Non-Mom is trying her turn at divining. She starts with a couple of curling irons held out like dowsing rods in her living room. Where are the single women, she whispers, and the irons quiver—but she can’t make it out the door without an extension cord.
Next she tries a deck of recipe cards: chicken Française for a date at the art museum, kale and mushroom frittata for a romantic hike in the woods, spicy ramen for trespassing with teenage gusto, cherries jubilee for you know what. But I want them all, she says, and stuffs the cards in her bra.
Time to read the soap scum in the tub: count rings for lovers and find their faces in the grit—an orange tint for passion, green for wealth, gray for divorce. She spots a blank face beneath the faucet: Mystery is certain death she says, and dumps some bleach over it.
Enter the cat, black and good lucky. Non-Mom reads Cat’s tail twist for clues to nine lives. Which life will I land on? Sharpening her nails on the sofa’s love handles, Non-Mom refuses to choose: feline or human, single or non-. The one thing she’s chosen is not to be Mom.
It’s not a choice. It’s a child! someone shouts from outside, brandishing a sign with an image of a smiling cherub, so white it might vanish, ghost her, like her last date on Tinder, which wasn’t a date, just a swipe, wiped out shortly after, like old-fashioned white out: This never happened. Definitely a choice. Definitely choices every way she turns, nothing inevitable but the weather channel, foretelling doom and devastation.
She reads her own palm, sees a journey she’s fated to take. What if I never come back? Everywhere she goes, Moms stack blocks into towers. Let down their hair. They’re stacked. They’re blending into blonde waves, cascading down walls for princes or princesses to up the ante. Non-Mom acts nonchalant. Dips her toes in the moat to test temperature. Divine.
Non-Mom Rom Com
Strapping a Baby Bjorn to my chest, I run laps around my neighbor’s fence. I’m ripe with apples where a baby should be. That knocking coming from Bjorn? That’s just baby’s first words, hopeful as hoedowns. See her cheeks? Red apple red, skin edible.
My legs tire, but I keep at it. Gotta get back my post-baby bod, which took off in search of postal service, wanting to mail a letter stamped like the icon of a pooping dog stabbed in the soft dirt of my neighbor’s lawn. The cartoon dog’s slashed through the chest, red X, meaning Hell to the no. Mustn’t let Applet poop where she may, slick with juice from knocking and bruising, all apple battle in the Baby Bjorn. Already she’s house trained: Sit. Shake. Stay. She spits apple puree all over my chest and the studio audience loses it. I could eat you up, somebody shouts. Wasn’t this supposed to be romantic?
Out of breath now, all I see are iPhones roaming the street, apps to track Applet’s non-heartbeat. Is absence hereditary? Something’s gone rotten, unappetizing. I call the Hot-or-Not line and listen to ads for diamonds, diapers, and needles for darning. Audience coos. The operator tells me hunger’s congenital, or maybe she says commercial—there’s static in the way. But I’m full, I say. Operator tells me hunger will come to me, tells me to just keep running, or else pick a spot and stay.
Bot Seeking Non
I dress myself digital in winter tones and diamond pixels. Time to swipe a mate and settle. First I list what I’m missing: non-kids, non-gun, non-god, and lips none too casual. Soon we’re up and pinging.
I love books!!! he says, with three marks just like that. Will you open marry me??? she asks, with three marks just like that. Nothing like emphasis to ruin a cheap bon mot. Are you a bot??? he asks, with three marks just like that. I’m too corporeal for him. Too sartorial—bots don’t have clothes, do they? What for, with all the nude photos?
Come to think of it, I always get those “Are you a robot?” quizzes wrong. Maybe my best self is glitchy: my emoji are slimming, my filters are lit, and my SAD barely shows if you turn up your brightness.
Nights, I swipe right on my own photo. Meet myself for drinks somewhere with dim lighting. Mornings, I wake up with myself on the wrong side of the bed, self stealing covers from self. Bad Self. Break up with Self.
I eat cheese!!! he says, meaning “brains” or “Smile Pretty.”
Be bland??? she says, maybe meaning “bold”? And she’s still married to her ex-wife’s ex-husband. Our hobbies clutter and collect in corners: knitting needles bent from double-timing toilet plungers; skateboards plump with excess wheels.
In solitude, I think about thinking. Leave sticky notes for lovers, hummingbirds fluttering from walls, sills, sink. I make coffee for myself and bring it to myself in bed, dog sleeping on one pillow, cat on the other. Curled at the foot of my feet, I’m sure the view gets better.
You want Non-Mom to show you her hands, to prove her handsomeness, her agility with gawkish questions. You toss one as a test but miss and when it hits the sidewalk it gasps open like a soda can. Droplets of breath spatter over everyone. It’s a sparkling caffeine-free mess.
Kind of beautiful, Non-Mom says. And all this time you thought she was a mime.
Kind of. Kind. Clumsy with consonants, Non-Mom says kin. You give her back her D for design. She’s awfully pretty, for a Non-. Hair comes off her eyebrows, natural-like, not painted on.
Handsy, she catches your question, aborts her reply. You’ll show her who’s empty, all right. Hand to belly, you glare reprovingly. This is a stuck-up. Hand over the kid.
Non-Mom sighs. She’s caught your kind before, confused by the hollows inside her, maze of each raw egg’s dead name. Her kin speed backward, erasing tracks. She licks time from your wrists. You want to lick back.
-- Carol Guess is the author of twenty books of poetry and prose, including Darling Endangered, Doll Studies: Forensics, and Tinderbox Lawn. A frequent collaborator, she writes across genres and illuminates historically marginalized material. In 2014 she was awarded the Philolexian Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement by Columbia University. She teaches at Western Washington University and lives in Seattle.
Rochelle Hurtis the author of In Which I Play the Runaway (Barrow Street, 2016), which won the Barrow Street Poetry Prize, and The Rusted City: A Novel in Poems (White Pine, 2014). She's been awarded prizes and fellowships from Crab Orchard Review, Arts & Letters, Hunger Mountain, Poetry International, Vermont Studio Center, Jentel, and Yaddo. She is Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Slippery Rock University, and she runs the review site The Bind.