What 89 Cents Will Get You
Written By: Paula Danovsky
Marcy pushed her cart out of the aisle and stopped to count the money again. She found a spot in front of the canning jars and the household things, where people rarely passed. She needed time to think.
“I know, honey. Mommy will be done soon.”
Marcy knew Emma wouldn’t behave much longer without food. At four, patience wasn’t one of her better qualities.
In all, Marcy had $51 in cash, and $860 in checking. Barely enough to cover the rest of the bills, she thought. This had become her life after Kevin was laid off the oil rigs in North Dakota. She remembered the day he came home—tear stains had dried across his cheeks like rain streaks on a filthy car. The $100,000-a-year thing didn’t happen, and that was too bad, since it was supposed to pay off the house. It was supposed to remodel a room for the nursery, too.
“I want a donut.”
They had just passed the bakery, and distracting Emma with a pen and a notepad wasn’t going to work this time. The bakery visit was something Emma and Kevin did whenever he got a week back home. He and Emma would drive to the store early on Sunday and pick out the fattest pastries they could find. Emma would get a sprinkle donut, and Kevin would grab some chocolate and toasted coconut ones. After that, they would drive home and sit on the porch, talking about kittens and ballerinas and Disney World as they ate their so-called breakfasts.
“We’ll get a donut in a minute.”
Eighty-nine cents for a donut won’t blow my budget, she thought. But still.
Marcy pressed her belly against the cart handle and felt the baby move. She was glad they had a few months until the due date. Maybe Kevin would find some construction work while he waited for his call back to the rigs. The unemployment check wasn’t going to get them by much longer.
“Hi Marcy. How are you?” It was Aunt Susan. Marcy couldn’t stand the woman, but tried to get along, for Kevin’s sake. She figured Susan knew Kevin was home.
“Fine. How are you?”
“Wonderful. Just getting some things for a picnic. Is Kevin on vacation?”
“No. He’s laid off until the oil prices bounce back.”
“No surprise, with that line of work. You know, Kevin should finish school. He needs to do something with those smarts of his.”
“He was going to head back in a couple years—to school.”
Marcy felt her lunch shoot up into her throat and burn. Just seeing Susan made her upset, let alone having to talk with her. She felt blood rush hot into her cheeks.
“I’m hungry, Momma.” Emma started to holler and kick. Marcy thought this would be her chance to get away.
“Nice talking to you, but I have to get going. Emma needs a nap.”
Kevin’s aunt looked at Emma as if she had just broken a vase. She said goodbye and made her way to the meat section, where she began comparing ribeyes to New York strips. Marcy envied the woman for having that sort of luxury, knowing steak would be off her own menu for a long time.
As Emma wailed, Marcy pushed the cart to the bakery and parked it in front of the donut case. Eighty-nine cents and five minutes of peace, she thought, as she picked up a sales flyer.
You could get two boxes of macaroni and cheese for 89 cents, and a head of Iceberg lettuce. In fact, the flyer had a whole section of things you could get for 89 cents. She made her way around the store and grabbed whatever she could find: white bread, eggs, and a stack of Greek yogurts. A small round of sour cream, potato chips, and two whole chickens that were 89 cents per pound. She imagined roast chicken with vegetables and chicken noodle soup, and then she grabbed a couple bags of carrots and some celery.
Marcy added up everything in her head. She would have a couple dollars in change left over.
“I’m thirsty, Momma.” Emma had sprinkles all across her face, and some of them had formed a crooked, rainbow mustache above her lip.
“Let’s go find a drinking fountain. Maybe the deli lady can get us a cup.”
On the way to the fountain, cramps ripped across Marcy’s belly like shock waves. They hurt so bad, she doubled over in pain. This was exactly what happened when she carried Emma; she got cramps and started labor early. She had to get an injection to stop the contractions and then she went on bed rest until 38 weeks. All of a sudden, a trickle of wet descended her inner thigh. She knew right then that she would spend the next nine weeks lying in bed. She couldn’t deliver yet. They didn’t need any more problems.
“Are you ok, ma’am?” A stock boy stood above her with his eyes wide open.
“I think I’m going into labor.”
The boy dropped a case of something and ran to find a phone.
A crowd gathered around Marcy. She lay on her back with her knees bent, and she tried not to push as she inhaled and exhaled slowly. At the end cap nearby, paper towels were stacked ten-feet-high, and a sign above them said 89 cents. She focused on the eight. She could make it to eight months. Then she focused on the nine. She could make it to nine months. Marcy thought about how 89 cents could do a lot for you, if you were determined.
Paula Danovsky’s short fiction has appeared in Pithead Chapel and Two Hawks Quarterly. When she’s not making up stories, she writes commercial copy and news articles on a freelance basis. She can be reached on Twitter @Paula_Danovsky and at www.pauladanovsky.com.