Right after Christmas I always feel sad
because Mommy’s tax season hours begin in January.
Every year I ask her, because I forget—
“How many hours per week will you work?”
“Eighty to one hundred,” she says.
“What’s normal for most people?” I ask.
She sighs—“Forty. But remember
once the birds are singing again
and the flowers are blooming
spring will be here
and tax season will be over.”
Spring seems so very far away on winter mornings
when she leaves hours before sunrise.
We get up to kiss her goodbye
and watch her taillights until they turn onto the highway
then we go back to bed for a little while.
I never sleep well knowing we’re alone.
We dress ourselves, we feed ourselves
and get ourselves on the bus.
After school we always go to the S family’s house.
Sometimes we eat dinner with them
and sometimes with Grandpa and Grandma.
Mommy picks us up right before bedtime
and only enough time is left
to change clothes, brush teeth, and go to sleep.
After she tucks us in
the wanting rises up strong inside me.
On Saturdays we sit at her office
while she works, and we can’t bother her.
The dark brown walls with fluorescent lights
feel like a cave prison. She gives us a few dollars
to spend at the craft store next door
or across the street at Woolworth’s in the plaza
where we buy stickers, candy, barrettes,
or decorations for our Barbie house.
That’s fun for a little while
but we aren’t allowed to say we’re bored.
We try hard not to complain, even to each other.
Sometimes she gives us money to swim at the bubble
where it’s steamy and warm like a greenhouse
and that’s okay until I see
other mommies and daddies swimming with their kids
and I miss her again.
Every morning I look for yellow buds on forsythia bushes
and I listen for the happy bird songs
but it’s still grey and quiet.
A few nights ago Mommy’s friend Miss H
picked us up from the S family’s house.
She talked to us so friendly and cooked us dinner,
but I just couldn’t be good anymore.
She asked me to draw another mouse picture
like the one of mine she hung on her wall
but I didn’t even feel like drawing.
When she left the room
and while Sister watched TV
I crawled under the dining table
and sat in the dark, leaning my head
against the chair legs.
A weight so heavy inside sat on my chest
and chunks of my heart broke loose
like ice falling into the ocean.
Miss H found me but I couldn’t move.
I let the tears stream down my face and neck
and didn’t wipe them away.
She left me there and called Mommy.
When Mommy came I didn’t want her to talk
a long time with Miss H like usual.
I wanted to kick and scream
like a two-year-old in a tantrum
but I didn’t have the energy.
I knew it was rude
and I knew I’d be punished
but I said, “I want to go home NOW.”
For once, we left right away.
The next day Mommy called after school
and asked to talk to me.
I waited for her angry words
but she promised a picnic in the park
just for the three of us on April 16,
the day after taxes are due.
I know she will let me get whatever I want
from Dairy Queen that day.
I know I will never ever
not in a million years
work anywhere this much
when I grow up.
And I know it will take us
longer than one day
to come back together again.