Good Practice by Ashlinn Smith
The afternoon alarm buzzed for forty minutes in the dark bedroom before Bea realized. She clung to her dream and her bedsheets as if they were the same thing. “Not yet,” she urged. It was the kind of dream that seemed to make happiness out of thin air. But again the buzzer went off, as it was set to go off every five minutes on “snooze”.
Finally she reached out to hit “dismiss,” because, after all, she had a reason to wake up. She blinked a few times, and scanned her bedroom. There was a Saturday afternoon quiet that rolled in at about this time. It was the kind a working person notices when they are home between the hours of nine and five. Some of the neighboring apartments filled it in with TV.
From outside came the jingling of keys and the familiar volume of her roommate Jessa’s voice. Bea could picture the scene. Jessa would be wearing lip-stick and sunglasses even though she was indoors. She’d be balancing shopping bags on one arm and a purse on the other, cell phone in hand. It was always the cell phone with Jessa.
They lived your typical Craigslist set up- made small talk when they ran into each other and shared a meal or two each week. They had some moments.
Jessa opened the door and high-heeled all over the living room’s hardwood floor. The powerful thumping grew louder and then their was a knock. “Come in,” Bea said, wincing at the crack of light. “Hi!” Jessa popped in. “Just checking you don’t overdo your beauty sleep. Big date tonight, yeah?”
Yes, Bea had spilled her plans. After one movie and then a group dinner date, things were getting down to it. They’d be together in her apartment for the first time, among her things. Bea rolled over on the bed and opened her laptop to read the email again. “Let’s meet at your place. Apartment 5A?,” the screen said, and “Seven works for me too. Yours, Charlie.”
“That’s right. We’re meeting here tonight.,” Bea said. She hoped it didn’t sound as novel to Jessa as it did to her. “You’ve got to clean up,” Jessa said, searching through the heap of old jeans, sweaters, sneakers, Bea’s all-purpose tote-bag, a collection of Ibsen plays, DVD’s and that type of thing which covered half the bed.
“I know,” Bea agreed, . “And the clock is ticking.”
“What are your outfit plans?,” Jessa wanted to know. “Black, red, or white?”
“Is it really that easy? As one, two, three?,” Bea asked, showing Jessa the door. “Tell me if you need help!,” Jessa added.
Bea sided with all romantic notions that said tonight mattered. She lifted the pile from her bed and dumped it into the closet. There were times on the sewing machine, when altering her clothes, it would occur to Bea that a skirt was just material before it was anything. Her hands were the makers of size and shape. She thought of that now, as she saw herself get into and out of a few outfits in front of the tall mirror. It felt like an underwear commercial. Like those that claim every body is beautiful.
After finally sticking with a brown cotton dress, Bea moved into the living room to put on some music. What startled her when she got there had been making her jumpy all week. A few evenings ago Jessa had come in the front door carrying a large bird cage and a bag of food from th pet sore. Inside the cage was an expensive- looking bird, a gray African parrot. “Need something to take care of,” Jessa explained. “Good practice you know? I’m naming her Queenie.”
The sight of the bird surprised Bea every time. “Are you fixing dinner?” Jessa asked entering the room. “I thought wine would do,” Bea replied. “Bake a cake!,” Jessa blurted. “Bake a cake,” Queenie repeated. “But who bakes cakes anymore, what with everyone going healthy? And isn’t it too I Love Lucy for someone who’s already a secretary?,” Bea protested.
Only now she couldn’t shake the idea or put anything in its place. The basic yellow cake mix sat in the pantry ready to go and all that followed were water and eggs. Bea dug out the ingredients and set them on the counter. She felt her time being squeezed. Through the window, the blue afternoon sky could be seen letting its hair down. It was the pale orange start of sunset that glowed against the tiles and walls. Soon the sun would seem its brightest and then trail off completely.
Crack. She cracked each egg with one hand and let the round yolks plop into the big bowl. The eggs and their yolks and the bowl were all round together. Two minutes later, she ‘d poured the mix and begun stirring with a big wooden spoon. But as she stirred, Bea’s motions felt strange. “I guess I don’t bake cakes very often,” she thought. There was a faint feeling of lost cakes.
“Pour batter into pan, smooth, and bake at 375 degrees,” said the cake box. Bea did all those, set the timer, and wondered “How will the night work out?” It was like a dream-date board game, the way she was waiting for the doorbell. Who won at those? Should she be like The Crystals’ recording of And then he kissed me?, or like the Beach Boys’ And then I kissed her? Well, these were any woman’s troubles.
Bea stood at the window letting twilight settle. She heard Jessa’s power heels walk out the apartment again. “Go get em!.” Bea kept standing and thinking for she didn’t know how long until “RIIING!!” cut her off. “Oh no!” she gasped. “I’m not ready!” “RIIIING!!” Queenie mimicked. For a some number of seconds Bea felt caught in the headlights. Then something else hit her, the buttery warm smell. The cake was done.