A year in and we were still feeling our way, marriage a loose string around our fingers, the tugs no harder than making the bed first thing and wiping toast crumbs off the sticky Orange Blossom jar and not going on too much about our day at work. We’d end the week roaming a mall with bad heating and reclusive clerks, touching the power drills at Sears and valances at Ames, the broken coin-op horses and C-battery puppies, the closeout pianos by the dry fountain. You’d laugh at shoppes on the directory, the ye olde spelling, pronouncing it shoppies the way you called lollipops taffies and tomato sauce gravy and said I’m wishing for instead of I want, a South Jersey thing you said you never minded me teasing you for, though I was doubtful.
It was a Friday night in December when I said it to you, not long after Black Monday, after Baby Jessica trapped in a well for fifty-six hours, after little Lisa Steinberg lay battered on the bathroom floor of a Greenwich Village apartment while her fake adoptive father took off to smoke crack with other lawyers, after a local bank teller my age was snatched during her lunch break and found stabbed to death near the water treatment plant we could see from our duplex. We ordered limp pretzels and egg drop soup from the only food court shingle still hanging, racing nobody to the one table not covered with upturned chairs, and it slid out of me—So I’ve been thinking I might not want to have kids—while you bent deeper, meeting your plastic spoon like how a boy eats cereal or how I pictured you in fifty years, little grip left to steady the teeter of cutlery, the heavy lifting of everything. It’s not so much the money, I said when you reminded me that you’d moved expired cans of Manwich with you so many times they had pet names, that for two years I’d eaten ToastChee packages and green peppers for dinner, no problem, so we could be frugal, right? We were simple people, agreed, so then what was it? Why? I looked around the field of chair legs for an answer, the soup gone cold, the pretzels hard, my heart squeezing like Baby Jessica’s in the well, Baby Jessica with her cheek against the weeping walls, singing “Winnie-the-Pooh” to make eternity go faster, that silly Pooh Bear with his head in the hunny pot. Stuck like little Lisa, waiting for someone to lift her from the cracked honeycomb tiles. Blinded like the teller bleeding out alone in the plant’s shadow, her last awareness of taste the diamond of baklava she’d had with lunch. Confused like I was by what I’d said, trying to forget the tumble and the hand strike and the knife, but knowing I never would, and so I said what I always did near closing, but this time in your way: I’m wishing for treats. And you nodded like always but without looking at me.
We got to the bulk barrel place with fifteen minutes left, following our 1:1 healthy-to-junk rule, me filling baggies with yogurt-covered raisins and animal crackers, you with sesame snacks and Bit-o-Honeys, and damn, was the register lady pissed at you for putting the scoopers back in the wrong cradles, making a mess of the cords. We left at the third Please make your final choices, as the gate was half-drawn, and when they turned off the overheads I thought of your way of saying the same thing, passed down and for passing down still—Shut the lights—like the sound of a world that’s safe, a darkening and a quieting both, a child’s last want and wish before sleep, all echo, taffy still on her breath.
Eileen Frankel Tomarchio works as a librarian in a small NJ suburb. Her writing appears in Longleaf Review, Pigeon Pages, Barrelhouse Online, X-R-A-Y, and Pithead Chapel. She holds an MFA from NYU Film. She’s on Twitter at @eileentomarchio.