By Wanda Nolan Honourable mention for the Cuffer Prize 2013
Margaret swipes through the air hoping to hit the eagle; a papier-mâchéd piñata covered in purple and yellow crepe. Her head is tilted back, her sombrero covering most of her back. A red bandana masks her eyes.
She can make out Joan Reddy’s voice in the crowd, “Come on, birthday girl!”
Margaret stumbles toward the voice, a child’s hockey stick in her hand. A chorus yells, “Whoa,” as she slashes about in the dead air. They’re laughing. She’s laughing with them. Hands reach out to keep her from falling. She’s turned around, a pat on the back and one on the arse.
The tequila makes her dizzy. She’s getting nowhere. She stops and pulls off the blindfold. Nick is standing away from the centre of the room with the piñata held over his head, tight between his hands. His saucy grin skewed from the growth of a new beard.
The crowd goes up.
He lets go of the eagle and it swings near her face.
Margaret gives Nick the finger.
He slides across the room and kisses her. His beard wet against her mouth. “You have to finish this.”
He pulls the bandana back over her eyes.
Margaret feels done but stumbles anyway into what she thinks is the right direction. A chant starts up, “Margaret, Margaret…” She slams the hockey stick down and it lands on something. She chops again and punctures the cavity; the blade gets caught for a second and pulls her forward.
The crowd is on top of her now as she releases the stick and wildly hacks at the bird until she can hear it break open. Hoots and hollers accompany the clatter of loot falling to the floor. She removes her blindfold. People are picking up candy, bubble makers, condoms and packages of gauze.
Nick wrenches the top off the bubble bottle. Pulls out a tiny wand. “I stole them from the clinic.”
“Bored,” Nick says as he unleashes a wet string of Os.
The Flaming Lips blast from the stereo. Brian Harvey pulls Margaret out for a dance. He’s wearing a grey wool poncho with a white cactus across the front. Twenty years ago, on a rainy May 24th weekend in Butter Pot Park, they tried to put their sleeping bags together and failed, but lost their virginity anyway. Brian, eager and polite, doing his best to make sure she was against the warm fleece liner and away from the cold polyester shell, the zipper with its exposed teeth. The disappointment of how quickly it all happened.
The burst of laughter from their friends next door. The powerful feeling that Margaret knew something she never knew before. Something bigger than her. And, the next morning, the easy decision to end it — the retch-inducing act of Brian putting ketchup on his eggs.
Margaret watches Nick in the kitchen with Joan downing a tequila and a chaser of Clamato. His sombrero is tilted sideways. He’s wearing an odd grin while pretending to be a blind man. She knows he’s telling her the story.
The song ends while another picks up. Joan slides out of the kitchen and dances her way between Brian and Margaret. She hands Margaret a shot. Margaret shakes her head. Joan nudges her elbow, “It’s your day.”
Margaret nods toward Nick, “Telling you again?”
“Getting his head around it.”
“I have no idea how he’s doing.”
Joan gives Margaret’s hair a gentle tug. “You need to get your lips around that drink.”
Margaret throws back the shot. The music volume goes up. More people join the dance floor. They groove amongst the candy and bandages, the purple and yellow paper, a beak in the corner.
Nick grabs Margaret’s waist. Their hips quickly find a rhythm. She reaches around and slides her hands under his shirt. Her fingers meet at his spine. Her head easily fits under the brim of his hat. “How’s all that tequila treating you?”
“I’m going for a blind drunk, much easier to explain.”
“It may never happen again,” Margaret says.
“I was just joking,” Nick says pointedly.
She doesn’t know how to bridge this. His desire to talk but not to deal. She tries to think of something clever to say to break the mood, something like, MS a loaded acronym for a vicious disease or an ambiguous title for a woman. But ambiguity suggests mystery and mystery sounds kind. When really it’s a story that we’re told not to tell. A ghost lying wait.
Nick pushes her back so he can see her face. “Baby, there is no Providence in the fall of the sparrow, but you can’t tell the sparrow that.”
“That’s not the way it goes.” Margaret has no interest in hearing that he’s being facetious. That he knows the quote. “There is Providence.”
“I don’t know if you should tell the sparrow that either.”
She wants to say that she’s been praying. She wants to tell him that all these years they’ve been together she secretly, even to herself, believed. That when there was nothing else to lean on God came out, walked across their hardwood floor and rested at her feet. Instead she says, “What do we tell it then?”
Nick takes her hand and leans her into a dip. He looks down at her, “Nothing.”
A quick pull back up into the air and Nick lets Margaret spin. She flies into the middle of room, the booze and the cheers of the crowd rise up around her.
Wanda Nolan is a fiction and screenwriter who lives in St. John’s. She has a master’s of fine arts in creative writing from the
University of British Columbia. Her short
stories have appeared in anthologies and journals, like “Invisible Publishing” and
Riddle Fence. She won the Cuffer Prize in 2012 for her story “Nancy Drew.” That same year, she also won the Atlantic Film Festival’s Inspired Script Award for her feature film “The Magic of Boxer Connors.” In 2013,
she was named Newfoundland and Labrador’s Emerging Artist of the Year.
Next week: Jeffrey L. Pardy’s “Mall Tree”