Storyglossia Issue 44, May 2011.

Girls with Barrettes

by Michelle Reale


Three girls with barrettes carry their babies to the playground. The boys will meet them there. The diaper bags are packed with beer nestled between thick diapers and plastic baby bottles topped with sticky nipples, filled with watered down apple juice. They spread faded sheets in the dry, brown grass.

The girls are full of nervous energy, expectation. To pass the time, they place the babies in the infant swings where they slump as if hung on hooks, left to dry. The air is wavy with heat and the girls are too hot to light their cigarettes, but they long for a smoke anyway.

The push the babies in their swings. The girl with the hair red as fire yells, higher! They push the babies as hard as they can. Their tiny young bodies, looking prematurely old, lift momentarily and come down with a thump. Their eyes are wide and their mouths cry, but with no discernible sound. They look around for the boys, taking handfuls of their own hair and fanning the back of their necks.

They see the boys and they haul the babies out of the swings like props. They head for the faded sheets, where they will sit with their children, looking feminine and maternal. The girl with the hair red as fire positions her baby at her breast, though he has never taken the breast.

The girl with the red hair, fastened with a pearly barrette, wants to take the boy, father of her child, to a quiet place. Her body hums with desire. The girl stiffens with pleasure. His finger moves toward her pink, erect nipple. The baby makes sounds both loud and low like a wave coming closer and then moving away. She closes her eyes. Waits for his touch. Instead, he places his finger on the soft spot of the baby's head, gently pulsating like a tiny heart, under the orange fuzz that is his hair.

The girl with the hair red as fire digs into her diaper bag and gives the boy a beer. Their son begins to cry. The air is still. A flick of a lighter. Soft laughter. The crush of a can, a burp and the hiss of another can opens.

The redhead fiddles with her barrette, snapping it open and shut. The boy touches her hand, smiles, slow. She looks around. Everyone is paired. The babies glisten with sweat. The boy touches her pearly pink barrette tenderly, as it lays against the wispy strands of hair so red it hurts his eyes. Their baby lies on the faded bed sheet next to one of the other babies. The redhead nods toward the other girl who waves her off in blessing, places her hand on the baby's thigh as a gesture of protection, then goes right on tonguing the boy by her side.

Their baby lies alone in his own baby world. The soft orange fuzz on his lumpy head is brilliant under the sun. He raises tiny fists to his eyes, gives a cry and whimper. The boy is still looking at the baby, his son, as the girl tugs on his arm, pulling him away. She wants to take the father of her child to a quiet place. She longs to tell him in ways that he might finally understand, what has been on her mind all this long, hot, lonely summer.

Copyright©2011 Michelle Reale

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at Arcadia University in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her work has been published in a wide variety of venues including Eyeshot, elimae, PANK, JMWW, Gargoyle, Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, Moon Milk Review and others. Her short fiction chapbook, Natural Habitat was published by Burning River in 2010.