Forbidden Fruits
Janie’s mother leaves her with the babysitter with the cleft lip.   Janie and LaRue watch Geraldine leave the apartment wiggling her bottom as she walks up the street to the small luncheonette where she works everyday.  Her pony tail is high and smack in the middle of a corona of fluffy blonde hair. Her pink waitress uniform is stretched taut across her breasts.  LaRue sighs, and stands longer at the window than Janie does.  

Janie’s mother is a menace with the rules and so every day she tells LaRue “no candy, no television.” But LaRue breaks down. It is summer and the days are long.   All day Janie and LaRue lie on the couch, curtains closed to the blazing sun, flicking the remote control, unwrapping Hershey Kisses. The air-conditioner hums and rattles, encasing them in the apartment like a tomb, the air so cold it feels blue. They watch the hair rise from their arms and call it magic.  They make tiny balls out of the pink, blue and green tinfoil and throw them at one another.   They laugh hard.

Later, Janie’s mother calls to say she’ll be late, like she often does.   LaRue puts the phone down lightly and says “You’re stuck with me a while longer, kiddo.”     She opens the fridge, the freezer, and half empty cabinets and wonders what she’ll feed the kid.  Janie yawns, tugs on LaRue’s tee shirt, and then grabs her around her thick waist, tickling her.  They both fall to the kitchen floor.     LaRue can feel her shoulder blades on the cracked and cold linoleum floor. Janie straddles her, tickling her hard, and then stops, looking sad and curious.  She wiggles her soft pink finger over where LaRue’s upper lip should be.  LaRue barely moves, indulges Janie’s curiosity out of a fear unnamed.   She can no longer see or hear when Janie leans down and kisses the crooked, grooved line on her face.  The kiss is gentle and velvety. Janie’s breath smells sweet, and her hands are sticky. LaRue jumps to her feet, feels the tremor in her hands as she instinctively reaches for her mouth.

Janie watches her and waits.  She rubs her eyes with her two fists. “When is my mother coming home?” Janie whines. “Soon”, LaRue says like a prayer.  Dinner is forgotten.

Mommy will be mad.  She doesn’t like me to have anything sweet.”  LaRue looks at Janie, as if for the first time that day.  She traces her finger over her strange, wavy lip, touched by another’s lips for the first time ever, today.  She thinks of Janie’s Mom, pony tail swinging, taut uniform, at the service of everyone.

Let’s clean up those tinfoil balls.” LaRue tries to make a game of it.  Janie lies on the rug, flicks a few with her chubby fingers then rolls around on the carpet. LaRue looks at Janie, lonely and bored in the apartment gone dark and quiet. 
She pulls open the heavy curtain, but can’t see outside because of the reflection of the inside lights. Though she can see her own reflection in the window, details are obscured and she feels like a person who possibility might have forgotten. 

I know, Janie.  I know exactly how you feel.

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian working at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Her fiction has been published in Verbsap, elimae, Word Riot, Dogzplot, Apt, Pequin, JMWW, Robot Melon, Laura Hird, and many others.

Copyright 2009