by Janice Northerns

Sylvia was back home, grown at sixteen, married a year with a baby, we heard, though all we saw of him were snapshots of dark curls, fine solemn eyes. “Pretty enough to be a girl, ain’t he,” Sylvia said of Little Buster, named for his daddy. Hospital nurses put a bow in those dark curls, enraging Daddy Buster, but what did that matter when Social Services took the baby five months later, anyway? “Too much drinkin’ and fightin’,” Sylvia’s grandma sighed. Too much to raise a baby in that house. But the problem was not too much of anything, I guessed, remembering Sylvia at ten on her grandma’s porch, bare toes stubbing dirt drab as her hair, as she waited for her daddy under a scalding August sun. He finally showed, stirring dust in a rusted black Pontiac, smiling like he never left. But there beside him, his latest new wife, smoking a Lucky Strike, the fleshy web between her thumb and finger crudely tattooed with some other man’s initials. Sylvia’s daddy pulled a present from the car, a Chatty Cathy doll that talked, only this one didn’t. “Well, I found it on clearance at the Dixie Mart,” he said, “but it’s still pretty, as pretty as ….” And Sylvia held her breath, hoping just for a second he might say her name. But the new wife eyed him, said “it’s time,” and they slid back into cracked leather seats, leaving Sylvia holding that broken bargain doll in her arms, a little something to call her own.


[Check out Janice’s back porch wisdom]