Madelyn finishes The Plain Dealer’s daily crossword puzzle in thirty minutes flat. She gets up from the kitchen table for a second cup of coffee and stirs in three spoonfuls of sugar. Metal on ceramic echoes through the kitchen. When she sits back down, she takes out today’s bundle of mail and removes its rubber band, bounty unfurled.
Madelyn opens other people’s mail when it comes through her letterbox. She does not care that the names on the envelopes are not her own. She’s celebrated thirteen birthdays this year so far. Today’s addition makes fourteen; it’s addressed to “Daniel Bruckner.” She hums him the birthday song, then lovingly places him in front of an empty chair with the others. Then she reads the headlines for everyone to hear.
Karen Pilsby, 120 Walnut St., Cleveland, OH 44106
Karen gets ready in the dark to keep from waking her husband from his nightshift comatose. Her scrubs are tight in the belly now, despite early morning nausea. It takes longer to tie her shoes today than it did last month with all this swelling.
Miss Elsa Brown, 111 Walnut St., Cleveland, OH 44106
Wrapped in baby blue terry cloth, Elsa jumps from cushion to cushion. The floor is lava, y’know. It’s time for school, but five more minutes, please.
Marise Stuart, 879 Walnut St, Cleveland, OH 44108
Marise rests her fingers on the keys but doesn’t push down. She didn’t sleep again. Her back hurts. There’s a kernel of melody tucked in her brain somewhere. How hard must she shake her head to get the notes to fall from her ear and onto middle C?
Zee Cummingham, 136 Walnut St., Cleveland, OH 44106
Finally, their breasts are growing. Mosquito bites sure, but that’s a fuckin’ breast if they’ve ever seen one. And they hurt. They google it and, apparently, they’re developing milk glands. They didn’t know that was a thing. Fuck, it feels good to wear a bra.
Dr. Mohammad Kasmani, 89 Walnut St., Cleveland, OH 44107
His patient complains of chest pain. He feels her phantom in his sternum. This is the sixth time Mohammad’s seen her ER-side this week. She can’t remember to take her medication. All she wants is her son, who can’t afford to put her in a home.
Ms. Alice Dupont, 109 Walnut St., Cleveland, OH 44106
Ms. Alice gets to work at five in the morning every day except Sunday, because Sundays are for Jesus. After thirty years, she can cut fifty pounds of potatoes in nothing flat. She still takes her time with the gumbo, though. It’s her signature dish, the thing they’ll remember most.