What You Wish For, by Michelle Reale

They get fifteen minutes each morning to solve all the world’s problems. They light cigarettes in warm drizzle. The three of them squeeze together on the back steps leading out of the hot kitchen; the smell of cooking grease follows them. The younger girl, the dreamer, sits between the older women, their thick thighs spread, altering the small space.

But the thing is, the younger girl says, sucking on a lollipop the pale color of soap and fingering the blooming bruise under her right breast, is that I think he loves me. I really do. They’ve heard it all before, so laugh. Again. He wants to marry me, she says, her tongue flicking at the tip of the lollipop. One of the women laughs, sputters smoke from her nostrils in staccato spurts. He wants to what? Christ almighty. Jesus. This from the one with the brilliant red hair with white at the roots, and the pencil- thin scar over her left eyebrow. The one who could regale you with stories you’d rather not hear.

She’s like thirteen minutes old, the other one says, jerking her thumb toward the girl, who fiddles with one of the many earring studs snaking up into her cartilage. She nudges the girl in the ribs a bit too rough. If you were my daughter, she says, with a look of warning, but also resignation. The woman does not trust herself to finish what she starts to say. Yeah, but I ‘m not, the girl says, thrusting her tits upward in a practiced gesture. The girl takes the candy out of her mouth long enough to laugh the high pitched laugh of someone used to conniving. You have no idea what you are doing, do you? They watch her suck on the lollipop with great concentration, and they mother her than anyone else they know, which isn’t saying much.

They smoke with urgency, while the girl daydreams. Today she doesn’t wave away the smoke that drifts into her eyes and tempts her nostrils. They sigh. One of them checks the time on the small watch choking a fat wrist. Back inside, they’ll lowering baskets of frozen, sliced potatoes into vats of boiling, bubbling oil. The young girl will dip, strain and serve, like she is on autopilot, while she makes plans for the rest of her life.

The women take strong drags. The girl swooshes her lollipop through the last cloud of smoke and pops it into her mouth closing her eyes, savoring the taste. Stop that, goddamn it! The red haired one says, slapping at her hand, hard, instantly sorry.

I’ll never be like them, and she means it and she doesn’t. The women pick themselves up from the dirty steps with a collective groan, their knees cracking . They brush the back of each others ample asses and laugh too loud, their mouths wide, holes where teeth used to live. The girl hangs back for a minute, finishing the lollipop , biting down hard. She swallows a large chunk that cuts the back of her throat going down. She imagines she is now bleeding on the inside. She takes quick leaps up the steps. Inside, the women are already back at it like machines. The rank smell of the oil hits her like a punch in the face. She grabs a dirty apron from the hook by the door.

The day was shaping up to be a long one.

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