A Glorious Evening
Cincinnati Country Day School
The day had been bad for Margot. She sat poised on the window, her knees crooked, her arms twisted under her chin. She did not move as clouds obscured the sky with their greedy slate hands, and smeared the trees with warm sweat from their cheeks. She did not move as the sun trickled its rays over the weeds.
Margot did not move because she could not. Her mother had told her four hours earlier, just before pottering to the garden, to have optimism. Despite cheeks sallow, hands fluttering moths, marble eyes rolling around the room, her mother still clung to her grin. By now, it was just a bag of old teeth, but today the weather gave it flesh. Her mother had not had optimism six hours earlier when, in a fit of irritation, she had shattered her wine glass against the wall.
Margot, a regular casualty, said nothing. She only stood dripping over the carpet and picked shards of glass from her sweater.
“It’s a stain,” her mother muttered. “It is just a stain to be fixed.” And she laughed curdled laughter, leaving Margot to slink to the window.
Margot hadn’t left her perch since then. A storm was brewing, and if there was a storm brewing, there was no point in moving. Pressing her lips against the window, exploring the moisture, Margot considered the pain of suicide by lightening. Lick. Yes, it would be hot. Better to have a tree fall. Another lick. This time, she left her tongue on the cool window. Be happy, her mother said. Margot pulled her tongue in. It was difficult for Margot to be happy during storms.
Her mother adored storms. She often ran giggling into the rain, her gray hair a sheet. As the rain carved her wrinkles, slipping into her ears and staining the hair black, she cocked her head and raised her fists, shrieking silently, as though the sky spoke to her. Her eyes grew so ugly the lightning retreated like a frightened beast. It hardly seemed to bother the woman withering in the wind.
From her perch, Margot wondered whether her mother noticed her gaunt cheeks, the way her legs shook when she climbed the stairs. Did she pine over the wrinkles? Fifty years ago, thirty years ago, ten years ago, she had been the soul of cocktail parties. Without her juicy grin, the deviled eggs tasted bland, the champagne flat, the tenderloin dry. Pity, wasn’t it? No toast was complete without Mrs. Bonier. Margot supposed her mother must retain some validity, but her daughter avoided smiling. Optimism: she refused to succumb to it.
The wipes of her tongue blurred the window. Margot considered licking it away and then peered outside. Sometimes, Margot thought she could paper the walls with optimism. Her focal point of contention was the duration of mother’s rages. Just this morning, Margot watched her run back into the house, soaked, after five minutes.
“You see these stains?” mother asked daughter while motioning to rain-streaked clothes. “Stains fade, Margot. Lettuce does not disappear as easily. The doctor said so. A salad!”
The doctor. He knew her mother was absolutely cuckoo. All the same, he listened to her rambling stories, her conversations with her friends, while Margot sat in a chair in the corner, covering her face with her hands. The friends came from the vanity mirror, which her mother spent hours gazing in to. Word salads indeed. In the waiting room, the doctor reprimanded her tears, reminding Margot that sanity was relative. Everything was relative now. The memory of the doctor invited hysteria.
The room, unchanged since she was five, harbored one picture. It was cracked from its collisions with the walls. Twelve years ago, only twelve, Margot sat with her mother in the garden, waiting for the photographer to nibble immortality. She remembered the warm sunshine, the clasped hands. No salads, no friends in the mirror. In the picture, Margot presented the juicy Bonier grin. Fitting. Daughter like mother.
Margot wiped her eyes and peered outside again, watching her mother wander the garden, mortal as weeds, as the pink dress flowed at her ankles. The bleached lips imitating baby birds opened to the sun.
The typhoid rays strengthened. Margot considered whipping shut the curtains. It was so easy to be pretentious. Much simpler to be aloof than happy. The smell of wine soaking the upholstery made her skin crawl. Her eyes rolled around the room like marbles. What was the point? A word salad. How despairing that, against someone so crazy wandering the halls, her idiosyncrasies paled. Strains of madness threaded every branch of the Bonier family tree. But perhaps that was a saving grace. Her mother, sitting still as a porcelain doll on the grass, saved Margot scrutiny.
A final sickly wave swept away the clouds, dipping the world in fever. Margot watched her mother’s features stretch with laughter. In an instant, the laughter transformed the fever to butterscotch. The flowers, once wilted, bloomed with glorious splendor. It was a miracle, Margot thought. A real miracle. In the breeze, trees shivered happily.
Then, Margot shrieked and heard the crack of a tree snapping and folding at the sharp retort of lightening. It fell with a tremor. Two ankles glowed beneath the trunk.
Then, only silence before the storm rolled in.
The sunshine, bright and cheery, seemed to giggle. The clouds, puffy as cotton balls, scampered like bunnies past the horizon. Unable to look away from the feet, Margot pressed her eyes against the window, the cold glass freezing the whites of her eyes to dust. By the time she worked the courage to wander downstairs, the rain wiped away any remaining sickness. Only one sickness, contained by a living skull, lingered.
But of course, Margot had insinuated that for a while. Sanity was relative. Standing next to her dead mother, she thought of her responsibilities. She must be optimistic. She took her mother’s hand. Only happy thoughts from now on. Tears dripped unwittingly from the corners of her eyes, and lungs heaved as air refused to enter them. She must be happy. But she was late, wasn’t she? She was late to it all. Her mother would never know. Margot’s stain would persist in perpetuity, like red wine coating the paper of a wall. She could feel the teeth start to fall out, the legs decay, the eyes roll. Margot loved her, she loved her mother. Optimism, Margot. Have optimism, dear. Insanity is relative. And love? The same. Now just leave your mother’s hand, go back and inside, and have a little drink. Your clothes are stained with rain.
The way in which Sylvia Nica edifies the repercussions of emotional and physical dislocation through a somewhat pastoral landscape is mesmerizing, poignant, and reflective of a craft far beyond her years. Beneath the innocence and beauty of the language lies a dark vein of tragedy, desperation, and raw humanity. Indeed, this swelling ode of grief steals your breath in the first line and does not return it until the final, fateful note.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sylvia Nica is a senior from Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the co-editor of her school's literary magazine and is active in INTERalliance, a Cincinnati non-profit. When not writing, she enjoys hiking and listening to music. She plans to major in English and will graduate from Cincinnati Country Day school in May 2020.