May B

By Lois Taylor

Featured Image: Young Ladies of the Village by Gustave Courbet, 1851-2

The last thing May B ever wanted was to be stuck with Tweety, who is standing there in her halter top and shorts, frowning at the yowling cat.

“Run that by me again, where you got her?” says Tweety.

May B explains how the stray came to the door just before her mom got sick and the aid car had to take her away again, and her mom said the cat was pregnant but way too young to have kittens.

Now the cat begins to twitch. “She’s going to die,” says May B. “She doesn’t even have a name.”

“Who’s talking about dying,” says Tweety. “Help me get that baby ready.”

Tweety drives May B and her baby brother Toby and the cat in her beater car with the back doors wired on, down to a concrete building with a dog in blue neon and a pink cat.

The vet’s eyes are so deep that they gleam from his skull like the light from a coalminer’s hat. He swoops up the cat and disappears through a door that says, NO ADMITTANCE.

Toby naps with his cheek stuck to the vet’s plastic couch. Tweety paces and texts May B’s dad. She won’t get him, though, because that’s how it is when he doesn’t want to be got. May B’s mom divorced him but May B never will. Tweety’s the newest in what her mom calls the bimbo eruption.

“I want to call my mom,” says May B.

“It’s too late, lambchop,” says Tweety.

“That’s not my name.”

“Little girl, I am in over my head here so just work with me. And you can stop fretting. Your mama is going to be fine.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I was almost a nurse.”

May B squints to see if she can see Tweety in a nurse’s uniform but it’s still the person she and her mom call Tweety-bird for her voice and her bright yellow hair. “How come?”

“I had a baby while I was at school?”

“Where’s the baby now?”

“With my mama. I named her Brandy. Your daddy didn’t tell you about Brandy?”

“No.”

Tears in Tweety’s eyes. She wipes them off then stares at her fingers. “Sometimes seems like he doesn’t care at all.”

The door swings wide and there stands Frankenstein the vet, holding a silver tray.

“She aborted.” He bends to show six tiny bald kittens in a row.

They have to leave the cat behind because she’s still knocked out and also because Tweety can’t pay the bill, which she says is gastronomical. “Stick ‘em up,” Tweety points at the vet as they leave.

Toby begins to whimper on the drive back. “He needs a bottle,” May B says. Tweety is hunched over the wheel like she’s dragging them all home behind her in a sack.

“A bottle? Idn’t he two years old?”

“Toddlers need bottles sometimes. What kind of mom are you anyway?”

“Piss poor, obviously,” says Tweety, tearing up again.

“Well don’t cry about it,” says May B.

Tweety stops at the Quik Shop to buy milk and a plastic baby bottle and beer. She tells the clerk with the turban, “Nine dollars? Whyn’t you just round it off at a thousand?”

“Ma’am?” he says.

Then they sit in the car while Tweety chugs a Miller Light and May B fixes Toby’s bottle. “You shouldn’t drink and drive, you know.”

“Will you please please please please please please please just get off my tits,” says Tweety, looking in the rearview mirror. Then she sighs. “Tell you what. What are your top ten songs? Don’t you be rolling your eyes. Singing is praising.”

May B’s thinking, Lady, you talk like you’re black and you’re white as flour.

Tweety raises her brows. “What’s that you’re saying under your breath?”

It begins to rain and May B sees the world slowly smeared by window wipes, crossing her fingers that her mom scored a bed by the window so that right now, this minute, she can see the rain too, so they’d really be watching together.

*

Next morning, Tweety has already called the hospital and the vet. “How come you didn’t wait?” says May B.

“Well I didn’t so can we start from there? She’s better, kitty’s better, whole world up and running.”

“How’s she better?”

“Christ on toast, May B. Better better. You are one hard nut.”

“I am not a nut,” says May B.

“Was that a smile?” says Tweety. “Listen up. We’re going to call your mom later. So. What do we do betwixt? It’s too rainy to go tripping through the daisies.”

“Nothing,” says May B.

“Tell you what. Can you knit?”

“That’s dumb,” says May B. She’s getting the everybody’s-watching feeling where her face feels hot.

“Dumb? Dumb’s not keeping your mind ventilated. Smart girl like you with your acceleration program.” Tweety pulls out yarn and needles.

“Accelerated. I want to call the hospital now.”

“How about we name that cat. How about Amber, for her eyes?”

“Hospital hospital hospital.”

Tweety takes her chin. “Now who was it saved that kitty’s life and then brought everyone home, safe as houses? Here is what is going to happen. We are going to get through this together. Why’s that? Because each other is what we got.”

May B shrugs and picks up the needles. “Cinnamon sounds better than Amber.”

“Down,” says Tweety.

“What?”

“Just seeing if you’d say Up. Relax your fingers. You can’t do it and choke it at the same time. You are the tensest child.”

Learning to knit is the most boring thing, just to make stuff you could get at a mall, plus her needles don’t click like Tweety’s.

It begins to rain again and Tweety gets up to look. “Sun and rain. Could be a double rainbow. That’s good luck. An omen.”

Which it’s not. It’s nothing but broken light and prisms. If it was luck, everything would be like it was before. Only different.


Lois Taylor‘s fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous magazines, including The Kenyon Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Nimrod, Story Quarterly, Gulf Coast Journal, The Nation, The Yale Review, and others. She has received national awards from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and The Missouri Review. She has worked as a poet-in-the-schools and taught at both Wayne State University in Detroit and the University of Washington. Currently, she is putting together a collection of slightly askew stories.

Originally appeared in NOR 17

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