brevity_claycomb6:40 a.m. Sesame Street

You have finally fallen deeply asleep after getting up to go to the bathroom—for the third time—at 5:00 a.m.  Your son approaches silently, pats you on the head.  His hand, fingers splayed, fits into your palm.  His patting is gentle and inexorable.

You stayed up too late reading a New Yorker article about a musician you’d never heard of, whose music you are certain you would not like.  You dreamed you were at a concert, a beer in your hand, strangers around you, while a man with a scraggly beard who was 25 but looked 50 leaned into a microphone and sang a song you knew by heart.

Your son crawls into bed, presses his forehead to yours.  He smells like pee, enough to make your eyes water.  You are so tired.

Today on Sesame Street, Elmo learns about helping from Super Grover.  Sesame Street has been brought to you by the number 8 and the letter P.  Your son sits up, managing to kick you and elbow you in the same movement.  He wants to know what 8 plus 8 makes and what words start with P.

“Mommy,” he whispers in your ear, “pee starts with P.”

11:30 a.m. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

You watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood when you were little.  When he said you should “just be you,” you would guiltily slip off your Snow White costume.  Mr. Rogers didn’t want to know that you didn’t always like to just be you.

This morning you have been The Joker, Cat Woman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and a lost kitty’s mommy.  You have been mean and turned nice, been nice and turned mean, died and come back to life.  You are exhausted.  You eat a bowl of cereal while you make your children’s lunch, standing at the counter and dipping the spoon between slicing cucumbers and pouring milk.  Your daughter wants her cucumbers now.  She takes them and goes back to the sofa, rearranges the skirts of her best church dress, pushes her tiara back on her head.

Mr. Rogers is visiting a cereal plant today.  He puts his suit jacket back on, dons a hard-hat, looks with amazement into a huge whirling vat of corn flakes.

Your son asks for cereal for lunch.  You tell him you don’t have the kind that Mr. Rogers has.  He suggests you go to the store and buy some.  You wonder if the trolley on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood still goes to the Land of Make-Believe.  That was always your favorite part.

5:00 p.m. The Best of the Joy of Painting

You are a terrible mother.  Your son sits on the floor watching a man with a scraggly beard paint a picture of pine trees around a lake at sunset.  If you sit down you will not get up again.  From your daughter’s room come the sounds of her despair as she throws herself at the door.

“You’re bad!” she shrieked as you hauled her back there.  “Don’t ever come here!”

“Mommy,” your son said.  He took your hand, pulled you down the hall.  “I don’t think you’re bad.”

You can achieve a gorgeous wash of pink across the canvas by applying the paint first in a thin layer, then sweeping a wet brush over it.  Your son wants to know if that man is a real painter.  You tell him yes, but not a good one.  He looks back at the t. v., asks why not.  The spaghetti water boils over, hissing, on the stove.

You go to your daughter’s room, push open the door that she has wedged against you with stuffed animals.  She holds out her arms to be picked up.  As you carry her out to the sofa, she drops her head to your shoulder and sighs.  She pats your back absently.

You sit on the sofa and adjust her on your lap so she is not pressing against your belly.  You rest your hand there instead.

“I want the baby to come soon,” your daughter says.  You wish you could say the same.  You kiss her hair, careful of the tiara, and tell her to watch the man painting.  She watches a moment, absorbed, as the camera zooms in on the brush conjuring a dark green tree out of white space.  She thinks the man must be a very good painter, but your son turns around to assure her that he is not.

Ann Claycomb is an MFA student at West Virginia University.  She has published work in The Madison Review, Fourth River, Fiction Weekly, and Prick of the Spindle.

Photo by Tricia Louvar