Fiction by Jayne Martin
Julie-Sue’s hair cascades in golden ringlets past her tiny shoulders, falling near her tightly-corseted waist. The corset pinches her skin, but Mama says to keep smiling so she does. The “Little Miss Soybean Pageant” pays $150 to the winner and Mama says they need the money.
Next to the stage, the stench of livestock rises from a pen where the 4-H animals await their turn at auction. Flies swarm in the summer heat and Julie-Sue bats them away from her face.
“Stop your fussing,” Mama scolds.
She will dance the Can Can just like she’s been taught. She wanted to twirl a baton like Becky or sing a song like Bonnie-Jean. She doesn’t like raising her skirt up and showing her panties, but Mama says she has nice legs and she should use what the good Lord gave her.
The auctioneer’s voice rises and cheers explode from the nearby tent. Someone’s prize heifer sells for a thousand dollars.
Her music starts and Mama pushes her onto the stage. She will kick as high as she can.
She descends the staircase in a swish of silver satin, uncertain on heels just a bit too high; her unruly curls now upswept from her shoulders, pinned and sprayed into place. She does not see his breath catch in his throat, the hand holding her corsage beginning to sweat.
He stands frozen in place like a serf at the feet of a queen, his starched white shirt sharp against the clean cut of his black tuxedo jacket, setting his spine straight and tall against his natural inclination to hunch. He does not see her heartbeat quicken, or the slight quiver of her lower lip.
The glitter ball bathes the room in stardust and dreams as the dancers sway in each other’s arms. Intoxicated by the scent of lilacs at the nape of her neck, her breasts full and soft against the thinness of his chest, he feels himself grow large with desire. He does not see her eyelids close or the images of ever after play out behind them.
It is over sooner than either of them expect. Cramped in the back seat of his dad’s Honda Civic, they both hasten to cover tender flesh. She waits for words of love he does not say. He does not see the tears well in her eyes. He asks if it had been okay. She does not see him bury his hands under his thighs to keep them from shaking.
They pass in the school hallway. She hidden under a mop of untamed curls. He buried beneath the stoop of his shoulders. Bodies press in on them from all sides. Their arms brush. Their eyes meet for a heartbeat. They do not see.
A Lobster Walks into a Laundromat
None of the women could recall when the lobster first appeared, his large claws clacking against the floor as he folded his laundry along with the rest of them. He would arrive on Mondays, nine a.m. sharp, dragging a small cart brimming over with mostly napkins and tablecloths, and smelling of butter. While not much of a talker, every so often a sound like that of a bow across the strings of a violin would emit from him and though the women weren’t clear about its meaning, they were charmed nonetheless. On occasion, one of them would swear that he’d winked at her and blush at the flutter it aroused.
It had been years since any of them had been noticed in “that way” and they had grown complacent about cosmetics, drab about dress, haggard about hair-dos. But on Mondays, lipsticks with names like Crimson Crush, Potent Peach, and Orange-U-Hot would shine from newly-painted lips and the scent of Aqua Net would hang in the air.
Between wash and rinse cycles, the women would vie for the lobster’s attention with tips about stain removers and fabric softeners, and the lobster would listen, attentive as if they were spouting sonnets or Shakespeare and each woman would feel special and seen.
And they would return to their homes and husbands lusty with demands the husbands would not understand, but would nevertheless acquiesce to until about Thursday, when the monotony of their days would cause the women to forget themselves once again.