At first glance, the only idea that came to mind for today’s prompt was that of a hypnotist, which I immediately discarded. I don’t like writing about the most obvious, commonplace thing; I like to interpret the word into something you wouldn’t normally associate with it. I hope I’ve accomplished this with my last few posts: “delivery” was a story about a delivery man coming home to his wife and daughter after a long day, “prickle” was about a real-life situation that made me feel that way, and for “grainy” I wrote about a type of grit that wasn’t literal. Having no further ideas, I decided to look up trance in my trusty dictionary (since I deleted the Merriam-Webster app off my phone after getting fed up with the noisy video ads), hoping it would spark something.
Mama didn’t teach me to slather myself in cocoa butter lotion,
so my skin doesn’t dry and crack and get stretch marks.
She didn’t show me how to wrap a kerchief each night
so my hair doesn’t rub against the pillow and give me acne.
Mama didn’t show me how to tweeze the extra hairs between my brows;
she didn’t buy me a bottle of Nair and paint on a creamy white mustache
and tell me to keep it there just until it burns.
I begged her for a razor because my legs weren’t smooth,
the hairs weren’t fine and blonde like the other girls’ (the white girls);
she said fifth grade was too young to be shaving.
She didn’t tell me to wash with black soap, or even cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter’s everything now–but my mama didn’t teach me how!
Mama never told me that we’re a dry people.
While they whine and wail over oiliness, we butter up like biscuits!
Mama never told me to put Vaseline on my brows,
use oils for soft lips and a clear complexion.
She never showed me how to wash my curls
(once a week, no shampoo,
style while wet, blow-dry diffuse,
shea butter and a wide-tooth comb).
No, my mama didn’t teach me, through no fault of her own.
My mama couldn’t teach me because she didn’t know.
Written for the prompt “grainy.”
Even the regulars aren’t always safe.
Most of them, I have their faces memorized. It just kind of happens after two years of working in the same place. I don’t know half their names, but at a glance I can tell you if they’re nice or not, what kind of cigarettes they smoke–a whole catalog of scattered, inane, yet strangely intimate details.
I recognize the woman next in line: middle-aged, straight-faced, over-tanned, mousy hair in a ponytail. Almost always on the phone during checkout. A regular, but not one of the cool ones you can joke around with and tease, the ones who make your day bearable, who actually say hello back and don’t take it out on you if you just sold your last pack of Marlboro Lights or ran out of Coke on accident. The ones who say they’ll come back next time instead of yelling or asking can they see a manager.
She steps up and throws her stuff on the counter. I give her the bare minimum, a quick, “hi” that I hope doesn’t sound too unenthusiastic, and start scanning her stuff. Best get this over with as quickly as possible.
She glances up with doey brown eyes that look totally out of place with her disposition. “I need gas.” The overplucked arches always make her look vaguely surprised, but I know she isn’t.
“Okay, what pump?”
She mumbles something about a white car, and man, I hate it when people don’t know their own pump number. Glancing over her head at the pumps since she can’t be bothered to do it herself, I see a white sports car parked on 9.
“Alright, Pump 9?” I say aloud, to confirm. She doesn’t object, so I put her ten dollars on there and punch in her fountain drink. Transaction ended, she bustles away.
Minutes later, I look up and happen to spot her crossing the parking lot, making a beeline for the store. Uh-oh, I think. Glancing at my screen, I see the ten dollars is still sitting there un-pumped and steel myself for reentry.
She yanks the door open and glares at me. “Um, my gas?!” she says, with attitude.
“You’re on Pump 9, right?” I ask, calmly double-checking like I always do when this happens.
“No,” she says, exasperated, “I’m behind the white car.” Oh, so THAT’S what she mumbled before. Got it. Also… that’s still not a number. I need a number!
“Okay, so you’re on Pump 11?”
“Bee-hiiiiiiind the white car,” she says again, over-enunciating as if I’m stupid.
“Yeah,” I deadpan. “Pump 11?”
She storms off, shaking her head as if her indignation is truly righteous. I transfer the ten dollars and she pumps it, speeding off to whatever life it is that keeps her perpetually busy and rushed and, presumably, makes her so darned rude.
I haven’t touched a single sip of caffeine (energy drinks are a cashier’s vice), but as usually happens after a stressful encounter, my heart starts racing, thumping frantically in my chest. Strange that it does this after but not during. My face burns and my arms prickle, breaking out in goosebumps as sickening waves of anger and helplessness wash over me. This, this is what makes me want to walk right out those double doors and never look back. This is the feeling which has driven me more than once to the inside of a bathroom stall.
I force deep breaths, reminding myself it’s just anxiety and it’ll pass. But you’ll just have to help her again next time. She’s a regular; she’ll be back. And what if she’s even ruder now? What if she treats you even worse as revenge? What if she starts yelling, or cussing, or, or–
I’m standing at the register, but also, I’ve fled to the bathroom, crying. I push past the door, where the sign’s supposed to say “WOMEN” but says “ANXIETY” instead, and lock myself inside a stall. I might dry my eyes and emerge eventually, but I’ll be back; it’s really only a matter of time. You see, I’m a regular here.
peanut butter cups,
Written for the prompt “jiffy.”
Leanne polished off her orange juice with a satisfied sigh and reached across the table for the box of Froot Loops. She frowned and shook it around, the last few pieces rattling around noisily in the bottom. Her brother looked on in silent horror as she overturned the box and they spilled out in a mountain of rainbow-colored dust she stirred into her milk, turning it a light purplish color.
No point in rushing to finish, then. He chewed slowly, resigned, the mouthful of cereal he’d been chomping away at moments before thickening to paste in his mouth. He shot a glance at his mom, who was oblivious, tuned into the morning news and hanging on some stupid story about a prize pig who’d won a blue ribbon. As far as he was concerned, there was a prize pig right there in front of them, forget the one on TV!
Leanne always, always finished first. No matter how fast he ate, she still beat him to seconds. The bus would be there in minutes anyway; he stood up and placed his dishes in the sink while his stupid fat sister wiped away a droplet of milk that rolled down her chin. Ha. Greedy.
He glared sideways at her as she tilted her bowl and finished sucking down the sugar-saturated concoction. She was even more oblivious than their mom.
Since Leanne had Art Club after school on Mondays, he always got home first. He wasn’t supposed to go in her room and rarely did, never having reason to, but just remembering the way she’d destroyed the cereal made him livid all over again, the passage of the school day having done nothing to lessen the blow.
An easel was set up beside her desk, where she’d left her giant case of colored pencils out in the open, but her room was otherwise spotless. He rolled his eyes; she was such a neat freak. Even the pencils she’d left out were organized meticulously by shade, in perfect ROY G BIV order. There were hundreds, and it must have taken hours to arrange.
His hands splayed over the cool, smooth, wood, he was seized with a wicked impulse, and rage took over and did the rest. More colorful than Froot Loops, the pencils clashed in violent symphony–must be NICE to always be FIRST and BEST at everything, make straight A’s and always get first pick and be everyone’s FAVORITE and have everything EASY. Why couldn’t I have come first?! It was a plain and simple case of rotten bad luck.
When he was finished, he tried putting them back in their case, but the order was all screwed up–oranges with blues, yellow beside black. It was absolute chaos, the kind she couldn’t stomach (Except when eating, apparently. His English teacher would call that irony.), and he couldn’t help but feel a twinge pleased.
He fled her room and down the hall to his own, presumably to start on homework. But he ended up sitting there at his desk, unable to concentrate on his math problems, tapping the back of a number-two pencil to his chin as he waited for her screams.
Written for the prompt “organize.”
Wordlessly, my daughter sat at the window, absently petting our calico cat that had curled up in her lap. Our street was getting dark, and in the twilight a few of the neighbor’s kids were playing, making lazy loops on their bikes up and down the block, shouting as they chased each other.