Fiona comes home from school, tosses the envelope down on the kitchen floor and stomps over to the fridge. Inside are cherries, lunchmeat and a few old containers of yogurt. Her mother hasn’t been shopping in weeks.
Peeking around the corner, Mel’s head comes into the kitchen. “Fi’s home,” he says, happily.
“What are you doing, Fi?”
“Eating. What does it look like.”
Mel picks up the envelope from the floor. It’s been stepped on a bit. The “O” in Fiona is dirty.
“Who’s this for?”
“Who do you think,” Fiona says. “It says “Fiona. Can’t you read?”
Mel can’t read. Fiona knows that. He’s only four. He’ll read in grade one, that’s what his mother says, when she’s not lying on the couch watching her soaps. When she’s not drinking her G&T’s at four o’clock, and painting her nails flaming red.
“We have no food,” Fiona shouts. “We never have any food.”
“We’ll order pizza,” her mother says, her voice muffled by the sound of a saran wrap commercial. Freshness You Can See. Mel peeks back around the door towards his mother’s voice.
“Really?” he says. “Pizza?”
The party is tonight but there is no way Fiona can go. Her mother won’t be able to drive her. Fiona needs to look after Melvin. He can’t be left alone and most Friday nights her mother goes out late. Fiona walks over to the envelope and steps on it again. She sighs at the little sparkly tree, such a pretty colour blue. The glitter, the gems, the gold star. The whole thing just makes her sad. She sighs again. Steps again. Smooshes it around a bit. It rips on one side. And what is all the dirt on her shoes? Fiona notices her footprints through the kitchen and twists her foot up to look at the bottom. She stepped in something on the way home. Mud. Sigh. Sigh again.
Mel comes back into the kitchen. This time fully in. “We’re getting pizza,” he says. “Can you believe that?”
“Have you looked in the fridge? There’s nothing in the fridge.”
Fiona’s mother is standing there suddenly, sloshing her G&T around in her glass. The ice cubes tinkling. “Friday night,” she says. “Party.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Fiona says, trying not to look down at the floor, at the envelope, at her mother. Trying to look anywhere else.
“What’s this?” Her mother picks up the envelope.
Mel says, “Can’t you read, it says Fiona.”
“It’s tonight,” Fiona says, her face feels hot. “I can’t go, I know.”
“Why not?” Mel looks from his mother to his sister, back and forth. “Why can’t she go to a party if it says Fiona on the envelope?”
There is silence in the room, except for the hum of the fridge. Fiona’s mother jiggles her glass a bit. Bites her lip. “Where’s the party?” she says.
“You’d need a ride.”
“It’s a pretty envelope.”
“Or it was,” Mel pipes in. “Until Fiona stepped all over it with her muddy shoes.”
Fiona tenses. Her mother looks down at the linoleum and sees the prints. She looks quickly back up at Fiona.
“I’ll clean it,” Fiona says. “Sorry.”
Fiona’s mother looks again at the dirty envelope, the hole on the side. She opens it up slowly, balancing her G&T in one hand, the envelope in the other. She pulls out the invitation. “Look,” she says. “It’s not dirty at all.”
Fiona looks. The invitation has glitter on it, more gold stars. It looks really pretty.
“I can take you,” her mother says, suddenly. “Mel and I will stay home tonight. I’ve got a headache anyway. We’ll stay home and eat pizza and watch TV.”
Mel squeals a bit. Claps his hands. “Pizza,” he says.
Fiona’s mouth won’t close. All the way to Samantha’s, her mother driving slowly along the rain-soaked streets, Fiona clutches the invitation in her hands and tries to close her mouth. But she can’t. It won’t close. A big “O” with her lips. An “O” like the dirty “O” in Fiona. The envelope long-forgotten in the kitchen garbage, tea stains on it from a wet bag. Mel sits beside her in the car, in his little seat, and he hums a bit. He’s waiting for his pizza and hoping his mother hasn’t forgotten. Every so often he looks over at Fiona and she looks at him and they both look down at the invitation in her hands and then look out the darkened window into the rainy streets. This is as close to happy as they’ve been in a while. One has pizza, the other her first party. Their mother leans forward over the steering wheel and she peers out into the glittery, shiny road, searching carefully for the way forward.
Michelle Berry is the author of three books of short stories, How to Get There from Here, Margaret Lives in the Basement, and I Still Don’t Even Know You (which won the 2011 Mary Scorer Award for Best Book Published by a Manitoba Publisher and was shortlisted for the ReLit Award, 2011), as well as five novels, What We All Want, Blur, Blind Crescent and This Book Will Not Save Your Life (which won the 2010 Colophon Award and was longlisted for the ReLit Award, 2011) and Interference. Her writing has been optioned for film and published in the U.K. with Weidenfeld & Nicolson. She is also co-editor with Natalee Caple of The Notebooks: Interviews and New Fiction from Contemporary Writers — which is based on the famous Paris Review interviews — and has collaborated on an art book with Winnipeg artist, Andrew Valko, called, Postcard Fictions. Michelle taught creative writing at Ryerson University, was on the board of PEN Canada and the authors’ committee of the Writer’s Trust and served as Second Vice-Chair of The Writer’s Union. She presently teaches online for The University of Toronto, in-class at Trent University, and is a mentor at Humber College. She is a contributing reviewer for The Globe and Mail.
She can be found at: http://mber22.wix.com/mberry