In this way, Becky controlled her life.

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photo by L.C. Stair

There are two things that matter to Jessica: being pregnant and wishing she wasn’t. Her focus on these things gave her a deadpan expression as she cursed out loud. Shoving the test into its box and the box into the bottom of her purse, she walked out of Super Walmart’s ladies-room. Her mother worked at this Walmart. She scanned the cashier lines for her mother and found her on #8 tossing behind the register with bags that hung on the carousel contraption. Jessica could tell the customer was annoyed by her mother, causing Jessica to feel an embarrassment and walk out unnoticed.

Her mother, Becky, constantly complained about the manager’s wanting her to speed up and stop taking to the customers. Becky is scheduled to work 20 hours a week, even though she asks for more. Her schedule is always just under the number of hours that would require the company to provide health benefits. If her mother had been informed of her daughter’s pregnancy, this very injustice would have crossed her mind, but since she was deprived of knowing, there was no need to evaluate her current lack of health insurance. Instead, she doubled-bagged in preparation of as shit load of dog food cans. After which she scanned a a cold gallon of milk.

The customer asked her if she could bag the milk. Becky hated this request most of all. “It has a handle,” she would inform Jessica later that night. For now though, she placed the damned thing in a wasteful bag. Day after day Becky slides items along a piece of glass and hits plastic buttons so a machine will provide her the taxed total. When she takes hold of cash, food stamps, and credit cards, she feels the strain of the repetition on her back and it is as if she’s tuck in a time trap.

She’d long ago come to consider shopping as a privilege. Sometimes, when the store was slow, she would watch the shoppers in ladies  apparel. She’d marvel when she saw women put clothes into their metal carts without looking at a tag. That kind of shopper was rich. She would never have that luxury, there was no other way around it. When shoppers came with familiar purchases as her own – such clearance and generic items – she couldn’t help but begin a friendly conversation, making rich women next in line wait longer. In these ways, Becky controlled her life.

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The Easter Tradition

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Photo by LC Stair

My daughter is cleverer than I am. She coined the family term, “Easter Tradition.” An Easter Tradition is one where a child brings home the stomach bug. Then, everyone succumbs, a few days apart from one another, to shitting and vomiting to the extent of exhaustion and begging for mercy. It’s happened to our family, in our quaint house with one bathroom, for a few springtimes now. Having one bathroom certainly encourages the quick and tumultuous virus to spread like crabs in a drug-dealer’s trailer.

After the first victim, we religiously beach light switches, doorknobs, refrigerator handles, and wash our hands until they begin to look parched. My husband and I silently wait, who will be next? Dry heaves and stomach cramps be damned, will I wake at 2 in the morning or will I beat the odds?

The first time, on a night before Easter, both daughters got sick within an hour of one another. “Save the baby,” I said and called the in-laws in from their camper, which was parked in our backyard for the season. I realized we had the Rotavirus, or worse, the Norovirus in our house. I tied a t-shirt tied across my face like cowboy’s bandana in 1890 Tombstone, Arizona. My mother-in-law took our three-month-old son into the camper and laughed sweetly at our predicament.

While M was vomiting all over the toilet, S cried, humiliated by having to say it, “I have to poop!” I stopped rubbing M’s back and snatched the trashcan from its place. There was no other choice, I told S, “Shit in the trashcan.” She leaned back as though she understood her task. Squatting low, and appearing on target, she missed altogether and her body spew a brown muddiness all across the bathroom wall where it splashed like chocolate milk.

Because I’m inclined to research, I had read all about these viruses on the CDC’s website. I can tell you it’s bleach that kills the virus, and that the virus holder is contagious for a two to three days after they’ve recovered. Thus, my husband and I know the absolute importance of not getting either the shit or vomit in our eyes and mouths and noses.

A few minutes later, still wearing my fashioned facemask having just cleaned up the vomit from the toilet and shit on the wall, we began to make beds for them on the floor nearest the bathroom. He made one pallet and I the other, each of us unfurling blankets. As my hand went up to unfurl, his body came down to adjust – we touched one another – my hand, which had not yet been washed, met his face on the mouth. We instantly knew he would become the next victim of the Easter tradition. I started laughing, “I’m so sorry! That sucks. I’m so sorry!” (He did not laugh.)

Two days later he vomited and shit throughout the night. My son and I made it through unscathed. My in-laws did not; the stomach bug took them to the depths of hell in a 26-foot 5th wheel. They didn’t come out for a few days.

This year must have been the lesser virus because the shitting and vomiting were varied and not as detrimental. So far our nephew, my husband, and my son have had their turns. My in-laws might be next because my son became sick at their house (sorry for that!). Today is Easter, and each moment the remaining of us wait, crossing our fingers, washing out hands, hoping to avoid the Easter tradition.

Intellectual Sisterhood

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What if texting could be like our days of letter writing?
And we talk about bullshit and enjoy our brain connection.

We were intellectual and artistic
and the world fueled our spite,
we spit-fired feminist in Austin Texas of 1998.

I would sketch like Vonnegut and wordsmith to you,
and you would wordsmith back,
Like our own private open mic night.

We ate music
and breathed in Camel Light cigarettes
while listening to Sonic Youth and talking Leonard Cohen.

Our heads thought of Lousie Erdrich,
and of other things rich in texture:
– Freshly baked sourdough loaf being torn apart
– Shoplifted white wine
– Green apples, to help smooth the sharp Chardonnay

You inspired me and I don’t remember telling you that –
and I feel a bit of sadness,
that we have been letting our age get the better of us.

I can’t wait for your visit
(and) I fear it as well
because I fear I’ll lose you
to being a grown-up,
and I miss you most,
and our intellectual sisterhood.

It is almost springtime and we’ve joined an airstream rally with my husband’s parents. Frogs croak and the sounds of the ocean waves roll in. My son stands beside me on a covered porch asking “What’s that sound?” and “Why you have a flashlight on your head?”

“Those are frogs croaking,” I said and pointed to my left. “That other sound you hear is from the ocean. The waves are rolling in.”

I explained having a flashlight strapped on my head, “So I that I can write in the dark.” I’m not sure what scared him most, the idea of frogs being vocal in an unseen darkness, the concept of an ocean’s waves coming, or his mother’s sudden place in the darkness. The look on his face was perplexed. His next question was bigger still, “Where does the water come from?” he asked.

I was overcoming another sunless winter and left its bed unmade. I crept out of it, feeling a lift in m mood because my son is adorable.

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What was it I was going to write? Of canoes and mud colored water filled with invisible creatures left to the imagination. Or of clear waters, cold as melted glaciers, with smoothed over light and dark shades of gray stones. Rather than dwelling on the tragedy of Louisiana, focus on the sublime Pacific North West. The PN West is clean, down to the way the air feels as you inhale. The shades of green are plenty and the green moss that grows on the cracks of sidewalks is perfect. My hands are noticeably older than they were fifteen years ago, but they are safe from the worries of the past because they’ve endured the damnedest. They’ve been childish, and they’ve been mean, and most importantly, they’ve been sage.