MICHELLE REALE

BRUISED

Leezie is the reason I shop at the Giant. I stand in her line, with my mother, even though the wait is shorter in the others. I like her voice, her funny way of talking. She has a boyfriend, Freddie, who she lives with in town. She tells everyone, “Freddie, cwazy, that’s for sure, but he wuvs me." Freddie of the Indian burns Freddie. Freddie of the slap you around the room a few times Freddie. You could forgive Leezie anything, even her cartoon voice, because she’d never hurt a soul. Slivered almonds, saltine crackers, ground meat, honey. My mother gives me a rough shove then tries to make it look like she didn't mean it.

Leezie touches our food and I like it. I am staring. "Christ almighty, Mara," my mother spits in a low voice. Leezie's eyes shimmer. They appear darker or lighter depending on the way she turns her head. She never looks at my mother directly. Toilet paper, dill pickles, cake mix, coffee.

A bag of plump plums opens up. My mother never ties the knot tight enough. The purple mounds scatter along the rubber conveyor belt. Leezie tries to gather them in her small hands, her nails bitten but polished, blue and sparkly. She and my mother both reach for the stray one that rolls away. Juice from the fruit runs down their hands like blood. I see the wet, red flesh of the plum and the twisted, wrinkled skin. My mother throws the battered piece of fruit into the plastic bag. I see the shimmer of sweat on her forehead and neck. Leezie grabs the plastic bag, suspends it in midair, spins it, then ties a strong knot as if she were in control and that gesture was evidence.

My mother pays with cash, but doesn’t take her change. Leezie slips the money into the big pocket of her navy blue smock. She greets the next person in line, silently, her heavy eyes looking downward, her cheeks a dusky blush.

In the car my mother lights a cigarette then starts the engine. She rolls the window down and blows a strong stream from the side of her mouth. She stares straight ahead and says that Leezie is as “na├»ve as the day is long. A real dreamer.” Then: “I blame the mother,” she continues, softly, sounding like she might add something else, but decides not to. "Dreams," she says, her voice strangled, thick. I notice the dark hairs on her upper lip, like short dark wires, the one’s that make her look so angry one minute and inconsolably sad the next. Then: "Dreams are for dreamers!" Only she says, "Dweams are for Dweamers!" She snorts. She laughs, small puffs of smoke escaping in brief explosions. She forgets to put a hand up to her mouth to hide the expanse of her grey gums and small brown teeth. She laughs until she cries and wipes away her tears with a clenched, white knuckled fist. I feel an ache begin as delicate as an after thought. My mother raises the cigarette to her lips with a shaky hand and presses the gas pedal. The roar rouses me and I want to go home.

She fumbles for the key to the back door leading into the kitchen. The sun is low but illuminating, casting my mother’s lumpy shadow on the wall. Digging into the shopping bag, she pulls out the plastic bag of plums. With a show of righteous and deliberate intent, she presses her foot on the pedal of the trash container and drops the fruit in. She holds the bag high because she knows I am watching and releases all five fingers. She stands still for a few seconds as if trying to decide what to do next. She rubs the back of her neck slowly. Her strong silence is a warning to me. My mother’s most urgent communications are in gestures like these.

I will rescue the plums from the trash. I will take them up to my room. I will lock my door. I will lay the plums on the floor and lie down next to them. Roll them. Touch them. Lick them.
My mother will beat on my door with the flat of her palms. She will kick with her bare feet. Later they will bruise and swell. She will be dramatic. She’ll beg. She’ll cry.

I’ll ignore her for awhile. Later, I will let her put her head in my lap, and I’ll rub her temples in the slow circular motion that she likes, while I think of Leezie the entire time.