Authors: Joyce Maynard
This wee one, this wee one
This bonny winking wee one
The first night that I with him lay
Oh then hee got this wee one
I’de bin a maide amongst the rest
Were not I gott this wee one
SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY SCOTTISH POEM
OUR GIRLS SIT ON
the steps outside the Laundromat. It’s unusually hot for May, and they have just put three dimes in the dryer, which they are sharing. Sandy, who uses Pampers, doesn’t need to do the wash, but she’s here to keep the others company. Tara could have left her laundry another day too, but she has made a little pigtail with Sunshine’s inch and a half of blond fluff and put a ribbon in it. She wants the others to see—particularly Wanda, whose baby, born with thick black hair, is now bald.
They are sixteen years old, except for Sandy, who is eighteen and married. They all wear size seven jeans except Wanda, who used to wear size five but gained sixty pounds when she was pregnant and still has forty to lose.
“I got this cocoa butter at the health food store,” Sandy tells Jill, pulling up her India-print shirt to show her stomach. “See. No stretch marks.” Jill has just told the others that her period is now six weeks and four days late. She’s fairly sure that she’s pregnant. If it’s a boy she will name him Patrick, after her favorite actor on
Across the street at the Gulf station, Sandy’s husband, Mark, is looking under the hood of his car, which he has brought in for an oil change. The car is a 1966 Valiant with a slant-six engine and has only 32,000 miles on it. He is about as proud of this car as Sandy is proud of Mark Junior, who will be celebrating his five-month birthday next Wednesday with a party to which Tara and Wanda and their babies, Sunshine and Melissa, are also invited. Sandy is going to make devil’s food cake with coconut icing, and there will be paper hats for the babies. Jill will be there too. Mark plans to go trout fishing that afternoon.
“He’s so cute, Sandy,” says Jill, meaning Mark and not Mark Junior. (At this moment Mark’s rear end is all that can be seen of him, leaning over the Valiant.) “You’re real lucky.” Just then Ronnie Spaulding walks past—he is on his way to the Rocket Sub and Pizza shop for a grinder—and the girls stop talking. Wanda tosses her head so her hair falls over her shoulders and shifts Melissa onto her stomach. The girls are very busy for a moment, adjusting their babies’ shirts and kissing their heads. (For the first time in her life, Tara never has to worry what to do with her hands.) When Ronnie has gone, they all giggle quietly.
They do not talk a whole lot. For one thing, they have covered most subjects by this time. They know, for instance, that Virgil Rockwell is the one responsible for Jill’s present condition, though he doesn’t believe she is really going to have a baby and says she is just trying to get in good with her friends. They know that Wanda is on the waiting list for a job at Moonlight Acres Takeout this summer. They know that Tara’s mother is a bitch and refuses to call Sunshine anything besides
, and says Tara should put her up for adoption. They know that Mark and Sandy had a big fight last night because Mark doesn’t like still having Mark Junior sleeping in their bed (Mark and Sandy bought a water bed with the check Sandy’s grandmother sent for her birthday), but Sandy read an article in a magazine about the sudden infant death syndrome and she doesn’t want the baby alone at night until he’s past the danger age. Also—the others thought this was pretty funny—one time she climbed into Mark Junior’s crib to see what it felt like to lie there and from flat on her back on the crackly rubber mattress the room looked very spooky. She noticed, among other things, that the clown mobile she had chosen so carefully, at the K-Mart, just looked like a bunch of flat disks floating around. She also thinks it is traumatic starting out your life behind bars. Mark said, “Don’t you think it would be pretty traumatic to start out your life waking up in the middle of the night and seeing your parents screwing right next to you?” Sandy—who really wouldn’t mind if they never did that anymore—said, “We can do it on the couch.” Mark said, “What the hell did we get a water bed for?”
So the girls are just sitting in the sun. Wanda would like to get a tan. It’s three months since Melissa was born, but she still looks fat and she thinks that a tan would make her face seem thinner. If she were in school she would be thinking about the prom around now—picking out a pattern at Martin’s with her mother, probably, or even shopping for a dress store-bought. She has no regrets though. Now she has her own apartment, just above Rocket Subs. She can have chocolate ice cream for breakfast if she wants. She gets food stamps, and money from the baby’s other grandmother, Mrs. Ramsay, whose husband is dead, whose son joined the navy six months ago, and who says, “I don’t care about marriage licenses, just so I have a grandchild.” Mrs. Ramsay has crocheted five different jacket-and-bootie sets for Melissa and baby-sits anytime Wanda goes on a date. Wanda was surprised that even when she was eight months pregnant, guys would take her out and not even necessarily do anything. One of them—Sam Pierce, who was older, thirty, and worked at the mill—was mostly just interested in seeing what she looked like with no clothes on, and she was actually sort of proud to show him. Nobody had seen her except the doctor at a clinic. She was never big on top before and then she was huge all of a sudden. Sam Pierce had wanted to suck on her breasts, which she didn’t tell anybody. She thought this was weird but also she liked it. He grew up on a farm, so he knew—which she didn’t—that what comes out wasn’t milk, it was colostrum. The milk comes later, he said. Actually, Wanda had not breast-fed Melissa. A girl she knows said, “That will ruin your boobs and then for sure you’ll never get anyone to marry you.” So Sam Pierce was the only one who ever sucked on her breasts. He hasn’t come around in a long time.
Sunshine wakes up crying. Tara’s mother says Sunshine has colic and that it is because Tara breast-feeds the baby and it isn’t getting enough milk. Tara has no intention of putting Sunshine on formula though. She has observed that Sandy’s and Wanda’s babies have splotchy rashes on their faces, while Sunshine’s face is smooth as an apricot. Privately she also believes that Sandy’s son is overweight. You can count three chins on Mark Junior, while Sunshine has a chin like Cheryl Tiegs. Tara plans to get her a bikini this summer, for the beach.
Tara had never gone all the way before. The boy was Sterling Lewis, who is on the basketball team and planning to go to Dartmouth like his father, the year after next. It was their second date and there has never been another. She has not discussed the baby with Sterling Lewis—though her mother has written many long letters to Mr. and Mrs. Lewis, late at night, when she is drunk. Tara is not sure whether her mother mails these letters or not. Anyway, Sterling Lewis goes with Leslie Dillon now, and is always deep in conversation when she passes him on the street. Tara does not really care. Going all the way did not seem to be a very big deal—it happened so fast she is still not too clear about the details but feels dumb asking, since obviously she is a mother, and should know. All that matters is she has Sunshine now, and soon she will find a job and get out of her mother’s house and get her own apartment with a room for Sunshine, which she will decorate with a mural of
characters. She was always good in art.
“Don’t you feel weird doing that right in the open, with guys around and everything?” asks Jill, as Tara unbuttons her shirt.
“Some thrill,” says Sandy, laughing. Even now, Tara has very tiny breasts. Sunshine twists her mouth sideways, trying to locate her mother’s nipple. She makes tiny snorting noises as she catches hold, curling her fist around the edge of Tara’s collar.
Ronnie Spaulding comes out of the Rocket Sub shop and crumples an empty Coke can in his hand. Wanda picks a piece of fluff out of Melissa’s nostril. Ronnie stops in front of the Laundromat, looks over his shoulder as if maybe he’s checking to see whether a train is coming. Not really, of course—no trains run through this town.
“So, Wanda,” he says, starting past the group on the steps now, in the direction of the dryers, which have all stopped spinning now. “I was wondering if you’d like to go bowling Saturday.”
Wanda says she guesses so. Ronnie says, “See you.” Sandy, noticing that Mark has slammed down the hood of their car, gathers up her diaper bag and adjusts the visor of Mark Junior’s sun hat, which says “Little Slugger” on the front. She shifts the baby onto her hip as she crosses the road. “Stop over tonight,” she calls to Jill. “I’ll lend you some cute tops.”
Ann would feel better if it were raining. When the sun’s shining like this she feels guilty sitting in the house with the TV set on, eating pancakes. She has been sitting here on the couch for three soap operas and a quiz show. She had popcorn for breakfast—left over from last night—and then she had a doughnut and it was stale, left her feeling that wasn’t what she really wanted. She should have something like oatmeal for breakfast, or a little bowl of granola. High in calories, but filling. Eat something you really like and you won’t eat so much. So she had a bowl of granola and just as she was getting to the bottom of the bowl she thought she’d put some honey yogurt on top and it was so good she had another bowl with more yogurt. There was a little yogurt left then, so she made herself another bowl to finish it off. Then she did fifteen sit-ups. Then an ad came on for maple syrup, with a family sitting around the table—father, mother, a boy about eleven and a girl around nine. Trina’s age. That’s when Ann got up and made herself some pancakes. Now she is undoing the top button on her jeans, pulling a blanket around her. In a minute she will fry up the rest of the batter. Soon she will turn off the TV set. Then she will eat another cup of yogurt, but only because that makes it easier to throw up. She will go into the bathroom and pull the shades. She will tie back her hair and run cold water over her index finger and stick it down her throat.
This is why she is not fat. She’s not skinny anymore, but no one would call her fat. Just sort of puffy looking. She thinks about what Rupert would think if he walked in right now and saw her standing over a toilet full of vomit at two o’clock on a beautiful sunny afternoon. He’s probably planting tomatoes right now. No, Trina must be home for vacation. They’re probably traveling. Maybe they’ve taken a canoe up the Allagash River and built a tepee on a bank somewhere. Maybe they are sitting in a café in Vienna eating Black Forest cake. She pictures Rupert sitting at the corner table of the Copper Kettle waiting for her, because she has never been to Vienna and cannot picture that.