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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
There was an argument over who got to eat the yellowest pollen.
It was a craze. The bee’s knees!
People clotted the park, all of them young, but with the skin-smooth benefits who could be sure? The sun was out. The pollen, famous, on the news. Carbohydrates. Protein content peeking a whopping 35 percent.
I liked the crowd, the mood, but it was hard to maneuver. Mothers with babies all under one, lounged around chatting. They spread out their picnic blankets, unloaded their fashion magazines and plucked at the grass.
I was meeting Cara.
“Cara!” I waved.
She rushed toward me, pushing a stroller A quilty duffel bag swung from the handle.
“Isn’t this great?” Cara said, her hair pinned up on each side.
I nodded, exaggeratedly. “Very happening!”
We tried to hug, but her breasts came between us. She clutched a handful of lilies.
“Try the pollen under the trees, just do it.” She flapped her hand. “It’s the sweetest. Literally!”
“Please!” I joked. “Could pollen be any sweeter?”
“Ha-ha-ha,” Cara laughed.
“Ha-ha-ha,” I laughed.
It’d been a year since I’d last seen Cara. She took up half the bike path.
“And who’s this?” I crouched.
“Meet River,” Cara said.
“Hi River.” I poked out a finger and the baby clamped on.
River looked like our mother: frog-eyed, cheeks, no neck. A ring of golden-yellow circled her mouth. “She has your nose,” I said.
“You think?” Cara said.
“Sure,” I said. I loved River immediately. She wasn’t even mine and I loved her.
“Everyone says she looks like Daniel but I don’t know.” Cara talked fast, epileptic. It was like listening to the weather. I used to think that when I was all grown up I’d be like Cara, all-American. But I lived with three roommates, skipped meals. I wanted to be an artist more than anything.
“Really?” I cocked my head. “Depends on the angle.”
Cara thrusted a canteen at me. “Here, give it a good shake first. Sometimes the pollen settles on the bottom.”
“No thanks,” I said. “It’s just another thing that disintegrates, crumbles into nothing.”
“Come on,” Cara said. “It’s the latest—“
“Craze!” I squirmed, gagged, dodged. Blah. I imagined it tasted like breadcrumbs.
Cara handed me a small Ziploc. “At least take some to-go.” She lectured, “And believe it or not, I read this thing recently that pollen is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and B vitamins.” Cara unbuckled River and hoisted her onto a hip. “What’s more is that it’s great for diarrhea.”
“Wowzers,” I said. “When you gotta go!”
Then silence, a moment. Cara smiled at me, jounced the baby. A sort of glint in her eye.
“So, Ellen, how are things?” she said, her voice casual. “Seeing anyone? Talk to Mom lately?”
“It’s been a while,” I said. “And you know, same old, same old. Sex. Drugs.”
“You should call her,” Cara said. “She misses you.” Cara handed River over. “Here, you should hold her at least once before you go.”
I gripped River’s armpits, let her dangle mid-air. I moved her a bit from side to side and she swung like a pendulum. “Doesn’t wiggle much, does she?”
“It’s the floral aroma,” Cara said. “It calms her.”
“Like a sedative,” I said.
“Show Ellen how you kiss,” Cara said.
“She’s shy,” I said.
“Go ahead, River, show Ellen how you kiss. Show Ellen how you kiss. Show Ellen how you kiss.” Cara put her hand on my shoulder for encouragement. It felt good to be touched. “Lean down a little, Ellen, so she can reach you.”
So I leaned in. I leaned in for Cara because it was my own dumb weakness.
“Show Ellen how you kiss. Show Ellen how you kiss.”
Then, River’s heat. Her big radiator head came in close and I watched her frog-eyes loom larger and larger, until they blurred into one eye. She kissed me with her pollen-flavored lips. And then I sniffed. I sniffed, accidentally. I inhaled her sweetness right into my lungs.
Hannah‘s fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Caketrain and The Collagist. She lives in Portland, Oregon.