Oh What a Red Sweater

by Alan Michael Parker
Parker. Elephants & Butterflies. Oh What a Red Sweater
Too young for her body's changes, but ready anyway, the angle of her teen years practiced every night— watching TV from the plush sofa, one hand dangling— she knows just how to try on the fish-net, body hugging, calf-length red sweater as she steps from the dressing room of the thrift store, met by her mother's panic: Mama, can I have it please? And oh, how I want Mama to say yes, and oh, how I want Mama to say no, because how can you choose? And which body will be my next body, within this life? (It isn't you, I tell the mirror, and put back the pork pie hat.) Behind the register a gaggle of figurines, blind beneath their fezzes, beams upon us all— glazed thrift shoppers, the odd lot, gleeful and desperate. What brightly painted doodads, what riches on the racks, and oh, the girl and the $4 red sweater. She's still a little girl, middle school three weeks away, and an hour's bumpy bus ride in the summer rain, wending down the coastal highway: she'll listen to her Mama. Me? I'll listen to the rain typing gibberish on my umbrella, and try on word after word after word, always getting wrong the color of those rose hips along the muddy ditch, a blurred swath of pink and green by the thrift store sign, wedged in the present where a little girl twirls a shopping bag and stomps in every puddle in the parking lot.