by Sandra Arnold
I WAS BUSY spreading compost in the garden when my mother called me from the back door.
‘Ruby! Time to get ready. Your party starts in ten minutes.’
This was news to me. She hadn’t mentioned anything about a party. I ran into the house to go to my bedroom for a change of clothes. The bedroom was painted pink like my childhood bedroom. Not appropriate now that I was grown-up and had just started a high-powered job, I realised with a shock. I wandered around the house looking for something more suitable. I didn’t recognise any of the rooms. This was disconcerting, but loud chatter in the hall alerted me to the fact guests were already arriving. One of them poked her head into the room I was standing in.
I pointed to my compost stained t-shirt. ‘I can’t find my room to get some clean clothes.’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ she said. ‘Just float.’
‘But I don’t know how to float.’
‘Mind power,’ she said. ‘Visualise yourself lifting off the ground.’
I did and to my surprise I rose about forty centimetres. I floated into different rooms, but none of them looked familiar. Floating felt unfamiliar too, but so relaxing that I decided to keep doing it. The noise of guests clattering through the front door reminded me I had obligations, and I floated to the laundry room to wash my stained t-shirt. There was no washing machine, just an old sink and scrubbing board. I took off my t-shirt and began scrubbing it with a bar of soap I extracted from a spider web. I rinsed my t-shirt under the tap and, too late, realised that there was no dryer in this old-fashioned laundry.
The back door opened and two tiny men dressed in silver waistcoats and purple trousers, entered. They waggled their enormous sticky-out ears and pointed to my bra.
‘Darling! How trend-setting!’ they trilled. ‘Perfect for your party.’
‘But I can’t possibly go to a party dressed in stretch pants and a bra.’
‘Oh darling, you can,’ they insisted. ‘You just need some sparkles.’ They threw a handful of ruby-red glitter at me, which stuck to the bra. The tiny men clapped. ‘See, you look scrumptious! Now, to complete your look, we’ll arrange your hair in a single ringlet that will cascade down your back like a waterfall.’
From their pockets they whipped out brushes, hairspray and a hand-dryer. In five minutes they were done. They stepped back and clapped.
‘You look divine, darling,’ one of them sang, holding out a mirror.
‘But that doesn’t look like me,’ I gasped. ‘Who is this person in the mirror?’
‘A goddess, that’s who,’ they sang. ‘Now go to the party and be fabulous.’
I hovered outside a room where the sound of laughter and clinking glasses made me want to bolt. I opened the door a crack and peered inside. The guests looked as if they’d just stepped off the covers of a fashion magazine. They were all staring at the ceiling from which hung trapezes covered with ruby-red stars. Acrobats in ruby-red costumes twirled and danced on the trapezes while the audience clapped and cheered. I was too embarrassed to join them in my scungy clothes so I crept into the dining room.
The table was covered with cakes of all shapes, sizes and colours. My mother had been busy. But when? And why hadn’t I noticed? And where was she? Feeling exposed in my sparkly bra I backed into a corner of the room. There, I overheard one of my ex-colleagues complaining that there was nothing here to eat. ‘We can’t possibly just eat cake,’ she whined. ‘Whatever are they thinking? And why is everything decorated in ruby-red?’
This annoyed me so much I decided to be brave, and so I tinkled a spoon on the side of a glass. Everyone turned from admiring the trapeze artists and stared at me. I recognised a few old school friends, teachers I’d been terrified of, a former control-freak manager, but most of the people who filled the room were strangers. There was nowhere to hide, so I tilted my chin and launched into an animated speech about a tradition, going back generations in my family, of celebrating birthdays with lots of cakes and it was customary for guests to join the celebrations by eating as much as they wanted. Looking at the ex-colleague I added, ‘Of course if you don’t want to eat the cakes you can just admire their beauty and the work that went into them. That’s okay too.’ The snidey one pursed her mouth into the cats-bum shape I remembered so well, but everyone else clapped and got stuck into the cakes.
One of the acrobats swung upside down in front of me. ‘Would you like to go on a float boat as a treat on your special day?’
I didn’t know what a float boat was, or why this day was special, but I followed her outside into the garden where a beautiful ruby-red boat was hovering just above the grass. I climbed in and off it went, sailing over the rooftops around neighborhoods I’d never seen before.
I had no idea how long I’d been gone or how to navigate the boat. ‘Mind-power,’ someone had said at the party. I willed the boat to turn around and to my amazement it did. In a few seconds it landed as soft as a cloud in the garden where I’d been spreading compost. But now even the garden looked different. The house had changed shape too. And it was silent.
I opened the door to the room where the guests had been eating cake. Empty. No sign of my mother. Cake crumbs lay scattered on the table. On the trapezes swung the two tiny rubber-lugged men.
‘Darling, welcome back!’ they called, holding out their hands. ‘Time to rise and shine.’
‘I can’t rise that high,’ I wailed.
‘Oh but you can,’ they said.
Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She is the author of five books including The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell, Mākaro Press, NZ, and Soul Etchings, Retreat West Books, UK. Her short fiction has been widely published and anthologised internationally. She has received nominations for The Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions and The Pushcart Prize. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia.
Connect at www.sandraarnold.co.nz.