by Lauren Scharhag
We were nine, and it was
the age of MASH and paper fortune tellers.
Choose a color. Choose a number.
Close your eyes. I will draw a spiral
until you say stop.
We unpopular girls sat together
in the lunchroom,
huddled like birds
on an electrical wire,
all part of the same dispirited flock,
playing our pencil-and-paper games.
Being seen together was
slightly less embarrassing
than sitting alone.
We put a ring on a piece of string,
or better yet, a strand of hair,
and recited the alphabet as it spun.
The letter it landed on would be
your future husband’s initial.
We wished upon lost eyelashes,
consulted Magic 8 Balls,
chanted Down in the valley
while we jumped rope.
At recess, we kept close
to the school building.
We didn’t want to risk
But even as we tried to fade
into the bricks
all we thought about
She came mid-year,
the girl with one leg
shorter than the other,
weak and withered as an old twig.
Her clothes were hand-me-downs.
She wore those metal aviator glasses,
too large for her face and already out of style.
(I wonder if those were hand-me-downs too.)
Now I wonder if her family was poor
because they were spending money
on expensive orthotics, or possibly saving
for a life-altering surgery.
I can still see her,
walking to the bus stop,
dragging that cudgel of a shoe.
If she was out sick from class,
she’d ask me for the homework.
She knew I wouldn’t be cruel to her,
(which doesn’t make me kind).
She couldn’t jump rope with us.
She was excused from running in gym class.
She never wanted to play MASH.
The world had already taught her
the distance between what is desired
and what is.
When I pass the old playground
I still wonder whatever happened to her.
I wonder if her short leg
ever caught up with the other,
and I think, if it didn’t,
what pain she must live with,
the tilted pelvis, the perpetual limp.
But if it did, I think about
I think of her finally
turning eyes towards tomorrow,
drawing spirals on a piece of paper,
using shoelaces from an old shoe
to spin futures for herself.
Mansion. Dream job. Soul mate.
It is decidedly so.
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