Linda Schumacher pulled her sandwich to her mouth and took a quiet bite. Placing the sandwich carefully in her lap, she rearranged her pencil skirt and recrossed her ankles, since real ladies crossed their ankles instead of their legs. A few feet down, a little boy took cautious steps to his mother, his tiny fingers outstretched pretending to clench the strawberries she offered him before they were even in his reach. She watched them engrossed, forgetting about her sandwich and suddenly an avid fan. Her lips moved in silent prayer, asking the saints to guide his small feet without fault. Her mother always told her to pray to the saints, since too many people complained to God and he was too busy listening. But when his tiny fingers wrapped around the strawberry, in some sick twist of fate, it slipped and crashed to the concrete.Linda was already full, and now too deep in thought to bother with the remains of her lunch. Five years ago, she would have been overjoyed to have the rest of that sandwich. She would have stuffed it in her mouth and licked each of her fingers. For her family, if you didn’t learn how to be full on little food you would never be full at all. Even though she had been away from her house for so long, and for the first time been able to eat as much as she pleased, she found herself often eating very little.Linda Schumacher had five sisters and an older brother. That’s how people identified her, instead of using her name. There was no room for names with six siblings. There was barely enough room at the dinner table. Linda Schumacher sometimes found herself unconsciously rubbing her course elbows, as if somehow five years out of the house and away from her family she was still cramped between two of her sisters at the dinner table, their elbows jutting into one another’s.

Once, Linda pulled an empty bottle of vodka from the sugar jar. She remembers it vividly. She had forgotten to put on socks that day. Her younger sister Peggy had worn the pair with the blue stripe that ran across the toes, and the only pairs in the house with the blue stripe that ran across the toes belonged to Linda. So when Linda found the underwear drawer nearly empty, she had just shrugged it off. She was wearing an extremely ugly pair of straight, brown slacks, inherited from her older sister Paula, and an itchy, yellow sweater her sister Maryanne had given her for Christmas.
She walked into the kitchen, the cold, yellow tiles freezing her feet. The cracks between them filled with concrete seemed to absorb all the winter cold. The buzz of the refrigerator, which was a sound that usually comforted her when she wandered downstairs at night from restlessness, now sounded unnatural, too mechanical and inhuman. The florescent lights stung her pale, winter skin, as if it were too sensitive from lack of sun. The kitchen had an eerie glow, as if there was an earthquake in Heaven and a piece had fallen from the sky and landed in her kitchen. She cracked open the refrigerator door, swiped the last, giant strawberry from a bowl, and located the sugar jar. She pulled open the lid, laid it on the counter, and dropped the strawberry.
She pulled out an empty bottle of vodka, forgetting the smashed strawberry that had only moments before meant so much more. She felt her heart beating, heard it pounding in her ears and was sure she would wake everyone else. The bottle wasn’t labeled, so she assumed the drinker was ashamed, embarrassed of the deed. The few drops remained were poison, and nearly made her send the bottle crashing to the ground with the deceased strawberry, her pure, clammy hands unable to hold sin. As her brain tried to process the information, her mind conceived a web of fabrication. It must have been her older brother Bill’s. She marched to the backyard, ignoring the biting wind, and hid it in the neighbor’s begonias. She brushed some snow over it, so by the time spring arrived no one would remember. Except her, because even though her brain fabricated an easier memory of her brother Bill having a little late night fun, the name of the true drinker hid itself under her gut, and whenever she saw a strawberry, she got a stomachache.
Linda Schumacher tried to understand. She made up excuses for the true owner of the bottle, blaming the six daughters and older son. Seven children were just too unnatural. It was the most abnormal and exhausting family she knew. It was a pang inside her, though, thinking her own existence led to the consumption of poison. When Linda passed by her mother, she’d pull Linda by the back of her shirt, gather up Linda into her arms, pull her face close to hers and caress Linda’s forehead, kiss each cheek and squeeze her nose, whispering, “I love you Linny, you keep me alive.” Later, Linda woke up in the middle of the night, a painful sob stuck in her throat. She clamped her hands over her mouth so as not to wake her three sisters sleeping next to her in the same bed. Her mother said Linda helped her live, but she felt like she was doing a much better job at helping her die. She thought of the strawberry, squished and dead on the cold, kitchen floor.
The boy’s crying jarred her consciousness, and her sandwich fell from her skirt. She watched his mother gather him into her arms, pull her close to him and kiss his wispy hair. Soon his head lolled onto her shoulder, his thumb jammed tightly between his little lips. She gathered her things, a true balancing act, and carried her sleeping child down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Linda Schumacher watched them until they blurred into the passing crowd, their importance to her lunchtime fading away.
She gathered her own things in a daze, barely noting she would again be late returning from lunch. She dropped the remains in a garbage can, quickly tapping her heels across the sidewalks to the clinic. The cherry blossoms painted the cold concrete with gentles strokes of pink.
Mothers made sacrifices for their children, she knew that. They sacrificed time and money. They sacrificed freedom and happiness. It was the most selfless sacrifice, giving seven other human beings life in exchange for one. Linda Schumacher did not think she could ever be like her mother.
When she returned to the clinic and found herself sitting bored at her desk, Linda dialed home. She didn’t care about the long distance when telling a joke to her mother, she realized for the first time they had the same laugh.



Joined December 2007

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