Delilah’s life would have been a whole lot different if she had decided to do something else on that Saturday. Gone to a movie, went camping in the dusty mountains, sat in the corner of the couch in that patch of sunlight knitting Amelia that blue wrap she had requested. But she didn’t go to the movies or the great outdoors or the craft store down the road. No, Delilah did something seemingly innocuous, something that was only supposed to hold meaning because it was a task that she avoided like the plague, something that would signify just to her that she was maturing. Delilah was spring cleaning.
And though it sounds completely routine and expected, of her it was not. She was a pathological pack rat, hating to part with anything and everything. She liked to claim that it was the eco-friendly part of her, the part that decried excess, the part that wanted to “waste not, want not.” And part of it might have been, but that part was probably very small, just large enough to make her own excuse plausible so that it wasn’t a lie, so that she wasn’t hiding anything.
But the more important truth was that Delilah was impossibly afraid of letting go. It had happened too many times in her life – discovering right after she had let go that letting go would never do. Her patchwork doll when she was four, her puppy Max when she was eight, her dream of being an equestrian star when she twelve, her mother when she was sixteen. All things that had left her long before their necessity was gone. So she kept the magazines with recipes for elaborate dinners that she would never make and college textbooks from classes she hadn’t even liked and enough Tupperware to send the whole building leftovers of her green enchiladas even though only half the apartments would get lids to match. Delilah kept, Delilah saved, Delilah put away.
But she was determined to turn over a new leaf. For the last year, even since her last birthday, she’d been making promises to herself to get it done – to clean the back of her closet and the spare bedroom and that corner of the laundry room she avoided whenever possible. And here it was, 364 days later and she had thrown not one thing away, not opened one box or completed one task. But she was not about to have another year consumed by those boxes she’ll get to tomorrow, or next week, or sometime, someday. And, as it turned out, this was a very, very, good decision.
Because buried under the useless, behind the arcane, and kitty corner to the sentimental was something that had been waiting, only mildly patiently, to be found. It had been waiting almost 10 years, underestimating the extent of Delilah’s possessions. It had been sitting, jauntily if truth be told, on top of a linen square, in a battered jewelry box, daring her to find it. It was trying to speak to her, from depths unknown, in the only way it knew how. But Delilah hadn’t been taught to listen, yet.
“Come on, out into the world,” Amelia ordered with a gentle knocking at the door and an insistent tapping of her foot. Delilah just looked at her, a little bemused, wrapped up tighter than a present under the Christmas tree, all tinsel and sparkles hanging this way and that off of her new winter coat. If she’d been wearing ornaments as earrings she’d have sworn she really was a Christmas tree, albeit a talking and mildly annoyed one.
“You think I’m going out with you looking like that?” she replied with a skeptical laugh that ended in an amused cough.
“This is fabulous. Just because the world hasn’t noticed yet doesn’t mean it isn’t.” Delilah just gave her a disbelieving look, all of it in the corners of her dove gray eyes, before Amelia let out a sigh and pushed past her into the apartment. “Okay, yeah, I know I look like a reject from a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade but this is my job.”
“You really need a better job,” Delilah said as she closed the door, wrapping her red flannel bathrobe tighter around her as she followed Amelia deeper into her apartment.
“Well as I try to make a career as a cracker-jack artist I need to take jobs to pay my rent. Don’t scoff at me, you know what I’m talking about.”
“What?” she asked with that barely perceptible movement, the corner of her mouth twitching upwards just slightly. It always gave her away, that liar smile. Everyone in her family had it and couldn’t keep a secret to save their lives because of it. They were very skilled at walking the line between truth and evasiveness though and they could spin a bad fact so that it barely stung, came off as little more than a mosquito nuisance.
“Oh don’t give me that Delilah Ann Connors, you know you can’t get away with it. Me working for a fashion designer I hate while waiting to break into interior design is exactly the same as you doing techy web stuff for that online magazine while waiting to become an ace journalist.”
“It’s entirely different,” she argued fruitlessly, plopping down on the sofa across from her with a cup of steaming tea. “I’m just waiting for the right time to strike. Bianca told me that some of the writers are getting ready to leave and I think she’s right. How are you going to get into interior design by working for Bubblegum Peterson?”
“If you must know,” Amelia replied with a faux air of irritation, “Bubblegum is doing a photo spread of her new winter collection in some kitschy independent magazine and she said she’d let me style the shoot. So there you go assignment one: make her clothes look good.” Her hopefulness had fizzled out by the end, falling over into silence. They both cast their eyes across the room where Amelia had unceremoniously dropped the ghastly coat across a wicker chair. It looked like a plant trying to eat a trellis.
“Well if you can do that, you can do anything,” Delilah offered.
“So true,” she responded with a laugh. “Why aren’t you dressed? Why are you still sitting here looking at me? Go get dressed, we have to go out on the town and get appropriately kitschy accessories. I did not put on that sorry imitation of an evergreen for nothing. Come on.”
“No way. And not because I wouldn’t be caught dead walking around with you in that because I think it would be so hilarious.”
“So then why are you still sitting there?”
Delilah sighed and gave her steamrolling friend a frustrated look “You know why I can’t go,” she said, ending on a cough, having to quickly set her tea on the end table so she didn’t find herself and the apartment dusted with a light covering of hot water and tea leaves.
Amelia rolled her eyes. “De – either this cold isn’t as bad as you’re making it out to be and for some weird reason you’ve decided to become a hermit and I as your best friend am required to save you from yourself or your cold is truly horrible and then I as your best friend am required to haul your skinny ass to a doctor so we can figure out why you’ve been sick for so long. Either way when I’m leaving this apartment, you’re coming with me.”
Delilah looked at her for a moment, accessing, trying to figure out if Amelia was bluffing and she’d get some peace or completely serious and there was no way out. It was another moment or so before she rolled her eyes in mock annoyance and hoisted herself up out of her seat. “Give me five minutes,” she murmured as she crossed the room to her bedroom, “and don’t you dare rearrange my furniture while I’m gone.”
“Man,” Delilah heard Amelia sigh as the door closed. But Amelia didn’t have very long to sit and stare forlornly at the bookcase that needed to be better styled or the space planning disasters in her living room that created roadblocks instead of throughways or the vases standing empty awaiting something unique to drop inside them. Because in no time Delilah was all set, standing at the open doorway with her handmade jeweled scarf and matching knit cap, layers upon layers making Amelia wonder for a moment if maybe they should be taking a trip to the doctor instead of downtown.
“That’s new,” she said instead as they made their way out into the fresh sunshine, a hazy cloud or two trapping the predictably bright glare away from the street.
“That necklace. It’s gorgeous – where’d you get it?”
Delilah looked down at it for a moment and smiled. It wasn’t something that she would have been drawn to before with the huge iridescent orange stone shaped like a teardrop and an ornate gold setting like an old Victorian frame. Too busy for her – she preferred silver, circles, small. She ran her fingertips over the stone, cool to the touch, and it made her feel better, just ever so slightly.
“I found it. When I was cleaning out all those boxes before my birthday I found some of my Mom’s old things. Most of the stuff was just junk but I kept some vases, some really cool glass bottles, some kind of weird old diary and this. It is cool, huh?”
The streets were bustling with people coming and going. Delilah had forgotten how busy it was now that Samson’s had decided to open up shop downtown instead of near the outlets and strip malls near the freeway. It had been like an adrenaline shot for all the homegrown shops and boutiques downtown. She hadn’t really been out much since they’d opened and was surprised at all the good they seemed to be doing just by being nearby.
“That brings us to another thing I wanted to talk about– your birthday.”
“What about my birthday?” she asked, stopping to peer inside the window of a lighting store, standing in awe of the truly gorgeous chandeliers on the ceiling. She saw Amelia through the glass, doing a double-take for a moment that she was no longer standing next to her, and laughed out loud at the looks her outlandish coat was garnering. She stood next to three floor laps and posed, looking to Delilah for input but it was hard for her to keep a straight face when Amelia was doing her best impression of Tyra Banks through a department store window.
“Well, which one looked the best?” Amelia appeared next to her on the sidewalk as Delilah was wiping tears of mirth out of her eyes.
“Truthfully they all made you look like you were waiting for a bus or a pimp after a truly memorable Halloween party.”
“Okay, no floor lamps, good to know.” They continued on down the street, popping here and there into shops when the moment moved them. “Okay, about your birthday,” Amelia started again when they had crossed to the other side of the street.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Delilah sniffled. She peaked at Amelia beside her as they quickened their pace down the street. She had that look in her eyes, the one that suggested it would be futile to argue.
“The big deal is that it’s been almost three months and we haven’t gone out to celebrate. That is a dire situation that needs correcting. I know you don’t like a fuss but we can’t just ignore the whole thing.”
“It’s been so long now that my birthday doesn’t need to be celebrated. It came, it went, let’s just let it go.”
“No,” Amelia replied nonchalantly as if she’d just been asked if she thought it might rain tomorrow, raising her chin up a bit in defiance. A door opened into her path and she peaked back at Delilah before gliding through it, an implication to be sure that the matter was closed.
Delilah sighed but followed. There was really no use in arguing with Amelia about this – she was going to do what she wanted no matter what Delilah had to say about it, that’s just the way she was. She said it was “for her own good” but that phrase could be awfully misleading. Some amazing experiences happened because of it but Delilah couldn’t help but think that sometimes she’d much rather be less exciting and more sure of what was going to happen next. Truth be told, Delilah was not a big fan of change.
She sneezed as she entered the shop, violently, needing to grab the doorjamb to steady herself, and sniffled again. Not because it was dusty even though there were very old books scattered about everywhere, ones that tugged slightly at her heartstrings and seemed to be begging for a long, leisurely look. Not because the air was stale; anything but, seeming almost to taste crisp and clean like it was being piped right in from a mountain glen somewhere. If she didn’t know any better she’d swear she was standing in the middle of a field of sunflowers or poppies, happy flowers grinning up to meet her.
No, Delilah sneezed because of her cold, her horrendously bad cold, that she just couldn’t shake. It was the reason that they hadn’t gone out to celebrate her birthday, the reason that most of her friends thought she’d dropped off the face of the earth. It had lingered for three months, never really getting any better. That tickle in the back of her throat, the headache gently pounding behind her closed eyes, it all kept her at home nights. If she didn’t know any better she’d think toxic dust had been living in those boxes she’d never wanted to open and it had incubated to super strength since she’d let it sit for so long. Or here could be the consequences of spring cleaning, best to let stuff be.
“Bless you,” a slightly awed voice said. Delilah looked up to find it, making herself as flat as possible against the doorframe so someone could pass by, and for a moment she was speechless. Something weird was going on, she was sure of it, because those eyes she met set off strange bells of knowledge in her head. Her skin felt hot and started tingling, little prickles of sensation working themselves up into a frenzy. And then a wind was there to cool her, like she had stepped in front of an industrial fan or the breath of the universe. Her hair, all of the red shoulder length strands, rose from her back and started twirling in intricate dances. Something inside of her was glowing, incandescent, radiant. She could feel it – everything – all at once. What was happening to her?
“Delilah? Are you okay?” Amelia asked. And then it was over, the connection broken. She blinked, shook her head to clear away the sudden crazy hallucinations, and tentatively met Amelia’s eyes, looking drained and a little scared.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” she replied weakly, “let’s get out of here.” Amelia cast a sideways glance at the gypsy there who was watching at her with an unbelieving look but didn’t dare meet her eyes again, she seemed too familiar as it was. She shivered involuntarily as she crossed out into the street again and felt impossibly cold, like all of the warmth seeped out of her and stayed behind, inside.
“On second thought,” Delilah began weakly, “I think I’d really like to go see that doctor now.”
“You got it,” Amelia answered quickly, taking her by the shoulders and turning her around.
“We’ll go see Stephen right now. That’ll be fun to go catch up with my brother, right? You haven’t seen him forever. How long has it been? I think it was . . .”
Amelia kept rambling but Delilah stopped listening. She looked back over her shoulder to get a better look at where she had been, something inside of her and against her better judgment insisting with absolute certainty that she would find her way back there. The gypsy woman had come to stand in the doorway and was watching her still, standing under a sign that just confused her even more. Colin All Alternatives. What kind of place was that and who was that lady that she seemed to know?