Authors: Emigh Cannaday
The Misadventures of Annika Brisby
Copyright © 2008, 2010, 2012 Emigh Cannaday
All rights reserved.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Dedicated to those who still believe.
an ill-timed proposal
Fidgeting with her keys in one hand and balancing an overstuffed laundry basket in the other, a very short and very glum redhead walked up the stone steps to a very large and very dilapidated three-story house.
“Annika, is that you? Oh my god, you’re late!” a shrill voice nagged from the kitchen. “I thought you guys were just having a quick dinner before you came over. What the hell took you so long?”
Annika rounded the corner to see an impeccably dressed man in his late twenties getting up from the table as he shut down his laptop.
“I’m not going out tonight, James,” she sighed, dropping the laundry basket by the staircase that led to her old room.
“The hell you’re not,” James said in a tone that found her excuse unacceptable. “We’ve been planning this for like,
“Danny and I broke up.”
James’ whole body jumped, like he’d been electrocuted.
“What?” he gasped. “But, you
moved in with him! I thought he was hinting at buying you a ring!”
Annika nodded and lifted up her left hand, which was snatched right away by her friend. There on display was an enormous diamond ring that probably cost as much as a small island.
“Yeah, well…it wasn’t a hint.”
James let go of her hand and massaged the bridge of his nose underneath his trendy glasses, something he did when he was stressed, which happened to be quite often.
“So where’s the part where you broke up?” he asked, still dumbstruck. “I need some details.”
“Oh, it was right after the part where he asked me to marry him in front of the
restaurant! And when I said I wasn’t sure, he basically told me that the band is never going to go anywhere and that I was wasting my time with my music.” She paused just long enough to sneer. “He said I needed to grow up.”
you that?” James asked, deeply offended. “Like, to your
“Yeah, although I can’t remember if it was before or after he called me an alcoholic party animal.” Sure, she liked to have a good time, but not every night. And if having wine with dinner made her an alcoholic, then Danny was just being ridiculous.
“You’ve got to be shitting me!” James’s brown eyes seemed about ready to pop out of his skull. “What the hell is his problem? You guys got together at a friggin’
“I know,” Annika agreed, shaking her head. “To be fair, I said a few asinine things to him too, but they’re not worth repeating.” She wiped away a rebellious tear from her cheek. “I just know I can’t marry him.”
“So, um, then why are you still wearing the ring, sweetie?” James couldn’t stop eyeballing the huge rock that glittered every time Annika’s hand moved.
“He told me I could keep it,” she sighed heavily and then sat on the bottom step of the staircase. “I think he’s counting on me coming to my senses. That’s how he put it, anyway.”
“Then he really doesn’t know you at all, does he?” James pointed out, and sat down beside her. “You know, the harder he tried to pin you down, the more you’ve been talking about seeing other people. I’m kind of surprised you guys lasted so long. I had my doubts when you said you were moving in together, but I suppose deep down you weren’t really sure about it. Otherwise you wouldn’t have left so much of your shit in your room upstairs.” Annika glanced at her friend, and an old memory came to mind of when she was a young girl catching fire flies in a glass jar. She would watch them crawl around and light up her bedroom on those summer nights, only to set them free the next morning. It was always her favorite part, to let them go. Now that she was older, she wondered if the insects had felt as trapped in that jar as she had felt in the restaurant when the small, distinctive blue box from Tiffany’s had been given to her.
She studied her left hand as if it had changed into a freakish, yet fascinating shape. She turned her wrist slowly from side to side, letting the light from above catch the cuts of the stone. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t anything she would have chosen for herself since the band was too wide for her to comfortably play guitar.
kinda pretty, I guess,” she confessed with a little smile. “And it’ll keep the boys from hitting on me.”
“If you believe that, then I’ve got a bridge in London I’d like to sell you,” James mused.
An hour later Annika was doing her best to drink her troubles away amidst the blaring music of James’ favorite club. The thumping bass was too loud to hear the condolences that their friends offered, yet it wasn’t nearly loud enough to drown out the thoughts in her head.
She cared about Danny a lot. True, they didn’t have much in common, but there were plenty of happy couples out there like that, right? At some point during the past two and a half years, all of Annika’s friends had suggested one way or another why Danny was so wrong for her, but she hadn’t seemed to hear them. He wasn’t very daring, or adventurous, or spontaneous. He thought her obsession with music was just a kink in her personality that needed to be worked out. Annika on the other hand, was the type of person who was determined enough to follow a strict band practice schedule, and impulsive enough to drive outside the Portland city limits at three in the morning just to watch a passing meteor shower. She was always out and about, whether it was seeing live shows with her older brother Charlie or going shoe shopping with James. Danny was the opposite. He was a homebody. On the rare occasion that they did go out on the town, it was always the same formula; dinner and a movie. Or a movie and dinner. Or sometimes, it was dinner with his co-workers, where they talked about the hospital they worked at and Annika would try desperately to follow along with their sophisticated jargon.
She used to think that her and Danny were a good balance because she was so free-spirited and he was so…grounded. He drove a nice car, had a nice house, made great money, and she knew she could have been content spending her life with him, but only to a certain extent. There was no passion, no spark, and she began to realize that she would never be fulfilled with him right around the time Danny had begun to look at engagement rings. It was only a matter of time before Annika would have to get her head out of the clouds and deal with the reality of her situation.
By the end of the night her situation consisted of having had too much to drink, thanks to her well-meaning friends. The last thing she remembered was being shoved into the backseat of James’s car, and then being helped to her old room at the top of the stairs.
Annika woke up face down on the floor, rolled halfway under her bed, still in her dress and heels. Her cell phone was ringing in her purse close to her ear.
“Hello?” she mumbled into the receiver.
“‘Allo, Annika, is that you?” A faraway voice crackled in the receiver. She was still a little drunk and extremely confused by the outrageous, thick French accent.
“Charlie?” she croaked. Her mouth was desert-dry from the previous night’s drinking binge.
“No, no, Annika, it’s your favorite uncle.” Annika was silent as her brain reminded her that she only had one uncle.
“Uncle Vince? Why is the connection so bad?” she asked. Usually she could hear him perfectly, but now he sounded like he was talking to her through a tin can and some old string.
“I am in Bulgaria. Did your mother not tell you? I’ve discovered a new praying mantis during my research.”
“That sounds…cool,” Annika stammered as she rubbed her dark blue eyes. “How are you doing other than that?”
Trés bien, merçi beauçoup
,” Vince chirped happily. “Unfortunately, it sounds as if I am doing better than you. I just read your e-mail and I think it would be of benefit for you to pay me a visit. Why don’t you take a holiday and come keep me company, eh? Just for a month or two, and clear your mind of this tragedy
What e-mail is he talking about?
she wondered, racking her frazzled brain. When she glanced up at her nightstand, her heart sank. There was her laptop, with her email account displayed on the screen.
“What would I do there, Vince? Catch grasshoppers?” she asked, wincing as she stood up and sat on the edge of her bed. A serious hangover was just beginning to bloom.
“You can help me if you want. I don’t really give a shit.” She smiled at his accent, and could almost see him waving his be-cigaretted hand in dismissal of the idea of her trying to earn her keep. “You just feed us men a proper meal, eh? You are still a reasonably good chef,
? Everything I make burns to shit. Isn’t your passport still valid?”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
, as serious as a…
qu’est ce que c’est
…a heart attack, no? Isn’t that how the phrase goes?”
“Yeah, serious as a heart attack,” she confirmed. The thought of quitting her waitressing job was less of a concern as the idea of running away grew more and more alluring. “When should I come out there? It’ll take me a while to find a cheap ticket.”
“Come straight away! I will buy you a plane ticket right now, if you just say the word. We are starving over here!”
“You’ve got to be shitting me.”
“I am not shitting with you, Annika,” her uncle said firmly, though she couldn’t help but laugh at his English. “I have my finger on the button.”
“You do not,” she dared.
, I do!” he dared right back.
“Yeah, if you buy me a ticket, I’ll be on a plane tomorrow,” she joked, still not believing him.
“Consider it done, then. You had better pack your things.” With that final decry Vince promptly hung up. Annika had her doubts, but when she checked her e-mail there was a message that he had indeed purchased a one-way ticket to Sofia, Bulgaria. Annika’s mouth became even drier as she realized he’d called her bluff. Out of curiosity she opened the ‘sent mail’ folder and her jaw dropped. In the drunken stupor of last night, she’d poured her heart out to her uncle, sounding miserable and perplexed as to how and why she’d gotten so wrapped up with Danny in the first place. In between the numerous spelling errors she’d begged Vince for advice, saying she doubted that she was really in love, but unsure if she should leave Danny because maybe that was as good as it gets, and she had what most people wanted in a relationship; stability, financial security, someone who spoiled her rotten from time to time. She was slightly embarrassed to have mentioned all this to her uncle, but what was done was done. All she wanted now was time to sort out her thoughts. And Advil. A big bottle of Advil.
A week later she was on a plane headed for Sofia, unsure of what her entomologist uncle would have her do. She assumed she’d help translate his academic papers since English wasn’t his first language. As children, her uncle and her mother were born in Macedonia, then later emigrated to France, where Annika’s mother became a hairdresser. There she met Annika’s father, who was in the military at the time. After a light sneeze botched his haircut and he still insisted on paying her, Annika’s mother took him out for coffee. The date clearly went well, because he brought her home to America. Vince had stayed in France, visiting his sister’s family during his university breaks. He was a proper uncle too, teaching Annika and Charlie how to spit, how to swear in French, and how to roll a joint the way he’d learned in Amsterdam.
Vince had always been lean, but when Annika arrived at the airport, she was concerned by his appearance. Apparently his cooking really was shit, because there were dark circles under his eyes and hollows in his gaunt cheeks. He seemed in good spirits, however, and helped her gather her luggage and wait in line through customs, all the while talking with a ready-to-be-lit cigarette dangling in his mouth.
He’d rented a small house less than fifteen miles north of Sofia, and Annika was grateful that he’d chosen to live outside of the city where the air was clean and the Balkan Mountains were practically in her backyard. It was a welcome change of scenery from Vince’s cracker box of an apartment in Paris, with cars whooshing by at all hours of the night and a city so large that it filled the horizon in every direction. When she went to bed at night, all she saw were the stars outside her window that numbered in the billions without the hindrance of light pollution. When she woke up in the morning, all she heard was the chirping of birds as summer drew to a reluctant end.
For the first couple of weeks, she lay about not doing much of anything except translating a few papers here and there and cooking great big meals for Vince and his colleagues from the university in Sofia. She basked in pride when they tilted their chairs back and loosened their belts. They marveled at her skill in the kitchen, devouring the succulent
she made on a regular basis; a traditional dish her mother had taught her to make using a mixture of eggs, yogurt and cheese layered in between flaky sheets of filo dough. Annika found it amusing that she was content to look after all these men because when Danny had expected her to act more traditional, she wasn’t interested. But when it was her decision, she jumped at the chance to impress Vince and his buddies with lemon-herb chicken, or a shepherd’s pie, or chopska salad with garlic mashed potatoes and crème caramel for dessert. Within a week, she swore Vince had gained twenty pounds. He looked less emaciated and jollier than ever. When she wasn’t grocery shopping with him or cooking for him or tidying up his little cottage, she spent the rest of her time hiking around the mountains and writing music. Even though she still wore her ring, she thought about Danny less and less. She hadn’t responded to his e-mails, in which he tried to explain his point of view. The point of view where she was expected to trade her guitar for a minivan, to give up her childish dreams, and become something she wasn’t at all interested in being; ordinary.