“You nearly had a sister,” her mother tells her casually, as they’re peeling the potatoes. It’s late afternoon; the time, it seems, when revelations are always given between women.
“A sister?” she looks up blankly, uncomprehending, one corner of her mind still daydreaming about the cover model on this month’s Teen Idol.
“I had an abortion.” Her mother’s hands are rough and suntanned; it is summer and the garden takes a toll on keeping up a manicure.
The corn will be ripe soon, she thinks. Just a couple more weeks now.
“I was young, you see. Too young. Not much older than you, and my boyfriend and I had been camping in California. It was the summer of love, very nearly.” Her mother chuckles to herself at her own joke, her insinuation that is only present for those who had been young themselves in the 1960s, which of course she hadn’t been. She had been born nearly two decades later, a generation present in between her and any legitimate flowers in her hair.
“And I was in college. I had tremendous pressure to finish. You know your grandfather.”
“Yeah,” she says, summoning the maturity that she is reputed to have by teachers and other caring adults. “Yeah.” She doesn’t say anything more. Does her mother know about Joey? Is this the lead-up to an “our bodies, ourselves” lecture? Because she’s read it, and it doesn’t seem to get to the heart of the matter, the raw searing heat and pain. How did they leave that part out?
But this story is not the lead-up to anything, it is simply a statement of fact, left in the air to hang. Her mother is not the lead-up type. She simply gets up and stretches, dumps the potatoes in a colander in the sink to be rinsed, asks her daughter to wash the dishes while she goes out in the dusk to gather in the drying clothes on the line.
Nothing more is ever said on the subject. But: a sister? How did her mother know it would be a girl? The thought occurs to her, not for the first time, as she stands, fifteen years later, watching girls jump double-dutch jumprope. It is some sort of competition, some sort of team — there are five or six of them wearing matching shirts, a small crowd surrounding them at this festivity in the park. They have an announcer and a boombox, and are taking turns showing off their fancy moves on single rope, double-rope, double-dutch and team. They are not perfect, they make mistakes, but they are good — the dedication of a hundred sidewalk hours, with chants known so well they become buried in the chest like blood or gristle.
But, a sister. Is that why she’s crying watching these girls? The tears unbidden and illogical, why a jumprope team would make her start bawling is beyond her but it’s a little embarrassing, holding produce from the farmer’s market in her right hand, cute guy to her left, trying discretely to wipe her nose on her sleeve. Why is she crying? Why did her mother have to be so sure it was a sister? Or is she only crying for her own childhood, the one where there weren’t any double-dutch teams because it was only her, and she was a loner even then, observant but silent in a way that got passed off as maturity.
1, and 2, scrape, scrape go the ropes, a mild cheer from the crowd as a girl does a cartwheel through, in and around her rope. She shoulders her produce, turns for home.
* Note: please do not get the wrong idea; this is fiction, and I am rabidly pro-choice.