We had to write a story. They were in our group, and they wanted to be princesses. You knew we were birds. Little hummingbirds. Chirp chirp chirp on your neighbors’ trampoline. We bounced. We flew. Is nine years old too old to play pretend? Mrs. D said we had to write a story with the other girls. Them. The girls who dreamed of being beautiful princesses locked in a castle. But we were birds. They took control. Too assertive for young princesses, but still. We kept the real story in our heads. But. The birds needed to be heard. I took your pinky finger, and I squeezed. You screamed. I screamed. The birds finally sang. Mrs. D yelled at us, so everyone could see that we were villains. But on paper, we were princesses.
You walk to the store, list in hand. Eggs. The bright artificial light from the new Walmart hurts your vision. Milk. Your eyes close as you remember the old local grocery store. Bread. When you were six and momma sent you without a dollar in your hand, but Max and Janet said go ahead take what you need you’re okay you’re okay you’re okay. Pepto bismol. You were fifteen and hungover, but they still comforted you as you threw up all over their shiny plastic tile floor. Toothpaste. “When you get out of this town,” they told you, “you need to look like you can belong.” They slipped an extra tube into your bag that day. Stationery. They gave you cards. Letters. Learning to say Thank You Thank You Thank You for everything. You crumple the list and slowly sit, swollen feet resting on the parking lot pavement. How can you stay here as a mother in this fading fading fading town