by Elaine Barnard
cheap white wine
I looked for her everywhere; Jana, my daughter was eighteen when she left. No use contacting police. “She’s of age,” they’d say. But she’s never been of age. She’s always been well…how can I say it, backward, shy, challenged?
We’d had an argument, not our usual kind, this was worse. I suspected she’d been seeing someone. She denied it at first, but I knew something was going on. She’d come in from the job she had at 7-11 stocking shelves looking flushed, excited like it was her birthday or something. “Jana,” I’d say when she plopped down in front of the TV to watch some late-night horror show, “shouldn’t you take a shower and have a bite before bed?” She’d give me that smug look like she had a secret, but she wasn’t telling.
“I’m not stupid,” I’d say, “something’s up. Now get your fat ass into that shower. You smell like that dump you work at.”
Jana never answered, just kept her eyes glued to that dumb screen. And speaking of dumb, she sure was. She only finished high school because they pushed her through to get rid of her. They’d spent enough taxpayer dollars trying to educate her, but she was so dense nothing took. “Your daughter’s a sweet girl,” they’d say at parent conferences. “She just doesn’t seem motivated to learn.”
I’ll motivate her, I’d think and drag her home, sit her down, open her books and yell, “Now study, damn it.” Do you think I was successful? Think again. I wasn’t. That’s how she ended up at 7-11. But what really began to worry me was when this Pandemic hit. Jana was in the front lines so to speak. No way could she isolate herself. 7-11 needed that merchandise, those shelves of beer and colas, bread, and cookies. Besides, she couldn’t afford to stay home. We needed that job. She wasn’t eating here for free. No way. Most of her pay went for board and room. What was left she could use for those trashy magazines she stored in her closet. I tried to get rid of them, but she knew every single one. She’d accuse me of stealing which wasn’t true. I was just straightening up, so to speak.
Now she’s not here I’m concerned not only because I’ve lost her paycheck which I’d come to depend on but also because of this virus. I mean if she’s infected and comes back home, I’d be infected too. We’d both be quarantined. What good would that do us?
So, I started searching every 7-11 I could think of. She wouldn’t tell me which one she worked at now. She was constantly being transferred between stores because she was too slow or too tired or the boss didn’t like her, or he liked her too much. I put on my mask and drove to the nearest one where I hoped she was still working. I’d recognize her anywhere, mask or not. Her eyes were big blue discs in her crazy head, big blue discs behind bottle glasses. They made her look like ET’s sister or some zombie from outer space. When I finally found her, I’d keep my six-foot distance for sure. I’d use the sign language I’d learned to communicate with her after she was diagnosed with a severe hearing loss, not stone deaf but close to it. They found a tumor in her head which they couldn’t remove or if they did, she’d be paralyzed, a basket case for certain. I’d be stuck with this vegetable to care for. How fun is that?
It was night when I arrived at 7-11. A few beat up cars in the parking lot. I didn’t see her right off, so I went inside to ask the bloated manager if Jana was still working there, stocking shelves in back? He looked at me kinda blank. “Didn’t you know?” he said. “Jana had this fever when she came on her shift. I sent her to the ER to get tested for the virus. She’s probably still there. If you hurry…”
No way was I going to the Emergency Room. I might get infected myself. Let her quarantine down there. I’m going home and take a hot bath. I’ll pour myself some cheap wine and forget I ever had a daughter. But that manager guy came after me. “Hey,” he called, “you her mama, right? Well, some dudes were looking for people may have come in contact with her. You need to go down there and get tested too. Probably quarantine you together. Jana’s already given them your name.”