The day Candy leaves San Francisco is clear. All week long it's been foggy and gray, and now everything is bright. She looks out the window of the Super Shuttle at the sparkling water. "You might as well just take the shuttle there," her mother told her, "I can't see you off at the gate any more. We wouldn't be able to hang out."
This winter break has not been what she'd expected.
When her mother saw Candy off at a different airport a few months ago, she cried. She gave her a charm bracelet made from Candy's old Monopoly game pieces. "I'm the top hat, remember?" she said, "and you're the little dog." She kissed Candy on the tip of her nose and called her baby girl.
Sid, her mother's new husband, is paying for Candy's college education. That means Brown instead of state college. That means monthly checks for her books and dinners out.
Sid was gone for most of this visit. When he talked to Candy, he called her mother "Donna" instead of "your mother." Candy's Mom is officially his wife now, and she looks different. She smells expensive, like fresh flowers instead of perfume. Her body is changed, too. It's a ballerina body. Her breasts seems smaller, higher. She wears less makeup and her skin glows.
Sid's house is in Russian Hill. It is the color of lemon drops, and shimmers with stained glass windows. "Don't you just want to eat it up," her mother said when they pulled up to it.
Her mother has been going to a clinic so she and Sid can make a baby boy. She showed Candy the little tower room that might serve as a nursery. They window-shopped in baby boutiques. They shopped for clothes in the cute stores. She bought Candy a pink mohair skull cap. "Oh my God," her mother said. "A skull cap, and it is so adorable. I love it!" Candy thought it was too expensive, but her mother said it was chump change now.
They took a boat tour of the city. Her mother carried a guide book, but she didn't need it. They stood at the mast together and shrieked when the waves splashed. Her Mom knew everything about the city. She pointed to where Kim Novak fell into the water in Vertigo, to China Beach, to the ruins of the family homes in Alcatraz. "Children lived there," she said, "they took the Ferry to school, the same boat that carried prisoners. Can you imagine?" The Golden Gate bridge was painted International Orange. "They paint it eternally," she said, "when they finish one side, they just turn around and start painting it all over again." The sun was setting as they went under the bridge. Candy thought she'd never seen anything so gorgeous. Sea birds soared overhead, and the International Orange was sharp against the dull clouds.
While her mother did Pilates, Candy took the BART to Berkeley and spent the afternoon in and out of bookstores. She'd never seen so many good bookstores.
Every day they had dessert someplace new. They checked the guide book for the highest rated restaurants. Christmas day Sid took her mother to a party. Candy said she wanted to stay home, that she felt a little woozy. Which wasn't true, but she wanted to say that in case she wasn't invited, because that would embarrass her Mom. Her mother trimmed Sid's silver beard and plucked his nose hairs before they left. Sid is such a tool, Candy can hardly believe he makes so much money on his own. But he is a financial genius.
They spent the last day in the Castro. "Do you think they think we're lesbians?" her mother asked. "I think they think we're tourists," Candy told her.
They ate crepes in a little coffee shop to wait out the rain. Her mother looked very pretty, holding a big cup of au lait up to her face so that the steam flushed her nose and cheeks. "What do you think of my new highlights? You never said," she asked.
"They look nice. A little young though. A little too Jennifer Aniston," Candy said.
"I was thinking, maybe I should start calling you Candace. We can tell Sid Candy is your nickname. That sounds more grown up doesn't it?"
"But that isn't my name."
"Well, I hardly think he'll ask to see your birth certificate do you?"
"You had a nice visit, didn't you? We did everything on the list," her mother said.
"We never went to Citizen Cake for cake. I wanted to try that place. Maybe next time," Candy said. "Did I tell you my idea? I was thinking this summer I could get a job at one of the bookstores here. Maybe meet a Berkeley boy."
"That's not such a good idea," her mother said.
"Yeah, you're right. Maybe I should try to get an internship instead."
"No, that's not what I meant, honey," Mom said, "I think it's a good idea for you to stay up there. Just easier, you know? You can get a job on campus. Sid is being very generous, you know. We can't expect him to do more."
It made sense, really. But it seemed wrong. Candy wasn't sure. That night she couldn't sleep. She sat in a windowseat in the empty nursery and looked out at the neighborhood of lit-up gingerbread houses.
She thought about her mother, and how much they were to one another. They'd been so many places together. They were tourists of the world, her mother liked to say. Once, when they were living in Odessa, a girl had been kidnapped beside the creek Candy walked by every week on her way to drill practice. They'd found the girl's body a week later. All the news showed was the girl's pink bicycle. Donna had dreamed of the bicycle, of its banana seat smeared with blood, of little hands grasping its purple streamers. "Promise me never, never to go down to that creek alone," she'd begged. "Be my good girl."
But there was something giddy, something false about her mother's preoccupation with the creek. She was like Kim Novak, falling into the water. Kim Novak knew Jimmy Stewart would save her. Candy's mother was beautiful in that same way, floating on everyone else's belief in her.
A month later she grew tired of driving Candy to practice, and didn't seem to remember the lost girl. Candy was still afraid. Before she approached the creek, she held her fife so tightly her fingers turned blue. If someone tried to grab her she would use the fife as a weapon. Mud slurped, sucked at her drill boots. For those few moments, she was certain the bicycle was there, leaning against the big rock, behind her. If she turned around it would disappear.
- - -
This morning, Candy's mother woke her in time for the sunrise. They watched it through the bay window of the breakfast room. "It's going to be a clear day," her mother said, "be sure to look out the window when the plane takes off."
She helped Candy roll her clothes, military-style, into her bag. She gave her a packet of gum and a Cosmo for the trip. She kissed her on the tip of her nose. "Still my button-nose," she said.
Candy wears the charm bracelet for the trip back. It is too big for her wrist, so she wears it as an anklet. But it is too tight. She looks out the window at the candy colored houses. They remind her of something make believe, more Candyland than Monopoly. "Never underestimate the power of Monopoly money," her mother told her when her last boyfriend's .com business went bust. "There's always more where that came from. "
Candy feels the charm under her socks, digging into her flesh, but she keeps it on anyway. Maybe when she gets back to her dorm room, she'll drape it over her mirror.
About the author:
Claudia Smith lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, Nathen Hinson. Her stories have appeared online and in print. Check out her website at claudiaweb.