5.02 / February 2010


The Proposition

He says he wants to paint my face.   I still cannot pronounce his name.  He laughs,in a kind way, when I try.    He looks at me as if I might be a fragile  thing.

Advice and a Question

My sister gives it freely like a zealot gives alms.   “Stay away from the Mexican with poor language skills.”   She cups my chin :     “What can he possible see in your face, honey, now answer me that?”

Cigarettes and Lollipops

I often let him take cigarettes without paying.   I put my own money in the register.   I don’t approve of smoking, but everyone has to have something.   Sometimes he lights up and smokes outside waving to me from the plate glass window, right under the “89 cent coffee” banner.       Sometimes he has his little girl, Lola with him. She is  a little brown nut of a thing.    I give her a Dum Dum lollipops.   She likes pineapple.   She has a broken front tooth.   She stares at me in the same way her father does.

A Misunderstanding

You would like him, I tell her.   I see a flicker in her eyes, maybe a blush across her broad, flat cheeks.   She flicks cigarette ash into the stainless steel sink, rolling her bulging eyes.       She repeats her situation like a bad song I can’t get out of my head:   “I am, if you haven’t noticed, raising a son on my own, thankyouverymuch.”     I flush with heat that rises like mercury until it reaches the top of my head.   I tell her I only mean to say that he is a nice man.   For me, possibly.   She is no longer listening.

The Other Man in My Life

My sister’s son watches from the high chair.   His head is bobbing back and forth, his eyes at half mast.   It seems that none of the fistful of Cheerios my sister scattered on his tray has actually made it into his mouth.     His cheeks are red and raw, his eyes clear, syrupy pools of blue, sometimes green.   I whisper “I love you” into the tiny seashell of his ear.   My sister hisses through her crooked mouth ” You don’t know what love is.”


His head lays at an angle, like he is waiting for the answer to a question he has not yet asked.    His wispy brows meet in the middle, perplexed in his sleep.   I put my hand over his tiny fist, moist and clenched in his sleep.   I flutter a kiss on his cheek and watch the small mound of his chest rise and fall.     The winter sun casts a bright orange hue.    It sets the room on fire.   My sister smokes, gathering steam.


“You,” she says, pointing at me, with the cigarette smoking itself in her stubby fingers.    ” You are no Frida Kahlo.”   She shakes her head slow.   She laughs in the throaty way my mother used to before something terrible happened.


I remember Lola had a yellow ribbon in one of her little pig tails. “She lost the other one,” he explained with emotion.      Her father touched the one that remained, twisting it in his delicate hands, making a curlicue that made her smile, the first I’d seen on her.   Something like a thrill unfurled itself in me.     I hear the hiss of my sister’s cigarette in the sink, her footsteps dragging her away from us.     The boy yawns, his mouth a tiny “o”.   His breath smells older than it should.

What I do

I sit with the boy.      His head lies in the cold tray of his high chair.   I consecrate the both of us in the last shimmer of a day that is dead and gone.


He will  paint my face.     My heart takes a journey all its own.


Madison defaces walls the color of French Vanilla ice cream.   She makes shaggy green circles with her cigar-thick crayon. Because she cannot be controlled, my father throws me into the hard, straight backed chair that makes my crooked spine feel like raw knuckles.

He squeezes my chin, say it: I am my sister’s keeper. The words make the  slow crawl out of my liar’s mouth, the same one that reveals what it shouldn’t, and says things it does not mean.   He sniffs the stink of my insincerity like a hound.   My father’s daughters are broken, and he reminds me it is not his fault.

You don’t do anything the way it should be done.   My father’s words cut like scissors through smoke,  and in my mind I am already gone.    I am out of the chair, crouching by Madison’s side, smoothing the patchy dry tufts of hair on her big, pale head.   In my happy dreams I imagine her head surrounded by the petals of a daisy, bright and growing.

Madison connects jagged lines to the circles.   Because I look for signs every where, I think this means she understands how we are nearly the same person. I wait until I hear my father’s reluctant  footsteps dragging him to wherever we are not.  I go to Madison who is munching her crayon.     Madison does not understand, so she does not obey.     I struggle to pick her up and I plop her in the chair.  She flops like she is devoid of bones.   I affect my father’s ridiculous voice: I am my sister’s keeper. I say this without a smile, pointing with a soft jab of my finger into her little scrunched face.       When I grab her chin she becomes quiet and breathes heavy.   My grin tells her all is well.

Madison small eyes roll. She laughs, sputtering.     I pry the green crayon out of her balled fist and rub her shoulders in soft, circular motions.   Madison stares around the room, taking in the expanse of walls, the circumference of my world, her world.   She raises her finger in the air, rolling it around and around in a circular motion    I whisper in her ear I am my sister’s keeper.     Madison makes a noise that I know is indifference, unknowing, blissful ignorance.     I place the green crayon in her hand again, putting the purple and orange ones on standby.     We both need more than what we have.   And that’s the truth.

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in a variety of venues including elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, Eyeshot, The Los Angeles Review, JMWW and others. She was included in Dzanc's Best of the Web 2010. Her chapbook Natural Habitat was published by Burning River Press in 2010.
5.02 / February 2010