By Sara Marchant
The little girl in the booth behind me is bouncing on her vinyl seat in excitement, and I stop chewing my crunchy salad in order to better eavesdrop. My back is to her, and her back is towards me, so I can hear her breathy voice over the bouncing creak of the aged diner bench, but I cannot see her.
“Of all the presidents running for president, I like the girl president the best and I am going to vote for her because when I grow up I want to be president, too. When I am president I’m going to tell everyone what to do, except you, Mommy, because you are my mommy. And I’ll let my husband drive the car. Sometimes.”
My husband asks me to taste a suspicious side dish on his plate, and I lose track of my six-year-old neighbor’s future plan for world dominion. Why hasn’t her mother given her the bad news about the election, I wonder? Why is she letting the child go on rooting for the girl president? Can the mother just not bear the thought of the other? Is Mommy in denial?
“That’s creamed corn,” I tell my husband and I am proud of how I keep my irritation at the interruption out of my voice.
“That’s really sweet corn,” he says and takes another bite.
“It’s in a whipped-cream sauce,” I say. “Gross.”
“I like it.” He goes back to his silent eating.
The waitress passes our table, eyes it, and pauses at the little girl’s table when the child hails her.
“My daddy moved to Bakersfield.” The little girl has stopped bouncing. “He has a big dog there.”
“Oh really?” the waitress replies politely.
“Yes, he has a big dog and a new mommy. The new mommy has a baby in her belly and that baby is my half-sister. Daddy used to love my mommy, but now he loves the new mommy. It’s okay, though. He still loves me.”
Now I understand why the mommy is too distracted for election conversation or hasn’t the heart to deliver more sad news.
“Oh my,” the waitress says. “Oh, my. How are you holding up?”
This must be addressed to the old mommy because she answers.
“We’ve only been separated six months,” she says. “It’s an adjustment.”
My husband has finished his fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and overly sweet corn. I pray that he doesn’t wave the waitress over to order dessert and break the conversational magic taking place in the next booth.
“You’ll be okay,” the waitress is saying. “I’ve been there. You’re young enough you can start over if you want or maybe—”
A busboy clears the dishes from under my husband’s elbows and the clatter obscures whatever came after “maybe.” By the time our table is bare the waitress has finished her pep talk.
“Are you ready for an ice cream sundae?” she says.
“Oh, we didn’t order that,” says the old mother.
“It’s my treat,” the waitress says. “Actually, the whole dinner is on me.”
“That isn’t necess—”
“The big dog’s name is Layla,” the little girl interrupts. “I just remembered.”
“Do you like hot fudge sauce?” the waitress asks.
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Thick chocolate sauce.”
“Oh yes, I like that.” The bouncing starts again.
The waitress drops our ticket on the table as she passes on her way to fix the child’s ice cream. We get up to leave, and I risk one quick glance at the tired-looking woman and the now-quiet child. She has stopped bouncing and sits staring at her mother.
“Why are you crying, Mommy?”
Turning quickly, I follow my husband out the door. During the long drive home we don’t exchange a single word, and I use the time to think. I think about the bouncing six year old, our new president, and her tired mommy adjusting to single motherhood. I think about the new mommy with the half-sister baby in her belly, and the big dog named Layla. I think about them relying on a man who left his first fledging family to form a new one. I wonder if the new mommy realizes yet what she has gotten herself into.
As we drive, I count the leftover yard signs on the matchbook-sized lawns of Temecula’s McMansions. I count the signs that were “with her” specifically. Are they still up in protest? Or are we all in denial? Bless your heart, Hillary, I think. I’m with you, too. As we drive out of town, into rural Southern California, the “with her” signs grow sparse. We are leaving the blue safety zone, lines bleed purple, and finally, we are home in our tiny, red town. There are no lawns here, no signs, but there are old, rusted pick-ups with bumper stickers, and the old men driving the trucks wear red baseball caps. We pass these trucks, driven by our neighbors, and I turn my face away. I wonder if any of us ever realize what we have gotten ourselves into until it is far, far too late.
Sara Marchant received her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California, Riverside, Palm Desert and her Bachelors of Arts in History from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has been published by The Manifest-Station, Every Writer’s Resource, Full Grown People, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. Her work is forthcoming in the anthology Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: All the Women in my Family Sing. She lives with her husband in the high desert of Southern California, where she enjoys teaching ESL at a Christian university despite being the only Mexican-American Jew on campus. She is a founding editor of Writers Resist.