Contest #18 shortlist ⭐️



Mama calls it her sunshine pocket.

It’s sewed on a big tweed coat, frayed strings poking out every which way like dead bug legs.  The fabric’s brown as dirt with buttons as shiny as beetle backs. It’s too big for Mama, cause she got herself so skinny.  I lay on it sometimes. I lay on it a lot at night while Mama works. My head goes right next to the sunshine pocket on Mama’s lap while she tippy taps away at a keyboard.  There’s a big window on the wall of the apartment, so big you can see the city lights get all awake when the sun hides away. The stars poke their sleepy heads out of the black, pecking little white holes in the sky.  I watch them from Mama’s lap, trying to bounce my eyes to a new star each time a key clicks. It makes me dizzy.

My fingers tippy tap the coat around Mama’s leg, pretending they can dance on keys like Mama’s fingers can.  Mama’s fingers are thin and fast and she doesn’t look at them. Instead, her eyes squint hard at the laptop screen, like she’s trying to blow it to bits.  It doesn’t blow to bits. It makes long lines of little black letters that all look the same. My eyes get bored and move to the coat’s spider-leg strings.  I like playing with them, going back and forth on the pocket with my thumb. Mama’s leg gets harder when I do and she looks down at the pocket real fast, putting a hand on it.  I look at her and she looks back and her eyes are always so big at first. But then she smiles and I smile and she types and I play with strings.

 Mama takes me to her work.  She works in a white box room with more keyboards and phones, but I get to play with the desk toys if I stay quiet.  I decide I will. We go downstairs into a little tunnel that leads to a bigger tunnel with a bus that looks like a bullet.  It’s green. I like it. Mama holds my hand and talks to me about when she was little and about things we used to do here. I like that too.  I ask why we don’t still go to parks and get ice cream and ride subways to nowhere and back again. Mama is quiet. Her small smile goes away for a bit.  I don’t like that.

We get off the train.  Mama takes me by the shoulders and smiles her little smile and asks my question back to me.  She smiles and smiles little cracked-lip smiles that can’t touch the dark under her eyes. That seems to settle the matter, so I make Mama promise to get ice cream with me when it’s sunny again.  We’ll do fun things again in summer.

Mama’s smile leaves again.  She puts a hand in the sunshine pocket.  Her smile twitches up and then slips again.  She whispers something about summer. We go in the big white building with the buzzing phones and the clackity keys.

Lots of days happen in the white box when I don’t have school.  Mama talks to lots of people on the phone. Sometimes, when I’m not looking, I don’t recognize her voice.  When I look back, it’s her. You can tell because no matter how she sounds, Mama’s smile can’t go all the way up.  I press the little cow stapler, letting it clamp over nothing. Maybe it gets tired of all the clamping. Maybe it’s sick of being a little cow stapler in a little white box.

I keep pushing.  It keeps clamping.

Mama and I drive home in the dark.  The rain is loud on the windshield and windows and it pitter-patters in pretty rings.  Mama talks over the pitter-patters, saying she’s sorry, that kids shouldn’t stay up so late and she needs to be a better mom and a lot of other things too.  She says next time we can bring pillows and blankets and have a sleepover at her work. She says she’ll make me cookies and bring all the fun books I read when I was little.  It sounds more fun than cow staplers. We get on cozy pajamas and grab blankets and snuggle on Mama’s bed in the living room. We have two rooms, but I don’t like my room. The crib scares me.  

When Mama pulls the covers up over me I stop her.  I ask her why she put the coat back on. She smiles a little nervous smile.  She says to bundle up; it’s cold.  

We lay there.  She plays with my hair, fingers looping around them in little ringlets.  She plays and plays and plays until everything starts to feel all heavy-like.  Mama leans on her side and wraps her arms around me. Her voice is scratched up from all the phone talking.  She asks me if she knows what my name means. My head shakes just a little.

Rainbow, Mama tells me.  Mama’s cheeks touch my face.  They’re wet. Outside, rain dribbles and bounces off gray cement.  I fall asleep.

Mama walks slower now.  The coat looks too heavy for her.  I don’t tell her that. I ask her why she still wears something with so many stains.  She says everyone has stains, says stains have memories and stories and that stains speak.  I tell her it’s getting too old, but Mama says she likes things old. She says people move on too fast, that time is a trickster, and she won’t be fooled.  Mama’s eyes twinkle. They didn’t twinkle before. She stares different now. She looks further, way further, like she can see something moving in, something that’s walk is a little clearer than before.  

Mama strokes my hair in that slow way she does.  Her chest rises and falls more trembly. Her nose breathes louder.  Her lashes bend down to try to touch the dark underneath, but Mama doesn’t let them shut.  I lay still on her lap and wait for her to say something bad. Mama doesn’t. One hand plays in my hair, one squeezes inside the sunshine pocket.  Her eyes go back and forth, with all the white light shining in them, and the keyboard click-clicking. The click-clicking sounds like raindrops on the sidewalk.  Rain is coming, I think.

We fall asleep there in the little dark apartment lit by the white light of a half-open laptop.  Once Mama goes asleep, I shut it.

Mama lies on a different little white bed now, in a little white room, still dressed in her big tweed jacket.  The ladies in blue let her keep it on. She smiles at me. I can’t smile back. My stomach and chest hurt, and my hands shake like Mamas started to shake all that time ago, but now Mama’s hands are still and cold.  Mama smiles so her cheeks touch her eyes. I’m not smiling anymore.

Mama asks me what my name means.

I say it means rainbow.

She closes her eyes tight.  Her head goes up in a nod. The rain goes down her face.  Her hand goes in the pocket and she squeezes.

Hers was Summer, she tells me.

I hold her hand.  She holds mine. I remember going down to the subway like this.  I remember our walks and our stories and our fingers intertwined, tight and warm.  I lay on her lap, moving the white hospital sheets just enough to feel the sunshine pocket strings.  My fingers play with them. It makes my head dizzy. Mama’s little hands lift and fall on my head. She plays with my hair.  She plays and she plays and she plays until she stops.

Sometimes I put on the old tweed coat with the frayed dirt fabric and the beetle-back buttons.  Sometimes I twirl the spider-leg strings and close my eyes tight and smell the must and paper and rain.  Sometimes my hand goes to the big tweed pocket and squeezes tight around a little old black-and-white photograph.  Sometimes water builds up on the rims of my eyes until it slips. It’s like rain. It’s like Summer, and then rain, and then a rainbow baby.

I put my hand deep inside and remember.

Mama called it her sunshine pocket.

December 05, 2019 02:58

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Dallas Spires
16:01 Dec 12, 2019

Had to dry my eyes to write anything about this one! This is a beautiful story. We can hear the daughter's voice right away, and maybe that's what helps drive the emotional connection home.


Grace Noel
18:42 Dec 12, 2019

Thank you so much! That made my day :)


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