about the author

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her work has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, PANK, Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, Los Angeles Review, Dark Sky Magazine, JMWW and others. Her chapbook fiction collection Natural Habitat has been published by Burning River and is in its second printing. Her second collection Like Lungfish Getting Through the Dry Season will be published by Thunderclap Press.

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Michelle Reale

My mother asked me about the big plastic pipes that had begun snaking around the streets in our neighborhood.

I shrugged. She told me I wasn’t smart enough to notice things that were right in front of me.

“Who has the chance?” I said like an accusation.

The men stood around in hard hats and neon vests, smoking cigarettes and chugging from thermoses.

I walked toward them in my bare feet. I pointed to the putty colored, plastic pipes.

“So what’re they for?” I asked.

They stared.

“It’s a simple question,” I said.

The one with the red hair and brown eyes took a step in my direction. He looked me up and down.

“Come back tomorrow, and you’ll find out,” he said.

I looked back at my house and saw the curtain move. All news from the outside came through me, but hadn’t a thing to tell her. I didn’t give a goddamn about the pipes or much else.

That evening my mother insisted on hot tea despite the fact that everyone was melting in the extravagant heat. I brewed the loose leaves in a china pot, crossed my legs, arched my delicate foot.

She eyed me with mistrust. My mother hated the gesture, thinking it affectation. “It’s not our way,” she said, feisty despite her illness. I saw a glimpse of the force that her condition had yet to extinguish. I held the cup of hot tea to her lips, and though she protested I poured. Guilt stabbed me. I grabbed her cheeks and blew into her mouth. The liquid dribbled down her chin.

Later, when she’d either forgotten or forgiven, she asked me again, why it was so damn difficult to find out what the pipes were for.

I lit a cigarette, blew it her way and told her, pointing vaguely in the direction of the street, that the one with the red hair and brown eyes was going to explain it to me.

“So when I know, I’ll tell you,” I said holding my smoke aloft.

Her laugh, low and hoarse quickly turned into the familiar, watery cough while I wondered what I might say to him.

In the morning the street was flooded with muddy water. The men in their hard hats took long strides against the unlikely current.

I held my hand to my mouth and laughed because I never react the way I am supposed to.

“You’re a damn fool,” she said.

“It’s not what you think,” I said.

She glanced toward the window, then back at me. She startled at the sounds of emergency outside, the rising voices of our neighbors, coming out of their houses. I craned my head and looked for him, but he was nowhere in sight. My mother watched me, her eyes sad.

“It’s not what you think,” I said.

“No,” she said, with a catch in her throat. “No,” she said again worrying her hands. “I don’t suppose it ever is.”

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