1. Lake Jacomo
You are horrified to learn I’ve never been camping. I’m a city kid. The idea of going beyond where the streetlights end creeps me out. You promise to start me off gently. We buy gear and drive out to the lake, with its marina and bathroom facilities. We pitch our little red tent for two and build the fire. And by “we” I mean “you.” The honeysuckle bushes are in bloom, white and gold. In the chill of dusk, you cover me with an old fleece blanket. I’m fine until I try to sleep on the ground, which is hard and cold and this is why we bury dead things in it. Someone from the next site over is snoring like a weed whacker. I wake you and say, like a child, “I want to go home.” And of course, you take me home, uncomplaining, even though it means rising in the predawn hours to pack everything up. For days after, your jacket smells of campfire smoke. That’s outdoors enough for me.
When the scales are about to tip in night’s favor, I am a priestess of corn tortillas and Dos Equis. At sunset, I go out to a field, raked smooth and brown as a carob pod. This is not my natural habitat; I am a creature of the hearth. But if my hands can knead masa, they can learn to sift this loam. Once, my grandmother carried both my mother and me. I carry nothing but my meager offerings. I set up my altar and light the candles. I tell the field, I have tried not to sow regret. When spring comes again, these acres will grow deep with prairie grass, with golden compass plant and purple coneflower. I kneel, my mouth full of seeds, and am rewarded with visions of a green man. He assures me that the agony of creation is inescapable. Plant fish with the corn. Hunt for morels when the forest fires have burned out. We are both blade of grass and blade of scythe, debtor and debt. Don’t forget to pay what you owe.
3. Crystal River
Facedown in the jade-colored cove, winter sun on our backs, trying to imitate the way the manatees and their calves float along the bottom, trying to lure them from their avid grazing, fingers aching to touch their barnacled sides. The water is so cold, when you climb in, it stuns you. The unfamiliar cling of the wetsuit reinforces the sensation, like a strange rebirth. You want to splash and flail, but you don’t want to frighten the creatures away. You don’t want to stir up silt and obscure them from view. Man is not the leading cause of manatee death, but pneumonia. Which is not to say we don’t hurt them, because of course we do. In fact, we identify them by their scar patterns. I can’t take the mask and the snorkeling gear. I can’t take this dead man’s float. I panic, a violent pulmonary action, like the storms that suck the river out to sea, leaving the channels dry. Clambering back into the boat, I strip it all off and lie gasping on the boards.
4. Black Friday
We keep thinking that malls are over, but today, it is awash with shoppers
in their parkas and scarves. Somewhere, a Wurlitzer is playing, clashing with
the piped-in Christmas music. Still, the lights dazzle. Toy stores seem to burn
the brightest. From a mezzanine, we behold the spinning top of a carousel,
striped red and gold. This time of year is the hardest to be barren. Booths and shills
crowd the walkways. One urges us to sample his cherry cordials. Sticky centers
crimson our mouths. The Wurlitzer is not a real Wurlitzer, but a CD on repeat,
speakers hidden inside the carousel, just as the horses are not wood but fiberglass.
Its sprightly notes mix with Nat King Cole crooning holy infant so tender and mild.
5. The Pink Dress
I dreamt of a thirteen-year-old girl. Her back was to the light, so I couldn’t see her face. But somehow, I knew she looked just like me. Against her body, she held a pink dress that I wore once, long ago. “Can I wear this, Mother?” All around us was the sound of children whispering and giggling in the walls. The next morning, when I told you about the dream, you pointed out that on this day, thirteen years ago, I had my hysterectomy. So what is there to do, but take a bouquet, pink roses, pink as my scar, and baby’s breath, to the place where we began, to the hill where my grandmother’s afterbirth was buried, in the time before these streets had names. Five generations dishing up blood-red menudo and tacos de tripitas, nothing wasted. I’m afraid to not have a child is to be forever a child. I’m afraid to not have a child is a balance that can never be repaid. I’m afraid that when she reaches for me, I won’t be there.
Lauren Scharhag (she/her) is an associate editor for GLEAM: Journal of the Cadralor, and the author of thirteen books, including Requiem for a Robot Dog (Cajun Mutt Press) and Languages, First and Last (Cyberwit Press). Her work has appeared in over 150 literary venues around the world. Recent honors include the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Prize and multiple Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominations. She lives in Kansas City, MO. To learn more about her work, visit: www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com