A Good Name
Lee Anna hated the name tag that she had to pin onto her mandatory black polo each day before work. She hated how everyone knew her name and in turn thought they knew her. "Miss!" they'd say, sitting in vinyl booths, sipping tall milkshakes and picking at greasy fries. "Miss, could you please come here?" They'd wave their fingers in the air and stare at her awkwardly thin frame. When Lee Anna would get to their table they would study her face for a moment; they'd look at her crooked nose and hallow cheeks which made her face appear narrow and long, making judgments in the way only New Yorkers could. Then they would ask pompously, after staring at her name tag for a minute, "Lee Anna could you get me a glass of water?" Lee Anna would always smile falsely without showing her teeth and say sure.
When Lee Anna had lived in Pennsylvania as a kid, people used to think they knew her too. It was a small town, no more than 900 people. To them Lee Anna was Sarah's daughter. Sarah owned a small diner off of the highway which had belonged to her own parents during their life. Sarah would offer advice to anyone polite enough to listen. Lee Anna couldn't see over the counter until she was eight. She used to sit at the counter and fill the salt and pepper shakers, her short legs dangling feet above the ground.. In summer her bare legs would stick to the seats. Bright red marks would cover the back of her thighs as she peeled herself away from the diner in order to join her friends at the community center pool.
Years later Lee Anna loathed the sight of the small tin diner that she had grown up in. The moment she saw it she wished the grey hound bus she was riding home in would turn around and return to New York. "We are now entering Bowmanstown" the bus driver said, glancing momentarily at the passengers via a small mirror above his head. He pulled to the bus stop and opened the door, which made a whooshing sound. Lee Anna gathered her duffel from the shelf above her and made her way carefully through the narrow aisle. Lee Anna instantly saw her mother as she exited the bus, Sarah was the only one standing at the bus stop, waiting.
"So, what are you doing home?" Sarah asked, after seeing her daughter for the first time in two years.
"I just missed you, that's all." Lee Anna said, not looking her mother in the eyes. Lee Anna found it hard to lie to her mother at that moment, although she had been concealing every last detail of her life since she was 15.
Sarah studied Lee Anna's face the way that Lee Anna's customers would study her. "I know that's not it. You haven't been home since your father's funeral. Hell, I hadn't heard from you until yesterday. What are you doing, calling at midnight saying that your coming home? Why now?"
"I just missed you, okay." Lee Anna's said. Lee Anna felt alone being home again. The streets were too familiar. Lee Anna knew that her mother had no idea why she was back, but still had this gnawing feeling that everyone in town knew. They all knew that she had become pregnant. They all knew that she had aborted the child. When Lee Anna was younger old women who lived in town would yell her at; they would tell her to be a good girl, to quit smoking, to obey her mother. There was no way that the people in Bowmanstown could know Lee Anna's secret, but she feared it all the same.
"Fine, can I get your bag then?" Sarah reached for the bag that her daughter had slung over her shoulder.
"No, It's ok, I have it." Lee Anna said. Mother and daughter walked silently to the car, which was parked on the side of the road. Lee Anna made her way up the narrow steps and into her old room, closing the door behind her. Her old bedroom was still the way she had left it at 18 when she moved to New York. The walls were baby pink and covered by artsy black and white posters. A small teddy bear, which had been a gift from an ex-boyfriend, sat on Lee Anna's twin size bed. Lee Anna curled up into a small ball and fell asleep, clutching her knees to her chest.
She woke up to a knock on the door. "Dinners ready," her mother said. Sarah didn't age in the eyes of Lee Anna. She was still a tall, imposing woman even at the age of 49. Her hair was blonde and frizzy but often hidden under a bandana. Although Sarah had age lines all around her face Lee Anna still saw her mother as the woman who had told her to decide on a practical job when Lee Anna announced, at the age of 17, she would be a poet, the woman who had flushed her cigarettes down the toilette when Lee Anna was 16, and the woman who would show of her little girl to anyone when Lee Anna was 6.
Lee Anna stumbled down to the kitchen, wiping dried saliva from around her mouth. She had arrived before noon, but the sun was setting now, and it was almost 6:30. Lee Anna sat down at the kitchen table. Dingy white cabinets and faded yellow tiles surrounded her. Sarah placed a plate filled with chicken and mashed potatoes. Sarah had felt lonely the past two years without her husband and daughter. She depended on the diner for company. Everyone in Bowmanstown tried to appease Sarah by inviting her for dinner, but Sarah hated to be a bother. She felt most comfortable taking care of others. Sarah hoped that when her daughter returned things would be less lonely, she thought, maybe, Lee Anna really did miss her, but as she sat across from her daughter she knew that Lee Anna was now a stranger.
"You look thin," Sarah said. Lee Anna was moving the food on her plate around with her fork. Lee Anna looked up at her mother; Sarah noticed that her daughters face was small and afraid looking. She looked much more delicate than she had when she had left as a confidant 18 year old intending to find her own way in the world. "Haven't you been eating in New York?"
"Yeah, I've been eating," Lee Anna said
"I thought you were dating a chef. That's what you said when I called. You said you were dating the chef from the restaurant you worked at. Doesn't he feed you?" Sarah had spoken to her daughter at Christmas, calling to see if she wanted to come home. Lee Anna had told her that she was spending the holiday with her boyfriend and some friends.
"We broke up, about a month ago," Lee Anna said. Lance had been a nice guy. He loved Sarah more than Sarah had loved him, but that was fine with her. Lance tried to be a clean, nice guy, but at night when he held Lee Anna, the smell of hamburgers would still cling to his hair.
Sarah wasn't surprised. Lee Anna didn't like to be pinned down. As a teenager she would break up with boys as soon as they grew too affectionate. When Lee Anna was 16 Sarah had found a note in her waste bin. The shaky boy handwriting must have belonged to Lee Anna's then boyfriend, Aaron. He had written, "Will you meet me at the ledge, I have something to ask you." By the next week Lee Anna was single and all the presents he had showered on her was sitting in a cardboard box at the bottom of her cluttered closet.
Sarah couldn't understand her daughter. She had married her high school sweetheart, Andy, a week after her 18th birthday and stayed with him until he died of a stroke. Sarah had wanted a big family. As a child she would play house, holding stuffed baby dolls gently in her arms. Sarah and Andy decided not to have children initially. They wanted to save up money. For Sarah's 25th birthday her husband bought her a house. That was when they decided to begin to have a baby.
Sarah and Andy tried for years to conceive a child. They visited doctors who told them that Sarah had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. "Although you may still be able to have a child, it is unlikely," the doctors would say. Sarah felt guilt each time she was out with Andy and a baby would pass, sitting contently in a stroller. She felt as if she had failed him as a wife because of her inability to conceive a child.
Although Sarah knew the chances were slim, she held onto the hope that she would, one day become pregnant.. A woman in town had heard about Sarah's woes, much to Sarahs embarrassment, and had told her that eating Banyan roots would increase her likelihood of becoming pregnant. Sarah drove two hours in order to find the brown root. The Banyan root was foreign, Sarah had been instructed to soak it in a mixture of milk and sugar, then to drink the concoction. The drink was bitter and Sarah had to pinch her nose as she drank. Sarah prayed to any God willing to listen, asking for a child and after 2 frustrating years of trying she became pregnant with Lee Anna.