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June 1, 2014 by The Citron Review

by Jennifer Stern 


The L platform in Chinatown. Midwinter. What I see—a couple under the heat lamp, faces pressed into coats. (The way they huddle together makes me suspect they’re going to last). Silver snow. Silver tracks, curving south toward what I still call Comiskey Park. Flickers of movement from the new monitor above the center bench—on its screen, Pilobolus dancers replace the old billboard models.

I am six weeks past the stroke and walking again. But limping. My mother keeps her arm tucked under my shoulder, tight.

She nods her head at the Pilobolus dancers on the screen and says that I’m prettier. Her expression dares me to disagree.

I wiggle the bad foot up and down, the way the physical therapist advised—five times a day, to keep the tendons limber. By now, I am used to the tightness in the leg, the lurch in the gait.

“The secret to dancing,” Mother explains, “is in the eyes.”

I snort. “It’s in the rhythm.”

Mother steps back for a better look. “Push your hair behind your ears,” she says. “Show yourself.”

I pull off my hat and push back my bangs.

“Put some bedroom into your eyes.”

I set my eyelids at half-mast.

“Better,” she says.

We came from Joy Yee’s. Best fish cakes in Chicago. Earlier in the day, from ogling the windows of Macy’s on State. We still call it Marshall Fields. Mother talked about the shopping we used to do for all those Seders, those weddings.

Walking from the restaurant to the L, I watched my feet. It occurred to me that I’ve begun to refer to them as my good foot, and the bad foot.

I let a train go by—standing room only—and watch the dancers on the screen. One moves across the stage in leaps. In flight. Sinewy muscle; controlled strength at the hips. The way she flows in her space makes me realize there is still just as much art in human movement as there once was in mine. I wait for the feeling that I have been cheated. But instead, this fact—that I’m one of many, many—takes a certain load off me.

I put my hat back on.

Mother turns away from the screen and scratches her nose. “It’s obscene, anyway,” she says. “Half her backside is showing.”

On the next train, I look out at the apartment complexes, at the lit windows in rows and columns, and then, near 35th Street, at Comiskey Park. It’s quiet now, a snow field. Mother points. “Remember?” she says. When I was seven, a foul ball flew close. I held up my hands, brilliant hands, unperturbed by the bigger kids’ reaching and grumbling. To her, that I caught the ball has nothing to do with arcs or angles or the speed of the wind. The ball was meant for me all along.


Jennifer Stern’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in journals including Blue Mesa Review, Grist: The Journal for Writers, The Apple Valley Review, 42 Magazine, and Straylight. She is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Warren Wilson College.

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Snow on brush in desert

IMAGE CREDIT: Jill Katherine Chmelko. Protest Road, Winter. 2019.

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