Trudy Charles-Kingman touched her salt and pepper temples and frowned. A spruce up was long overdue. Switching from jet-black to burgundy was a bit drastic, especially at her age, but she’d made up her mind about the dye job. Plus she was already sold on the colour, a rich Basque Red. Her choice had only been part vanity anyway. Honestly, she couldn’t stand Steve's silent treatment any longer.
She couldn’t fathom why after twenty-six years, her husband had chosen now to start with the theatrics. She thought of her maiden name and chuckled; all along it’d been warning that she’d one day turn into Chaplin. As if humour would help her; Steve hadn’t laughed in what seemed like forever. But if he thought he would break her with wistful sighs and silence, she would show him a different side of her.
Who knew? The new might even fix the pinched, flinty features that stared back at her in the mirror lately.
If it went well, it might even convince Kylie that her mother wasn’t so old fashioned after all, maybe she’d hear from her more. Trudy’s relationship with her own mother had been strained until the bitter, gin-soaked end. She hoped she’d always be close to her only child, but the more she clung to that thought, the more it felt like she was being ghosted.
Every year on Arbor Day since Kyle was eight years old, they’d volunteer to plant a tree in a different part of the city. This year marked thirteen years; Trudy knew she was lucky it had lasted that long, that eventually there would be solo tree planting trips. It seemed like that time had finally come; the text reminders she’d sent to Kylie were still unanswered. Not wanting to seem pushy, she decided to wait one more day, shuddering as hungry high school years harked back to memory.
Days later, Trudy was reading Southern Living in the study when she heard a car pull into the driveway. She didn’t know whether to be angry or relieved when Kylie’s head popped out of the sedan until she saw that she'd brought company, a modestly dressed, middle-aged woman.
As they crossed the porch, Trudy heard Kylie telling the woman about Scarlett, the stray tabby they’d taken in years ago, despite the fact that they’d found her below the deck with Trudy’s missing garden mobiles.
“The look on Mom’s face when she saw them was priceless,” Kylie said laughing, mimicking the reaction.
Trudy furrowed her brows, wondering why the stranger was being regaled with family anecdotes.
Trudy flipped the magazine shut and sat on the sofa arm listening. She would meet her guest and flay her daughter for scaring her silly soon enough.
“How’s your father been coping?” the woman asked Kylie as they sat down in the sunlit living room.
“Coping?” Trudy whispered, rising suddenly.
“Not good,” Kylie sighed. “He was really coming around these last few weeks, but we had an Arbor Day family thing like I told you and I’m pretty sure it's why he’s out of it now. He got so mad when I told him I called you again,” she said lowering her eyes. She picked up a framed photo of her and Steve at Disneyland. “You know how he feels about...this,” she said.
Trudy couldn’t see the medium’s small eyes flit around the space, then back to Kylie. “And what about you, dear,” the medium asked, leaning forward.
Trudy wondered whether Kylie had left the room, then heard the sniffling, broken sobs that bounced off the living room walls. "I miss her so much," Kylie said in short gasps.
“I ran into someone from high school the other day,” she paused, clutched her chest. “When they asked about her, I just couldn’t…” Kylie’s voice trembled then trailed off.
She’d been clutching her parents' wedding photo in her vein-roped hands. Despite the dark rivulets staining her cheeks, Kylie was a dead-ringer for the slender bride in cloud white.
Behind the raised wooden panelling, Trudy’s face was translucent, confused.
“Sometimes I wish it had been me instead,” Kylie said, blinking rapidly as she recalled the accordion-pleated, mangled SUV, the scorched asphalt.
“I just wish I could hear her voice again. I’d tell her…” Kylie said, tears pouring out.
Trudy took a step back, wavering on the balls of her feet. Her chest tightened from the white-hot wave of revelation.
“I can feel her here,” the medium said. “Right here in this room. She knows Kylie, your mother knows how much you miss her. It’s ok to let go…” Wracking sobs drowned out the rest of her words.
Sunbeams bleeding through the study’s only window brought no warmth to the woman on the other side. Squinting through salt, Trudy gazed fixedly at the flocks that peppered the April sky.