Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm so slack.

(I am just lazy. I'm having trouble going from the word document to posting here, all the little thingie things don't transfer and I have to go through the entire post and change everything. So this is just a cut and paste of some of the newest material.)

Maddie twirled spaghetti noodles around and around on her fork, but never really ate any. She felt raw and jangled. Tilly had been by every day for the past two weeks, asking when Maddie was going to tell Wyatt and bringing new information regarding adoption.
Now that her little secret was out, she found she couldn’t shove it to the back of her mind as easily. She longed for her mother’s calm presence, her mother would know what to do, what to say, how to make it better. Then she remembered that if her mother were here, this whole situation would have probably never happened.
Wyatt dropped his fork on the plate with a clang and stretching back, let out a huge belch. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
Maddie twisted in her chair, a wretched shrugging of the shoulders. She put her fork down deliberately. “I’ve kinda got a problem,” she said.
Wyatt’s blue eyes locked on to hers. Maddie had a sudden memory of crying to her mother that it wasn’t fair that Wyatt had pretty eyes and hers were the color of mud. How old had she been? Four? Five?
“Kind of?”
For a moment, she didn’t think she’d be able to say it out loud to him. “I, um, I’ve got a plan.”
Wyatt leaned forward, forearms on the table. “A kind of problem that needs a plan? Jesus Christ, Maddie, what’s going on? You aren’t going to flunk out senior year, are you?”
Maddie almost laughed. If only. “Okay, I’m going to say this all in one piece and I don’t want you to start freaking out until I’m done.”
She looked up at him. Poor Wyatt. Just when he was ready to cut loose, head off to college and begin his adult life, he’d been saddled with her. It had been him who made the funeral arrangements, him who’d dealt with social services. They had no other family. Their parents had each been only children. Grandparents so long dead that Wyatt only barely remembered his mother’s mother.
He had a half smile on his lips, perhaps hoping that her problem was no date for the prom.
She drew in a slow, purposeful breath. “I’m pregnant. I didn’t want an abortion, so I didn’t have one. The baby is due in October. I’m going to put it up for adoption. I’m going to go see a lawyer when school is out. I’ve already arranged to delay entry to Duke until January. It will only affect one of my scholarships.”
“You’re what?”
“I’m going to get a job for the summer.”
Wyatt slammed his hands down on the table. “What the fuck did you say? You’re pregnant?”
Maddie burst into tears. “I’m not finished yet,” she wailed, sounding all the world like a six year old. “I said I was going to talk and you were going to freak the fuck out when I was done. I’m going to get a job as soon as school is done. I can save up enough money to cover what little bit I lost with the one scholarship. The adoptive family will pay for the cost of doctor visits and the hospital once I turn eighteen and don’t have insurance any more.”
“Are you finished now?”
Maddie thought, sure she’d forgotten something, but figuring she’d covered the most important points, she nodded.
“First of all, what the hell were you thinking? Who was it? Zack?”
“No, it wasn’t Zack. He won’t even look at me. Not since after the funeral.”
“Christ, Maddie.”
Maddie started crying again. “I’m sorry, Wyatt. I really, really am. I know I’ve screwed up all your plans. I know I’ve just been a burden on you. I know you could be out there, having fun and just being normal if not for me. But I’ve tried to fix it all the best I can.”
Wyatt slumped back in his chair, the anger visibly leaving him. They sat in silence for what seemed like a long time.
“Remember that year in Japan?” he asked quietly.
Maddie nodded. Their father had been recruited to teach English in a small town at the very Northern edge of Japan. The memory surfaced immediately and Maddie wasn’t sure how much was her memory and how much was the story that Wyatt told her of that summer day. She had been seven, too young to really remember so clearly that she could almost feel the warm breeze that moved the tall green grass in rippling waves.
“Do you think she’s dead?” Maddie asked.
They were sitting in the sun, enjoying wearing short sleeves, enjoying the feel of seventy-two sunny degrees shining down on their faces. The grassy field they sat in was on the other side of the town. The grass was over their heads when they sat down, Wyatt held the end of Maddie’s kite string, tied to a stick. It was strung out almost to the end in the gentle summer breeze, too far for Maddie to hold on to.
“She’s not dead,” Wyatt said with perfect big brother disgust. “If she was dead, they’d have to tell us.”
Maddie looked up at the dot in the sky that was her kite, a pretty green and red dragon that she had bought with real yen at a store in downtown Wakkanai only a few days ago. Her chin trembled and her lips twisted in to a knot.
“Then why won’t she come out of her room?”
“She’s sick, she has the flu. You don’t want to get the flu, do you?” Wyatt said, his words, right down to the inflection, the exact speech her father had given.
“But she’s been sick before and didn’t stay in bed for this long. Why can’t we see her?”
Wyatt concentrated on the kite string, reeling it in a little bit.
“Do you think she’s going to die?”
“Maddie! Shut up!”
Maddie shut up, but only because her throat ached worse than when she had had tonsillitis last year. Tears slid over her eyelids and she sniffed.
Wyatt drove the stick that held the string in to the ground. “Stop crying. Don’t be such a baby. She’s not going to die. She’s just, she’s sick.”
Maddie pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I don’t believe it,” she wailed and put her face down and cried.
Wyatt scooted over and put an arm around her shoulders. He leaned in close to her ear. “I don’t believe it either.”
She stopped crying, fear crowding out the pain. She lifted her head a little bit, enough so her voice wouldn’t be muffled, but not enough to see Wyatt’s face. “Do you think he hurt her?”
Wyatt made a sound and Maddie peeked over. He was crying. That made her cry again. She snaked a thin arm around his waist and he hugged her tighter. “It’ll be okay, Maddie,” Wyatt whispered. “I’ll always watch out for you, right?”

Wyatt stood and went to Maddie, leaning down to hug her. “I’ll always be here for you, Maddie. You know I promised you that in Japan, that you would always have me, remember?”
Maddie nodded, feeling for the first time since the damn pee stick had popped up positive that things just might work out.

Much later that night, Wyatt went outside and sat under the oak tree in the center of the courtyard. Purlee came out for a before bed cigarette and Wyatt bummed one from her. He didn’t smoke regularly, but would have one from time to time. Right now he enjoyed the harsh burn of the smoke along his throat as he slowly inhaled and exhaled.
Pregnant. For God’s sake. Fucking pregnant.
As soon as Purlee’s sliding glass door rattled closed and the light in her living room went out, Tilly’s front door opened. She came out quietly and sat on the bench she had set up on the small square of leafy lawn that belonged to her.
“She told you?”
Wyatt nodded, not surprised that Tilly knew. Tilly knew everything that went on in the complex.
“You didn’t yell at her, did you?”
“Just a little.”
Wyatt smashed the cigarette out in the dirt, grinding it down to shreds, feeling an incredible wave of sadness come over him. The same sadness he’d fought against after his mother died and Maddie needed him to be strong so she could fall apart.
He brought his hands up to cover his face. Tired, tired, tired. He was so completely tired of being a grown up.
“I just don’t understand,” he said to Tilly.
“It’s not that hard, honey,” she said quietly. “Not for a woman at any rate. She just needed to be held. Held the way only a mother or a lover can hold a woman. And since she had neither, she tried to create the illusion for just a moment.”
Wyatt thought for a moment. Thought about Marlene and the early days when she said she loved him, about the total peace of mind he could feel only when in her arms, locked away from the rest of the world. He stood up and moved closer to Tilly’s bench.
“How’d you get to be so smart?” he asked her.
She laughed, a surprisingly throaty and sexy laugh. “A lifetime of mistakes, honey, a lifetime of mistakes.
He waited for more, but there was only silence. He glanced up. Tilly’s round face was as pale as the moon, her gaze fixed on the ground in front of her. He tried to just see her features, her eyes, her nose, cheekbones and mouth. He thought she had probably been very pretty in her youth.
“Thank you for being a good friend to her,” he said, taking her hand.
She gave a little squeeze to his fingers, then pulled her hand away. “You’re a good brother, Wyatt. Don’t worry about this. It’s a huge mistake, yes. But it isn’t the end of everything. Maddie is a smart girl. She’ll do what’s right.”

The woman showed up early one Saturday morning. Maddie just happened to be washing dishes and saw the arrival. The woman had a worn out look about her. She seemed young, but her face was hard and lined. Her hair was bleached to almost white and had recently been chopped off short. There were two inches of dark root showing at the top of her head.
As the woman passed by the window, she turned her face towards the window. Various piercings glittered in the morning sun. Ears, eyebrows, nose, lip. Her eyes were black pits of liner and mascara. A cigarette dangled from her pale lips.
No sooner that the thought that she was looking at a twenty years younger Purlee had popped into Maddie’s mind, the sliding glass door to Purlee’s house was flung open.
Purlee turned to yell back into the house, “You two go watch Sponge Bob right now and if I see you at this door, I’ll tear up your butts AND there won’t be no pop tarts for lunch!”
Maddie turned off the flowing water and quietly slide the window up an inch or so as Purlee came storming across the yard and met the woman dead center in the sidewalk, right where it branched off to the two sides of the complex.
“What in the fuck are you doing here, girl?” Purlee said. Not at the top of her lungs, as Maddie would have expected, but in a low, warning growl.
“I come to see my babies, momma,” the woman said.
Maddie leaned over the sink, elbows on the window sill, oddly excited because Tilly was at the grocery store and for once, Maddie would have some gossip before her.
“You ain’t got no right to see them babies, little girl. Those are my babies. Court gave them to me.”
“Look,” the woman said, digging into her jeans pocket and holding up something. Maddie caught a glimpse of blue. “I’ve been sober. I’ve been clean for a month now. I’m doing real good momma. I just want to see my babies and tell them that I love them.”
Purlee reached into the pocket of her robe and pulled out a pack of cigarettes . Maddie could see her hand shaking as she lit up.
“No,” Purlee said flatly. “You go away. Them kids don’t need the likes of you hanging around.”
“I’m not going to do nothing! I just want to see them.”
“No. That was the deal with the social worker. You ain’t allowed to see them.”
“Fuck the fucking social worker. They’s all just a bunch of stuck up assholes anyway.”
“No.” Purlee jabbed at her daughter’s chest with the hand holding the cigarette. “There ain’t no ‘fuck the social worker’ here. You fucked up. You almost got your kids killed. You didn’t care enough about them to stop doing drugs and hanging with drunks and druggies. A dang dog on the street is a better mother than you.”
“And you were Miss-fucking-perfect-mother yourself. Maybe I was a bad mother because I had a bad mother.”
“Don’t be laying this on my porch step, missy. I never hit you. I never let drunk strangers into my house. I never left you alone with no food.”
The two women were screaming now, almost nose to nose and Maddie started to get a little frightened that they would start hitting each other pretty soon. She glanced over at the phone. Should she call 911? Where was Mr. Granger? He usually popped out of his house like a jack-in-the-box whenever Purlee lit up a cigarette.
Then Tilly came floating up the sidewalk, her bright blue caftan so long the hem dragged behind her like a train.
“Cassie!” Tilly cried, her voice pleasant and upbeat, as if she hadn’t just heard the two screaming at each other. “It’s been forever! How are you?”
Purlee glared at Tilly. “Don’t you be sweet talking at this girl. She’s just leaving. And she ain’t coming back.”
“Oh, that’s too bad, “ Tilly said, shifting her bag of groceries from one massive hip to the other. “Cassie, why don’t you come on in and have some lunch with me? We’ll talk over old times.”
Tilly stepped forward and put an arm around Cassie.
She pulled the girl forward, passing Purlee. At her front door, Tilly turned around and nodded at Purlee. “It’ll be okay, go on back in to the babies.”
Maddie leaned as far as she could, pressing a cheek up against the window pane to watch the two women walk to Tilly’s door. Purlee stood still on the sidewalk, the angry flush on her face fading to an alarming white. She folded her arms across her chest and just stood there, unmoving, until the cigarette in her hand burned down low enough to singe the skin on her fingers. She tossed it to the sidewalk, deliberately ground it hard into the concrete, then walked back to her house, drawing the blinds tightly across the sliding glass door. Maddie leaned back and watched as every window in Purlee’s house that faced the courtyard had the blinds pulled shut.
A movement caught her eye and she turned to see Mr. Granger standing on his patio, hands on hips, shaking his head. He leaned over and spit hard into the grass and went back inside. Now Maddie was dying to go over to Tilly’s. What excuse could she come up with? Oh, sorry, didn’t know you had company. She returned to the forgotten dishes. Wouldn’t do any good. Tilly would just clam up. Maddie would have to wait until later to get the gossip. Dang! Once again, Tilly had the scoop.

Once inside her near bare house, Tilly put the bag of groceries in the kitchen and returned to the living room to pull the blinds.
Cassie flopped down on the sagging couch, the only piece of furniture in the room except for the television balanced between two milk crates over which a lace cloth was draped. “Ya’ll ain’t gotta treat me like I’m some kind of elephant man or something. Running around pulling curtains like I’d kill you dead if you looked at me.”
“That’s Medusa.” Tilly said pleasantly, returning to the kitchen. “Come on in here so we can talk. Have you had anything to eat yet?”
Cassie got up with a huff and crossed to the kitchen where she jerked a chair out from the spindly dining room table.
Tilly began to put away the groceries. “So, what’s up? What’s new? Where ya been?”
“Fuckin’ hell and back, that’s where.”
Tilly kept her back turned, taking her sweet time putting things away. After the silence had strung out to a thin strand, Cassie spoke again. This time her voice was soft and hurt, like a little girl.
“I know I messed things up so bad,” she said, “I just wanted to see the babies. Momma didn’t even have to say who I was or nothing. I just wanted to look at them.”
Tilly left the kitchen and returned in a moment with some photographs. She handed them to Cassie. “From last Christmas,” Tilly told her, then turned her attention on making tuna sandwiches.
Cassie studied the pictures. “They’ve gotten so big.”
“It’s been two years.”
Cassie wiped at the tears that had brimmed over. “They won’t even know me.”
“Probably not.”
That brought on a crying fit. Tilly let Cassie cry it out while she finished making lunch. Then she took a handful of tissues to her. She left the young woman to fix herself up while she put the sandwiches on plates with chips and pickles. She took two sodas from the fridge and carried it all to the table.
“You getting yourself together?” she asked.
Cassie took a long sip of coke then nodded. “I know it’s only been a month or so, but Tilly, this time it feels different in my head. Every other time I tried to get sobered up, there was always a part of me, way down inside that just knew I was going to start up again. Just as soon as I got out of whatever jam I was in, I knew I’d be back at it.”
“What’s different this time?”
“Well, first of all, I ain’t in no jam. Nothing. I just woke up one morning and I was tired of it. I asked myself, ‘do you really want to live like this forever’ and the answer was no. I was tired of it all. So I went to the outpatient rehab and started back up with AA.”
“That’s wonderful, Cassie. Good for you!”
They ate in silence for a little while, then Cassie put her sandwich down. “I’m pretty scared, Tilly. I don’t know one person who ain’t doing drugs or alcohol. I’m afraid I’ll start back just because I don’t know how to be a normal person.”
Tilly smiled. “Girl, ain’t none of us normal. Everyone is weird in their own way. But I understand what you mean. You got yourself some good support at AA?”
Cassie nodded. “My sponsor is wonderful.”
“Okay, that’s one. I’m two. You call me or come see me anytime.”
“If my momma don’t shoot me for walking up the sidewalk,” Cassie said, her voice grating harsh on unresolved pains.
“Cassie,” Tilly said softly, “look at me. Hear what I am saying. Your mother is on your side. She was upset today because she understands how the world works. She wants you to be a part of those babies’ lives. But she knows ya’ll have to do it right. What do you think would happen if she let you see them kids on the sly today, then when you started getting visitation with the social worker’s permission, they knew who you were? The social worker would know you and your mother broke the rules and the kids would feel guilty for getting you in trouble because they told the truth.”
“I didn’t think of it like that.”
“I’ll talk to your mother. You do everything you need to do. Stay clean. Get a job, get away from your old crowd. Then call the social worker and ask her what you have to do to see your kids. Then do it. Without the smart lip.”

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Five (sorry!)

Wyatt stared at the text in the book, unable to read anymore. The conversation in the booth behind him had made it impossible to continue.

"So I was all like.."

"And he was all.."

"So I go, dude get a grip."

"And he’s all like.."

"So I was so like, outta there, dude. Like I don’t need the hassle."

Wyatt resisted the strong urge to turn around and whack the guy upside the head with the book. Maybe some sentence structure would find its way in. Instead he closed the book and dipped the last of his nachos into the lime green tomatillo sauce. The four obviously freshmen crammed in the booth behind him were still asserting their collective manhoods with head bobs and grunts of "damn straight". The story seemed to be that one of them had nailed someone else’s ex-girlfriend at a frat party the previous weekend. The alleged ex had taken umbrage to this as the alleged girlfriend had been about four drinks over the line.

Sweet Jesus. Wyatt started packing his books. It was useless. He found himself pissed off. Seriously pissed off. He wanted to turn around and tell these idiots to stop being such drama queens. That if their lives were so mundane and boring that they had to hype up every stupid thing that happened, then they should start appreciating it. Because life was going to hand them all the drama they ever wanted and some they never even dreamed possible and there wasn’t a damned thing they could do about it.

"So shut the fuck up already," he muttered under his breath.

As he stood, he noticed that Marlene had come in at some point. She was sitting with a gaggle of her friends, all serious college women, all focused on their bright futures with wonderful six-figure-to-start jobs in big cities. He almost laughed when her eyes passed over him as if she couldn’t even bother to register the presence of someone who was no longer part of her plan.

Oh, she’d noticed him plenty two years ago, when he was on the social worker’s college plan of business school followed by an MBA from the Citadel. Yes, good old Marlene was roll over and spread her legs happy with that plan. But when Wyatt decided that he hated business school, that what he really wanted to do was study earthquakes, some of his golden boy shine began to wear off. When he actually committed the sin of switching his major to Geology, she broke up with him. Flat out told him that he would never make enough money to "partner" with her in the manner in which she intended to live.

"And fuck you too," he said, and not under his breath this time. As he left Moe’s and made a left back up Calhoun Street toward campus, he wondered why he was being such a bitch today. It seemed like everything was annoying him. And he couldn’t even go home because then he’d be annoyed at Maddie and he really didn’t want to do that.

With a rush of anger, he wished he’d laughed at Marlene. Then he smiled. Being angry was much better than being bitchy. The smile turned into a small snicker before he could stop it. Laughing to yourself among the throngs of ever-so-cool college students wasn’t a thing to do. But he couldn’t help it. Hadn’t he just been yelling at Maddie about this same thing last week? Rolling through moods as fast as flicking through the channels looking for something to watch? Maybe he was being the drama queen today, not those monosyllabic cretins back at Moe’s.

He had managed to get himself back to his normal even keel just as he arrived at his next class.

Shit. Sitting on the steps, her books clutched to her chest, stray bits of paper flapping out of them in the breeze, was Carrie Anne. Not Mary Anne, Carrie Anne, like the song. The ditty ran automatically through Wyatt’s mind. She said it to everyone she met, with the same cadence and tone each and every time. It was now permanently fixed in his memory.

Carrie Anne had transferred this semester from a community college and they had been paired up by a teacher as lab partners. She wanted to be a vulcanologist. ("And I don’t mean Mr. Spock!")

She stood as he approached the steps.

"Hi Wyatt."

He brushed by her, nodding as he went, mumbling something that might have been hello. She bounded along at his heels, talking so fast that he really couldn’t understand what she was saying. It all blurred in to one long stream of sound. Just as he reached the door to the classroom, the sound stopped with an expectant air. He had a feeling she’d asked him a question.

"What?" he asked, knowing it was rude, but not really caring. Enunciation, he thought, is your friend.

"Did you want to study together for the test on Monday?"

No, he did not. Being forced to listen to her jabber during lab was torture enough. He did not want to spend any more time with her. But telling her that would be like kicking a puppy. She stared up at him, waiting, her books clenched against her chest so hard he didn’t know how she was even breathing. Maybe she wasn’t.
He stalled.

"Uh, I don’t know. I usually study alone."

He turned to go in the class, but she squirmed around him to block the door. "I know, I mean, yeah, me too. But I just thought it might be helpful because everyone is good at different things and what I may know, you might not and vice versa. Or visa verse, however it goes."

She giggled and then turned red.

Wyatt’s irritation melted away some as he realized how nervous she was. He sincerely hoped she wasn’t leading up to asking him out on a date or something. Shit. He did not need this. Not from her. He tried to think of someway to put her off without embarrassing her.

"Yeah, well. Let me check my schedule and I’ll let you know," was the best he could do.

"Great! I’ll see you later."

Wyatt watched as she walked away and then realized she was supposed to be in that same class. She hesitated a second before making an awkward turn toward the bathrooms. He ducked in to the class quickly and sat, staring straight ahead at the podium so she could see that he didn’t see her slink back in.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Tilly opened the door to her side of the duplex and went straight back to her bedroom. Now that she was away from Maddie, she felt her breath hitching in and out like her lungs would forget what to do unless she thought about the process. Breathe, she told her lungs in a sing-song voice inside her own mind. In and out. Slow and steady. Just like the doctor and the nurses taught her. She sat down on the edge of the bed, concentrating on her breathing. If she could just get that going like it was supposed to, then her heart wouldn’t start rattling around with all those weird, hard beats that would scare her half to death.

Distraction. That was it. That’s what the nurse, that nice one who would share cigarettes with her, used to tell her. Get your mind on something else. Tilly glanced around. There was nothing in the room but a king sized mattress on a metal frame and a small wardrobe standing in a corner.

She got up and went to the bathroom, her face in the mirror looked like a stranger’s. Round and red. She gathered up the fabric of the muumuu she wore and slowly lifted it over her head. The fat on her body didn’t disgust her. She didn’t even see it, not really. She reached down and lifted the flab of her belly. The white scars that crossed it were deeper than the ones on her arms. Long straight lines. Her hands trembled and she forced herself to take a long deep breath until the urge to punch herself in the belly passed.

Gritting her teeth, she dug the nails of her right hand deep into the flesh. Slowly and deeply, feeling the immediate sting of pain then the steady rise of it, almost like a scream. Holding her breath as she waited for it, that shift where the pain seems to disappear, but it really is just shifting to another level, sending the distress signal along deeper nerve paths.

She could have held it longer, hours if she wanted to, riding the waves of the pain. But she’d promised her doctor and the nurses that she wouldn’t cut herself anymore. This wasn’t technically cutting, but close enough. But she knew exactly how long she could dig before the marks wouldn’t fade away in a few hours’ time.

Tilly let go with a sigh. She kept her hands pressed against the flesh of her lower belly, just above the triangle of pubic hair. She let her nails dig for just one quick stab. Punishment for the womb that had allowed three babies to slip through too soon.

She looked at herself in the mirror again, this time with a flush of shame coloring her cheeks. She slipped her dress back over her head, pulling it down over the various bulges, turning away from the mirror as she did so, unable to face herself again.

Jealous. Of a scared young girl. She would get on her computer tonight and look up stuff on adoptions for her. That’d be the best thing. Find some nice couple who wanted a baby, who could provide for it. That would be the best.

Tilly nodded to herself, agreeing with her thoughts. She left the bathroom and went to the tiny kitchen and began setting up for a haircut. She did them for five dollars, cash only, under the table to supplement her disability income. She only cut men’s hair. They weren’t all fussy like women who would break into tears if one lock of hair wasn’t just perfect. Nope, Tilly liked cutting men’s hair. Over the ears, straight in back, light over the forehead in front. No muss, no fuss. No stress.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


She drove a little further down Highway 61 and turned off in the area known as Pierpont. She waved at Timbo, the Peanut Guy, selling his peanuts on the corner. The neighborhood she drove through was a mish-mosh of all different types of houses in all different states of repair. She turned in to a little parking lot. She and Wyatt lived on one side of two duplexes that faced each other across a weedy, leafy yard. Parking was on the end and a sidewalk ran down the center of the yard, bisecting out to a patio on the front of each unit.

There was a row of azalea bushes lining the parking lot, opening only for the sidewalk. Mr. Granger was out in his little patch of front yard. He was the only person who really had a yard. While everyone else accepted the inevitable lack of grass beneath the litter of several sweet gum and oak trees, Mr. Granger had made it his retirement’s goal to make grass grow.

He was raking, a daily chore. His shorts flopped around his bony knees and the sleeveless tee-shirt showed Maddie more gray hair and saggy old man muscle than she ever wanted to see. He had a straw hat on his mostly bald head.

"School out already?" he asked as she walked by.

He knew full well it wasn’t. Maddie shook her head. "No air conditioning. It was making me sick."

"Making you sick. Maybe if you got out here and learned to do some real work, you’d know what hot was."

Maddie sincerely wished that saying, "Fuck you old man," was socially acceptable. She just smiled. They didn’t have the social worker swooping down on them for surprise visits anymore, not since she’d turned seventeen, but old habits died hard. Keep quiet. Keep out of trouble.

Mr. Granger looked away at the sound of the sliding glass door on his side of the duplex rattling open. Purlee, Maddie wasn’t sure she could remember her last name, stepped to the edge of the patio and lit a cigarette. Purlee was only in her forties, but she looked to be closing in on sixty.

"Don’t throw that nasty thing in my yard," Mr. Granger said, shaking his rake in Purlee’s direction.

"Don’t threaten me with that. I’ll get the po-lice on ya, I will. Crazy old man."

Maddie slowed down as she reached her front door, pretending to search for her keys.

"You’re going to burn this entire place down one day, tossing them things around."

Purlee took a long, deep drag off the cigarette. Maddie could see the tip glow bright red from across the yard.

"That’s why I use your yard, no leaves to catch fire," Purlee said, sending the butt flipping end over end to land almost directly at Mr. Granger’s feet.

"You crazy bitch! I ought to call the police on you!"

Maddie went inside her house, closing the door on the almost daily argument, forgetting it once she felt the cool air hit her skin. She meant to put her things away. She meant to get started on the breakfast dishes. Instead, she dropped her book bag at the head of the hall and flopped down on the couch. When she closed her eyes, the light from the sun peeping through the swaying trees played black and red against her lids. Mr. Granger and Purlee had stopped yelling and she could hear the steady scratch of his rake. It only took a moment to fall asleep.

She awoke with a start, not sure how long she’d been out, only sure that she’d been sleeping by the remnants of an old dream echoing in her head: her hands holding her mother’s head at an angle, her own voice, high pitched and full of teen-age disgust squealing out, "Eeewwww, what is that?"

She sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the couch, waiting for it to fade. "That" had turned out to be the malignant melanoma that took her mother away forever only seven months after Maddie had spotted it on the tender flesh behind her mother’s left ear. It had once robbed her of sleep and peace of mind, that little bit of a moment replayed over and over in her dreams, that moment in which all their lives had changed. It used to be huge, a giant crushing mix of anger and sadness and grief and self-pity that would take her hours to distract herself from.

As she stood and made her way to the kitchen, Maddie couldn’t quite figure out when those feelings had turned in to a mild throb of nostalgic sadness. She supposed some counselor would tell her that it was all right, that her mother wouldn’t want her to grieve forever. It may be true, but it still felt a little like betrayal, that she wasn’t still devastated by the loss of her last parent, her mother, the one that had always been there for her.

She doused the dirty dishes in the sink with soap, then turned the faucet to hot and stared out the tiny window. Mr. Granger had gone back inside. Purlee was standing outside, smoking another cigarette, her grandkids faces and hands pressed up against the glass of the sliding door, watching her. They were still little, two and four years old, with the colorless blond look of shallow gene pool on their slack jawed little faces. Maddie reached down and rubbed her belly and for the first time wondered what it might look like.

She looked down. "Are you a girl or a boy?"

A cold start of fear ran through her. She picked up the sponge and began to wash the dishes. She was going to have to tell someone soon. Someone who could help her figure out how to tell Wyatt. God, she’d fucked everything up. Why hadn’t she just gotten an abortion? It was like this more and more often. She would completely forget about it and when she did remember, the problem ran round and round in her head until she thought she’d go insane. She supposed that in a few more months, there would be no convenient forgetting. Once that belly was out there, there’d be no more hiding.

She had a book, a month by month pregnancy book, hidden under the mattress on her bed. She’d babbled like a lunatic when buying it, sure the cashier didn’t really give a shit whether she was buying it for herself or for the fictitious aunt having her first baby. It all seemed like a subject she was researching for a school project.

A thump on the window startled her. Her eyes refocused and she raised a soapy hand to wave at Tilly, who had thrown a sweet gum ball to get Maddie’s attention.

"Hey girlie girl," Tilly called, loud enough to be heard clearly through the closed window. "Whatchoo lookin’ all serious for?"

Maddie jerked her head, indicating that the front door was open.

Tilly lived next door. She was a tall woman, close to six feet and hugely obese. Maddie and Wyatt had tried to estimate how much Tilly might weigh, but they couldn’t agree. She had a round, pale face that didn’t show a hint of age, but her coarse brown hair, usually secured in a ponytail with the thick rubber bands that came on the Sunday newspaper, was shot through with grey. Even in the hottest days of summer, Tilly wore long sleeved, high collared, ankle length dresses in vast expanses of bright flowery fabric. Maddie had thought for the longest time that it was just to covered her bulk, but one evening the previous winter when Tilly had been cutting Wyatt’s hair, a sleeve had slipped up to the elbow, revealing a forearm criss-crossed and hatched with dozens of thin white scars.

Maddie knew that Tilly’s real name was Chantilly Lace, that her parents had died when Tilly was young also, that Tilly had been married at one time and there was a man who came and went on his motorcycle, bringing the scents of alcohol and marijuana with him. He also brought loud words, muffled tears and once, a bruise high on Tilly’s cheek. Maddie knew that Tilly was on medical disability and cut hair for extra cash. That was about all.

As soon as Tilly entered the kitchen, she began to open and close cabinets. She wasn’t looking for herself, she was taking inventory. Ever since she’d learned that Wyatt, at age twenty, had been given custody of his little sister, Tilly had made it her mission to be sure that he didn’t starve Maddie to death.

"Why’re you home so early today?" Tilly asked as she bent to peer into the refrigerator. "Your milk’s expired."

"No air conditioning."

Tilly was rooting around in the fridge. "Mmm-hmm," she murmured. Maddie wasn’t sure if it was in response to what she’d said or some thing Tilly had found in the fridge.

Tilly held up a potato that was alive with sprouts, one big enough to have leaves unfurling from it. "What the hell is this?"

"A science project?"

Tilly let out a disgusted snort as she dropped the potato in the trashcan. "It’s a wonder you ain’t died of ptomaine poison or that other one, what’s that other bad food poisoning?"

Maddie finished up the last dish and pulled the plug. She leaned one hip against the edge of the counter, watching the soapy water swirl away.


"Yeah, honey?"

Maddie glanced over. Tilly was reading the expiration dates on every item in the fridge. "I’m pregnant."

Maddie felt a white hot shock run along her nerve endings, followed by a wave of dizziness. That’s not what she’d meant to say. She’d meant to say that the yogurt was good a couple days past the stamp date and not to throw out the Yoplait because she would eat it tonight.

Tilly straightened up from her task and turned around. It seemed to Maddie that it took her forever to turn. It didn’t look slow motion, but rather felt slow motion.


Maddie turned on the faucet and began washing soap suds down the drain. Tilly crossed the room and took a hold of her elbow.

It took everything Maddie had in her to force the words out again. "I’m pregnant."

"Well holy fucking shit, girl! How’d that happen? Did you tell Wyatt? What about school? Oh my God, what are you going to do about college?"

Maddie took her time, rinsing out the sponge, twisting the water out, putting it up on the window sill so the sun would help dry it out. She felt a surge of relief at Tilly’s matter-of-fact questions.

"Well," she said, "I guess I couldn’t call it an accident, more like a momentary lapse of reason. No, I haven’t told Wyatt. And I don’t have a clue what to do about school."

Tilly took a step back and her face became so neutral that Maddie knew she was making an effort to appear so. "What are you going to do, honey? Are you going to keep it or, you know?"

Maddie shook her head. "Too late for an abortion. I couldn’t do it. I thought about it. I talked to the clinic about it. I just, I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t do it."

Tilly reached out and pulled Maddie into a hug. She patted at Maddie’s shoulder. Maddie could feel Tilly’s discomfort in the physical contact, could feel it in the tense arms, the slight leaning back. The knowledge that Tilly had made the effort to comfort her in spite of her own discomfort made Maddie start to cry.

Tilly had moved back a step, but she patted Maddie’s arm. "It’s okay, honey. We’ll think of something. It’s not the end of the world, just a speed bump along the way."

Maddie nodded, the lump in her throat too big to allow for speaking, and wiped hard at her eyes, trying to force the tears back. "I need to tell Wyatt, but I don’t know how. He is going to be so mad. I was supposed to go away to school this fall."

Tilly tugged Maddie over to the kitchen table and they sat down. Tilly kept patting at Maddie’s forearm from time to time.

"Okay. Here’s the thing." Tilly said. "What are you going to do? What are your plans?"

"I don’t know."

"When are you due?"

"In October the doctor said."

"So you’ve been going to the doctor? Getting your check-ups?"

"I have medical insurance, until I’m eighteen."

"That’s good. Are you going to keep the baby? Give it up for adoption? What?"

Adoption! The word exploded in Maddie’s brain. Why hadn’t she thought of that? Oh, Jesus. And she was supposed to be so fucking smart? She brought her hands up to cover her face, closing her eyes and rapidly running this new angle through her mind. Delay entry to Duke until January. Figure out how to do a private adoption. Pick out a couple. They could help pay for the delivery, because she would be eighteen by then and out of health insurance.

"That might work," she whispered.

"What might work?"

"Adoption. Tilly, what do you know about private adoptions?"

"You need a lawyer. I know that."

Monday, February 16, 2009


Maddie stopped in the bathroom and wiped her face with a damp paper towel. Damned cheap stuff, it felt like sandpaper. She leaned against the wall, trying to talk herself out of skipping the rest of the afternoon.

Two girls came in, giggling. They were in her History class. They ignored her. Or maybe she really was invisible. She held up her hands, fingers splayed wide. Her mother had had piano virtuoso dreams for those long fingers, dreams dashed by Maddie’s complete lack of musical talent.

Maddie left the bathroom and walked down the hall as slowly as she could. Her next class was Chemistry. The thought of the lab, its normal plethora of scents intensified in the heat, sent a wave of nausea through her. She ducked in to a stairwell and made her way to the first floor.

It felt cooler outside. At least there was a real breeze, not just a fan moving the same hot air around. Maddie walked boldly, out in the open. She’d found that if you didn’t look like you weren’t supposed to be leaving, the security guard would leave you alone.

"Hey! Maddie!"

She turned her head toward the voice, barely slowing. It was Shelly, one of her former circle of best friends. The first to stop calling.

"You cutting?" Shelly whispered.

Maddie stopped. "I’m going home."

"Can I bum a ride?"

Maddie’s car was the fifteen year old Honda that Wyatt had bought for himself when he was in high school. He drove their mom’s car. His car now, she supposed. The Honda hadn’t been in great shape to begin with and three years of carting teenage boys around hadn’t helped.

Maddie turned the air conditioner up as high as it would go. That and the Sheryl Crowe CD she’d left in the player helped cover up the awkward silence filling the car. Or maybe Maddie just felt awkward. Shelly spewed a constant stream of words, working herself in to a proper frenzy about what-if they got caught. Maddie put the car in gear and drove off campus.

"So," Shelly said, relaxing once they were out on the main highway. "Are you just so stoked about graduation?"

"I guess."

"God! My mom is going ape-shit about the senior cruise. She’s on my back every minute. She’s about to drive me out of my freaking mind."

Maddie just nodded, not noticing that Shelly had brought both her hands to her mouth.

"OMG, Maddie, I’m so sorry."

Maddie just shrugged. "It’s okay. Really. It’s cool."

The silence played out for a moment. "So, I guess you aren’t going, huh?"


Things like senior cruises and proms and graduation parties were so far removed from Maddie’s life that she didn’t even feel the loss. She now lived in an entirely different world.

"So, did you decide on college?"

Maddie had been accepted early into several colleges. Duke and UVA were her top two choices. Had been her top two choices. Shelly didn’t need to know that though.

"Duke probably."

Maddie bit at the inside of her cheek. They had planned it out. Once she graduated, they could live in dorms. Wyatt at the College of Charleston and Maddie at Duke. That wasn’t going to work now. The baby was going to change everything. There was no way she was going to college this fall.

She dropped Shelly off in the neighborhood where they both used to live. Maddie drove around the shady streets for a few minutes, remembering. Birthday parties, swim meets, sleepovers. She didn’t drive past her old house though.

Friday, February 13, 2009


The line of drool between her cheek and palm pulled Maddie out of the doze she hadn’t known she was in. She wiped surreptitiously at the wetness. Mrs. Rogers was still droning listlessly at her desk, a crumpled tissue in one hand. The hand lifted, dabbing at the beads of perspiration dotting Mrs. Rogers forehead.

Maddie had lost track of the lecture. Were they still on Poe? She looked down at the scribbled mess of her notes, a little dismayed. She had never fallen asleep in class before.

It was the heat, she thought. The powers-to-be had decided the death of the school’s air conditioning system did not warrant cancellation of classes. Two of her teachers had already informed their classes that as little as twenty years ago, there had been no air conditioning in school at all.

Each classroom had been provided floor fans. The heat, the steady hum of the fan and Mrs. Rogers’ monotone lecture voice, combined with the fact that this was Maddie’s first class after lunch, a secret off-campus mission to Sonic, overwhelmed her ability to stay conscious.

And the fly. The droning buzz as it lazily made its way from one end of the bank of windows to the other, patiently seeking an exit. The Doppler effect of its buzz as it passed by Maddie’s left ear reminded her of the time when she was little and had a high fever. She remembered laying in bed, her mother patting a cool wet cloth against her face and neck. Her brother Wyatt and some friends were out in the yard, playing on the Slip ‘N Slide and their whoops of delight had had that same rising and falling.

Maddie lifted her pencil, blinking hard to try to shake off the dull feeling of grogginess. It was the heat, the fan, the fly, the chili cheese tater tots. That was it. Nothing at all to do with twelve week old mistake gestating in her belly.

Not a mistake, really. More like a lapse in reason. Maddie had not been a virgin when a study session with Chance Silverman had turned into a make out session in which she had let him go all the way. Way back when, before the big divide in her life, she’d been a normal person, with friends and a real boyfriend. She and Zack had planned the loss of their mutual virginities very carefully. They were in love. They were ready. They used birth control.

What she’d done with Chance was colder. She’d used him. Used having a warm body next to hers as a temporary respite from the isolation she’d felt since her mother’s death. A death too soon followed by the break up with Zack, who at sixteen could hardly be blamed with not knowing how to deal with her new life.

She crossed her arm against her belly. She hadn’t told Chance, hadn’t told Wyatt. She had contemplated an abortion. It was the smartest thing for her to do. She had enough to deal with. But she’d let time go by until it was too late without a second thought.

After the bell had rung and as the students shuffled slowly out of the room, Mrs. Rogers asked Maddie to wait a moment. She did, shifting from one foot to the other, book bag sagging from one shoulder as the rest of the class left, glancing at her. Maddie’s in trouble. If they only knew.

Mrs. Rogers touched a hand to Maddie’s forearm, then pulled it away a little too quickly. Maddie felt a little sting of sadness. Teachers touching students? We can’t have that now, can we?

"Are you all right?" Mrs. Rogers was asking, tentatively, as if she weren’t sure she should.

"I’m fine. It’s the heat."

The teacher nodded. "I’ve just noticed some changes in the last few weeks."

A cold zing made its way through Maddie’s body, making her stand straight and resist the urge to feel her belly. Surely it wasn’t visible already?

"Your work," Mrs. Rogers continued. "It seems less focused."

Maddie almost laughed. Instead she arranged her expression to look properly serious. "Yes, I haven’t been doing my best work this past month."

Agreeing with them always worked.

Mrs. Rogers nodded and her hand reached out, quivered in the air between them, then fell back to her side. "Are things all right? At home?"

It was one of those questions that they really didn’t want a true answer to, so Maddie lied.

"Yes, we’re fine."

"And Wyatt? Is he still in college?"

"Yes, finishing up his second year."

Mrs. Rogers smiled a real smile this time. "Good. I am so glad to see you two getting on with the business of living."

Maddie smiled, and it felt so stiff, so forced that she was sure Mrs. Rogers would know it was fake and probe further, but she didn’t.

"Don’t be late for your next class," was all she said.