Connie jammed her unruly curly red hair into a Mets cap, stuffed twenty dollars in her shorts pockets and did her best to avoid her reflection in the elevator vestibule's mirror on the way out. She'd given up on coming close to even the basest level of toned and coifed perfectionism that the majority of women that resided in her neighborhood of upper Manhattan so fiercely strived for. As if on cue—cue the ubermom—a blonde (always blonde) pony-tailed woman speedwalked past them as they emerged from their building. Connie could imagine the woman's whole life from the pertness of her stride—even the woman's butt looked preppily popular. Probably on her way to seven-dollar cappuccinos with Mimi or Kendra—a friend since her Lawrenceville days—to bitch about their nannies yet extol the dedication of the new Core Fusion instructor, while they drift off from the conversation to glance at their vibrating Blackberries set before them on the rustic farmhouse table...blah, blah, blah.
Really, who needed friends?
Daniel didn't notice that his mother weighed at least fifty pounds more than any other woman they encountered on the street. He was happy to hold her hand and skip along with her, especially after she'd bought him a banana from the corner fruit vendor. The city was serene this late in August, yet Connie felt strangely out of sorts—as if she and Daniel were not really walking north on Madison Avenue, but watching a movie of some other mother and child walking on Madison Avenue. A very loud and chaotic movie.
"Mommy! Can I look at the cactuses?"
"Cacti." It was refreshing to actually be able to correct Daniel. At age seven, Connie feared that Daniel had already surpassed her intellectually. A good thing, yes—especially since it had earned him a full scholarship to the academically rigorous Blake school—but Connie still liked to feel needed. And a little superior, now and then.
Daniel ran off to ogle the assortment of different cacti arranged in an intricate and realistic desert setting in the window of the florist shop. As his small hand slipped out of her own Connie felt something more slip away from her. She struggled to catch her breath. Literally, she went to inhale and it was as if someone had challenged her to suck meat through a straw.
"Da..." she tried to call, not finding enough breath for the second syllable. Embarrassed, then too exhausted to care, she clung to a parking meter. She held onto the round head of the meter, noticing that there were only three minutes left before it expired and this concerned her, as if she might get a ticket.
Her breath became more ragged and she felt her fingers slide, and she not so much fell, as slid down the meter, as if it were coated in butter. Spasms of pain shot across her back and she chastened herself for carrying Daniel earlier. She lay on the sidewalk, the acrid punch of dog piss her last conscious sensation before blacking out.
When her eyes opened, a forest of strange legs surrounded her. In a panic that nearly stopped her heart, she searched though the crowd for the skinny legs in the red flip-flops. He was wearing yellow shorts that were a bit roomy around the waist, as most of his clothes were, and the white band of his little boy underpants was exposed. He refused to wear underwear with cartoon characters on them and she had to go to four different stores to find plain white underwear in his size. This she had done for him and now it consoled her. After tilting her head up she saw that a paramedic held Daniel firmly in his arms. She closed her eyes once more as another paramedic bent over her with an oxygen mask.
She knew Daniel was safe, but one thought still nagged at her. Loafers. She'd meant to take him to the shoe store today to get his new loafers for school. He needed to wear them in before school started or they would hurt.