“Pink Sneakers” by Maggie Nerz Iribarne

The woman passes every day with her pink sneakers and floral running pants and cute son in a navy uniform. The son talks a blue streak while the woman nods, her head down, repeating, “Uh-huh.” Sometimes they notice me, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the woman in the pink sneakers smiles  a straight, close-lipped, no teeth smile. Sometimes she just nods. 

After they pass, I drag on my cigarette, inhale, let it all go with a big puff of smoke. I stand from my porch chair, return to my apartment, kicking the door closed, adding yet another scuff. I pour myself a third cup of coffee, sit down in front of the silent TV. I wonder what the boy is talking about at school. It’s only a half mile away, that school. What if I walk over there, peak over the fence onto the playground? I’d like to see and hear him again, think about him raising his hand in class, laughing. 

He reminds me of my brother, Len. Len was bright like that boy in the navy uniform. I insert my oxygen tube into my nose and relax into the white noise of the machine’s compression and release, close my eyes. In my imagination, the woman in the pink sneakers has clear lungs, a pristine house, granite countertops, a clean sink. My sink is full of crusty plates and stained coffee cups. 

One morning, I call out to the woman in the pink sneakers. I say, “I just can’t bear to smoke indoors. My mother never let my father.” 

She nods stiffly, says, “I bet.”

Later, I grow drowsy. I dream of mixing chocolate milk, arranging cookies on a plate. The boy sits at my table, eating and drinking as he telling his bright stories. We are safe in my darkened apartment as the woman in the pink sneakers runs by my porch, her face frozen in terror. She is not having a good day, but I am, for once.

Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 53, living her writing dream in a yellow house in Syracuse, New York. She writes about teenagers, witches, the very old, bats, cats, priests/nuns, cleaning ladies, runaways, struggling teachers, and neighborhood ghosts, among many other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work at https://www.maggienerziribarne.com.

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