By Ellen Nimmo
Every time the commercial came on Naomi’s sitter, the widowed neighbor with the purple-tinted grey hair, would howl with laughter. Ms. Thornton, who began “keeping an eye” on Naomi when her father was at work ever since school dismissed back in March due to that damned virus, would come rushing in from the porch, letting the screen door slap behind her, every time she heard the sound of the buxom beauty’s distinguishable voice come over the airwaves, sometimes spilling her diet soda in the process and laughing all the more. “Oh gracious if I didn’t mess myself again today! Good thing we got nothin’ to do but sit here and keep cool while the world goes crazy.”
The ad wasn’t for one product, but six. Monitor & Wage Inc wanted to remind it’s consumers that in 2020, “We’re all in this together.” The company exists to help consumers clean up even the big messes. Naturally. The very fake muscles of the man thrusting paper towels out of a giant belt he wore around his waist made the buxom beauty’s face contort with pleasure, or, was it the paper towels she was so pleased by? Hard to say. Ms. Thornton, determined to replicate the woman’s wide-eyed desire said, – “Oh! Isn’t she just the most beautiful woman in the world!?” She would utter in admiration as she wrung her hands and decided to promptly start a shopping list. Naomi didn’t much care for the buxom beauty on TV. It was something in the way she yelled, demanding for help to fall out of the sky (which it did), after a gregarious character all in pink accidentally trips, spraying chili all over the house and guests. And the way she seemed to ambush the screen: all teeth and breasts and lips.
Perhaps it was because of all the extra time with Ms. Thornton recently, but Naomi was beginning not to care for Ms. Thornton too much either. She did have her good moments. Like today when she feigned a suspicious look around the front yard, beckoning the child closer, whispering “Brought us something sweet today, honey.” Handing Naomi a handful of sticky, individually wrapped Fireball candies and telling her, “Now don’t spoil your dinner.”
Dinner was already spoiled as far as Naomi could tell.
Her father wouldn’t be home until six or seven and by then Ms. Thornton would have already made a mystery-meat casserole across the street which she’ll bring, waddling ever so carefully over, insisting Naomi eat some. “Gotta keep you from getting crabby for when your daddy gets home. No one likes a Pouting Polly.”
Naomi knew she should have more love for her neighbor, but her sweat plus hairspray smell, jiggling arms and stained shirt made Naomi remember they were poor and that her own mother was long gone. Memories of her mother’s better cooking, her strong lean arms and the way she was a stickler for tidiness, making Naomi’s eyes water with tightly woven braids before school, came back every time she saw Ms. Thornton shuffle across the street or step out of their tiny kitchen wiping her plump hands on the towel her mother had hung clean and folded on the oven door the night she left for Kentucky.
On the way home from the hospital, her cigarette burned all the way down to her lips, like she’d forgotten it, not getting out of the car when they pulled into the drive. She was like that after the baby’s death – never the same. None of us were. But then, as her dad would often remind her, “Everyone is doing the best they know how right now, it’s a strange time for us all.” He meant that Naomi aught not expect too much from people – even mothers. Everyone was doing what they thought was right in their own eyes.
“That’s just the problem,” Naomi’s thoughts argued with the voice of her father, “Everyone’s acts like they know something. Like they got a clue. But they don’t. They’re dumber than that ol’ cat down the street that’s always gettin’ itself stuck in the drain.” Yowling until some blindly-kind passerby pulls it out. Some things are just as well left alone.
Naomi’s stomach started to hurt. It was Wednesday and her mother was expected to call. Maybe she would, maybe she wouldn’t. Either scenario made stitches of pulsing pain run round Naomi’s belly. She opened a fireball. Her mother would ask her questions she didn’t have a clue how to answer. Things like “How have you been?” and “What’s something you learned this week?” All she wanted was for everything to be how it used to be, but how do you tell someone that knowing it’ll break their heart? Knowing that it won’t come true no matter how often you say it or how often you say nothing at all.
Hearing the screen door slam once again Naomi looked up from the dandelion crowns she was slowly picking apart to see Ms. Thornton waddle down the steps. Musta seen something she couldn’t live without. Swishing past her Ms. Thornton shouted, “Be back in just a little bit, honey, I gotta go pick up my ‘scription and a few items from the Big Mart before dinnertime. Don’t let nobody inside while I’m gone and don’t talk to strangers either. Text your daddy with any problems.”
Fine by me.
As the Buick bumper rounded the corner at the end of the street, Naomi popped up and ran inside. She grabbed an apple off the counter and called the dog out of the back bedroom where he was snoring, “Come on, we’re going for a walk.”