Emma Engling

The Hardship of the Eight-Year-Old

She takes a swig of mouthwash, imagining it whiskey

It swirls within her mouth as she reflects on the hardships of second grade

 

The early morning wake-up at nine certainly takes a toll on her aging body

Especially when she stayed up till ten to read under the covers

 

Her baby brother is a terrible roommate, with no concept of rent

He sobs for hours as if he has anything to worry about

 

Miss Julie will be on her case for not getting that spelling test done

But they played kickball yesterday and her team needed her

 

Recess isn’t what it used to be, no time to swing or even slide

She counts down the days till summer break—fourteen to go

 

Maybe if the school would turn down the heat or open a window

As if those cheapskates would let one penny go

 

That was her lemonade money they were wasting

And with three new stands down the block, business would be tough

 

She enters the kitchen to find her mother at the sink

Eggs please—she says—with a side of the good stuff, two percent

 

How’s it going Kid—asks her mother

A typical question to keep the customers happy

 

She complains about Ashley who spends too much time with Adam

And Amy who has taken all the blue crayons again

 

That’s tough Kid—says her mother

No ounce of irony on her lips

 

She nods and wipes the mustache of milk from her mouth

She checks the clock on the wall which she cannot read

 

Well—she heaves a heavy sigh—time to go

Her mother smiles and collects the baby from the highchair

 

She acknowledges her mother and the way she holds herself in that moment

The tiny bit of weariness as she places the entire world on her hips

 

The eight-year-old watches that singular wonderful woman

And places that image in her mind, ready to be used for another day

Nearly the Same​

People ask me if my family is close

and I say no, but we are loud

which is nearly the same thing

 

We yell up the stairs

dinner is ready

 

We yell through the door

hurry up in the bathroom

 

There are no vocal cords

we have not stretched

Or sound barriers

we have not broken

 

We do not slip notes into lunchboxes

We do not call home for just no reason

We do not whisper the words we need to hear

 

I like to look at the other families

in restaurants or at school events

who cheer from the front row

 

We are behind the bleachers

in the dark corner where

the waiter does not go

heckling at the mascots

 

On nights when I returned home

I would wait for the witching hour

and listen for the murmurs and snores

and the sound of breathing in their beds

I would open my window

I would climb out onto the roof

and listen to the moon glow

and the pine trees lean

I would watch the bat flap past

I would feel my own skin shrink

and my hair raise against the cold

I would sit outside in the dead

of night as my family slept

below me and I would miss

their noise

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