The American Scholar

Present Tense

COOLING HER HEELS in the jammed-up CVS line, the mother calls to the daughter loitering somewhere behind us, “Girly, enough with the Cosmo or Glamour or whatthe-eff-ever. Go grab me some Hershey’s. Get the Kisses. You know I love the Kisses.” The mother shifts leg to pale leg, crooks her fist on her hip beneath the midriff-baring red shirt. More of a glorified bra, really, now that I happen to notice. “Get all the kinds they’ve got,” she half-shouts, “the dark chocolate, the caramel. But not the ones with nuts. I don’t do nuts.”

While Girly trudges toward the candy aisle, the mother uses her palms to adjust her breasts in the bra-shirt to maximize cleavage, and dozens of braids shiver and shimmy like wild things over her naked shoulders.

“What were they thinking?” she asks, and at first I think she’s speaking to my daughter Celia and me. Then she spreads her arms wide to indicate she’s talking to the whole world, or at least to all us trapped rats, us line dwellers, shoppers so desperate for prescribed pills and lotions that we’re willing to waste this sultry June afternoon. My queue mates glance toward her, then look away. They huff and mutter over the perpetual lack of staff in this busy Detroit pharmacy. “Can’t we ever catch a break?” moans a big guy near the front, but the mother is stuck on the injustice of nuts added to chocolate.

“Nuts!” she says. “I don’t think so. You don’t get from nuts, from seeds and squirrel food,” and she slaps her short-shorts–encased butt for emphasis. “This doesn’t come from goddamn kale.” She swings her head, and the crazy braids—lemon-bright beneath brown

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