Short Story: The Day That Was Different

About the short story posts: 

In these little stories, I work with a photograph I took of something that caught my eye, and write a story inspired by that photo. The stories are complete fiction and in no way related to or about the people (or even places) in the picture.

The Day That Was Different

by Nicole M. Burrell

Bee had been living a little life in a big town for a long time. Born and raised in New York City, she still slept in her childhood bedroom overlooking the Central Park Zoo. At forty years old, her parents were gone and her sister now lived in California with her tech-savvy husband and two surfer kids. That left her alone in a sprawling apartment decorated in the finest trends of the 1980s.

Every day, Bee woke up and ate one egg, fried with one piece of toast, lightly buttered. She chose one of her seven suits, either navy blue or black, and slipped into a pair of one inch black pumps before picking up her black umbrella and carefully pressing the button on her private elevator. She always carried her umbrella for fear of unexpected rain. She didn’t trust anyone, let alone a weather man.

Once on the street, a brisk walking pace landed her in her favorite, and only, Starbucks of choice in three minutes flat. The kind barista, with the horrifying nose ring and shock of bleached blonde hair, was the only person who knew her name outside of work, and even though he spelled her name wrong on the cup (“B”...as if that was a name), she was all too happy for the moment of personal connection. But then, three minutes after entering, she was back on the street, vente black tea in hand.

Bee had worked for a publisher since they accepted her into their internship program during college. Now, she edited cookbooks. Five days a week, forty hours precisely, you could find her in her cubicle, slowly sipping her tea and tapping a red pen she never used while making suggested corrections on the computer screen. Five days a week, her mouth watered at the recipes she saw, and she imagined trying them at home. But by the time the elevator door opened back home, her adventurous spirit was safely at bay, and she settled in for her salad with a perfectly boiled egg perched on top.

It’s not that Bee was an unpleasant person. Really, she wasn’t. But she had always been painfully shy, and losing her parents had severed the last easy relationship she had in her life. Add to that the fact that they had passed unexpectedly when she had decided to take the opportunity to study abroad in Paris, a trip her father had staunchly opposed. These days, she didn’t take risks like that. Bad things happen to people who took risks. People who lived simple, scheduled lives didn’t get disappointed.

And so, at the end of an especially long day of imagined red pen slashing, and actual computer backspacing, Bee set her salad on her laughably large dining room table and took her first peek at the day’s mail.

Every day, it came the same, wrapped in a large orange rubber band. She had a whole drawer in the kitchen full of the bands, and she sometimes argued the merits of saving them. But old habits died hard.

At any rate, today was a special day. It was, in fact, her favorite day of the month because it was the one in which her National Geographic subscription came in the mail. She pushed aside three bills and one clothing magazine, and a sunshiny smile broke out as she opened to the first glossy page of her favorite publication. She made her way through it slowly, savoring each picture, pouring over each article. She had just finished a journey with the penguins of Antarctica and was chomping on her very last iceburg (lettuce leaf, that is) when she saw it.

The advertisement wasn’t terribly attractive. It featured a smiling family standing in front of a tent on a little grassy patch of fenced in land. But what caught her attention was the words that ran in an arch across the top of the page: “Explore your own backyard”. She scarcely noticed that the ad was for a sale on tents, and couldn’t have cared less that it was her last chance to buy one before the megastore went out of business “FOREVER!”. Something about the catchphrase excited her and set her thoughts in a whirl.

She didn’t have her own backyard, not exactly, but when she was a little girl, she had pretended Central Park was all hers. She would spend hours wandering from the playground to the Shakespeare garden to the Conservatory Pond with her sweet mother. Her mom had been quiet like her, and Bee had never felt more understood than when they were together. She avoided the park these days mostly because she was too busy to deviate from her carefully planned schedule. But also, maybe a little, because it reminded her of her mom.

Today, though, in this moment, with the salad gone and half of the National Geographic already devoured, Bee that perhaps, just maybe, she should indeed try to explore her own backyard, unconventional though it may have been. So, off she went to her bedroom. She carefully hung up her suit, and standing there in her practical flannel robe, evaluated her wardrobe for the proper attire needed in such an exploration. She finally settled on a black cotton skirt that fell just below her knees and a comfortable gray tank top. She didn’t have sneakers, but she thought she knew where she could find them.

Marching down the hallway, now determined on her mission, she hesitated only a second before opening the door to her sister’s old bedroom and entering. She had been so quick to move out with her California man that she had never even packed up the things from her childhood and teenage years. Bee yanked open the closet, which was stuffed to capacity with clothes, accessories, and two decades of sentimental treasures. She fell to her knees and dug around until, much to her delight, she unearthed a worn pair of Keds. They had always been her sister’s brand of choice. She slipped them on and smiled in victory when they fit perfectly.

On impulse, she grabbed an old backpack out of the closet too, and took it to the kitchen to search out a snack to put in it. A stale pack of Tate’s chocolate chip cookies would have to do, so she dropped them in with a bottle of water. Next in went the National Geographic, and finally, a smaller, foldable version of her usual umbrella...because you can never be too sure.

The daylight was starting to fade to dusk by the time she arrived at the edge of the park, and she stood there, at the outskirts, wondering what direction to take. Then she remembered her favorite of all the memories she had there, and took off down a path before she could change her mind.

It wasn’t as close as she remembered it, and the space of time gave her unwanted room to walk down memory lane. The concerts in the park had been wonderful years ago. On balmy summer nights, her entire family would wander out with a blanket and basket of food to enjoy them. It was the only time when their father joined them for an outing and Bee had soaked up the feeling of togetherness in those moments, with the four of them all crunched together, listening to famous symphonies played by some of the world’s greatest orchestras. Her father didn’t like her to talk during the music, and that suited her just fine...she was happy just to be near the ones she loved.

Finally, she rounded the corner, and there it was: the bandshell. It was just like she remembered. Well, maybe a little smaller. But it was still beautiful and stately with its carved stone reaching high into the sky. She realized with disappointment that no orchestra played tonight, though she shouldn’t have expected to be that lucky. She stared at it, imagining days gone by, a tear forming and freeing itself to track down her cheek.

She had just convinced herself it was time to leave when a man with a huge instrument case walked in front of her and straight towards the stage. He didn’t hesitate before he unceremoniously unlocked his case, pulled out a cello, shoved it up onto the stage, and then vaulted himself up and onto the platform himself. Bee was indignant at his behavior, and wondered who you called to report a trespassing cello player to. But then he started to play.

The song was one so familiar, so haunting, she knew she must have heard it many times in her childhood. The notes were long, slow and sweet, even a little sad. She closed her eyes and smiled softly as the memories returned, of dancing to this very song with her sister, back when they were friends. Of piano lessons with her mother plucking out the tune before her father decided the practicing ruined his concentration. Of falling asleep on his shoulder as the concerts in the park ran late into the night, the only time he put her to sleep. The bittersweet memories of a grown woman looking back on her past with a mix of reality and the rose-coloring that comes with such nostalgia.

As she remembered, Bee crept closer to the stage until she stood at its feet. She moved like a sleepwalker, wanting to be closer to the source of the memories that now ran through her mind, clear and beautiful. And suddenly, she was a child again. One who thought she would grow up to climb Mt. Everest. One who dreamed of teaching kids to read in the jungles of South America. One who imagined anything was possible. One who hadn’t yet lived the reality of a difficult father who didn’t live to see her graduate college. Or a wonderful mom who had been her rock before she was left foundationless. She crossed her legs casually, the careful poise that she carried with her everywhere falling away all because of a simple song and a few memories.

Where had that girl gone? When had she abandoned her dreams, her goals? And why? For what? The questions ran to the rhythm of the music, and when it suddenly stopped, she jumped back quickly, the silence taking her off guard and scattering her thoughts with it.

“Would you like me to play anything special?” came the voice of the man and Bee looked up, startled. She hadn’t even given him a second thought once the music had started. The trespassing musician.

“No, that was perfect,” she murmured quietly back.

“Well,” he said with a smile as he pushed his glasses up his nose, “Shall I play more for you or do you have someplace to be?”

Bee noticed despite herself that he was handsome, well, in an assuming kind of way. And probably about her age, too. She blushed and thought before answering.

“I think after this I’ll have a great many places to go,” she said hesitantly. “But I would like to hear another song...if you have the time.”

“I have all the time in the world,” came the answer, and he began to play a lively tune that she didn’t recognize while never taking his eyes off of her. And on he played, until night fall over the park and they walked slowly out together.