Category Archives: Melissa McEwen

The Fourth by Melissa McEwen

The men dance with their wives
like they’re head over heels
in love, but it’s the drinking. Boys
with firecrackers that “holy-shit”
and “oh-shit” get off scot-free
because it’s a holiday
and everybody’s easy
and moms act like girls. Tonight
the fireworks will be heard
all the way from downtown,
but sound like they are
right in Aunt Eartha’s backyard
where ‘squitos and flies swarm
amongst us kin and the grill
is still hot and fathers
let young daughters drink
from their booze-filled cups.

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Watermelon-Size Love by Melissa McEwen

Everything’s all warm
sunshine and clear skies because we are
back together. Never mind that it’s the dead
of winter and the streets are covered in ice. Nothing
can touch our hot-radiator love. We warm
the bed up electric blanket style, kick
back quilts, sheets, the comforter. No need
to turn on the heat. We open windows
all the way to cool off. This
is no half-ass love
he’s giving
me. He’s loving
me like I’m his only
girl. Right now
his love is so real it leaves
tall shadows on walls. His love is
so whole and so heavy
like an uncut watermelon the size
of the one Mr. Lumpkin grew two summers ago,
so big it made the paper. And I want
to eat the sweet
red core—all of it
until only the rind is left.

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Leaving by Melissa McEwen

Faye-Nell wants to see Fred’s face when he comes home to no dinner and no ironed for-the-next-day work clothes. But she won’t because she’ll be gone. She laughs out loud at the thought of him looking confused –his ugly mouth hanging open. She used to always say in her head, “Close your mouth, fool,” but now she says it aloud, falling on the floor with laughter. If he walked in on her, he’d say she looked like a crazy woman and then he’d tell her to do something with her hair. He is always saying, “I hate coming home to you looking like you just woke up. T-Bone’s wife meets him at the door with lipstick on and fishnets.” Fred is never satisfied. If Faye-Nell was napping when he got home, he’d wake her up to cook and if she complained, he’d say, “There’re plenty women that’d cook for me. You should see the way they look at me at work,” and she’d “Tuh!” under her breath as she got up to fix him something. But not tonight –she’s been planning this for months; circled the day on her calendar and wrote the word “leaving” in capital letters. She traced over it so many times, the letters became fuzzy and thick. But now it’s more than a word. Yesterday she bought a ticket to Pittsburgh, where her cousin Melba lives. She can’t wait to have a whole bed to herself and no man shaking her awake to cook breakfast.

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The Dishrag by Melissa McEwen

All the women on my mother’s side are superstitious. They won’t whistle or open umbrellas in the house. They’re always knocking on wood and crossing their fingers. I just laugh at them, but after today, I… let me start from the beginning. My aunt May-Helen has been staying with me since she left her boyfriend Willie. She said, “Willie’s the kinda man that could jus’ look at ya and scare ya.” But he did more than look at her on the day she left and came knocking on my door in the middle of the night. She told me she called the cops because he held a knife to her throat, but he was gone before the cops came and she was gone before Willie came back. This was months ago; we haven’t seen or heard from Willie since. But this morning, when Aunt May-Helen was washing dishes, she screamed so loud I thought I’d see Willie in the kitchen when I ran downstairs, but all I saw was aunt May-Helen knocking on all the wood she could find. I thought Auntie had lost her mind. I asked her what happened and she looked at the dropped dishrag, then looked at me. She said, “The dishrag fell! D’you know what that means? A visitor! I had a dream ’bout Willie, too. He’s comin’ after me!” And, oh, how we jumped when we heard knocking on the backdoor, but it was Hazel from across the street wanting a cup of flour.

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The Cookie Company by Melissa McEwen

Before Scotty got laid off, he used to give Cookie money every day –leaving a couple of bills on the dresser before he left for work. She used to have to ask him for it; she’d say, “Scotty, gimme twenty dollars,” and he’d ask her what she wants it for. She’d say, in her head, “None of your god damn business,” but out loud she’d say, “Just need to pick up a few things.” And Scotty would mumble something about never being able to save, while reaching down in his back pocket for his wallet. Soon it got to a point where she didn’t even have to ask; she’d just put out her hand like a cashier.

“I gotta hand over my money to the ‘lectric comp’ny, the phone comp’ny, the oil comp’ny, the Cookie comp’ny,” he’d say, half-laughing at his own half-joke. But Cookie would suck her teeth and say, “I don’t find nothing funny. Now gimme my money.” And he did.

She never bought things for the house (light bulbs or toilet paper or orange juice) like Scotty told her to. Instead she’d come back with “women soap,” stockings, and pound cake. But she can’t do that anymore since Scotty’s been laid off.

“All he does is lay up in bed plucking my nerves,” Cookie told her friend on the phone one day before hanging up and going upstairs to ask Scotty for a couple of ones to buy lottery tickets.

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Sofia, Sofia by Melissa McEwen

Junior is always leaving Sofia for months at a time, but he never leaves for good. He still has a key and Sofia never changes the locks because she knows he’ll be back, she just doesn’t know when. So every night before she goes to bed, she leaves the porch light on for him and a plate of food on the table and he’ll show up out of the blue like he never left, returning in the middle of the night, through the back door, and his heavy gait and the creaking floorboards will wake her. She’ll lie there and listen as he heats up his food in the microwave. He’ll eat like he hasn’t had a meal in weeks. She’ll comb her hair with her fingers and wait for him to come to bed. She’ll fall back asleep by the time he comes, but when he comes, he’ll whisper Sofia, Sofia in her ear and mechanically she’ll turn over on her back and open her legs.

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Florida Ain’t Nothing by Melissa McEwen

When Uncle Pete drove up from Florida for Aunt Barb’s wedding in April, he stayed with Ma and me in our small gray house. His long car and Florida tag seemed so big in our small-town driveway. In this town, out-of-staters are like celebrities and the neighborhood kids stared at the tag, asked if they could get in, as if getting in the car would make them Floridians.

“You from Miami? Orlando?” they asked from the backseat, leaning out the window.

Uncle Pete, leaning against the car, said, “Naw, Pensacola,” and the kids frowned.

They all wanted to know if it was hotter there than up here and Uncle Pete said, “Much!” then he told them what he used to tell me, “Gets so hot I can fry fish on the sidewalk,” and they believed him – even Tony and he never believes anything anybody tells him.

It was the same way when I was younger and Miss Dixon’s son came to visit her from California. I was one of the kids asking if he was from L.A. or Hollywood. He was a movie star to us. He told us about beaches and good weather. That night, my dreams were Californiaful and in the morning I asked Ma if we could move, but she said “California ain’t nothing but gangs and earthquakes.”

And, that April, as I watched Ma (arms folded) watching Uncle Pete, I knew what she was thinking: “Florida ain’t nothing but hurricanes and rat sized roaches.”

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