Auspices

Thunder rolled in the distance.

Amelia clambered into the truck. Her leg caught between the door and the seat as she settled into the driver’s seat. It smarted something fierce but Amelia only shook her leg at the knee–like she was shaking crumbs from it–and slammed her other foot onto the gas pedal. The truck careened out of the parking lot and as she took the turn hard Amelia reached across the dash and switched on the radio. She adjusted the dial, searching for the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, even the Beach Boys–anything to distract her brain from the long drive through the rain. She slapped her hands on the steering wheel to the beat of some Stones song, and wiggled her left leg up onto the seat, tucking it under her driving leg.

She sped down the highway and the clouds rippled overhead. Lightning split the sky and the boom came almost simultaneously. Rain fell, splashing the windshield. Amelia stopped drumming, flipped on the wipers, and tucked her leg tighter. Pain zigzagged to her hip and she shifted, lifting her body to release her leg and stretch it out under the dash, clear of the brake pedal. Her heartbeat thumped in her knee, her thigh muscles tight from the work on the farm all week. The music–what was it? some woman’s voice–throbbed down her artery.

Once, Amelia’s third grade teacher had taught them a song from some Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, something about whistling to make you stand more erect. They were always writing about ways to feel better in the world, taller, more substantial. Now she tried to whistle the tune back to the radio.

The pain vanished. So easy. Rodgers and Hammerstein, auspices of an easy drive, despite the storm.

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Pica

My sister and I huddled behind the curtains at the front window, watching our mother bring the newspaper in from the driveway. She shook it from the plastic bag as she shuffled up the steps in her houseshoes. My sister ducked out into the living room as Mom came into the house, and I followed.

She stood still in the doorway, holding a folded-back page close to her face as though she were scrutinizing the pica measurements. Once, our dad, a section editor for the Herald, had explained to us the way a newspaper took shape, how the font and typesize were carefully regulated for the reader. There were rules, he’d said, and following the rules made things easier for everybody. Later, when I was pregnant with my first child and craved potatoes with the dirt still on them, I loved the divergence of the word “pica”: an organizing element in typography, a sign of organic insanity in pregnancy.

I tugged at the bottom of my skirt and my sister pulled my hand away. We watched our mother reading. Her lips moved as she read through Dad’s obituary in her head, as though praying, as though searching for something to suckle.