After I finished writing this story, I sat back and realized with some amount of awe that it featured the first Jewish characters I had ever written.
I have shared before how many of my early short stories featured male protagonists. I wrote this story, whose main character isn’t only Jewish but also female, after taking several creative writing classes at Hollins and being surrounded by inspirational women. This story is perhaps the most personal of my fiction, with the protagonist that I relate to the most.
While studying abroad in London, one of my writer friends and I used to take a bi-weekly lunch at a small cafe near London MET. I admired her writing and often looked forward to her submissions when we shared workshop classes. In fact, it was her writing that helped to inspire my story, 49 States. Once I told her that if she was writing this scene of our lunch, every small detail would be infused with meaning and emotion, from the way she was stirring her coffee to me nibbling on my sandwich. She laughed and told me that if I was writing our lunch, the story would be about the table of people behind us.
I think her observation speaks to why my early stories were exceedingly male and vaguely Christian– that describes the culture of Casper where I grew up. Write what you know for me, wasn’t write what I internally know, as much as it was to write what I observed in the world around me. This story marks my first deviation from that.
Kylie Louise McCormick
Rosie’s chubby toes curled into the mud. She giggled as she squished the ground, letting the cold wet dirt ooze between each toe. Her face blossomed with joy, her cheeks as rosy and glowing as her name suggested. “Rosie Jane!” Her Bubbe’s voice drifted into the well-watered plant beds from the back porch where the older woman rested in a rocking chair watching Rosie grow wild with her garden. “Your brother is here from school!” Rosie glanced over to the porch, her view slightly obstructed by the towering flowers. Her little lips cracked with a smile and her shiny white teeth, no bigger than seeds, displayed themselves shamelessly. Spying her brother Robert from behind the leaves, she crouched down lower pretending to hide like a lioness watching prey. However, at four almost five years of age Rosie was not as stealthy as a lioness, and the rustle of the flowers, the daffodils swaying in tune with the tulips called attention to her hiding place almost immediately. Robert ran from the porch to the garden, their Bubbe laughing.
“Caught ya!” Robert tapped Rosie on the back and she giggled, standing up and turning around to greet him. “Do you want to play a game before mom gets here?”
“Yes.” Rosie spoke the word through her smile, making the s come out like air escaping from a small hole in a balloon. Her tone had the same baby fat that her cheeks still had, though it was beginning to wane as she closed in on her fifth year of life.
“Alright! Cool, do you want to play Revolution? You can be the British soldier and I will be Paul. He was the coolest.”
“Is Paul British?” Rosie was now twirling in her dirty dress, hoping they would be on the same team.
“No Rosie, ugh, Paul was the good guy.” Robert’s frustration came easy and he shoved his hands in his shorts’ pockets.
Rosie tried hard to trim the baby fat from her voice as it curled out of her mouth, she clenched her little fists digging her nails into her palms as she replied, “The British is the bad guy? I don’t want to be the bad guy. Can I be Paul?”
“No Rosie, Paul is a boy, and besides he has to light candles and you know mom says you aren’t old enough to do that on your own yet. She even holds your hand when you light the Chanukah lights.” Robert’s logic poured over Rosie.
“Can I be Paul’s sister? Or even his mom!” Rosie smiled, proud of her suggestions.
“This isn’t house Rosie, this is Revolution.” Robert crossed his arms stubbornly.
“I don’t-on’t think I-I-I want-ant to play.” Rosie’s cheeks were flushed and her odd speech impediment came out, repeating the ends of her words in a backward stutter.
“Come on Rosie, you can’t always be the good guy in EVERY game.” Robert threw his hands out of his pockets and down exasperated. Rosie turned from him and started humming as she petted the yellow petal of a daffodil. She didn’t think she could talk without it coming out broken and she didn’t want Robert to start babying her like she couldn’t play fair. “Fine. I guess I will play by myself until mom comes.” Robert crossed his arms and stood a moment too long watching Rosie and hoping she would change her mind before he ran out of the garden and began hiding behind the trees that were scattered throughout the back yard. Every so often Rosie could hear him yelling, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” It made her glad she had chosen not to play.
Instead of being British, Rosie continued as she was doing before Robert had come from school, exploring and playing in the garden. She crouched down again amongst the flowers, no longer a predator, now as an adventurer, an explorer deep in the jungles of some exotic landscape. Everything was new and exciting. She skipped around the garden, visiting the peonies whose fresh buds were being worked over by a colony of ants. She watched the ants climb furiously over the buds, their antennas tracing the lines of the leaves cradling the forming petals, like a new born. Rosie crouched in awe for some time until an ant got too curious and started towards her foot. She giggled and shrieked as she pushed it off and ran to another part of the garden. Past the families of daffodils and tulips, whose fragile stems looked like crisp and juicy straws, she ran to the strawberries spreading at the foot of towering walls of clematis.
The stout plants were covered in white flowers that would soon birth delicious fruit. Rosie’s Bubbe had not wasted the strawberry plants’ usefulness as a ground covering and throughout the spread of the stout dark green leaves there were metal lattices supporting her clematis, a climbing flower that enjoyed the shade on its roots, but not its flowers. The climbing flowers were just buds now, furry and waiting for the bloom to begin. Rosie stood at the edge of the wilderness, the strange mix of vine and fruit enticing her curiosity. The breeze blew towards her and the strawberries’ leaves lapped at her feet, a dark green ocean. The small white flowers the break and spray on the crests of green waves. Rosie crouched down, leaning her weight on her toes and lifting her heels as she pressed her hands and body into her thighs. The ocean of vines and fruit lapped her face now and she smiled, letting her little teeth glimmer in the sun, specks of white like the petals of strawberry flowers.
Everything evoked her curiosity. The closer she looked in her ocean the more she found. And soon she was on all fours instead of crouching, her knees now making round indents into the mud her toes had been curling in. She was engrossed by the simple yet, lovely world around her. The mud itself was full of life and interest with worms and little stones that every so often would appear. And the leaves were Rosie’s favorite part. She loved the dark green color and the detail of the lines in the leaves. The texture of the strawberry leaf reminded Rosie of toad, full of warts, yet promising like a prince. She giggled to herself remembering the story they had read at pre-school today. It was a story of a beautiful princess who kissed a frog and turned him into a prince. Rosie leaned over the strawberries, letting the breeze blow them around her face, scratching at her cheek. She pursed her lips and kissed the plants from a place of pure joy.
And then Rosie sneezed. She blew the petals off of a few of the delicate flowers and even propelled herself backward slightly. Shaken she leaned her body back up, so she was just kneeling on her knees while she dragged her arm across her nose, to wipe away the feel of the sneeze along with whatever it left behind. That was when it caught her eyes. It was gooey and gross, and it looked like something that had flown from her nose. She bent lower to inspect what the grayish gook was. Just as she thought she had confirmed that it was, in fact, just a booger, it moved. Rosie jumped up and back faster than she ever had, squealing with all the force her little body could muster.
The cries of “The British are coming!” had grown fewer and farther between as Robert grew bored with playing by himself. So when Rosie squealed, he was on his toes and in the garden. “What is it, Rosie?”
“It’s-ts-tsa alive!” Rosie’s impediment caught on her fear and surprise, while her hands worked themselves into knots.
“What’s alive?” Robert’s interest peaked.
“I-I sneezed. And there it was!” she gaped.
“A booger?” Robert’s heightened interest dropped and his voice went into a monotone, “Come on Rosie, you’re not two.”
“No! It is moving!” Rosie’s cheeks bloomed with color again as she fought to defend herself.
“Really?” Robert crossed his arms as Rosie pointed to the ocean of strawberries. Then rolling his eyes, as if just to placate her, Robert crouched down to inspect, more conscientious of the mud than Rosie had been earlier. Rosie stood back and watched him carefully, seeing how his stance kept everything from getting muddy except the bottom of his shoes. She looked down at her own knees and saw the mud that was now beginning to cake there, Rosie twisted uncomfortably in her dress, pulling at the skirt. She watched as he searched the plot of fruit and vines, not nearly as excited or in wonder as Rosie was and then he saw it: a blob of grey mush. In fact, he saw several of them hiding underneath the strawberry leaves in the moist shade and ground. “Oh cool! Slugs!”
“What?” Rosie stepped towards Robert, her fear dwindling of the grey mass. It was comforting to have him there and inspecting her fear.
“These are slugs; they are a type of bug. We just learned about them in science last week.” Robert’s curiosity made him forget about the mud as he dug his tennis shoes deeper in and got closer to the slugs.
“Whoa.” Rosie became in awe, she had never seen a slug before.
“Yeah.” Robert spoke slowly mirroring Rosie’s wonder, “Pretty cool, huh? Hey! I know! Do you want to see a cool trick, Rosie?” Robert stood up.
“Yes.” Rosie had taken the curl and the baby fat out of her “yes” as she bounced her head up and down.
“I’ll be right back!” Robert dashed from the garden and to the porch. Rosie could hear her Bubbe exclaim, “Oh no, you aren’t walking in that house with muddy shoes on.” Rosie crouched again over the slugs, knowing that Robert would be a while. She started counting them but couldn’t count past twelve really and soon she became confused. She shook the math away from her curls and decided instead upon naming them.
“Dolly,” became the one she thought she blew out of her nose, she pointed to the next, “Henry” and now in her mind, Dolly and Henry were married and had children, “Flora, Farah, and Fauna” the three slugs that were all clinging to the same leaf. Rosie giggled and began chattering to her new friends, “I bet you think it is hot out here today, Dolly. That must be why you all are in the shade.” Rosie giggled again, “Do you like the mud? I do.” She began to pretend that much like the frog prince, trapped inside an ugly body, that her slugs were actually royalty. Dolly and Henry were the king and queen of the ocean of strawberries, and the three beautiful princesses were cherished by all the slugs under the leafy green sea. Rosie spoke to the royal family at though they were old friends at tea, watching them slide around the strawberry leaves, leaving a trail from where they had been before. Her speech flowed seamlessly through her imaginary conversations, no bumps or repeating, she was at ease.
It didn’t seem like much time had passed when Robert returned, now in bare feet while their Bubbe began spraying the hose on his shoes, washing the mud away. “Hey! Sorry, that took so long,” he breathed out heavily and inhaled too deeply like he had been running.
Rosie stood and smiled, “it’s okay.” She tucked her hands politely behind her back, patiently waiting for his trick.
“Alright, come close so you can see.” He and Rosie crouched down together, this time Rosie emulating Robert’s first stance and only her feet squished in the mud, and Robert, his shoes and his priority to seem older gone, was down on his knees. “Okay, watch that one closely.” He pointed to Henry and pulled a salt shaker from his pocket. He then poured some salt in the palm of his hand and reaching out over the slug he began to sprinkle the fatal grains down on Henry. Henry reacted immediately pulling his antennas in as he began to fizzle. Rosie reacted nearly as quickly while Robert giggled and said, “cool.”
“WHAT-AT-AT ARE YOU-U DOING-G?” Rosie shrieked the tears already began rolling down her cheeks, “HENRY!” Her shriek was like nails on a chalkboard, like the ringing in your ears, like the rubbing of two metals, the scraping of glass, the deafening tone of a four-year-old in stress and pain.
Robert turned towards her puzzled. “It’s just a slug.”
“It-isn-jus-a-slu-it-is-a-fami-ly.” The tears pouring out of Rosie’s eyes made her mouth dribble nonsense in a broken sentence that stopped and took a beat on each struggled breath in instead of between the words. No sooner had she spoken it than their Bubbe swept in and plucked Rosie up into her arms.
“What’s the matter my little flower?” Rosie tried to speak but only ended up bawling louder. “Why don’t you come on up and sit with Bubbe for a while, till you calm down.” The calm of her voice reminded Rosie of the ocean of vines and fruit lapping at her face. Yet, Rosie could not be comforted as her Bubbe carried her up to the porch away from Robert, the garden, and his salt shaker. While her Bubbe rocked her in the chair stroking her soft hair and patting her leg, Rosie’s tears did not cease as she thought of the three slugs, Flora, Farah, and Fauna losing their mom and dad, Dolly and Henry. She sniffled and pinched her face and her broken language of version of “but their mother” was lost in translation to “but my mother.” Rosie’s Bubbe laughed and patted her back, “Your mother’s fine darling, stop your worries. She will be here anytime now to come and get you.” And before Rosie knew it she was no longer crying about the slugs or Robert but about an inexplicable feeling in her stomach.