I’m excited to host Marcy Dilworth’s story “Keep You Safe” for the YeahWrite fiction/poetry grid this week! The focus of the challenge is “showing, not telling,” and the one-word prompt is: paradox — any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature. More info about Marcy after the story!
Keep You Safe
My sweet little girl pats the frozen bag of peas that rests on my shoulder, and asks, “Mommy, what happened to you?”
“I don’t remember, Baby,” I lie. Of course I remember.
Mama said, “I’m keeping you safe, stop that squirming.”
We stood on the corner hand-in-hand, and all I could see were bottoms in cotton dresses and work pants, bare legs and scuffed heels caked with dirt.
Mama said, “Hoo boy, the city’s in full stink today.”
People we didn’t know nodded, fanning their faces with newspapers or just their hands. When the light turned, the whole crowd got moving, but slower than they did in winter.
She held my hand hard so that my arm stretched straight up and my feet couldn’t lay flat on the ground. My favorite red tank top scooted up my belly, and every step whammed me into the bristle of her leg. That side of my belly got red and sore that day.
We walked and walked, over steaming tarry blacktop, across cracked sidewalks with spurts of grass here and there, and over potholes. When we crossed the fourth pothole, the biggest one, my feet left the ground while my head jerked down.
I said, “Mama, it hurts.”
She said, “Hush your fussing, I’m keeping you safe.”
I was thankful she didn’t drop me in the pothole, since kids said that a few of our potholes went straight through to caves or the subway or China, but I hurt a lot so I couldn’t help a few tears getting out.
We finally got closer to home, which I knew because I saw the store we always went to, Sal’s. Mama let go of my hand and held me against the bricks with her thigh as she studied her purse. She thinned her lips for a second, then said, “Come on.”
The carts at Sal’s didn’t have an extra spot in the front for me to sit like the carts in Grandma’s grocery store. Mama plopped me in. The giant silver fans dried some of my sweat, the metal cart cooled my bare skin, and Mama pushed me through the fruits. They were beautiful and red and green and yellow and so close that I could touch their skin. Which I did.
Mama said, “Don’t touch! You break it you bought it!”
How could fruit break? And I didn’t have any money, but the slap was all I needed to remind me to keep my hands to myself and don’t touch. Mama weighed some onions, got a bag of carrots, and chose some old-looking cans from her special rack in the back of the store. She handed me the first few things, then just dumped the rest in without looking. One of the cans dinged my knee with the scab on it, but it only bled a little.
Mama put the full bag on her hip after she made sure the cashier had added it up right. She grabbed my hand again and pulled me towards home.
With that heavy bag on her hip, she waddled like the ducks I’d seen on TV. Every time the waddle took her to the bag side, she yanked my hand up higher. My tippy toes barely touched the sidewalk, and I made noises like a kicked dog. I tried not to.
“Stop that whining,” Mama said. “I’m tired and I’m keeping you safe.”
I looked up to see a big boy on a bike whipping around the corner right at me, even though Mama and I were close to a building. Mama swung me out of the way. My head hit the grainy brick wall at the same time my arm loosened and everything went blurry.
Next thing I knew, I was lying on the couch and could hear Mama and Daddy in the bedroom. He said, “I’ve seen it done a hundred times at basketball games. I could do it in my sleep.”
Mama said, “Let’s ask that nurse down the hall.”
Daddy said, “Naw, give me a chance.”
The edges of the room wavered, but I stood up anyway. One arm looked longer than the other one, and the shoulder burst with pain when I moved it.
Mama pressed me on her lap.
Daddy lifted my arm and squeezed my shoulder. He said, “I’ll have your arm back in the socket in a jiffy.”
Before everything went black, Mama whispered, “I just wanted to keep you safe.”
Marcy Dilworth has been writing forever, but only recently started inviting anyone to witness it. She earned her English degree at the University of Virginia, and her sense of humor at the hands of four older siblings. She lives in her newly empty nest with her husband writing anything but what she expects.