We smoke out back on breaks because Mr. B. says it doesn’t look nice for a flock of angels to be smoking too close to the live creche or the people who line up to pay a buck to witness the miracle of Christmas. We smoke within whiffing distance of three sheep, two donkeys and the one spavined camel Mr. B bought for cheap off a him-and-her circus act that was divorcing. Everyone but Lydia, that is, who sits a ways from the rest of us and swats at the bad air. She’s barely two weeks late but claims she’s already sick as a dog, morning, noon and night. Today she actually pulls the pee stick from her purse for a little show and tell. Says she might tie a blue ribbon around it and present it to her boyfriend, Brett, but what do we all think.
“I had to pee in a jar, take it with me to the doctor’s,” Cherise says.
“You pissed in a jar?” Samantha says. “Jesus.”
Cherise blows a perfect smoke ring. “Peanut butter jar.”
“So, ribbon or no ribbon?” Lydia says.
We all look at each other. Personally I think it’s a bad idea to dress up a mistake and pass it off like it’s something you’re proud of, especially when you’re dealing with a here today/gone tomorrow kind of guy. Take it from me, I know the type.
“Seriously,” Jill says. “You really going to have the kid?”
We all look at her. In three weeks, Jill hasn’t said much beyond hello or nice day. Mostly she humps up her shoulders, slouches over to cover up how big she is.
“I cannot believe you said that,” Samantha says. “Seriously.”
“Why? We’re 21st century women,” Jill says. “We got options. Choices. You know.”
“It’s a baby,” Samantha says. “Not a menu item from the drive-up.”
Jill flicks the ash off her cigarette. “It’s a blob of cells. The size of a sweet pea.”
Lydia’s caged her hands over her stomach like she’s afraid Jill’s going to break and enter at any moment. “I swear I felt it move. Like the flutter of butterfly wings.”
Cherise laughs. “That’s probably gas, honey.”
Samantha tosses her cigarette on the ground and stomps it. “It’s a baby,” she says.
I have seen faces like Samantha’s on a sidewalk, crazy-eyed men and women with twisted mouths out of which fell the ugliest stuff: Murderer. God will judge you. Burn in hell.
The abortion was the easy part.
Some folks would say being single at forty with nothing but a couple of cats for company is a judgment of sort, but then I look around me. At women with wrung-out faces, the occasional black eye. At their men in the bars downtown flirting with girls just out of high school.
I got a life, though not the one I planned. Still, it’s a life. A twenty-first century life.
I check my watch. “Break’s over, kids.”
We stand and shoulder our wings, arrange ourselves in a wedge of angels, tallest to shortest. I reach out with an aim to straighten Jill’s wings, but she’s standing shoulders-back tall for once.
Only then do we fold our hands. Like we’re praying. Like we’re angels. Like we really might believe in miracles.
Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Sun Magazine, Hotel Amerika, BOAAT Journal, diode, SmokeLong Quarterly and in the anthology New Microfiction: Exceptionally Short Stories (W.W. Norton, 2018). Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.
One thought on “Twenty-First Century Life by Sarah Freligh”
This was amazing. Deft and concise and you know everyone in that story. And you know at the end of it that mercy goes a longer way than pity in angelic lives. So good.