A mother, a daughter and a blinding flash of exasperation
"No, I didn't."
"Yes, you did."
How irritating Katie could be! Of course she couldn't get a corn dog now, carrying it around in the Target store getting grease all over her T shirt and anything else she touched, like the sheets we were supposed to be looking for, to replace the ones mysteriously blotched by something blue and sticky. And of course Katie made a terrible face when she thought I wasn't looking. I hated those petulant faces.
"Yes, you did too. I saw that whiny face. Don't do it again."
Katie didn't answer, unless the swish of her ponytail as she flounced ahead could be called an answer.
Why was she such a headache lately? The terrible twos were nothing compared to the terrible tens.
Katie slapped the waxed tile Target floor with her flat-bottomed Converse, their rainbow laces untied and flopping, as she widening the distance between us. There was a vulgar drawing inked onto the rear pocket of her jeans.
“And did you think I wouldn’t notice that pocket picture?” I shoved the shopping cart forward to keep up with my daughter. “Don’t you remember what happened with the last pair?”
Decorated with sculls, crossbones, naked breasts, lightning bolts and fists with raised middle fingers, I’d tossed the last pair into the Goodwill box. Katie wailed and whined and for a week.
"Katie, The same thing’s going to happen to that pair. Unless you promise to stop drawing on your clothes."
"I didn't draw on my clothes," said Katie into her chest, her thin arms hugging her body.
"You did too, there's a naked woman right there on your butt." Did she think I only see her from the front, I wondered, like those paper dolls she used to cut out and color?
"I didn't draw it." She stomped her Converse; the butt wiggled.
"You did too, there it is, right there."
"Did not. Sam drew it. I drew on her pocket, so she drew on mine."
"It's the same difference."
"Is too. We're going home right now."
Katie and the ponytail stopped flouncing. "But you said I could get some new clothes after we shopped for sheets."
"Well, we haven't shopped for sheets, have we, and we won't shop for clothes until you can quit drawing on them."
Katie's brown ponytail bounced nearly over her ears as she stomped between the racks of preteen fashions. In a few years her hair would be thick and lovely, curling over her shoulders. In a few year she wouldn’t need to wear a ponytail to keep from chewing on the front strands or getting glue stuck in her hair or gum or clay or who-knew-what. In a few years her hair would cluster over her shoulders, giving off a steeped warm shampoo smell, or stay in intricate braided up-dos for proms or parties. In a few years it would hang heavy and as long as mine had been, in my own youth.
I sighed and ran a hand through my cropped brown do. That was the trouble. I was always thinking, ‘in a few years…’ And yet all the older people I knew thought, 'just a few years ago...' Strange how hard it could be to hang on to ‘now’.
We passed a rack of short skirts in lime green, purple, white and fuschia. Katie pulled listlessly at a hem, her fingernail flaked with a mess of peeling blue nail polish. With a blinding flash of exasperation I understood the ruined sheets. Everything in me wanted to both hit and hug this impossible not-child, to laugh and to cry over her, to build her and to tear her apart. And everything churning inside me knew it all needed to stay in.
I stopped the cart. "Katie, sweetie, we'll get a corn dog to eat on the way home. You said you wanted one."
Katie paused, licked her lip. A smile shadowed her beautiful grimy face. "No, I didn't."