This afternoon I have a teeth-cleaning appointment downtown, and afterwards when I approach the crowded bus stop, I see my fourteen-year-old, Rose. Some instinct makes me stand back. What’s she doing here? It takes me a second to remember the class field trip to the Museum of Modern Art, how Rose bitched about it this morning—“Museums are so boring! I can’t believe we’re spending all day in a museum!”—then brightened when she remembered that MoMA is a block from the downtown mall.
Rose isn’t alone. She has her arm around another kid, who I realize must be The Famous Sasha. That’s what Len, my husband, calls her. We’ve never met Sasha, but I recognize the dyed hair—not a natural red, the color of red velvet cake. I’ve seen pictures of Sasha on Rose’s phone, wearing a rainbow face mask, knit hat and red heart sunglasses, so the only visible feature is that hair and the tip of her nose.
Rose always corrects me when I mess up Sasha’s pronouns: “They/them, Mom!” Rose says, rolling her eyes, as if I’m doing it on purpose. Well, all I can say is, they look like a girl. A pretty girl: you could tell that even from the picture, from the tip of Sasha’s nose.
I hide behind a woman with a giant garbage bag of bottles, heading no doubt to the recycling center.
Rose is laughing.
“Why don’t you have Sasha over?” I’ve asked, but Rose always rolls her eyes. “Why would they want to come here?”
Now Sasha touches a thin chain around her neck, some pendant glinting on it—hard to see from here, maybe it’s a heart. “Thank you for this. I love it,” they tell Rose.
“Can I have lunch money for after the field trip?” Rose asked me this morning—well, I can see where that food court money went!
I should be annoyed, but Rose looks so happy. My sullen girl, who’s always ordering me to close her door, who talks only to correct me (“They/them, Mom!”) or to ask for money. Yet I clearly remember when she looked that delighted to see me. When she used to kick the back of my car seat—this was when she was little enough to be in one of those child safety seats—and say “Ma Ma Ma!” so joyfully. “Ma Ma Ma”: Len called it the Rose chant.
Things don’t faze Len the way they faze me. He isn’t offended by Rose’s surliness, or her insistence on privacy. All those years that Rose clearly preferred me, wanted to sit by Mama, et cetera, he just smiled and called her, “My little Mama’s girl.” It didn’t bug him, so now I can’t complain that she prefers him. “Tolerates me,” he’d correct.
Len told me something horrifying the other day—that by the time a child is eighteen, they’ve spent 95% of the time they will ever spend with their parents, I mean for their entire lifetime. The other 5%, I suppose, goes to Thanksgivings and visits home, more frequent trips in college, then diminishing, like a road heading to the horizon’s vanishing point. Len didn’t get why I was so stricken. “Kids grow,” he said.
Rose leans her head on Sasha’s shoulder—Rose is tall, but Sasha’s taller.
It’s been clear for months that Rose is smitten with Sasha, though we couldn’t tell if it was a friend crush or something romantic. “What do you think?” Len and I have whispered.
When we all board the bus I hunch way in the back—Rose and Sasha are sitting near the front. It’s one of those long buses with an accordion middle.
Sometimes I watch kids on buses, friends I assume, and they ignore each other the whole ride, they just look at their phones. But not Rose and Sasha. Rose has her phone out, but it’s to show Sasha something. Their heads lean together, Sasha’s red velvet one and Rose’s dark blond one.
They get off at our stop, but I stay on—I don’t want them to see me. I watch them through the window, wondering how they’ll say goodbye, but no, they head up the hill together.
“We’d like to meet your friend.” How many times have we said that? Me, maybe impatiently, Len, jovially: “When can we meet The Famous Sasha?”
Rose told me that in Russia, Sasha is both a boy’s name and a girl’s name. She seemed so thrilled by that factoid.
I named her Rose for Rosie the Riveter. I wanted our daughter to have a strong name. Len thought that was funny. “I don’t associate flowers with strength,” he said. But show me another flower with thorns.
I get off at the next bus stop, disoriented. Somewhere around here is a Starbucks. Should I get an iced coffee, kill time? Give Rosie space? I don’t know how I’m feeling, even—happy or sad. There was a picture book about a badger that Rose used to call “the happy-sad book,” because it made her feel both ways. I think of watching them through the window, walking up our hill. I think of Len’s horrible fact about 95%.
Fuck Starbucks. I start walking home, past the jacaranda trees with their cascading flowers.
KIM MAGOWAN — Kim is the author of the short story collection How Far I’ve Come (2022), published by Gold Wake Press; the novel The Light Source (2019), published by 7.13 Books; and the short story collection Undoing (2018), which won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her fiction has been published in Craft Literary, The Gettysburg Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many other journals. Her stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50. She is the Editor-in-Chief and Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com.
Art by MARIEJULIE LAFRANCE — Bilingual, Multidisciplinary artist, MarieJulie won two art scholarships while studying for her DEC in Arts in letters. She obtained her DEC in 2012. Since 2014, as an illustrator-freelancer MarieJulie uses pencils, brushes, digital software, and fabrics as tools to express her creativity. Diagnosed as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), MJ is highly attuned to details, giving her the ability to bring a textured but flowy elegance to her work. Find out more on her website: mariejuliestudio.wordpress.com.