Patty walked in stiffly and dropped her bookbag by the coffee table. Her eyes were red from crying. I put aside my waitress’ uniform with the button I was sewing on it and turned down the TV. I wondered if the other fifth graders had made fun of her. For what? For wearing glasses, for not wearing the right kind of jacket, for getting A’s on her spelling tests, for not getting on the softball team, for having a divorced mother who had failed at marriage.
“Patty, ahoy,” I said, wanting to attract her attention. The TV was showing the casualties in the Iraq War, and the two of us were surviving our own small war with the world.
“It’s okay, Mom.” She stopped and turned around, her puzzled eyes large behind her glasses. “It’s not important.”
I took her hand in mine, the bones delicate as a sparrow’s wings, and pulled her to our couch. The stuffing showed through on the arm. “Tell me what’s the matter.” I brushed her wet cheeks with the back of my fingers.
“Roxanne is having a birthday party and didn’t invite me.”
I felt shut out of the birthday party myself. Abandoned and teetering over a hole in the world. “I don’t know what to say, dear.”
Patty looked toward the window and outside where the autumn sun was being pushed down by the soft twilight. “People are thoughtless sometimes,” she said and shrugged. “And sometimes they don’t even mean to hurt you, and you just hurt yourself by thinking about it. That’s what you’ll say.”
“You’re so good that we can just zoom to the end of this conversation. You can be your own therapist.”
“Yeah, sure,” she said. “Did Dad call?”
“I don’t think it’s his night for calling. But he’ll pick you up Friday. If you want to call him now, you can.”
“No, he’s probably still at work.” She sniffed. “I remember when Roxanne and I were in third grade, we made a blood pact to be friends always. We vowed it.”
“You both meant well. People change.” I looked around the living room, with its sagging ottoman, its dirty windows, its curtain with a rip at the bottom where our kitten jumped up to scale it, and the framed photograph of Jerry, me, and Patty camping in the woods. Patty was four years old and clutching her stuffed aardvark. Another camper took that photo of us. I remembered reading somewhere that the single best path to wealth was to not get divorced. “Things change.”
“I know,” said my supernaturally smart daughter. “They were doing stupid knock-knock jokes in school today. Roxanne was, and everybody laughed.”
“I have a knock-knock joke,” I said. “Knock knock.”
Patty looked like she didn’t want to participate, but finally she relented. “Who’s there?”
Patty shook her head. “Aardvark who?”
“Aardvark a hundred miles for one of your smiles!” I said. “I know it’s corny.”
Patty groaned. “We’re corny. Both of us.” She grinned and patted my head as if I were the tearful one. Her hand warmed my head for a brief second. Then she stood up and went into the kitchen.
About the author:
Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, Pure Slush, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleafs Top 50 online Fictions of 2012. Her story “History,” in Lascaux Review, was chosen by The Committee Room as Story of the Month. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/