Susan's Blog

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Another “Dirt” Excerpt

Emmy unloaded her cart onto the conveyor belt at the Stop and Shop, and thought, as always, that her family’s diet was atrocious. Kocoa Krispies, Froot Loops, Twinkies, Oreos, soda, pretzels. Fat, sugar, carbs. The holy American trinity. Her food was weird but healthier: turkey breast, half-fat cheese, bags of lettuce, Boca Burgers, nuts. No fruit, but she rationalized that easily. Who needed fruit, when there were multivitamins? She got fiber, she got Vitamin C. Did she really need the sugar that a slice of watermelon offered? Mmm, she thought, that pink sugary water… Stop! That way lies madness.

May would be the beginning of her fourth year on Atkins. At first it had been the hardest thing she’d ever done, giving up bread and sugar. But after a few months, it was second nature. She never thought about bread anymore, unless she was eating out in a nice restaurant. Then, she could not believe the smell of a good, crusty bread or the give of its soft white middle on her tongue. She would hold it to her nose and inhale it, like Nick did with food or people who wore perfume. Eric used to joke that inhaling bread the way she did was also fattening. “One carb for smelling,” he’d say.

She was going to be seeing Eric on Sunday, when he dropped off the boys. She was going to try to see D*** Saturday night, and she was a little nervous about having to report the details of her date to Eric the next day, their new bargain. She got a little frisson thinking about it, too. Ew, what is my problem? she thought. And then, Well, why should I judge myself? Sexuality is just another feeling, like everything else, isn’t it? She dug in her wallet for her Stop and Shop card. We can’t help what turns us on. What pushes our buttons —

“You have to push ‘Enter if you don’t want cash back,’” the cashier said impatiently, interrupting her thoughts. Em looked up and suddenly noticed a line of three people with very full carts standing behind her. In fact, the person closest to her was too far up already, practically blocking Emmy’s access to the card swipe. “Excuse me,” she said a little brusquely, because she was embarrassed at having held up the line and because of her hot thoughts, even though no one knew what she’d been thinking about.

It seemed to her that Saturday would never arrive. She woke up to a hot, sunny late May day, and figured she’d mow the lawn for her exercise. Em always used a push mower so that she wouldn’t have to bother with gas. After an uneventful breakfast and send-off of the boys, she hauled the green clumsy mower out of the shed and started pushing listlessly. It was always so boring to mow the lawn, at first, until she started to get into the zen of it, until the paths started to show, the light green striped pattern that formed on the lawn. The click-click-click of hearing and feeling blade biting into grass was like a slow, sweet massage. Also, she loved the smell of the grass as it was clipped. Sometimes she got a little wheezy but most of the time, all she felt was a pleasant light sweat.

After the lawn was finished, Em got out some large paper bags and started to do some weeding. Webs of chamomile had sprung up across every empty space in her gardens overnight. The good thing about the chamomile was that it had tiny roots that did not hold very tight, not like the crabgrass that sent a carrot-like root down deep within days of popping up. Em often wondered about the secret lives of plants. (Wasn’t that a book title? She should go find out and read it.) She marveled at how there would be absolutely nothing one day and then a three-inch growth of green the next. What happened? When was the exact moment when life began? The million-dollar question of the century, she thought, thinking about the whole Life vs. Choice debates that raged over abortion. Since having Nick, Em was not nearly as staunchly pro-Choice as she’d been. Not that she wanted to decide for others, but she wondered how many people abort disabled babies, and regretted it. Or would have regretted it, had they come to know Nick or someone like Nick. But people assumed she was more pro-Choice than ever because of the autism, but actually, she was horrified to think that there may have been a prenatal test for autism and maybe she would have aborted Nick, not knowing what autism or Nick were really like. Some of her friends thought that now especially she would want to know, but when she was pregnant with Henry and Dan, she did not want to know anything. She just wanted everything to be alright, whatever that meant. “If he’s autistic,” she told Eric with a bravery she did not really feel, “I just want to be able to deal with it and be happy. No more suffering!”

“No more suffering. Got it,” said Eric, rolling his eyes. She remembered how he had put his hand on her swollen belly and said, “Ya hear, Child? Don’t make ya mothah suffah!” He sounded just like her grandma, who had adored Eric, her grandson-in-law, more than anyone else in her family, up to the day she’d died. “He’s a good man, even though he’s not a professional,” she used to say, referring to the fact that Eric was neither a doctor, nor a lawyer, the only professions in her family. Fetal Dan had kicked him hard in response. Typical, she thought now.

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