Mother’s Day song

She puts the card back with its envelope and away. She has no one to buy it for anyway.

She looks down at the motherless little girl standing in her Velcro-strapped shoes, flipping open and closed a card that plays music, a song she knows she knows.

It doesn’t play for very long, not nearly long enough. All she has to go off are the few notes that make the little girl giggle, which is not much to go off at all. Little girls giggle.

She tries to remember the last time her daughter giggled, but can’t, and tries to remember the last time she herself giggled, but can’t, not even as a little girl, and she remembers she doesn’t have anyone anymore to ask if she ever giggled, and she wonders if giggles are memories never made and if this song, whatever this song is, this song she knows she’s heard but can’t remember when or why or whether she’ll ever hear it again, this song that lasts no longer than a moment, no time at all, she wonders if this song has anything to do with Mother’s Day anyway.

The day after Mother’s Day, Andrea said it seemed like I should write something sad. She just felt like it was something I needed to do. So I said fine. I don’t like writing sad because I feel like I do it too much and it’s mopey or sappy or just puddle-like. Anyway, I thought about my mom on Mother’s Day. She told me this year how hard it is for her, even though it’s been years. So I thought about that, and I wrote this. Maybe it’s too oblique to work, but I love it too much to let it go. If it doesn’t work, I’ll keep working on it.

Cruise control

This is something I scribbled one morning after driving before dawn, getting stuck behind a professional driver on an otherwise empty road and trying to understand why I was the one in a rush. I’ve cleaned it up a bit since that first draft, to try to tighten it. It’s still not there, but it’s closer. It could use some more description to give a better sense of place and time of day and to put the reader in the car and give a peek into the main character’s mind. I don’t think it conveys strongly enough the main character’s anxiety and how maddened they are by the nonchalant speed of the professional driver. In other words, it’s skeletal. But a good skeletal, the kind that can be built on and would hold up.

The “TCP-XXXX” decal on the back of the black SUV before him signaled this was a professional driver. Someone sent to chauffeur those well off enough to not need Uber even before Uber was ever around. He usually tried to steer clear of professional drivers. They drove for the money and too often to take care. But he had no choice here on this single-lane street away from the main road.

Anyway, what was this driver doing here before dawn driving slower than the speed limit? No way they had a passenger. Maybe they couldn’t find the pick-up spot.

Still, they didn’t seem to notice that he had nosed up behind, to nudge them along or out of the way. If they did, they didn’t seem to mind.

Eventually he let his foot off the pedals to stop from switching between gas and brake. He let the car roll as the road sloped downhill and ramped back up. The distance between him and the professional driver didn’t change. They must have let their foot off the gas too.

Soup and Burger

She liked how the cold bit at her cheek on nights like this when she could feel its lips. On these nights, the colors contrasted, the yellow of the taxis huddled against the black sky. Everything in lamplight. She wondered if it might snow.

She sucked in as if from a cigarette. “So where to now?” Rachel asked her friends also clad in dark jackets and bright heels.

“Well, do we want to go to another bar, or a club, or– ”

“No,” Nellie said, interrupting Jasmine, who side-eyed to say, “Or weren’t Adam and Elisha having a party?”

“Tomorrow night,” Rachel said.

“Oh yeah, okay,” said Jasmine. “Or we could get food and figure it out?”

Rachel’s mouth tightened. She should have eaten the wings they were offered. But she didn’t like how her fingers still stuck even after wiping them with a napkin, and she didn’t want to deal with waiting in line for the bathroom just to use the sink. At the same time, she was too hungry and it was so early, that she knew she wouldn’t be able to sit down somewhere to eat and not order anything with fries.

“How about Soup ’N Burger?” she offered.

Nellie mmm-ed and Jasmine’s eyes brightened and her hands raised like she had been inflated.

Immediately inside the air warmed like the diner and everyone inside were breathing beneath a heavy blanket. It smelled of noodle soups with celery and coffee, and the lights aged the walls yellow like newspaper.

“I’m definitely getting soup,” said Nellie over the percussion of silverware.

“You have to,” said Jasmine. “It’s in the name.”

“You don’t have to,” said Rachel.

“On your first time, you do,” said Jasmine, in mock offense to Rachel before facing at Nellie.

“Do I have to get a burger too?” said Nellie.

Jasmine gave one of those long, sharp hums like she was deciding. “No,” she said. “The burgers are just okay. They char them too much.”

“Nooo,” Rachel said in gleeful disagreement. “That’s what makes them good.” Turning to Nellie, she said, “it’s like they were cooked in a fireplace. The soup’s really good too. The cheese and broccoli.”

“I might get an omelette,” said Jasmine.

“Oh with the home fries?” said Rachel in approval.

“I’m definitely getting coffee,” said Nellie, her eyes nudging at the wallet-looking flask peeking from her jacket pocket.

They got a booth against the wall. Rachel had always appreciated that the leather seats weren’t vinyl. She also liked the pictures on the wall of people and places she didn’t know.

When her patty melt came, she dug a fry between the cheese and burger and ate it. Nellie noticed and dipped one of her fries into her cheesy soup.

“Oh, I’ve never tried that,” Rachel said, wide-eyed. “Can I have some?”

Swallowing, Nellie nodded and slid her bowl over. Jasmine took one of Rachel’s fries and tried it too.

“We’re gonna need to get more fries,” Jasmine said.

“And soup,” said Rachel over the fries in her mouth.

The soupy fries sharpened the whiskey in their coffees. They had to drink them black because sometimes, if a cup sat too long, the liquor separated from the milk or cream. This being a college part of town, sometimes the servers looked for that, and sometimes they said something.

Their server hadn’t said anything other than “sure” when, while she refilled their coffees, they asked for a basket of fries and another bowl of soup. She wore a bandana over her hair and looked like Frances McDormand. When she leaned down to take Nellie’s empty plate with her free hand, the way she held the coffee pot above and away from the table, with the kitchen and counter behind her, her mouth slightly open and eyes blank with thought — Rachel wanted that picture framed in her future home, to show her kids and their kids where she had lived once, what it was like.

Boiled over

She forgot about the boiling noodles. But it wasn’t even that she had forgotten about them. She hadn’t. But she hadn’t forgotten about the sausages either, which needed turning, or the cookie tray that needed to be lined with aluminum for the bread that needed to be put in the oven that needed to be set. The bread. The bread needed a light buttering and some seasoning that she needed to take out from the cabinet above. Oh above, where the fan needed turning on so the oil from the skillet didn’t smoke out the apartment and set off the fire alarms and make her get out the fan instead of, shit, the noodles.

Traffic patterns

It can’t wait, though. It’s work, she wanted to yell to the billboard. Work doesn’t wait. It doesn’t fucking work like that, she found herself now shouting.

Her hands choking the steering wheel, her eyes staring at the red light like the asshole that it is, “you smug bastard,” she exhaled. “You don’t know. Or do you?

“What do you do when you turn off? Do you know when you’ll turn back on? If you do“ — a car honks — “I have a follow-up question about sitting alone at red lights, but we can come back to it.”

Almost al dente

The third noodle stuck, high above two lying limp on the tile. She threw a fourth. It also stuck. A fifth fell. The sixth stuck.

So she kept throwing them. Some stuck, some fell. She didn’t yet know what to do with the fallen ones or the ones that stuck. She still had a whole pot to go.

She began to aim, adjusting her throw and her grip. Some she grabbed near the middle and flicked at the wall like she was trying to ring a milk bottle to win an overstuffed penguin. Others she flung for the fuck of it. For some, she wound up, stepping to set her weight to one leg, her arm twisted behind her, and then she whipped forward to frisbee the noodle, which often splatted against the fridge.

She thought about cleaning. Then about cheating. She could move them, she told herself. Who would know? Who would care? Who the hell would she tell? Maybe later, she decided.

But now she struggled. She saw where she wanted the noodles to land. She even had an idea of how. But she lost sight before she let go. They knocked against other noodles and fell, more collecting on the floor.

That became the game. With the few noodles she had left, her last lives. She flung, some fell, some swung into new places and opened new spaces. She finished and took it in. It looked like nothing except spaghetti. She framed it anyhow.

When the days didn’t have names

A sketch

Those days it was like the sun rose to find them. Like it needed to get as high as possible to peek at where they were, to wake them. But they would stay hidden. Blankets pulled over heads and legs dangling across the bed.

The house that had been loud was now silent except for the birds and the lawnmower out back. It smelled like warm wet. Like a good day for bees and flowers to be together.

Once up the day had begun, but not yet. Now was still sometime between yesterday and today, which was really tomorrow. And tomorrow was closer to the first day of school, which wasn’t today but sometime not far away.

Too bad it rarely rained. The days always felt like they’d never end when it rained.

Something else

A dialogue

Talk to me.

About what?

Just talk.

Okay. I almost broke my tooth.

What? How?

I was eating a hard-boiled egg, and I guess I didn’t get all the shell off.

You almost broke your tooth on an egg shell?

Ha, yeah. I mean, I thought I did. I didn’t.

Well that’s good.

I know. Can you imagine if I did break it? Then, for the rest of my life, if someone asked if I’d ever broken a tooth, I’d have to say yes. And if they asked how, I’d have to say from an egg shell.

That’d be quite a story.

I know. I almost wish I had broken it.

I miss you.

I know that too. And know what?

No, what?

I miss you too.

Tell me something else.

Something else.

Sow

a sketch

The woman stared at her garden. My garden, she thought. She had never had a garden before. Not really.

As a kid, she would water her mom’s plants. Until one time her parents went away for a few days, she forgot about the prayer plants in the bedroom that otherwise remained empty.

“You killed the prayer plants,” her mother accused her. Her mother small but powerful with her hands holding together the brown leaves that, when green, would fold toward one another in solemn conspiracy.

Her mother’s words rang ridiculous at the time, but she roiled in recall.

“You weren’t here. You let them die,” she burst.

Years later, her mother — sitting in a circle of family and friends at the point late at a party when the ice has melted — would offhandedly say that this was the worst thing her daughter had ever said. Then, she smiled at her firstborn, for a time her only, as if the memory bound them.

Two days after her mother passed, she remembered the plants. She drowned them. Accidentally but still. It wasn’t for a few more days that someone told her what she’d done, was in fact doing at that moment she learned that plants can drown, that they drown at the root.

Colada morada

a sketch

The water was a purple kind of brown, as if it knew the word gloom. Still it looked inviting under the dust-burnt clouds. The water’s color belied its warmth. But not to him. He saw colada morada. He saw his grandma, stirring her royal blue pot of berries cooked past a pudding, standing in an oversized shirt and pajama pants, avocado mashed into her hair. She explained to him once why she did it, but he couldn’t remember what she said. He didn’t remember much of what she said other than the things she would always say. Those sounds would never leave him. They were too of their own, like a faraway star so close in the sky.