The Band

by Angela Kempe

Melissa stood on the lawn of the city garden as the bluesy sound of the rock band welled up through the park in a lazy summer haze. People were lounging in short folding lawn chairs, sipping cheap $7 beer out of plastic cups as the hot sun burned the delicate skin of their pale cheeks. Melissa wanted to stay and listen, but her kids were tugging at her arms. The heat had gotten to them and their patience for the fair had already run out.

“Do you want to play on the playground?” she asked.

Her daughter looked interested, but sweat was beading up on her hairline and she looked more like she needed a nap. Melissa wasn’t ready to admit it yet. Her eight-year-old son, Jerry, would do it for her.

“Let’s go!” he said, tugging at his mother’s arm. “It’s too hot!”

It was decided between the children. Her kids began pulling at her arms incessantly, leaning into their weight with all forty-some pounds of their little bodies.

Melissa stood looking longingly at the band. She remembered her dream of being a musician that had faded long ago. She felt the fat of motherhood gathering sticky sweat between her legs, reminding her that she’d never be a superstar. Melissa pressed her feet into the ground, turned away from her children, and leaned on her own weight to counter their effects.

At that moment, their small hands melted into heavy shackles and the heat formed a rippling wall between herself and her beloved. She turned towards the stage again, and suddenly she was standing in front of a mic with thousands of eager faces looking back at her.  She could still feel her children pulling, straining to bring her back from this new dimension she was lost in.

She could hear the band wailing. The drummer smiled at her and nodded for her to make her entrance. His sticks played a crisp four-four. The bass was repeating that soulful melody just for her. Melissa searched for some memory of the lyrics. She took a breath. Maybe something would come to her. Maybe she could still find the song deep inside. Then, she remembered.

“Summertime…” she sang.

The mic echoed over the crowd. Her children jerked at her and her body crossed briefly back into reality. She tried to stretch her neck forward. She could still see the crowd.

“…And the living is easy.”

Her children’s sweaty hands locked themselves on her wrists. They pulled her back. She stared at them defeated. The stage was gone. All was gone, but she was beyond crying.

“Good voice,” called out someone from the crowd.

Melissa looked over at a man sitting on a lawn chair. He took another sip of beer. His face had turned red from sitting for hours in the sun. He looked at her through his sunglasses.

“Wrong song though,” he criticized and he finished off his beer.

Mother

by Angela Kempe

Jan and Melissa reclined back on the leather sofa and crossed their legs casually. I bent to sip my Frappuccino when Jan’s toddler snatched Faren’s plastic dinosaur from her. Faren let out a high pitched shriek and tears started gushing from her eyes like geysers.

“Mine!” Faren yelled, stomping her feet on the ground.

“Faren share!” warned her mother, Melissa.

Melissa flashed an embarrassed smile.

“Give that toy back!” Jan ordered her son.

Jan’s son looked down at his dinosaur, snot dripping from his nose into his mouth in a continuous stream of clear boogers. He was already sad because although he was two, he was old enough to know the outcome; Give it back or Mommy would take it back. Either way was bad news for him, so he slurped up his boogers and threw it on the ground, running towards the blocks.

I looked at my daughter. She was playing contentedly with the giant legos.

“You’re so lucky, Cindy.”

Jan took a sip of her latte.

“Your little girl is always good. I never see you have any problems with the kids. And look at you. You are like perfect looking.”

Melissa stole a quick look at my flat stomach, enviously. Then, cast her eyes back towards my face and smiled.

“How’s potty training going?” Melissa asked me.

My kids had potty trained themselves. Wasn’t that normal?

“Good,” I said. “I haven’t had any problems.”

“Isn’t Freddie in kindergarten now?” Melissa interrogated. “How’s that going? Must be hard getting him ready for school. Does he throw any temper tantrums?”

“Um,” I said, sipping uncomfortably. “It’s good. I mean, I don’t have any problems really.”

“See!” Jan yelled. “You are the perfect mom. Too perfect! Gain some weight or something. There must be some issue with the kids. I mean, nobody has a perfect time raising their children. You don’t really enjoy motherhood that much, do you?”

“Well…”

They both shot up from their seats and were staring at me with fake smiles. I didn’t know what to say.

“I’ll tell you what, I’ll think about it and get back to you.”

Everyone laughed.

“I’m sorry, but I have to go, girls.”

I stood up and began cleaning up the big legos.

“So soon?”

“I forgot I have to do groceries before Ted gets home. Let’s do this again next week, okay?”

I couldn’t wait to get home. I put my daughter in her carseat and spiraled down the mountain road towards our house playing the conversation in my mind over and over again hysterically. I decided to try my husband at work. I commanded the car to dial Ted Johnson.

“Hello?”

“Teddy.”

“Yup.”

“Something happened at coffee today. I think we’ve been found out.”

“Why’d you think that?”

“Because I was talking with Jan and Melissa over a Frappuccino and we were just watching the kids play. You know, like usual. When Jan started saying how perfect I am. I did a horrible job acting human. We are going to have to leave as soon as possible.”

“We have another ten years left on Earth.”

“They are going to find us out! I can’t do this, Teddy.”

“So, you’re under confident about your ability to be a normal mother?”

“Yes. I’m not home yet, but I’ll start packing.”

“Cindy, I think you’re more human than you think.”