Vignette: Warning signs

Here’s another vignette, a fiction piece–little more than a writing exercise–without any real beginning or end. Just a little something out of my head and offered up raw, without any editing.

 

Elaine was late for work again. Traffic was moving slower than usual, and the car directly ahead slower still. “He’s got his iPod going,” she realized. “He’s got headphones jammed in his ears, and he’s off in his own little world.”

She thought back to earlier that morning while trying to get the kids ready for school. Margaret Kay had come down wearing a top that would practically guarantee no boys in any of her high school classes would get any work done that day. Elaine had told her to change immediately, bracing herself for the usual fight. But it never came. Margaret Kay had simply gone back upstairs and changed. Weird.

And a little disturbing. Margaret Kay, even when not itching for a fight, was usually energetic and full of life. If she had to pick a word to describe her this morning it would be ‘despondent’. It was so unlike her. Was something wrong, some new problem in her life?

She reviewed through the past several days in her head, looking for any clues. Was there some new rivalry between her and Mark Stephen? She couldn’t think of any signs of that. They’d been getting along just fine. In fact just yesterday she’d given Mark Stephen her entire collection of CDs by The Fray, including the one she’d had autographed by the drummer. He’d been over the moon about it ever since.

“Wait a minute,” she said aloud. Wasn’t that a sign of something when kids gave away something that meant a lot to them? Had she given anything else away lately? What had she said that morning? Elaine, trying to head off the imminent confrontation, had suggested that Margaret Kay wear the teal blouse Nana Golding had bought for her. It was her favorite top, and the memory of shopping with her grandmother had made it all that more special. Elaine thought it brought out her eyes. But when she suggested it Margaret Kay said she’d loaned it to her friend Jerrica. No, that wasn’t her exact words, though Elaine hadn’t thought much of it at the time. She’d said she’d given it to her friend.

That was two things.

Was that significant of something? She wracked her brain trying to remember the context in which she’d heard about kids giving things away. Her fingers clenched the steering wheel of the Durango; her palms went sweaty. She’d remembered the context: a suicide prevention night put on by the PTO a few years before.

It was all she could do not to take the first freeway off-ramp and head directly to Margaret Kay’s school. “No,” she reassured herself, “Don’t overreact.” As soon as she got to work she’d go online and read up on the warning signals just to make sure she remembered right. She’d email Donald at work and ask him if he’d noticed anything odd about their daughter’s behavior, or if he’d seen her give anything else away.

They had to know the depth of the problem before they acted.

But she didn’t want to be sensible. She wanted to race to her daughter’s side and be there for her. Better to overreact than live with regret for the rest of her life for not acting more quickly. She’d talk to Mr. Garrity when she got to work and see if he could spare her if she took the day off for a personal matter.

The idiot ahead of her was still in another world. She envied him just a little. But at the first opening she gunned the motor and changed lanes to pass. She was in a hurry. There was no way to know just how much time she might have.