We were always waiting: to hear footsteps upstairs as we sucked down coffee, to be asked to cut the tags that made a shirt itchy, for blue Pop-Tarts to warm, for milk not to spill, for teeth to get brushed after the excess of sugar, for teeth to fall out, for teeth to grow in, for Velcro to stick…and all this before bus stop, kiss-kiss.
Fiction by Mika Yamamoto, Winter 2017
Mr. Cabio, age three, needed new shoes. Light-up running shoes, in fact.
“Mom! Light-up running shoes!” Mr. Cabio said, skipping beside me across the Target parking lot. Today he was wearing his purple princess dress over his sweatpants and a dinosaur shirt. There was a tiara in his light brown hair. He was so happy he sang the “Light-up Running Shoes Song.” Because he didn’t just want new shoes. Or new running shoes. He wanted new light-up running shoes!
When we got to the shoe section, we saw pink cowboy boots.
“Oh, Mr. Cabio!” I exclaimed.
“Oh!” His eyes lit up.
Mr. Cabio did not need pink cowboy boots. He did need running shoes. Pink cowboy boots, in addition to running shoes, were not in the budget. But it was too late.
pink cowboy boots in exchange for three meals of beans and rice
Four Minutes Later
We were still in the girls’ shoe section. Mr. Cabio was dancing in pink cowboy boots and I was listening to the sound of hard floor against hard soles—thinking of three nights of rice and beans—when Astrid and her daughter, Sofi, strolled up. Sofi was three, the same age as Mr. Cabio, and dressed like him too. Only her dress was pink. Astrid was dressed like me, wearing a sweatshirt she’d probably worn for three days in a row. Hers was adorned with a dribble of toothpaste.
In a town of 40,000, it’s no surprise to run into someone you know at Target. But to run into the one person I had been desperately hoping to see was different. Here she was: Astrid, at Target, while I too was at Target.
And now, here’s a secret
I have a crush on Astrid.
I have had a crush on Astrid since the first and only time we met, at a company picnic, last spring. She had been in front of me in the buffet line, serving Sofi as well as herself, but I was alone—my kids already fed. I offered to help hold plates; she accepted.
“Do you work for Dow, too?” she asked, picking up the tongs for hotdogs. I heard a faint German accent; I noted to myself to mention at some point that I had lived in Frankfurt.
“No. My husband. I write,” I said.
“What do you write?” she asked.
“A humanities person? In this town!” She looked at me, her blue eyes happy beneath her graying red bangs. I felt her take in my dark smallness in contrast to her pale expansiveness. Her honeydew breasts were level with my almond eyes. Her chest rose as she took in a deep breath. I matched her breathing, lifting my head to look straight into her open face. Then, her naked lips smiled at the joke that wasn’t a joke. This company town is a scientist’s town, and humanities people are few and far between.
“Yes. And you?”
“Before we moved here for my husband’s work,” she said, “I taught sociology at university.”
Just then our conversation was overwhelmed by the voices of two men passing us with full plates of food.
“You’re a pussy,” one joked to the other, using his elbow to nudge his friend. A grape rolled off his paper plate, but they kept walking.
I watched Astrid pivot toward the direction they were going. She yelled, “Hey! Pussies are strong! You try pushing a baby through your penis!”
The men turned around and Astrid met their double gaze. The tongs, still in her hand, pointed at their matching khaki pants. They tried to smile. She didn’t. They shuffled away.
Astrid turned back around and picked up a hotdog.
My eyes became hearts.
I hadn’t seen her since, but here she was, and the recognition in her smile made me breathe deep. But…Sofi tugged at my right hand, which reminded me there were children. I squatted down to look into her light brown eyes.
“What a pretty dress, Sofi!” The silly things we can’t help saying to kids. I know, I know.
And More Hearts
Mr. Cabio noticed Sofi, too—or, at least, he noticed her chestnut-colored hair. Mr. Cabio’s hair was a source of sorrow for him lately. “I’m not the same as you guys,” he would say as he brushed out my long hair. “My hair isn’t black like you guys.” It was true. My three other children had my Japanese hair. Even Mr. Cabio’s blue-eyed father had dark hair. Mr. Cabio alone had brown locks. He felt alone. And, now: Sofi!
“Look at my pink cowboy boots! And there are dancing shoes here, too!” Mr. Cabio said. Having crowned himself the king of the girls’ shoe department at Target, he took Sofi as his queen.
I stood up and Astrid hugged me. She hugged me too long for a chance meeting at a big-box store. She hugged me too long for a chance meeting at a big-box store between two almost-strangers. This was a hug meant for airports. But nobody cared. We were middle-aged women—not the kind of middle-aged women who wore high-heeled boots and makeup, but middle-aged women with preoccupied faces. No one worried about us.
“Why don’t you come over for lunch?” I asked.
The Children’s Lunch
Bunny-shaped apple pieces
Astrid watched me carve food into animals. She propped her chin on her fists, keeping her eyes on my hands. “Why do you do this?”
I notched the peeled carrot. “So the world doesn’t notice that I’m losing my mind.”
“Really? You too?” Astrid asked. “I iron sheets and underwear.”
“We are all losing our minds—anyone with young kids. I read it on the Internet.” I didn’t look up from my task.
“Why are we so unhappy?”
“We were meant to be men when men were still kings,” I quoted myself as I handed her a remnant of a carrot. “Instead, we are maids to the small and the sticky.”
Astrid chewed on a carrot.
“No. It’s not that.”
She was right. It wasn’t that.
Finally, she said, “You know what it is? It’s all the goddamned waiting. All the fucking time.”
By golly, that was it.
We were always waiting: to hear footsteps upstairs as we sucked down coffee, to be asked to cut the tags that made a shirt itchy, for blue Pop-Tarts to warm, for milk not to spill, for teeth to get brushed after the excess of sugar, for teeth to fall out, for teeth to grow in, for Velcro to stick…and all this before bus stop, kiss-kiss. Where the fuck was Godot?
That is what I said out loud. “Where the fuck is Godot?”
And God love Astrid, because her response was not, But we do love the kids. We do.
Because no shit we do.
That was never the point.
for us, I made sweet-potato soup. Coconut milk, onions, carrots, cilantro, sweet potatoes, and lime zest. I thought it would be sweet with a base note of sour. It was not that. It was quiet—on the brink of lacking, but not.
A table set with
thick blue bowls creamy orange soup
chopped-up leaves hot bread
arugula, plated and vinaigrette
It’s important to seduce, even if you’re both tired. Maybe especially if you’re both tired.
We put the children to bed in Mr. Cabio’s room.
“Thank God they nap!”
“Yes! Thank God!”
Astrid and I tiptoed to the guest room to watch an episode of House of Cards. We turned on Netflix, stretched out next to each other on the bed…and fell asleep. In this still state, our body temperatures lowered, drawing us closer to each other for warmth, and when that wasn’t enough, our bodies wanted to be closer still, until I woke up to find that I had two fingers inside Astrid’s vagina. I was lying on my right side with my right arm bent under my head. Astrid was on her back, hands on her breasts. The zipper of her jeans was down, and my hand was busy beneath her underwear.
Astrid’s eyes were closed. I knew she was awake. She said nothing; she just moved her hips to draw my fingers in deeper. I raised myself on my right elbow, my face over Astrid’s. She opened her eyes and pulled my face toward her. Our tongues found each other. Then the taste of lime, and then the cilantro between our teeth.
We kissed—until it wasn’t enough, we—kissed—until I—had to taste more. We kissed—until—I was drawn—to the heat—between her legs. We tried to be quiet—oh, oh, so quiet: The children were sleeping next door.
Mika Yamamoto has work published in Noon, Writer's Chronicle, Rumpus, and others. She is a writer for ESME.com.