No man, money, or prospects.
Her hopes dwell in a junk drawer,
crammed with S&H Green stamps.
I help paste the multi-colored
squares into redemption books.
We cover each page in hues of yellow,
blue, green, a quilt of stamped wishes-
a color T.V., a hot pink Schwinn starlet.
On market day, she cozies up to the grocer,
her smile warm as a fresh-picked peach.
He winks and gives us double stamps.
Every Saturday morning, Mother sends me
to the corner drug store with a signed note.
Please sell my daughter a carton of Lucky Strikes.
She unravels the gold tape,
then taps the pack against her palm.
My cue to get her lighter.
The tip of her cigarette glows, like a birthday
candle dangling from her mouth. I picture
it burning to the end, ash singeing her lips.
She offers me a drag.
Cigarette between my fingers, she grabs it back.
Not yet, we still have more stamps to paste.
A neighbor stops me,
Your ex is ill. He’s at Mercy.
I say nothing.
It’s been 20 years.
But what do I know about time?
I was 19 when I met you.
My emotions split, like bark on the birch
that stood behind our first house.
I rehearse my response.
Should I embrace you?
Will my nervous laugh,
the one you mocked, return?
An attendant shows me to your room.
I hear the whir of machines
How bad is it?
I wonder if you remember
when I cheered your name,
hurrying from the stands
to find you under the time clock.
You said I shared your victories.
Privacy was the prize I coveted.
Filling your body with spurious cures,
you recoiled when old people
discussed their diagnosis.
Now your time is measured in doses.
A nurse asks if I’m your wife.
I tell her, I’m just about to leave.
You murmur; we did ok for a while.
I nod, slide my forgiveness into your palm.
My stepfather takes ten boxes of Thin Mints,
making me the top sixth grade seller.
On delivery day I wait for my mother,
eager to hand over the stack of boxes.
When there’s no sign of her car,
I ignore the mid-March chill,
patches of muddy snow,
and walk the eight blocks home.
I see a row of cars parked on our drive.
Feeling bad news, I pick up my pace.
Mother, bare-armed, stands on our porch.
She motions for me to run.
Can’t she see my full arms?
Where was she today?
She points skyward and cries,
I found him upstairs.
I am still. My feet planted in mud.
How will I pay for what he took?
Linda Laderman grew up in Toledo, Ohio. She earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University in Athens. Her news stories and features have appeared in media outlets and magazines. Her poetry has been published in a number of journals, including The Scapegoat Review, The Write Launch and 3rd Wednesday. Her poem, War Ghazal is forthcoming in Writers Resist. Linda currently lives in the Detroit area, where for the last decade, she volunteered as a docent at the Zekelman Holocaust Center.