around. “I--First of all, I don’t think the ashes will know the difference. Second of all, I barely ever knew Coco. He was Rach--”
“Graham! Graham, get in here!” Mom hollers over me. “Where on earth is that man?” she says, rolling her eyes and giving me a look while absentmindedly stirring her drink. On the surface level, the look means ‘aren’t men idiots?’, but because I know her, I know it really means ‘we don’t talk about Rachael’. Rachael, my sister Rachael.
My mother was blessed with two children before her husband left her, had an affair with her best friend, left her too, and then tragically drowned on the set of a reality TV show. I only remember him as a tall, loud-mouthed man who smelled like cologne, cigarette smoke, and other women’s perfume. He died when I was three and Rachael was seven. I don’t miss him.
Rachael, on the other hand, was something of a prodigy, having been a child actor on Broadway for many years of her life. And then she grew up and they stopped casting her. By then she was too big to be a child, too much of a heavy smoker to be a good singer, too heavy-handed in her acting to be cast on-screen. Mom was disappointed, and I was pleased that I wasn’t going to be the only one at home anymore. But Rachael never moved home. At the age of fifteen she took everything she had and moved in with some guy she’d met. For years I didn’t know where she was or what she was doing.
Then, three years ago, she’d appeared on Mom’s doorstep with nothing but the clothes on her back. She was in and out of rehab for months before Mom couldn’t take it any longer and kicked her out. It was during one of her more stable periods that Rachael had brought a cat home with her one day. She’d named it Coco.
If anyone wanted a farewell ceremony, it would be Rachael. Not me, and not Mom either. But Mom and Rachael don’t talk. Rachael and I don’t talk either, though she does beg me for money. Every once in a while I transfer a small sum into her empty account, but who knows what she does with it.
Graham materializes next to me, and I snap back into the real world. Jamie is here too, with a freshly-made sangria in his hand. “--but all he ever wants to do is go to the movies, and I just wish he actually wanted to go on a date where we could talk, you know?”
My mother, who is a full head shorter than Jamie, pats him on the head like he's a stray dog. “Yes. These are all very good points.” Her eyes, brown, the same as mine, dart to me. “Are you going to get changed for the beach or not?”
I’m tempted to say something to her about Rachael. We’ve never discussed her. I used to try and ask questions, but nowadays Mom pretends she doesn’t exist. So instead, I grumble something and take my sangria with me upstairs.