“Little Wife”

“Little Wife,” a story by Lara Markstein (fiction, ’13) appears in the latest issue of The Greensboro Review.

We are leaving Elizabeth City in a week. The bus tickets and a wad of twenty-dollar bills crunch between my thin mattress and the crooked slats of the bed at night. I haven’t told Tuyen we’re going, yet. She’s only eight and asks too many questions, and there’s not enough time to prepare Mom’s memorial and explain to her how I am not a thief.

I tried to get a job that summer at Pizza Hut so we could run away. From the storms and the way the gas stove leaked and the mold in the bottom of the sink that stuck beneath my nails and Uncle, pick-pick-picking at the gaps between his teeth. Tuyen wanted me to work in a grocery store because there were whole aisles of candy she said she’d never tried. Twizzlers. Mars bars. Swedish Fish. But no groceries were hiring.

“Pizza Hut is,” she said between mouthfuls of sour jelly worms.

I said I’d stink of grease and thwacked a fish I’d caught for dinner against the dock where she sat watching me. Tuyen spat on her palm to clean the dirt from the hem of her dress.

“You could catch fish.”

The bass still flopped, so I hit it with a rock. Its belly shivered in the sun. In a bit, I’d slit the stomach, then saw the fish guts free from where they were fixed to the bone. The innards would float on the water, pointing down the river bend to where Will Johnson lived. Will Johnson played basketball and drove his brother Joe’s sedan.

“When we find Dad, will he buy me glitter shoes?” Tuyen asked.

“That mess on your dress looks like squashed Milky Way,” I said, ankle deep in warm June sludge. It was a clear day, full of stars. In the scales of the largemouth and the mud.

Read more in the print issue of The Greensboro Review.


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