a Magazine for Writers
Long Time Gone
by Jenny L. Collins

           When the plane cut through the white cloud cover, Shari thought the sky looked a little bluer than she'd ever seen it over her hometown.  It must have been the tinted windows.  As it landed, she watched the zoom-in view of Portland; aircraft huddled around the terminal, nose in, like puppies nursing on a big mama dog.

           Big ol' tired mama.  Shari smiled, glad to have shed that feeling over her long weekend.  The bulk that came with the roles of wife and mother had felt thick and heavy, like some sports team mascot costume.  Hairy and ugly like the Philly Phanatic.

           When a hectic week of work, organizing a canned food drive and shuttling her daughter to and from school, softball and scouts found her looking in the drive-thru dinner bag for her own meal and realizing she had forgotten to order for herself, Shari decided she needed time away.  For herself.  By herself.

           "You just went on vacation," her husband Michael had protested.

           "Lizzie's Girl Scout camping trip.  I was a chaperone.  That was no vacation."

           So she found a budget flight to Tucson and booked a plush hotel with a spa near a golf course.  The bright desert sun pointed accusatory beams.  It showed her how dingy her tired wardrobe was and how long she had neglected shaving her legs.  Shari allowed the wonderful, understanding, miracle-making staff to lavish her body with lavender massage oil, cucumber facial mud and strawberry daiquiris.  They deep tissue rubbed the office chair out of her lower back, the clunky shoes out of her calves and feet and the "Honey, have you seen my's" out of her temples.  Her body became a relaxed lump of dough under their therapeutic rolling pin, all the "Mom" "Mom" "Mom" lumps beaten out.

           The smiling Arizona vacation worker bees swiped her credit card at the boutique, oohing and ahhing over this sporty outfit or that sweet little sundress that seemed to have been stitched up and shipped out just for Shari and left on a hanger right here, waiting for her to come in, try on and be dazzling.  They washed her hair, rubbing the worries over the family budget out, rinsing the perfect tint in and appointment schedules down the drain.  Her locks were trimmed smartly, clip clip!   Split ends fell to the floor along with the effort it took to try to squeeze another ten minutes into an overbooked day.  A manicure, pedicure and make-up application later, the spa fairies finally spun her chair around to face the

           "Oh my Gawd.  It's me!"  It was Shari after college.  Shari from old pictures.  Miss Shari Nelson who used to shake it up with her girlfriends at the disco.  She shared her appreciation with squeals, smiles and generous tips.

           Whatever happened to that girl, she wondered later at the hotel night club.  She let men flirt with her, dance with her, buy her drinks.  A round of karaoke brought back the singing aspirations she once had.  Whatever happened to that dream?

           Marriage happened.  A baby happened.  Responsibility and early nights happened.  Shari vowed to scan the entertainment weekly's musicians listing for "Singers Wanted" when she got home.  Michael and Lizzie could manage a night here and there without her.  They'd have to.  She wasn't going to let life go on and forget who she was again.

           Shari bought presents for Michael and Lizzie at the hotel gift shop.  Then she turned around, went back in and bought a present for herself.  She carried them with her on the plane so they would be handy when her family met her at the airport.

           And there they were.  Michael looked a little worn out, but boy was he smiling.  Shari smoothed out her skirt and met his eyes several yards away.  Hey, that's the guy that was at the front of the church.  Her husband had that proud beam about him from that June day a dozen years ago, roses in her hand, her father by her side.  Gracefully she made that walk again, gave Lizzie a squeeze and a kiss and returned her man's loving gaze.

           "Welcome back, honey."

           "Yes.  I'm back."

Jenny Collins lives in Portland, Oregon and is the mother, banker and chauffeur of a teenaged daughter.  A November weekend alone in Santa Monica reminded Jenny she was a writer.  Her short fiction has been published in Flashquake, Wild Violet, Word Riot and NFG.  You can reach her at jenny@ipns.com or behind the bar at the neighborhood tavern.  Contact Jenny.