Sixty Eight Seconds

Grace Stroup is a senior majoring in English and Religious Studies with a Concentration in Creative Writing. Her short story Eggs is included in the Spring 2020 issue of Cornell University’s ... [+]

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Momma was late again today, so I spent the afternoon on the curb outside school, staring at this one ant carrying a piece of dirt the size of his body on top of his head. It started raining so I just pulled out an umbrella from my pack and placed it over my head, listening as it got loud and then soft, my toes growing damp and my hair curling at the ends. Other Momma's paused on their drives, rolled down the windows of their Mercedes and their Jeeps, and asked if I had a ride and I just nodded along, told them my Momma was just an optimist and she'd be here soon. We never had any cars like those. Momma would say that cars aren't for playing.
"We don't need those bells and whistles, Lucy" she would say if she caught me staring a second too long at Macrae Langsholl's matte blue Mercedes. I just nodded, and turned to look straight ahead, at the frayed stitching on our 2003 Camry.
It happened a lot, my Momma being so late. And the same Momma's in the same cars would always pause when I said she was an optimist. They looked at me like something I'd said was slightly off, but I pieced my lips together in such a tight smile they felt too awkward to say anything more.
I've often mused on the hard work that it takes to be late to everything, how it would make me go so red in the face, how my knees would buckle into themselves and my features would sink deeper into my being should I be so late to anything. She doesn't do it purposefully--she assures me--and for the most part, I really do believe her. She'd have to be a pretty god-awful selfish person to be late for soccer and church and drinks down the street. She'd have to be pretty wretched. And my Momma really isn't wretched, she's more sunny, like sunshine yellow mixed with a really light pink, like a summer sunset in July.
I do wonder, how wonderful it must be to think that just one singular minute could hold perhaps seventy-four seconds instead of sixty, and what I would do with all of that extra time. Maybe I'd stop worrying so much about being on time, and instead open up a lemonade shop. Or I could take up modeling. The extra seconds would give me the time to do ab exercises and apply self tanner. Or maybe I could not be so ambitious or self sabotaging--because truly I don't have the bone structure to forego a modeling career—and could stick to reading more books. Or I could muster the courage in those extra moments to talk to Luke Mallnor, but probably not, because he probably has athlete's foot and I don't need to waste my precious youth on something so trivial. He does have a great facial structure for modeling though. And really nice eyes.
I had counted my fingers back and forth thirty seven times when I finally saw the Camry sashay down the hill. She was listening to Sheryl Crowe so loud the right mirror duct taped onto the door was dancing along with her.
"Luce, hey, I'm sorry."
"It's okay Momma! You got more seconds than I do."
She looked at me kind of funny, like she didn't get it.
"I guess so, yeah. Maybe I do have more seconds than you Luce. I like the sound of that."
"Do you ever think about how it happened?"
"How what happened?"
"You being late to so much stuff." I said.
"Not that I really care or anything, because I don't, but I was getting to think about it."
She took a beat, pulled the car over, but not all the way so that we were two feet off the curb and still partially in the lane.
"Well, Luce. I'm a goddamn optimist. As soon as that son of a bitch of your Daddy got up and left, I decided I didn't want to be great anymore at anything. I just wanted to be happy."
"So, your minutes have more seconds than his do?"
"Damn right they do."
"Today I'm riding on freaking 68 seconds to the minute."
I couldn't help but hoot and holler, because she'd won at something, which meant we were winners, which meant that maybe I could model, or end up with someone like Luke, or maybe one day I'd have the strength to lift something as heavy as me and carry it with me everywhere I went.
And maybe it wasn't so bad, if my Momma was so late, because she was happy, which made me feel great.
We rode home and we were quiet after that, because it felt like extra time, sweet time, that we could savor in, like taking a splash of sunshine yellow to a sparkly Shirley temple.