by Alecz Yeager
Fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four. Cricket counted the days on her calendar again, and again, and again. There were twenty-eight days in a cycle. That’s what Cricket had been taught at twelve years old, twice as young as she was now, when she first presented her bloodied panties to her mother.
“You take the belt,” her mother said, “and strap it around your waist, like this.” The white belt looped around her mother’s large hips and hung a thick, cotton pad between her legs. “Now, I ain’t scrubbing blood out of every pair of panties you got, so you gotta count up the days and start wearing the belt the day before.” Cricket cringed at the thought of her mother having to scrub her bodily fluids. Her mother took off the belt and placed it into Cricket’s young hands. “Twenty-eight days. If it goes more or less, you gotta remember how much, or you ain’t gonna catch it in time.” Her mother turned to leave but stopped to warn Cricket once more. “I ain’t scrubbing blood.”
It was the droning tone of her mother’s voice that constantly rang in Cricket’s ears to this day. The sound of a woman who cared less for children than she did the cow shit that fertilized her garden. Making your own child feel like less than manure was one of the reasons why Cricket hadn’t spoken to her mother since she was eighteen, but it was also the reason why she paid close attention to the days on the calendar.
Now, Cricket was on day fifty-four. Twenty-six days past when she’d expected to start bleeding. She knew what that meant. She’d been there before.
Fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four.
Mary Lou was the only woman that Cricket had ever heard of having one of these procedures done. So, she was the only person she could think to go to when she realized the situation she was in.
“My guy only does it for friends, so I can’t give you his address,” Mary Lou said. “You understand. It’s dangerous for someone like him to mess around with people he doesn’t know. Not that you would tell anyone.”
Cricket nodded at her acquaintance and prayed that the awkward silence would end soon. She’d never been involved in anything so criminal, so the idea of prolonging this talk any more than she had to made her feel like she was going to be sick all over Mary Lou’s yellow, checkered sundress.
“Well,” Cricket said, “you know anyone else?” She twirled her dainty, diamond ring around her finger and hoped that no one would guess what her and Mary Lou were discussing behind the Peter’s Mart.
Mary Lou fanned her face with the grocery list she’d made that morning and sucked in enough condescending air to make her breasts protrude from the top of her clothing.
“I couldn’t say,” she said. “I’d hate to pass on just anybody’s information.”
Cricket could feel the judgement in Mary Lou’s ironic attitude. Most people turned their noses down at women like them for having these procedures done, but Mary Lou wore her experience with pride. She acted like only the most prestigious of women could afford to control birth, and she absolutely loved turning women down for help when they asked. Cricket wasn’t the only woman that’d come to her. The whole church had whispered about Jezzi’s sudden “loss” of her pregnancy last spring, and Mary Lou had been sure to let everyone know that “I didn’t have a thing to do with it. In fact, I turned her down when she asked for help.”
Now, Cricket could feel Mary Lou doing the same thing to her. Her face began to sink farther into her chest.
After a few moments of Cricket’s silent sulking, Mary Lou rolled her eyes and slapped her list down on her thigh in defeat. “I guess I could ask my guy if he knows anyone.”
* * *
June sat in a booth alone. Her right hand clutched a cup of tea as her left hand picked at the pastry that sat in front of her, perfectly glazed and topped with raspberries. Gazing at her plate, she almost forgot why she was there. Force of habit. She’d been trying to forget for weeks.
The diner had a warm setting: leather seats, dim lighting, and the smell of burnt coffee that meant the pot on the counter was fresh. There were two older men sitting at the bar sipping out of porcelain mugs and laughing every few seconds as if they were holding their own private comedy show between themselves. A woman stood at the cash register and counted out quarters to pay her bill. Her hands wore soft gloves with fur lining where they met her wrist, and they seemed to make it particularly difficult for her to grab the quarters out of her coin purse.
“Is something wrong with your food, honey?” the waitress asked politely. June stared up at the woman and almost saw a similarity between herself and the way the woman’s nose crinkled when she sniffed.
“No, ma’am. But, I have a question.” June motioned for the woman to join her, but the waitress only replied by anxiously looking back at the old men at the bar. “Do you have any children?” The atmosphere in the room seemed to shift as the waitress paused at the question. June could tell that she didn’t want to answer.
“No,” she said.” No, ma’am, I don’t.” June shook her head as if that’s what she expected her to say and gestured once more for her to enter the booth.
“Please. Please, sit down for a moment.” The woman sighed in annoyance and took a seat facing June with her order pad and pencil still in hand. Her hair was tied up in a messy bun, very unlike most of the women that June knew. Their hair always had to be pressed, sprayed, teased, and pinned. June’s own hair was often plaited into a small braid and tied with a dainty piece of ribbon that matched her dress. Not exactly the prettiest of styles, but June felt it was the best that she could do.
“How do you feel about children?” June asked the waitress. The woman almost rolled her eyes as she huffed in frustration.
“I mean,” she started, “they’re alright. Some of them I like more than others.” If the woman was expecting to receive a tip, June thought, then she wasn’t doing a very good job at acting cordial.
“But let’s say that you did have a child,” June suggested. “Would you love her?”
The woman began to scoot herself out from the booth and stood back up beside the table. “Ma’am, I don’t mean to be rude, but I have work to do. So, unless you need more coffee or”
“Tea,” June corrected. “I drink tea.”
* * *
The morning had been chilly for spring, and Cricket had forgotten her cardigan at home in the rush of trying to slip out before her husband, Ira, woke up. She rubbed her palms against the goosebumps on her shoulders and shivered partly because it was cold and partly because she was terrified.
Mary Lou’d passed on the information of a man named JoBob who claimed to have done the same procedure that Mary Lou’s guy did but for twice the price.
“And you’ve done this before?” Cricket had asked into the receiver end of her mother-in-law’s phone the day before. Ira’s paycheck from the factory barely covered the bare minimum for their day-to-day lives, so a phone was most certainly not affordable. That meant that Cricket had to wait until sometime after 2 o’clock when Ira’s mother was out with her book club to sneak over to her small house and call JoBob.
“Yeah,” he said enthusiastically. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. No problems before. Might have to charge you extra, though, if things go south. You don’t have one of them crooked uteruses, do you?” JoBob’s fast pace and northern accent caused Cricket to stumble on her own breath.
“I-I don’t think so.” She tried to remember what the doctor had said when she had her first child. “I tore, though. When I had my daughter. She had a big head, so I tore before the shoulders ever even made it out.” JoBob didn’t ask too many more questions, but he assured Cricket that he could help her take care of her “problem.”
That’s what he kept calling it. That’s what Mary Lou had called it, too. A “problem.” Why is it a blessing when I want it but a problem when I don’t? Well, I guess that’s what “problem” means. A burden. Maybe this is just a problem until it ain’t anymore. But when is anymore? When I have it or when I get rid of it?
The whole ordeal made Cricket want to curl into a ball on the kitchen floor and let the world grow over her. Still, she had planned to meet JoBob the next morning behind the Peter’s Mart where Mary Lou’d met her just a week before.
Now, hugging her arms to her body and trying not to let her jittering call attention to herself, Cricket could just barely make out the figure of a tall man walking across the dirt road. His pants were almost too long for his legs and the hems let mud lap at his ankles every time he took a step. He wore a jacket to match, but it didn’t seem to fit him much either. When he made it to the other side of the street, he looked around for a minute as if anyone but he and his client was going to be around at that hour. Then he turned to face Cricket and tipped his hat.
* * *
“Crick! We got anymore eggs or am I gonna have to walk down to Mama’s house and grab some more?”
Cricket’s eyes strained to open, but her head was heavy, and the sensation of the cool floor against her temple coaxed her into lying still.
“Cricket?” Ira’s footsteps creaked across the hardwood and onto the linoleum of the kitchen floor. The fridge door opened. “Eh, looks like we’re all out.” The door shut. “I’m gonna head on over, anyway.”
Ira…Don’t leave…I can’t.
“Oh, um. Mary Lou said to ask you how things went with your haircut this morning. She said she told you about the place you went to.” The kitchen window thumped closed. “Why didn’t you tell me you were getting your hair cut?”
Mary Lou? Ira’s voice seemed so far away. Cricket curled her fingers at the floor trying to move and squeaked out a sound of desperation.
“Crick? You napping?” Ira rounded the corner to the living room and stopped so hard that his ankles gave out, making him trip. “What the hell?”
Cricket could barely keep her eyes open at this point. Ira’s shoes looked like two blurry potatoes running towards her. She could feel the blood pooling at her thighs, but the liquid was so warm that it made her sleepy. She let her lids shut as she felt Ira’s hands lifting up her heavy head.
“Baby, what happened?”
Cricket wanted to reply, but her mind was fuzzy and nothing seemed to make sense like she thought it should.
“What happened?” Cricket finally mumbled. “That goddamn cat got in the window again. Tore up my table cloth before I could catch it.”
“The hell are you talking about?” Ira frantically pulled up the skirt of her dress that used to be a citrus orange color around his wife’s waist. “What did you do!?” Ira shouted. Cricket moaned and started pushing her dress back down in defense. “Quit it, Crick!” he pleaded. The panic in his voice almost scared Cricket but her mind had started going numb along with her body.
“I left pork chops on the stove,” Cricket tried to explain, again. “Don’t drown it in gravy. It’s supposed to be dry.” But Ira seemed to ignore her failed attempts at making sense.
Cricket could barely feel her head being placed back down on the hardwood as Ira ran to the other room. “We don’t have a phone. God DAMN IT! We don’t have a phone!” Back and forth, back and forth. Ira ran from one end of the house to the other.
“Quit yelling. I’ve got a headache.”
Cricket’s eyes fluttered open and closed again and again as dish rags and blankets were pushed in between her legs. Finally, she felt Ira’s sturdy arms pick her up under her neck and knees.
“Baby?” Cricket said. Ira stopped at the door and looked down at his wife’s stoning face. “I left the butter out. You gotta go back and get it.”
* * *
The doctor couldn’t wipe the look of judgement off his face. His white coat and creased uniform contrasted with the stained and wrinkled clothing of the nurses that fluttered about Cricket’s head.
“Now, I’m not pointing any fingers, sir.”
“Horse shit! You think she did this on purpose?” Ira’s voice resonated throughout the room made of curtains. You never sound like yourself when you’re mad. Always so harsh and gruff. Like you’re trying to prove to everyone in the room that your shit don’t stink. You’re better than all of us. You’re better than me.
“Sir, her uterus was perforated.”
“Punctured, Mister Orneal! Poked. It had a hole in it,” the doctor said. Cricket could see that Ira didn’t want to listen. He shook his head and played with the lobe of one of his ears.
“How the hell’d she get a hole in it?” Ira looked in Cricket’s direction, and she tried to shut her eyes in time so as to not be caught staring.
“Well, it didn’t just show up. More than likely, she took something and used it to,” the doctor’s voice trailed off as Cricket’s eyes remained closed. She could hear Ira’s work boots squeaking across the floor as he moved, she assumed, away from the doctor.
“No, no, no. She wouldn’t do that, okay? Okay, we have a daughter.”
“I’m not pointing fingers, sir. I’m just saying-“
“Well, quit saying it!”
The exchange of denial and fact between the two men made Cricket want to dissolve into the uncomfortable mattress that she rested on. Put it together, Ira. Your wife’s a sinful, unlucky woman who wouldn’t be happy if you hung her with a new rope. You deserve better. June deserves better.
Finally, Ira came back into the room and shook Cricket by the shoulder. Not hard. Just a little jostle to see if she was awake. She played along as if he didn’t know she’d been listening and furrowed her brow in confusion as she opened her eyes.
“Ira? Where are we?” She used her quivering arms to push herself up straight in the bed and felt a tilt in the room that she hadn’t felt earlier.
“Easy, now,” Ira said, as he steadied Cricket with his hands. “They’ve got you on some medicine to help with the pain.” His voice sounded like cool water running over Cricket’s ear drums, lulling her into a sense of security. You sound like you think I’m innocent.
“Am I okay?”
“Yeah, Baby, yeah. What happened? Did you fall?”
Cricket could see the doctor standing in the opening of the curtains with an expression that said, “Go ahead. Lie. Neither of us will believe you.”
“I,” Cricket tried not to turn her head so fast. “I just started bleeding when I got home.”
Ira’s callused palm rubbed against her arm as if he was trying to be as gentle as possible. “Where’d you go this morning?” His question sounded genuine. As if he really thought that Cricket had done no wrong.
Cricket didn’t answer the question but rather gripped the edges of her hospital blanket and pulled it to her chin. She made the mistake of looking up at Ira and without realizing it had given everything away.
Ira’s face didn’t move. Quit lookin’ at me like that! But Cricket’s thoughts weren’t loud enough. Ira didn’t blink. Didn’t breathe. Didn’t care about whatever his wife had to say.
* * *
The waitress’s name tag read “Opal.” Not the woman that June was looking for, but until then, she had pretended that she was. Weeks before when June had first found the diner, she was told that Daylene worked Mondays through Saturdays from nine until one, then had a lunch break until two, and worked again until closing at eight. Ten hours. Six days a week. June could not imagine such a life. Her daddy had made sure that June never had to lift a finger growing up, and now that she was twenty, she’d probably be married off soon, never having to know the type of life that her father or these waitresses knew. But every day, between one and two, June had come in for lunch and ordered tea plus whatever looked good on the menu. She always left before two, but always considered staying for a few extra minutes. Maybe she’d catch a glimpse of the woman on her way out. She’d give a casual wave. The woman would smirk and say “How you doing?” and then they’d both move on.
The woman wouldn’t know who June was. Then again, June barely knew who the woman was. Just a figure in her mind of a mother who her father once called Cricket and who loved drugs more than her. Her daddy, Ira, used to warn her about the evils of hanging out with people that you don’t know too well. He said that’s how her mama got pulled into all the bad stuff she did. June wished she had been old enough to see the signs of a problem. Maybe she could have helped her mama. Maybe her daddy wouldn’t have had to kick her out when he did. But it was for the best, he’d said. June’s mama was starting to do crazy things like claim that she never loved June or her father or that she wanted to get away and start a new life. Her daddy’s last straw, though, was when her mama up and got an abortion without telling anyone. Ira found her lying in a pool of her own blood one afternoon when he came home.
“It was terrifying, June,” he’d said. “It was probably the worst day of my life. To know that she did something like that to my baby. And I didn’t even know about it!”
“I’ll be back with more hot water, then,” the waitress said, calling June back to her untouched pastry and steeping tea leaves. The men at the bar had finished their plates and ordered another round of coffee. The woman with the gloves was gone. The rest of the diner was empty.
June looked up at the silver clock that hung upon the wall behind the counter. It was 1:43. She didn’t wait for the waitress to return with more water. Instead, she placed a ten-dollar bill on the scuffed-up table, snapped the metal clasp of her purse shut, and stood to put her coat back on. As she pushed her second arm through its sleeve, a jingle of the bell above the diner’s door caused her breathing to stop.
“Opal,” called out a voice from the door way. “Go get Gretchen a minute and tell her to bring me my pocketbook from the back. I’ve gotta have me one of these bouquets of flowers that they’re selling out here.” June didn’t dare turn her head, her back facing the door that had just opened. Instead, her mind painted a picture of who the voice belonged to. She had long dark hair like June. Her daddy had light hair, so June knew she got it from her. She didn’t care about pinning it up because she was much more of a clothes person than a hair person. She had a little bit of wrinkling around the eyes, crow’s feet maybe, but for the most part her skin was smooth. June bet it was because she used cold cream every night. Pond’s brand, just like June. She was elegant and beautiful and everything that her daddy had said she use to be before things got bad.
* * *
Cricket fastened the rusty buckles of her suitcase into place as quietly as possible. The cicadas outside the kitchen’s opened window did not share her urgency to remain silent. She lifted the case off the padded breakfast table and ventured to the end of the staircase she had descended only moments ago. Tiptoeing the hardwoods, Cricket pointed her toes into the opening of her rain boots and plopped her heels into place. All she had to do was make it to the door. Ira was a hard sleeper for the most part, but it only took a strong settling of the house to make him stir.
She placed her feet in front of her and carried strains of regret in her shoulders. Leaving now might only make things worse, she thought. What if being alone is worse than being just like her? That’s what this house was: too familiar, and exactly what Cricket expected.
Its siding was a faded white that chipped and peeled every few years and had to be redone when the summers got too humid. It took forever to cool down which is why the windows were always open, even when it was raining. It even smelled like a memory that seemed to hold on for far longer than it should. Cricket could have left and never came back to that house, and she’d still know that smell anywhere. Like kerosene and potato skins. Dirt and musk. Simple and same.
The front door was only a few timid steps before her when Cricket heard a small “Mama” from behind her. The strain in her shoulders melted into an ache that wrapped around her chest and made a tear spill down her cheek.
“Mama, where you going?” the voice came again. It, like the cicadas, also didn’t understand the need for silence. “I wanna go, too.”
Cricket balled the fingernails of her free hand into her palm, but kept her mind fixed on the corroding knob of the door that she couldn’t reach. Please go back to bed. Just go back to bed.
“I’m gonna get my purse,” said the voice, followed by tiny footsteps that padded their way back up the stairs. The footsteps that echoed next, though, were not small. They were heavy and half asleep. Cricket’s eyelids slammed shut to the realization that silence didn’t matter anymore as she turned toward the sound.
“What’re you doing, Crick?” Ira’s face was blanketed by the darkness of the house. Cricket didn’t want to answer, and she didn’t have to. Ira’s eyes seemed to lock onto the suitcase clutched in his wife’s shaking hand as if he knew exactly what she wasn’t saying. “So, you ain’t gonna leave a note? Kiss me goodbye? Sit your daughter down and tell her why Mama won’t be here in the morning?”
“No,” he said. “You don’t get to make excuses after today.” The mentioning of earlier made Cricket’s bones burn like an unexpected wasp sting.
Ira sauntered down the last few steps of the staircase in front of Cricket and turned to their open kitchen area. Cricket watched as he tugged the silver lever to the fridge and pulled out a coke bottle from the bottom shelf, flicking off the cap with ease. Crossing to the small breakfast table, Ira sat with his legs spread apart and his back slumped against the plastic-upholstered dining chair. He sipped his coke by tilting the bottle instead of his chin, in order to keep his eyes on Cricket’s frozen figure.
Her plan to sneak out without causing a fuss had obviously failed, and Cricket knew that Ira wouldn’t dare to let her leave without words being said.
“I have to go,” Cricket said in a whisper so soft that is almost sounded like a mistake.
“You seem to have to do a lot of things these days.” Ira picked at the Coke label with his thumb, allowing the condensation to help him tear away the letters. “You don’t give two shits about anybody else’s feelings, do you?”
Cricket could feel the teardrops pooling at her neck and desperately wanted to wipe them away, but her body was at a standoff with her mind. Neither wanted to move first.
“I told you. I couldn’t.“
“Couldn’t what?” Ira shouted as he pushed against the table in a rapid stance, his fist gripping the tattered beverage. “You almost died today because you’re too damn selfish!”
“I tried to tell you.” Cricket knew Ira wouldn’t listen anyway. He hadn’t listened before. “I can’t do it again.” The lump in her throat rubbed raw against her windpipe. “I’m not gonna do to my daughter what my mother did to me, and I’m not gonna do it to a second child, either.”
“Well, then don’t.” Ira said as he retreated back to his seat at the kitchen table and clinked his drink onto the surface.
“It’s not that simple, Ira. You love her. You laugh when she knocks over my tea or doesn’t sit still to have her hair done.” Cricket could feel her face getting hot as her husband’s stare bore straight through her forehead. “I don’t laugh. I wanna rip her hair out of her head every time she won’t sit still. If I don’t leave, that child is gonna grow up knowing that some part of me wishes she was never born.”
“And you think leaving in the middle of the night while she sleeps is gonna tell her any less?” Ira asked.
“I got my purse and my doll, but I don’t need my blanket no more ‘cause Daddy says I’m too big to be carrying it around, anyhow.” The little voice took each step one at a time and gripped the railing of the staircase with her chubby fingers.
Cricket’s eyes darted to her husband, pleading with him through her thoughts to take the small child away from her long enough to let her escape.
“Where we going?” the child asked.
Ira shook his head and took another swig of his Coke. Cricket was left to break her daughter’s heart by herself.
Setting the suitcase down upon the hardwood and kneeling to the child’s eyeline, Cricket took each chubby palm into her own.
“June bug,” she said through hollow weeps. “I love you, but”
“I love you, too, Mama.”
Cricket looked around her daughter to meet Ira’s face. He was staring at the soft, ripped up pieces of the Coke label scattered about his bottle. His thumb picked at the last piece of glue as if ridding the glass of any sign that it’d ever been a Coke.
Cricket turned back to her child’s wombat eyes and tried not to get lost in their hopefulness. “But,” she said, “I have to go away for a little while.”
“I can go with you.”
“No. No, baby, you can’t.” She tried not to sound too harsh, but June was not leaving that house with Cricket.
“When you coming back?” The child’s chin began to quiver, forcing a cartoon-like frown. Puffs of breath that meant a fit was on its way hit Cricket’s face like the cool breeze that never came through their windows.
“Not for a long time,” Cricket said. June’s hands had gone limp in her mother’s grasp so that now her arms were only being held up by their wrists. The child’s hair was frizzy and falling into her face as a whine strong enough to convey her frustration whimpered through her lips.
“But I wanna go,” June cried. Her breathing came in short huffs that threatened tears every time they smacked her mother’s cheeks. Cricket could see Ira from the corner of her eye and knew he could only wait so long before intervening. But Ira turned his head so far from the scene that he was almost staring at his own back. There were no signs of his help this time.
“June, now listen,” Cricket tried to sound stern. “I can’t have all this crying before I leave, so you gotta act like a big girl. Understand?” But the small child didn’t seem to care about reasoning with her.
“No,” she cried ripping her arms away from Cricket. “I’m coming with you.” June picked up her bag and tucked her cloth doll beneath her armpit. She trotted towards the door before placing the items back down on the ground again and began to use both hands to turn the knob while balancing on her bare-footed tippy toes.
Cricket could see the deadbolt lock pointed horizontally but continued to watch as the girl struggled to twist and turn and twirl her way to exhaustion. Finally, June stopped, let out a final humph, and plopped her bottom as hard as she could onto the hardwood floor. Her cry started as a squeal that grew into a moan that turned into a howl that rose to a holler.
“Shit.” Ira finally stood from his chair and swept his daughter off the floor by her underarms. He placed the child against his body and cradled her head with his hand as she wrapped her desperate arms around his neck.
Cricket continued to not move and watched as her husband and child began to retreat back up the staircase. Without turning around, Ira said, “Do what you gotta do, Crick. Just don’t expect that door to ever be unlocked if you decide to walk out it.”
* * *
As Opal ran to the back to get Gretchen, June decided that peeking couldn’t hurt anyone. She turned her head slowly and examined the woman leaning against the counter. Her hair was dark, as June suspected, but it was cut real short like a boy’s and had gray streaks melted into the brown. Her face was smooth around her forehead, but her cheeks and chin drooped a little like a basset hound. The woman tapped her bitten nails against her arm and casually nodded at the two men sitting a few feet from her. Her eyes traveled to the clock on the wall, then the booths beneath it, then the floor, then June.
She smirked at first as if June was just another customer waiting to be dealt with. June couldn’t help but to stare and tried to give a slight wave back to her. The woman’s brow furrowed and pushed her body away from the counter top. June could now read her name tag: Daylene.
“Have you been helped, ma’am?” Daylene called out to her. June tried to speak, but she felt like her throat was trying to strangle her to death. Every time she opened her mouth, her chin began to quiver.
“Are you okay?” the woman asked again. This time, June got out a squeak before who she assumed was Gretchen came running out from the back of the kitchen.
“Here you go, sweet heart.” She handed the purse to Daylene, and then retreated back to her post.
“Thanks, Darlin’.” The woman continued to stare at June as if concerned that she might have to catch her when she passed out. “Do you need me to go get someone for you?” June shook her head “no” and pulled her coat the rest of the way up her shoulder. Daylene smirked again and replied with “Alrighty. Well, just let Opal know if you need anything,” before heading back towards the door.
As the woman’s hands pushed open the heavy door of the diner and let in a gust of stifling air, June called out, “Did you ever do drugs?”
The woman halted in her tracks and turned to face June with the most contorted expression. “Excuse me?” she asked almost offended.
“I don’t mean to seem nosy, but,” she repeated, “did you ever do drugs? When you were younger, I mean.” June fiddled with the clasp of her purse, popping it in, out, in, out, in, out.
“Sweet heart, I haven’t even smoked a cigarette since I was fourteen.” Daylene chuckled a little at the memory. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
June looked down at her hands, her new dress, shiny shoes, and crisp stockings. How silly she had been to dress up, but she’d had a feeling about today.
“Yes, ma’am,” June finally answered. “I’m just fine.” The woman stared at her a moment longer and then finally slipped out the door and to the left of the diner, in pursuit of daisies, or roses, or maybe even carnations. June let out her held breath before dashing towards the door, herself. Upon emerging onto the sidewalk, she looked left but saw no one. The flower stand must have been around the corner. June stood with limp arms by her side and goose bumps at attention. In an impulsive gust, she turned to her right and walked back towards the bus stop that she normally sat at after leaving lunch.
As she travelled down the cracked, uneven sidewalk, June’s hair blew into her eyes like it used to at school recitals while all the other girls had pink bows and sparkly clips to hold their hair back. Ira would say that June’s hair looked prettier when it was down in an attempt to make her feel better about not having someone to style it. As she twirled and twirled on stage, June’s whole face would become covered in sweaty, frizzy strands of hair that stuck to her forehead and somehow pushed their way into her mouth. All of the moms in the audience would shake their heads as June grinned and bowed in unison with their pristinely, primped daughters. Unwilling to help, but more than willing to judge.
Finally, June came to the bus stop and tucked the skirt of her dress under her bottom before sitting on the bench that slightly leaned to one side. Holding down the lower half of the bench was a man in a faded, jean jacket and black boots that didn’t appear to have always been black. He held a crinkled bag of liquor in one of his dirt-caked hands and took little sips from the bag every few seconds. His breath smelled like peaches and reminded June of her prom night some years before that had ended in too many schnapps and barely enough money to call home. As Ira drove a drunken June home that night, she remembered asking him if she was going to end up like Daylene. Worries that she now knew were unwarranted.
“I don’t wanna be an addict, Daddy. I don’t wanna leave you,” June said through snorted tears and dry heaves. “Am I gonna be like her? Everybody says that we look just alike. What if we act alike?”
Ira pulled June to the middle seat of his truck and wrapped his free arm around her shaking shoulders. “June bug,” he started, “you are gonna be just fine.” He smiled and kissed the top of her head before pulling into their driveway.
The screech of the bus pulled June back to the bench and the peach man that was already staggering up to the steps. June brushed off her dress, put two cold hands to her flushing red cheeks, and then boarded the bus like she had done every day for the past few weeks.
Alecz Yeager is 23-years old and just recently received her BA in English from Winthrop University. She works as an Audit Analyst and writes primarily prose, as well as some poetry, in her free time. Her prose work has been featured in Soft Cartel, Youth Imagination, X-Ray Literary Magazine, and Furtive Dalliance. Her poetry has been featured in publishers such as Mizmor Anthology, the Winthrop Anthology, and Silver Blade. One of her poems, “For the Man That Makes Me Smoke,” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize 2020.