:: Article


By Claudia Smith.

As we drive past the drugstore, my son says that Walgreen’s began as a store with a green wall. “That is why it is called Walgreen’s, Mom,” he tells me. It is raining and after a pause he says, “Mom can you hear that sound? That sound is percussion.” He is wearing a mask he made out of cardboard and elastic. The mask fits over his mouth and nose like a long snout. These are the sorts of things I used to tell his father.

“Is that to protect you from the swine flu?” One of the girls standing outside his father’s building asks when we step out of the car. They are having a garage sale in the rain. I don’t feel like smiling.

“You are parked too close to the stop sign,” the other girl says. “And you are parked in the wrong direction. I don’t think you can park like that.”

I can’t look at her. One girl is tall, one is short. “I’ll move it soon. We won’t be here for long.”

“Are you here to see someone?” One of them asks.

We are waiting for Dad. My son isn’t interested in talking to the girls. I pick him up and he circles his arms around my neck. He wants to be mommy seahorse and baby seahorse but that embarrasses him in public now, so instead he says, “my mommy”. We walk away.

A few days ago, a drizzly Monday, his father stood on the steps of the apartment, smoking. I looked at him and didn’t know him, then looked and knew him again.

He is thinner than he was when he moved out, and tan. He would not look at me and this was a comfort. I’d asked him to take off some time for this, the final paperwork.

I went inside and said through the opened door, “The papers must have an X not bubbled in and you must fill in N/A to the things that must be left blank. That’s what the woman in the courthouse staff attorney’s office said.”

“The one who is pushing it through for you,” he said.

After awhile he came inside. He asked me did I want to go over them again and I said it is time and he said, “I don’t see why it matters so much. It’s just paper.”

He says that a lot, that it is only paper.

“You said. You want to move away. Anyplace but this place, you said. You don’t want to be married anymore, you said.” I spoke to his back. If I saw his eyes now they would not be his eyes, not how I remembered. Or maybe they were the same. It didn’t matter.

“So if it’s just paper, it doesn’t matter, does it?”

I was listening to something outside. Crickets, already. It was almost time for me to pick up our son and it was almost time for him to sign those papers.

“Look just sign them,” I said again and I knew that saying it again was not the thing to say, but I said it again, “sign them sign them sign them,” and then I walked outside, and I starting picking the dandelions on his patch of lawn. They had all gone to fluff. The dirt outside his stoop would turn to mud if it rained but I wished for thunderstorms. I wanted to scrub the grit from the air. It was that kind of day. Up above, the sky was the inside of an old fingernail. It’s all the same to him, I thought.

A long time ago, I would tie the paper that came around my straw when we went to the diner, and I’d say, make a wish. We’d each pull and the one who got the knot, got the wish.

But I blew out those dandelions without making wishes, and came inside and he seemed confused over the recipient and the filer and I said, it doesn’t matter I will fill it out and he said, okay.

Claudia Smith‘s collection, The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts, won Rose Metal Press’s first annual short short chapbook competition; Ron Carlson judged and wrote the introduction. The chapbook sold out, but is now anthologized in A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks Of Short-Short Fiction by Four Women. Another collection is forthcoming from Future Tense this fall. More about Claudia and her work may be found here.


First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, June 24th, 2009.