Sugar

by Claudia Smith Read author interview June 15, 2008

The day is baby blue, scattered with frilly clouds. A happy sky, my mother says as we wait for a bus. I suck Minute Maid lemonade through a candy-cane straw. We have change. My mother gathers coins from behind sofa cushions and jars and puts them in a tarnished ashtray she calls the collection plate. I am wearing a frilly dress, and I know she doesn’t approve but when she says I can wear what I want I pick the church dresses my grandmother sends. This one is pale pink with yellow ribbons, with curls and swirls like a candy Easter egg. “Be mindful,” she says because when I hop up my lace panties show.

I remember the waiting more than the arrivals. She is stern and beautiful, with hair like dark chocolate caught up in the back. In the laundromat, we exchange dirty coins for clean dollars. The money machine sloshes the change inside. My brother calls it a giant robot.

A giant robot keeps watch outside my son’s window. He says the giant robot eats cactus, cars, telephone wire. Monsters sing and have no claws. We spray glitter water over the doorway, chasing them away. In the morning, I will take him for frilly cupcakes and coffee at the Whole Foods, we’ll watch the chocolate fountain swirls. Once, we ran out of money before a paycheck when he needed medicine. It was only the one time. My husband called his mother, she wired us money from Western Union. But she sent more than we asked for, and when he filled out the incorrect amount, the woman at the register wouldn’t give it to him. I wouldn’t go inside. “Jesus Christ,” I said. “Do you think I have to go in there with our sick baby and beg her? Is that what we have to do? I am not my mother,” I told him. “Well, I guess I am my mother. I guess sometimes I am.”

“I can’t go in there. You go in there. I can’t go in there.”

“No,” he said and he went back, and when he was inside the grocery store I sang a song about a goat who trots to a market and brings back raisins and almonds. When he came back, he had the money.

Cash flow, floating checks, money moves like water, buoys promises. The money machine spits. “Mommy, jingle bells!” my son says. He is an enthusiastic person. He’s only two, so I expect this is not unusual.

“We’re going to have cupcakes,” I tell him.

“Oh, boy! I go see a chocolate fountain,” he says.

“Yes,” I say, “Oh boy!”

“I have chocolate fingers,” he says. “We taking the bus!”

Those cupcakes are the fanciest I’ve seen, moving behind a glass door. The chef is crisp, white, starched. He has a moustache. I will pick a lemon cake for myself, lemon with sprinkles. My son can choose from any of them, I say. His forehead wrinkles. “I thinking,” he says. There’s a football, a hamburger, a complicated flower, an Easter Egg. “This one!” he says, pointing, “No, no, this! No, this one.”

About the Author:

Claudia Smith's stories have been anthologized in W.W. Norton's The New Sudden Fiction and So New Media's Consumed: Women on Excess. Her flash fiction collections, The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts (reprinted in the book), A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness and Put Your Head In My Lap are available from Rose Metal Press and Future Tense books, respectively. Her new collection of stories, Quarry Light, is now available from Magic Helicopter Press.

About the Artist:

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.