December 26, 2009

Christine Butterworth-McDermott

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The girl on the bench in the Laundromat is barely eleven, the kind of girl with no hint of a figure—no future cup waiting to overflow, all soft baby curves. She’ll stay that way until she’s fifty-five, except then she’ll no longer be cute, she’ll be a statistic which typifies her State. But now, the boy comes in with his dad to fill up the gumball machine—and the empty container next to it with toys and surprises: cheap rings with fake gems that glow like candy, tiny ball caps, miniature purple aliens that ride permanent skateboards, plastic stretch frogs that stick to the ceiling. The boy’s hat is tipped back and she is in the grip of his smile which is directed at everything and nothing. He is older, wiser. She can tell by the way his father lets him handle change that this is a boy going places. A merchant, a magician of the middle school set. And all of a sudden, you can see her whole damn high school career: standing by the wall at a dance, not being asked, holding back, pulling her dress down over the tummy fat, wincing as this boy moves (always out of reach), marrying that other boy down the street with the dimples but no brains, who starts drinking too much and stays out too late, and gives her three kids and a mortgage and a part-time job at the Rent-a-Skate. That’s her, too, in the Laundromat, over there talking to the neighbor, her hair in a scarf, no make-up, saying, “Lawd, you wouldna believe the ironing I’ve had to do for the lot,” but dropping the “o” in ironing because it’s just too hard to enunciate in East Texas. It’s too hard to live like this, with your dreams dying all the time—or dead. And you can tell all this when she bows her head, then glances up at the boy, who goes through the doors, into the air, into the car, into the highway, traveling far away. A half an hour later, you can still hear the plunk plunk plunking of those tiny plastic objects, those multi-colored spheres, those minute wheels churning through her heart.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009

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