Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation

I ask Luke to please control the monkey.

The monkey is a puppet on Luke’s hand—a floppy fabric imitation of the animal with bits of pink silk for the insides of the ears—and he is ambushing the other children. Luke sneaks up behind a girl who is coloring and grabs her face with the monkey. She screams.

Luke is five and quick to hit; the impact of his sweaty palm always surprises me even though I should expect it. He is small enough, though, that if he gets too out of control I can rein him in, pick him up, bring his face level with mine. I try to reason with him, hold his gaze, but his blue eyes roll backwards into his head; he flails and slaps, arching his back and then collapsing, trying to free himself from my grasp by whip-lashing his body. Eventually, he exhausts himself and goes limp. The other kids don’t like it when you hit them. It’s not nice … ok? Ok. And then he starts to screech. Sometimes he spits.

Even if he is nodding in agreement, his chin bobbing furiously—yes I am going to stop—as soon as I set him down, he sprints to the table and overturns a Monopoly board. As the metal tokens fly through the air, he laughs. The sound of his laughter is pure.

After school, the kids are wired and my job is crisis control. In addition to Luke, there are sometimes twenty-five students, ranging in age from four to twelve, and it’s not hard to lose control. I dole out Cheez-Its for snacks, notice the small group of children huddled in the back of the classroom and realize someone has stolen a package of Oreos. I go outside to coach a toddler off the highest part of the jungle gym, then come back inside to find four girls covered in thick Tempera paint. They know I am outnumbered. And I am a sucker for imaginative excuses. We needed the paint because we wanted to be invisible, because we are doing this play about invisible underwater mermaids, so we needed to be blue, the girls insist.

*     *     *

The monkey is getting out of hand. The girl, who had been coloring a fairy princess dog, is now sobbing, pleading with me to make him stop.

I decide on a new approach. Luke, I say, If the monkey does not behave, I am going to call the cops.

Every kid in the room is alert. Some hold their breath. They continue playing and building silently, but they are waiting for the officers with shiny badges and handcuffs to knock down the door.

Every kid in the room is alert. Some hold their breath. They continue playing and building silently, but they are waiting for the officers with shiny badges and handcuffs to knock down the door. Luke looks at the monkey and then back at me. His eyes widen. He runs toward me shaking the puppet the way a priest shakes a crucifix to ward off a demon. One curled hand and one monkey fist alternately pound on my thighs. I dial the invisible phone in my hand. Hello. Police? I need help. I need you to arrest the monkey.

I run over to the box of puppets and find a suitable law enforcement representative. Doing my best siren, I march over to Luke with my makeshift cop and apprehend the monkey puppet, removing it from his small hand.

Luke begins to wail. Salted water coats his fat cheeks. He is not crying in the way that he usually cries when I take a toy away or put him in time out. The crying is desperate, vulnerable, the wail of a bereft mother. He is saying, He’s dead, he’s dead. The monkey is dead. You killed him.

*     *     *

Luke is always one of the last kids to be picked up. Every afternoon, with thirty minutes of aftercare left, I sit down on the floor cross-legged and read a story, hoping the kids will calm down. While it’s not immediate, the stories send a calm throughout the room. Eventually even the die-hard Lego kids wander over and give into gravity, flopping on the floor, the exhaustion of the day finally setting in. Even some of the fifth graders drag chairs near, pretending not to listen.

Luke is the most adamant instigator of story time. He tugs on my shorts every day, always toting the same book, Tyrone the Horrible. Read this. When I frown, he asks, Miss Josie will you please read this. I sit down on the carpet and Luke climbs into my lap. He squeezes the skin on my legs. He curls up against me, rests his blonde head against my chest, and digs his clammy fingers into my arms. Luke just can’t get close enough.

The book is about a dinosaur named Boland who is terrorized by Tyrone, the world’s first bully. Tyrone has sharp white triangles for teeth and yellow eyes, and his awful smile reminds me of the expression Luke wears right before he upends a chessboard or empties a bucket of water on another kid. The story doesn’t follow the usual ‟Do the Right Thing and Everything Will Be OK” formula found in children’s books. When Boland stands up to Tyrone, Tyrone beats the shit out of him.

One of the other little boys, Ritchie, always says, That’s a baby story. I would have beat up Tyrone like a ninja. He loves to karate-kick the air. HIIIIIII-YA. Ritchie’s dad is a jazz musician, making Ritchie way too cool to be only seven. He can do the moonwalk and always wants to know why Luke acts so crazy. Ritchie’s eyes bug out when Luke writhes on the ground. Man what is wrong with Luke? He’s not right.

*     *     *

Kids yell at you. They say horrible things, like I HATE YOU AND I HOPE YOU DIE. But they’re also fast forgivers. Luke is howling, pointing at the monkey, and I am afraid this will not pass quickly. You killed him, he keeps saying, his chin rolling back and forth on his chest. I know he is not lying. I killed the monkey. I tried to arrest the monkey and instead I killed it. I panic.

Luke it’s ok. Gently, I make the monkey’s arm wave. See? The monkey’s not dead.

YES. HE. IS. Violently, Luke slams the monkey on the ground.

Inspiration. Luke it’s okay because I know monkey CPR. I happen to be a very skilled veterinarian.

Sitting in one of the child-sized chairs, I lean over and place my lips on the felt primate and pretend to blow air into his nonexistent lungs. Performing CPR on a monkey, I think, is probably similar to performing CPR on an infant.

I gingerly scoop up the puppet and set him on the table. Sitting in one of the child-sized chairs, I lean over and place my lips on the felt primate and pretend to blow air into his nonexistent lungs. Performing CPR on a monkey, I think, is probably similar to performing CPR on an infant. Cover the mouth and nose with your own mouth. Use two or three fingers in the center of the chest to perform gentle chest compressions. In lifeguard training I had been terrified by the thought of pressing into the tiny fragile chest; I was sure their ribcage would be crushed even if I only used my index and middle finger. Press harder, the instructor would urge me. You need to jumpstart the heart. Keep it beating with your force.

Behind me, Luke deals a flurry of slaps to my waist. HE’S DEAD. HE’S NOT MOVING. THERE IS BLOOD ALL OVER HIS FACE. I stop.

Luke goes limp and slumps against my leg, his cheeks hot and flushed. He is mumbling, It’s dead it’s dead it doesn’t matter. One of the little girls, a frequent victim of Luke’s, looks up, purple crayon in hand and points. Is he really dead? My stomach drops. I remember precisely the moment when I knew death in the way that you cannot un-know it. My sister called me up and I was twenty-two and abroad and she said, your best friend died. And I said, what, because I didn’t believe her, and she said, he drowned. And I thought, fuck rivers, and fuck you Jay because you weren’t wearing a lifejacket. You fucking asshole. I clung to facts: in water that cold—it was a glacially fed stream—and in water that cold he would have been dead in minutes. The current was so fast. His boss said he just slipped and then disappeared, was swept away, vanished. They found him miles downstream, and all I could think about was the body, blue and grey, waterlogged, swollen fingers and face.

The monkey’s bloody face. A silence settles at the coloring table, the soft drag of crayons coming to a halt. The girls are thinking about the dead monkey. They are wondering about the things they see through their moms’ fingers on the TV screen. They are wondering if that cat in the road was really sleeping. They are wondering about the red that’s leaking from the man’s ears on the television after the boom. Or maybe they have blocked it out. Maybe death is still a concept they do not understand. They don’t believe, as Luke does, that the monkey has been stabbed over and over in the face. They don’t see the blood.

Vodou. I think. Or magic. I will resurrect the monkey. I want to bring it back to life, but to do so would be to sugarcoat a concept that for whatever reason, Luke already understands: living things die, and they don’t come back, except in our memories. Kids like coloring books because there are clear boundaries: in the lines and out. The facts of Jay’s death bleed like watercolors on notebook paper into my imagined recollection of the event; at times, it is too blurry to make out which parts are which.

My sister is an archaeologist and she tells me, when you find a hard white bit of something in the sand, and you need to know if it is bone or rock, you put it in your mouth. If it’s bone, it sticks to your tongue. How do you know if something was real, alive? It sticks.

I don’t want Luke to know yet that you can’t choose which parts stick. I don’t want Luke to know yet about the permanence, about the fact that you will remember the worst things too, not just the best days when you would ride your bikes together across the Stone Arch Bridge, across the frozen Mississippi, your hot fast breath twin puffs of white in the night sky, when you would bike so fast you didn’t dare turn your handle bars for fear of skidding out on the black ice, racing one another like deities tearing through the city. You will remember all the blood pouring out, too, the things you didn’t even see, existing only in your imagination. The fat fingers, puckered and pruney hands like those of a kid who stayed too long in the bathtub.

But Luke already knows. There is no miracle.

I pick him up and we go sit in a chair in the corner. We leave the monkey on the table, crumpled, lifeless. We read stories. For him, or for me, I am not sure.

Josie Scanlan

Josie Ann Scanlan was born in Minnesota and owns a Bob Dylan necktie. The first story she ever wrote featured an earthworm protagonist who was afraid of everything, especially roller coasters. She’s a sucker for public radio and is currently pursuing her MFA in nonfiction at the University of New Orleans.

 

“Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation” is a Best of the Net 2013 finalist, selected by Margaret Lazarus Dean. Congratulations to Josie Ann Scanlan!

Writing My Way Out of the Past

When I was a child, I signed my granddaddy’s Social Security checks for him. He never learned to read or write, and he never attended any type of school. As the grandson of slaves from Georgia and South Carolina, all my granddaddy knew of the world was the tiny corner of northeast Georgia where we lived.

Granddaddy was a man of habit. Whenever I visited his house, he would always sit in the same corner of his living room in the exact same chair. Every day, even in summer when everyone else was loafing off toward the swimming holes, he wore denim bib overalls with a long-sleeved flannel shirt underneath them and a pair of tan-colored boots. My granddaddy had a head of completely white hair (just as my mother does today and just as I imagine I will also have some day). His brown eyes had a grayish film to them, and in certain lighting they had a glowing luminosity. Granddaddy had terrible eyesight and wore glasses.

“Lee, Monic,” he would say to my momma and me, “I’m blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other one.” It was his idea of a joke, but no one ever laughed.

Momma used to drive Granddaddy and me to the Community Bank and Trust in Commerce, Georgia. The bank was inside a grocery store, the least expensive market in town. The grocery shared a shopping plaza with a Family Dollar and a rickety furniture store. At the bank’s counter, Granddaddy would write a gnarled letter ‘X’ next to the endorsement line, and I would write ‘Edgar Johnson’ for him in my big, round handwriting. On those days, Granddaddy would stand very straight, but his eyes would always be cast down, or else he would look at some spot behind the teller’s head. I never understood why he did that until I grew older.

As an adult, I have a hard time conceiving the idea of not knowing how to read or write.

As an adult, I have a hard time conceiving the idea of not knowing how to read or write. Sometimes, even now, whenever I’m reading or writing something interesting, I think about Granddaddy. Books are such a big part of my life that I don’t know what I would do without them. I studied English in college. I had big dreams of becoming a writer, but after graduation I focused on getting a practical job.  Because I was a Social Work minor, I was able to get a position as a case manager in state government, processing Medicaid and Food Stamp cases.

Most of the customers in my caseload had a lot of the same problems—low wages, absent parents, children to feed. Most of the cases run together as one in my mind, but there is one woman I will always remember: Nilda Sanchez. She reminded me of my granddaddy.

Nilda was a young Hispanic woman. She did not speak English well enough for me to interview her alone, and so we spoke through an interpreter. She came into the office with two dark-haired little girls. One was an infant child asleep in a car seat with a pink blanket draped over her. The older girl wore her hair in two ponytails, and her cheeks were so red that they seemed to have been colored in by a heavy-handed child.

I began to feel cramped with the five of us in my tiny office, and so I scooted my chair closer to the wall to allow more space between my body and Abraham, the interpreter. As Abraham introduced me to her, I noticed that Nilda kept looking around my office. There was a small vase of artificial flowers on the desk. She placed a fingertip on a petal, rubbed it as though it was something special.

She spoke softly in Spanish. “You are young for this job, right?” Abraham translated.

“About your age,” I replied. It was strange that she wanted to make small talk. Most customers just wanted their stamps.

Nilda had a bright pink mouth that was so chafed it looked as if the skin would crack open if she smiled any wider. She looked at everything—a radio on the shelf, a flower print on the wall, my imitation silk blouse—with full attention. Please, God, don’t let her be impressed by a job like this. I wanted to tell her that I was just like her—poor and living in a tiny apartment I could barely afford. But from the way Nilda kept looking at my clothes and the pictures on my desk, she probably would not have believed me.

I gave Nilda the standard Food Stamp review forms and then slid a pen across the table to her. Silently, she slid the pen and the forms back to me. I looked up at her, but she averted her eyes. Nilda began to speak again, and Abraham leaned forward and cocked his head to the side as though he was having trouble hearing her. I recognized the Spanish words formas and ayuda. Finally, Abraham turned and looked at me as he said, “I don’t know how to fill out the forms. Can you help me?”

“It’s okay,” I said. “They’re in Spanish.” I pointed to the first line, which indicated NOMBRE in big, bold letters.

Nilda dropped her eyes back to the carpet. “No. I didn’t go to school,” Abraham translated. “I don’t read Spanish at all. Can you help me?”

I cut my eyes from Abraham to Nilda. They both looked expectantly at me.

I had never met anyone my own age who couldn’t read. Up until that moment, I had thought of illiteracy as a problem that plagued my granddaddy’s generation.

I wasn’t sure what the protocol was. Should I fill out the forms for her, or would she need an authorized representative? I had never met anyone my own age who couldn’t read. Up until that moment, I had thought of illiteracy as a problem that plagued my granddaddy’s generation. Looking at her across the desk from me was like being transported back to childhood. For a moment, I felt as if I were still standing beside my granddaddy writing his name for him at the bank’s counter.

I excused myself and went down the hall to my co-worker’s office.

“Lisa?” I said as I stuck my head in the door.

She sighed and banged her phone so loudly against the desk that I jumped. I looked at it, expecting to see a broken receiver. I stood there for an awkward moment, unsure what to say next. Finally, I launched into my explanation of Nilda’s situation. She stopped me mid-sentence and said, “We have a lobby full of people out there. Just give her the damned Food Stamps.”

And so I asked Nilda the questions aloud, and she answered through the interpreter. As I was writing, I remembered how disgusted a co-worker had been several weeks ago when she talked about undocumented immigrants stealing jobs from Americans, and it made me even more upset. How could a girl like this—a girl who couldn’t even speak, read or write English—steal a job from someone, especially when she was illiterate in her own language as well?

I stumbled through the interview, and after the last question I handed the clipboard to her.

“Are you able to sign?” I asked, almost certain of what her answer would be. Nilda seemed to know what I meant even before Abraham gave her my words. She shook her head and then wordlessly handed the pen and clipboard to her daughter. The child could have been no more than seven or eight years old. She carefully printed her mother’s name in big, round letters.

The child met my eyes for a moment as she handed the paperwork back to me. I wanted to tell her that girls like her were the ones who would grow up to tell our stories. I wanted to tell her to keep her head up, but I didn’t.

*     *     *

Last year, I wrote a fiction story about a 12-year-old boy who teaches his grandfather to read. It was the tale of a man who was somehow made better by writing elementary words from a primer. It was about a boy who took pride in knowing that his grandfather would die literate. My own granddaddy died when I was twelve, an age when I was still too young to understand the importance of literacy. Today, I realize I wrote that story to make myself feel better about never teaching my granddaddy to read. I thought a fictional story could help me forget the truth or somehow put it behind me. It didn’t. Today, I know that the truths about my family will never be told in feel-good stories. Our history is a sad one, and I cannot invent another.

As a child, reading and writing were nothing more than leisure activities, things to occupy my mind and entertain me. Reading was the thing that allowed me to crawl into the juvenile fiction I devoured every day and night. It took me years to learn that illiteracy was the most immediate cause of my granddaddy’s poverty. It would take still longer for me to learn that a limited education was the thing that kept him sharecropping someone else’s land for so many years. When I finally learned all of these things, it seemed that my entire childhood could be divided between a period of not knowing them and an era of accepting harsh realities about my family. Not knowing made me ignorant, but knowing made me sad. To me, sad was better.

Monic DuctanMonic Ductan has an undergrad degree in English from Georgia State University, and is currently study poetry in the MFA program at Georgia College. Her work has recently appeared in Bartleby Snopes, DOGZPLOT, Subtle Fiction, Crab Creek Review and numerous other journals. She’s been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes this year, and is currently a fiction finalist in the Agnes Scott College Writers’ Festival Contest.

 

Baby Talk

While they are standing online waiting to jump into the Double Dutch ropes, I overhear twelve year old Margie Golden tell Sarah Lundy about abortion. “What’s abortion?” I ask.

“Never mind,” Margie says, tossing her fat braids that always hit her in her fat face when she tries to make her fat body jump.

“What’s abortion,” I ask again.

“Turn,” she says. I wind the rope tight around my hand.

“Tell me,” I say.

“Okay,” she says stomping her foot and spitting through her rabbit teeth. “It’s when mothers kill their babies.”

“That’s a crime,” I say. “They’d go to Riker’s for that where your old man is doin’ time.” I love saying doin’ time like Jimmy Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces.

“They kill them before they’re born, Stupid, like your old lady did to your three sisters. For a nine year old, you don’t know much.” When Margie jumps into the ropes, I jerk them so she trips.

I didn’t tell Margie that I already knew about my three sisters especially the one who didn’t even have a name. One night when we were telling scary stories as we roasted Mickeys over a fire in a garbage can in front of 615, Ronald Schneider from 2D told me about the babies. “I remember when your mother had a big belly a coupla times but I never seen a baby. My mother told me she brought one home but I ain’t seen that baby neither. That’s pretty scary,” he said. He never mentioned abortion. He’s as old as Margie but he’s not as smart as her especially about girl things. Margie’s a liar. My mother is too gentle to be a killer.

*     *     *

At home my mother held Peter in her lap for hours as though he were the messiah. She slipped baby peaches into his mouth with a silver spoon and sang Where the Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea. “

When my Aunt Tess was with child, I always said my aunt is with child to my friends. I thought it made her seem like Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mary was with child. It sounds so beautiful compared to the word pregnant with its hard g and n which sounds like a grunt. Aunt Tess gave birth to twin sons, Francie and Peter, two ginger-haired, roly poly boys. Francie was born with kidney problems. “Nefridis,” my mother said. My mother went to visit him in St. Francis Hospital everyday and she took care of Peter for Aunt Tess when she stayed over at the hospital. At home my mother held Peter in her lap for hours as though he were the messiah. She slipped baby peaches into his mouth with a silver spoon and sang Where the Mountains of Mourne Sweep Down to the Sea. “That’s so he’ll know where he sprang from,” she’d say. Baby killers don’t sing to babies especially ones that aren’t their own.

*     *     *

When Mama went upstairs to see Francie in the hospital with my Pooh Bear under her arm, I’d wander up and down the marble hallways of St. Francis because kids weren’t allowed to visit patients. Outside, there was a garden with a statue of Francis of Assisi in brown robes and sandals with a bird flying out of his hand. St. Francis loved flowers, trees and animals. He cared for lepers dying in the streets and gave all his riches to the poor. I figured a saint as wonderful as he would keep an eagle eye on a baby named for him.

*     *     *

The day after Francie dies, I have to return A Tall White Sail and Our Hearts Were Young and Gay to the library because they are overdue. I already owe eight cents on them; eight cents buys four squirrel nuts and four red dollars at Shapiro’s. I head straight for the huge encyclopedia sitting on a pedestal in the adult section of the library. First, I grab the display copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gifts from the Sea for Mama. In class recently, Sister Mercedes spoke about it and told us the sad story of the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping. She said each chapter was a meditation on various sea shells; each was filled with beautiful thoughts. I think the book might help Mama and having it is a good excuse for me being in the adult section when the librarian sees me. We call her Bela because she looks like a female version of Lugosi’s Dracula and because she acts as though every volume in the library is her personal property. We kids joke that soon we’ll have to give blood to take out a book.

I have no trouble finding the word abortion: Abortion is medically defined as the termination of a pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo before it is viable. As quickly as I can, I thumb through the thin pages and look up uterus, fetus, embryo, viable. Viable: able to survive outside the womb. But what the encyclopedia doesn’t tell me is how women abortion their babies. As I’m searching for illustrations, I hear Bela stomping across the oak floors in her oxfords, “Go to the children’s section, young lady,” she says, pointing her long, bony finger at me. I slam the encyclopedia shut.

*     *     *

In the sports section, Bobbie Mallon is checking out the baseball books. “Hey, good lookin,’” he says. “I’m lookin’ for a bio of Babe Ruth.” He says bio like he’s so cool. In class when he closes the windows with the six foot window pole, he’s always eyeing me like I’m really impressed with his puny muscles when he hoists the pole up like it’s a spear. His mother should have abortioned him. She has ten kids. When the apartment next to theirs became vacant, the Mallons rented it.

“Hey, Bobbie, I say, are you in 2B or 2C this week? Which bell do I ring?” Mama wonders how they can afford two forty dollar rents. Another funny thing about The Mallons is that Mrs. Mallon is 5’ 8” and Mr. Mallon is 5’3”. We call them Mutt and Jeff.

*     *     *

I never thought you needed money to have babies. The thing is I know my father was out of work during the thirties when my sisters were born. “I sold apples, rags in the street,” he once told me. “We just arrived in the country and the economy collapsed. Immigrants were the last to get jobs.” Maybe my folks had no money for clothes or food for the babies. But Mama didn’t need money to feed her babies. I remember her nursing my brother after he was born.

In National Geographic you see photographs of women holding skinny babies with swollen bellies in their arms. The babies’ noses run and flies buzz around their heads. I wonder if it might be okay for those mothers to kill their babies rather than have them suffer for months and months when you know they’re going to die anyway like Francie.

*     *     *

Tonight after supper my gang is having a Double Dutch tournament in the schoolyard. We’re bringing bags of chips and lemonade for the jumpers. We had to invite some girls we hate because we need extra ropes. Even though we never invite the boys because their arms and legs get all tangled up in the ropes, they show up anyway just to annoy us. Actually our ropes are clotheslines our mothers no longer use. Mama sends me to Levy’s Hardware to replace her worn lines. “I don’t want a line filled with scrubbed laundry to break and fall into the sooty backyard,” she says. My father sends me to Levy’s to buy screws and nails or to borrow a Philip’s head screw driver. My parents are always sending me someplace; they have to nap, they say.

I’m thinking Mr. Levy might be the right person to ask about the how of abortion because he tells everyone in the neighborhood how to fix things plus he goes to a temple, not our church so he won’t run into my folks on the weekend and tell them I’m asking strange questions.

Mr. Levy’s left pinky is missing and his nails are crusted with grease. Sawdust covers the creaky wood floor in his store and a million cardboard boxes piled on top of one another line the shelves. He slides a wooden ladder along a bar to reach the high shelves. Sometimes he lets me climb up and get items down for him. Even if it’s two inch nails or one inch screws, he knows exactly where they are. I’m thinking Mr. Levy might be the right person to ask about the how of abortion because he tells everyone in the neighborhood how to fix things plus he goes to a temple, not our church so he won’t run into my folks on the weekend and tell them I’m asking strange questions.

*     *     *

I think I might become a nun. It’s not that I like getting up at five am but nuns wear those white linen habits so they don’t have to fuss over clothes or their hair or killing babies or if they have a big enough passage for a baby to slide through. In my bedroom last night I bent over to see if I could see down there. I couldn’t so I stood on my head and let my feet fall forward down to the floor like I was a triangle. I still couldn’t see. I stuck my fingers inside. How could a baby slip through such a small space? I wondered. I weighed almost nine pounds when I was born. That’s like two bags of sugar. And how could a mother abortion a baby inside her without hurting herself?

When all the kids were running through the spray of the fire hydrant last night at dusk, I spoke to Dolores Franken from 3C on the stoop. Everybody says she had a baby when she was fifteen. I’ve never seen the baby so I think it’s a lie people make up because she wears tight pencil skirts and angora sweaters like Rita Hayworth. And because she’s German descent. Everyone bad mouths Germans since the war. People are so dumb because Dolores’ brother Richard died in the war fighting on our side. Besides I like Dolores; she’s pretty and she tells me stories about how during the war German soldiers threw Jewish babies up in the air and shot them like clay pigeons. She tells me how sugar and meat were rationed all over the U.S. and how everyone poured out onto our streets on the day the war ended and hugged and kissed each other.

“How does a mother abortion her baby,” I ask as I swing my leg over the iron railing on the stoop and sit on it. Dolores starts filing her Fire Engine Red fingernails fast and shakes her head.

With my hands on my hips, I say, “Tell me, Dolores.”

“They go to secret doctors.”

“What does the doctor do?”

“He pulls out the baby and crushes its skull.”

“Oh my God,” I say. My head begins to spin. I cover my mouth, jump off the railing and run to the gutter. I think I might throw up my guts.

*     *     *

Sometimes when I’m eating dinner and my father insists I sit until I finish my spinach which he should know by now is never, ever going to happen,  I imagine my three sisters all chubby and rosy crawling around under the table tickling my toes and the bottom of my feet. They giggle and mumble and sing songs like Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall and Mary Had a Little Lamb. I can’t help smiling.

“Do you see something funny in all this?” my father asks as he turns the pages of The Daily News, a paper that, by the way, has great photos of killings. At night when I pretend my sisters are in bed with me, they get all twisted in the sheets. They’re so smart they even know how to tickle backs or trace words on my back with their fingers and I have to guess the word. Last night each one traced her name on my back: Patricia, Margaret and Baby. I told you they were smart. When I have sunburn they peel the dead skin from my shoulders.

Sometimes when I’m bored I see them swinging on our clothesline between my father’s overalls and my brother’s Yankee tee shirt. They flip backwards and forwards on the line like acrobats. I want to yell, “Mama, come and see how much fun they are, but something inside me tells me not to.”

When I see Mama staring at the apple green wall in the kitchen and not drinking her tea, I get angry because I know she’s sad over those babies. When I go to bed and they come visit me, I kick them out of the bed or I take a pillow and press it over their faces especially over the face of Baby who never got a real name. I want to see what abortion feels like.

Liz DolanLiz Dolan’s second poetry manuscript, A Secret of Long Life, which is seeking a publisher, was nominated for the Robert McGovern Prize. Her first poetry collection, They Abide, was published by March Street Press. A six-time Pushcart nominee and winner of The Best of the Web, she has also won an established artist fellowship in poetry and two honorable mentions in prose from the Delaware Division of the Arts. She recently won The Nassau Prize for prose. Liz serves on the poetry board of Philadelphia Stories. Her nine grandkids, who live one block away from her, pepper her life.