“Forty! You look so young.” The cashier’s name tag identified her as “Morticia.” She put the cheap vodka in a small paper bag, placed the paper bag inside a plastic bag with the frozen lasagna dinner and the cranberry juice. “You could pass for twenty.”
Carole couldn’t help but stare at the girl’s nose ring.
“People tell me that all the time.” Carole shoved her ID into her jeans’ pocket.
Married at sixteen, a baby at seventeen, another at eighteen. People used to think she was her kids’ babysitter.
As she walked to the bus stop carrying the grocery bag, she spotted a fat manila envelope on the sidewalk. It had the smear of a footprint on it. She picked it up, feeling the envelope greedily. Someone had scrawled, “Important Stuff” across the top with a black sharpie. She shoved it into the grocery bag.
Carole looked out the window on the bus ride home, past the pay day loan places and pawn shops. She stuck her hand in the bag and squeezed the envelope, fantasizing about how much money was in it. $5,000? $10,000? She was due for some luck.
There was a business card tucked into the front door. “Rick Polaski. Probation and Parole Specialist/Adult. Orleans Parish. (504) 556-6201.” Carole put down the grocery bag and dug out her keys to open the door. Her next meeting with her PO was two weeks away. Why was he bothering her now?
She saved the opening of the envelope until the microwave beeped and her lasagna was done. Her ex-husband, Max, hated TV dinners. “Ma Stouffer’s again?” he’d say. “Can’t you get it together to cook anything?” Like there was time to cook dinner after working all day in a coffee factory. Carole did a perfect imitation of his whining as she peeled the plastic off the dinner tray and plopped the hot orange blob onto a plate.
She watched Pawn Stars while eating. This was the fun part about Being Divorced: a frozen dinner, vodka cranberry, Trash TV. No cats, she didn’t want to take care of anyone. No pictures of her kids. Carole pretended it was the Oscars, pictured herself in a shiny red velvet gown as she opened the envelope.
No money. Boring high school graduation photos, birthday cards, postcards from Venice. She opened a small folder tucked among the cards and found a birth certificate and a social security card. Carole read the name out loud, “Madison Claire West, born in New York City, New York, October 10, 1993.”
Carole made a list in her head of all the injustices in her life. Had to drop out of high school to get married, no one taught her how to drive. Now she could start over, like Monopoly. Forget the divorce, the two sons in prison, the probation crap. Lop off twenty years, put these pictures in a photo album, go to another state and get ID as Madison West. Get student loans and go to college. Get a bunch of credit cards. Buy a new car. Take trips to Hawaii and the Bahamas. Become an attorney, an architect, an archaeologist. Something fancy.
A sharp rap-rap, a cop knock. Carole shoved the envelope into a kitchen drawer. She hid the vodka bottle under dirty clothes on the closet floor. “I’m coming.”
“Where’ve you been?” No-Nonsense Polaski looked around the cluttered studio apartment.
“I’m working. My piss test was clean.”
“Just makin’ sure you’re following the rules.” He picked up her drink and sniffed. “You bein’ good, Carole?”
“Sure. I’m thinking of making some big changes in my life.”
My story, “You Look so Young for Your Age!” has been published on QuarterReads.com:
Like I’ve said before, the most popular stories on this site seem to be sci fi, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction, or some combo of those. I wouldn’t dismiss the site for other stories, such as general/literary fiction, crime/mystery and whatever else you write. (But you might want to toss in a vampire or a zombie or some gratuitous time travel to get more hits.)
I’ve read some of the stories and liked them. They are good short reads for lunch breaks, or if you have a mobile device thingy, you can read them while riding on the bus or waiting in line.
At least they are paying writers. . . OK, it’s not much, but if you get a lot of hits you can make a few dollars a month, enough to pay for your Duotrope subscription.
Check out these QuarterReads reviews:
. . . and an interview with Ian Rose, the Portland, Oregon-based editor:
Photo Credit: “Roses, Flowers, Nature, Macro, Pink,” Pixabay Copyright Free Images.