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Pushcart Prize Nominee

Jill Crammond

In Praise of Packing Lunchboxes

It’s very difficult to plan something if your day is constantly interrupted by dead things. The cat lays two dead mice at your feet, one after the other dropping from her red-tinged mouth and you stop packing the lunch boxes. You marvel at the irony: two dead mice, two hungry children. Somewhere in this house are two mothers with two children depending on them. You think about taking the mouse mother out to lunch. Are all children furred and tiny? you will ask her. Are all children silent and maimed?

Depending on the day, you either put the mice in a Ziploc, draw a heart on the bag and feel proud that there’s something new to feed the children, or you focus on the task at hand. If you are a decent mother, you smile benevolently, teeth wide, white, and showing, good humor not quite reaching your eyes. You say, Good kitty. Never change. You never say, They had it coming. You never curse the cat’s ambition. Out of the corner of your eye you see a shadow. You dial your dead ex-husband, but the call goes to voice mail. Not mourning, but you’d like to know what he did with dead mice.

At some point, you remember about lunch. As usual, the sticky note on your cupboard door has failed you: Don’t forget to feed them.

No one tells you how to mourn. You ask your mother. She says, Try baking a casserole. You ask your children. They say, What’s for dinner? You’re still not sure if your dead ex-husband is dead or a divorcee. Isn’t that a nice word? you ask the cat. Doesn’t it sound like a fancy name? You read papers about division of assets, equitable distribution. You take out the hedge trimmers he left behind, put on the blue flannel shirt he forgot on the back of the bathroom door and measure as much of the house as you can with a tape measure. Should I draw a line with chalk? you ask the cat, then walk back inside to search for a chainsaw.

It's still Monday morning, you shout at the mailman. The children have boarded the bus without their crustless peanut butter and jellies, without their clementines swaddled inside seasonally themed napkins and love notes. I’m coming, you shout to the cat. Tell the children. The shadow you saw earlier shakes its head, reaches out and shoves you out the door. Is it any surprise when you slip on the mess of a fledgling that has fallen from its nest inside your porch light? Any surprise that you are overjoyed at the prospect of erasing the death, resurrecting the lunch? Not the death of a mother, but the demise of a life well-intentioned.

No one can see the man floating alongside you as you push your cart through the produce aisle, fondle the avocados, wonder how many germs you’ve left, how many you’ve picked up. Ghosts don’t worry about germs, and they don’t have a sense of personal space. Your dead ex-husband is in your personal space, and all you can say, over and over as you wait in the deli line behind a gray-haired woman with her slip showing, is, Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed. You got that right, you think you hear her say, as she orders the last pound of American cheese in the deli case.

Death makes for a poor bedfellow. Your memories are cadavers. Your first date after becoming single is a noon-time disaster of dead air, dead chicken, and dead mother-in-law jokes. He’s a nice guy, as morticians go, but his jokes can’t raise a sleepwalker from the dead, and he smells like formaldehyde. You have asked the waiter for three new knives. Each one is duller than the next, and it’s not until you are finally carving your baked breast that you remember the children. They are still at school, and you still haven’t delivered their lunches.

Jill Crammond’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Limp Wrist, Tinderbox Poetry, Mom Egg Review, Pidgeonholes, Unbroken Journal, Mother Mary Come to Me Anthology, Fiolet & Wing: An Anthology of Domestic Fabulist Poetry, and others. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her chapbook, Handbook for Unwell Mothers, is forthcoming in May 2023 from Finishing Line Press. She lives in upstate NY where she teaches art and preK at a nature-based school.

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