I leaned back on the lawn lounge chair, and its metal leg gave way.
Rolled to my knees. Edged across the grass
to where my chocolate milkshake sweated in the sun.
The daily addiction that soothed my soul through my tongue receptors.
The routine that gave me purpose while I waited.
Round and ripe, and always waiting.
Stretching the limits of my most expansive jumper.
Last week and the week before, I had swallowed the castor oil. Twice.
Mom advised me. Said the thick, slimy oil would get labor going,
like it had with her when I was born.
One full bottle each time, topped with orange juice.
You stayed comfy in the birth sack, when you slipped out so slick,
she had said. And wasn’t that just something?
To be born with a caul? Like a sage or witchy woman?
That’s what old-timers say. Babies born with a caul
might have psychic powers, and likely won’t die by drowning.
New-timers might say, Save that caul. Sell it on eBay.
Mom remembered how the neighbors all came out of their houses
that day, stared at her from their front porches,
as she and dad drove to the hospital. Later, she discovered,
it wasn’t her they were watching. They were scanning the sky
for a tornado that had been forecast to come from the west.
But now it was 15 days and counting,
15 days past my own baby’s due date. The castor oil left
only a dark memory, a nausea that had jailed me
in the bathroom for hours. Worse yet, nearly everyone I knew.
Everyone waiting on babies, had already become a new mom.
Their empty tummies sagging, they lay content
in hospital beds. Bitches, I thought, whose babies were due after mine.
Bitches, whose babies’ naked legs kicked the air, whose babies’ tiny fists
didn’t beat against taut flesh. So, I would grab bricks, I reasoned.
Toddle two blocks to the hospital, heave them through the window.
Let the neighbors stare. Check it out. Here’s your tornado,
I would shout. Here’s those special powers, old timers.
The doc would know how serious I was. How he would have to deliver
this baby before the next sunrise, or else. I grasped tightly
the milk shake, rearranged myself on the lounge chair.
My tongue, cooled by the milkshake’s chocolate thickness,
drowned in its velvety intoxication. I breathed
Deeply as I could, with tiny fists in my ribs,
deeply as I could, as she stretched a knee into my lung.
I imagined the roundness of her toes. Pictured the turn of her nose.
Wondered what we would call her.
When I picture Alan, it’s with his toes outlined
in silky white sand, stepping into a frothy wave,
just as a slice of sunlight welcomed him
to take one more step. His mom bracing herself
against that same wave. And when she looked again,
Alan was gone. That was all. Just gone. Lost
where eyes cannot distinguish ocean from sky,
from a shore a world away from
the sea of Kansas wheat fields.
That summer after Padre Island,
that summer of undertow and loss
we remembered the teenager who
entered seamlessly into our neighbor kid games:
Red Rover, Green Light Red Light, New Orleans
A pale cowlick resisting the order
of his freshly combed hair.
We remembered how he
lit the grassy summer nights.
Strolled easily when Red Rover called him over.
She painted the monkey on the wall
years before I was born. But there’s
something in its eyes that makes me
think of me. The way it glances
up and to the right. The way I do
when I don’t know the answer,
but don’t want to say.
Only rarely over the years
did we drive the weeded lane,
to the gray stucco home place,
empty since my birth and Dad’s town job.
We’d survey the outbuildings’ decay,
bending to collect rusted implements
from the patches of dirt and buffalo grass,
gathering fragrant lilacs and pink rhubarb stalks
from the overgrown garden.
One summer night, we lingered at the farm
past sunset. My brother lifted
a torn mattress from the back porch
and pushed it onto the brown dirt.
We flopped down on our backs,
wishing for tiny white stars
to sail across the blanket of night.
I closed my eyes just for an instant,
weary from breathing country air.
“See the shooting star?”
he asked, pointing into the darkness,
to where I had just missed it.
Missed, too, the farm that wasn’t my home.
Vacant now more than five decades,
but for two dead coyotes in its basement,
an assortment of snakes, birds, and rats.
And Mom’s crude murals on the walls. Curious,
fading traces of her dream to be an artist.
To be a mother. To be a decorator,
without money to do it tidy.
Down the dank, ancient stairway, cowboys
cling to the block foundation.
One is masked, a Lone Ranger, pink pistol
on his hip. He rides a curly yellow horse.
Across the room, another cowboy
shoots a pistol into the air,
thrusting high its crooked barrel.
Upstairs, red cuckoo clock on the kitchen wall,
framed by a mosaic of cracked ivory paint,
forever strikes seven. Beneath it,
a metal oven, filled with debris,
is now cold to the touch.
Teddy bear and wolf murals
tend the children’s room.
The little ones would have been tucked in
by seven. My brother’s spanking finished moments ago.
My sister’s brown curls laid across
a feather pillow.
And me, alien to the memories
stored here. I touch the paw of
the monkey on the wall, who
fixes his eyes up and to the right.
He does not know. He cannot say
If the light that shot across the night
Was ever really there.
Dawne Leiker is a former journalist, now working in academia. Her news/feature stories have appeared in The Hays Daily News, Lawrence Journal World, and several online publications. Her poetry and short stories have garnered awards in regional and statewide literary competitions. Ms. Leiker’s fiction and poetry often are influenced by her past news story interviews, as she develops and re-imagines fictional characters and situations loosely based on local individuals and events.