7th grader Carson Peaden has been asked to write a review for the Post & Courier on a Beaufort novelist’s book who is going to be participating in Y’allFest.
Carmen reached in a pocket on her book bag strap and felt the two concert tickets. Anticipation of her first concert built up inside her but it immediately melted away. She learned her dad couldn’t come and her mother had refused, saying that her work was piling up faster than ever. She pushed open the door to the apartment building, switching the groceries to the left side of her arm, and walked inside.
Ryan, the doorman, was behind a mahogany desk flipping through letters and packages. His brown hair was gelled back and his usual goatee had been shaved off. He looked up at her and smiled. “Hey, Carmen! I’ve got a letter for your dad.” He handed her a thick envelope.
“He’s in Florida right now but I’ll take it.” Carmen grabbed it as she pressed the elevator button, her brown hair flipping over her tan shoulders. She walked through the elevator door and pressed floor eleven. Carmen thought of her regular routine. She would do her homework, cook dinner, watch TV, and then go to her chorus concert.
The elevator opened and she walked down to the last room in the hallway, number 2-8-1. She grabbed her keys from her pocket and unlocked the door. Carmen walked into the kitchen, careful not to scuff up tiles. The black and white tiled floor shined with nauseating perfection. Carmen stared at the kitchen table. There were three chairs; none of them ever filled at the same time. Behind the table was a large window that overlooked Central Park.
Carmen set the groceries down on the kitchen counter. Her father had been in Florida for a week working on a case and her mom worked at a Public Relations firm in one of the hideous midtown skyscrapers. She rarely came home before ten o’ clock.
The answering machine was blinking. Carmen pressed the button, knowing full well who it would be.
“Hey, honey! I left you some dinner in the fridge. Could you check on the baby bird today? I want to make sure the mother is feeding it. I’ll be at work a little later today, so make sure you do your homework. I’ve got to go. Bye!”
Carmen glared at the machine. Was she really that busy? Carmen put the groceries away and started her homework. She glanced out the window and saw the nest in her mom’s potted geraniums.
Inside the nest a baby blue bird tried to sing F#, the mother sitting next to it feeding him worms. The baby bird flapped its wings in excitement while the mother hopped around the nest to fix a few stray twigs. Carmen heard distant barking and saw a girl with her mom trying in vain to walk a large black lab on a leash in Central Park. The young girl was being dragged around the park; it seemed the dog was trying to sniff as many bushes as he could. Carmen shut the window. The abruptness startled the mother bird, and she flew away from the nest, leaving the baby bird. Carmen left the window, more entitled to her homework than ever before.
After a lousy but perfect dinner of baked chicken and salad made by Elena, the family’s live-in; she dressed for the concert.
Carmen smoothed down the wrinkles in her choir shirt. Then she walked over to a mirror and fumbled around in a drawer for a tube of lip gloss and some mascara. She smeared on the lip gloss and added a touch of mascara to her eyelashes. Carmen looked away from the mirror, thinking to herself. Was she just going to give up? She slipped on a pair of dark blue flats then went out, locking the door behind her.
A few minutes later, Carmen was standing on the curb outside the apartment building. Outside on 5th Avenue, she motioned a taxi with her hand. As if on cue, one zoomed her way and parked next to the curb. Carmen opened the door.
The driver had a scruffy beard, beady blue eyes and wore a Yankees cap. “Where are you heading?” The cab smelled of tuna fish, but she got in anyway.
“West 96th Street but don’t cut through Central Park. It has bad traffic after five.” Carmen thought she heard the man grumble about knowing what to do but she ignored it. She stared out the window as the buildings and people blurred on the sidewalk.
When the taxi pulled in front of the building, Carmen handed him twenty dollars. The marbles plaza had some unnamed sculpture. The building was exactly 57 floors of gray metal and twisting arches. Carmen entered through a pair of heavy glass doors into the lobby. All the furniture had zigzag lines, curvy edges, and unnatural angles. Carmen closed her eyes from the chaos and pressed the elevator button.
On her mother’s floor, Carmen walked into a different world. Cubicles were spread like child’s blocks with people typing, talking, or walking around to deliver important news. She had not visited her mom since last summer, but she remembered her mom had the office with the enormous window.
A few people stared, but Carmen kept walking until she reached a door with her mom’s name on it in big print. She could feel her heart working inside of her chest. This was it. Carmen opened the door and artificial light flooded her face.
It was a drab place with a desk and two colorless chairs. On one wall there was a large window with curtains that overlooked the whole city, the Statue of Liberty off into the distance. Yet her mom was working at her computer, typing away like there was only five minutes left of power.
“Have you gotten the pamphlets printed out? I’ve been trying to get the right shade of-” Her mom looked up and blinked a few times. “Carmen? What are you doing here?”
“Well, you know, I – I was wondering if you wanted to come to my concert tonight for choir.” Carmen fiddled with her fingers and focused on a spot on the wall. “I told you about it last week.”
Her mom looked up for a second but her eyes quickly flitted back to the screen. “Carmen. You know I’m busy tonight. I have an important meeting and I need to finish this growth chart.”
Carmen resisted the urge to scream. “You’re always busy. Can’t you take a break for a second? You even work on Christmas and my birthday!” Her voice was rising. “This is my first choir concert and you’d rather stay huddled in front of your computer? Really?” Carmen walked out of the door without an answer. She slammed the door behind her, startling a few people out of their work.
She strode to the elevator and jabbed the L button. It started down slowly. Carmen folded her arms in front of her chest.
Out on the street, Carmen signaled a cab. It took a few minutes but one finally stopped at the sidewalk. She reached for the handle when a voice called her name.
Carmen’s mother came hobbling across the plaza, hurriedly putting on a pair of orange sneakers. She came behind her and opened the door. “I can come but I’ll be a few hours behind schedule. I may have to make a call-” She looked up at Carmen, surprised. “You know what? Never mind – I’m just glad I can come with you.” She got in the car and started barking orders to the taxi driver. “Don’t cut through the park. The traffic gets bad around this time.”
Clouds formed slowly around the setting sun. Carmen saw blue birds fluttering high in the sky. She thought of the birds outside their window and wondered how long it took for the mother to return to the nest.