Ashley Valmere, Yvette in Water (photograph)

Dot sighed and pushed her cart, burdened with Lux Flakes
on sale and the Ritz Crackers her husband liked
crumbled on his casseroles. Her son giggled
in the cart, trying to disappear beneath the boxes.
A routine fog blanketed her thoughts, his laughter
sweet but muted, as if an aisle away.
She shook loose, straightened her dress, pushed
the boy and his boxes past the cake flour
and frozen TV dinners to the back wall stacked
with little jars of baby food.  Her husband Jim
loved booming, “Look at the boy, meat on his bones!”
while spoon feeding him greens as Popeye played
on the TV set Saturday mornings.  She found herself
working to muster a smile at the thought
when another cart stopped short on the same row.
“Dot,” said June Polcek, color dotting her pale cheek. Dot loved
the worn blue dress June wore, remembered
ironing it once early in the morning, holding it against her face.
She braced, shifted her weight. Her hands flitted
around her own clothes as if confirming their presence. 
“Hello, June,” she replied, dropping the Gerber jars
into the basket and reaching out a gloved hand to shake.
June reached over her pregnant belly and took it.
They touched like strangers, acquaintances from church,
Dot thought, scanning for other shoppers’ eyes.
But Dot had known those hands, known each knuckle.  Frozen
there, fingers fixed in June’s, Dot did not resist
the memory of another time, both their palms calloused
from mill work they’d assumed while their husbands
were at war.  June’s hand was like a baby’s now,
uncertain, underused. “How far along?” she asked,
when what she ought to say was, “Come away,
the babes and all.”  She swallowed this whole.
June smiled, smelled it on the air. “Just another month.”
She slid Dot’s hand on her belly without asking,
drawing her whole body forward.  Their gazes met, unwavering.
Dot’s son fidgeted in the cart, restless.  Her tears tickled
the creases of her cheeks as she stood, flanked by bright cereal boxes,
pulverized, jarred food, fluorescent lights,  body trapped
in starched clothes, touching the woman she had touched
so often once, the woman she had whispered to, woken nightly,
the radio mumbling its bad news in the next room.


Katie Bickham