Author Archives: Mel

Cereal for Dinner

Final post: Alas, this is my last week as a part of the 5×500 crew. I’m sad to go, but excited for the next phase of writers. It’s been so much fun being a part of this. Thanks for reading. – Mel

Everybody’s standing in the yard waiting for dad. I’m the oldest, so I hold Megan, the baby, in my arms. Mom is in the car already, looking exhausted. I have the feeling like I’m somewhere I’m not supposed to be, like I’m about to be caught. My legs get all tensed up, ready to run, and my breathing gets shallow. I wonder if that’s what’s happening to dad right now, if that’s why he’s locked himself in the downstairs bathroom and refuses to come out.

We’re supposed to be at grandma’s for our cousin’s birthday party, but we’re almost an hour late now. I look to mom to see if there’s any indication when we can just give up and go back inside. When we can stop standing in the yard like a pack of wolves – all eight of us kids, plus the baby. There’s a slamming, and for a moment I think dad has finally vacated the bathroom, but then mom walks up beside me. She says, “He’s overwhelmed with work,” and takes the baby from me. I wonder why we don’t just go to grandma’s without him, but the way mom’s shoulders droop as she carries the baby and tucks Jen, the five year old, under her armpit, I can feel the reason why without entirely knowing it. The rest of us follow suit: Reinard, the ten year old, two year youngers than me; Laurence, nine; Bennett, seven; Maxwell, five – Jen’s twin; Leigh, four; and Peyton, two and a half. She lets us eat cereal for dinner. It takes two boxes of Frosted Flakes, and by the time I pour my own, the milk is down to its final drops and I use water to fill the bowl. Mom nurses the baby, digging entire handfuls of cereal out of the box and eating it, not noticing the tiny white and beige crumbs landing on the baby’s head.

Making room

Our mother is too young
to care for – and yet,
there she is, her suitcase at her feet,
her only company.
Look inside,
there is everything she owns:
Those capris with cherries on the butt
that look like jeans on her;
Jergens lotion, cherry-almond;
those off-brand, fake fur-lined boots
she made me buy her before heading back
to Hawaii.
These and other things accompany her
from island to island to mainland.

It is just a bigger island, I remember
my uncle saying, accent-heavy
and sweaty from eating all that pig,
eyes and bones left, nothing else.

62 Prospect

scrubbing off nail polish
when he walks in
his voice is static, paper thin
his seduction is transparent-

summer nights are fans
and that sticky place behind my knees
I discover after I sit a while.
The bead of unearned sweat slides between the blades
of my
tracing spine

Newnan, Georgia

I’ve recently started going through my old poetry. This one is circa 2004, an ode to my hometown, edited this week. Perhaps it’s better to let old poetry die.

Sometimes I believe
that nights like this –
in the kitchen, windows down,
the smell of heat cooling in the air,
bodies affected by humidity-
will linger,
on past my childhood.
But I know, as I pack up – move out and on –
they won’t.
That someday I may think I
smell it, see it
in the corner of an attic somewhere
or a small gas station on my way to somewhere big-
but it won’t be there.
It’s only here-
I am only here

Today, Over Coffee

Today, over coffee, we discuss our failures.

“I left the door unlocked the day all our stuff got stolen,” Joanne says. She sips black coffee, and nibbles a cookie that I will probably finish for her.

I nod to her confession because I already knew. She was always leaving the door unlocked before then, and the day we came home from the park and I noticed it was open as we approached, I knew my admonitions had come true. Moments later I felt her body tense through her hand that I was holding and I knew she’d noticed it, too.

“I knew it was a bad idea to go to Chelsea’s apartment right after work, with no one else there. I was so angry at you for knowing my weakness without me giving into it, and I wanted to prove you wrong,” I say without looking at her. She knows these things, and I am trying to prove her hypothesis that I am a coward, wrong. I will never learn, and she will never leave me. We are doomed, but these people walking on the sidewalk next to our table wouldn’t know it just by glimpsing us sipping coffee, eating a snickerdoodle, scratching our faces during the pauses in conversation.

“I always call my sister when I have complaints about you. I should talk to you instead.”

That explains why she doesn’t like me, I don’t say.

“I never applied to those job listings you emailed me. I stared at them a long time, tweaked some punctuation on my resume, but I never hit submit.” Your disappointment in my laziness is familiar; I am afraid of adjusting to your disappointment in my failure, I omit.

She looks at me and dusts crumbs from her lap. It is a look violent with omission, and I feel less alone in my secret society of inner thoughts. She is an asset undervalued, and I fear that she is beginning to know this.

She holds out the last bite of cookie, which I – lacking appetite – wave away.

Which would you like first?

The good news is it feels much cooler inside our bedroom than it does outside; I saw a woman staring out her window, chin in hands, while a baby pointed and babbled next to her; I am reading two books at once; I have experimented and succeeded at creating a cobbler recipe that your father enjoys (the secret is butter, I should have known); the apple tree is finally fruitful.

The bad news is my hip joints do not have nifty little holes like my sewing machine where I can drip oil as needed; all of the other fruit trees we’ve planted were uprooted in last week’s hurricane; I forgot to buy milk and eggs during my grocery store trip this morning (and now what I actually did buy escapes me. I spent two hours in Kroger that felt more like five minutes); the carburetor is on its last leg, daddy says (and he didn’t laugh when I asked, “No other limbs left to prop it up?” so I know he’s worried); Amy Beth, the girl I was always trying to get you to meet, has died of a swollen heart and now you will never get to meet her (I made her parents a chicken casserole, but they don’t eat meat so your father and I have been eating on it all week and he hasn’t quit griping); I’m reading two books at once and I keep getting the characters and story lines confused.

Write me a letter for once. I’m your mother.

Shameless plug! Check my story “Mother Knows Best” at fwriction:review tomorrow!

Bus stop

We’re all waiting for the bus: The girl who wears rubber boots through the whole winter, the guy who works at the Ruby Tuesday’s, the eight-year-old kid who takes the bus to his school five blocks up. Each morning a group of us, give or take a few, come out here and hover around the bench that ices over in the winter, burns through fabric in the summer. It is useless for any purpose other than hovering.

The guy with the stubble and the red Columbia jacket is late today. He’s always running late, his eyes droopy and his hair a mess that he covers with a hat when he catches his reflection in the window of the Indian restaurant behind us. He and his fiancee have usually been going at it until two or three in the morning, and not in the good way. Not in the way you’d expect a handsome couple such as them to be going at it. I only know this because he’s been getting more frantic, and once I heard him on the phone with who I gathered was his sister. I thought, How sweet, that he was on the phone with his sister. I imagine she lives in the Midwest and stirs pots of boiling soup while her baby brother tells her about the falling apart of his engagement. I imagine picking up those pieces for him. I’d love to meet that sister some day, to have her tell me that she’s so glad I came along when I did. That her brother was going through rough times and she’s never seen him so happy.

I’m listening to a song about a girl telling someone she loves that he should probably start writing love letters to someone else. She’s giving him permission and it sounds sweet, but there’s also a bit of accusation in it, like she expects this is what he wants and she’s blaming him for it. Even though she’s the one telling him to move on, telling him she can’t be in this relationship.

The bus is a block away from us; I’m bummed Stubbly Columbia won’t make it today. I love watching the back of his head rock with the bus, the music in my ear like a soundtrack. Then there he is, rounding the corner with a coffee cup in his hand. He’s running so fast that the coffee’s spilling on his ungloved hand, and I wince, wondering how hot it must feel.

You getting on? the bus driver says.

I step onto the bus in answer. Wait, that guy’s coming, too.

What guy? The driver goes to close the door, but Stubble is so close, so droopy-eyed and covered in hot coffee that I can’t let him just miss the bus. Not today. He was probably up all night, and the stress of being late to work on top of falling out of love with a woman you once thought you’d marry, it’s just too much.

Wait! I know I shouldn’t do it, but I grab the driver’s hand on that lever and I squeeze tight.

Hey, lady! What are you doing? He yells other things, and I’m yelling things and we’re in this dance until Stubble climbs in behind me.

He’s out of breath and trying to shake the coffee off of his arm, so it takes him a moment to realize what he’s walked into.

Get off this bus, right now! The driver has my hand gripped in his in what could be mistaken for a moment of passion, out of context. I retrieve my hand from his, straighten my skirt against my shaking legs. Stubble has stepped into the bus behind me and I step off, back onto the sidewalk. The adrenaline is still in my blood, and the wisps of a migraine stir in the top of my skull.