Frantic City by Michelle Reale


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Frantic City by Michelle Reale


The girl played alone and splashed water over herself. Every once in a while, she’d pull her bathing suit away from her chest to take a look at her breast buds. Her father called them her dimples that he sometimes poked. They were just beginning to grow. Her grandmother who’d been sitting in a lawn chair beside her gently pulled her hands away, every time. They both waited in the sun.
     When they arrived home from Atlantic City, her mother got out of the car first. Her father lit a cigarette as he walked toward them and laughed when he saw her in the small plastic pool.
     “She’s too damn big for that thing,” he said, grimacing and turning his head away from the girl.
     Her mother leaned down, kissed the girl’s forehead.
     “Hey kiddo“, she said, a leaning a bit to the left.
     The girl saw the stuffed toy in her father’s hand. She clapped her hands hard, looking from her father to her mother.
     “Let’s see how smart you are,” he said, his smile lifting only one side of his face, revealing a missing canine tooth.
     The girl bobbed her large head,.
     “What’s this?” he asked in a stage whisper, shaking the toy in his hands.
     “That’s an easy one, kiddo!” her mother prodded her, drawing slowly on her cigarette.
     The grandmother sucked in her teeth, squared her small shoulders.
     The girl sat in the water straight and still without taking her eyes off of her father.
     “C’mon! You want it?” he said, raising his voice.
     “Glow worm!” she guessed. Her little yellow teeth showed through her crooked mouth.
     “Brains like you,” he said with a toss of his head toward the girl’s mother, who was yawning, her arms extended over her head as she stretched. She said something no one could understand.
     He raked his fingers through his thick hair. His gold chain snaked around his neck, glistened in the sun, reflecting its glow somewhere. The girl looked so much like him. Everyone said that; he could never deny it.
     “She knows what it is. Leave her alone now,” the grandmother said. Her lips twitched in irritation.
     The girl held out her arms. He tossed it straight at her. The lobster hit the water.
     “Oh baby,” her mother cooed, hugging herself, swaying in the sun on her spindle thin legs.
     “I’m outta here,” her father said, already bored. He kissed two ringed fingers, extending them towards the girl. His daughter. He walked ahead without looking back.
     The girl’s mother went into the house , slamming the door behind her.
     The grandmother crouched down beside the pool and picked up the stuffed toy, shook the water off.
     “It’s a lobster,” the grandmother said, “from Frantic City.“
     “It’s yellow,” the girl said, tipping her head to the side, shivering a bit in the water.
     The grandmother threw it back into the pool.
     “Let’s get you inside“, the grandmother said, wrapping the girl in the thick towel.
     “Lobster,” the girl said looking over her shoulder, whimpering. The toy floated on its side, its bulging eyes staring idiotically.
     “Indeed,” the grandmother said with a glance at the toy, water glistening off of its synthetic fibers.
     Later, though, she’ll retrieve it. Dry it in the sun. Place it on the shelf with all of the others.

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in a variety of venues including Smokelong Quarterly, Eyeshot, The Los Angeles Review, Pank, elimae JMWW and others. She was included in Dzanc’s Best of the Web 2010. Her chapbook Natural Habitat was published by Burning River Press in 2010.