This short story was inspired by this picture I took at a red light.
The sun was setting, the sky glowed pink and orange. Lucile tossed her sunglasses into the passenger seat as she pulled up to the red light. She held her foot on the brake and closed her eyes. The day had been long, she was on her way home from work. She hoped her husband, Greg, had remembered to make sure the twins did their homework. Her phone buzzed and she pulled it out of her purse.
“Kids in bed. Leftovers in fridge.” The text from Greg said.
She put her phone back into her purse. The light was still red. She turned on the radio and The House of the Rising Sun played through the speakers. Resting her elbow on the door of the car, she cradled her forehead in her hand and closed her eyes. The sky was darkening, faint pinks lingered in the clouds. She leaned to look up at the colorful clouds again. “Still red.” She said out loud to herself. She glanced around, her eyes landing on a road sign pointing right.
Colorado Springs 80
Santa Fe 392
She took a deep a breath and turned her blinker on, waited for a clearing and turned. She wasn’t sure what she was doing. She knew she should just go home, or at least that she was suppose to, expected to go home. Home to laundry, dishes. Greg snoring on the couch with the tv on, a beer bottle on the end table. Liam and Lucas pretending to be asleep. The twins. She couldn’t leave them. Could she? What would they think of her? That she didn’t love them? What would people say? She was a terrible mother to abandon her children? She was selfish and didn’t deserve them? The aftermath running through her mind. Her eyes filled with tears. She quickly wiped them away and kept driving. This wasn’t about them. She loved her husband and her children, but this wasn’t about them.
She pulled into the gas station and filled her car up. She had been driving almost 3 hours straight. It was just after 11:30pm. She checked her phone and had no texts or calls. She went into the little gas station and got herself a coffee and a bag of Flamin Hot Cheetos. She figured the little bit of burn on her tongue would keep her awake for the last 2 hours of her drive. It was almost 2am when she passed the sign welcoming her to Santa Fe. She found a little motel on the edge of the city with a vacancy sign and went into the office. She got a room for the night. She looked around the small room. It was quaint but clean. Checking her phone again and still seeing no messages, she put it on the end table and laid on the bed. She quickly fell asleep. Confused about where she was, she sprang off the still made bed. She held her hands out in front of her getting her bearings. The memory suddenly struck her. She grabbed her phone. Still no messages. It was 7am. Santa Fe and Denver were in the same time zone so she knew the twins and Greg would be awake. Greg making breakfast and the twins getting ready for school. She went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face.
It had been a few weeks, she was able to find a job and a small studio apartment. She still hadn’t heard anything from Greg or anyone else for that matter. But she hadn’t reached out to anyone either. Maybe it was her fault? Maybe everyone was happier without her? Maybe they didn’t want her to come back?
She was just getting off her shift at the cafe, where she was waitressing. The manager almost didn’t want to hire her because she was so over qualified to be a waitress. He needed the help though and so her gave her job. She had waitressed when she was in college, and it suited her now just as much as it did then. And she had been enjoying the change of pace. No more long hours, staring at a computer screen, no more stressful phone calls and board meetings. Everyone that came into the cafe was so nice, that was her favorite part. Not having to deal with rude and rushed people anymore. She said goodbye to Joe, the cook, and headed to her apartment. She always walked, she didn’t see the need for driving anymore. Everything she needed now was in walking distance. She passed by a pawn shop and spotted a Pentax 35mm camera in the window. She use to love doing photography. She hadn’t had the time for it in a long time, other than taking pictures of the twins on her phone, she didn’t take pictures anymore. It’s what she had dreamed of doing when she was younger, before marriage, mortgages, private school tuitions and all the demands that life had thrown at her. The sign in the window said open, and she went inside and bought the camera.
Another month had passed, and she still hadn’t heard from Greg. She was starting to wonder if maybe she should call him. Just to let him know that she was at least alive. In her spare time she had been taking pictures, some of her photographs caught the attention of a local gallery owner, Anna. She asked Lucile if she’d be willing to put together some pictures for an upcoming photography exhibition. Lucile jumped at the chance. The exhibition was set to open in 2 weeks. She had been having her pictures printed at CVS, the only place in walking distance she could find still printing film. Anna told her that it was fine that she’s not printing them herself in a darkroom. Who has a darkroom anymore anyway?
The exhibition opening was busier than Lucile had expected. She stood off to the side of where her photos hung on the white wall and watched people admire them while she sipped a glass of Prosecco. She spotted Anna, who rushed over to her smiling from ear to ear. “Your pictures are a great hit, we’ve already had offers on them.” Anna said. “People want to buy my pictures?” She asked, she felt her face flush. “Of course! You are so talented Lucile.” Anna said. She squeezed Lucile’s shoulder and then went to talk with another one of the photographers. Lucile walked home at the end of the exhibition. Her head was a little heavy from the Prosecco, but she felt light. She had a joy running through her body that she hadn’t felt in over 15 years. She stopped into the grocery store, she put some red delicious apples and carton of soy milk into the little basket. She remembered she needed more shampoo, she put a bottle of Pantene into the basket. She had downgraded her shampoo and conditioner to meet what she could find, but she hadn’t noticed any difference in her hair. She was now convinced that all those expensive shampoos were just that, expensive. A box of hair dye caught her eye. It was a ruby red. She hadn’t had her hair done the whole time she had been here, she use to have it trimmed and touched up every couple weeks. She always had it dyed close to her natural dark blonde, and always added highlights. She put the box of red hair dye in her basket. She couldn’t remember the last time she dyed her own hair, she carefully read the instructions and took her time applying the red liquid to her hair. She looked in the mirror after rinsing it out and for the first time in what felt like forever she finally saw herself looking back at her from the mirror. Not marketing manager, not mom, or wife, or any other of the labels that had attached to her over the years. Just her. Just Lucile. She burst out laughing until tears ran down her face. She heard car horns honking out the window, and went to look at what the commotion was. She didn’t see any cars but she heard the honking.
“Oh shit.” She said out loud. House of the Rising Sun was still playing on the radio. The light was green and the cars behind her were laying on their horns. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She yelled and drove straight. She pulled up to her house and locked the car. She took her heels off in the foyer and saw Greg asleep on the couch and smiled. She went to check on the twins. They were both fast asleep, she gently kissed them on their foreheads and quietly shut the door. She went back into the living room and cuddled herself next to Greg. “Hi.” He said, still half asleep. “Hi.” She said back and laid her head on his shoulder.
“Mom, mom, mom.” She heard the little voice calling to her. She woke up on the couch and saw Lucas and Liam standing in front of her. “Oh come here.” She said and brought them both into a big hug. “Mom, you’re squeezing me!” Liam giggled. “Why are you sleeping on the couch in your work clothes?” Lucas asked. “I love you both so much!” She said. “Hey boys, come on time to go.” Greg said with his coffee thermos in hand. “You’re pretty late for work, I tried to wake you. Your phone has been going crazy.” Greg said. “Um, yeah I don’t think I’m going in today. I’m thinking of cutting back my hours, or maybe just quitting.” She said shrugging and standing up off the couch. “Oh, ok. Does that mean you’ll be here for dinner?” He asked. “Yes I will.” She walked over to him and put her arms around his neck. “I will be here. I love you.” She said. “I love you too.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. “Ew mom! Dad come on, we’re gonna be late.” Lucas said. “Have a good day at school and work.” She said. She waved and blew kisses to them as the boys ran to the car.
She picked up her phone and texted Alex, her assistant manager that she wouldn’t be at the office today and to just forward everything to Dave, the other marketing manager.. Dave could handle it, she thought to herself. She called her hair stylist, Ashley. “Hey Ashley. It’s Lucile. Can you fit me in today for a full dye job?” She asked. “Yeah, I have a spot open at 12:30, if that works for you?.” “Perfect, see you then.” She hung up the phone and made herself a cup of coffee. She changed her clothes and dug through her closet. She pulled out a box with “PHOTO STUFF” written on the top. Sitting on the bed she opened the box. She pulled out her old Nikon F3. She put the camera next to her on the bed and looked through the stack of photos in the box. “I think you’re right Anna.” She said. She left the photos on the bed and put the camera in her purse.
Ashley was blow drying Lucile’s hair, she styled it and smoothed the edges. She turned Lucile around in the chair so she could look in the mirror. “Ya know, I was a little concerned when you told me what you wanted to do. I would have never thought of going red on you, but it’s amazing. You’re like a completely different woman.” Ashley said. “No, it’s who I’ve always been. Just me.”