Featured Story

You All There, Pretty Angel?

By Marie Anderson

“Exceptional social intelligence,” Ms. Nickels said. “Everyone loves Hannah.”

“What about her speech?” I asked the teacher. We sat in two preschool-sized chairs across from each other, our knees almost touching.

My daughter sometimes sounded like a broken record. She’d wrap her mouth around a few words and say them over and over. This morning she’d chanted, “Wellow nana wellow nana wellow nana,” until one of her brothers figured it out. “Banana!” he’d shouted. “Hanny wants a yellow bananny!”

“Oh,” Ms. Nickels was saying to me now. “She’s no different from half the other children here. It’s way too early to start tracking those who might need speech therapy. Hannah makes herself understood just fine, most of the time.”

I smiled. Yes!

“Now,” Ms. Nickels continued, “we are working on her motor skills. But again, she’s no different from some of the other children. There are always some who can tie shoes and skip by this age, but plenty of three-year-olds are just like your Hannah. And believe me, your daughter is not the only one in my class still wearing pull-ups.”

I felt my face blush. In theory, children were supposed to be fully potty trained before starting preschool at Bright Angels Academy. But a parent’s ability to pay the $10,000 yearly tuition bought a lot of flexibility.

I was smiling so fierce my cheeks hurt. Wait till I tell Randall! Hannah had passed our first parent-teacher conference! My husband had lobbied hard for being totally upfront with the school. But I’d prevailed. He’d gotten his way having this third child, I’d reminded him. Now he owed me, especially since I was the front-line parent, the one without the career to escape to every day.

I said my goodbyes to Ms. Nickels and hurried to the school’s Learning Resource Center (library in my day), where I found Hannah dozing in the lap of a paraeducator (teacher’s aide in my day).
I scooped my sleeping daughter and hurried to the parking lot.

As usual, I was on the clock. Grocery store first, then home, then fetch the twins from school and deliver them to their baseball game six miles away along rush-hour-clogged highways.

My ten-year-old sons were their traveling baseball team’s pitcher and catcher. Nothing could happen without them. As wonderful as it was to have two gifted athletes for sons, the burden was huge. It was a challenge keeping them healthy, injury free, and on time. Parents of the bench warmers didn’t know how good they had it, in some ways.

I zoomed to Jewel, filled the cart, and picked the shortest checkout line.

Hannah had been exceptionally docile in the store. I smiled at her, securely strapped in the cart’s child seat, tapped her nose, and made a funny face. She laughed. I loved her laugh.

The large woman ahead of me slowly thumped her stuff on the conveyer belt.

“I’m so happy, doll,” she said to the checker. “I finally got some time off.”

The checker, Gloria, was a relentlessly cheerful woman who always had something long and positive to say to me. It could be a blizzard outside, and she’d ramble about how pretty the snow made the city look. Usually I avoided her line, but today hers was the shortest.

“What? You’ve closed shop?” Gloria asked the large woman.

“Nope!” The woman’s loud voice caught Hannah’s attention. Hannah twisted around and stared. “Didn’t close shop! Cops shut me down!”

“Why they do that?” Gloria caught my eye and winked. I offered an eye roll.

“Some neighbor prolly complained. I was just havin’ a little fashion show. Had the girls comin’ in their outfits, if ya know what I mean. But it’s the best thing coulda happened. Now Imma takin’ a vacay.”

The bagger had ambled away, so Gloria had to bag.

I sighed, looked at my watch. The baggers were always ambling away. I’d never complained. I actually preferred to do my own bagging. Some of the “special” baggers, with their trembling, drooling, and sneezing, were downright dangerous. They squashed breads with cans, contaminated produce with ground beef. I’d given up instructing. The special baggers did their own thing; the normal baggers didn’t speak English.

Hannah was still staring openly at the Mountain of Flesh. Hannah was only three, so she could stare. I had to be more subtle. But what a sight.

Tight pink shorts stretched over thick tanned legs road-mapped with purple veins. Her butt swelled into beach balls. A pink strapless top strained over a vast swell of bosom and belly.
“Imma takin’ Momma with me to Wisconsin,” the woman said. “Vacay in The Dells.”

“Sound good,” Gloria said. “Paul Bunyan breakfasts. Noah’s Ark got some new water slides. My kids love the Ark.”

“Well, it ain’t like Momma will even know she in Wisconsin. But she does love them flapjacks and sugar donuts at Bunyans.”

Now that I knew the woman was nice to her aging momma, her face did not look quite so coarse. But what a face. Tanned as the rest of her, an unhealthy tan—oily, the kind you see on the homeless (bums in my day). Thick lips wobbled under a squashed nose. Hooded eyes. Hair short, stiff, yellowed.

Then she was gone. It was my turn.

“I don’t believe it,” Gloria said.

“Hmm?” I asked. Hannah dug something from her nose and sucked it off her finger. I frowned, but she only giggled. Her almond-shaped eyes crinkled, her fat little tongue flicked out.

Her brothers had taught her to eat boogers.

“I don’t believe her mama won’t know she in Wisconsin,” Gloria said.

“Alzheimer’s?” I asked, not wanting to be rude, but wanting Gloria to fly through my order, damn it.

“Oh yeah, that, but Down syndrome too.”

“Down syndrome?” My heart sputtered.

“And eighty years old to boot.”

“Her mother has Down syndrome?”

“Oh yeah, eighty years old, Alzheimer and Down. All she can do is open her mouth, go “ah ah ah,” but she know stuff. She still there. I can see her there. Willie bring her mama in here sometime. Wheel chaired up, but still there. I see her there.”

“Ah, ah, ah,” Hannah cooed. She clapped her hands, star-shaped they were, her fingers so little and soft. Her speckled eyes, stone-washed denim, sparkled as she looked at me, then at Gloria.
Of course I knew she’d never be joining her brothers on stage at piano recitals, but then neither would I. Lots of people didn’t play piano. But now, only three, she was a chubby, charmingly loosey-goosey toddler, just a typical three-year-old, her speech no harder to understand than other three-year-olds, just a slight hearing loss in her right ear, but a strong heart, no deep crease across the palm, no telltale gap between the first and second toes, no soft fragile pouches below the eyes.

She was passing, goddamn it, she was passing.

My final child, my only daughter. Born on the winter solstice, after an easy pregnancy fouled only by recurring nightmares I’d had the first trimester, me skiing on too-short skis across a treeless expanse of deep snow, a gray wolf with huge wet teeth howling and snapping at my side.
But the nightmares stopped by the second trimester, and Hannah was born with pale blue hands and feet that had pinked into a normal color after a few days.

And she’d tested mosaic. Despite the doctors telling us not to bother with the test, telling it didn’t matter whether it was trisomy 21, translocation, or mosaicism.

But it was like winning the lottery when we’d learned she was in the one percent.

Some of her cells had the cursed extra 21, but some of her cells had the normal 46!

How could that not matter?

She was passing! Not even Ms. Nickels knew.

Hannah dimpled a smile at Gloria, who was rolling the final item over the scanner. “Ah, ah, ah!” Hannah shouted.

Gloria laughed.

“You all there, too, pretty baby,” Gloria said. “You your mama’s little angel.”

“What are you saying?” My credit card froze in the slot.

Gloria sighed. Her eyes softened. “Debit or credit, darling?” she prompted.

I looked at her for a long moment. “Credit,” I said. “Same as always.”

We continued our business in silence.

Gloria helped me bag the last of my groceries and place them in the cart. “She always love you, darling,” she murmured. “That’s the way of angels.”

I swallowed hard. My heart raced. I wanted to grab Gloria’s long braid and yank it off.

Instead I said, “Darling. Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for making it all better.”

Gloria was already scanning the next customer’s items. She didn’t look at me.

The bagger ambled back. He patted Hannah’s head.

“Putty baby,” he said. He smiled at me. “Need hep with ya gocies?”

I couldn’t answer. I wouldn’t answer. I grabbed my cart and shoved it past him.

“Have a nice day!” he said.

I pushed the cart through the parking lot. An SUV driver on her cell slammed on her brakes, honked her horn.

She’d almost hit my cart.

I began loading my groceries in the trunk.

My cart started to roll away from me. I could hear it. From the corner of my eye, I could see it drifting away.

Hannah laughed. “Bye, Ma-ah! Bye, Ma-ah!”

I froze, stared at the bags in the trunk. My heart squirmed.

I looked up. The cart seemed far away. Untethered. At the mercy of distracted impatient drivers.

I ran and grabbed it.

“Hi, Ma-ah. Hi Ma-ah,” Hannah said as I strapped her into the car seat. In her eyes I saw her mama who loved her always.

Could I manage to become that mama?

I touched her nose, made my funny face. She laughed.

“You all there, pretty angel?” I swirled my finger into her dimple. “Please God, is she all there?”

She laughed harder.

“Plea God, Plea God,” she said, clapping her hands.

I drove toward home. Hannah kept chanting, “Plea God, Plea God,” over and over.

I stopped at a red light. In the car next to mine, a dog sat in the back seat, its head out the window. A gray dog. Large. I shuddered. Goosebumps shivered my arms.

Hannah stopped chanting. In the rear-view mirror, I watched her patting the window, trying to get the dog’s attention.

“Keep praying, Hannah,” I whispered. “Pray for Mama. Keep praying, pretty angel.”

But the dog had her attention. “Hi Doggy! Hi Doggy!” she squealed over and over.

The light changed. I drove on, Hannah’s voice singing, “Doggy Doggy Doggy!” over and over. Mine whispering, “Plea God, Plea God,” over and over.


Marie Anderson
Marie Anderson

Marie Anderson is a Chicago area married mother of three millennials. She is the author of two collections of stories—“What Good Moms Do and Other Stories” and “Sharp Curves Ahead”— and the editor of “The Wrong Coat,” a themed, multi-author anthology of stories and poems. Her stories have appeared in about 70 publications, including the BWG Roundtable, The Saturday Evening Post, Mystery Magazine, and After Dinner Conversation. Since 2009 she has led and learned so much good stuff from a writing critique group at a public library in La Grange, IL.

7 Comments

  1. Loved reading your creation. So glad to have come across you and your craft.

  2. Your descriptions make me want to visit Nevada! We loved Joshua Tree on our February trip to California!

  3. This story For The Love Of Dottie had my attention from the start. So many themes to consider- aging, dementia, jealousy, love.
    A beautiful love story with a suspenseful mystery- I want to read more!

  4. Peter: Your story, Henry Smith’s Seasonings, was an enjoyable read. Being a foodie myself, my cupboards and drawers groan with spices, so it hit home. That home-smoked pastrami sounds awesome.

  5. Loved your story about Henry
    Smith’s spices but it left me wanting more story and HUNGRY!

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