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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I Covered The Mouthpiece

on the phone and cleared my throat of the thick, angry spit.

“Jess, Hon, could you sit next to Chloe and watch Sesame Street with her while I get your fruit cocktail?” I needed her out of earshot in case I couldn’t contain the f-word, in case I ground my teeth into a mouthful of grit, or in case I busted a blood vessel in my right eye. Jess bounced butt first onto the couch next to the baby. Thankfully, she could still get engrossed in Elmo’s World if it’s all she had in front of her.

I yanked open the refrigerator and pointed my voice toward the chilled light bulb.

“I’m gonna say this one time.” I said slinging a Dirty Harry drift. “In one hour, I want you to pick up these girls, make sure they get a decent dinner over there, and then bring them home. I don’t care what you do the rest of the night but I’ve got a job interview in the morning at eight-thirty and I’m going to be on time. And no, you’re not dropping me off and you are getting up early to take care of these kids.” I clicked the phone off, shut the refrigerator, door and with all my might, I resisted throwing the handset across the room. I walked the ten feet to the phone’s cradle hanging on the opposite kitchen wall and snapped it in place. My grip lingered on the phone and I leaned into the wall forehead first. The rest of me drooped. I realized I was holding my breath and l let the air out. Three fat tears fell straight down and spatted on the dingy linoleum next to Stimey’s front paws. Our eyes met and Stimey’s were bulging with empathy. I could always count on that pug for moral support.

“It’s okay, Stime.” I laughed through a sniffle. I swiped the melted mascara mess with index fingers under either eye and did a once-over the eyelids with the ring fingers for good measure. The girls didn’t need to know and he sure as hell wouldn’t be given the pleasure. I pulled two ceramic bowls down from the cabinet and went back to the fridge for the fruit cocktail. I divided what was left in the can between the two bowls, inserted spoons, and called to Chloe and Jess.

“Shhhh, Mommy!” Jess whispered a little authoritatively. “Chloe’s sleeping.”

“Ohhh, okay.” I whispered back. “Come have some fruit, it’s on the table.”

Jess always ate the lone half-cherry first, then the green grapes, followed by the peaches. She usually left the pears. By the time I’d slid Chloe’s bowl into the fridge, Jess was tipping the bowl back to drink the syrup.

“Jess, Hon, use your spoon, okay?” I said only momentarily wondering who in the hell taught her to slurp from a bowl.

“Is there any more?” She said handing up her bowl. Damn eighth-grade English Literature. I wish I’d never heard of Oliver Twist.

“Sure, Honey.” I said producing Chloe’s bowl. “But only if you’re going to eat the pears in this one too.”

“Uhhh, no, I think I’m full. I just wanted more grapes.” She admitted. I was relieved because I really didn’t want to offer her Chloe’s fruit, but more than that, I didn’t want her to notice the food shortage. If I had to, I could feed the baby with the two-dollar bill I still had in my purse. I could make it to tomorrow morning and neither of them would feel so much as a growl in their tummies. I’d already swallowed bitter pride when I applied, and financially qualified for, the “Free Lunch” program at Jess’s school last month. At least she didn’t know the difference in the lunch line and the cafeteria served both breakfast and lunch each day.

I fished the two grapes from Chloe’s bowl and poked them into Jess’s mouth.

“Mmmmm!” She squeaked and scampered back to the living room for more TV.

Mr. Sunshine casually strode through the front door like Barney Fife after a hard day in Mayberry. The girls were happy to see him as they usually were and he was lapping up the attention. Oh, the bliss of childhood's innocent ignorance.

“Daddy’s home, Ladies!” He announced. I swallowed back hard against my gag reflex and my thumb restrained the tight spring on my middle finger.


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