Vignette, Romance, H/M
2,500 words, 7 pages (8 ½” x 11”)
takes place shortly after Hail and Farewell. Harm discovers a
little way to brighten Mac’s day.
“Remember…hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good
thing ever dies.”
Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption
I’m halfway up the steps that lead to a certain Georgetown apartment
house when I bump into Mrs. Flores, exiting the front door. She’s
wearing a blue floral housecoat, slippers with socks, and a full set of
rollers in her hair, her white Maltese in tow.
“Bueno,” she says, steadying herself with one hand on the railing. “You
go to see La Señorita, no?”
“Yes, ma’am.” We have something in common, Mrs. Flores and I. We’re both
crazy about the brown-haired, brown-eyed marine colonel that lives on
the third floor.
She nods once. “Good. Lately, she look so sad. And she getting too
I reach down to give the dog a scratch on the head. “Well, I’m hopefully
here to help with that.”
Satisfied, she grins and moves down a few steps. But seconds later, she
turns back with a crafty wink. “You good for her,” she whispers, giving
a swift tug to the leash.
Once again, this woman and I are in total agreement. I take the rest of
the steps two by two.
I’ve just come from little AJ’s fifth birthday party. Mac had been there
too but she managed to escape my watchful eye and sneak out sometime
after the presents and before the cake cutting. Though things are
unquestionably tough right now for her, there’s no way she would’ve
missed AJ’s party. And so she’d shown up wearing a pretty sundress and
with her hair dressed up with a few soft waves. She’d shown up with a
day’s worth of smiles and laughs, too, spending most of the time holding
baby Jimmy while Harriet played hostess.
She wasn’t her usual self, though. She rarely is anymore. She tires
easily and is just more, well, introspective. I know that in time, she’s
going to get passed all of this, and I really believe she does too. You
see, Mac and adversity have had a civil understanding for many years
now. Adversity keeps on trying to destroy her every so often and she
just keeps on finding way upon way of conquering it.
And as for my role in all this, doing what I’m about to do is all I
really can do. For now.
Shortly after I knock, she’s there in the doorway. She’s changed into
one of those two hundred dollar black velour tracksuit things, with the
form fitting pants and zip-front hooded sweatshirt. Juju or Juicy
something or other. I only know this because, lately, I’ve bought my
share of said outfits. It seems that Mattie discovered from Jennifer,
who’d discovered from any one of the gazillion fashion magazines that
can be found on nearly every flat surface in their apartment at any
given time, that these overpriced get-ups are all the rage right now.
And Mattie’s decided that she needs one in every color.
What the editors of Vogue magazine probably didn’t have in mind to pair
with these outfits is what Sarah Mackenzie has chosen for a late Sunday
afternoon: enormous pink, fuzzy bunny slippers.
Well before her greeting, she gives me a ‘comment on the footwear and
die’ look, her right hand clutching the doorframe. “Hey Harm,” she
“Hey yourself. I’d say I was in the neighborhood but you know me better
“You’re probably wondering why I left early.”
“I’m wondering why you didn’t say goodbye.”
She twirls a strand of her hair, tucking it behind one ear. She’s been
wearing it longer lately and it really suits her. Then again, sunlight,
moonlight, candlelight, gunnysacks – they all suit her.
“Sorry about that. I did say goodbye to AJ and Harriet but you seemed to
be involved in some sort of important conversation with Bud and I didn’t
want to disturb you.”
I lean in closer, my eyes darkening. “It’s never too important, Mac. Not
Her breath catches just a bit and she looks away briefly before nodding.
“You’re right; I should know that by now.”
“You should. You okay?”
She exhales a quick puff of air. “Yeah, I’m all right…thanks. I dunno, I
just suddenly felt like hanging out here by myself. Well, me and my
Breakfast at Tiffany’s DVD,” she adds, gesturing with her head to
the TV. When she turns back to look at me, I know my minutes are
Mac and I have a new arrangement. It’s actually quite refreshing,
considering our past track record when it comes to communication. When
she needs me or feels like talking, I’m there for her whenever it’s
humanly possible, twenty-four, seven. But there are times when she just
needs to be alone. She promises to let me know when and I promise never
to take it personally. It seems that now is one of those times.
But before I leave with a peck on the cheek and a promise to bring her a
vanilla latte in the morning, she notices that I haven’t come empty
“Is that cake?” she asks, pointing to the foil-covered paper plate I’m
holding in my left hand.
“Chocolate?” Her eyes widen.
She considers this, her arms crossed at her chest. “I’m listening...”
I bring the plate closer, lifting up the edge of the foil so she can
peek underneath it. “Chocolate devil’s food. Chocolate mousse filling.
Extra vanilla frosting, just the way you like it. I think you even got a
part of the Incredible Hulk’s right bicep so this is extra good stuff.”
A smile creeps out from one corner of her mouth. “Well, I guess you
could, you know, come in for a few minutes,” she suggests, moving aside
to let me in. Elated, I make a mental note of the sheer power that high
caloric baked goods actually have against this woman.
By the time I’ve finished shutting and locking the various bolts on her
door, she’s moved to the sofa. I’ve caught her during that fleeting
period between afternoon and dusk, where it’s not quite dark enough to
turn on any lights but the whole room is bathed in delicate shadows.
Somehow, it just feels quiet.
Before I take a seat beside her, I set the plate on the coffee table in
front of us. Instinctively, she rises for what I presume is a trip to
the kitchen, but my hand on her shoulder stops her. I remove the foil to
reveal, not only the piece of cake, but also a shiny green plastic fork
wrapped inside a napkin.
Her eyebrows spring up. “Having Mattie around has turned you into quite
a mother hen, Harm.”
“I do my best.” But it’s not really a Mattie thing. Rather, I’ve decided
lately that it’s of utmost importance that Sarah Mackenzie has
everything she needs. Whether it’s the right files on her desk, her
plants watered while she’s away, or even super-hero laden party napkins.
I watch her now, as she studies what is most likely going to serve as
her dinner. She’s tapping the fork along the edge of the plate, making
dotted perforations on a portion of the frosting. But she’s not eating
it. Before I can ask her why, she turns towards me.
“You know, I used to love my birthdays more than anything when I was
little.” She sets the fork down, clasping her hands at her knees.
I nod, scooting forward a bit. “Yeah, I guess I did too.”
Her head tilts slightly. “For me it was different, though. To this day,
I still can’t explain it, but every single year, on my birthday,
everything about my childhood was just as it should’ve been. For that
one day, my dad wouldn’t take a single drink. And he’d laugh and tell
stories. I just remember him looking so happy. So relaxed. And most of
all, my parents – they wouldn’t fight the whole day. Not even one harsh
My mom would always dress up a little. And she’d decorate the house with
balloons and streamers and she’d spend the better part of the day baking
my favorite chocolate cake. She even learned how to make those pink
roses out of frosting - hence my insatiable butter cream addiction,” she
muses wistfully, folding and unfolding the napkin in her hands.
“And after dinner, they’d sing and I’d make a wish and blow out all of
the candles…” her voice skips a little as her eyes mist. It takes
everything within me not to gather her in my arms. But now, I think she
just wants me to listen.
“And the ironic thing is, every year, the very next day, everything
would just fall back into its normal chaotic state. The drinking, the
rage, my mom, helpless and miserable.”
She looks down at the cake, nodding slowly, in reverie, her lips fused
together in a tight, thin line. Then she turns. “I remember those
wishes. Some of them came true, many of them didn’t. But I still kept on
wishing, Harm. Every year.”
I reach for her hand and she gives it to me. I’m suddenly overcome with
so many feelings for this woman. It’s like I’m naked, totally
transparent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she could see right
underneath my skin if she’d look hard enough. After all these years,
there are no walls, no barriers – only things I’m dying to give her and
words I’m burning up to say.
Don’t you see how much I’m loving you right now? Don’t you know that
my day simply starts and ends with you? For you?
But for a while longer, I’m forced to hold on to these gifts. I’m
overwhelmed by the weight of them now, growing heavier and heavier by
the minute. And the words, instead of being freed, gather themselves
into a tight, thick ball at the base of my throat.
I jump a little as she gives my hand a gentle squeeze and pulls the
plate closer. And at that moment, I realize that there is something I
can give her.
“Hmm?” The fork is poised in mid-air.
“Before you eat that, just wait. I’ll be right back.” Two seconds later,
I’m in her kitchen, searching for a few particular items in her utility
Mac’s home is always neat and organized, but this woman is a pack rat.
She never throws anything away. And so I’m relieved, but not surprised
to locate these items without too much trouble.
Her face is full of questions when I return to the sofa. And knowing
better than to keep a hungry, sugar-obsessed marine away from a piece of
cake much longer, I open my hand in front of her.
Her mouth parts slightly as she sees the tiny pink candle and book of
matches resting in my palm.
“From that party you threw Harriet last year. But now it’s your turn.
Make a wish, Mac.” I place the candle in the middle of the cake.
I swear I see her blush as her eyelids flutter up and down. Then there’s
a small crinkle in her nose. “But it’s not my birthday, Harm.”
“Minor detail.” I strike the match and the flame roots itself onto the
She smiles contentedly and shrugs, apparently willing to overlook the
age-old rules and regulations pertaining to birthdays and wish making.
For a second, though, she just watches the little flame. It’s full of
energy, skipping back and forth and every which way in between. Like
Then she closes her eyes and ceremoniously raises her head to the
ceiling and back down again. The flame disappears with a quick wisp of
“So what did you wish for?” I ask, with an appearance of playfulness.
She shakes her head. “C’mon, Harm. You know it won’t come true, then.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” I offer in a voice that earns her full
attention, sending everything into slow motion. “But will you promise to
tell me someday?”
“Yes,” she whispers. “I promise.”
I graze one finger along the moist skin beneath her eye. “Never stop
She nods and just stares at me, the warm light she’d robbed from the
candle shining now in her eyes. She doesn’t say anything – she doesn’t
have to. And before I can even take my next breath, she does something
amazing. She rests one hand on my cheek and places a tiny peck of a kiss
upon my lips.
“What was that for?” I question softly, my head still spinning.
She takes a deep breath, exchanging the rest of the tears for a pensive
smile. “For bringing me a lot more than cake today.”
It is at this very moment that, for the first time in too long of a
time, I’m firmly convinced she’s on her way back to me. A wide-toothed
grin spreads upon my face at the thought of this.
And while I sit here, lost in promises and possibilities, Mac takes her
turn at disappearing into the kitchen.
When she returns, she settles herself down again, this time, closer,
dangling a second fork in front of me. “Speaking of cake, why don’t you
share this with me? I don’t know if you’ve realized it, but this piece
is way too much for one person.”
“Nah, you go ahead, Mac. Knock yourself out. Besides, I already had some
at the party.”
She shoves the fork into my hand. “Minor detail.”
My one thought as we dive into the cake, our forks quarrelling over the
very best parts, is that Sarah Mackenzie has a world full of surprises
in store for her. You see, it’s my birthday in a few months. And my list
of wishes is only getting started.