written by Alina Stefanescu | illustrated by Rachel Lesser
Adults spoke through hissed genealogies, the early tantra of tongues disguised by complicated trigonometries settling in the corners made by angled remarks rather than traveling the vistas of straight lines. Realizing perhaps to be considered smart like my brother Jonah involved mastering pointed comments, the art of pricking people with words.
My mother weighed fruits in the slippery linoleum store as I watched from the cold steel comfort of a moving cart — what are you doing? Oh, I’m trying to get a good value for my money, she said, I’m looking for the best deal, sweetie.
She and her friends kept charts with how many pounds each one had, and playing with blocks I overheard the complaints about having too many pounds — got to lose some of these pesky pounds — I figured no mother wants too much value and maybe we are all like fruits or maybe even fruits of some sort, in which case I was a kiwi. They were tasty.
In school we drew pictures about gases, liquids, and solids. Three states of matter defied by orange or red jello, the jiggly gel that went gooey in the sun and slithered through plastic white fork blades. After the pool closed, our eyes dazzled by sunlight and jello, the wiggle of female thighs uncovered, we learned to expect jello. Learned to eat it fast.
A compartment that smelled of moth balls, where belts were tightened and shirts tucked in tight, taut across the chest, special days when shoes scowled for lack of scuff. Dressy days and afternoons, family portraits, cheap pink Easter baskets, I barely moved against the alarm signal of Mom’s raised eyebrow. Girls wore pouty dresses, picked dandelion bouquets. The terror of grass stains, the glare of dressy days.
Crouched quiet, a mollusk drawn into its shell, I took my timeouts in the kitchen corner near the back porch door. Air conditioning escaped under the slat. Wrong had been done, the punishment grave as Babylonian idols, my lips stayed straight, a serious line, a chunk of time aimless as still-life. I’d do better next time and not get caught.
About the artists:
Rachel Lesser is an illustrator, painter & graphic designer in the Jersey/NYC area. She loves comics, pizza and getting free stuff. She graduated from UNIVERSITY OF THE ARTS and is currently continuing her studies at SVA in Illustration.
Alina Stefanescu lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner and three small native species. Her story, “White Tennis Shoes,” won the Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award from New Delta Review this year. She wants to imagine you reading it.