M-O-M by Joslyn Corvis
Everyone has a best childhood friend. Tiffany was mine. We used to do all the typical little girl things together. Tea parties, sleepovers, and playing silly kid games.
We’d usually end up at my house. I had the feeling that her dad didn’t like having kids over. And I kinda got the feeling that he didn’t really like having Tiffany around, either. I never asked and never really saw anything for myself, but his kindness seemed forced to me. He seemed to act a bit sharp and cold toward her. I don’t think he was physically abusive, but it seemed as if she were almost afraid of him.
Inevitably, we got older and grew apart as most friends do. At the so-very mature age of twelve I started hanging out with the popular kids. I would invite Tiffany to hang out with us, but she was so awkward and just hung in the background. When I’d walk off with my new friends she’d just stand there. I told myself that it wasn’t my fault. It was hers. Why was she so weird? How was I supposed to fix that? We were at that point where we would just greet each other in passing until we stopped any sort of acknowledgement of each other at all. I don’t know about her, but I would go out of my way to look the other direction. I’m really not sure why. Maybe by that time I’d become more concerned about my own reputation.
A turning point in our relationship came during my senior year of high school. I was to graduate in December at the age of seventeen and couldn’t wait. Everyone was always asking me about jobs, college, career choices. I was enjoying the attention. And in all of my own social and academic success, I’d totally forgotten about Tiffany.
I remember it was in October, two months before graduation. Someone called me on the phone, but I didn’t recognize the shaky voice. “Is this Morgan?” asked the caller.
“Yeah, it is.” Silence on the other end. Curiosity consumed me and I listened closely, waiting for someone to say something. Seeing how the caller went quiet, I spoke. “Who’s this?”
“Tiffany. Shankley. Remember me?”
“Oh, right. Right. How have you been?” I was trying to sound genuine, but I really didn’t care. I knew perfectly well how she’d been. She started dressing in black and hanging out with those weird kids. In my mind I kept thinking of what I would tell my friends, and how we would joke that I’m lucky she didn’t call me up to lure me to her house as a human sacrifice. Then we’d all laugh.
“Been okay. How about you?”
I started to tell her about all the wonderful things that were happening in my life and what the future held in store for me. We chatted for a while and something inside me sparked. I was reminded of old times. Things had once been so great between us! What went wrong, I wondered, shamefully arriving at the answer. It was me. I went wrong with Tiffany. She wasn’t that bad, just shy. Even though we weren’t friends, I didn’t have to laugh when people made fun of her. I could hear my voice trail off as I became lost in thought. She took my pause as an opportunity to speak.
“I was just wondering if you wanted to hang out for a bit tonight. Just catch up on old times,” she asked. “I’d heard you were going to graduate soon and figured you’d be busy after that. So,” she paused, seeming unsure of what to say. “I thought it might be my last chance to get ahold of you.”
Thinking it over, I decided to go. Things seemed as if they hadn’t really changed much over the phone, so why would anything be different in person? I walked the short distance to her house. Her house was on a back street, kind of secluded, but I still knew the way.
I stood in front of her house, motionless. Since it was October, I couldn’t help but think of how appropriate the scene looked. She sat on the front stoop, dressed all in black with her elbows on her knees and her head resting in her clasped hands. She looked so pale, enhanced by the black makeup around her eyes.
“Uh, Hi,” I said. “So, what do you wanna do?”
Her face lit up. “Hi!” she squealed. “Come in!”
As she held the ratty screen door open for me, I cautiously entered, remembering how intrusive I used to feel at her house. I stepped as if I were walking on eggshells as I entered. It was almost as if she’d read my mind.
“My dad died a couple years back,” she said without emotion.
“I’m so sorry!” I stammered, wanting to ask why but holding my tongue. She just shrugged, making an, “Eh,” sound.
Her room was nothing like I’d remembered. Pentagrams and skulls. Weird stuff everywhere. Everything was black. A far cry from how I remembered it: The pink “Little Princess” bedspread and the dolls scattered on the floor.
She sat on her bed and beckoned me to sit next to her. It felt as forced as her father’s smile, but pretty soon we were chatting like crazy! She really wasn’t that different from my other friends. The ones I’d abandoned her for.
All the topics were covered—Boys, clothes, and even some gossip. We did each other’s hair and nails and when the clock struck midnight, we realized how hungry we were so we went to the kitchen. After snacking and goofing around, we passed by the clock in the hall back to her room. It was 12:30. On the dot. We sat back down on the bed and I was about to thank her for having me over, but I didn’t get the chance. She jumped up without warning and crouched by the bed, pulling something out from underneath.
“Wanna play?” she asked with a strange grin, holding a folded board game in her hand.
I think I nodded, a little nervous. I knew this wasn’t going to be Candy Land. Either way, she pushed a narrow table in front of her bedroom door, exerting minimal force, and put a black cloth on top. After strategically arranging a few black candles on top of the table, which she lit, she sat on the floor in front of me and opened the board game, revealing it to be a Ouija board.
“My mom is working until two in the morning so we’ll have plenty of time. She freaks out about this stuff, you know how moms are. Oh, one more thing!” she said, jumping up and hitting the lights. She was like a ball of energy, a side of her I hadn’t seen in years. I think I’d come to view her as nothing more than a stick in the mud.
We sat there and I followed her lead having seen a million movies with these things. I gently put my fingertips on the triangle, or whatever it was called, as she closed her eyes. “Who are you?” she asked.
Nothing happened. We focused some more. “Who are you?” she repeated. And then the triangle jittered, but only slightly. I wondered if she was moving it to scare me. But then it started to move as if it had a mind of its own. Her eyes popped open and she stared at the board as if in a trance. We said each letter together as the little window of the triangle hit upon them.
And then it stopped. We looked at each other with puzzled expressions. Suddenly there were footsteps in the hall. “Tiffany,” called her mother’s voice. I hadn’t heard it in years, but I’d never forget how pleasant her mother’s voice always sounded. “What are you doing, Tiffany?”
I didn’t have time to think rationally as I was afraid of getting caught, but why would her mom bother her in the middle of the night? The room was dark, unless she saw the glow of the candles from outside. My main concern that her mom would tell my mom, and that everyone at school would make fun of me.
There was a strong burst at the door that tipped the table over. The candles quickly caught the black fabric on fire. I saw a glimpse of her mother in the doorway which was open at least a foot. Tiffany and I glanced at each other and made a break for the window. I pushed the screen out thinking she was behind me still, but then I heard her mother’s voice. “Are you okay?” she asked.
Tiffany had run back to save her mother, trying to get through the flames to open the door. I thought her mom would have been long gone by that time, but she stood there doing nothing as Tiffany continue to battle through the fire.
“Tiffany!” I screamed. “Let’s go! Your mom has time to get out through the front door!” Neither of them answered, and Tiffany’s mom just stood there, oblivious to the smoke. Oblivious to Tiffany. I ran back and tried to drag Tiffany away. “Come on!” I yelled, choking on my words and the smoke. But she wouldn’t budge.
I ran to the window once again and looked back, but she was still trying to get to her mother. It was hopeless for me to even try. If the flames hadn’t been licking at her hands she could have just easily opened the door which would have pushed the table out of the way, but the fire was growing. I had to save myself.
I struggled to get through the window and rolled out to safety. Frantically dialing 9-1-1, I could see that the fire was starting to get bigger from the golden blaze from within. Smoke flooded through the open window and I was crying as the dispatcher asked for my location. Could she understand me, I wondered?
Screams started to fill my ears. By that time I don’t think I could even speak. I was a mess, gagging on my words as the dispatcher tried to keep me calm. I could swear I saw Tiffany twirling around in flames, but I still wonder if that horrible image was in my imagination. It’s the only way I can cope with that night, to try to erase it all from my memory. A few years have passed, and I wonder if I’ll ever forget.
And then the screams from within stopped as my own became louder. Suddenly I was being enveloped by two dark figures who pulled me away and I heard a staticy voice, but couldn’t make out what it was saying. I thrashed around in a panic and looked up, seeing a police car parked in the street, the staticy voice coming from one of their radios. I screamed that my friend and her mother were still inside, finally finding my voice. Everything after that was pretty much a blur.
The fire was finally out. It was all over. I sat in a daze of silent shock wrapped in a blanket as a firefighter came to tell me what I already knew. I didn’t cry. At least not then. I was too numb. They asked me repeatedly about Tiffany’s mother being inside and I kept telling them I was sure of it, though not in so many words. It was still hard to talk.
I thought the police had come in response to my call, but as I later found out, they were there to talk to Tiffany. Her mother had left work early that night, and some time around midnight while on her way home, she had been killed in a car accident.