Claire twirled around, letting her new curls hit her face. At the same time, the loose fabric of her dress hit her legs, making her giggle from the sensations. The house was quiet, she was alone for the first time in months. This was the best day ever.
The hair started to slip, covering her face before finally falling off. The loss of her wig did not deter her movements, however, and Claire spread her arms out and pointed her toes as she twirled. If Annie had been here, Claire would be in bed--in that tight, restricting nightgown with a scarf tied snugly over her smooth head. If Caleb were here, the noise from the TV would be covering the silence and peace she now enjoyed. She laughed out loud, delighted in the fact that her plan had worked.
Annie thought the nurse was coming. Caleb thought Annie was staying this time. The nurses agency had been told that Caleb was going to stay with her. And somehow they all believed it. After Caleb left, kissing her forehead and telling her to behave for Annie, her toes had started to tingle. Then when Annie cursed the nurse for being late and the bus for being on time, the butterflies in her stomach had started dancing.
As soon as Claire heard the bus pull away from the stop, she called her new friend Tyler at the beauty parlor, dialed the local 24-hour pizza place, turned off the radio, and shoved the offending night gown under her bed. Opening the closet, she pulled out her favorite dress and pulled it over her head. Deciding not to overdo it, she quelled the desire to skip down the stairs and slowly made her way to the kitchen. The engine from the pizza delivery truck alerted her to its arrival, and she gave the driver a generous tip when he handed her the Hawaiian Delight. Before he could even pull out of the drive way, Tyler's car pulled up, and he came walking up the drive with suitcases. Claire heard him tell the pizza guy that there was something wrong with his car.
Claire decided that the dining room would be perfect--it hadn't been used since she got sick, no one would notice if things were out of place and the huge buffet had a mirror along the back of it. While the pizza grew cold, Tyler and Claire had their own little makeover session, hiding the Bald Claire. Before her eyes,she was transformed into Blond Beehive Claire, Gray Bun Claire, Brunette Pixie Claire, and a dozen other combinations. Finally, they agreed that Curly Redhead Claire was the perfect choice. In a fit of nostalgia, she also chose the Black Shoulder Length Claire, staring at the ghostly reflection that she had grown up with.
She kissed Tyler, practically shoving him out the door when she remembered her pizza. Turning the oven on, she warmed up the cheesy, greasy, gourmet meal, poured herself a glass of milk, and took her pills. Mouth watering, Claire made her spot at the kitchen table. Place mat, cup, knife, fork, spoon, napkin, and plate. Grinning at her extravagance, she put a piece of pizza on her plate, bowed her head, said a prayer, and devoured the ham and pineapple without even tasting it. The next piece she savored, closing her eyes as the sweetness of the ham mixed with the tartness of the sauce. A nugget of pineapple made her open her eyes in shock and delight, and a moan that only comes from taste buds filled the house. Halfway through the third piece her stomach rebelled, and Claire was reminded why Annie wouldn't let her eat pizza anymore.
She refused to let that ruin her day, however, and after cleaning herself and the kitchen of any evidence, she filled the bathtub with hot water, bubbles, oil, salts, and every bath additive she could find. The scents made her sneeze, but sinking into the tub made her feel better than she had in months.
Claire had no idea how long she soaked for, but when she got out, she was hungry again. Deciding to play it safe, she made herself some soup and toast. Looking out the kitchen window, she decided to eat on the back patio. The canned soup tasted the same, mild, bland, and watery. After the pizza, the toast reminded her of cardboard. The neighbor's cat enjoyed the soup, the woodpeckers carried the toast back to their nests, and Claire enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine. When she started to feel drained, Claire made her way to the couch that had been her mother's, sank into the soft floral cushions, and drifted off.
The sound of the kids across the street woke her, and she saw the sinking sun squeeze out the last few rays. When she stood up, Claire realized that the phone hadn't rung at all. No one called to check up on her--she understood that Caleb and Annie had needed this break as much as she had. Standing in the living room, Claire decided she was lonely. Knowing there was only two people who wouldn't tell on her, she made some phone calls, put on her Curly Redhead Claire, crept out the back door into the alley way, and met the cab driver two houses down.
The looks on Marty and Eva's faces were a combination of worry and elation. Marty's hug made her laugh, and Eva's hands on her face made her cry. They talked for hours: gardens, grand babies, life, art, and memories; avoiding hospitals, doctors, and the 'C' word. Eva made dinner--a homemade stew that tasted nothing like the canned broth Claire was used to--and fresh bread that melted in her mouth. Not only was it delicious, but she kept it down. After Claire helped with the dishes, Eva gave her a jar of stew and they drove her home. She made them promise to say they had come to see her when Annie asked about the stew, and they swore to keep her secret.
Claire climbed the stairs and stood in front of her closet. Not wanting the day to end,before she took off her dress she remembered the day and twirled.
Finally, Claire hung up her dress, hid the wigs in her sock drawer, pulled the nightgown from underneath the bed, took her pills, and crawled into bed, a small smile on her lips.
The next morning Annie complained about the nurses car leaving an oil stain on the front drive, scolded Claire for the mess in the bath tub, called and thanked Eva for the visit and the stew, and turned the radio back on. Caleb slammed the front door when he came over, shooed the birds out of the back yard, and kept sniffing the air in the kitchen, claiming he smelled pineapple.
Amid the chaos, Claire thought of her Independence day--and smiled.