Back To School
It’s my sister’s first day back; she has never left The Kid before. He is swaddled in clean cotton, dozing like a stuffed dog on my shoulder. She's bawling, one foot out the door. She is late. It has snowed overnight, powder swirls across hardwoods as she hesitates, questions her existence and if she pumped enough breast milk and if we have enough coffee, cereal, bananas, and what of the baby? Baby, baby?
Her man is snoring in the back bedroom. She winces at the peace of it. “How can he sleep?” she says. “I mean . . . really?”
I tell her, “I will call if the kid says Mama or wipes his own ass” (he is two months new to the world). “We have an arsenal of frozen breast milk, for fuck sake. I may make a shake. Who knows? Other than that,” I tell her, “the kid will be beside himself when he sees your real tit and face again.”
“I haven't exactly planned,” she says.
I hear, This wasn’t exactly planned. “Jesus, don’t ever tell him that!” Our parents acted as if they’d hit each other head on in a car crash and out we popped.
“For the kids,” she moans. “I haven’t planned for the kids. I'm a teacher!”
Oh. I tell her they are retarded. “Right? What do they know?”
“They, are challenged. You, are horrible.”
I shrug, look up to see a familiar clay ashtray tucked under the eaves. Almost hidden. A crude flower carved into the side mold, a few Camels, smoked down to butt, are squashed with determination into a tall pile in its center. It’s one of the million grade school projects we made for Pop.
“Hey, I thought you quit smoking!” I yell as she skirts toward her car, waving us back inside.
“He does!” she cries and points toward where her man is blissfully ignorant. “Too much!”
For some reason this makes me sweat. I want to run after her, tell her not to worry. But I’m not so sure what I don’t want her to worry about. Pop kept seven of those sad ashtrays stashed on windowsills down in our dark basement, always full and sometimes smoldering while he rocked away in his lazy chair, planning his inevitable escape.
I sniff the creature’s head and it smells like earth candy. It farts and for some reason I lift its swaddled ass to my face. It smells sweet like almost sour chocolate milk. I nuzzle it and feel like I’ve gotten away with stealing some batteries for my walkman or something. I feel lucky. Scared shitless. I whisper, “You are her One True Love. Don’t break her heart.” But I know he will.
As she ducks into the driver’s seat, I hear my sister laugh (or cry) and blow her nose into that tissue she tucks into her coat sleeve. A trick she learned from our mother, who was the queen of hiding her tears in public.
Dani Sandal's writing has appeared in Puerto del Sol, Monkeybicycle, Mad Hatter's Review, PANK, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Deep South Magazine, and other fine places. She is also included in Wigleaf Top 50 for 2013. She holds an MFA from George Mason University, and has the continuous pleasure of raising the coolest kid ever, Holden.