Portrait of a Young Woman During Quarantine
By Darcy Casey
Ten at night and the woman’s stomach rumbles; sleep is impossible when her insides have so much to say. She turns under her blankets, a crocodile rolling in a kill’s final moments, but nothing dies except her resolve. She peels the ruined blankets from her body, careful not to wake her husband. From her guts rises a more insistent growl. The stomach, itself a cavernous brain, knows where she is going and is glad. She walks and, reflecting on the day, is pleased to realize she has not eaten a full meal. But wait: can this be true? She considers. It is true. (more…)
Michel waters the plants in rotations. He starts with the tillandsias hanging in the copper-wire cages, then the oreganos and vanilla orchids near the south-facing window, then the begonia on the dining room table. The succulents need to be split, and the philodendrons need more sunlight. His hands are too weak to lift the watering pot; instead, he uses a wine glass like I showed him. It’s a small task to strengthen his muscles. “How are you doing?” His movements are slight and slow, but he smiles. “Well,” he says. I’m afraid to press him further. I leave him to water, then I peel the sweet potatoes for dinner. (more…)
Maggie and I lived in a prim white house at the intersection of Maple Road and Main Street, and when she left to teach every morning, I’d stay home and stare out the front window because I lost my job at the bank. It’s a busy crossing, particularly when children are walking to and from Fielding Elementary School, where Maggie once taught fifth grade. The crosswalk is marked by a plastic stop sign in the middle of the road, with a capitalized warning for cars to stop for pedestrians. Yet drivers zoom by, narrowly missing people. I’d bang on the windowpane occasionally, to no effect. I don’t like that kind of response, as Maggie well knew. After enough mornings, I left the house and crossed the street, taking my time. I crossed back again. I waved my arms, getting in the motorists’ faces, forcing them to stop. (more…)
There’s a funny smell around Register 8 and none of the cashiers want to use it, but it’s Saturday, a couple of weeks before Christmas, and Maggie is stuck there.
Maggie is the cutest girl in Marshalls, and she worries people will think that she is the source of the smell. This is preposterous. The sight of her in the break room makes me think, unaccountably, of vanilla extract, of cakes leavening behind the little window of my grandmother’s oven.
A men’s wear price check comes over the PA, and because I’m in the pants section, I’m able to make it to the register more quickly than Adam, who is over in the dress shirts, straightening the rows. Adam has been hitting on Maggie ever since he got hired for the Christmas rush. Maggie and I are year-rounders, and the first thing I check on the schedule each week is when our times will overlap. To take a belt or a fleece jacket from her hand means the possibility of contact, of rapture. (more…)
Today we are tanning near each other on bright red beach towels on the sand at Hendri’s beach. This time I don’t let my mind worry too much about Blythe’s exhibitionist traits. I’ve overcome my shyness, and we both have our bikini tops off. They’re lying next to us like useless rags.
Sometimes, there’s a language in her eyes that makes me freeze in my tracks, but my goal in this world is to become less uptight. We are thirteen, and happily, only one of us has an attractive face. The other one of us has an attractive body. My body has some potential but there is no way to know if things will turn out.
Driving around in Blythe’s brother’s SUV, we make weekend plans. We whisper in the back seat. Blythe calls him Jeeves and we hate his jokes. Sometimes he flips us off in the rearview mirror. (more…)
Grocery Shopping With My Dead Mother
By Jodi Freeman
Under the store’s florescent lights I see that this handwritten recipe for Chicken and Dumpling Soup is as fragile as dry butterfly wings. The creases are as good as rips. The page is the color of rancid butter, dotted with grease marks, marred by years of being folded into fourths and stored with 3X5 cards and Good Housekeeping clippings in the unremarkable yellow plastic box.
I snuck my mother’s recipe box out of my father’s house with the other kitchen items I took to my first on-campus apartment. Not that he wouldn’t share it with me, but he would have insisted the artifact itself remain safe at home. I didn’t trust myself to explain that I’m hollow and imagine my mother’s food will fill me. Everyday things that will hold my skin to my bones. Won’t articulate that these recipes may be the letter she never left, explaining what I needed to know about being a woman that she didn’t live to tell me. (more…)
I was sitting in class staring at Mr. Takashi writing algebra in big loopy lettering on the chalkboard when the bomb landed. He was wearing a short-sleeved white cotton shirt with black slacks that billowed around his skinny legs and a pair of black-rimmed glasses that perched on the bridge of his rubbery nose.
I’m not sure why I can remember him so vividly now. It was just an ordinary school day and me and my thirty or so classmates had no idea when we filed into trigonometry that morning that this day would change our lives.
But somehow every minute detail of that day is seared into my memory, like it’s a part of me and I’m a part of it. And so my life became divided in two—those childhood days that came before the bomb and the days that marched onwards defiantly after. The bomb itself is somehow outside of my life now, like a break in a paragraph, instead of a chapter in itself. (more…)
Nancy would later tell anyone who asked that she escaped the hailstorm by ducking into the first available open door, which happened to lead into a church. She’d been making her way back home slowly, switching her purse from the crook of her right arm to the crook of her left and back again as they got tired of the weight. It was just bad luck that there’d been such a massive storm, so uncharacteristic for February, on that exact day, when her purse was so heavy. She was carrying Walter’s favorite book, his glasses and hers, a thermos still half full of black tea, an empty Tupperware (she despised hospital food), her billfold, her house keys, a packet of Kleenex, a packet of mints, a small leather pouch with all her regular medication (the Lipitor and the diuretics and the aspirin), and her cell phone. It was a lot for such a small, feminine bag. (more…)
Cormorants swoop and dive-bomb into the salty water, their trajectory stealthy and deep. The ravenous dog looks on, the birds out of reach. He paces back and forth, riveted along the water’s edge. Frothy waves tickle his paws, tracing wet impressions in the sand. He is prepared to wait. His stomach growls and bends.
The dog has been on the hunt for five days, lost far from home, disoriented since the electrical storm. He is managing quite well for a purebred: cozy cave, blankie, and binky, out of sight, out of mind. Foraging comes surprisingly easy for him, as if it were a daily hustle. He’s made friends too; first ever beyond the local fenced-in dog park. His master would be impressed, no, worried, both. He does not know that his human family has been busy plastering the neighbourhood with posters, leaving bowls of premium kibble and fresh water out on the veranda. The porch-light left on 24/7, beckoning him home. He is too far away to see the beacon. (more…)
On the porch, the radio plays old tunes. Sometimes our heads bob. I’m on the top step. Below me, Bianca sits behind my little sister, Tia, braiding her hair. She combs out Tia’s rough hair with an orange comb, applies grease. Bianca doesn’t have rough hair, no. She has good hair. Tia doesn’t care much for Bianca because of that. It’s a girl thing, I guess.
My mama used to do Tia’s hair. She was gentler with that orange comb. She’d even cut my hair when it got too long. Boys shouldn’t have long hair, she’d say. But I loved it when she’d cut it. We’d talk about life, me becoming a man, and sometimes about my father. Her gentle hands would glide the clippers through my hair, trimming it to her liking. I would feel like a new me afterwards. But now my hair’s the longest it’s ever been. It gets longer by the day, it seems.
It’s hot out, even hotter with this long hair. Inside’s no better. The Mississippi sun tans us, sweat beads dot our black skin. I hold a cup of lemonade to my forehead, then take a swallow, ice cubes kiss my lips. It’s more sugar than lemon—Bianca’s doing. I watch her jerk Tia’s head with that orange comb again, smearing more grease. The comb works through the hair. The sweet, greasy fragrance sweeps across my nose. (more…)