The Forest Path

I stood at the checkout, absently petting my pregnant belly through my shirt. I couldn’t stop touching its alien tautness. Madeleine, the fortyish librarian, bent to address my sons. “And how goes the turkey trap?” she asked.

Everyone wanted to impress pretty Madeleine. “The hole is deeper than me!” said my smallest son, the liar.

“What will you do with the turkey when you catch it?” Madeleine asked.

“Eat it!” said the plump one.

“Ride it!” said the oldest.

Madeleine stamped our books. As three boys crowded my thighs, asking for nickels to feed into the Xerox machine—which they thought was a toy—Madeleine wavered, blinking, her mouth pressed into a line. Her blazer was on the rug behind the desk, and I could smell her pits.

“I slept in the reference section last night,” Madeleine admitted, in a whisper. “I can live with just about anything. But I sure as hell can’t live with Danny.”

Madeleine oozed breezy class on a typical day, with resplendently clear skin, babied with creams and scented, Frenchly. She wore a rotation of bright blazers and a festive pin for every major and minor holiday. But today her greasy hair was twisted up with a pencil. “Ooks Are Good,” the pencil announced, and staring at it, I blurted, “Come stay with me,” surprising us both. The words came up with a blood surge of sisterhood. “I have space.”

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