Photo by Buchen Wang on Unsplash

Ruth sat in the bathroom stall, working to gain control of her panic and sobs. She circled through her thoughts again. Despite saving for the past three decades and living frugal, it wasn’t enough to retire on. Being an essential worker during a pandemic is terrifying. You’re guaranteed a job as long as you can healthy. You’d think the biggest risk to a dietary aide would be fallen arches.

At the moment, the only other businesses that were hiring were consider essential. The ones she qualified for were public facing and would riskier yet. Meadow Pines Care Home has been doing daily temperature checks. Cheap disposable masks became standard after someone from the records office fell ill. They were so sick they had to be admitted to the hospital. A single mask must last all week because of the shortages.

Greg, one of the cart runners, asked about clear face shields. Our manager, Toni, actually laughed at him. ‘You don’t have direct contact with the residents. You don’t need them,’ she had said. She did her best to embarrass him in front of the whole morning shift.

The next day, he wore a pair of shop goggles. Toni mocked him throughout the morning tray line. He ignored her which only increased her anger. Since then, Ruth and five others have taken to wearing them. Toni calls them Seven Dwarfs. A majority of the kitchen staff envisions Toni as the Wicked Queen rather than Snow White.

The bathroom was quiet, so Ruth blew her nose and left the stall. Sharon was at the mirror brushing her hair back into a ponytail so she could curl it up into a hairnet. The golden cross on her necklace glinted in the dim restroom light. “Are you okay, Ruth?”

Thanksgiving 2020

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I slowly slid out from the blankets and into my fuzzy slippers. I sat still on the edge of the bed because Gene’s snoring had stopped snoring. He rolled over and then returned to a quieter rhythm. It’s still dark as midnight, but that turkey won’t bake itself. I steadied myself with the nightstand and eased off the bed. Gene didn’t flinch. One of the few times I’ve managed to get out of bed without waking him. I tiptoed out the bedroom door, gently pulling it shut behind me.

Dim light from the kitchen spilled down the hallway. I must have forgotten to turn that out last night before bed. As I got closer, I heard running water quickened my steps. Hope I didn’t leave the water running, too.

Stepped into the doorway to see Paul washing up one of Camille’s bottles. He paused for a moment. I stepped back into the darkness and away from the doorway. Don’t want him to think I’m spying on him. I am, but he doesn’t need to know that. I worry about him.

After he didn’t say anything or shut the water off, I peeked around the doorframe again. Paul was holding on to the edge of the sink and pinching the bridge of his nose. He’s missing Twila. My baby is heartbroken.

Election Day

Photo by J K Metz

Why does my first Presidential election have to be in 2020? For months, the news outlets have pumped out conflicting info on an hourly basis. The noise from social media has been deafening. One of those bits of info – the possibility of mailed ballots not making it in time to be counted.

Because of this, I waited to vote in person. That nearly proved disastrous. The bakery I work at closed a week ago last Sunday because of an outbreak. I immediately went into quarantine and took my first nasal swab test that day. The anger I felt towards myself for screwing up my chances to have my voice heard made my anxiety worse. I should have risked voting by mail.

Then yesterday morning I got a call that my second test was also negative. I was cleared to go back to work. Yes! I will get to vote after all.

I took a sip of coffee as I turned into the very full parking lot. This is not what I expected. There was so much talk about most people had already voted as absentee and by mail. Most in my district must have decide to vote in person. I finally found a parking spot in a far corner.

As I shut the car off, I noticed my sweaty palms and sour stomach. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath knowing I’d feel better once my ballot is cast. I tucked a small tube of hand sanitizer in one pocket of my light jacket. Then put my cell phone and AirPods in the other. I double checked that my utility bills and license were in the inner pocket of the jacket. I took another sip of coffee and then put a piece of gum in my mouth before securing my mask.

Saving Halloween

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“I know he’s up to something. He best not have snuck out to Hi-Jinx again,” Irene muttered as she scurred from the house. She stopped just shy of the door to the garage door. “He had better be in there. He’s worse about sneaking off than the kids ever were.”

She stood there listening for a few seconds before a voice from behind her said, “Checking up on me?”

Irene jumped, spun around, and slapped Gene on the arm. “Oh, you gave me a fright. No, I wanted to see if you were hungry.” She couldn’t look him in the face.

Her husband, Gene, scowled, “Fibber.” Then he broke into a big grin. “Come on. I’ve got something to show you.”

She looked at him warily as he steered her by the elbow towards the open door. “The last time you did that, you tricked me into spending an hour helping you finish building a bookcase.”

“Not this time. Promise.” Gene had a sparkle to his eyes that had been gone for months.

Inside was a freestanding black wall with an orange pipe poked through it at a downward angle. “Okay, you stand down here with your hands under the pipe like you’re going to catch something.” She raised an eyebrow and put a hand on her hip. “Come on. All you have to do is catch this.” He held up what looked like a small ball of paper.

The Chase

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A hard day’s work on the retail floor had exhausted Deanna. It felt so good to slide behind the wheel of her old Toyota. “Come on, Lucille. Take me home.”

Lucille was old enough to legally drink by herself, if she were human. The original glossy, red paint had weathered to a flat, dull pink, and had a few dings and rust spots that added character. Deanna had never bothered to remove the peace symbol the former owner painted on the trunk lid, because it seemed to fit both their personalities.

Two stoplights away from the store parking lot she noticed a blue car with a grill full of led lights configured to look like shark teeth. It seemed to stalking her. Fear gripped her throat. Her ex had a car with programmable grill lights. It was difficult to see the driver in the dim twilight. What was it he said to her on that last phone message? ‘If I can’t have you, ain’t nobody gonna have you!’

Deanna goosed the gas pedal a little more and turned on to a busy highway. “Don’t let me down, girl. We gotta lose him.” She patted the dashboard as she glanced in the rear view mirror again. It was still back there.

She pushed the pedal closer to the floorboard. Lucille’s engine grumbled a complaint, but complied with the new demand. Steering in and out of the rush-hour traffic, Deanna hoped to lose the blue car.

A quick check of the mirror – still there. She pushed the pedal firmly into the floor. Lucille gave it her all – fifteen miles over the speed limit. The blue car still kept pace.

Outrunning them wasn’t possible, but maybe she could outsmart the driver. At full speed she steered on to the shoulder before slamming the brakes and slapping on the flashers. Whoosh! The blue car zoomed by.

At the next median break, it slowed and turned back the other direction. “He’s coming back for us, Lucille. Let’s get out of here!” Deanna punched the gas and rode the shoulder at full speed until traffic allowed her back onto the freeway.

She periodically glanced into the rear view mirror. After not seeing him for a few miles, she convinced herself that the ruse worked. Her racing heart returned to a more normal rhythm. “I knew you could do it, Lucille,” she said, patting the dashboard.

Food Line

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“Mommy, why aren’t we going? I want to go home,” whined three-year old Jorge. He squirmed in his car seat and pulled at the straps.

“I know you do, but we have to get some groceries. Remember, Mommy doesn’t have enough money for the store right now.” Maria watched him in the rearview mirror.

A horn honked from behind. She looked out the windshield and noticed the car in front of her had moved several yards. She eased off the brake and coasted forward until she closed the gap. She waved to the driver in the car behind them. The man flipped her the bird. Nice. We’re in the middle of a crisis and he’ has to be a jerk, she thought.

“Mommie!” Jorge shrieked. “I want out.” He pushed at the buckle.

“Here, why don’t we watch a cartoon. Do you want to watch ‘Thomas the Train’ or Handy Manny?”

Jorge briefly stopped squirming and glared at her with anger reminiscent of Luis. That’s the look that meant, ‘keep pushing me woman and I’ll give you something to remember who’s in control’. Of course, he thought he was always right. The look disappeared and her sweet son reappeared. “Manny? I like Manny.”

Left Behind

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I chewed on my lower lip as I watched my oldest sister, Jackie, heave the last of her moving boxes off the floor. She was leaving today for some place far away and not coming back. Sure, she said she’d visit, but Mom said it would take a whole day just to drive from her new place to here. She won’t be back. I want her to take me, too.

“Aren’t you going to help?” asked Jackie.

“I’m too little. Your stuff is too heavy,” I said. I’m only five, the oops baby they didn’t expect. Before me the family was perfect – Mom and Dad had two boys and two girls.

“I mean with the door.” Jackie’s tone had a sarcastic edge.

“Oh.” I released the balled up edge of my summer nightgown, scooted backwards into the door, and slowly pressed my butt against it until it opened. I had learned the door didn’t creak so badly if you opened it slowly. The cool morning air prickled my naked arms and legs; the sidewalk damp and gritty against my bare feet. Jackie wedged that last box into the only empty spot left in the trunk of her old Dodge sedan before slamming the lid.

“Cheer up. Before you can miss me, I’ll be back,” she said. A button fell off her shirt, making a tapping sound as it hit the sidewalk. She didn’t notice and instead ruffled my sleep tangled hair as she passed by me. Easy for her to say. She sounded happy about leaving me for college. Jackie will get to do whatever she wants. I rescued the little white button from the sidewalk as I followed her back into the house.

She hugged Mom and Dad. Then she hugged our twelve year old brother; he reluctantly allowed it. Our other brother and sister had said goodbye last night because they had to work this morning. She turned to me, but before she could hug me, I ran to my room and slammed the door.

With tears stinging my eyes, I slid down the door as I continued to clutch my souvenir. I pulled the edge of my nightgown up over my face and cried. Maybe if she can’t say goodbye to me she won’t leave.

The door muffled the conversation on the other side, but I could make out a few of Mom’s words, “she’ll . . . okay . . . forgive”. Then the backdoor creaked open and closed with a thump. A moment later, the old Dodge cranked. I ran to the window in time to see its back end disappear around the corner and out of sight.

She left me anyway.

Stage Fright

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“Benji! Benji! Benji!,” chanting drifted through the venue to backstage. I double checked the reflection in the mirror. Then wiped sweaty hands on my too tight red pants.

The last time I met with my manager, Monica, she had insisted on hiring a stylist. ‘The female fans love the way you look in them. The pictures of you in those pants get the most hits,’ she had said.

I replied, ‘Yeah, they’re twice my age and want to jump my bones. Then they want to mother me. Those middle-aged women scare me.’

I pulled at the pants until they felt more comfortable. My mouth was dry and I felt like hurling. I miss the days when I only worried about technical difficulties. Now, I have to worry about women grabbing me or a wardrobe malfunction.

You Want It Too

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It was the summer of 1985 and I waiting in the kitchen of my classmate Gaby. Her brother, Jerry, was home from college. He was shirtless and washing his car in the backyard. Gaby introduced us when I stayed for a sleep over during our freshman year. He had come home after playing a football game. My heart skipped a beat. For the past three years, my crush on him had grown and each year he looked better yet.

He must have felt me watching because he looked my way. I dashed from the window, hoping he didn’t see me. I tried to calm my heart while I waited for Gaby to come down from her room. We were going to the mall with some girlfriends. We were going preview the new clothes for fall. If we banded together, we might keep our moms from making us look like total dweebs or worse dress us in prairie girl fashion that was on the way out. Unfortunately, some of our mothers had fallen in love with the look.

Be A Good Girl

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It was mid December 1973. My older sister, Mae, and I were confined to a smoky hospital waiting room with Daddy. There was nowhere to get away from it. Even the vinyl covered chairs stunk. The smell was giving me a headache.

Daddy watched us while Nana Taylor visited with Mommy and our newborn sister. Then they would switch places after awhile. I wanted to go see the baby, but hospital rules don’t allow it. No one under twelve could visit the nursery or Mommy’s room. That’s not fair. Sarah, our newborn sister gets to go to her room. She’s younger than me.

I crept to the doorway and took one step into the hallway for a gulp of fresh air. Daddy noticed and said, “Amelia Rose, get back in here.” My first name is Nana Taylor’s middle name and my middle name is Nana Franklin’s first name. I hated it when I was called my by my first name. Kids at school made fun of my first name. They call me ‘oatmeal’ so I started going by my middle name. “If I have to get up and bring you back in here, you won’t like it.”