The following is a story from NDA: An Autofiction Anthology. Gina Nutt is the author of the essay collection Night Rooms (Two Dollar Radio) and the poetry collection Wilderness Champion (Gold Wake Press). She earned her MFA from Syracuse University. Her writing has appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Joyland, Ninth Letter, and other publications.
The day comes and goes and I’d say it’s all the same but I know it isn’t. I’m on a sun journey and it’s a long one. Weight on my legs wakes me. Perched on the bed edge, Colin kisses my forehead. He nods at the tray bridged over my shins. A plate of warm toaster waffles and enormous strawberries stems off and centers cut out, a star of whipped cream sprayed in the hollows. A mug filled with coffee. A mason jar filled with orange juice.
I slice bites of waffle. Melted butter and syrup spills from the nooks. I unwrap the various shapes filling the empty stretch of sheet where Colin sleeps. A yacht rock album, milky vinyl with blue splatter across it. A necklace with a tiny cat-head silhouette. A bag of gummy worms. The animals rush toward the tearing sound. They leap onto the covers and step all over the crumpled paper. I lean back in bed, picking at my breakfast and starting on a ribbon of Dollar Dog Scratch-eez tickets. Neely noses at the plate. I swoop a finger through the whipped cream and hold my hand out to her. She laps at the white froth melting to my knuckles.
“I’ve got to get to work,” Colin says getting up. He hands me another gift, smiles extra-proud of this one.
“Is it fragile?”
“For the pool.”
I turn over the slim bundle, carefully untape the taped places, peel open the white paper with gold flecks to reveal a pair of shiny orange shorts with a white owl on the thigh.
Marinating in the water, June informs me this is my “Jesus year.” Ever since my Saturn’s return stretched several too-long years at the end of my third decade I have wondered why the years must come saddled with big meaning. Stamped like colorful rubber bracelets for any thinkable cause, all that wearable salvation. Birthdays can feel like bad music I listen to when no one else is around. Indulgent, pleasing, and wretched. I like to offset the bad feelings with elaborate unconsummated plans. Trips I don’t take. People I mean to call and don’t. Parties I don’t throw.
Last year I researched airfare and a weekend stay in a mid-state hotel—retro, pink, expensive. The hotel is situated in a region famed for its vintages. The hotel has its own label. I got really into wine. My online searches showed an uptick in queries concerning grapes, tasting notes, and terroir. I went in and out of shops, seeking a dressing gown. I wanted something miraculous—floor-length and sheer, marabou edging sleeves and hem. My longing was too specific. Something to recline in while speaking into a rotary phone.
June asks, “How are your plants?”
“I have several,” I gesture up toward the balcony.
“The testers,” she says.
“Something’s happening, I’m not sure what yet.”
“I think mine are duds.”
“Anything you keep inside all the time is a dud,” I say. “Try them on the balcony.”
June keeps talking about the plants we’re supposed to be growing, the seeds we’re testing for a friend’s wedding favors. She talks about dresses and shoes, fitting appointments, message threads displaying inside jokes between people we don’t really know.
“Are you excited?”
“For Erin and Luke’s wedding?”
“It’s something,” I say and roll off my floatie.
I give up on keeping my hair dry, wing my arms like I’m making a snow angel and sink myself to the pool floor. The sun through the water spreads possibility overhead. Rays like potential, beams of ambition and success. If I look too long, I’ll get a headache. I like these days I stay in the complex, save for walking Neely. Phone tucked in the dresser drawer with all my tee shirts, I circle the courtyard path. I repeat, “Doing my best, doing my best” and I’m not sure it’s true.
Coarse white and gray fur rains into the courtyard. Someone brushes a dog on their balcony. I hear the pins catch in the fur and the owner’s apology. The dog understands the sorry even less than the ritual that inspires it. A tuft lands on the plate June and I share. Salami and cheese, peppadews, almonds, olives.
“Do you ever get nervous handing over your ID in a liquor store?” I ask.
She laughs and snaps a cracker off in her teeth.
“Beer with groceries, I’m fine. But I get shaky buying liquor. Not enough to not buy it, but I sweat a little.”
“You’re too old for that feeling. What’s your rising sign?”
“I don’t know. But I’m bad at it. What if the person behind the counter decides they don’t like anyone’s face that day? Then we’re all liars.”
June’s dog, Science, drags a plant up the path. The roots drag on the ground. She drops it between our loungers. The command June delivers, “Leave it,” neat and crisp and Science totters off to cause damage elsewhere. I miss saying, “Let’s leave it at that” and the leaving actually happening.
I shuffle a deck on the balcony. I wait for Colin to arrive with takeout, the sliding door to whisper open and resume my quiet celebration. I’m bad at birthdays. So much expectation. So much increasing. I reveal an ace four cards into my draw pile. I kept things simple this year. The pink hotel year, I planned for different sun, champagne served poolside, cakes adorned with ribbons of shaved pink chocolate. I had room service dreams, confections the size of my face, burger and fries in a bath. I thought I would wake the next day, still high on the heme from dinner, baptized by loneliness.
From NDA: An Autofiction Anthology. “Ascendant” copyright © 2022 by Gina Nutt.