Franklin’s mom gets called into the office, Saturday-afternoon emergency, and we dress up in her clothes and walk around her bedroom, do our little turns in front of the full-length mirror inside her closet door, laugh at each other. I slide into a pair of pantyhose lying on her hamper, push my feet into her tiny black heels, get hard but don’t know why. One of her blouses makes me a very short dress, just long enough to tickle my thighs.
I don’t remember how it starts, and it won’t happen again. Franklin breaks six-foot by eighth grade and disappears among jocks, muscle cars, girls. He plays basketball four years at a small college, but I never find his games on TV, not even when my parents spring for the big package full of sports and movies, news, softcore pornography. He doesn’t attend reunions, doesn’t have Facebook. I grow up to supervise six employees on a factory line attaching fretboards to electric guitars, a wife who wants to keep house but doesn’t cook or clean, and two little girls I don’t quite understand. I come home tired and steel-toed, don’t remember playing dress-up at all until we’re unboxing Christmas decorations, the year after all the ice and power outages, and one of the girls laughs and points at the garland I’ve draped around my head.
“You’re a pretty princess!” she screams, and I want to slap her, or flee, or else grab her and squeeze. Right then I remember Franklin’s mom, not Franklin. I remember her bedraggled in the doorway at night, professional but spent. She fed us macaroni and let us stay up late, after she’d undressed, tossed off business clothes for a baggy sweatshirt, and curled on the couch with her legs tucked under, reading. She wasn’t all that pretty to me then, I was too young, but she was probably gorgeous. I remember standing at her mirror, strapped into her clothes, briefly transformed. Near some truth but not quite ready. She was beautiful. So was I.
I wrap both my daughters up, hug and growl and grumble and tickle until they’re cackling, begging to be let loose. The day gets away like all the others. I dump tinsel over each of us, silver and gold, and we run back and forth across the house, princesses all, or something else, and we’re beautiful, and we laugh.
Marvin Shackelford is a author of a collection of poems, Endless Building, and a couple volumes of stories and flash forthcoming from Alternating Current and Red Bird Chapbooks. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, West Branch, New Ohio Review, Best Microfiction and elsewhere. He resides in Southern Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.