Karen Mandell

Casting Off Rose had taken to reusing paper plates.Another cheese sandwich, chips over the stain.She’d get three or four uses out of it. Why not?She saved water, soap, and time.Time she had precious little of these days.She was nobody’s fool. She’d pared everythingdown to the bare minimum. Better she should throw out than let othersdo it later. She was glad they brought herto Hebrew Life, relieved to leaveher apartment. A kitchen, living room, bedroom,she’d rattled around there like unlucky dice.She wanted nothing from those dry rooms.What was Karen thinking of, showing upin this shared room with her tarnished tray, the perfume bottles and framed pictures scrabbling across the surface like mice.Rose had meant to leave it behind.Karen acted like it was a jeweled scepter,so proud of herself, this daughter,thinking she knew what her mother wanted.Bring nuts and chocolate, things she still had time for. She had no need for scent, and the faces of her mother and sister were etched long ago behind her eyes. Leaving the Dining Room Sometimes your constellation comes together just right.You’ve been standing in the teachers’ dining roomfar too long with your coat on so that the napeof your neck is limned with sweat. Then youwalk out and the air is just chilly enoughto cool you off and snow is fallingin fat clumps and you breathe them in.On the drive home, the radio announcersays to look up at the brightest moon of the year–if the sky where you live is clear enough.The sky isn’t clear enough where you live;it’s overcast and damp, just perfect,and the heavens stream byand none of the stars falls out of place. Yard Sale Useless, I could tell instantly.Baby toys in plastic orange and red, grimy fry pans, bent hollowware burning in the sun.I walk in past the woman and the baby sitting on the concrete stoop.I’m on my way out before I see the books piled on the grass,their pages soft with age, the damp dried out of them.The Sun Also Rises, the striped Scribner edition.Do I have this one at home?I crouch down and turn limp pages, not reading, brushing off dust,unwinding a tendril of cobwebs from my finger.The odor of paper stored in boxes too long.This one’s not worth it, broken spine, even for a quarter.I put fusty Hemingway down.The baby cries, his voice quavering and scratchy.The woman picks him up and says it’s time for a nap,you’re ready aren’t you, you’ll lie down for a little while.I stand up, the sun hot on my hair.I want to lie down, a baby, in a darkened room with only a thin cover.An opened window with a fan going somewhere.I’d close my eyes even if I didn’t really want to because there’s not much fight left in me right now.The baby whimpers.I forget what city I’m in,whether it’s Minneapolis or Boston before that or Chicago back even further.I’m a burnished nub, everything rubbed out of me,clarified. Even so, I have to get back to the car,do the things that make it go,add on to myself the crumbled piecesthat fell off and lie there, in the grass. Karen Mandell was born and raised in Chicago, but she traded Lake Michigan for the rocky Atlantic. She writes about the everyday, but lately she's been working on dystopian short stories set in "the near future." Her collection of interconnected short stories, Clicking, is on Amazon.