I stand there in front of the glass, staring down at the cakes. The icing glistens at me, glossy ribbons of color winding over the smooth top layers, happy messages carved into saccharine greetings. Everything looks so sweet it makes my stomach turn.
“Can I help you, miss?” I’m shocked into reality and jerk at the sound of the woman’s voice as she addresses me from behind the counter. She stands there wrapped in various types of plastic sanitation garments, peering at me from behind her bi-focals.
“Um, yes. May I have that one, the chocolate one with purple flowers? I’d like to have a message put on it, please.” She bustles over and I tell her that I want “Happy 3rd Birthday, Dids” piped onto the cake. She doesn’t even ask me about my daughter’s strange nick-name. Obviously, she’s done this long enough that nick-names no longer catch her attention. She tells me it’ll be ten minutes. Great, I think, that’ll be just great. Then my heart trips into overtime and starts beating a hundred times a minute. I feel my body turning and wandering down a couple of aisles until I find myself at the end of the milk aisle. I stare down the length of it, down toward the doors and the little breezeway entry where the payphones are located. My mouth is dry, it seems like that aisle is as long as a football field and suddenly I’m shaking. I know what I have to do, but what I don’t know is if I’ll actually be able to walk to those goddamned phones to be able to. A clerk passes by.
“Ma’m?” She pauses and looks at me with concern. Her eyebrows are arched as she reaches towards my shoulder. “Are you alright, can I do something for you?” It occurs to me that I must look like I’m having some kind of panic attack, and then it occurs to me that I probably am.
“No. Thank you, though.” I say. I avert my eyes and step towards the cheese very purposefully. She nods and walks away. Another seasoned customer service worker.
A sign reads ‘Tillamook hot pepper cheese, 2lbs $5.99’. Holy shit, that’s a steal. I grab the loaf of cheese on instinct. I’m still at the front of the aisle, a football field away from the payphones. I turn and take the first step. And then a few more. There’s a helicopter in my chest where my heart used to be and I’m pretty sure it’s lifting my body off the ground. It’s the only reason I can give for not feeling my feet hitting the ground as I force myself forward. One numb step at a time, I float towards the payphones. By the time I reach them, it feels like hours have passed and the cheese loaf is twisted because I’ve been hugging it against my body with an intense grip. I stand there for just a moment and think about what I should say. I imagine the exchange. ‘911. What’s your emergency?”
Option # 1: “Um, Hello, my name is blah, I need for you to go to the following residence and see if my mom is alive.”
Option #2: “AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHA! It’s my daughter’s birthday, and my mom’s trying to kill herself with pills! FFFFFFUUUUUUCCKKKKKKK! I am down the road hosting a party for 20 little kids and their families, all of whom are expecting happy-happy-joy-joy and my mother is 20 blocks away barricaded with her medication and refuses to say that she won’t take too much. SSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIEEEEKKKKKNNNNNNNGGG!!!”
Better combine them into something reasonable.
“911, What’s your emergency?”
“Hello, my name is blah. My mother is located at blah. She has barricaded herself, she is in possession of enough medication to overdose and has threatened to do so. No one in my family can reach her. We are in need of assistance to ensure that she does not take her own life.”
As I’m walking to my van, police cars blaze past, their sirens screaming, lights flashing.
People turn to see, but I blaze forward. I know exactly where they are going.