by Christine Alexander
“Little Wonders” placed second in Southern New Hampshire University’s 2018 Fall Fiction Contest.
I spent my days in the infant and toddler room of Little Wonders Nursery School rocking babies to sleep and doling out snacks to those who could chew. They were all gummy fingers and chubby arms and matted hair and babbling. The children were precious, but it wasn’t enough to make work bearable. I often showed up hungover, smelling like crème brulee body spray and cigarettes and stale beer which couldn’t even compete with the stench of Lysol and Play-Doh and the mildew-y rainbow rug. I tried to look decent at least, in my sailor jeans and fitted tees and shoulder shrugs and Steve Madden clogs. Not completely disheveled. The other teachers wore sweatpants and flannel shirts, wrists festooned with shriveled-looking scrunchies or plain rubber bands. They were older than I was except for Miss Lisa who was also 25. We didn’t really get along. She kept asking me did I see the game last night? even though I had told her we didn’t have a tv and I hated sports anyway. Miss Lisa and Miss Mel were catty even toward the children. Be sure to lift with your legs they said, smirking at sweet, fat little Evan bouncing excitedly in his playpen. It made me want to cry.
I had little to say to the adults, so I turned to the kids for company.
“Molly guess what?” I said to a three-year old. “I like a boy.”
“No, his name is Wyatt.”
“His name is Wyatt?”
“Yes. Do you think he likes me?”
She shrugged and held up a ratty My Little Pony, let it drop over the side of the toy box and crash into a pile of Legos.
“My cat’s name’s Murphy,” she said, wide-eyed.
It was nearly dark when the last hassled parents came to fetch their sticky, sad babies. The little ones clung to me, the person who had held them all day, rubbed their backs during naps, sat crisscross applesauce during hello and goodbye circle singing we’re glad you came to school!clap clap.
I felt sick driving home. The barren trees and carless streets made me nervous. I didn’t like to be alone with my thoughts. My mind and body conspired against each other, tricking me into feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I lit a cigarette to prove myself wrong, turned the radio on and up. The buttons didn’t light up anymore, so I just left it on the hip hop station, bass drowning everything out. There would already be people at my apartment, my roommates and our friends, boys in the living room hollering, flipping quarters, playing the same songs over and over. Mohawked and hats pulled low, Converse sneakers on the coffee table, tee shirts advertising bands I didn’t know with names that I liked- Alkaline Trio, Hot Water Music, Planes Mistaken for Stars. Peals of laughter winding their way down the hall and through the walls. It was sometimes enough to knock me from my dusky gloom. I hoped Wyatt would show up tonight, late off the last train. His visits were rare and striking as a pink moon, a blood moon, a burst of light trailing across the cold, black sky.
Katelyn let herself into my bedroom unannounced. I was naked with a towel turbaned around my hair, but I didn’t mind. All my roommates were girls, accustomed to the sight of each other’s bodies to the point of boredom. Katelyn had her glasses on, thick Buddy Holly frames like she thought she was so cool. I had cut her hair the night before and it grazed her chin, pretty-like. She wasn’t the type to gush or even to say thank you but here she was thrusting a pack of Marlboro Lights into my hands. She didn’t smoke and made a big deal of opening all the windows even on chilly nights like this, so I understood this was a gesture of appreciation.
“Guess who’s here though?” she said, always as if we were already mid-conversation.
“He is. So put your face on and get out here,” she said, inching my makeup bag closer to me with her bare toe and shutting the door behind her.
He hadn’t called me since we last slept together, but I let myself believe he had his reasons. A better kind of anxiety shot through me, butterflies. Like a normal girl with normal problems. My heart raced but not like the other day in Crosby’s when I felt it knock against my chest so hard I had to abandon a pile of Lean Cuisines on the conveyor belt and run outside. This was the antidote to that. I set about darkening my lashes and lightening my dark circles, kneeling in front of the cheap mirror propped against the wall. My wallpaper had flowers and sparrows darting all over, tiny wings suspended mid-flight, perpetually hovering above the finely drawn petals. They were friendly birds and made me feel protected. I didn’t know if they were sparrows but that’s what I thought of when I looked at them. I didn’t know enough about birds.
There was a knock on my door which I figured was a hurry up knock from Katelyn. She was quiet around boys and we were better when we were together. I got up and opened the door, still naked. It was Wyatt.
He couldn’t take credit for his name, but I gave it to him anyway. The world was full of Pauls and Peters and Robs and Matts, but he was a Wyatt, the only one I knew. I thought our names went well together, sitcom characters nobody really thought about anymore. He was wearing jeans and a pink polo with the collar popped and a black wristband that seemed neither decorative nor functional. He held his beer and his cigarette in the same hand, thumb jammed into the bottleneck. He looked like someone who knew how to handle things. There was a hole in his eyebrow, not from some juvenile piercing but from a poisonous spider bite he had gotten as a kid in California. So you areSpiderman, I had said when he told me that. I thought he looked like Tobey Maguire but less wholesome. He was symmetrical, big ears, sharp jaw, eyes that were icy. You couldn’t look away from eyes like that, or I couldn’t. When he laughed his shoulders shook and he wentha ha ha ha ha!He had a great laugh. Everything about him just did me in. Wyatt. I wrote his name in my diary and drew hearts around it as if I were in second grade.
“Did you miss me?” he said, wrapping his free arm around my bare waist.
“Not at all,” I said.
It was always so good while it lasted, our fervent grasping, gasping, whispering dirty nothings, wrists pinned, biting lips, daring each other, eyes locked, do you love me? Tell me. Tell me.
Afterwards, laughing, (that laugh!) making fun of our friends. I told him I had seen a copy of Memoirs of a Geishasticking out of Matt’s backpack. Matt, who was in a punk band and liked to throw beer cans into the ceiling fan.
“What if we went into the living room and he was wearing a kimono?”
“Or what if he was fully dressed but he turned around and his face was painted?”
“With a teardrop drawn on!”
“I think you’re thinking of clowns”
“…And if he was wearing those little shoes!”
Sex-drunk and drunk-drunk, Wyatt fell asleep with his back to me without kissing me goodnight. I felt abandoned. I wanted to curl myself around his body, tunnel my way into his dream. I had a fleeting fear that he might wake up and not recognize me. I needed him. He gave my fluttery heart something to do, stilled my shaky hands. I blew plumes of smoke up at my sparrows, worrying eventually I’d sully their idyllic little world. Nothing ever lasted.
It was still dark when I crept out of bed and slipped back into yesterday’s clothes. I doubted anyone would notice or care. I tore a piece of paper from my diary, wrote a note then regretted it. Call me soon, xoxo. I crumpled it up and shoved it into my purse with my cigarettes and a smushed granola bar. I was going to be early for work.
In this light my neighborhood didn’t look so ugly. The creamsicle sky gloated above the treeless streets and leafless trees. I took a deep breath then wondered if it was too deep, if I was going to faint, crash my car, die. Stop it. I thought of the man asleep in my bed who maybe would miss me and the babies at work who needed me for sure. I lit a Marlboro Light and crossed the bridge, crossed myself. Crisscross applesauce. I turned the hip hop station up and kept going.
Category: Competition, Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student