But Can't You See the Stars Are Yours and I Just Need a Minute—Caitlin Peck

 

WHAT HE NEEDS TO KNOW

—Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera

It takes all my energy to focus on my cafeteria cups: soup, coffee, and a gelatinous blob that calls itself dessert. The lunch crowd is long gone, and the easy listening music overhead echoes in the emptiness. I’ve been at the hospital since 5:00 a.m., and this is my first meal. Without looking up, I feel her standing across from me, see her hands on the opposing chair.


My ex-husband’s new girlfriend clears her throat.


I look up. Her skin hangs loose on her upper arms, damaged by the desert sun. My gaze

stops on her breasts. They’re new and strain against her hot pink scrubs.


“What are you doing here?” she asks.


“My sister has cancer. She’s in surgery.”


Her tense face relaxes, and I see something different in her pale blue eyes. Sympathy?


“Tony didn’t tell me.” She sits in the chair and fingers her ID badge.


I take two bites of my now lukewarm vegetable soup. “Antonio doesn’t know.” I open the package of saltines. Stale. But chewing them gives my mouth something to do besides lie.


“I thought you two told each other everything.” Her resentment returns. No more Ms. Nice Nurse.


After the divorce, Antonio and I stayed friends. Not because we had children or a pet to share, but because we played on the same co-ed softball team and were friends before we were married. It made sense.


Not to her. So after a few years, he quit the team, and our friendship became birthday and New Year’s text exchanges, occasional commiserations on the Bruins’, Clippers’, or Dodgers’ shitty performance.


I drink water longer than I need to, wash away every crumb of cracker mush from the crevices of my mouth.


She sits there, her lips pressed together like she’s trying to keep a confession inside. She smears her lipstick.


“I tell him what he needs to know.” Like when he is due for an oil change or when my garage has a special on tires.

“I heard him tell his brother you got him playoff tickets.” She crosses her arms under her breasts, and they almost spill out of her scrubs. Her top leg twitches faster.


I take a bite of what might be banana pudding—with peanuts. I hate peanuts. “A friend works in the front office. He got them for the whole team. I just passed along the information.” I drink the sticky residue away. “I’m not going.”


Her leg stops twitching. Her arms relax. She reaches out for my not eating hand. “I’m sorry about your sister.” Her long delicate fingers end in a soft pink French manicure.


My hands are thick and rough, scarred from pulling wrenches all day. “She’s in great hands here,” I say. I pack up my food trash and leave. I feel her watching me. I take my phone out of my pocket and leave Antonio a message. In Spanish. I tell him my sister’s prognosis is not good. I tell him I need him.

 

Chicana feminist and former rodeo queen, Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera is a Macondista, a bruja, an editor at Ricochet Editions, and on the leadership team for Women Who Submit. She writes so the desert landscape of her childhood can be heard as loudly as the urban chaos of her adulthood. She is obsessed with food. A former high school teacher, she earned an MFA at Antioch University Los Angeles and is currently working on her PhD at USC.

 

Caitlin Peck is an artist and illustrator in Philadelphia. Her specific choice of words and imagery reflect a form of building reality based in both anxiety and play. Peck exhibits often on the East Coast, primarily in Philadelphia and New York. To see more of her work, visit www.iamcaitlinpeck.com or Instagram: @iamcaitlinpeck.