By Jennifer MacKenzie-Hutchison
Rachel’s breasts were leaking. All it had taken was a glance at the baby clothes stacked neatly on the picnic table. The power of mind over body was fascinating, really. In a practiced move, she grabbed pads from her bag and tucked them into her bra. She hoped the garage sale vendor hadn’t noticed. She seemed the sort of person who would never be caught leaking bodily fluids. Her dyed blonde hair was trapped in a ponytail with a straight-bottomed edge, cut with the precision of a bread slicer. Her body, tanned and trim, was decked in brilliant white shorts, a blue and white striped t-shirt, and navy sneakers. A sailor on a sea of manicured grass. In her hand, she clutched a clipboard to check off each item as it sold. Rachel sighed.
A potential client, eyes puffy from fatigue, pushed her stroller toward the blonde woman. In the crook of her finger dangled an impossibly small pair of pants with elephants stitched into the pockets. From the depths of the buggy came howls that travelled across the yard, over the clumps of lilies and hollyhocks, through the trimmed hedge and into the street. A child toddled at her side, his mouth rimmed in sticky purple. He began to kick his mom repetitively in the heel.
“Stop it, Sammy,” she hissed, and then, in a softer register: “Will you take seven for these?” She held up the pants.
The blonde’s eyes, mouth, entire face settled into an impenetrable barrier. “Sorry, no.”
“But there’s a tear in the hem.” The boy kicked harder; the baby screamed louder.
The blonde took a step back. “Those are Petit Bâteau.”
The woman looked at her blankly.
The blonde sighed. “I paid thirty dollars for them last year,” she said as she waved off a mosquito. “They are such pests, this summer, aren’t they?” She offered up her brightest and best insincere smile. “So they’re a deal at ten, only a third of the price, not including taxes.”
John had implored Rachel to stop going to garage sales. “Come on, Ray, enough. Listen to Dr. Lawson. You should rest, gather your strength.” But Rachel couldn’t see the logic. How do you gather anything when you’re resting? All that lying around could make a person more depressed, she reasoned. No, buying cute things for Sage was exactly what she needed.
A woman with a nose ring flipped through the clothes and toys across from her. Perky, young, freshly washed and blown dry. She glanced up with a comradely smile. “Are you shopping for your baby?”
“Yes,” Rachel said. “She’s almost six weeks now.”
“Awesome,” she exclaimed, as she fingered an adorable sweater in mint green with violet flowers dotting the tiny collar.
Awesome. How Rachel detested the word. She was tired of hearing it bandied about by her students. Even some of her colleagues used it. Its versatility was disturbing. How are you today? Awesome. What did you think of the lecture? It was awesome. I’d like to meet with you to discuss your paper. Awesome. Rachel’s focus returned to the sweater in the woman’s hands. It was perfect for Sage, with her olive complexion. At the thought of her daughter, she felt the familiar tightening in her breasts. She’d have to get home soon.
“Mine’s three months,” the woman said, as she slapped a mosquito on her arm. “Whoops! Missed.” She giggled and held up the sweater, revealing a tatooed flower on her flat-as-a-board tummy. “Isn’t this awesome?”
Rachel’s pulse quickened. “Oh, come on,” she blurted with a tight smile. “We have so many beautiful words in our language to choose from, don’t we? How about exquisite, lovely, gorgeous, divine?” Steam flew off each syllable. “Or, don’t you love the soft colours, the stitching, the delicate flowers along the trim? But no. It’s just awesome.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “Calm down, okay? It’s just a word.” She dropped the sweater and moved to the adjoining table.
Rachel leaned over and snatched it up, delighted to have it in her hands. Even John would have to admit that it was perfect for Sage. She looked over to the vendor, who was still refusing to budge on the price of the pants.
Her fury mounted. “Hey, you,” she called out. Barely conscious of the wet circles on her shirt, she positioned herself between the garage-sale lady and the harried mom. “You, with the million-dollar house and the silver Audi parked in the drive,” she locked eyes with her prey. “Sell the poor woman the pants for twenty-five cents. It’s a garage sale for Christ’s sake. These have been spit on and shat on by the fruit of your…toned, $200-dollar-a-month-gym-membership loins.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the recipient of her vocabulary lesson in a whispered exchange with another woman, her finger pointed in Rachel’s direction. Then a hand grasped her arm. “It’s okay…I’ll just give her the ten bucks. Don’t worry about it.” Harried mom looked at Rachel with an expression of sympathy edged with alarm.
“No. Give her a quarter.”
“Give her a damn quarter!”
All was quiet. The baby stopped screaming. The boy stopped kicking. Their mom and the vendor exchanged glances. “A quarter will be fine,” the blonde said.
The woman laid the pants on the hood of the stroller and fished out a quarter from her pocket. “Here you go.” She proffered the coin.
“Thank you.” The blonde turned to Rachel, then plucked the sweater from her hand. Her cheeks blazed crimson. “Now get off my property.”
The grinding hum of a lawnmower and the smell of cut grass barely pierced Rachel’s consciousness as she strode away. The small circles on her t-shirt had turned into giant moons, sweat eked through her pores, and blood still poured into her sanitary pad. A raging, wet, postpartum mess. She hurried home. To Sage.
John’s laugh reached her from the backyard. Rachel set down her bag in the front foyer. At the top of the stairs, she creaked open the door to the baby’s room, freshly painted pinks and greys, then tiptoed across the hardwood to the crib. She stared down at the rose-coloured sleeper that Sage had worn just after delivery, so vivid against the white sheet underneath. The nurses had returned it to her with their gentle compassion, along with sheets to fill out for the funeral home. She picked up the sleeper, pulled it to her nose. Sage’s scent was still there, if only a little. From out of her pocket she pulled out a matching cotton hat she’d stolen off the table earlier. She shook her head. That woman had wanted five dollars for it. She positioned it gently above the sleeper. Perfect. It was starting to get chilly at night. Satisfied, she grabbed the breast pump and iPod off the shelf, then settled into the wicker rocker by the window.
Down below, John was in deep conversation with the neighbours. In the laneway behind him, kids played ball hockey. Farther away, in the shadow of the CN Tower, the streets were alive with cafés, vegetable stands, and shoppers. A vibrant, urban place—perfect for a child to grow up in. Rachel leaned back, adjusted her earphones, and selected Brahms. She closed her eyes, happy to be a mother. Happy to be alone, in the stillness, with Sage.
Jennifer MacKenzie-Hutchison teaches Communications and English as a Second Language at George Brown College in Toronto, Ontario. She is working on her Masters in Education at the University of Toronto. You can follow her on Twitter here.
All photographs by David Nilsen.