On her way, out of the parking lot, Janine hit a parked car. She got out and leaned down, inspecting the damage. One of the back taillights was crushed.
It was Halloween. That morning, she’d dressed up as a German beer maid. The full white blouse was gathered around her midsection by a black corset-style bodice with shoulder straps and front laces, and the green skirt fell just above her knees.
She straightened. In the back seat of her car, the two little girls were also wearing costumes: Raggedy Ann, with red yarn for hair, and a butterfly with glittery makeup on her face and hands.
“Stay here,” Jan said and went back into the bank. “Does anyone own a beige Toyota?” they could see her asking at the counter.
It was a long strip mall. She walked from store to store, asking.
“Does anyone want me?” she was saying.
She was always making mistakes, doing the wrong thing, sending the wrong item on a wrong day. Once, when Janine overslept, the butterfly made her own lunch and the principal called home. A sharp little metal crown—part of a prize or a broken piece of a toy—was embedded in the apple she’d packed. It had been there so long that the flesh had rotted around it. A slice of bread that she’d used for her sandwich had soft spots of mold.
Still, Jan went on trying to make it work, opening the next door, looking for the one person who would say yes.
I watched her walk toward the car. I’d already gotten the baby out of his car seat and I held him in my lap. He had pulled off the black headband with the cat ears. He was fussing, chewing on his fist. My little sisters kicked the back of my seat. Kick. Kick.
She leaned in the open car window. “Sorry, Josie,” she said. “Just a couple more minutes.” There was a slick glaze of sweat on her forehead.
The baby began to wail, reaching for her. “As soon as we get home, I’ll get you a bottle,” she said and patted his hand.
A few people were emerging from the shops, looking at us curiously.
She turned and walked toward them. They were the businessmen in the bar, loosening their ties and waiting for a drink. The green skirt twirled above the long white lengths of her calves, the soft insides of her knees.
I looked away, but still, I could hear her voice, rising.
Leah Browning is the author of three short nonfiction books for teens and pre-teens and four chapbooks. Her fiction and poetry have recently appeared in Coldnoon, Santa Ana River Review, A Bad Penny Review, GARO, Bellows American Review, First Class Literary Magazine, Waypoints, Chagrin River Review, Fiction Southeast, Nebo, Lime Hawk, Wigleaf, Toad, Glassworks Magazine, Mud Season Review, and Amygdala. Browning’s work was also included in three recent anthologies: The Doll Collection from Terrapin Books, Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence from White Pine Press, and Myth+Magic, a limited-edition anthology from Sugared Water and Porkbelly Press. In addition to writing, Browning serves as editor of the Apple Valley Review. Her personal website is located at www.leahbrowning.com.