My glazed eyes blink; the page stays blank.
I have no pointed answers.
I’m whittled out. Hollowed.
Forty-two words are far too few
To contain her wisdom, her truths.
Just as fifty-seven years were too few.
But that’s all Mom was given.
We used to offer Thanks
on a well-fed Thursday
in late November.
Encroached by big business
clamoring for profit,
feast turned to famine.
Now parents working extra shifts
(to afford merry surprises)
are trampled red
beneath the soles
of 1,000 thankless feet.
Did she whisper “our secret”
as hands began to roam?
Did she murmur “don’t worry”
as text lit up your phone?
Did she mouth into darkness
“don’t think of her at all”?
While frozen at our table,
I waited for your call.
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My mind, sharper than a hawk’s talon,
s t o p p e d
when you regurgitated betrayal.
(I just swallowed.)
My eyes didn’t blink
They saw your many truths.
And instead of taking flight,
both victim and traitor–
caged me still to you.
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He waited for an hour, a painful hour. And during that painful hour, he reread the note in his mind 227 times. Two hundred and twenty-seven!
Meet me at Wal-Mart 2nite—school supplies aisle.
He agonized over it. Maybe he should have made it sound more like a question. Meet me at Wal-Mart 2nite? Maybe he should have said Target instead. Margret Ann’s family probably shops at Target.
He paced among the back-to-school clearance leftovers, willing her to show up. Margret Ann may not have said “yes” exactly, but she hadn’t said “no” either.
When he finally saw her bouncy red curls and eight-year-old swagger turn the corner by the spiral notebooks, he shoved the pink gel pens behind his back. Waiting until her red Converse with the rainbow laces were just inches from his flip flops, he presented them like a bouquet of fresh carnations.
These are for you.
Eight Years Later
He waited for an hour, a lingering hour. Because that’s how long it takes high school girls to get ready.
So even though she said Pick me up at 7:00, he sat with her parents through Wheel of Fortune AND Jeopardy.
Margret Ann’s parents weren’t quite sure what to make of sixteen-year-old Toby Malarky, frozen on their couch with the best posture they’d ever seen. His favorite shirt ironed crisp and tucked into his “nice” blue jeans. Hair slicked to one side, school-picture-day style. Cologne overdosed by about two and half pumps.
When Margret Ann finally came down the stairs, pink lips the color of those gel pens in his memory, all the air Toby held inside his whole body seemed to get vacuumed out in an instant.
(Still) Eight Years Later
He waited for an hour, an indecisive hour. Before texting her after that first date.
He’d heard his buddies say, Don’t call her for at least three days, Malarky. At LEAST three days.
But they didn’t say a damn thing about texting. So Toby wrote, revised, erased, and rewrote texts for 60 fat minutes before settling on one identical to his first draft.
2night was perfect.
U r perfect.
Margret Ann danced around her pink bedroom before flinging herself on the bed, giggling with glee.
Ur perfect 2. xoxo -MA
Two Years Later
He waited for an hour, a panicked hour.
Sweat ran down his face like condensation on a Coke bottle. He wiped it away with the cloth napkin every chance she looked away, but she wasn’t looking away enough. She hardly ever looked away.
Margret Ann prattled on about Yale or Georgetown or even NYU. Five acceptance letters had arrived just that week. Her freshly-painted pink fingernails flew through the air with every animated word.
Toby couldn’t focus on her excitement. He nodded and smiled and munched on the most expensive meal he hoped he’d ever have to pay for. But all he could think about was the ring in his pocket, the question on the tip of his tongue.
After one hour and four courses he cut her off mid-sentence and blurted it out.
Margret Ann, marry me.
Immediately, he wished he’d made it sound more like a question.
One Year Later
He waited for an hour, a terrifying hour. Smack-dab in the middle of First Presbyterian. Standing by the altar with two best friends by his side, Toby’s insides bubbled like a pot about to boil over.
At first they said she was just running late, but as minutes swelled into half-hours, he knew it was something else. He saw concern and pity beginning to fill the eyes of the guests.
Staring up at the rafters of that old sanctuary, Toby willed her once again to appear. With his mind racing and face growing hot and pink, Toby pulled his phone from his jacket pocket. His fingers flew over the keys; he knew what she needed to hear.
Margret Ann, you don’t have to do this if you’re not ready just yet.
I’ll wait for you as long as it takes.
Minutes passed. You could hear a pink gel pen drop in that airy church.
And then you could hear the soft buzz of a phone vibrating. Toby took a deep breath and looked at the text.
On my way! Sry I alwys keep u waiting. xoxo -MA
Toby just shook his head smiling.
No need to be sorry, he thought. I love every horrible minute I spend waiting on you.
Beware of uninvited visitors, the slight slip of paper warned.
Sarah chuckled to herself: These fortunes keep getting weirder and weirder.
Staring out the open window, she crunched absently on the stale cookie,
never seeing the eight-legged enemy that tiptoed silently inside.
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