Vassar Student Review

Vassar Student Review

Looking Up

By Lily Bradfield

Home, 5:37 pm EST

She was supposed to call. Wasn’t she? Hadn’t they talked about it, or texted about it, just earlier that week? She had said she would call at 5:30 on Thursday. Was it Thursday? Yes, it was Thursday, she had marked her calendar that hung on the wall next to the picture of their old German Shepherd, Rufus. Her daughter had given her the calendar for Christmas, well over a month ago now, when she had been home for break. Each month was a different picture of them: together at the park holding sweating cups of iced coffee, standing side by side in front of a Broadway marquee, sitting on a twin bed in her half unpacked dorm room on her first day of college. Her favorite was July, a picture of them in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. The petals are billowing around them like a delicate pink tornado, and their flushed cheeks are pressed together, their smiles so close it could’ve been one big, toothy grin.

February, the month it was open to now, was a picture of just her daughter, sitting cross-legged on a bench reading a fat, scholarly looking book. Her pen is poised over the page, lip bit in concentration. She seemed warmed under the golden wash of midday sunlight. One of her new friends must have taken the photo, she thought to herself, looking at the glossy paper that now reflected the fading light coming through the living room window. Yes, it was definitely Thursday, and she had definitely promised she would call on Thursday at 5:30. Her phone buzzed, and she checked it, an excited smile spreading quickly, but it was just an email from her husband. 12 Things New Yorkers Don’t Know About the Subway, the subject line read. Steve had probably sent this to Anabel, too. She could never tell if Annie thought her new husband was endearing or cheesy or both. He wasn’t featured in the calendar.

Now it was 5:45 and Annie still hadn’t called. She went outside for a smoke. Steve didn’t know that she still smoked. She sat down on the chilled plaster of the front stoop and looked out onto the quiet TriBeCa street. This is where Annie had learned to ride her bike, wobbling up and down the short expanse of sidewalk while she held onto the frame, steadying her little girl until, finally, she let go.

The sun was setting now. Late in the day for February, she thought. It was unusually warm today, almost 65 degrees, and she didn’t need a coat sitting outside, taking drags from her cigarette. Annie used to hide the packs when she was younger, burying the little paper boxes in her closet and insisting she didn’t know how they got there. Now they joked about it, even though she knew Annie worried. She liked that she had this joke with her, that Steve didn’t know, that there were still things that were just theirs. Even if it was just her smoking habit. 

She looked down at her phone. No new notifications. The sky was being filled in before her eyes, like someone behind the clouds was taking a wide brush and painting big, sweeping strokes of color on their canvas. The blue had turned velvety purple mixed with fuchsia and deep navy and burnt orange and the feeling of light buoyancy. She remembered the game she and her daughter used to play, where one would close their eyes and the other would try and describe the sky without using the names of the colors. It’s like that car that’s always parked across the street. Baby blue? Yes! Then Annie would giggle in that intoxicating little girl way that would fill any mother up to the brim. She hadn’t thought about that game in a long, long time. The memory of that sweet, small girl, with her short pigtails and open face made her eyes well, blurring the different shades of the clouds, making them all bleed together. Beautiful. She wanted to show her daughter the sky that had taken the color of their bizarre neighbor’s ever-changing dyed hair. She took a picture and another drag. The smoke from her now stubby cigarette drifted skyward, dissipating amongst the spilled paint in the heavens. She opened up a new message, chose her photo, and sent it. Then she put out her cigarette, taking one last look up at the changing sky, and went inside.


Connecticut, 5:37 pm EST

She sat in the dining hall, absentmindedly pushing chickpeas around the soupy balsamic remains of her salad bowl. It was a loud, fluorescent, and overwhelmingly large place, and she and her friends were grouped tightly around the table, heads pushed close, talking about the pretentious kids in their film class. We get it, you’ve seen Citizen Kane, you’re, like, so smart and cultured. There was that ever-present buzzing noise that came from somewhere above them, somewhere deep in the pipes and machinery, which wormed its way into Annie’s brain. Soon, she started to have trouble focusing on the ins and outs of Coppola’s filmography and could only hear the ringing bouncing around the walls of her skull. The balsamic was suddenly too bitter, too acidic, burning her throat. The table’s grown-up conversation soured as it hit her ear, now sounding childish, like little kids playing pretend, stomping around in boots much too large for their tiny feet.

She said she had homework or something, taking her bowl and empty cup to the dish station. She was trying to get out as fast as she could while still being polite to the dining hall staff who endured far too much and also nodding hello to what felt like every person she made eye contact with. She finally escaped, pressing the whole weight of her body against the two huge double doors, falling out into the dimming twilight. She breathed deep, filling her lungs with the crisp air her city body could never quite get used to. It had been warm that day, even though it was February, and it had seemed like every single person on campus had taken the opportunity to fuck homework and just lie on the quad instead, soaking up the rare sunlight in too-soon shorts and flowy dresses. It was growing colder now, though, as the sun set. She stood on the stoop of the oversized collegiate building and watched as the sky changed. It held the same colors as that painting in the common room of her dorm, she thought. 

Then, she remembered. Godammit, she had meant to call her mom at 5:30. She really had, but then her friends had wanted to get dinner early so they could go to the some comedy show that evening, and Annie didn’t want to argue or even worse, be left behind. Plus, her mom was always crying when they talked on the phone. She missed her, of course, but there’s only so much crying a daughter can take. Her mom was constantly crying— at commercials, strangely specific ABBA songs, and whenever their old dog, Rufus, was mentioned in passing. And she would’ve cried had they talked on the phone, and then she would’ve put Steve on while she got a tissue, and Annie would have to ask about his day and how is Mom and did you catch that article on the downsides of rent control in The Times? So it was easier sometimes to just not. 

But now, as she gazed up at the sky that looked like someone had painted with only the brightest shades of watercolor, she remembered that game they used to play. It looks like Mrs. Doyle from next door, with her hair that’s always dyed different colors, she would’ve said. She feels her phone buzz in her pocket. It’s a text from her mom, and yet another email from Steve. She opens up the text, and it’s a beautiful picture of the sunset taken from the stoop of their home. It looks just like the one here, blooming over the rolling hills of campus, but different, somehow. There’s a message along with it. Just look up.

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